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TV App Regression

TV App’s Watch Now Tab

Joe Cieplinski, on the state of Apple’s TV app:

At first, when I saw the way Apple was mixing and matching all the content from available channels, iTunes rentals, purchases, and streaming services like Prime, I was annoyed. How am I supposed to find shows specific to certain sources in here? And more importantly, how can I tell the difference between what I already have access to with my existing subscriptions, and what is going to require a new subscription or a one-time payment?

And that’s the rub. You can’t easily get a screen with all the content you already have access to. Sure the library tab will show you movies and tv shows you’ve purchased on iTunes. But my HBO subscription? Prime? These are just mixed in with all the rest of the content. You can dig and find HBO specific pages, sure. But they are buried behind multiple layers of UI.

Joe goes on to make the point that all Apple needs to do is get you in the door with the one-year free trial. After that it’s a sea of impulse buys. $4 for a movie rental, $5 for a new channel subscription, and so on. It’s so easy to spend money in the Apple TV app because there’s no differentiation between what you do and don’t already have access to.

And that’s why I’m so irritated by tvOS 13. I was a massive advocate for the TV app. Up until now, it was an excellent way to take all of the streaming services I had access to and aggregate my watch list into a single location. It didn’t matter if the show was on Hulu, Crackle, or Prime Video, I could let the TV app keep track of that for me.

This was such a fantastic experience. The TV app even let me skip launching the app itself by displaying my Up Next queue right in the top shelf. That’s entirely gone now, though, and it’s all been replaced with a bombardment of advertisements enticing me to spend just a few more dollars to gain access to the next hit show.

I don’t want that, though. I don’t need more monthly subscriptions or one-off movie rentals. So I’ve decided to move the Apple TV app into a folder and shift focus toward alternatives.

I’ve been acquiring physical discs more lately. I just bought the entire series of Avatar: the Last Airbender on blu-ray and have been slowly converting each disc into MKV files that I can store on our Plex server. It almost seems like everyone forgot how cheap discs are and how incredibly good the quality is. And if you’re willing to spend a little bit of time ripping, converting, and maintaining a Plex server, in the long run you’ll end up spending far less than you would on streaming services.

There’s a part of me that considers the ultimate goal to be acquiring enough media through physical discs and purchased media that I won’t need to pay a monthly fee for video services anymore. But until I’ve acquired a large enough catalog of shows and movies in Plex, we’re still stuck using streaming services to supplement.

WatchAid’s Top Shelf Extension

I’m not using the Apple TV app to aggregate that content anymore, though. I’ve transitioned our watch list to WatchAid instead. It’s not a perfect app, but it offers most of the features I miss from the old TV app and doesn’t include as much of the up-sells — there are still links to purchase content in iTunes, but those are pretty unobtrusive.

I do wish you could explicitly tell WatchAid what services you had access to, so it would only surface those as streaming options. And I would love to see a tab for browsing only content available in your chosen services, but I guess this is as close as I’m going to get at this point.

It would be better if Apple went back to the drawing board and updated the TV app to a bit more friendly to users again. For now, though, WatchAid is leaps and bounds better than the current state of the TV app.

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