Apple may be the world’s largest company, but it has always had a soft spot for that Disney magic. That’s why Steve Jobs asked Bob Iger to serve on Apple’s board (Iger resigned when Apple officially entered the content business), and why it was eager to work with former Disney and Pixar executive John Lasseter, now at Skydance Animation.
With Apple TV+, the tech giant is taking a page from HBO, ordering fewer TV shows and movies, but aiming for a quality that’s a cut above the rest. But the Apple brand has always been a bit more family-friendly than HBO, and the Disney envy is still apparent. Enter Ricky Strauss. When Disney launched the marketing campaigns for films like Frozen, The Avengers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Incredibles 2, it turned to Strauss’ team to deliver.
Strauss, a veteran producer, production executive and marketer, had founded Ricochet Media, and later worked as Participant Media’s president, before joining Disney in 2012 to lead marketing for the company’s film studio. He later led marketing and content for the launch of Disney+, an effort that saw the streaming service rocket to nearly 90 million subscribers in just its first year.
Now Apple wants a piece of that marketing magic for itself. The tech giant hired Strauss on Jan. 3 to lead marketing for Apple TV+, a bold hire that suggests Apple is serious about growing its streaming division, and potentially its theatrical film efforts. In streaming, while Apple has promoted Apple TV+ (and offered aggressive free trials to buyers of its products), it has not spent nearly as much time or money marketing the service as its competitors.
With a fresh price hike and with big investments like its Major League Soccer deal on the horizon, Apple clearly believes streaming is a real business, and now Strauss will be the one to sell it to a public that may only know the service for Ted Lasso, or perhaps Oscar winner CODA.
Strauss’ experience marketing blockbusters could be just what the tech giant needs to build off that win. This year will see Apple release Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, star-studded spy thriller Argylle, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Lasseter’s animated film Spellbound.
It may not be as big a slate as Disney’s or Paramount’s, but it’s stacked with boldface names and titles with the potential to be hits, both in theaters and on streaming. And now the company has hired someone who knows how to sell hits. Apple has already shown a willingness to embrace the big-screen experience, and a commitment to make a bold awards season push, but it is yet to release a film that would qualify as a bona fide blockbuster.
This year’s slate, with Strauss at the helm of those campaigns, could be what it needs to take that next step.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.