I’m trying to remember the last time a company’s big event came for prime time TV the way Apple’s 8pm ET keynote is trying to lock down our attention tomorrow. The only company I can think of that’s done it successfully lately is Victoria’s Secret with its Fashion Show. While I suspect there’s some overlap in audience between that and an Apple Keynote, I also suspect Bella Hadid is a bigger draw than a new iMac.
But Apple is still going for it! Promising a keynote that will air on its website, YouTube, and over Apple TV while things like Monday Night Football airs on broadcast TV. The company is ready to take all the cultural cache its phones, Bluetooth headsets, and computers have earned it and convert that fanbase into a bigger audience to advertise its products.
This big prime time Apple event feels like the natural next step for the company. No one else in the tech space has had the same success as Apple at getting people to treat their announcements as big events. Nearly every single major tech company has tried. Sony had Taylor Swift at a CES keynote, and Samsung marched out a member of BTS to applause at a Galaxy Unpacked event. Google had the Slo-Mo guys. Intel had dancers and acrobats festooned in LEDs. But something about an Apple event seems to resonate more with folks.
And after the iPhone event, it feels pretty clear the company has come close to the pinnacle of what it can do with an hour-long mid-day infomercial. One of the only ways to get bigger, grab more attention, and become a more consistent part of the conversation is to go prime time (or buy a social media company and run it into the ground). Take that impeccably produced product that captures the attention of techies and a few of their closest friends and move it to a time of night where a whole lot more of those close friends can watch.
And Apple is probably doing it now, instead of with the iPhone, because the stakes are lower. Fewer people care about a Mac event than an iPhone one. My brother calls me before an iPhone event to chat about the phones. He doesn’t do that nearly as often for a Mac one. Plus, the iPhone event can dramatically affect Apple’s share price. A spec bump for the MacBook Pro, while welcome, probably won’t move the needle as dramatically.
I can’t guarantee fewer people will tune into this event than the iPhone event last month, but I expect Apple’s less concerned with breaking its viewership records (the company doesn’t make those public). Instead, I’d hazard Apple is thinking about next year’s keynotes — especially any centered around the Apple Vision Pro. Apple’s going to need every tool at its disposal to make people care about a $3,500 AR and VR headset. If there’s a chance an evening keynote nets more attention than the traditional morning keynote, then Apple’s going to want to take it when it’s trying to sell people on why AR and VR are the future of computing.
So why not do a test run with a series of Mac updates that wouldn’t really benefit from the traditional keynote where hundreds of reporters and analysts fly to Cupertino to sit in a theater and watch a video before going hands-on with the products?
But it will need to be one heckuva show. Tim Cook is going to need to do more than come out an an AFC Richmond kit with a Ted Lasso mustache spirit-gummed to his upper lip. The announcements (at least the rumored ones), aren’t going to be enough. I suspect that in addition to those rumored Mac updates, we’ll also see more skits like that one from the iPhone event starring Octavia Spencer as Mother Earth.
It probably won’t be as star-studded, given SAG-AFTRA is currently on strike and bargaining with Apple, among other studios. So there probably won’t be a series of cameos from the actors of Apple’s best-known shows and films. Which means no Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon doing the Apple equivalent of an SNL digital short with Eddy Cue or Adam Scott and Patricia Arquette staring at each other from across a table for an unsettling amount of time before Craig Federighi interrupts as the newest member of the Severance program and shows off an iMac. But maybe Martin Scorsese will show off how easy it is to access his new Letterboxd account on a MacBook Pro. Or maybe half the keynote will be rendered in the video game Resident Evil Village (naturally made on a Mac).
Regardless, I’m still assuming Apple will go in a more creative direction, because besides the company wanting to test run keynotes at new times, it’s also increasingly showing off its Hollywood ambitions. We heard rumors of its ambitions earlier this year when Bloomberg reported the company was looking to spend approximately one billion dollars on new film programming year. Now its films like Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon are contenders for the Oscars (it snagged its first Academy Awards last year for Coda). Earlier this week Apple TV Plus even saw its second price hike since launch (alongside a slew of other Apple services).
The company wants people associating it with entertainment. It would be wild for its very first prime time event to ignore that entire side of its business just to show off some new M3 iMacs. Apple can’t just give us a time-shifted keynote. Well, it can… but that won’t really match its ambitions.