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Apple TV adds streaming purchases – Cutting the cord a reality now!

August 17, 2011

Apple recently added the ability to stream iTunes purchases directly to your AppleTV, without having to download them first.  While this is an amazing and crucial addition to the iTunes ecosystem, I’ve found that many people don’t really get the importance of it.

This is something I asked for not too long ago, right before/after the iTunes music re-download announcement.

So why is this so important?  Because it means you can actually cancel your cable, and stream nearly everything you currently watch directly to your TV, paying less per month.

Previously Apple had only a small percentage of iTunes TV content available for streaming, and this was via their rental service.  This was a great, inexpensive way to stream content – usually at $0.99 cents per show.  That means a typical US TV show entire season was less than $25.  So to equal a $75-$100 cable bill, you would have to watch three to four entire TV seasons in a single month – for most people this much more than their typical viewing habits.

If you add an OTA (antenna) for recording HD local networks, which are usually half or more of the TV viewing hours, you can make all broadcast network shows free, so you’re only paying for cable shows.  That means you are closer to 200 hours of TV viewing a month for $50-$100 a month – wow!

But the issue (before this iTunes change) was the limited selection of TV shows available for rental.  If you wanted more, you needed to:

  1. Purchase a show on a PC/Mac through iTunes
  2. Download it somewhere (and hope you don’t delete it or have a drive failure)
  3. Stream from that “somewhere”, through iTunes, to your AppleTV
  4. Figure out what to do with the show once you watch it – since you purchased it, there’s a sense that you need to keep it

Ugh.  A dedicated iTunes server just for streaming inside your house, and terabytes of storage to keep the shows you download since you can’t (couldn’t) redownload them.

But that’s all changed!  Now you can buy a show on iTunes – from your PC/Mac, iPad/iPhone, or AppleTV – and stream it directly to your AppleTV.  You never need to download it anywhere – but if you do or want to, that’s cool, you can still stream it to your AppleTV whenever you want, direcly from the iTunes “cloud”.

No more local PC/Mac with iTunes acting as a server.  No more terabytes of local storage.  Just direct access to almost every show on every TV channel!

So where does that leave us?  Well, it’s not a utopia yet, as there are still some hurdles before this becomes mainsteam:

  • It’s hard for people to believe that the pay-per-show/season model will actually be less expensive than their cable bill
  • The cheaper rental model (when available) can be restrictive and therefor off-putting with it’s 48-hour watch window
  • To make it cheaper, supplementing with an OTA antenna for broadcast networks can substantially reduce your purchase costs since all network shows are free; but many people don’t want to bother with an antenna
  • The AppleTV has a really good user interface, but the only current way to set up a TiVo “Now Playing List” equivalent is using Favorites; this is great in that the Favorites synchronize across all your AppleTVs and it’s visually effective, but it’s bad in that it takes 30-60 seconds to load up once you put all your shows in the list; I can’t find a better way to keep track of what I want to watch covering purchased shows, rented shows, and shows I might be interested in
  • Sports (and news) is still an issue for some; Once DirecTV allows an internet-only NFL subscription, and AppleTV/Roku/etc. are allowed to stream it, this problem will mostly go away
  • Not every show is actually available on iTunes – all the shows I watch are, but if you have a favorite show and it’s not available, that’s a problem
  • Cutting cable usually means an increase in internet monthly fees, and sometimes there is a cap on usage which is a bigger issue once you stream more

Where are we?  Technically, most of the pieces are in place to make cutting the cord a reality now.  You can stream all your TV shows directly to your TV at a cost that is often much cheaper than cable.  It’s not yet at the point where anyone can easily use it and understand it, but we’re close.  If you’re on the leading edge, you can now cut cable fairly easily and still watch almost everything.

More to come once I have this going for a couple months, and the other “normal” people in my house tell me how they like it.

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