Forcing iTunes to automatically download TV shows (or, the magic of crontab)

LostIn the past two weeks, I have experienced nothing but heartbreak and letdown with regard to BitTorrent. Most things I download, I am perfectly content with accessing them a day or two later, but LOST is my big show. I have to watch it that very night. When it comes to LOST, I had grown accustomed to how it worked last season. See, a year ago, someone on the east coast–or even points in Canada that are an extra timezone over–would capture and share the show as soon as it finished airing. I would start downloading ASAP, and more often then not, I’d be ready to watch it before it started here on the west coast. Without commercials, even. A week ago, Part 2 of the season premiere went up quickly and I downloaded it, but Part 1 didn’t go up until extremely late. I ended up having to wait a day and plug my ears at the office to not get spoiled by anything. This week, the torrent file itself went up quickly, but the download was slooooow. When the clock struck 12:30, it was past my weekday bedtime and there was still 20 minutes left on the download, not to mention the 45 minutes of actually watching the show. There was no way I could watch it that night. Today, I got up early and watched it before work.

In my desperation last week, I ordered an iTunes season pass. This… basically… worked. I don’t mind putting my money where my mouth is when it comes to digital media distribution, but I discovered the next morning that, even though the episode was ready to download, it did not download automatically like podcasts do. You have to go to a pulldown menu and select “Check for purchases” for it to download TV shows. The download (because it grabs the HD and SD versions in parallel) would take an hour or two, so there was no way to watch it before work.

This week, I thought I would be a little more smart about things. If I could get someone or something to periodically hit “Check for purchases” throughout the night, it would download and be ready by the time I woke up. With a little googling, I discovered a magic URL that does this very thing. It turns out that when purchases are ready, iTunes sends you an email with a link to click. That link just happens to call the “Check for purchases” functionality. All I had to do was go to itmss:// several times throughout the evening, and the work would be done.

For me, this was a simple crontab entry. For you? Well, maybe the same, or maybe you have an app or something that can open a URL occasionally. All I had to do was add this to my crontab:

# Thursday mornings, check for Lost episodes on the hour
0 0-6 * * 4 /usr/bin/open 'itmss://'

iTunes then checked for purchases every hour, started downloading at 2am, and by the time I woke up, both the HD and SD versions of LOST (with DRM, but formatted for the iPhone, computer, or Apple TV) were ready to be watched. I was able to view the HD version before work. Of course I’m keeping the torrent download, too, because nobody like DRM. And I’m such a fanboy that I’ll probably get the DVDs when they are released just to have the extra features.

Posted in: Code Lost

5 thoughts on “Forcing iTunes to automatically download TV shows (or, the magic of crontab)”

  1. This is very handy, I love it! Thank you! I use it in crontab to camp on my daily fix of The Daily Show.

    And now… does anyone have any other goodies located at that url — in particular is there some way I can open up something under this itmss url to refresh my podcasts on my own schedule? That would be great.

    itmss://… what else lives under here?

    Thanks again.

    1. Private torrents and shares are great, yes. On the west coast, they’re available before the shows air locally. The point, here, though is to show support for television distribution models over the internet like iTunes and Hulu. Although, I don’t think Hulu existed a year and a half ago when I made this post, and it seems torrents were a little behind schedule back in January ’09 for some reason.

      1. Last week it took itunes germany 6 days tofinaly publish the latest lost episode… i love to pay, but they are at least half a day behind illegal sources and it is a bit of a pain. The last time they had a dubble episode it took them untill eleven pm to finaly get it up over here, so i endet up watching it illegaly before anyway… i hope they donĀ“t screw up sundays finale like that.

        1. Ouch. I can see how that long of a delay would be highly annoying. There are very few shows I feel like I *have* to watch on the night it airs, in fact so few that the only one is LOST. Now that it’s ending, I can go back to lazily watching shows a few days late.

          Best of luck to you on getting to see Sunday’s finale as fast as possible!

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