How to Rotate TV Shows on Your Apple TV

It seems to me that the Apple TV is geared towards new content. The options for syncing newly downloaded (or ripped) movies are good but the options for TV shows not entirely sophisticated enough. The limited hard-drive space leads one to leave little on the drive.

There is an odd omission from the criteria for TV shows. You can sync a number of episodes, whether or not they are unwatched, but you can’t sync a number “least recent”–only “most recent”.

Apple TV TV Show Sync Options

Apple seems to be assuming that you’ll get episodes piecemeal, so the last few will always be new, so this would make sense. Of course they wouldn’t recognise we DVD rippers for legal reasons, but what if a US iTunes user buys a season in one purchase? Why would they watch, for example, the last 5 episodes when they have 15 new ones sitting there?

It’s just not sophisticated enough for a large collection of TV shows. I’ve got 25 discrete shows, most of which consist of full seasons of 12-20 episodes, 485 episodes in total. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t buy these shows only to watch once. I want to cycle them. Even though Apple TV’s streaming capabilities are good, it’s a pain to load my huge iTunes library, the TV shows menu is extremely long because it lists every single episode and it’s easy to forget which episode you were last watching. I’ve devised a way that is clever enough to keep you supplied with the next few episodes of every TV show. Except for an occasional tweak, it’s completely automated.

There are some assumptions: that you watch TV shows in sequence in cyclic fashion, not randomly; that you want a show to go on hiatus immediately after viewing the last episode; that all episodes have been played the same number of times or the ones preceding the one you are currently watching have the same play count.

The technique is to use a separate smart playlist for each show. This gets lengthy but is currently the only way to do this.

  1. Create a new folder in the source pane. Call it Apple TV. This will segregate these playlists from the rest of your playlists and is collapsible so you won’t have to see them all the time.
  2. Decide on the first TV show that you want to cycle.
  3. Create a smart playlist in the Apple TV folder with the following criteria:
  4. TV Show Playlist

    In this instance, I have 3 series of Black Books, and each consists of 6 episodes. I’ve watched the first 12 episodes 2 times and the last 6 only once. This playlist will pick up the next 2 episodes in the sequence that have only been played once. After playing all the episodes of this show, I don’t want to play any again for 2 months. When you have finished a complete run through all episodes (in this case, all have been played 2 times), you won’t ever see any of these episodes again unless you modify the Play Count value up to the next value (in this case, 3). This is the only manual aspect of the system and is regrettably not possible to automate at this time.

  5. Call this playlist ATV: Black Books. This will group these playlists in picklists, making them easy to see.
  6. Repeat this procedure for every show that you want to cycle. Feel free to modify the values. It will all depend on how many TV shows you have and how much space you can devote to them on the Apple TV.
  7. For EyeTV users, add the following smart playlist called ATV: EyeTV, or your recorded episodes will not be picked up:
  8. EyeTV Playlist

    EyeTV creates a static playlist for all its episodes. This playlist picks up only those that have not been played.

  9. Finally, create this smart playlist, ATV:
  10. This playlist gathers all other playlists into one

    Note that the first criterion is any. If you leave it on all, you will get no results. This playlist gathers all the individual playlists together.

  11. Then configure Apple TV as follows:
  12. Apple TV TV Shows configuration

The next time you sync, the magic will happen.

Note that there is an odd bug that only occurs when TV shows have been selected for syncing via this method. If you play an episode, then leave the cursor on that episode, when Apple TV syncs, it will sync the Play Count and Last Played date back to iTunes, but it will not delete the episode just played. If you force a second sync, it will delete it and copy the next episode in line. However, if you press the Menu button on your remote to get out of that TV show’s submenu, when it does the first sync, it will do the expected delete and copy. I’ve reported this to Apple.

So there you have it. An almost completely automated TV-show-cycling system that generally works a treat to deliver timely episodes from your entire collection of shows, not just those that have been added recently–just what you want. You’re going to rediscover some good viewing here!


11 Responses to How to Rotate TV Shows on Your Apple TV

  1. […] You can do fancy things like fixing the sequence they appear in (often incorrect on DVDs). Here's one of many articles I wrote on the subject. __________________ Successful transactions with NathR32, trickcycle, […]

  2. […] have not been watched yet (5 least recent unplayed of all podcasts) and I don’t lose my place in my great TV rotation. I have all my music on there as well–no need to stream that. I also have the 10 last-added movies […]

  3. […] storage, is perfect for presenting you with only the next 2 or 3 episodes in sequence. I’ve written an in-depth article about cycling through TV shows using an Apple TV. It will hopefully convince you of how cool it can be to manage this aspect of TV […]

  4. tunegardener says:

    You could create a playlist that includes all the episodes in the exact sequence that you want to view them. Then create a Smart Playlist that has the following criteria:

    Playlist > is > CSI
    Play Count > is less than > 1
    Limit to > 6 > items > selected by > least recently played

    Then sync that smart playlist to your Apple TV or iPod. Every time you finish playing an episode, it will drop off the playlist. When you have played every episode 1 time, you will need to change the value of the Play Count to 2, then the smart playlist will begin at the first episode again.

  5. Cristian Alvarez says:

    This is good and I will try to use it, but I need an update. Thank you.

    Until now, I was using a standard playlist, wich was automatically updated by an Apple Script. Why that? Because I need some different shows to be synchronized together. I will explain:

    CSI, CSI Miami and CSI NY. Time to time, they do a double episode wich begins in CSI Miami and ends in CSI NY, then I need to mix them all so I can watch them in the right order.

    My Apple Script searches for the aired dates and knows the correct play order. But I have to watch an episode, stop everything, synchronize ATV, execute the script, and I’m ready to watch the next episode in the standard playlist. This is a pain.

    Can you see some way for integrating this functionallity into your smart playlists?

    Thank you.

  6. […] but personally, I still like the concept of Apple TV only storing a subset, specifically, the next few episodes of TV shows in sequence or unplayed […]

  7. […] Similarly, TV shows now have a new “least recent unplayed” option which finally resolves the stupidity of buying a whole season of a TV show but only being able to sync a certain number of “most recent unplayed” episodes. The focus here is still very much on the basis of only watching an episode once. If you are happy with that, then fine, but if you like to cycle through your episodes, you should resort to my TV Rotation Technique. […]

  8. […] TV Shows Revisited I’ve had some time to road-test my system outlined in my last post. I thought I’d share some insights from real-world […]

  9. tunegardener says:

    Glad to help! I would submit feedback to Apple on the “Most recent unwatched” factor. I did. Hopefully they will revise the menu. The link to the iTunes app (not to request music), is

  10. Yashin says:

    This is almost prophetic. Last night, after upgrading to iTunes 7.3, I decided to change my AppleTV syncing from our MacBook to the larger capacity Vista PC. Previously I’d used the MacBook to sync because my girlfriend wanted her photos on the big screen and she holds them all on the MacBook, but the addition of photo streaming in iTunes 7.3 allowed me to start using the PC for syncing content.

    I’ve ripped a lot of my TV shows on DVD to the PC in h.264 (using Nero Recode 2) and hold them all in iTunes for streaming playback on the AppleTV. Although I find streaming playback to be excellent over the wireless network, it relies on my having the PC on with iTunes open in order to get at content (my elecricity bill was bad enough *before* AppleTV, but that’s another story!).

    But it’s maddening that iTunes will only sync ‘Most recent unwatched’ content, surely you want the oldest unwatched material in a TV season?!? Anyway, thans for the playlist info, that should neatly solve my issues.

  11. […] recently been grappling with the sequence of a particular show, Blackadder, as it relates to my TV Rotation Technique. Each season was named differently, which is unique as far as I’m aware. The Blackadder, […]

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