You can now watch cable channels on your Apple TV without a cable subscription

As part of its

deluge of WWDC announcements, Apple on Monday noted that Dish Network’s Sling TV service is now available on its Apple TV
media streamer.
If you’re an Apple TV owner who’s not totally familiar with Sling TV, this is good news! The app has been available on most of the other major streamers for some time now (PlayStation 4
aside), but it remains one of the few services (
PlayStation Vue aside) that lets you watch genuine cable channels without having to pay for an actual cable subscription.

As you might know, when Apple touts network-based apps like WatchESPN, FXNow, or HBO Go, it’s not really promoting “the future of TV.” Or at least, not the rosy cable-free future such a phrase might bring to mind. Those apps, like many others, still require cable authentication to be used. That means someone has to be paying in the old way to get the new way to work.

If you’re like me, you get by this by freeloading off your mum’s login. (What she doesn’t know doesn’t hurt her.) Either way, it’s not disposing cable so much as it’s putting cable someplace else. In this light, the media streamer becomes little more than a flashier cable box.

Sling TV, meanwhile, is what’s known as a “skinny bundle.” Whereas traditional cable sticks you with a truckload of stations — the majority of which you’ll never watch — at a high cost, here you get a smaller, more curated selection of live-TV channels in a plan that starts at $20 per month.

Some of those channels, namely ESPN, are very highly desired by people who’d like to cut the cord. Some others are plenty popular as well. With this (or Vue), someone who’s never signed up for cable can get a decent chunk of the content they’d otherwise miss without it.

Now, this is far from the “a la carte” fantasy cord cutters have had forever. The two core bundles you can start from here are still bundles — paying $20 per month for the ESPN-led package still means some of your cash is going toward the Travel Channel. Some other channels can only be added by paying for
smaller add-on packs.

It’s also worth noting that various Sling TV users have complained of streaming quality issues since the service launched last year. (Though there is a 7-day free trial.)

Plus, if you toss this on top of, say, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now subscriptions, you’re still paying a good chunk of change to get away from cable, whose high costs are what you’re ostensibly avoiding in the first place. If skinny bundles take off as a whole, there are other doubts to be had as well.

That said, Sling’s channel selection (and interface) has only improved in recent months, and if you only live off a couple services as it is, the extra cost might be worth it. For now, it’s one of the only services on the Apple TV one can reasonably consider an alternative method of getting cable.

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