Tuesday, September 6, 2016

CraveTV not competitive with Netflix, or even DVD's

In early April I subscribed to CraveTV to evaluate it, and 6 months later I'm less happy with it.

Technical

I wrote in the earlier article how CraveTV worked on few of the devices that I owned, but that at least it would work with my regular Chromebook and the Chromecast.   This didn't last long, as an upgrade of Chrome OS which made cast functionality native to the browser later in June was incompatible with CraveTV.  I would have thought CraveTV would fix their site relatively quickly, but the problem persists.

The next most convenient way to watch CraveTV was to run an HDMI cable across the living room floor to connect the Chromebook with the TV.  I say next most convenient as CraveTV is not at all convenient.  The web interface hasn't improved since my last posting. I still find myself having to do a search for things which are already in my "cravings" in order to choose the right episode to show next, as the interface often doesn't accurately select the next unwatched episode.

This is in obvious contrast with Netflix and Youtube.  Both are from modern Internet-era companies that work hard to ensure their services work on as many devices as possible.  While I like to cast from my Chromebooks, there are apps built into our Samsung Smart-TV which are convenient enough to use for my wife who doesn't like to fiddle around with tech like I do.

The Netflix interface has improved in the last 6 months, with the remote control for the casting feature now a bar on the bottom which allows you to continue to browse the site for other content in that same tab while still able to control the episode currently being viewed on the Chromecast device.  Both Netflix and Youtube have enabled the CEC features of the Chromecast so my Samsung TV's remote control pause button works, meaning I don't even have to touch my Chromebook (and get it out of sleep mode) to control it once I have started an episode.

Netflix's recommendation engine is continuously improving, and I find I'm always being suggested to watch shows I would actually want to watch.  Not surprisingly, it properly sends me to the next unwatched episode and keeps accurate records of my viewing which the site allows me to look through later (and even edit to remove content I don't want to influence the recommendation engine).

Netflix and CraveTV can't really be directly compared as they aren't in the same league.  Netflix is an industry leader, and is used as examples in technical talks all the time.  As a part of the industry working on (much smaller) sites I view presentations such as The Seven (More) Deadly Sins of Microservices which mention the advanced work that companies like Netflix are doing.   I don't think anyone ever expects to be watching a new media technology presentation and hear Bell or one of the companies it owns mentioned.  Bell will always be the smaller company in the smaller market offering less to its clients than larger competitors in larger markets can.

Content

Netflix content is offered as soon as the copyright holders allow it to.  In the case of Netflix original content that is immediate in all markets which is why many of us prefer Netflix original content to third party content.  With third party content you often have region restrictions where content is available in one region but not another.  Canada is often excluded, sometimes by copyright holder who don't see the market as big enough to bother with, and sometimes by one of the "Canadian" BDUs getting exclusive licensing which block Canadian access. These restrictions are something which the CRTC and Competition Bureau should be looking into, but that is a conversation for a different time (IE:  VPNs are a solution, not a problem -- Canadian legislation and regulators should be helping, not hindering).

Because the service is inconvenient I tent to watch a minimum of shows on CraveTV.  One set of TV series not legally available elsewhere in Canada is series based on DC comics such as Arrow, Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow.   While these are broadcast in Canada around the same time as they are in the US, streaming is delayed.  US Netflix recently made a deal where these CW shows will be arriving on Netflix eight days after the season finale airs.

In Canada there is an exclusive license with Bell, so the shows are broadcast on Bell's CTV and blocked from Canadian Netflix.  If you wanted to use CraveTV as an alternative to Netflix you are out of luck as the content isn't made available near broadcast time.

CraveTV subscribers were recently sent an email announcing that the previous seasons of Arrow, Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow would finally be released on September 9.  This is not surprisingly after the DVD releases:

  • DC's Legends of Tomorrow: Season 1 DVD Release Date August 23, 2016
  • The Arrow Season 4 DVD release August 30, 2016
  • The Flash: Season 2 DVD Release Date September 6, 2016
Not only is it not appropriate to consider CraveTV a competitor to Netflix, the only way it is favorable to DVDs is on price if you watch enough shows.  If all I wanted to watch each year that was blocked from Netflix was these 3 shows then DVDs would be cheaper and far more convenient (works on more devices, etc).  It is only if I watch more shows that the price of CraveTV goes below DVD, but it is still less convenient.

Can CraveTV compete with other Bell provided services?

I am a modern content viewer, and don't enjoy programming delivered to me one episode per week.  I prefer to watch shows a season at a time, and then move to the next show.  I have been watching the DC universe series differently as there are some crossover episodes and I have wanted to watch episodes in an order that makes the crossovers make sense.

These 3 DC universe shows start the next seasons soon, and I will see if I can stomach watching via the broadcaster site given how long it will be before it is available for proper streaming in Canada.  It will require that I binge-watch the previous season that is only being released this month.
  • Flash: Season Premiere: Tuesday, October 4 at 8E on CTV
  • Arrow Season Premiere: Wednesday, October 5 at 8ET/PT on CTV Two
  • Legends of Tomorrow Season Premiere: Thursday, October 13 at 8E on CTV Two

My experience with the interfaces on broadcaster websites has been poor, and I'm lucky if I can get them to work on any of the devices I own.

Normally the only show I care enough about to stomach the outdated broadcaster experience is Doctor Who which I both watch on Space.ca and then watch on DVD (which are made available in parts weeks after they air on TV).  Doctor Who is a show that is available on CraveTV, but given how inconvenient it is I am unlikely to ever watch that way: I buy the DVDs.  I did watch episodes via Netflix, but it seems Bell got another exclusive streaming license and Doctor Who will be unavailable via Canadian Netflix on September 15.




I'm not willing to even consider watching on Cable, Satellite or that oddball IPTV service that Bell offers (that is somehow regulated by the CRTC as a BDU rather than a streaming service).  Asking a modern Internet-era viewer to use a BDU is like forcing someone who is used to indoor plumbing to use an outhouse.  In this case it is a service that costs considerably more and still stinks.

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