Home > Canada, Cutting Cable > Cutting the Cable in Canada – 2015 Update

Cutting the Cable in Canada – 2015 Update

I’m starting to see the cord-cutting conversation move from the geeky niches of the country into more of the mainstream, and given how fast things change in this space it’s time for me to provide an update on the state of things in Canada.

This story has been told before, back when Napster took off and changed people’s expectations about how they get access to music.  The industry wanted you to buy the old way (dropping $15+ on the album at your local retailer), people wanted to buy a new way (only buying the songs they want, and listening to them however they please).  While the industry fought to keep things the way they were, the pirates made it easier and more convenient to steal.  It became easier to steal music than it was to pay for it.  Eventually, the industry was forced to give in and now thrives on new models that allow people to pay for the music they want.

Fast-forward to today, and we are seeing very much the same story with television.  Cable companies have grown the monthly bill to a point where people no longer see value in paying too much for just the small amount of content they want.  The industry is fighting to hang on to that old model, and the pirates have made it easier and more convenient to steal.  Most content is locked up in the all-too-expensive cable bill, what isn’t locked up in cable is spread across too many exclusive and hard-to-navigate apps.  It is now easier to steal content than it is to pay for it.

I believe that if people can pay for content they will, and that’s been my view on cord-cutting.  I have taken the approach in the past that I will only write about options where money flows to the artists who made the content, and have not written about the more shady options for cutting the cord via theft.  However, now that these conversations seem to be going more mainstream I’m genuinely concerned about the general public getting misleading advice on cord-cutting and want to take some time to talk about all of the options to ensure that the dialogue is out in the open.  If you’re what I call tech-curious but not quite tech-savvy, here are the options you’re likely to bump into in 2015.

Option #1 – Antenna and Netflix

Back in the day, you would connect your television to the rabbit ears and pull in that snowy picture from your local network.  The experience wasn’t very good, which is why cable became so popular in the 80s as a way to deliver a consistently sharp picture where antenna could not.  What you might not know however is that the TV antennas are still out there, and they’ve been modernized to deliver crisp HD quality that is often better than what you get on cable.

Indeed, antenna (also called over-the-air or OTA for short) is a great option for cord-cutters and there are a few interesting devices on the market now that will let you record all of your network television alongside streaming options like Netflix.


The Tivo Roamio, while a bit pricey, would be top of my list of boxes to try out if you’re looking to get started down this path.  I personally use a PVR from a company based out of Ottawa called Tablo TV which is very app-friendly and gets the Canadian experience right (not always a given for products that are born and raised in the United States).  Finally ChannelMaster which has been in the antenna game for years has their DVR+ box as another option.

Any of these devices, plus a whole host of other do-it-yourself options, will give you access to the majority of the content you might want.  Live TV for big sports events, PVR for first-run TV series, and a vast catalog of older television shows and movies via Netflix.

Is it for me:  check your address on tvfool to see what channels you can get, and see if that’s good enough for you.  The biggest drawback I hear from sports fans is that you don’t get access to all the games you would find on SportsNet or TSN.

Is it legal:  100% legal, yes

How much does it cost:  Assume $500 for the antenna professionally installed, Tivo costs $200 with a $15/month fee, Tablo costs $250 with a $5/month fee, Channel Master DVR+ costs $250 with no monthly fee.  Netflix costs $8/month.

What are the risks:  With over-the-air, there is a risk of poor signal which looks similar to a DVD with scratches.  A professional installer can help minimize this risk.  There is also a risk that Netflix may cause you to exceed your internet capacity, but most internet packages available today will be just fine (with the exception of a lite or rural wireless internet package).

Option #2 – Internet Streamer with geo-unlocking

Internet streamers have become quite popular, the biggest players being Roku, AppleTV, and most recently Amazon FireTV.  In all cases, they’ll give you access to Netflix and some sort of movie-rental service.  There are also some good options to buy apps for MLB baseball, NHL Hockey, and MLS Soccer.

Here’s the rub with the internet streamers though – once it identifies that you’re geographically located in Canada the content available to purchase really drops.  For that reason, many people with internet streamers also pair them up with a geo-unlocking service that can make you appear to be coming from somewhere else in the world.  A good geo-unlocker like unblock-us can let you get access to BBC content from the UK, vastly better Netflix content from the US and the rest of the world, and will take care of annoying local blackouts on the sports apps.

Personally, I use an AppleTV which has the added ability to do what is called “AirPlay”.  Basically, if you can get something on your iPad or iPhone then you can send it to your TV with one tap.  Between the apps that are natively on the streamer and the apps on my iPad, there is a good selection of content available to be streamed.

Is it for me:  If you’re not that into first-run TV series, and are looking mostly for movies or rerun television then yes I’d say an internet streamer will work for you. Also the best option for live hockey, baseball, and soccer (at a price of course).

Is it legal:  The streamer itself is legal yes, but the geo-unlocking service is a gray area.  It’s like cross-border shopping – you can get better selection, better prices, but at the same time you might be depriving a Canadian company of the opportunity to make money.

How much does it cost:  Expect to pay about $100 for a streamer (there are many options), $5/month for a good geo-unlocker.

What are the risks:  Content providers are constantly changing what you have access to.  Some iPad apps block you from displaying on a TV, some television apps have been forcing you to enter your cable bill info before you can get access.  It’s for this reason I recommend this if you’re not that into first-run TV shows, frankly it can be a bit of a pain in the butt to watch first-run TV on a streamer.  Also pay attention to your internet data caps, you’re starting to get into the territory where there is real risk of going over your cap and your ISP starts to charge you extra.  Consider alternate internet providers with better caps like Start or Teksavvy.

Option #3 – Illegal Online Streaming

The illegal online streams are easy to find, and they are also highly risky.  You’re likely to come across them if you search for something like “watch game of thrones online”, which will take you to any number of sites that have links to streaming versions online.  What you’ll also notice are things like porn advertisements, links to get you to go to other sites, or the forced install of some sort of software.  In most cases, these are very bad and they are trying to make a quick buck by forcing you into advertising loops or worse by hijacking your computer for any number of nefarious purposes.

There are also a handful of streaming sites that are popping up with a subscription fee, like hockeystreams.com.  While I have less safety concerns about these types of offshore-run services, have no doubt about it that these are selling you illegal content.

The moral of the story with illegal internet streams:  Seems too good to be true?  It probably is…

Is it for me:  Is free content more important to you than your privacy or having someone install something that will keep track of the next time you log in to your online banking?  Then illegal online streams are for you.

Is it legal:  There is no gray here, this is illegal

How much does it cost:  Generally free.

Risks:  Real risk of getting some sort of virus or theft of data from your computer.  Content quality varies quite a bit, and what you click on might not get you what you’re expecting.

Option #4 – Pirating Platforms

This is the one that gives me the most heartburn, because too many people think that these are legal.  You’ll hear terms like BitTorrent, CouchPotato, Sickbeard and XBMC which by themselves are not illegal, however in this context they’re usually being used to get access to illegal content.  What is most challenging here is that these are the platforms that are doing a good job at delivering what people prefer – an easy to use, professional-looking app to get access to content you actually want.  If only the content owners would design something similar they’d probably make a fortune.  Alas, they prefer to stick to their old ways and so it’s the pirates that have the better platform.  I’ve seen all-in-one boxes like LibertyTV become this generation’s “unlocked cable box”, where anyone can buy something that is so easy it looks legit.

Be aware though, regardless of how polished things look it is still illegal.  The geeks that created these platforms are in a constant game of cat and mouse with the content owners.  While there might be technical ways to cover your tracks, I can virtually guarantee that the majority of “average” people who are using these things are being tracked.  You are stealing, you are stealing quite openly, your IP address is on a list somewhere ready to be used if and when someone wants to sue you.  Yes, there are limits on damages and yes there are still court battles to be fought but do you really want to be a potential test case?

Is it for me:  Are you okay building a record of multiple legal infractions?

Is it legal:  No.

How much does it cost:  While there are do-it-yourself options, a pre-built XBMC box costs about $200-300

Risks:  Aside from the legal discussion above, you should also be aware that because of the cat and mouse nature of pirated content it is highly likely that this will just stop working at some point and will require regular tweaking from a technical geek to keep it up to date.


We are at a transition point with television delivery, and I am confident that some day in the not-too-distant future there will be a way for good honest people to spend their money on the content they love.  The reality is that today is not that day, if you want to legitimately get access to content then you’ll either have to pay your cable company for content you don’t want or you’ll have to work extra hard to find legitimate ways to buy content from across multiple silos.

Some will choose to bypass all of the complexity that the old industry has erected and simply steal the content instead.  I don’t want to be someone who promotes that approach, but I figure that if you were going to steal anyways then this article isn’t going to change your mind.  The conversations are happening, and often with misleading information about the legality of the options.  I hope that a fully open conversation about the options does help to educate those who are just now thinking about cutting the cable, so that your eyes are wide open if someone holds your hand and takes you down a path that might get you into trouble with the law.

As I said at the beginning, this story has been told before and I am confident that eventually, it will have the same ending.

The fine print:  This discussion is very limited to options that I see come up in conversation with the tech-curious.  Yes I know about new option x, and that linux option y, and the super-nerdy option z.  I’ve made assumptions here which I know are likely to cause “yeah, but” type arguments with the tech-savvy crowd.  There are plenty of places where you can go for details and fine-grained arguments and legal use cases for the tech-savvy.  Feel free to point those out in the comments.

Categories: Canada, Cutting Cable
  1. April 6, 2014 at 8:06 am

    In case you’re wondering, I personally use a bit of a combination of #1 and #2. I got into this years ago, and most of our setup is Do-It-Yourself options. If I were to do it all over again starting now, I’d begin with the antenna options above and probably supplement with an AppleTV.

    Here’s a link that pretty accurately describes my current setup https://pnear.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/cutting-the-cable-in-canadaconclusion-part-8/

  2. April 6, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Probably THE BEST overview I’ve seen to-date and a huge plus for being Canadian on top of it. I cut the cable just over a year ago and haven’t looked back. Apple TV (with iPad & MacBook using Airplay) and an external antenna… I have to applaud Great Britain with it’s more liberal views towards global viewing. iBBC and AcornTV are two HUGE benefits for those who like British drama and/or mystery.

    I really like your phrase Geo-Unlocking… using it lets me set the country for our AppleTV to the good old USA and then registering with our closest PBS station across the border opens up PBS’s archives to us – and of course US Netflix amongst others…

    I look forward to the day when the lawyers (who are making most of the money restricting all the accesses) get out of the way and countries can share on the Internet like Britain does… a Huge case in point is Australia (which GeoUnlocking has yet to crack unfortunately) – they have some of the best home grown programming that I have ever seen – I’d love to be able to pay and watch it a la AcornTV!

    Again – great article – thanks for writing it!

    • April 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Happy to help!

  3. April 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Hi Peter,
    I enjoyed reading your blog post and found most if it quite interesting albeit misleading and you may have done your readers a disservice.

    You have linked to several articles dealing with IP address tracking and copyright law statutory damages and made statements of law which are incorrect.

    The links you provided deal directly with person to person (p2p) file sharing and the downloading of copyright protected material. You are correct in your assertion that BitTorrent, CouchPotato and Sickbeard are all used primarily for those functions and are without a doubt going to get you in trouble. There are currently no laws that deal with streaming.

    Where you had me scratching my head was throwing XBMC into the mix. XBMC is not a filesharing program and has no native functionality to perform any “pirating” XBMC is a media center just like Microsoft Media Center and is designed to play audio, video and graphics.

    Liberty TV is absolutely legitimate and legal. As legal as your laptop or desktop computer only it is designed to operate on your Television and delivers a fantastic Home Theater system.

    The 3rd party addons are content aggregators, which basically reaches across the internet and retrieves data from multiple sources, performing the same function as google.
    Liberty TV plays streamed content from thousands of different hosts worldwide, it never resides on the hard drive nor is it downloaded and therefore does not fall under the DMCA.

    Anti Piracy Group Admits Streaming is not illegal

    “Is watching streaming movies illegal?
    There is currently no definitive answer to this question. Depending on the site and file type, online streaming may create a full-length temporary copy of the movie on your computer. Alternatively, the program may delete the data as you watch.
    Some courts have held that even temporary copies may violate the law. However, the Copyright Office contends there is no violation when “a reproduction manifests itself so fleetingly that it cannot be copied, perceived or communicated.”
    Though the law is unclear, it is useful to note that owners, such as the MPAA, rarely go after individuals who watch streaming movies. Illegal or not, it’s much more difficult to track these users down. Unlike BitTorrent downloads, the MPAA can’t just sign into a program and snag IP addresses.”


    Please see page 110 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act http://www.copyright.gov/reports/studies/dmca/sec-104-report-vol-1.pdf

    So while articles about prosecuting downloaders sound great, the fact is we are not talking about p2p filesharing or downloading in the case of http://libertytv.ca. We are talking about publicly available content that is available to ANY user that has access to a web browser and having it delivered to you on the smallest Intel based fanless HTPC.

    • Shin Huang
      March 19, 2015 at 11:42 pm

      Adam, your statement about copyright laws addressing downloading and not streaming is legally in error. The law makes no distinction between downloading (the transfer of data for later use) and streaming (the transfer of data for immediate use). Both involve the transfer of data. If you do not have the right to use said copyright material, it matters not what you choose to do with said data.

  4. April 17, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Nice work Peter. Your contributions to the Canadian viewing community are greatly appreciated. Thanks to you, my OTA listings have been working for years.

    My only quibble about the article would be to suggest that you separate option #1 into two distinct options: OTA and OTT (over the top) video.

    The reason is that OTT is distinctly different from OTA and much more than just Netflix.

    In my case, I use lots of OTT Video providers. Some for free and some that I subscribe to such as Netflix and MLB.TV. MLB.TV is great because it gives me all the baseball games that I would normally have to use Sportsnet for.

    Free OTT video that I watch on my Roku 3 includes Crackle (for Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars getting coffee), Bloomberg Television, Youtube Channels and selected VOD for NFL network, A&E, NBC and CBS.

    Keep up the good work

  5. May 11, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    This is a well written & thoughtful blog post.

  6. March 19, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    This is the best post I have seen on the risks and benefits of the various options. As professional antenna installers based in Kitchener, this is very relevant to our customer base. I have just posted a link to your post from our Facebook page, and with your permission I would like to place a link to this post on our web site.

    I would like to let you know that in addition to the DVR options you listed, there is also a cheaper model available, sold under the names Homeworx and Mediasonic for about $80. They are both very basic, consisting of one tuner that can either record or play back one program at a time. The Channel Master has a higher price tag because it has two tuners in it, and has enough processing power to record two different channels at once while playing back a previous recording. It also has the capability to serve recorded media over your network via DLNA. While it is a great product, for most people the cheaper model is sufficient, so we mostly sell those.

    • March 20, 2015 at 7:33 am

      Ali, I’m fine with you linking to the article. I just updated it a bit to make it relevent for 2015, which may change the URL link. Make sure you get the new link.

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