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Cutting The Cable In Canada–Bell Fibe TV (Part 2)

February 21, 2011 8 comments

This is part two of a blog series on cutting the cable in Canada. You can read part one by clicking here.

One of the services I came across in my research was Bell’s Fibe TV service, and I have to admit that if it was available in my neighbourhood now then this contest might be over.

Those of you who know me also know that I’m in violent opposition to the anti-competitive tactics that Bell is using when it comes to Internet pricing here in Canada.  However, even with that chip on my shoulder I’d have a hard time passing on this service.

imageBell’s service is based on Microsoft’s Mediaroom internet tv platform, which takes all the best parts of Windows Media Center and packages them up for Internet TV service providers.  The best PVR experience out there, true multi-room and multi-device content sharing, all of the latest high definition TV content, and the latest HD movies for rent.

Bear in mind that I haven’t actually used the service, so I’m sure there are some warts to be found, but based on what I know I’m giddy in anticipation.  Let’s remove the giddiness though and apply some math.

From my current cable TV provider, I subscribe to a mid-grade package which includes most of the broadcast and basic cable channels but none of the premium channels (HBO, TMN, etc).  I rent one set-top box, bought another on eBay, but I do not use or pay for their PVR.  For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume that my family’s viewing patterns don’t change and that I would want to enable several TVs in the house with this service.

My Current Cable Bill: $56.99 before taxes

Equivalent Bell Fibe TV Bill: $35 before taxes

As mentioned above I don’t currently rent a PVR from my cable company, because it sucks, however in this case I would want to get the non-sucky PVR.  The nice thing about Fibe TV is that you only need one PVR and the rest is shared to the TVs in your house.  So let’s add $20 a month to that bill to bring it to $55.

And now you see why I’m giddy… looks like this has the promise to meet my needs and hit the magic number!  Of course this is all academic, because it’s not available outside of small pockets in downtown Toronto and Montreal with no estimate on availability elsewhere.  Pity.

The search continues…

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

February 21, 2011 22 comments

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.

$100 Milk–UBB Controversy In Plain English

February 3, 2011 12 comments

So there’s lots of talk recently about Usage-Based Billing for internet service in Canada. While it’s very easy for geeks like me to get passionate about the details, I want to focus on why this matters to everyone.

Let’s start here:

You should only be paying $7.99 for TV service.

imageAcross the US, people are beginning to cancel their cable and satellite TV service and opting instead for internet TV services that let you watch what you want, when you want, wherever you want. It’s cheap, it’s convenient, and it’s a much better experience than the one you’re paying Bell or Rogers many times more for today.  The going price is $7.99.

To be fair, all of that video needs to flow over the Internet and it costs money to build and maintain the Internet pipes which carry that content.   More specifically, it costs an extra $0.03 per gigabyte.

imageIn plain English, every time you watch a TV show or movie online it costs your internet provider about three cents.  If the trend south of the border continues northwards, then more and more of us will start to cut the cord and all those three cents will add up pretty quickly.  Somebody has to pay for that.

So Bell Canada went to the government asking for permission to charge more.  Alright, cool, I can respect that, this stuff isn’t free.  They went through the long process, made their argument to a group of regulators who are there to watch out for Canada’s best interests, and they ended up with, wait for it… $2.00 per gigabyte.  For everyone.

What?!?! Who the heck agreed to a 6000% markup, and who agreed that basically every single DSL Internet provider in the country had to charge the same price?  Well you did of course, through the people who you elected.

Imagine for a minute that we mandated a sweeping 6000% markup on other items you use every day, like milk. Head out every day to your local Loblaws, drop a c-note on a 2 litre carton of milk, and enjoy the cool refreshing goodness™.  Every store in the country, $100 milk, with no alternatives, because the government thinks it’s in your best interest.  Thanks government!image

While the spin doctors have done an excellent job of portraying internet usage as a problem for only a small number of pimply-faced teenagers stealing internet porn from their mom’s basement, that’s not what this is about.  It’s really about you, and making it so expensive to use the internet that you’ll never even consider the alternatives that are just around the corner.

You will continue to pay those huge TV bills to Bell & Rogers
You will drive to Rogers Video in the snowstorm to rent a DVD
You will dutifully continue to lock into that bundle to save $5 off your TV, phone, and internet

This has nothing to do with the cost of providing internet service. Three pennies? Sure, here you go, please excuse the pocket lint.

No, this has everything to do with ensuring that your entertainment dollars continue to flow to Bell and nobody else.  All of those amazing competitive imageservices that the rest of the world enjoys, they require fast and cheap internet. If Bell controls access to the internet, well then Bell controls access to the competition.  And if somehow you could pull off a scam where you could control all of your competition AND enjoy a 6000% markup while doing it then by golly you should get a frickin’ award!  It’s pure evil genius!

But surely nobody would be naive enough to let you get away with it, would they?
Unfortunately that’s exactly what has just happened.

You should only be paying $7.99 for TV service.
You’re not.
You never will.
Because you live in Canada.
And your government thinks $100 is a fair price for milk.

Kudos to MP Tony Clement for pushing back on this one.

Disclaimer: Obviously there are far more complexities and intricacies involved here, I’ve deliberately simplified the math.  For the details I refer you to Michael Geist’s blog. Click here for one of his articles which does a very good job of explaining the detail.

Categories: Canada, TV and Movies

Visit to Dog River

June 29, 2006 Leave a comment
IMG_4810I was in Regina this week meeting with one of my customers, and I had an opportunity to visit the set of one of my favorite TV shows – Corner Gas.  Most of you have probably never heard of Corner Gas, but it’s the #1 rated sitcom in Canada.  Jodie doesn’t understand how it can make me laugh out loud when we’re watching it, the main character Brett has a very odd sense of humour that I just can’t help but laugh at.  Perry was my host, and I think he got a kick out of how much I was enjoying visiting the set. 

Dog River is a fictional tiny town in Saskatchewan, but it really is the town of Rouleau.  The main gas station and restaurant are sets, but the rest of the buildings in town are actually part of the town itself.  They were filming as we drove by, but they shuffled us along when they were getting ready to shoot a scene.
At dinner back in Regina, the actor who plays Officer Davis sat down at the next table to have a beer and we chatted for a little bit.  It was a full Corner Gas visit (oh, and we got lots of business done as well).  My pictures can be found here (didn’t get a pic with Davis). 

Battlestar Galacticsimpsons

May 12, 2006 Leave a comment

This is a very cool set of animated characters based on the Battlestar Galactica series. I just get a kick out of the drawings so thought I’d share with you.

pantsketch: Battlestar Galacticsimpsons

Categories: TV and Movies

BSG is getting really good

March 26, 2006 Leave a comment

Okay, okay berate me if you will but the Canadian run of Battlestar Galactica is running several months behind the US version.  I got interested in BSG last year and watched season one, but the last few episodes now have me fully and completely hooked.  I can’t wait to see what happens next week!  (I just finished the episode where Odama and the new Admiral plotted plans to assasinate each other – to be continued).  Cool!

Categories: TV and Movies