Media Mavens

Media Mavens: Eddy Cue, Apple

As Rivalries in Operating Systems and Apps Intensify, Content Vet Is Cupertino's Ace in the Hole

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He's one of Steve Jobs' longest-serving and most-trusted deputies, and is part of a brain trust thrust into the spotlight in Apple's post-Jobs era. In truth, Apple Senior VP-Internet Services Eddy Cue was already in the spotlight -- among media companies. Mr. Cue not only launched and ran Apple's iTunes and App Stores, he has been the one to earn the trust of media companies as they move to apps, tablets and other mobile devices.

Eddy Cue, Apple
Eddy Cue, Apple

In short, he's the guy who brings Apple devices to life with content, an interesting turn for a guy who started out in Apple's pre-media days managing software engineering and customer support. Along the way, Mr. Cue fought resistance from record labels, then from studios, and now from magazine publishers wary of handing too much of their content to a storefront they don't control.

But that resistance is breaking down; now, publishers are issuing press releases on how many digital subscriptions they're selling. Hearst, for example, said that it has 300,000 digital subscribers on a bunch of tablets, including the iPad, which, in real terms means "mostly" the iPad. Conde Nast said it has 500,000 monthly subscribers, including 225,000 who subscribe to digital only.

The key reason Mr. Cue was able to get it done is the fact that he was an Apple lifer who had the trust of Mr. Jobs rather than an outsider brought in to do Hollywood deals. Still, there have been some missteps. Apple tried to launch a subscription service last year, but the terms infuriated Hollywood and the studios blocked the deal.

But today Apple devices are packed with the best content in the world, all for sale or for rent, giving them a key advantage among consumers. "Eddy Cue has risen from being a content guy when content was a novelty at Apple to leading content now that it is a core strategy at Apple," said Jay Samit, CEO of SocialVibe, who negotiated deals with Mr. Cue when he headed digital distribution at EMI.

When Tim Cook took over as CEO, he elevated Mr. Cue, who added oversight of Apple's "cloud" division and of Apple's first ad product, iAd.

Mr. Cue has plenty of challenges ahead. As a hardware maker and media storefront, Apple has rivals biting at its ankles from all sides. The iOS ecosystem now plays second fiddle to Android on a global basis. Amazon, Walmart, Netflix, DirecTV, Samsung and Google are building their own apps, media storefronts and, in some cases, devices. The biggest prize -- the unbundling of the TV ecosystem -- remains unclaimed. As long as Apple has Mr. Cue, it has an advantage in the content wars.

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