What Is Live Tune-in on Apple TV?

Apple has a plan to cut the cable

Czech live TV broadcast van

 Jan Starzak

In its original conception, Apple TV was supposed to replace cable as a way to get great content on your television set. Apple hasn’t quite managed to achieve this, partly due to the nature of the existing broadcasting market and the myriads of complex connections between channels, advertisers, and content providers. However, Live Tune-in gives you a sense of how things will eventually be.

Introducing Live Tune-in

The Apple TV’s new Live Tune-in feature appeared within tvOS 9.2 in April 2016 but is currently only available in the US. It lets you ask Siri to watch live broadcasts from specific channels, such as CBS, Disney XD or ESPN. Siri will automatically switch to the app from the channel you specify or will tell prompt you to install the relevant app if you have not already done so. All you need to do is say “Watch CBS” or “Watch ESPN Live”.


Live Tune-in requires that you have the appropriate app installed on your Apple TV. In the case of CBS All Access, for example, you need to both install the app and sign up for the monthly fee to access the content you need.

Live Tune-in also works by enabling viewers to access content provided within their existing cable bundle. In this case, you’ll be given an access code and directed to a sign-in page where you must enter your cable provider name, the code and then log in to your cable provider account.

Once that task completes you should be able to watch content in apps belonging to the channels your cable co provides. Loopinsight warns that at least when the feature first appeared, video quality was poor “like a bad hotel feed”, but hopefully this will be resolved.

The bottom line usually is that access to live content through your Apple TV usually requires a paid subscription or an active cable connection.

Starting Point

Live Tune-in isn’t yet available outside the US and even in the US only a selected number of channels seem to support the feature, but this seems likely to change as developers work with the latest developmental software. It seems possible Apple will develop the feature so you can access an interactive TV guide to help you navigate through whatever live TV content you do have available to you, just as you can on any cable channel.

It is widely known that Apple has been working to create a live TV replacement service for Apple TV, but that it has been unable to reach a deal with the relevant stakeholders who presently dominate the space.

However, their refusal may not last forever. Apple’s decision to make it easy for channels to make their content available through apps in conjunction with cable cutting creations such as Live Tune-in form an incremental challenge to the status quo. When current cable customers can assemble their own personalized selection of channels in the form of apps, and also access them on demand using Apple TV and Siri, the appeal can only grow. 

Meanwhile, Apple hopes to introduce self-created television shows via Apple TV, presumably hoping to capture the mood of consumers with shows as critically acclaimed as Amazon Prime’s Vikings or HBO’s Game of Thrones. The company hopes to debut multiple series at once via an ‘exclusives’ app on the Apple TV, a report claims.

Alternative Tips for Cable Cutters

Supported by iTunes and through a series of brilliant third-party apps, Apple already makes it easy to replace your cable television package if you really only want to watch movies and selected TV shows. However, if you want good access to other sources of television entertainment you can supplement this with other available solutions, such as Sling TV.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to have to use too many boxes in order to provide yourself with entertainment you can use any networked television tuner (such as the SiliconDust HDHomeRun) and an app called Channels for tvOS (Macworld review). The latter grabs content from your TV tuner so you can access, play, pause, rewind, fast forward and record 30-minute sections of live television for playback using your Apple TV box.