Anyone visiting my blog, or following me on Twitter, or even just (gasp!) knowing me in person knows pretty fast that I like serialized story telling — movies with sequels, books in series, and of course, TV shows. Just under two years ago, I decided it was time to cut the cord (Cutting the cord – Conclusion). It was a huge decision for me. I was a slave to my corporate overlords for media consumption for home telephone, cell phone, internet, mobile data, TV, etc. And it was costing me a small fortune, even with bundling. I made a huge change. But every few months, I get an itch to have MORE choice that would stop me from having to make such all-or-nothing types of decisions.
And then today, I tripped over an article at How-To Geek entitled simply “The Cheapest Way to Stream TV: Rotate Your Subscriptions”. I don’t want to bury the proverbial lede too far so let me state clearly that the article basically asks why pay for multiple streaming options all year round when you could have one or two “base” subscriptions and just pick up a few of the others if/when there is something worth watching on that network. Like Game of Thrones, for example. [Source: The Cheapest Way to Stream TV: Rotate Your Subscriptions].
Is that why I was gobsmacked? No. It was because his matter of fact way of explaining the options he has to draw upon is simply not even remotely close to what we (don’t) have available in Canada.
For a basic streaming package, he uses Netflix and Hulu for a total of $22 a month. Let’s start with Netflix.
We do have Netflix Canada, so sounds good, right? Except we don’t have the same content as regular Netflix. They have first run TV shows added due to deals with networks. Very few of those shows make it to Netflix Canada until the next season. Current year? Not available in Canada.
Take Hulu or Hulu Plus. Another great basic streaming option. Lots of first-run series matching regular network broadcast schedules. Which is industry speak for saying when it airs on CBS or NBC or ABC or Fox, it shows up either same day or same week on Hulu. You don’t get EVERYTHING, but you get a heck of a lot. Great, sign me up for $12 a month! Oh, wait, not available in Canada. At least not legally. Lots of people are buying Hulu gift cards on eBay, and I’ve looked at it long enough to figure out it would cost me $20 to try it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. Still pretty shady though, on the black side of the grey zone of legality (yes, it completely violates their terms of service, but that’s not “law”, that’s a company’s ToS, not far off from removing mattress tags). Don’t get me wrong, there are very STRONG advocates that will and have told me that’s the slippery slope to cable Armageddon, although they haven’t yet told me why that’s a bad thing. But I digress.
We do have four other options in Canada to get basic service.
One option is to go with Crave TV. It’s meant to be like Netflix or Hulu, except its “first-run” show complement is somewhere around new episodes of The Beachcombers (for non-Canadian readers, it’s a home-grown show that has been off the air for years). If Netflix was Tier 1, Crave TV would clock in around Tier 3 or 4.
We do have Amazon Prime now, isn’t that exciting? Well, not really, as we don’t get the cable options in it, just the Prime shows. Another “Netflix-lite” style of Amazon Prime. No one would pay for it separately i.e. if it wasn’t included with the free shipping account we did pay for earlier.
A third option, although kind of defeats the whole purpose, would be to get basic cable or a satellite dish. The regulatory board forced Bell and Rogers and others to offer a “skinny” package of a handful of basic channels for $25, which is better than paying 50 or 100 bucks a month, but they also ding you with their add on costs for equipment and any “extras” like sports. Or in one case, a remote to work the set top box.
The final option sounds close to the article’s options: VMedia and it’s wannabe clone Zazeen TV. Less than the cable providers, more flex, and all through streaming. Sounds great, right? Well except they can only do it if you are connected with encryption boxes to their networks. Think of it kind of like people running a bar and having a whole bunch of licensing problems about what they can and can’t offer — so they skirt the rules by creating a “club” instead that you pay a nightly membership fee to enter. Problem solved, they’re not a bar open to the public, they’re a private club. Well, VMedia and Zazeen have special boxes that let you connect to their streams so it isn’t “open streaming” and they’re not broadcasters, so they bypass a bunch of the rules. Except to have that club status, you have to use their internet. And both their internet and their TV options are flaky for service. A friend’s husband is a sports nerd, and he had VMedia. It was so flaky that on the night of a big game, he went to the local bar to watch rather than stay home because he didn’t want to risk missing it. After he paid for the package so he could watch it at home.
Yet when VMedia and Zazeen tried to ditch the encryption boxes and offer pure streaming (they don’t like them any more than the customers do), Bell and Rogers smacked them with legal proceedings and roomfuls of lawyers that they couldn’t afford to fight. So they folded their streaming-only tents and went back to the encryption boxes.
You can also do over the air (OTA) antennas, but not really the same technology. Still, an option in some cities.
After that, even though I can’t match his streaming options, and certainly nowhere near the price / options / reliability intersection point, things screech to a halt.
HBO Now? Nope, not in Canada.
Sling? Nope, not in Canada.
CBS All Access? Surely you jest.
But wait, you do have options. Like Microsoft / XBox or iTunes season subscriptions to shows, or Google purchases. No worries, just $15-20. Per season. Per show. Yikes. A viable option if you only want one show though.
So I love the article, even if I can’t do any of it.
Now if only the CRTC board would read the same article and say, “Hey, why can’t we do that in Canada?” rather than having so many people switch to Kodi, one of the few options to still get first-run shows after you cut the cable cord. Canadians are still willing to pay, it’s not that we suddenly embraced a pirate lifestyle like a virus, we just want a service that can give us what everyone already has for options in the U.S.