With iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3, Apple has introduced the new Apple TV app, which replaces the TV app (annoying, the app's icon in iOS and tvOS is still called just "TV"). In reality, you won't notice much difference – there are some design tweaks, but it's basically the same app. In the future, it will host Apple TV + and probably a number of other Apple services, but at the moment, the branding feature that Apple calls "channels" is just third-party streaming services that you can subscribe to within the Apple TV app (see "Apple reveals its vision for television, "March 26, 2019).
This is nothing new in the TV world. Amazon has provided a similar service in Amazon Prime for many years. With Apple TV channels, you can subscribe to streaming services such as HBO, Showtime and Starz. Apple is pushing Apple TV channels because it will cut monthly subscription revenues, but subscribing to Apple TV channels is beneficial:
- Single Continuous Multiple Registration Registration Method
- No Third Party Applications Required [1
- If you already have a payment method set up with iTunes, you do not need to enter payment details
- You can download content for offline viewing
- You can share your subscriptions yours with the family sharing circle
If you already subscribe to one of the available services, such as HBO, through their own app (like HBO NOW), you will not enjoy these benefits. As far as I can tell, it is not possible to transfer such external subscriptions to Apple TV channels, even though you can browse the content of the Apple TV app, just as you did in the TV app. If you want to switch Apple TV channels, you must cancel your existing subscription and sign up via Apple TV.
There are, of course, disadvantages, mainly that you can only view content from Apple TV channels on an Apple TV or iOS device. You will not be able to watch a Mac for MacOS 10.15, probably due in September 2019, and the content will not be available on non-Apple devices except smart TVs slated to get the Apple TV app or AirPlay 2 support (see "Apple opens iTunes Video and AirPlay Up for TV rivals," January 9, 2019).
Subscribe to Apple TV Channels
Apple makes subscription to Apple TV channels easy, if not clear. How to subscribe to Apple TV channels in iOS and tvOS, and in the third generation Apple TV. Fortunately, the process is the same on all three. Your subscriptions must be synchronized between devices if they are all logged into the same Apple ID.
How to find Apple TV channels to subscribe to:
- Open the Apple TV app.
- Make sure you are in the Watch Now tab, which is the default.
- Scroll down (you have to go quite) before you get to the Apple TV Channel header. It's called Subscribe to Apple TV Channels in iOS, available Apple TV channels in tvOS, and only third-generation Apple TV channels.
You'd think Apple would provide a dedicated category for Apple TV channels, but no, it's just a horizontal drop-down list. There is a screen called Explore Apple TV Channels that you can access by pressing a button a little lower in the Watch Now tab, but it's not much better. It allows you to explore all content on channels, but you still need to choose from the horizontal list if you just want to see a single channel.
Taping a channel lets you browse the content before you decide to subscribe. All channels have a 7-day free trial (available even if you've previously subscribed to the channel outside of Apple TV channels).
 If you see a channel that interests you, press Try the free button, which should appear clearly when you first see a channel. Then you need to authenticate your Apple ID, just as if you purchased an app. You may also need to accept updated terms and conditions.
Note that the button try it for free even after you have subscribed.
Play and download content from subscriptions
A complaint I have always had about the TV app and it's still true in the Apple TV app is that everything is jumbled together. The Watch Now tab spreads your subscribed content all over the place. Some of it may appear in up next and some in what to look at. There are usually "featured" sections for the services you subscribe to, such as Featured at PBS Living.
To focus on the channel you are subscribing to, you need to restore your registration steps: Go to View Now, scroll down to subscribe to Apple TV channels, and select the channel you want to browse. It's a lousy interface and I hope Apple will improve it soon.
It can also be difficult to predict what happens when you play content from the Apple TV app. Since it continues to support content from selected third-party apps in addition to Apple TV channels, there are two options:
- If you play content from an Apple TV channel, playback is done in the Apple TV app. No additional app required.
- If you play content from a third-party service, the Apple TV app will skip you to the service's app and start playing the content there.
If a title is available from several different services, all the apps supported by the Apple TV app, things can get confusing. For example, if you press the Play button on Sesame Street in the Apple TV app, it opens in the HBO NOW app on my iPhone, but Sesame Street is also available from several others sources including Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and DirecTV Now.
I've heard complaints from people who have had content open in the HBO GO app, even though they haven't had that app enabled this year. To solve this problem, scroll down the display information until you see how you look, showing all the places you can see on the show and choosing what you want.
When you subscribe to an Apple TV channel, you can also download a movie or TV show for offline viewing, such as on an airplane. Draw up the show's note and tap the download icon, which is Apple's default cloud that rains an arrow.
After downloading the program you can find it in Library> Downloaded. When you're done with a download, delete it by tapping the icon that looks like an iPhone X with a mark in it and Uninstall Download. To delete multiple entries, tap Edit, select the titles you want to remove, and select Delete.
Unsubscribe from Apple TV channels
To cancel trial or subscription, you can easily do it from iOS and even easier from tvOS. You cannot cancel a 3rd generation Apple TV subscription, but you can do so from iTunes. You have access to the content until your subscription period ends.
How to change a subscription in iOS 12:
- Go to Settings> Your Name > iTunes & App Save> Apple ID.
- Touch View Apple ID.
- In Account Settings, scroll down and click Subscriptions.
- Tap the subscription you want to cancel.
- Tap Cancel Subscription.
- Tap Confirm.
To cancel a subscription from an Apple TV HD or 4K, do so:
- Go to Settings> Accounts> Manage Subscriptions.
- Select a subscription to cancel.
- Select Cancel Trial or Cancel Subscription.
- Select Confirm.
From a Mac, click this link to open iTunes on the subscription page. Click Edit next to a subscription to see options for canceling it.
Finally, Apple TV channels are largely unattractive except for some small integration benefits by holding multiple subscriptions in Apple's walled garden. There are not even significant user interface benefits because the Apple TV app already lists the contents of these channels, and Netflix remains an outsider.
That is not to say that Apple TV channels will not attract subscribers because Apple will postpone many more people to these streaming services. And adding them will undoubtedly divert more money to Apple's boxes to strengthen the company's increasingly important service revenue.
But while Apple TV channels may be a necessary part of Apple's overall television strategy, we don't pretend there is any innovation involved, just back room negotiations and license fees.