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Apple TV Plus free trials are ending before your next Ted Lasso fix

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Ted Lasso, a fish-out-of-water sports dramedy, has been one of Apple TV Plus’ most popular shows. 


Apple

This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

Ted Lasso, the Apple TV Plus sports dramedy that may be its closest thing to a breakout hit, is set to return July 23. But in a first for a lot of Apple TV Plus subscribers, you might actually have to pay to watch it. 

The second season premiere for Ted Lasso, announced at Apple’s Spring Loaded event on Tuesday, will arrive after the date that Apple TV Plus’ oft-extended free trials are set to expire. Since launching in late 2019, Apple TV Plus has repeatedly extended free trials for people who have purchased an Apple gadget. One analyst estimates that 62% of Apple TV Plus accounts are riding a promotion. But the latest extension to Apple TV Plus’ free trials is set to end July 1; the service otherwise costs $5 a month.

The timing of Ted Lasso’s return — that is, bringing back one of Apple TV Plus’ most popular programs nearly three weeks after free trials are set to end — suggests that the days of freeloading Apple TV Plus may really be at an end. 

Apple didn’t respond to messages seeking comment about Apple TV Plus’ free trials. 

The pattern of ending free trial offers before a big premiere has precedent at other upstart streaming services. Disney Plus ended its free trial last June, shortly before the release of its wildly popular film of Hamilton’s Broadway cast. HBO Max killed its free trial in December, just weeks before it was set to release Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and on its streaming service the same day. 

Apple TV Plus is the gadget giant’s subscription video streaming service featuring Apple‘s original TV shows and movies, competing with the likes of NetflixDisney Plus and others.  But Apple kicking the can down the road with its free trials hasn’t signaled confidence in the service’s traction thus far. Apple has never disclosed how many people are subscribed to Apple TV Plus; issuing repeated extensions to free members is certainly welcomed by customers, but it may be interpreted as a sign Apple had meaningful doubts about those free members converting to paid ones.  

Netflix, the industry leader, had more than 200 million paying members worldwide at the end of last year. Disney Plus, which launched two weeks after Apple, has more than 100 million subscribers. Apple is widely considered to have far fewer, with a large proportion of them not paying for the service because of its aggressive free trial. 

With a reported budget of $6 billion to rope in some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Apple TV Plus was the first to the battle lines in the so-called streaming wars, of about a year and a half when media giants and tech titans launched a flood of new streaming services to take on Netflix. These battles — pitting rookies like Apple TV Plus, HBO MaxDisney Plus and NBCUniversal’s Peacock against heavyweights like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — have spurred huge corporations to pour billions of dollars into the hope of shaping the future of television. But for you, it means more services to sort through — and pay for — as you figure out what to watch and where to find it. 

Apple TV Plus is different from most rivals in lacking a massive back catalog of programming. It pitches itself to audiences as a low-priced option for a slimmer library of prestige shows and movies made with big budgets instead. It staked the most on The Morning Show, its marquee drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, with an eye-popping $300 million reported budget. And since launching with fewer than a dozen titles in late 2019, Apple TV Plus has expanded to a selection of more than 60. 

Ted Lasso has seemed to be Apple TV Plus’ closest thing to a darling for both audiences and critics. But so far, Apple TV Plus hasn’t produced a breakout hit with the stratospheric popularity of something like Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian, nor has it minted a true awards magnet that hauls in piles of statues. Either is crucial for new services to generate the kind of buzz that gets new members interested and keeps current subscribers from canceling. 

Apple may be betting on its heart-warming, cookie-baking, underdog-cheering Ted Lasso to make the play that finally wins it loyal subscribers, even if they do have to pay. 


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