Breaking news is something you just have to watch as it happens. Fortunately, the Apple TV lets you get your news fix without a cable subscription. This guide will walk you through the best news apps for watching live news on your Apple TV.
Reuters TV: Not your great-great-great grandfather’s news app
A surprisingly strong effort comes from one of the oldest companies in the news business. Reuters got its start 166 years ago when journalists delivered breaking news reports by carrier pigeon. Now the venerable news agency has embraced 21st Century media.
The Reuters TV app launched a few years ago as a subscription service. The company dropped its paywall last year in favor of an ad-supported business model. Some of the advertising appears as company logos on sponsored sections, but most of the ads are traditional thirty or sixty second video spots. Reuters claims that the “premium” ads consume only 5% of viewing time compared to 25% on traditional TV. If even that is too much for you, an in-app subscription will give you an ad-free experience.
The app opens in the Reuters Now section. You choose whether you have time for a ten, fifteen, or thirty-minute news report. This is not a rehash of an earlier newscast. Reuters has more than 2,500 journalists around the world producing video reports every day. The ten minutes of Reuters Now you watch during lunch will not be the same ten minutes you watched in the morning. In effect, it is the same experience you get on a traditional newscast but without a news anchor introducing each video. Reuters promises that the app will evolve over time as its algorithms learn what kind of news you prefer watching.
The menu bar lets you navigate between the Reuters Now, Featured, Live, and Settings sections. Featured is home to Reuters’ on-demand reports. Within each topic you can select specific videos or watch the entire topic as a single stream. Some of the topics are sponsored. Microsoft, for example, sponsors the “Race to the Future” technology section.
Reuters does not produce a live stream with anchors introducing pre-produced reports or interviewing other journalists like you will see on other networks. The Live section instead hosts Reuters coverage of specific events. Most of these are press conferences or public addresses by world leaders. During breaking news events, such as the recent Finsbury Park attack in London, the Live section is where you will find live streams from Reuters journalists on the scene. A badge appears next to the Live bar menu item to notify you when a new stream is available
The Settings section lets you toggle between the US and International versions of the app. Reuters may have bigger plans, but right now this looks like a poor decision. The Live and Featured sections are the same in both versions. The only thing that does change is the content in the Reuters Now feed. It would have been much easier for the user if the app had separate menu bar items for Reuters Now US and Reuters Now World. But that is the only flaw in an otherwise solid app.
CBS News: The Tiffany Network goes over the top
The traditional TV networks, both cable and broadcast, are not cord cutter-friendly. Apps from the cable news channels require a cable subscriber code to activate. Fox’s app only streams a webcam from the studios of its talk radio network. ABC promotes the ability to watch four live streams simultaneously, but most of the streams are not related to news. NBC’s news app only provides on demand reports.
CBS is the only traditional network that gets things right. It was the last network to set up a 24×7 news operation, so CBSN went with a digital-first strategy that skipped cable entirely. CBSN is a pure over-the-top news network that is only available on the web, through CBS News mobile apps, and on home streaming devices like the Apple TV.
Of course, you cannot expect an old network like CBS to change completely. The CBS News app has more advertising than any of the others in this review. Two or three ads will run between programs and during programs’ regular commercial breaks.
The app’s live stream autoplays at launch. Anchors introduce news reports, conduct in-studio interviews, and coordinate breaking news coverage just like any other news network. The news you see is not a rehash or what you get on TV. While some of the reports are rebroadcast from the parent network’s news shows, CBSN’s in-house journalists develop their own reports as well.
Most of the navigation happens from the CBS News screen rather than the menu bar. Scrolling down you will see recent or popular stories that the network has run. You can also watch reports from CBS’s roster of scheduled news shows like 60 Minutes and Face the Nation.
The menu bar lets you switch between the CBS News, My Videos, and Search screens. My Videos displays any news reports that you have bookmarked. Just click and hold the remote while video is playing to add it to the list.
Bloomberg: News for the business-minded
Bloomberg makes its money selling information services to companies on Wall Street rather than from cable fees. But even the rest of us 99-percenters get round-the-clock reporting of the world’s business news.
The app does have an ad-based business model. Ads appear more often than in the Reuters TV app, but not as often as the CBS News app. You will see a brief ad when you launch the live stream and on-demand videos. Every once in a while an ad appears as an on-demand stream transitions from one video to another.
The app opens to the Featured section. This is where you can launch Bloomberg’s live stream. Columns to the right let you navigate through collections of on-demand videos. The collections are an odd jumble of categories, topics, and shows. Why, for example, list content from Hello World when the most recent episode is five months old? The “For You” column is visible even though customization is only available to Bloomberg’s subscribers.
The menu bar lets you switch between Featured, Shows, and Settings. Bloomberg subscribers can sign-in to their accounts from the Settings screen. If you are not a subscriber, you will never use the Settings screen. The Shows screen, as you would expect, organizes on-demand videos for each of Bloomberg’s scheduled news shows. There are some odd choices here as well. The Bloomberg app lists shows that no longer air on the network. All of you who missed The Spark’s May 2016 report on wastewater beer are in luck. For the rest of us, the stale content leaves a lot to be desired.
The execution may not be perfect. Bloomberg’s unique focus, however, makes this an essential app for anyone who needs to track the latest business news.
Sky News: A global perspective
Apps from international news networks like Al Jazeera, NHK, CBC, DW, and RT will give you a different perspective on the world’s news – and on events in the US. Unfortunately, Apple does not make the apps easy to discover. You will have to use the App Store’s search function to track most of them down.
Sky News delivers the most comprehensive coverage out of all of the international apps. The 24-hour news network – Britain’s first – began as a satellite news channel in the 1980s. Only viewers in the United Kingdom see advertising. Sky News International runs video headlines during the commercial breaks, making the Sky News app subscription-free and ad-free.
The app opens to the Sky News screen which lists recent news reports for on-demand viewing. A thumbnail in the carousel at the top of the screen includes an option for Sky News’ live stream. You can also find the live stream by navigating through the menu bar to Live, selecting the one live option, and then selecting play. Or you can go to the Categories section, select Live, and guess which one of three options will work. The other two are for the UK and some other unnamed region. That is not the best experience but it’s easy enough to avoid.
The Categories section has a more useful function: letting you find on-demand news reports by topic. It has separate collections for US, UK, and World news reports as well as technology and entertainment collections. There is even a Royal Family category so you can keep up with those wacky Windsors.
Pluto TV: A dwarf planet’s worth of news
Convenience is the Pluto TV app’s big selling point. It consolidates a dozen news channels (along with movies and sports) within one app. But that convenience comes at the cost of the experience.
Pluto TV was founded a few years ago to serve the cord cutter market with an over-the-top TV experience. Its editors originally curated YouTube videos, presenting them within a programming guide-like interface like you would see on a cable box. It now has content deals with major networks that expanded its offerings.
Live video streams from CBS News, Sky News, RT, NewsmaxTV, and Bloomberg deliver the news as it happens. The other news channels, however, are not live. The NBC/MSNBC and Newsy channels consist of curated collections of videos. The streams from Cheddar and CNBC are delayed by as much as five hours.
Pluto TV is an ad-supported rebroadcaster of other networks’ news which creates an uneven experience. You will see ads that CBS and the others run. Pluto TV also inserts its own advertising which can interrupt the program you are watching.
Video quality is not consistent between the channels either. The CBS News channel, for example, is as sharp as what you see in the CBS News app. The feeds from NBC, however, are much softer.
The interface itself needs work as well. You cannot create a favorites list or enter the channel number directly. That means you have to scroll one by one through the entire list to change channels. Even though news channels are grouped together, it is an unnecessary annoyance.
Going Local: Free or convenient, but not both
Local news is the one weakness all of these apps share. The national and international networks are not set up to provide locally-tailored reports. You do have two options for getting local news streaming through your Apple TV.
The first option is to download your local station’s app on your phone and then stream to the Apple TV. Of course that option does not work for Android owners since AirPlay only works between the Apple TV and an iPhone or iPad. On top of that, the better local apps often require activation with a cable subscription. The remaining local apps make the experience so inconvenient that it may not be worth the hassle.
The second option has an upfront cost of a few hundred dollars: a SiliconDust HDHomeRun networked TV tuner paired with an over-the-air HDTV antenna. The combination will let you stream every local TV station to most devices on your network.
Except the Apple TV. SiliconDust has not developed a tvOS app, but third-party apps can bring the feed into your Apple TV. If you already use Plex to stream media across your network, you can integrate the HDHomeRun and stream broadcast TV stations to your Plex app on the Apple TV. But only if you subscribe to the premium Plex Pass service. That gets you a programming guide and access to the Plex DVR service.
Channels is another well-regarded option. It may seem pricey at $25, but that gets you access to the programming guide without a subscription.
Spending several hundred dollars may be excessive just to get local news, but the HDHomeRun option gives you access to sports and anything else broadcast over the air for free. Combined with your favorite news apps, you can turn your Apple TV into a fairly complete replacement for the cable box and bring the future one step closer to home.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.