Are you ready for some streaming? A cord cutting guide to NFL Game Pass.

As an NFL fan, I never thought I would be able to part with my (outrageously priced) cable TV package. After looking at my latest Roger's bill, I decided it was time to explore alternatives. Boy, was I happy that I did!

Even with my expensive cable package, I'd rarely get to watch the game I wanted as I would only get up to three 1pm games even though I had 600+ channels.  Although I don't enjoy watching the Bills lose, I like to watch the game nonetheless.  Purchasing Sunday Ticket was always an option, but I felt like I was paying too much for cable as it was.

Enter NFL Game Pass!

Read on to see how Game Pass allowed me to drop cable but have a better NFL experience than before.


Tablo Sets its Sights on Cord Cutters

Canadian company Nuvyyo is hoping to cash in on the frustration many people have with the cost of cable/satellite TV by launching an over-the-air TV recorder. What's different about Tablo is that it's built from the ground up for the way many cord cutters and millennials already watch most of their TV shows - on a mobile device or streaming set-top box.

On Friday they launched an Indiegogo campaign aimed at rounding up beta testers and early adopters to help shape the product, which is expected to ship in 2014.

What's especially nice for Canadian cord cutters is that the product will support guide data for Canadian TV stations - something you often can't get without doing some wrangling in products aimed at the US market.

Hopefully I'll have more to say about Tablo in the near future, in the meantime, head on over to Indiegogo and show your support:


Canadian Government to Push TV Providers Toward Pick & Pay Pricing

One of the promises in the Canadian government's speech from the throne last Wednesday involved unbundling TV channels to give consumers more say in which channels they pay for. The actual wording was this:
"Our Government believes Canadian families should be able to choose the combination of television channels they want. It will require channels to be unbundled, while protecting Canadian jobs."
The text is understandably short on specifics, but most people take this to mean that the government, through the CRTC, will push TV distributors and channel owners to move to a "pick and pay" system where customers can choose individual channels rather than have bundles where it's impossible to avoid paying for channels they don't want. For the TV-viewing public this is a good move, but don't get too excited... it's going to take some time to get there, and it's extremely unlikely that you'll be able to subscribe to the 10-15 channels you watch and nothing else.

Read on for my thoughts on what has to happen and where I think we'll eventually end up.


Zazeen IPTV Begins Commercial Service

In January I wrote about Zazeen's plans for a TV service that uses your Internet connection to deliver the signal - see Zazeen - shaking up the Canadian TV landscape. Since then they've been busy working to clear technical and business-related hurdles, and after 10 long months, they've finally launched.
Zazeen Logo

The service became commercially available on October 1st for Quebec customers, and October 15th for those in Ontario.


Shaw Direct's Free TV Program Nears Its End

Just a reminder: Shaw Direct's free satellite offer for those affected by the transition from analog to digital over-the-air TV signals ends November 30th 2013.

You can read more about Shaw's LTSS (Local Television Satellite Solution) in this blog post: Free TV


VMedia kiosks coming to Canada Computers Stores

VMedia announced a partnership today with Canada Computers that will see VMedia kiosks in Canada Computer stores. They'll launch in 16 of Canada Computers’ Ontario stores and will allow customers to see VMedia's IPTV service for themselves, purchase the VBox set top device, and order TV and Internet service right from the kiosk.

This is great news for cord cutters that want to hang on to some conventional broadcast TV but are reluctant to try something from a new company like VMedia sight-unseen.

You can view the full press release on VMedia's web site: Canada Computers and VMedia Form Strategic Partnership


Hulu tops 4 million paid subscribers

Acting Hulu CEO Andy Forssell posted some interesting stats to the Hulu blog earlier today. In the first quarter of 2013, Hulu Plus surpassed 4 million subscribers, and their subscription numbers doubled during 2012.


Aereo & Netflix executives understand modern viewing habits

The widespread availability of fast broadband has changed the way many people consume video content; it's especially true of younger generations who've grown up with laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The established media companies are bound and determined to maintain the highly profitable business models they've enjoyed for the past few decades, so whenever technology enables new companies to serve customers in a way that threatens to disrupt the traditional media cash cow, the old guard does everything they can to prevent the new guys from gaining a foothold. Typically that involves lawsuits which challenge the legality of whatever they're doing differently, but sometimes it takes the form of withholding access to physical network infrastructure or denying/delaying content licenses. If you doubt that, a reading of Susan Crawford's book "Captive Audience" will enlighten you on the depths to which the media and distribution companies will go to protect what they perceive to be their exclusive turf.

Luckily for consumers, there are several companies that run next generation video services, and a few of those have the potential to be truly disruptive to the established media conglomerates if they can survive and thrive. This post highlights some recent statements by the executives of Aereo and Netflix - two companies that seem to have what it takes to disrupt the status quo.


VMedia pulls no punches at CRTC hearings on mandatory distribution

The CRTC hearings on mandatory TV channel distribution took place last week, with several companies making their case as to why their new or existing channel should be considered for mandatory inclusion in the basic tier of every cable/satellite/IPTV package in the country. Being granted mandatory inclusion is akin to winning the lottery for a TV channel. It forces every TV distributor to include your channel in every channel package, so it guarantees you a steady income since viewers can't opt out. These designations typically last for 7 years, so if you are granted mandatory carriage you have 7 years of an assured revenue stream.


VMedia IPTV license amended to cover all of Ontario

That was fast!

VMedia recently launched their IPTV service, and just a few weeks later they've been given approval by the CRTC to expand their service to cover what looks like all of Ontario.

You can read all of the details in the CRTC decision (2013-193), but I'll save you some time and list the new areas: Barrie, Hamilton-Niagara, Kingston, London, Oshawa, Ottawa, Peterborough, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Windsor. That includes the "surrounding areas" for all of those municipalities.


VMedia Launches IPTV Service

In early January I wrote about a company named Zazeen that was poised to launch an IPTV service across much of Ontario and Quebec. It would seem that Zazeen is currently stuck in the starter's gate, awaiting the completion of contracts with the big media companies that control virtually all of the TV channels in Canada, including the ones that a distributor is required by the CRTC to carry.

VMedia on the other hand did a fairly low key "soft launch" last week, offering their $25 basic service in various Ontario municipalities and throwing in 3 months of free service as an enticement. I stopped in at the VMedia office over the Easter long weekend on my way through Toronto and met with some of the people behind the service. Read on to find out more about what they're up to and how they plan to become the preferred alternative to satellite and cable for cord cutters who still want a dose of conventional TV.


A movie collection in the cloud

The one-two punch of having Netflix and Hulu is how many cord cutters get their TV & movie fix without having to subscribe to an expensive cable or satellite TV package. The one thing that neither Netflix nor Hulu have however is a way to watch the latest movies. Many of the cable and satellite companies offer a selection of pay-per-view (PPV) movies at prices roughly comparable to what the neighbourhood movie rental store charges, assuming your neighbourhood even has a movie store these days.

For those who prefer to buy rather than rent, or those who want to be able to view some of the titles they've already paid for on a variety of devices like tablets and smartphones, Hollywood sure doesn't make it easy on you.

Read on to find out how the ownership landscape for movies is finally moving into the 21st century.


Getting Hulu Plus in Canada

In a few of my earlier postings I mentioned that we've been using Hulu Plus to help fill the void after cancelling our Bell satellite service in the spring of 2012.

For those unfamiliar with Hulu, it's an American streaming service that began in 2008 with backing from ABC, Fox, and NBC. It was originally free and allowed US-based customers to view recent TV shows via their web browser - similar to what you get in Canada from watch.ctv.ca, www.globaltv.com/video/, and so on for the other networks. The service was supported by advertising and only worked with a web browser. In 2010 they added a paid version called Hulu Plus at $7.99/month that reduced or eliminated the advertising (depending on the show) and added viewing apps for popular streaming devices such as the PlayStation 3, XBox 360, Apple TV, Roku, WD TV, smart TVs, and some BluRay players. The free version still exists but it's web-browser only, and just the last few episodes of shows are available rather than entire seasons.

The catch for those living outside the US is that the service is restricted to US customers, so if you're Canadian and you missed last night's episode of The Office, you'd have to watch it on your web browser via Global TV's site. If you could somehow get Hulu Plus to work in Canada you could watch it on your TV via your favourite streaming device, or even on your smartphone!

Read on to find out how to make it happen.


Internet while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, without paying Bell/Rogers/Telus a fortune

For connected Canadians venturing out of the country, one question is whether to forego Internet access while away and get caught up on emails etc. upon their return, or pay the outrageous data and voice roaming fees imposed by the big Canadian carriers. A lot of people just leave their cell phone at home so they can't accidentally rack up a huge roaming bill.
The new mobile companies like WIND and Mobilicity have better rates than the big companies, especially for travel to the US, but it's still prohibitively expensive for anything other than extremely light usage.


Shaw Direct's Local Television Satellite Solution - Free TV

It hasn't been publicized very well, but Shaw Direct has an interesting offer for people looking for a way to receive local TV without having to deal with antennas or living in places where there is very little available over the air.


MLB and NHL without a satellite/cable subscription

A new (short) NHL season is almost upon us now that the lockout is over, and since it's looking like Zazeen's new IPTV service won't have Rogers Sportsnet when they launch later this month, that means I'll only get nationally televised NHL games via CBC and TSN. Sportsnet has the regional broadcast rights for Ottawa Senators games, so they're the only TV station that can carry them.

I was in a similar bind for the MLB playoffs last fall but managed to find a way to watch all of the MLB games on my PS3 in HD over the Internet without the normal blackout restrictions, and it didn't end up costing me very much either. I expect/hope that a similar approach will work for NHL games this season. Read on if that sort of thing interests you.


HDTV for free - your grandfather's TV antenna is still useful!

In an earlier article I promised to go into some detail on what we're doing for TV in our household since we cancelled our satellite subscription last spring. We're currently getting our TV from a combination of sources:

  • local Ottawa stations that we receive for free via an antenna
  • Netflix
  • Hulu Plus

In this article I'll go into some detail on the first item - receiving digital TV signals with an antenna, but first you'll have to endure a rant about the annual price increases that finally motivated us to do something about our satellite bill.


Zazeen - shaking up the Canadian TV landscape

Zazeen finally made their IPTV product available for public signup. Though it's still just in its beta-testing stage and likely will be for several more months, it marks the beginning of a new kind of TV distribution system for Canadians. Zazeen's offering is delivered via your home Internet connection rather than a satellite or closed coax/fibre network feed.


Breaking free of Bell & Rogers

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them how much (actually how little) we pay per month to stay entertained and connected with the rest of the world. They know I'm a gadget freak and a heavy user of my cell phone, TV, and Internet connection, so they expect that I'd be paying a lot more than they are for my service. Here's a rundown of our typical monthly expenses:


Living without satellite TV

My wife and I "cut the cord" and cancelled our Bell Satellite TV account in the spring of 2012. Our kids had both been away at university for the past two years, and we figured the two of us would see if we could live without satellite TV. Cost was one of the main factors in our decision - the annual price hikes from Bell had put our monthly satellite bill at close to $80, and that was without any receiver rental charges or premium channels like HBO! We had the middle-of-the-pack channel package; we had to take that package since we wanted sports channels like TSN and Sportsnet, plus "lifestyle" networks like Food, HGTV, and TLC. The lack of channel bundling options from Bell and the other TV distributors is quite frustrating, and I'm convinced that they all have a team of statisticians that try to figure out how to bundle channels to extract the most revenue from their customers. How else can you explain the almost complete lack of a-la-carte channel packages in most of Canada and the annual shuffling of channel lineups and programming tiers?

About this blog

As a fan of technology who's tried a lot of the computer / Internet / TV gadgets out there, I often get asked what sort of technology I use at home and how well it works. I've been meaning for some time to put some of this stuff down in writing since I end up sending the same info to several different friends.

That's the plan for this blog - to discuss what I'm using at home for TV & Internet and perhaps some of the other gadgets we have in our smart home. Oh yeah... there will be some ranting from time to time too! Hopefully others will find this useful.