Oprah joins Apple with a multiyear original programming deal

Apple is serving notice that it’s serious about a future in original programming, teaming with Oprah Winfrey for a multi-year partnership. In a terse statement, the tech giant announced that “Winfrey and Apple will create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.”

No details were released, but insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter that the mega-deal encompasses everything from movies to TV to apps to books. Notably, the partnership does not include podcasts — Winfrey has her own platform for the podcast version of her Emmy-winning Super Soul Saturday series, which recently hit #1 on Apple Podcasts.

The 64-year-old media mogul will remain the chief executive of OWN, the channel that she launched in 2011 in partnership with Discovery. Under her contract with OWN, which was recently renewed through 2025, Winfrey can appear on camera on other outlets on a limited basis.

As The Guardian notes, this recent partnership is part of a $1 billion push by Apple as it scrambles to gain a foothold in the streaming original programming market. Other projects in the works include a reboot of Spielberg’s sci-fi anthology series Amazing Stories, an ambitious series based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and a contemporary drama set in the world of morning television starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

Winfrey is one of the richest people in the world and her Harpo Films will own any content created under the Apple deal. She was reportedly pursued by other tech companies, likely including Netflix and Amazon. The announcement is a big coup for new Apple video executives Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht.

A recent report in Bloomberg suggests that Apple may be taking a page from its rival Amazon’s playbook, with a subscription-based model that will offer video services directly through Apple TV rather than individual app purchases. Although Apple is one of the biggest sellers of digital movies and television shows through iTunes, it’s lagging far behind rivals such as YouTube and Netflix in the on-demand streaming arena.

One thing’s for sure — a  heavyweight battle among streaming content providers is just getting started, with Netflix signing a multi-year deal with Barack and Michelle Obama for documentary and film production, and Amazon dropping more than $1 billion on a Lord of the Rings series.

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