Friday, January 2, 2015

Legitimacy of new TV options CraveTV (Bell) and Shomi (Rogers, Shaw)

As Shomi received a lot of advertising in recent months I have been asked my opinion on it. I'm known as someone who has strong opinions on digital content distribution, and as someone who is a subscriber to Netflix and not to any traditional BDU (Broadcast Distribution Undertaking, the term the CRTC uses to refer to Satellite, Cable, and related companies).

My shortest answer is to say these these services aren't new, nor are they in the same market as Netflix. These services are an add-on service for existing BDU customers (Must be Television customer for Bell, but can be existing TV or Internet customer for Rogers and Shaw), and not a service that is untied to the BDU.

Rogers launched Rogers On Demand Online back in 2009, and I tried it back then when I was still a Rogers cable customer. I could almost watch a movie on my desktop computer with it, but it didn't work on the various devices I had connected to my television. It was a poorly implemented technology which they likely upgraded a bit for the rebranding and new marketing as Shomi, but it isn't correct to claim it is a new service.

CraveTV may be a new brand for Bell, but it should remind us all of iCraveTV which was an online BDU competitor which the BDUs lobbied the government to wipe out. Given the corruption in various levels of government when it comes to BDUs, it wasn't surprising when Bill C-11 passed in 2002. This made illegal a series of companies that were offering services as legitimate as the services of BDUs, but offering it over the Internet in a way that was Internet provider neutral.

This should remind us that we would have had legitimate Made In Canada competitors long before Netflix launched in 2008. For all the flag waiving that the BDUs include in their anti-competitive lobbying, it is the BDUs that have been consistently in the way of new services being launched. Their policy against legitimate Internet distribution of multimedia content is one of the many policy reasons why I continue to refuse to be a BDU customer.

Back in 2012 I wrote two articles on my move away from legacy phone/cable companies and a submission to the CBC where they asked "What does "radio" and "television" mean to you?.

As an update I will list the legitimate sources of television content I currently use, and the illegitimate ones I do not.

Legitimate


  • By far the most television content I watch is via NetFlix. This is a service that is neutral to the Internet provider I choose, and works on nearly all of the devices that I own (Samsung SmartTV, Boxee Box, Chomebook, Chromecast, Android tablets and smartphones, desktop computers running Linux)
  • Next largest source is DVD, where the copyright holders are slowly getting better and releasing faster than they previously did. While some sources like HBO wait for 9+ months to release, others like the BBC will release seasons of shows less than 3 months after the series aires on television.
  • There is some content I try to access on broadcaster sites such as Space.ca, but they are poorly implemented and work on few of the devices I own. In the case of Space they even have an Android app, but it is so slow that its unusable. I am able to watch on my old desktop computer in the basement, but that is so inconvenient that I only bother for one specific show (Doctor Who). Space is one of the better sites, with other Canadian broadcaster websites being even less useable.
  • Over the Air -- we have ATSC digital tuners in our TVs, and I have an antenna for the TV upstairs. My wife sometimes watches this, but I find traditional broadcast television scheduling annoying. I have an ATSC tuner in one of my computers which I could program to record with PVR software, but I haven't found enough compelling content OTA to bother. This is available to watch breaking news if some event is happening I want to keep up on, which hasn't happened for me yet since I set this up in 2012.

Illegitimate

  • Copyright infringing online sources -- I keep being reminded by family and friends that all the content I want to access is available online moments after it airs on television. While I haven't refused to watch content with them in their homes, I refuse this option myself.
  • Traditional BDUs -- While I have friends and family who are subscribers to BDUs, and I don't refuse to watch content with them in their homes, I refuse this option myself. I consider the traditional BDUs to be opponents to Canadian Television, as well as being in a conflict of interest when it comes to the Internet. As policy opponents I refuse to pay them money (beyond what is mandated by corruption in government through monopolies in spectrum and last-mile wires), just as someone in the executive of the Conservative Party of Canada might refuse to make large political donations to the NDP and Liberals. (Actually, I suspect the Conservatives disagree with the Liberals and NDP on policy far less than I disagree with the BDUs, but that's a conversation to have over beer).
  • Tied selling services such as Shomi and CraveTV -- these are services I believe should be considered illegal under section 77 of Canada's Competition Act. The type of market manipulation that Bell, Rogers and Shaw are engaged in is exactly the type of wealth destroying behaviour that the Competition Act was created to stop. Unfortunately I suspect that this extremely harmful illegitimate behaviour is less likely to be prosecuted than the (in my opinion orders of magnitude less harmful) copyright infringement option.
(Note: Also Posted to Digital Copyright Canada)

Update: I should have noted the announcement: HBO to offer streaming-only online option in 2015. Here is to hoping that my inevitable posting next January about this issue will include the fact I've had months of enjoyment of the HBO service.

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