Apple TV is usually a reliable set-top streaming device. It relies on dependencies such as your Internet connection or a content channel’s servers. There are many possible points of failure as data stream from the data center to your Apple TV. This article covers how to fix “An error occurred loading this content”.
Picture this: you’re relaxing in the evening with a bowl of popcorn, enjoying your favorite movie or TV show. All of a sudden, you are presented with a black screen and a vague error message: “An error occurred loading this content”. You hit the menu button, press play and try again. Sometimes this works, but often you will see the same error over and over.
Although the exact problem is unclear, having used Apple TV for almost 4 years now, I am familiar with both what this means and how to fix it. Keep in mind, you might not be able to fix it. The causes of this error are sometimes beyond your control.
What Does “An Error Occurred Loading This Content” Mean?
“An error occurred loading this content” simply means that your video or music could not be loaded. It could mean your Internet connection is too slow. The servers that deliver content to your Apple TV could also be having problems. There could be a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on servers delivering content to your Apple TV. Basically, it is a generic, catch-all error message that means your content can’t be loaded now. Apple critics have pointed out how simplistic and useless their error handling is. I can’t argue with that. You can solve this problem, in most cases. Let’s take a look at some things we can try to fix this problem.
Turn Off Subtitles
If you’re like me, you like to have subtitles on when you watch TV. It helps me comprehend the dialog. I have no hearing impairment, but the audio track on movies and TV shows has a wide dynamic range. Sometimes you can barely hear an actor speak, and in the next scene, music is blaring. Instead of constantly fiddling with the volume, I turn on subtitles.
Unfortunately, turning on subtitles increases the data demands on Apple TV. Subtitles add to the overall data bandwidth requirements for a video stream. If your Internet connection has slowed, this extra data may cause your video stream to fail. Most of the time I can fix “An error occurred loading this content” by turning off subtitles.
When my Internet connection is slow or a content provider’s servers are having problems, turning off subtitles almost always works. You can do this by going to Settings > Audio & Video > Subtitle Language. Now return to your video and it should work. If not, let’s look at some other possible solutions.
Decrease Video Quality
Apple TV makes the assumption that you want to watch everything in HD. The better picture quality is preferrable, but if your Internet connection is too slow, SD is better than nothing. You can change Apple TV’s overall video quality by selecting Settings > Audio & Video > TV Resolution. If you are at 1080p, try reducing it to 720p. Most Apple TV channels should scale down to the required bandwidth accordingly.
iTunes doesn’t offer fine-grained video quality options on Apple TV. If you watch a lot of iTunes content and it takes forever to load, consider lowering the video quality to 720p. If you have a medium-sized flat screen TV (40″), you won’t be able to tell the difference between 720p and 1080p. You will notice a difference in download times and streaming stability. For more information on changing iTunes video quality, please read this article.
Netflix is one of the few services that allows users to throttle bandwidth. The main purpose is so that mobile users won’t burn through too much data. It also works with Apple TV. Simply go to the account management pages on the Netflix website to make this change. For more information, please read “Netflix Tips for Apple TV“. We can only hope that more content providers follow suit and allow users to adjust bandwidth.
The PBS Channel on Apple TV seems to work well with low bandwidth. Consider watching PBS if nothing else works. They actually have a lot of great content, and it’s all free.
Check Your Internet Connection
If turning off subtitles and decreasing video quality doesn’t work, your Internet connection might be too slow. It’s common for Internet speeds to fluctuate. When people are home, during weeknights or the weekend, just about every Internet connection slows down. Sometimes a major event, such as a new TV show or sporting event, can cause the Internet to slow down. This is beyond your ISP. Data hop between many different servers to provide your Apple TV stream. When the Internet is busy, you may see “An error occurred loading this content”.
You can check your Internet speed using Ookla Speedtest. The company offers a website and mobile apps. Simply use a computer or mobile device to verify your Internet speed. If it is below 3 Mbps, streaming video will be compromised. I’ve been able to stream video at 1.5 Mbps, but this required scaling down video quality and turning off subtitles, as previously mentioned.
Apple TV has its own built-in network test (Settings > General > Network > Test Network). In typical Apple fashion, the test is vague. It asks what speed you expect from your Internet connection, but does not display any results for the test. Sometimes Apple keeps it too simple. I wouldn’t even bother with this test. Just use Ookla Speedtest.
Check Wi-Fi Signal Strength
Apple TV is a set-top box designed to be in proximity to your television. People often place their Apple TV inside an entertainment console. This can interfere with Wi-Fi reception. You can check the Wi-Fi signal strength on your Apple TV by selecting Settings > General > Network. Ideally, you should see five bars. If you have a weak Wi-Fi signal, consider moving your Apple TV or connecting it to your modem or router with an ethernet cable. Placing the Apple TV higher up will often improve the Wi-Fi signal. You may also consider a Wi-Fi extender device, such as an Apple AirPort Express. It may also be time to replace your Wi-Fi router with a newer model, which offers both greater range and speed. The new AirPort Extreme and other Wi-Fi routers are a major improvement over past technologies.
Turn Off Other Wi-Fi Devices
Most households are full of Wi-Fi capable devices. These devices may be using Wi-Fi even when you’re not using them. iPhones and iPads will sometimes download updates when the are idle. I’ve seen the “An error occurred downloading this content” message pop up several times in an evening, only to find out that my iPhone was downloading an iOS update. If you own a MacBook, the Power Nap feature will engage in network activity, even when your computer is in sleep mode.
You can turn off Wi-Fi on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch by swiping one figure up from the bottom of any screen (even the lock screen) to reveal Control Center. Next, tap the Wi-Fi icon. It will appear translucent when Wi-Fi is off, and solid white when Wi-Fi is on.
If you have a Mac, you can turn off Wi-Fi by clicking on the Wi-Fi icon on the top menu bar. Click on “Turn Wi-Fi Off” to temporarily disable the feature. Since Macs shut down and boot up very fast, it may be best to just turn off your Mac. Click on the Apple icon on the top left of the screen and then click “Shut Down…”
Turn Off Send Data to Apple
By default, Apple TV is sending quality assurance information back to Apple. Although your privacy is not compromised, your network bandwidth is. I turned this feature off once I got my Apple TV. I read about people having buffering problems due to this feature. The observer interferes with the observed. You can turn off Send Data to Apple by going to Settings > General > Send Data to Apple.
Check If the Apple TV Channel Provider is Having Problems
If you have eliminated all other possibilities, the Apple TV channel provider could be having problems. Apple TV channels like Netflix, Hulu and HBO NOW aren’t perfect. Sometimes these content providers have problems in the data center. There are some online resources that provide information about online outages.
Apple offers a system status web page, displaying the availability of every service. If you are experiencing difficulties with iTunes content on your Apple TV, make sure to check this page. “Is it Down Right Now?” provides the status of nearly every website. Even though you are watching video on Apple TV, the underlying streaming services are the same for all clients, be it a browser or TV set-top box. If HBO GO is displaying “An error occurred loading this content”, you can check the status on “Is it Down Right Now”. Although the status may refer to a webpage URL, you can read the comments to find if others are experiencing problems. If the site reveals HBO GO is down, you just have to wait it out or find something else to watch.
Twitter is another resource for discovering the status of content providers’ services. You can follow Netflix, Hulu, HBO and other content providers. Keep in mind, they sometimes aren’t too forthcoming with data center problems. It damages their brands. You are more likely to see Twitter users posting messages about streaming problems. That’s usually enough information to conclude that the content provider is experiencing problems.
Is There a DDoS Attack?
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is where malicious code is executed on several devices. These devices hammer away at DNS servers. The overwhelming traffic prevents the servers from handling legitimate requests. This is one of the most common attacks. It’s not very sophisticated, but effective at obstructing Internet traffic.
If your ISP or content provider is subject to a DDoS attack, your Apple TV may display “An error occurred loading this content”. If you run an Ookla Speedtest, it may very well show that you have adequate Internet speeds. DDoS attacks affect Domain Name System (DNS) servers. These servers translate a domain name (netflix.com) into an IP address. Domain name lookup is affected, not IP traffic. Unfortunately, this is enough to bring down most Internet services, including video streaming.
A DDoS attack is likely if Speedtest shows fast speeds but you can’t connect to any websites on a computer. If you can still access a website by IP address, then it is probably a DDoS attack.
You can search for DDoS attacks in Google News to find out if there is a rash of attacks. These usually happen as outbreaks until network engineers can block the malicious IP addresses. Technology to automatically handle these attacks is improving, but they still happen.
Restart Apple TV
If all else fails, try restarting your Apple TV. This can sometimes fix streaming, but “An error occurred loading this content” is usually caused by Internet-related issues. You can restart your Apple TV by going to Settings > General > Restart. You can also restart Apple TV with a remote control shortcut. Hold down the bottom button (on the ring) and menu button for 6 seconds, until the light on your Apple TV starts flashing.
Restore Apple TV to Factory Settings
As a last resort, you can restore your Apple TV to factory settings. Do this only after everything else has failed and your Apple TV persistently displays the error. A factory reset is not a huge deal. After the reset, you will need to sign in to services again, such as iTunes, Netflix and any other subscription. If you purchased these subscriptions via iTunes, it’s even easier. You will also need to connect to your Wi-Fi router with a password. Just make sure you know all of your user IDs and passwords before you proceed.
Go to Settings > General > Reset and choose Restore, to begin the process. Apple TV will guide you through the initial setup process.
Watch Apple TV Later
You can’t fix problems with your Internet service provider or a content provider’s data center. At best, you can find something else to watch. If your Internet connection is down, this isn’t even an option. You’ll just have to wait it out and enjoy your streaming program later.
Keep a Collection of Downloaded Video
Apple TV is my main source of entertainment. I cancelled cable a few years ago. When Apple TV isn’t working, I do have a few options. If you are a cord-cutter, it’s always a good idea to keep a collection of downloaded videos. For example, I purchased all six Star Wars movies from iTunes when they were on sale. They are all downloaded onto my iPad. If my Internet connection is too slow or content providers are having problems, this won’t affect AirPlay. AirPlay works over your local Wi-Fi network.
Most people have access to broadcast TV. Cutting the cord doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy broadcast TV. Simply get an inexpensive TV antenna and tune in to your local TV stations. All TV stations offer digital broadcasts and most are in HD.
Some may say, why not just do something else? You can read a book, take a walk or play a game. For me, TV time is about relaxing after a long day. I don’t want to read anything, as I have been reading and writing all day long. For many people, reading a book or doing something else is a great alternative.
Is Apple TV Unreliable?
Readers may wonder if Apple TV is unreliable. Streaming video is a little bleeding edge, but cable and satellite aren’t perfect either. In fact, I cancelled digital cable because it proved to be unreliable. Satellite subscribers often have outages during heavy weather. DVD and Blu-Ray rentals are sometimes scratched and unplayable. Even broadcast TV can be affected by bad weather or power outages.
I use my Apple TV every day, and I find it to be very reliable. My Internet service is usually the problem. Apple TV will only be as reliable as your Internet connection. I thought my Internet service was great, until I relied on streaming video as my main source of entertainment. Content providers are also very reliable. Netflix outages are extremely rare. There’s a lot of redundancy in data centers.
Some Internet service providers will throttle heavy data users. The threshold for throttling is surprisingly low. I had to switch between many ISPs until I found one that doesn’t throttle users, only because they were sued for doing so and lost.
When an ISP offers an unlimited plan, read the fine print. You will usually see a limit. After you hit the limit, they will slow your Internet connection speed. People who mainly watch cable or satellite TV probably won’t experience throttling when they use Apple TV on occasion. When you cut the cord, you may find your Internet service isn’t as unlimited or reliable as you thought.
There is a conflict of interest. Most ISPs also provide cable television service. I had a lot of problems when I cancelled cable TV, but kept cable Internet service. It would appear that some ISPs will throttle Internet-only users in order to thwart streaming video. Your data usage will go up when Apple TV is your primary source of video entertainment. This will put most users in jeopardy of being throttled.
I think there will be an upcoming conflict between streaming media providers and Internet service providers. I also expect Internet providers to increase their rates and eliminate unlimited plans.
The main impediment to streaming video is corporate greed. Since most ISPs sell cable TV subscriptions, don’t expect them to support customers who only subscribe to Internet service and use a streaming device. I have experienced this first hand. These aren’t technical limitations. Most people have had broadband capable of streaming HD video for a decade. ISPs often fool users into great deals, lock them into a contract, and then throttle them if they prefer streaming video over cable TV.