Update: New Year, New Way to Watch TCM

2012+TCM+Classic+Film+Festival+Opening+Night+Yv-Y7ncfbf7lUpdated 1/19/16 -New info in italics.

Turner made lots of announcements this week at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena. Sadly, one piece of news TCM viewers have been waiting for – an option to subscribe directly, without committing to other channels they don’t watch – was not among them.

Don’t blame me. I said a novena to the patron saint of television and even lit my Golden Girls votive candles. But the lack of TCM news from TCA is not surprising. TCM’s unique status as a commercial-free, non-premium cable TV network – the last in the Turner portfolio after Boomerang became advertiser-supported in 2015 – usually leaves it out of the headlines at events like this.

But there is some good news for classic film fans who made a resolution to cut the cable cord in 2016. And it may radically alter the way many viewers watch TCM.

bbenSling TV, the broadband TV service from Dish Network, has quietly added dozens of on-demand movies to its TCM channel. (I wrote about TCM’s launch on Sling in June of 2015 here.) In addition to the live broadcast feed, Sling now offers more than 80 films that aired on the channel in the last 7 days, on-demand. For the same $25 per-month subscription fee, Sling customers can now access what is, essentially, a full week of programming, with the same hosted intros from Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz that appeared on-air. And, best of all, with a streaming player like Roku, these films can be viewed on your TV, in high definition, with DVR functionality.

If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like a TV version of Watch TCM, the streaming app that launched two years ago, you’re right. With a handful of exceptions, Sling now offers the same on-demand titles as Watch TCM. (As of this writing there are 90 films on the app, and 84 on Sling.) But the Watch TCM app has previously only been accessible on mobile devices and computers; if you wanted to Watch TCM on your TV, you were in the wrong gin joint.

SlingSling TV changes all that. Don’t like what’s on in primetime tonight? Just watch that obscure film noir that aired at 4 a.m. Don’t think TCM should air movies released after 1970/80/90/whenever? Don’t watch them. With a week’s worth of movies on-demand on Sling, you can self-program TCM to reflect your own definition of classic, with the network’s expert content curation at the core.

Loyal Cinematically Insane readers (hi Aunt Margaret!) may get an odd sense of déjà vu from this news. In September of last year, the network announced plans to make the Watch TCM app available for viewing on TV (by cable and satellite subscribers who pay for the channel) via the Amazon Fire TV streaming player. That offering was promised “soon,” but so far nothing else has been said about it. And trust me, I’ve asked. So unless I’ve missed something, it looks like Sling has leapfrogged ahead of Amazon with this exclusive functionality.

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. 

ddd - 1For classic film-loving Time Warner Cable customers, this is particularly welcome news. Of the 25 largest cable and satellite providers in the U.S., TWC and their Bright House affiliate are the only ones not currently supporting the Watch TCM app. Now, TWC customers who cut the cord and switch to Sling TV can get the vast majority of the Watch TCM content on Sling’s mobile app and choose from on-demand options while watching on TV – all for less than they’re currently paying Time Warner Cable. (Note: you’ll still have to pay your local cable provider for broadband, because that’s how monopolies work.)

Sling has been experimenting with on-demand options for TCM for months now. At least 45 films were made available as far back as September 3, but disappeared without explanation soon thereafter. Others have come and gone since, but this is the first time on-demand offerings have remained on Sling for an extended period, and been refreshed as TCM’s traditional week-long streaming windows expire.

Which brings me to the only downside of TCM on Sling TV: rights issues.

When TCM licenses a film, the channel must negotiate multiple types of rights, including broadcast, live streaming, and on-demand streaming. Although Sling TV carries TCM’s broadcast feed, they deliver it via the Internet, which makes them a streaming venue. If TCM cannot secure streaming rights to a film, Sling TV’s feed will be blacked out for the duration of the movie. When this happens on the Watch TCM app’s live feed (for the same reason), viewers have the option of selecting another film on-demand. But Sling TV subscribers have been dead in the water. Until now.

ChrisTo be clear, blackouts are rare, but they may happen that one time you really want to watch something. Sling TV subscriber (and TCM Party Twitter host) Joel Williams tells me it’s only “2-3% of the time during primetime.” I first noticed this issue when the network altered its schedule for the TCM Remembers Christopher Lee marathon last June. A number of films were unavailable on Sling that day, owing perhaps to the last-minute nature of the scheduling or demonic possession. I can’t really say for sure.

Remember: not every film airing on TCM is made available to stream on-demand on Sling, even if it aired live on the service during the initial broadcast, and even if it’s available on-demand on the Watch TCM app! (Of the eight films available on the app today but not on Sling, six are controlled by Warner Bros or Criterion, rightsholders that have their own subscription video-on-demand venues.)

Don’t ask me to explain this stuff; TCM has people who are paid to understand the spiderwork of digital rights and clearances, and I’m not one of them. But, as a Sling subscriber for the last eight months, I can tell you the blackouts are a minor drawback. Plus, Sling offers TCM films on-demand as soon as the live broadcast ends (on the app you have to wait three hours). That’s nice when you tune in to a film in the middle, get hooked, and want to re-watch from the beginning as soon as possible.

Is Sling TV right for you? Ask your doctor. Seriously, it depends on what you watch. Or, in my case, what my significant other watches when I’m not making her watch TCM.

With channels like AMC, Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney, and TNT, the $20 “Best of Live TV” package provides a compelling alternative for folks who want to narrow the cord but not sever it completely. And when you add the $5 “Hollywood Extra” option with TCM, Sundance and four EPIX channels, you’ll have as many movie options as some basic cable packages offer.

And no disloyalty to TCM, but EPIX will tempt the hell out of you with hundreds of movies each month, including many classics, all without commercials and available on-demand. There’s also the option to add HBO and to test drive the service with a seven-day free trial. But I’m not a Sling salesman, so I’ll let you take it from here.

Sling may not be the TCM-only subscription model we’ve been waiting for, but it’s the closest we’ve gotten so far. And even with its occasionally wonky functionality and a somewhat clunky user interface, Sling TV may now be the best, most cost-effective way to watch TCM. Anywhere.

How’s that for a nice way to start off the new year?

Sling TV is available in the U.S. only. For more information, visit the website


About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, producer, and digital marketing consultant. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. I've written for Slate.com, Game Show Network, getTV, Sony Movies, and NYC weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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22 Responses to Update: New Year, New Way to Watch TCM

  1. How does one go about using a DVR type device with Sling? The reason I didn’t keep up the service was because I was rarely home to see things “live.” While on demand is great news, I’d love to know how to “keep” the movies. 🙂

    • willmckinley says:

      Sling doesn’t allow to record. But, if everything is on-demand, that’s sort of like a DVR anyway, no?

      • keri says:

        The problem is when 8 movies air within 3 days that you’ve been dying to see (like with the Fred McMurray marathon) and you only have time to watch 4 of them before the week-long window is up, or whatever reason you miss that 7-day window. I’m often watching movies within hours of the expiration because I’m always playing catch-up.

        I’ve started hijacking my parents’ DVR for the films I really don’t want to miss out on, just in case I don’t have time to stream within that week window or if it turns out to be a Warners or Criterion pick that doesn’t get to the app. (I was so upset last month when a whole evening of the Girlfriends features didn’t transition to the app, and I’d forgotten to add them to my DVR list when I was programming my parents’ tv for the week.)

      • willmckinley says:

        Keri, I’ve been using the gym to catch up. I can do 60-90 mins on cardio machines while watching a movie on my phone. It’s far from optimal, but it’s better than missing out entirely!

  2. Laura says:

    Really interesting piece, Will. You are my go-to person to stay up to speed on all the new streaming & viewing options!!

    Best wishes,

  3. Tonya says:

    Thanks for this, Will. I do hope Watch TCM will be available at some point with Chromecast. You think that may be a possibility?
    And do tell where I can get those Golden Girls candles!!!

    • willmckinley says:

      Tonya, the only way that “Watch TCM” would be available with Chromecast is if TCM turns it into an a la carte service you can subscribe to directly. And we got the candles at Barnes & Noble!

  4. Matt Skoczen says:

    Thanks for this. I know that TCM will eventually have to make changes and I dread that day. I’d love to get to someone’s ear though on that future and share some ideas!

    • willmckinley says:

      I hope it’s not a foregone conclusion that TCM will change. There is no doubt in my mind that it will, however, if Time Warner gets sold or split up, and Turner ends up in the hand of new ownership.

  5. Hi Will, Here is an update on the Fire TV Watch TCM app, According to Jeff Baumgartner of ‘Multichannel News’ they are working out some of the technical aspects of this app, but hope to have it available as soon as possible.

  6. Pingback: Update #2: TCM Dives into Streaming with Amazon | cinematically insane

  7. Will, tangential to this, I wish you’d look into what’s happening with Warner Archive Instant, their streaming service. They seem to have cut the number of films and TV shows dramatically over the last months, and those they do feature linger on the site forever. When I first subscribed two years ago, there was a wealth of content. At present there are THREE films from the 1920s, 31 from the 1930s, 20 from the 1940s, etc., whereas in the past, particular decades had as many as 150 films. I did a live chat with a rep who didn’t seem to have a clue what was happening. Do you know, or have you heard, anything about this? I’d love to continue with the service, but it almost feels like Warner is phasing it out. (Oh, and there are only a handful of TV series as well.) Any insights most appreciated! (And love your site.) – Gary Morris, editor, brightlightsfilm.com

  8. Don says:

    As much as I miss TCM, I won’t pay $25/month to Sling just to watch it. It’s just not worth it. TCM dropped the ball on this and it will change in the future (or they will no longer exists).

  9. Barbara Stuart says:

    Definition of movie-lover heaven: the entire film collection of TCM available on demand, on television, and on the cuff. Yes, all movie lovers are dreamers.

  10. Nathan Hale says:

    Thank you, willmckinley, for doing a good job of explaining the complex subject of streaming TCM!

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I have a question. I know with sling orange, it cannot be watched on multiple devices. Does that mean one person can t watch it on tv and another on their phone, or does that mean two people cant watch at once, period? For example, with sling orange, can two people watch it on two different tvs uing the same account ?

  12. joyce says:

    And to think for years I used to watch TCM daily almost at 1.pm. I won’t pay for cable anymore as it encourages extravagant charges to customers. Why encourage bad behavior. And, yes, I miss TCM.

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