Oprah Winfrey has been busy the past couple weeks promoting Sidney, the very good tribute documentary about Sidney Poitier, which she produced for AppleTV+. But behind the scenes, I’m told, Oprah’s relationship with Apple is changing. That big multi-year deal she announced in 2018 is ending, and Apple isn’t renewing. Apple confirmed the split to me but declined to comment, as did Winfrey’s rep.
The writing’s been on the wall for this one. If I asked you to name Oprah’s biggest moments over the past few years, you’d probably say the Harry and Meghan interview or the Adele special, both of which aired on CBS. She’s done a project for Smithsonian Channel, her popular book club is on oprahdaily.com and Apple Books, and she’s got all of those OWN shows.
That’s the benefit of a non-exclusive deal; Oprah could do things like The Oprah Conversations and the mental health special The Me You Can’t See for AppleTV+, while also moonlighting on different outlets that best matched the projects. The royals special became an event on CBS, drawing 17.1 million viewers for its initial airing. AppleTV+ does not release viewership numbers, but it is believed to have less than 40 million subscribers, so it’s safe to say Harry and Meghan would have generated much smaller numbers there.
AppleTV+ programmers Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht probably would’ve loved the royals, and I’ve heard rumblings that they are disappointed with Oprah’s output for the streamer. But that’s the deal they made. And Apple at least got a perception boost out of signing Oprah back in 2018, when Netflix and Amazon both wanted her. She was key in vouching for the nascent AppleTV+ at that weird celebrity cattle call in Cupertino back in March 2019, months before the service launched. “They’re in a billion pockets, y’all. A billion pockets,” she said, instantly explaining why so many top artists would sign on to Apple sight unseen. That, and the fat checks Apple was writing. Those days of very expensive press releases are over; now it makes more sense for AppleTV+ to work with Oprah on a project-by-project basis, which I’m told will happen.