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Richard Plepler Photo: Gary Gershoff/FilmMagic, Oprah Winfrey Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage, Reese Witherspoon: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Apple's new streaming service is only beginning to take shape, but already the tech giant has signaled that it's willing to spend big to lure Hollywood's top talent to be a part of it.

Why it matters: Analysts have for years predicted that Apple, with lots of free cash flow, would one day buy a content company like Netflix or HBO to fulfill its streaming ambitions. But Apple's recent investments in individual producers, actors and directors suggest the Silicon Valley titan is heading in a different direction.

Driving the news: Former HBO boss Richard Plepler has secured a five-year exclusive deal with Apple to produce feature films, documentaries and original series for Apple TV+, his spokesperson confirmed to Axios on Thursday.

  • Apple TV+ will be the exclusive home to all of the programs from Plepler's newly-formed boutique production company, Eden Productions, based in New York.

Between the lines: The deal, which was first reported by The New York Times, brings authority to Apple's fledgling content efforts and gives Plepler a powerful platform to wield his influence as a top producer and talent magnet.

  • "This is a watershed moment for Apple — aligning with Plepler and team make it abundantly clear just how serious AppleTV+’s ambitions are," says veteran media analyst Rich Greenfield, a partner at LightShed Partners.

Be smart: Unlike some of its streaming competitors, Apple TV+ is being built almost exclusively for original content. Its smaller, more focused catalog is starting to look attractive to Hollywood A-listers, who worry about their work getting lost in the shuffle of mega-libraries at Netflix, Amazon, or HBO Max.

  • “I thought that Apple was the right idea very quickly, just because it was embryonic enough that I thought maybe, you know, I could make a little contribution there,” Plepler told The Times.

The big picture: Plepler's partnership with Apple signals a new era for Hollywood brass, in which they're becoming attractive content creation and distribution partners for tech companies with deep pockets.

  • Companies like Amazon and Netflix have notably opted to spend hundreds of millions of dollars luring top talent from traditional studios to produce content for their streaming services, instead of buying the content companies outright.

Yes, but: It's still very early, but Apple's big investments have yet to turn into major commercial successes.

  • The first major television show for Apple TV+, "The Morning Show," received mixed reviews, despite its all-star cast, which included Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell.
  • Reviews of the service overall suggest that Apple's investments in other programming from Oprah, as well as "Sesame Street" and "Peanuts" spinoffs, haven't helped the company establish a clear vision for the service yet.

What's next: It's still to be seen whether Apple's other big-time investments in Hollywood honchos will pay off.

  • Steven Spielberg's highly-anticipated reboot of the popular 1980s anthology series “Amazing Stories” has yet to debut on Apple TV+.
  • "The Morning Show" is one of three exclusive projects for Apple from Witherspoon's acclaimed production company Hello Sunshine. The other two, along with a slew of projects from big names like J.J. Abrams and Chris Evans, have yet to debut.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

The new grifters: outrage profiteers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Republicans lost the Senate and narrowly missed retaking the House, millions of dollars in grassroots donations were diverted to a handful of 2020 congressional campaigns challenging high-profile Democrats that, realistically, were never going to succeed.

Why it matters: Call it the outrage-industrial complex. Slick fundraising consultants market candidates contesting some of their party’s most reviled opponents. Well-meaning donors pour money into dead-end campaigns instead of competitive contests. The only winner is the consultants.