Free Content for Apple TV

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Free content for Apple TV

If you purchased an Apple TV to join the multitude of cord-cutters, there’s good news. The Apple ecosystem offers a lot of free content. While I recommend subscribing to Hulu Plus and Netflix (they’re exceptional values), one can enjoy a vast selection of free content with Apple TV, and even more with an iPad or iPhone.

NOTE: This article covers using AirPlay to beam free content to Apple TV. It was originally written for the 2nd and 3rd generation model, however, it still applies to Apple TV 4.

The new Apple TV 4 features an App Store with thousands of apps, many of which are content channels. The tvOS App Store features numerous free content apps for Apple TV 4.

Interested in Apple TV 4 and tvOS? Check out these articles:

Apple TV, as a standalone device, offers a lot of free content. Apple TV currently features the following channels: A&E, ABC, ABC News, ACC Sports, AOL On, Apple Events, Bloomberg, CBS, CBS News, CBS Sports, CNBC, CNNgo, Crackle, Computers, Crunchyroll, Dailymotion, Disney, Disney Junior, Disney XD, ESPN, Feeln, Flickr, FOX NOW, Fusion, FX NOW, FYI, HBO GO, HBO NOW, History, Hulu Plus, iCloud Photos, iMovie Theater, iTunes Festival, iTunes Radio, KORTV, Lifetime, M2M, MLB.TV, MLS, Movies, Music, NatGeo TV, NBA, NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra, Netflix, NFL, NHL, 120 Sports, PBS, PBS Kids, Podcasts, Qello, Radio, Red Bull TV, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, Smithsonian Channel, Sky News, Tastemade, TED, Tennis Channel Everywhere, The Beatles, The Scene, Trailers, TV Shows, UFC, USA NOW, Vevo, Vimeo, Weather Channel, Willow, WSJ Live, WWE Network, Yahoo Screen, Young Hollywood and YouTube.

It is important to note that some channels require a paid subscription, while others need to be activated with a cable or satellite provider. Many Apple TV channels offer completely free content, with no strings attached. For a complete list, description and price of every Apple TV channel, read “Apple TV Channels”. If you’re looking for a quick reference of Apple TV channel costs, check out “Apple TV Channels by Cost”.

While this is a lot of free content, there’s a lot more to watch if you beam content from your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or computer using AirPlay. This article focuses on the iOS ecosystem — Apple TV with the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. If you have a Mac or PC and use AirPlay screen mirroring, you have even more free content at your fingertips. All of these content sources work with Apple TV, although you may need an iOS device to access them. Since these apps are so easy to use, I won’t be exploring their features in depth. Information is provided for enabling AirPlay and viewing this content in full-screen mode. Video quality is rated for each content provider.

The video quality assessments assume you will be using AirPlay and Apple TV on a flat screen TV. For most of these options, one can enjoy better picture quality by watching the shows directly on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Like many people, I prefer to watch TV shows and movies on the big screen, while seated comfortably.

Apple TV: iOS app supports AirPlay screen mirroring
Quality: below SD

ABC, along with most major networks (with the exception of FOX), allow access to their content from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. The ABC app allows iOS users to watch full episodes of shows such as Dancing with the Stars, Scandal, Nashville, and more.

As with most major networks, the app is well designed, but there is little attempt to make it AirPlay friendly. In fact, many reviews in the App Store claim that these apps do not support AirPlay. They do offer indirect support for AirPlay through screen mirroring. To enjoy these shows on your Apple TV, simply turn on AirPlay screen mirroring on your iOS device. I recommend doing this before you start the app. Use the zoom feature on your flat screen TV to enable a full screen picture.

AirPlay Screen Mirroring

Slide your finger up from the bottom of any screen to reveal Control Center. From here, you can activate AirPlay and Mirroring.

The ABC app’s video quality is not great. It is below standard definition. If you are experiencing network issues, the video quality is pretty bad. If you use the zoom feature on your TV to fill the screen, you will experience even worse picture quality. If you require better picture quality, look for the show on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or iTunes.

The ABC app has commercials. As with most online content, the commercial breaks are shorter. Commercial breaks are less than one minute long. This allows you to watch a 30 minute show in less than 25 minutes. (continue…)

Watch ABC App for iPad

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31 thoughts on “Free Content for Apple TV

    • It is all free. Adult Swim has a gold member subscription, but they offer a ton of content for free. All of the other services are free. If you are talking about the built in Apple TV channels listed above, most of them are free or have some free content. I make this very clear in the Apple TV Channels article.

        • It is if they offer free content. If you are referring to the Adult Swim Gold membership, I don’t subscribe. I still find the app quite useful and it has a lot of free episodes. I use it all the time, and have never spent a dime. Every AirPlay capable iOS app listed in this article offers free content. Apart from Adult Swim and iTunes, the rest are completely free. I mention these because they offer quite a lot of free content. I have even downloaded whole seasons of TV shows for free on iTunes. They always have something to watch for free.

    • I agree entirely. There is nothing free about HBO. As soon as I hit that, I discounted the article and moved on. Apparently being able to tune it, have it tell you that you can’t watch anything without a subscription is your idea of ‘free’. It is not mine.

      • As you mention, you didn’t bother to read the article. You skimmed it, misinterpreted it, and moved on.

        What you read was information about two other articles in the introduction. According to my stats, these articles are what a lot of readers are looking for. I write and organize my site to be useful for most readers. I can’t satisfy everyone, especially people who don’t actually read the article.

        I never make the claim that everything on HBO is free. Not only did you not read the article, but you misinterpreted what I wrote. If you read the article, you would realize that HBO has a YouTube channel. It offers free episodes and other full-length HBO content. The focus of this article is using AirPlay to beam free content onto Apple TV. If you read it, you’d realize that even HBO provides some free content. Thus, there is something free about HBO. Using AirPlay, users can tap into an infinite well of free content. I wrote this because a lot people who are new to Apple TV don’t realize how useful AirPlay is.

        Your criticism is negated by the fact that you didn’t read the article. You skimmed it and “discounted the article and moved on”. Perhaps YouTube is a better medium for you.

  1. Could you tell us what channels etc you get without having cable/satelitte (but have internet access) connected as it seems most/if all need it?

    • That’s covered in the Apple TV Tips article. The scope of this article is iOS apps that provide free content to Apple TV via AirPlay. Plex doesn’t make content, so it doesn’t quite fit here.

      You can also import videos into iTunes, which integrates with Apple TV better. You can either beam them with AirPlay, or use Computers on Apple TV.

  2. I hope someone writes an article entitled “Apple TV Channels that Don’t Require a Cable Account Or Paid Subscription”. That needs two sections.: Channels in which all content is free and Channels in which some content is free.

  3. I do have a question if I am wanti,g to get rid of cable why should I get apple tv if some of the channels I want require a cable provider. Makes no sense..

    • I know, it doesn’t make sense. This is an phenomenon of the cable industry’s last, desperate attempt to hold on to their power. After all, they can’t offer a decent user experience. All they can do is use deals and collusion to keep some content exclusive. They are lagging so far behind technology, it’s pathetic.

      The fact is, pretty much any show or sport is available on Apple TV, even if you don’t have cable. Just don’t think in terms of channels, but instead, think of shows. If you watch a lot of HBO or Showtime shows, it may prove cost-effective to sign up for their online offerings, which do not require cable. Pretty much every show or movie is available on iTunes. Hulu also has a lot of TV shows and is a remarkable value. Every major sport has an app. However, if you are a TV and sports fanatic, the costs can add up, so cable may be more cost effective.

      I cancelled cable 5 years ago and never looked back. I am watching better content and paying a fraction of the price. When I had cable, I subscribed to HBO, but the on demand offerings were incomplete. For example, they would have only 3 seasons of Entourage, but only 8 episodes in each season. The first season only had 8 episodes, but the other ones had 14. So I had to subscribe to Netflix DVDs to fill in the missing episodes. Sometimes on demand wouldn’t work at all due to network issues. The cable UI was horrible. The remote was lame with each function being on a specific button. I had to scan the remote to find the right button. I am in the process of re-watching Entourage, realizing that I missed a lot of episodes. It’s kind of upsetting in a way, realizing how cable was not only a poor experience, but kept me from content I was paying for. I’ve spent the last year re-watching all of these HBO shows like Oz, Deadwood and Six Feet Under, because I missed so many episodes, thanks to the cable industry that still exists in the last century. I absolutely detest the cable industry and relish the fact that they will just be pushing bits pretty soon, and maybe not even that, as Google and others can easily provide better Internet access. The cable industry is one that deserves to crash and burn. They always stymied competition and it took years for consumers to just get one or two alternatives.

      I bought my first Apple TV almost 5 years ago, and back then it only had Netflix, YouTube and iTunes. I used my iPad to beam Hulu to Apple TV using AirPlay. Even back then, I was watching everything I wanted to watch and saving money. I also enjoyed a much better user experience. The new Apple TV and the abundance of services put the cord-cutter in a much better position.

    • Not everything on Apple TV requires a cable or satellite subscription. I cancelled cable over 5 years ago and use Apple TV instead. I do subscribe to a few services, but not more than one or two at a time. It’s so easy to drop and add a subscription.

      This article covers using AirPlay with Apple TV. I wrote this a few years ago, but it still applies to all models of Apple TV. I just wrote an entirely new article — “Watch Free TV Shows and Movies on Apple TV”. It covers the new Apple TV 4 and tvOS apps. With an App Store, the new Apple TV has far more free content. Services like Crackle, TubiTV and others offer advertising-subsidized movies and TV shows. They’re completely free and their content isn’t edited at all.

  4. I want to cut off cable and landline to save $$. I was thinking about getting an Apple TV device (do I need to get an aerial too?). I know very little about it.
    The only TV channels I watch are HBO, TNT, PBS, NBC, MSNBC, FX, HGTV.
    Movies, I use Netflix.
    Is Apple TV a good solution for me?

    • It may be. I am a huge HBO fan and I use the HBO NOW app on Apple TV. It’s excellent and costs about $15 a month, which is actually cheaper than an HBO subscription on some cable plans. PBS also has an excellent app, which is even better if you donate $5 a month. I actually watch the PBS NewsHour on YouTube. It’s free, HD, and the NewsHour maintains the channel. They post new episodes shortly after they air and you can even watch it live. In my opinion, it’s the best news program available.

      You may want to check out some of the “cable over the Internet” packages which are compatible with Apple TV. You don’t need to buy an Apple TV first. They all offer free trials and you can use them on your computer or smartphone. These services are usually cheaper than cable and they actually have better user interfaces, but they are rife with rules and restrictions. Due to Viacom playing hard ball, most of these services don’t offer CBS. Some of them black out a lot of shows — not just sports, but even some movies.

      I have written extensively about these services. I have tried them all and cancelled them all. I just don’t like cable or live TV much at all, but the restrictions reduced their overall value.

      If you want to read more, here are my reviews of a few “cable over the Internet” packages. I liked Sony’s PlayStation Vue the best. Sling is an excellent value.

      DIRECTV NOW for Apple TV
      PlayStation Vue for Apple TV
      Apple TV 4: Watch Live TV with Sling TV

  5. This device is a HUGE piece of garbage. Already had the Roku. When signed up for DIRECTV NOW, they had a special for a free Apple TV or Amazon device. I didn’t know much about either, researched and just thought would go with Apple. Figured that it would have something more the about 60 apps and 99% were pay or just apps for the stuff I already have with my DIRECTV NOW subscription. People can say what they want, but everything about this device is crappy all the way down to its irritating remote. Seriously, who puts a 1″ touch screen on a 3″ wide controller to move about 3″ on the screen. Honestly it is a giant headache. OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH how I wish I had known somebody with this piece of crap, because it might not of been better, but it couldn’t of been worse with the Amazon. Or, I’d of taken the discount instead offered by DIRECTV NOW, because this piece of junk isn’t even worth getting FREE. There are far more terrible things to say about this, but just the fact that they’d want 200 bucks, just to have to spend far more to even get any use out of it, just shows that as always, Apple corners the market on over charging for products to over charge you for more. The Roku has over 5,000 apps and 90% are free, it costs less, you can do more, and its not a piece of garbage to control. I don’t expect anyone will read this. After all, they monitor, to make sure you don’t read the facts and buy their junk.

    • I have no affiliation with Apple and I think Apple TV is one of the worst Apple products ever. That said, it is not that bad compared to the competition.

      Apple TV has way more than 60 apps. The tvOS app store has thousands of apps and most of them are free. I don’t think you actually own an Apple TV. That 60 number comes from the Apple website, but they’re talking about networks available on the TV app. Anyone who actually has an Apple TV would know there are thousands of tvOS apps. The tvOS app store is relatively new, and they have already surpassed Roku. Developers can easily port iOS apps to tvOS, which is a huge advantage.

      Apple TV’s hardware is decent. I love the Siri Remote. Have you tried playing Asphalt 8 Airborne with the Siri Remote? There’s no Roku version of that game, but it’s on virtually every other platform. It’s one of the most popular racing games on the planet. Roku doesn’t have it! Apple TV is capable of running high performance video games using their Metal 2 API.

      Apple TV’s core software is stable, but there are little quirks where the tvOS team has deviated from iOS.

      For me, the worst thing about Apple TV is the need to constantly sign on with a TV provider to activate network apps. It is absurd. I have activated and reactivated network apps, even though tvOS has offered “single sign on” for several months. It just doesn’t work. The fact that one needs a TV provider to access most content is a deal breaker for most people who plan on cutting the cord. This is intentional and it is not Apple’s fault. These decisions were made by the cable/satellite industry and they apply to EVERY TV device on the market. Roku does not let you watch network apps for free. They also have to be activated with a provider.

  6. This was very informative. Thank you for the effort and time taken into writing this. I’m glad you’re not listening to all of the negative riff raff. It’s great you made links to answer more questions. Thanks!

    • This is a very good question, and unfortunately, it leaves me with more questions than answers. India uses 220v power, and we use 110v in the US. This is no problem, as Apple TV’s power supply is universal. You will probably need a new power cord, however, as the wall receptacles differ.

      The trickier situation is how your Apple ID will be handled when you are in the US. You will probably have access to all US apps and content, as these restrictions are based on IP address. If not, you can always create a new Apple ID. Just go to the Apple ID website, create a new ID and use it on your Apple TV. I don’t think you will need to do this.

      I think your biggest hurdle will be streaming anything on hotel wifi. In my experience, it is dead slow.

      A better alternative may be to just buy a lightning to HDMI cable and use this to play content from an iPhone or iPad directly onto the hotel’s TV. If you can’t get decent wifi in the hotel, you can use a cellular connection.

      Good luck! I hope you have a great time here.

    • You probably didn’t bother to read the article or the linked articles. This article focuses on how to use AirPlay to watch free content. I also linked to another article about native tvOS apps that have free content. Apps like Crackle and Tubi are totally free. The viewer just has to watch commercials. You simply discredit yourself by claiming that “there’s nothing free about Apple TV”.

      As Apple TV evolves, there is actually more free content today than there was a year ago. The networks are starting to realize that they can monetize streaming just as they do with broadcast or cable TV — with advertising.

    • AirPlay is a free technology provided by Apple. It allows users to beam virtually anything to Apple TV. If you can watch it for free on your device, you can typically beam it to Apple TV. There are a few companies who have disabled or hobbled AirPlay on iOS, but not many. With a Mac or Windows PC, you can beam anything to Apple TV. (You may have to purchase an AirPlay app for Windows, but anything on iTunes can be beamed to Apple TV using its included AirPlay technology.)

      The network apps that require a TV provider subscription are not free, but many of them offer free content. This gets better every day. I don’t have a TV provider. I am a cord cutter. I still use these network apps, without activation and without paying anything. For example, Comedy Central allows me to watch the newest episodes of their top shows for free. NBC is even more generous.

      Then there are excellent apps like Crackle and Tubi, where people can watch free TV shows and movies. You have to watch commercials, however, there are fewer ads than on cable. Movies on Crackle are also uncensored and unedited, unlike their chopped-to-pieces cable counterparts. I’m a huge Crackle fan.

      Every day, I see more and more networks, like the CW, who are forgoing the TV provider requirement. They monetize their content with ads and others are following suit.

      There’s a lot of free content on Apple TV. Yes, when you launch it for the first time, it is just iTunes Movies and TV Shows. Launch the App Store and you’ll find tons of free content.

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