December 15, 2013 at 3:04 p.m. PST
Apple TV’s lineup is rapidly expanding. This month, Apple TV adds Bloomberg, ABC, Crackle and KORTV.
Apple TV was once considered Steve Jobs’ hobby. The TV platform now offers dozens of built-in content channels. Users with an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch can take advantage of hundreds of AirPlay enabled apps. Updates to Apple TV have become more frequent, as Apple is taking the device more seriously. The addition of Bloomberg, ABC, Crackle and KORTV comes less than a month after the debut of PBS and Yahoo Screen. Let’s take a look at what each of these new channels has to offer.
Bloomberg is a media, software and data corporation founded in 1981 by Michael Bloomberg. Their new Apple TV channels offers financial, political, technology and lifestyle news. The channel features both live and on demand content.
Live content is available with a new interface. Clicking on the “Live” menu option takes the user to the programming schedule. The user can only play what is currently on air, however, one is able to browse upcoming shows on the schedule. The live broadcast is available 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, it features paid programming (infomercials) late at night and early in the morning.
Their live offering is useful and innovative, but if you really want 24 hour news, Sky News is probably a better option. The two news providers are somewhat complimentary. Bloomberg has a business and financial orientation. Sky offers international news from the perspective of the UK. If you are an avid investor, Bloomberg is definitely worth watching.
Users can also browse and play on demand content from the menu. Much of the live programming is archived as video on demand. This is useful if you want to watch Bloomberg content at odd hours of the night or early morning, when their live feed offers infomercials.
Overall, Bloomberg is a solid addition to the Apple TV lineup. Along with the Wall Street Journal and Sky News, Bloomberg is another great way to get up-to-the-minute news and information. Podcasts are another great resource for news. I watch the NBC Nightly News video podcast regularly.
Crackle is the poor man’s Hulu Plus. Founded as Grouper in the 2000s, the company was later acquired by Sony Pictures Entertainment and rebranded as Crackle. The new Apple TV channel features free HD movies and TV shows. While the selection leaves much to be desired, there’s always something to watch and their collection is constantly changing. You get what you pay for. Crackle is absolutely free and funded by advertising.
Crackle offers uncut and unedited TV shows and movies with commercial breaks. The selection is limited, but changes all the time. Browsing through the content, I could find a few movies and TV shows worth watching. As a Netflix and Hulu Plus subscriber, I don’t think I will get much use out of Crackle. There’s less than 100 movies offered at any one time. Titles such as The Cable Guy, Hollow Man, and Desperado are some of the better options. TV shows are also limited to a few episodes, maybe a season, of a few shows. Sanford & Son, Dilbert, and Married With Children are the few that piqued my interest.
Crackle programming is constantly changing. Videos are offered for about 5 months. It’s worth checking out Crackle often. You probably won’t find a specific title you’re looking for, but there’s usually something worth watching. Perhaps with more viewers, their selection will improve.
Next to PBS, Crackle is probably the best free content provider on Apple TV. The amount of free content on Apple TV is growing. Apple is not locking users into iTunes, as many people feared. In fact, as Apple TV matures, I find myself spending less money on iTunes content. Crackle is a great option for those who don’t want to pay for Hulu Plus. That said, Hulu Plus has much more content — the shows that most people want to watch.
Users can create a free Crackle account, which enables saving videos to the Watchlist. Crackle for Apple TV is available in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. The Crackle website, which plays streaming video, is available in 22 nations and three languages — English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
KORTV offers 17 free and premium Korean TV channels with live streams and video on demand. The media provider is exclusive to Apple products, such as the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV. One can only speculate that Apple’s tight partnership with KORTV is aimed at gaining traction in Korea, a market dominated by Samsung. Partnering with content providers is Apple’s strong suit. Samsung will not be able to offer KORTV on their smart TVs, mobile devices and set-top boxes. KORTV is available in 100 nations using Apple’s devices.
English speakers won’t find much use for KORTV. Although their support page mentions that they have non-Korean language programming, I wasn’t able to find any. Turning on closed captioning, subtitles, or alternate audio didn’t help. Apple TV is an international product. KORTV is a great addition, even though I won’t get much use out of it. The service is offered in the U.S. and many other nations, as there is a significant Korean population outside of Korea.
Most of KORTV’s live channels are free. They have a handful of premium channels, with subscription fees ranging from $1.99 to $3.99. One must subscribe to each channel individually. Video on demand requires a $4.99 subscription. While the service offers an abundance of live TV channels, on demand options are limited. The user interface has a feature similar to Bloomberg — the ability to browse live TV schedules. I expect to see more of this in the future, as more hybrid live/vod content channels launch on Apple TV.
For those of us who don’t speak Korean, KORTV is still an intriguing Apple TV channel. It encapsulates 17 live, streaming TV channels, with corresponding on demand content. Some have speculated that cable companies may make the jump to Apple TV, and this provides a model of how this can happen. Instead of 17 channels, imagine Time Warner or Comcast offering 500 channels with additional on demand content. It would cannibalize their business to some degree. However, as more people start cutting the cord and cancelling cable, it would provide a smooth transition to the truly digital domain — IPTV.
I think it would be great for consumers. While cable companies are not the regional natural monopolies they used to be, we still have little choice. I can only choose from two cable providers, and my homeowners association will not allow me to install a dish. With a lack of competition, we’re subject to very high fees for cable. It would be great for consumers if we could choose from many different media providers on Apple TV. As the platform matures, that seems to be the case. Those who claim that Apple limits choices haven’t been paying attention. Apple TV is still just a hobby, and it’s one of the cheapest devices that Apple makes. Nonetheless, the amount of content available is staggering.
I still think the future of video will marginalize live TV. We still need live TV for sporting events, award shows, and breaking news. However, most content can be made available on demand. Netflix has really led the way, offering whole seasons of original shows all at once.
Last and least, Apple TV adds ABC to the lineup. ABC is another content channel requiring a cable subscription for activation. Only a handful of cable providers enable access to this service. There are some interesting innovations, however. The ABC channel provides access to live programming from local affiliates. Even though I don’t have cable, and therefore cannot activate the channel, I am able to browse my local ABC affiliate’s schedule. This is another hint as to the future of Apple TV. Users can access live, local programming based on their computed geographic location.
Live TV access that requires a cable subscription seems superfluous. Why not just watch ABC on cable? At best, it may be useful to those with an Apple TV tucked away in a room without cable access. Perhaps ABC is getting their foot in the door. In time, these networks may ease out of their partnership with cable companies, offering content to anyone.
ABC for Apple TV also features video on demand. Programs such as The Goldbergs, Modern Family, and Grey’s Anatomy are offered, but the collection is incomplete. I find this surprising. One can find complete and up-to-date collections of these programs on Hulu Plus. The ABC channel is clearly offered to those who don’t want to pay for Hulu Plus.
Cord-cutters have been able to access ABC programming on Apple TV for some time. Hulu Plus offers many ABC shows. If you don’t want to pay for the service, you can just download the ABC app for iOS and use AirPlay to watch content. This method won’t yield great video quality, but you get what you pay for.
How to Hide Channels You Don’t Use
Apple TV has a lot of great content channels, and also a lot of media you might not watch. If you don’t have cable, the channels requiring a cable subscription are just taking up space. Some people don’t subscribe to paid content, like sports channels. If you want to remove icons from the main menu, simply go to Settings > General > Restrictions. Scroll down the list and toggle “hide” for the channels you don’t use. It will make it easier to navigate what is now becoming a crowded main menu.
The Future of Apple TV?
Apple TV is still a work in progress. There are rumors that Apple will be producing a new model, based on the A7 chip. The set-top box already supports Bluetooth. It is possible that Apple TV will be making a great leap forward — offering access to the App Store and video games that can be operated with Bluetooth controllers. This is all possible, but it’s speculative. Apple’s current course of piecemeal content additions will have to do for now.
Every few months, I wake my Apple TV and find more channels and content. I am using AirPlay a lot less than when I purchased the device. Nothing beats the user experience of watching TV with a small remote, at least for now. Perhaps future models will be controlled with kinetic gestures or one’s voice. All that remains certain is that Apple TV will continue to improve and amaze.