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A live TV package — ESPN, CNN, AMC and more — is finally coming to Apple TV

Apple gets first crack at Sling TV’s new user interface.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Apple wanted to offer its own pay TV service that would run on its Apple TV set top box. That didn't happen.

So here’s something else: Sling TV is bringing its pay TV service to Apple TV.

Apple announced the news at its WWDC event today, along with the fact that Apple’s box will be the first device featuring a new interface for the TV subscription service.

Sling lets users watch live TV and video-on-demand from an array of channels including ESPN, CNN and AMC. While Apple TV users have previously been able to watch live TV from subscription apps like HBO Now and "TV Everywhere" apps like WatchESPN, this will be the first time they’ve been able to use a service that bundles multiple TV channels together, like traditional cable TV does.

The two companies are also working together on a promotion: New Sling subscribers who pre-pay for three months of the service, which starts at $20 a month, can buy an Apple TV box for $90 instead of Apple’s $150 list price.

Sling subscribers have already been able to use the service on Apple’s iOS devices, as well as hardware from many other players, including Amazon, Roku and Google. So this isn’t a game-changer — it’s more like a catch-up.

Sling’s addition to Apple TV also underscores the fact that while Apple has insisted that it doesn’t need to cobble together its own pay TV service, because "the future of TV is apps," the future of TV will also involve bundles of programming. Just like regular TV does now.

The difference, if there is one, will be how much the bundles sell for, and which programmers are in them.

If you’ve paid close attention to Sling TV’s interface in the past, you’ll note that the company has made progress with its new interface, which allows you to essentially create your own TV guide stocked with the channels you care about, instead of all the ones Sling offers.


There’s also an improved search capability that uses the voice search in the Apple TV remote — but that’s different from the Siri-powered search that operates across the rest of Apple TV. (Good luck trying to figure out the difference.)

If you don't have Apple TV and don’t want to buy one, you’ll still be able to see the new Sling set-up this summer. Sling executives say that competing platforms will get the new interface over the next couple months.

A couple other details:

  • Sling and its owner Dish Network previously announced that some of Viacom’s channels would be coming to Sling as part of the agreement the two companies reached after a particularly fraught license negotiation. Now that’s happening. You can see the details on Sling’s site, but the upshot is that Comedy Central is coming to all of the $20 packages that Sling sells, and up to 11 more channels will be available, depending on the package or set of add-on channels you get.
  • The fact that Sling will be available on Apple TV doesn’t change the fact that you still can’t subscribe to Sling via Apple’s App Store and iTunes billing system. Instead, you need to pay through Sling’s site. Sling execs say that’s because Apple’s system isn't set up to walk subscribers through the mix-and-match offers that Sling sells; while they won’t say it out loud, they are also happy not to give Apple 15 percent of their monthly subscription fee, as other TV services do.

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