J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions has signed a new overall deal reportedly worth $250 million with WarnerMedia, but the director apparently walked away from a $500 million offer from Apple in the process.
Abrams and his team at Bad Robot, including co-CEO Katie McGrath, were reportedly uninterested in signing a 100 percent exclusive deal with Apple for the company’s new streaming service, Apple TV Plus, according to The Hollywood Reporter. His deal with WarnerMedia allows Abrams to direct, write, and produce projects at Bad Robot for other third-party companies, according to the original announcement. For someone like Abrams, who still has projects in development at Paramount Pictures (his previous feature film home), a new Star Wars movie landing in December, and other possible titles on the table, it’s an important element to any overall deal.
There were additional concerns from Abrams and his team about Apple’s overall TV Plus business model, the THR suggested. Apple’s lack of franchises for Abrams to work with prompted some frustration; some of the director’s most popular works are continuations or adaptations of popular series and films like Star Wars and Star Trek. Also considering Abrams’ significant role in creating blockbusters, Apple’s lack of demonstrable commitment to theatrical releases was reportedly unappealing. Although Apple is purchasing original films (the company is in attendance at the Toronto International Film Festival to look at acquiring titles), it’s unclear if Apple is willing to commit to a major theatrical release model.
It’s a sticky point of conflict for streaming-first companies, like Netflix, Amazon, and now Apple. In order to show a movie at a major theater chain like AMC or Regal, studios like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple must commit to not simultaneously streaming it on their own services for 12 weeks. It’s a move that Amazon sometimes has agreed to, but Netflix has historically never made the deal. Netflix has provided limited-time theatrical screenings for some of its more prestigious, Oscar potential movies, the longest of which was only 21 days.
Streaming services avoiding theaters is a move that has upset directors like Christopher Nolan, and it appears to be a massive turnoff for Abrams as well. Bad Robot can also make up to $1 billion on major blockbuster features that Abrams is involved in, according to THR, making it a sizable part of the business.
Abrams walking away from a reported $500 million deal with Apple is another entry in how streaming-first and streaming-focused companies are going to have to learn to compete with traditional studios and networks. Even Netflix is trying to figure out a way to simultaneously appease big time directors like Martin Scorsese (whose new film, The Irishman, won’t get a major theatrical release despite the director asking for one) and its subscribers. Apple hasn’t indicated that it has any plans for theatrical releases for any of its original content.
Still, Apple’s attempt to lock down Abrams and Bad Robot is a show of interest from the tech company that it wants to build more in-house content. Apple relying on third-party companies to make shows and films for TV Plus, but going after top talent and trying to sign total exclusivity deals with production houses like Bad Robot may signal that Apple is interested in acquiring talent for its own banner, instead of just relying on acquiring individual titles.
Abrams is currently working on at least one series for Apple TV Plus. Under his new deal with WarnerMedia, he could also create two or three others. It’s not that Abrams has closed the door on Apple — it just appears that he doesn’t want to solely work with them right now.