18: Waiting for the future of TV

It's been nine months since the Apple TV was allegedly delayed for lack of content deals, resulting in the top three most awkward keynote moments in WWDC history all happening in a row. I've had my own Apple TV for a couple months, and the number one thing about it that frustrates me is how to get my content of choice to appear on it.

My viewing habits may not be those of the average nerd, as I gravitate heavily towards live sports (of any type — I was watching curling last weekend). I'll also admit to being a "cord-borrower", as I have no cable TV subscription in my own name but mooch streaming services off of family members who do. Even in this situation, if the future of TV is apps, those apps simply haven't arrived.

I have a folder full of sports apps on my iPhone homescreen, and 7 of the 9 on the first page offer live streaming (yes, yes, I have a problem, I get it). Of those, only three have any presence on the Apple TV and only one, WatchESPN, is a rock-solid, enjoyable experience on tvOS. (One, the March Madness app is brand new to tvOS, and will only be put to the test in the coming days. More on that soon!) The worst culprit is beIN Sports, a typographically odd investment vehicle designed to make US-based soccer fans sad. They offer streaming on the web and iOS, but not tvOS. Unfortunately, their web streaming hasn't worked in months on any Mac I've tried and their iPad app crashes as soon as the stream begins. This leaves my tiny iPhone screen or spotty AirPlay to the TV, since like many poorly crafted iOS apps, they use a custom video player.

I suppose, in a sense, I'm doing it wrong. Second-tier cable sports networks are first and foremost cable networks, so to them the notion of getting their broadcasts to a full-size TV by any hardware other than a cable box is madness. But if there's that level of disconnect, how will Apple's vision of the future of TV ever come to fruition? Developing for tvOS is an investment of time and money, already an obstacle that companies who put together slapdash software won't want to overcome. Changing their fundamental assumptions about the conduit for consuming their programming may be simply too much, even if Apple manages to pull off miracles with the major networks.

The present of TV is still magical: I can watch Lazio, my favorite soccer team, playing live in Italy in HD, a complete impossibility when I first started following them ten years ago. But if you see me cheering them on with my iPhone on the armrest, plugged in to power, screen black but backlit to keep AirPlay alive, you'll know I'm still waiting for the future.