Apple Taps Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow to Front Video Hopes

  • Businesswomen-actors mentor tech inventors in online series
  • ‘Planet of the Apps’ is first of several shows on tap at Apple

A day after Apple Inc. announced updates to its computers, watches and phones, the company packed a couple thousand software developers into a theater for an early look at its next big thing: an online TV show featuring Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow.

On Tuesday, Apple releases its first original series, “Planet of the Apps,” starring the two successful Hollywood businesswomen, rapper Will.i.am and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Would-be inventors partnering with the four will design and show off apps that help people shop, exercise or look after friends in a series that looks a lot like “The Voice” or “Top Chef.”

With $250 billion in cash and securities sloshing around, the Cupertino, California-based tech giant could have tackled online powerhouses like Netflix or Amazon. Instead, the company is starting small and staying close to what it does well, challenging Spotify and Google’s YouTube with a slate of new videos about music and technology.

Jessica Alba, from left, Will.i.am., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gary Vaynerchuk on "Planet of the Apps."

Source: Apple Inc.

“This show will echo and reflect a cultural transformation in our society led by technology companies like Apple,” said Ben Silverman, an executive producer of “Planet of the Apps.”

With the new videos, Apple’s aims to get fans watching on their iPhones, which deliver almost two-thirds of the company’s sales. “Planet of the Apps” will be available only on Apple Music, the two-year-old music streaming service that now has 27 million subscribers. To stand out against competitors, Apple has developed programs that include a spinoff of the popular late-night skit “Carpool Karaoke” and a documentary about record mogul Clive Davis. It’s also adding a new TV and Movies tab.

‘Office’ Producer

Silverman, a Hollywood veteran who produced the U.S. version of the hit TV series “The Office,” one of the first shows available for sale on the iTunes store, has been pushing Apple to get into video for years. The growing importance of video streaming via set-top boxes, phones and tablets has led analysts to speculate the company may buy a movie or TV studio.

Eddy Cue, an Apple senior vice president and the company’s conduit to Hollywood, downplays those ambitions. On frequent visits to Los Angeles, he presses studios to make theatrical films available on iTunes sooner. He’s also pushing a new TV app on Apple TV, the popular set-top box that consumers use to watch Netflix and other streaming services.

“Apps have truly changed the world,” he said. “When you look at apps, they are a cultural phenomenon all over the place,” Cue said.

In episode one of “Planet of the Apps,” aspiring entrepreneurs present their creations to the show’s four judges: Alba, Paltrow, Will.i.am and Vaynerchuk. They probe for weaknesses and strengths before deciding if they want to mentor the contestants.

Developing Ideas

Each judge spent weeks helping their proteges develop ideas and features in preparation for a pitch to a venture capital firm, Lightspeed Venture Partners, an early backer of Snap Inc. For the hosts, it was an opportunity to display a side less known to consumers. 

“I was nervous about it,” said Alba, who’s insisted she’s more comfortable playing a character in front of the camera than herself in a reality show. “This is how I think. This is how I operate. This is the what motivates me. It was very intimate.”

Apple is sparing no expense to ensure people know about the show.

The company screened the program Tuesday at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, to coincide with the public debut, and will promote the show with billboards, TV commercials and wall-to-wall advertisements across iTunes, its App store and its website. The campaign will last for weeks. There are 10 episodes in total -- one will appear on Apple Music each week until the first season concludes.

Apple’s involvement was a draw for both Paltrow and Alba. The show gave each a chance to showcase their business acumen -- Paltrow co-founded Goop, a media and lifestyle brand, while Alba started Honest Co. Will.i.am., a member of the rap group Black Eyed Peas, was an early investor in Beats Electronics, which Apple bought for $3 billion. Vaynerchuk co-founded VaynerMedia, which counsels companies on social media practices and marketing.

“I felt much more comfortable doing it with Apple than a broadcast network,” Paltrow said in an interview.

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