Sharing Movies Across Apple TVs

How To Allow Shared Access To Movies Among a Group of Apple TV Households


This may be one of the lesser known benefits of owning an Apple TV—the ability to share movies that you’ve bought or rented via iTunes. And for others to share theirs with you.

Surprised? Well, it’s not a widely publicized feature by Apple. The only official published info I could find is in the Apple TV User Guide—and it’s a bit vague.

Most significantly, sharing can be a huge cost saver. I have been doing this together with four other households for several years and we have purchased altogether nearly 250 movies and TV shows with nary a duplicate. But it does require some coordination and also has some inconveniences and annoyances.
(And, as you’ll come to realize, strong relationships help, too!)

The Basics

  1. This type of sharing is for users in different households.
  2. So, I’m not talking about Family Sharing—that is for one household.
  3. Shareable content is not just Movies but TV Shows and Music, too.
  4. Sharing works safest with up to five additional accounts (I’ll explain “safest” shortly).
  5. You only need to enter a user’s Apple ID and password once because your Apple TV stores them (there are some caveats, though…read on).
  6. You can only be signed into one account at a time.
  7. Only works with content acquired through iTunes.
  8. Does not violate and terms of service or user agreements.
  9. Helps to have high-speed internet (20 Mbps minimum, 50+ Mbps preferred)

Phase 1: Before Sharing Account Info

  1. Choose a group of up to five family members or friends you trust.
  2. Find a safe, secure way to share Apple IDs and more significantly the passwords (avoid email, messages/texts, and shared files stored on the internet without a separate password for the file itself).
    Via phone is good. In person is best—each person can enter their own.
  3. Find out who, if anyone, has 2-step verification enabled for their Apple ID (and encourage it if they don’t).

Note: Even the closest of friends and family should guard their passwords. Just because you have an encrypted password-storing app, and you never use the same password for anything, and you don’t know but one or two of your passwords by heart, doesn’t mean Aunt Carla won’t write your password on her channel guide or that you won’t change your buddy’s password on him after his team beats your team in the playoffs…again.

Phase 2: Setup

Once you’re ready with the account info for one or more of your sharing group, you can add them to your Apple TV. You can add up to five additional accounts that the Apple TV will remember. If you want to use another, you’ll have to delete a previous one.
Safety Note: Beware, doing this will get complicated, annoying, and risky fast—too many Apple IDs and passwords means storing them and protecting them or regularly asking someone again for their account info.

Now to setup…

  1. Go to Settings>Accounts>iTunes and App Store>Add New Apple ID>Add New…
  2. Enter an Apple ID.
  3. Enter the corresponding password.
  4. Then do one of the following:
    • If the user has 2-step verification enabled for their Apple ID (highly recommended), you will have to wait for them to share a randomly generated 6-digit code with you to finish the setup. This is why Step 3 in Phase 1 above is a good idea—best to coordinate setup times; or at least message the other user in advance so they know the verification notification they get is legit and can promptly share the code.
    • If there is no 2-step verification, answer “No” when asked to allow purchases.

Note: 2-Step Verification is temporary—the code is only good for a few hours. So, even after you have logged in the first time, you will need to get a fresh code every time you want to use someone else’s account. (This is one of inconveniences and annoyances I was referring to.)

Recommendations for An Easier Sharing Experience

Here’s how my family and I made it work…and saved a lot of money.

  1. We created a shared spreadsheet in Google Drive and required each household to update it whenever they bought a new movie or TV show. (And scolded those who were slackers or who bought something someone already had).
  2. We setup a group called “Apple TV movies” in the Messages app and we message the group upon purchasing (or preordering).
  3. We bought many of the movie bundles available on iTunes (and split the cost among the group—whoever actually paid “hosts” the bundle on their ID and then typically purchases additional sequels beyond the bundle).
  4. We don’t have any annual purchase or spending requirements—it’s up to the individual. By no means is the group evenly divided in purchases. But there’s no households with zero.

Sharing iTunes Movie Rentals

Movie rentals can be shared, but only during the 24 hours allowed once viewing has started. I recommend renting and watching the movie, and then notifying the group and noting the time remaining. I have noticed delays if more than one Apple TV is streaming the same content. In general, we don’t have occasion to do this too often.

Note: New Cross-Device Movie Rentals—with the release of iTunes 12.6 earlier this week, you can now start a movie rental on one of your devices and continue it on another. This is only allowed across the Apple ID of the renter. The method above remains unchanged. Leave a comment if you find something different.

Related Posts Coming Soon…

  • An Overview of Family Sharing
  • An Introduction to Apple 2-Step Verification