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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Apple’s new Single Sign On feature needs an asterisk

As promised, December brings the single sign-on feature to tvOS and iOS that Apple first announced back in September. In theory, the feature sounded great: sign in once with your TV provider, and apps can simply check your credentials there, rather than having to enter your username and password for each additional app.1

However, the closer this feature has gotten to being ready for primetime, well, the further it has been from delivering exactly what was hoped for. In its support doc about the feature, Apple lays out the restrictions.

The first, and probably most significant, is that most cable and satellite providers still haven’t—if you’ll excuse the phrase—signed on to support the feature. Right now, it’s limited to DirecTV, Dish, Sling, and a handful of smaller, regional cable companies. No Verizon, no Comcast, no Time Warner, and so on. So, at present, most Apple TV users probably can’t even take advantage of the feature.

The second limitation is perhaps even more byzantine, and thus right on par with the rest of the online video content market. Depending on which content provider you’re trying to log in with, single sign-on may not work on both tvOS and iOS. For example, single sign-on works with A&E’s app on iOS, but not on its Apple TV app; the E! Now app, on the other hand, is just the opposite.

Now, it’s possible that many of these apps simply haven’t rolled out an update for the platform in question, and all this will be smoothed over in the next few weeks. (There are also relatively few apps currently supporting single sign-on, though again, it may depend on which apps have been updated.) Given that we’re talking about an industry that has historically liked to exert strong control over where its content is consumed—c.f. content providers restricting whether you could watch a show on Hulu on your set-top box or just on your computer—it’s not out of the question that this is just another set of business bargaining chips.

While the feature does require that users be paying subscribers, perhaps the content providers are worried about people sharing usernames and passwords (it doesn’t seem to have hurt HBO, though) or worried about lower ad revenue from streaming as opposed to the traditional broadcast. That said, single sign-on stands to make things much easier on the consumer, which is the major reason that cable companies and content providers should be jumping on this opportunity. It’s time for them to stop dragging their heels en route to the future of TV.


  1. With the Apple Remote. Which will make you want to throw yourself through a plate glass window.  ↩

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]