The experience of watching classic films on television is about to radically change for the better – but only for some.
Turner Classic Movies announced today that they’ll make their popular Watch TCM streaming app available for the first time ever on TV sets this fall, offering viewers “on-demand access to TCM’s curated content presented uncut and commercial free,” along with the on-air introductions by hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz. The app, which launched in November of 2013 and offers hundreds of movies on-demand each month as well as two linear 24/7 programming feeds, was previously only available on the TCM website and mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and the Amazon Kindle.
But, like with everything in life, there are a few catches.
The ability to view Watch TCM content on television (in the U.S. and Canada) will only be available via the Amazon Fire TV, the second-best-selling, full-featured streaming media player on the market. (It’s less popular than Roku, but more so than the currently available version of Apple TV). And the Watch TCM App for Amazon Fire TV will only be available to current cable or satellite subscribers who already get TCM as part of their bundle of channels – and whose provider supports the app. My condolences to the nearly 12 million Time Warner Cable customers in TCM’s universe of 85 million homes, because you’re likely still out of luck – at least until the proposed merger with Charter Communications. (Charter supports the app for their current customers, but there’s no word if newly acquired TWC subs will be included in that deal.)
So let’s take a breath here.
I know many viewers are waiting for TCM to be available via subscription, without the requirement to pay for other channels you don’t watch. This is not that. (TCM is available via Sling TV as part of a so-called “skinny bundle” of channels at $25 per-month, which I wrote about here.)
Picture this: you turn on TCM and a movie you don’t like is on (which some with specific definitions of “classic” say is happening more frequently). With the touch of a button, you have on-demand access to just about everything that’s aired on TCM for the last seven days – on your TV. (At this writing, that’s 83 movies and 11 short subjects.) Feel like watching that rare film noir that aired at 6 a.m.? Here you go. Frustrated because you didn’t DVR – or, God help us, videotape – the Bob’s Picks selections that aired Friday night? Watch them whenever you like, with host Robert Osborne’s introductions.
NOW how much would you pay?
Answer – if you already have an Amazon Fire TV streaming player: ZERO. This functionality will cost you nothing more than you’re already paying your cable or satellite provider. If you don’t, it will cost you $39 – the price of an Amazon Fire TV streaming stick. Plug it in to your TV, and you’re off to A DAY AT THE RACES (assuming that aired on TCM in the last week, and that you’re a Marx Bros. fan).
The first generation Amazon Fire TV streaming player is currently sold out pretty much everywhere. But who cares? The Fire TV Stick has essentially the same functionality – including voice search – and it plugs directly into the HDMI port on your TV, so you don’t have to bother with another cord. And you get access to more than 1,600 channels, games, and apps including the biggies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (duh). But you don’t have to subscribe to any of them if you don’t want to, nor does Amazon Fire TV require any sort of a subscription. You pay for it once and you’re done.
Updated 9/17/15 – Amazon announced the second generation Amazon Fire TV streaming media player, available October 5 at $99. A second gen Fire TV Stick (now with voice search via an included remote control) will also be released on October 22 for $49 – $10 more than the current model. As of this writing, the first generation Stick remains available for $39.
The Watch TCM App for Amazon Fire TV will make TCM “the first network in the Turner Broadcasting portfolio to be available” via a native, TV Everywhere app on Amazon. There’s no indication from the network that this arrangement is an exclusive, however.
In short (no jokes about my wordiness, please), the ability to view TCM’s brilliantly curated content on TV outside of the boundaries of the traditional channel is a huge development if you love great movies of any era. While most cable and satellite providers currently offer TCM On-Demand offerings, they are usually limited to a handful of films, and all my efforts to jury rig the Watch TCM mobile app to play on my TV set have been abject failures.
“I abject!” — Chico Marx, DUCK SOUP (1933)
Finally, as part of TCM’s Let’s Movie branding initiative, the network has launched the TCM Emoji Keyboard app, offering emojis, virtual stickers and animated GIFs for use on mobile devices. (If you don’t know what an “emoji” is, you’re probably not the target for this.) You can download the app for iOS or Android devices here. I’m going to avoid the GIFs because they make me anxious, but the emojis are cool, and include familiar faces like Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from GHOSTBUSTERS, which somebody will probably complain about because it’s not “classic.”
Updated 1/19/16 – Multichannel News columnist Jeff Baumgartner reports that Amazon and TCM are still “working out some of the technical aspects” of Watch TCM on Amazon Fire TV, which may explain the delay in launch. No word yet on when it will go live. Thanks to reader “What in the World?” for this update.
For my review of TCM’s streaming presence on Sling TV, click here.