Home > Canada, Cutting Cable, TV and Movies > Cutting The Cable In Canada–The Challenge (Part One)

Cutting The Cable In Canada–The Challenge (Part One)

After arguing that we need fast and cheap internet to ensure that Canada doesn’t get left behind as the world moves towards online video, I figured it was time to actually start testing the waters.  What is the state of online video in Canada and is it realistic for a Canadian family to cut the cable?

Over the next few weeks I’ll take you through my attempts to fundamentally alter the way that our family consumes media.  For those who don’t care to watch TV or Movies at all, you might wish to skip this series altogether.  For those who are wondering if it’s really possible to live without your cable provider, stick with me as I fumble my way through and if successful I’ll finish the series with a concise how-to.

The ground rules:

  • My family must accept the solution, this is not a geeks-only endeavour
  • The content creators must be compensated, no stealing from the artists
  • The quality must generally match what I get today, which means high definition
  • Costs must fit within our existing budget, I’m only allowed to spend what I save elsewhere

I’ll add to the above rules some expectations about the experience:

  • I want to watch what I want, which means access to all of the TV and Movie content that we already enjoy without limitations
  • I want to watch when I want, which means that content is available to me on-demand and without delay
  • I want to watch where I want, which means in the living room, in the bedroom, or on an airplane in the middle of the Atlantic
  • I want to rent content, not own the content.  I’m not interested in buying TV or Movies that we will keep forever and watch later.  I want to watch it once, and then never again.

Let’s lay out these requirements into a handy-dandy chart, and compare them against the options that I already know are out there.


    Cable TV Antenna BitTorrent
    Family Accepted Star Star Star
    Creators Paid Star Star
    HD Quality Star Star Star
    Cost Neutral Star Star Star
    What I Want Star   Star
    When I Want Star Star Star
    Where I Want   Star Star
    Rent vs Own Star Star Star
    With my cable provider, I can get access to pretty much everything I want through their set-top box for a price.  The biggest problem is that because the content is encrypted, it only works through their set-top-box and if you want to share content to other rooms in the house, your iPod, or laptop you’re out of luck.  The other issue is that I’m forced to pay for way more content than I want through odd bundles.

    Since I live near a major city (Toronto), a cheap antenna in my attic provides crystal-clear high definition TV.  The content is unencrypted, so it is quite easy to plug the antenna into many off-the-shelf PVRs to watch wherever I want in a family-friendly way.  There are two problems with the antenna, both related to watching what I want: you’re limited to the major network content, and in rare but infuriating circumstances the signal doesn’t come in strong.

A reality which drives me crazy is that BitTorrent is probably the best technical option currently available to Canadians.  There are lots of applications that allow you to proactively download all of the content you might want, play it back in a user-friendly way, and take it with you wherever you want.  However, this option does not compensate content creators for their art which is in my opinion not fair, not right, and of course not legal.

That last point is one of the driving reasons behind this experiment.  Surely the state of the industry cannot be that the only way to consume content in a friendly way is to steal it.  I’m on a mission.  I will find a way to consume media on my terms in a way that compensates the artists who created it. Come join me on my journey.

  1. February 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Hi Peter,

    I’m going to follow your experiment closely as I have been looking to move in this direction since last September. The added challenge for me is that I’m into watching sports (football and basketball) and real-time viewing is needed for this.

    I look forward to future posts…


  2. Alain
    February 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    ditto in watching this. Also looking to see how this extends to a university student for example 🙂

  3. Scott
    February 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    We only watch a handful of shows, mostly Reality shows such as Survior, The Apprentice, Amazing Race etc. My wife likes Greys Anatomy and Glee. I confess to being a Leaf fan, and I do like to watch the occasional Argo game or Jays game. I find it hard to find the shows not being in the US, and I haven’t been made aware of a good solution to the live TV needs of sports. Hope you can help solve the riddle for me!

  4. Wayne
    February 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    I don’t know how you can say that Bittorrent allows you to watch when you want. If you are trying to download a movie, particularly in HD, then it is likely going to take a day or two, even if you have a seriosuly fast internet connection.

    I think you are also missing Netflix and even Hulu or Hulu Plus if you don’t consider it illegal to use a APN service to give yourself a US IP address.

    I also agree with the above comments that Bittorrent doesn’t give you what you want if that includes live sports.

  5. February 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Wayne: There’s alot to come still in this series incuding a review of Netflix and Hulu.

    On the BitTorrent front, I don’t plan to go into detail but I’m referring to apps that allow you to subscribe to your favourite shows and have them downloaded in the background proactively. So no, it wouldn’t be available immediately but it would be already downloaded.

  6. Wayne
    February 22, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Maybe you have a different definition of “When I Want” – to me that means being able to watch a show/movie without having to do any advance planning. And I still don’t understand how you can do that with Bittorrent unless you have a very fast internet pipe and aren’t throttled by your ISP. With Rogers On Demand, Netflix, Hulu, etc you just pick your show from a list and start watching immediately, not in a day or two.

    • February 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      Wayne: fair point.

  7. Frank
    February 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Canadians can’t legally use Hulu or Hulu plus, “fooling” the service using technological tricks doesn’t change this reality. Pete says he wants to see the artists compensated but HE wants to decide what it is the artists get and who should pay for his viewing pleasure. Using Hulu illegally potentially denies those very artists their due as written in the licensing agreements with the Canadian providers of that content (the artists might just get more in Canada, I don’t know). To take another position is to agree that the black market in tobacco sales is valid as long as the farmers get their cut. Many people do take that position of course, but most people understand they are breaking the law when buying on the black market. How is this any different because the commodity is intangible?

    You are fighting the wrong fight, Pete, you should be fighting with the cable companies to change their restrictive ways, not use technology to steal content. It doesn’t matter if Hulu has a license deal such that your viewing will see some money go to the artists, it is done on a false pretense. Hulu works by advertising revenue but those advertisers are not trying to advertise to you but to US citizens, you are stealing their money by subverting the technology.

    That’s what copyright is all about, it is the way it works. I don’t like it either but I don’t pick and choose the licenses I decide are okay versus those that aren’t (and can therefore be ignored). How do you justify your actions?

    Finally, Rogers provides their TV programming via the Internet (though how complete it is I don’t know) and as far as I know there are no client restrictions nor proprietary devices involved. I’m no fan of Rogers but given your recent iTunes note it doesn’t seem like Rogers is gouging as much as others. Perhaps the real problem is you just don’t want to spend that much money on content regardless of the technology used to provide it?

    • February 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      Frank: I think you’re jumping to conclusions.

      I’m still testing out lots of things and while I haven’t finished my testing I can tell you that the only thing I’ve come across so far that meets my needs is Bell Fibe TV.

    • Splitting Hairs
      February 25, 2011 at 1:07 am

      “It doesn’t matter if Hulu has a license deal such that your viewing will see some money go to the artists, it is done on a false pretense. Hulu works by advertising revenue but those advertisers are not trying to advertise to you but to US citizens, you are stealing their money by subverting the technology.”

      Frank, I do agree with most of comments in “general”, especially that the content creators / artists should be compensated for their work, but I have just a few comments:

      1. Content is King! Without it we have a bunch of great looking HD channels full of garbage programming. 95-99% of everything I watch is American or British programming. As long as the content creators are paid for their work using an existing and working business model, I do not care if that model is Canadian, US, or British. Obviously the service provider needs to be financially compensated.
      In the case of LEGAL OTA reception of American channels bleeding across the border into Canada, the US stations will benefit little economically, but they are also not incurring any additional expense.

      2. No business should have a “right” to make large amounts of money. Unless it seems if you are a Canadian bank or BDU.

      3. The border removing trend that has taken place over the past 4-5 years, is just the tip of the ice berg. One thing I have learned is that you can not fight technology, because it ALWAYS wins. When MP3 techology first came out, the recording industry depised it, spending untold hours and $$$ taking people to court and trying various copy protection. It did not take long for the industry to realise they were fighting a losing battle, and now these same companies (or parent sompanies) make the very machines that make it possible and easier to play the “ilegal” MP3 content. The fact that many of the major record labels, are now owned by the MP3 equipment manufactueres (such as Sony), is quite the irony. The same thing has heppened with the movie industry, in that many of the major film studio’s are owned by equipment manufactuerers (DVD players, TV’s etc), and these same equipment manufactueres have been making DVD players with DiVX capabilities for years. Given that 90-99% of DiVX content is coming from “illegal” sources, is just more delicious irony.

      Sure a few pennies from each DVD/DiVX player sale might find their way back to some content providers, but are ALL content providers being fully compensated? I doubt it, but I guess when you “break the law” or skirt the rules as a big business, it’s not called “stealing”

      3. The “assumption” that the US online advertisers are ONLY advertising to US citizens on Hulu is faulty. One of the major benefits of the internet is that it allows companies increased reach, providing the ability to hawk their wares to citizens of numerous countries. US advertisers might not “intentionally” target Canadians in their Hulu Ad campaigns , but given that many of their products or services will be of interest to Canadians (who could then their products),it does have economic value to a US advertiser. How would a Canadian watching Hulu online be “stealing their money”

      From my perspective, Canadians have three options available to them to fight the good fight, and get the message across to the Canadian television industry that 40-50 years of averageness / mediocrity is enough.

      1. Fight the fight “legally” within the system while supporting the status quo. Perhaps write your MP or the CRTC, though IMO, that would be big fat “good luck with that”.

      2. Use modern technology to remove the “borders”, causing the Canadian broadcasters / BDU’s to have less customers. It might wake the industry from their contented cash cow slumber and force them to be more competitive. Better and more home grown content and increased HD production (not just re-cycled US shows – hello Global), would be a nice start. Dream the dream Canada.

      3. Pull the BDU or cable TV plug completely. Install a good OTA antenna for best quality HD content, suplemented with with DVD / BluRay and internet streaming.

      Of course you could be of the opinion that the Canadian televsion industry is just fine the way it is, well worth supporting, and keep doing the doing.

      For the record, I chose option #3, and its not solely about saving money. The money spent on these electronic toys, could have paid for quite a few years of cable TV, but I preferred to spend my money accordingly as OTA antenna reception is also a hobby. I will also NEVER go back to cable, unless ala carte programming is made available. No more 60 channel package (with 90-95% garbage) for this cowboy.

  8. Randall
    February 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm


    My family hasn’t taken the plunge yet, but we’re planning to in a couple months when our contract with the satellite company is up. For us, our ground rules, of necessity, are more limited. My wife will be quitting her job soon to stay at home, so we’ll be forced to cut some corners. My essential “ground rules” then are simply that we must save money over the $60 or so we’re spending now and the creators must be paid. Like you, we’re not going to stoop to stealing. On the other hand, we’re willing to take a hit on quality and there isn’t any content we can’t live without. My point, an obvious one I suppose, is simply that it’s a more viable option for those with less restrictive requirements.

  9. March 10, 2011 at 9:54 am

    You forgot to list Satellite TV as an option. With a 33 or a 36 inch dish and an HD FTA satellite receiver, you can receive about 80 English channels with 8 of those in HD as listed at http://www.drsat.ca/cfm/drsat/channels.cfm?langid=1&sourceid=2 If you have room for a bigger dish, you can get even more with 220 English channels and 36 in HD as listed at http://www.drsat.ca/cfm/drsat/channels.cfm?langid=1&sourceid=6 These channels are unencrypted so they are available for free with no monthly subscription.

    The bigger dish also allows you to subscribe to HITS TV which offers up to 82 speciality channels which easily fills the gap left over from cutting the cable.
    These channels are listed at http://www.drsat.ca/cfm/drsat/channels.cfm?langid=1&sourceid=4

  10. Brian
    December 1, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I’m not sure how using an antennna compensates the artist. Unlike cable, there is no way for them to track back what you are watching. Plus if you are watching US networks… then we get back to the argument of US commercials again.

    • December 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm

      Brian, the antenna broadcast model has been around for ages. Advertisers buy ad time based on research from companies like Neilsen, which then flows back to the artist. For the border stations, their ad revenue is very much based on an understanding of their mixed audience. Not sure if you live in a border town, but for a place like Buffalo where it is actually smaller than Toronto you’ll actually see quite a bit of advertising that targets the Canadian market.

  1. February 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm
  2. February 22, 2011 at 9:51 am
  3. February 23, 2011 at 7:53 am
  4. February 24, 2011 at 9:46 am
  5. March 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  6. January 4, 2012 at 10:00 pm
  7. February 3, 2013 at 2:47 pm
  8. September 25, 2015 at 8:45 am

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