Don’t wait for pick-and-pay TV

The future is here (unless you’re into sports)

I don’t know many students with a cable TV subscription. Those that do have one got it bundled with their Internet as a result of a pushy sale, have it for free because of shared accommodations or subscribed out of some kind of habit following what they’d had back at home.

With all modern options presented, it doesn’t seem very likely that anyone would pick a cable TV subscription above all the other, cheaper options. That’s why back in September, the CRTC heard debate over whether or not to allow an à la carte (pick-and-pay) system where consumers could specifically pick the channels they wanted. Sounds reasonable, right? It’s the obvious consumer-friendly choice in a world where entertainment is increasingly offered in an on-demand format.

The debate was a waste of time, though. Long before bureaucrats got busy deciding whether or not to offer consumers more freedom, technology had already availed itself to the savvy consumer looking to cut the cord. Streaming services have popped up in a kind of bandwidth gold rush, looking to snatch up that coveted $9.99 monthly payment.

The lines between service provider, content provider and content producer are all beginning to blur. TV service providers are now production studios who make their own TV for their own TV network. Netflix wasn’t really the first – that would probably be HBO, which used to offer itself as a completely separate service from cable TV. But Netflix undoubtedly has done it best. With its original series like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, BoJack Horseman and now Marco Polo, Netflix made a lot of brave moves that allowed its series to thrive without ever appearing on cable TV. It’s a move I’m betting a lot of providers are hoping to replicate.

Now HBO is back. It announced late last year that it would offer its streaming service, currently known as HBO GO, as a standalone item that would compete with the likes of Netflix. With the quality programming HBO is known for, it might make a dent in Netflix’s hold on the market… but only if it’s cheap enough. HBO’s problem is that it’s still offered as a channel on top of a typical cable subscription, for a price that is not competitive with something like Netflix. It will be interesting to see how HBO manages to offer a competitive streaming price while not undercutting cable providers and pissing off an industry known to hold a grudge.

We can also count on HBO to delay offering its service here in Canada. Although there are some famous workarounds to access American streaming services like Netflix, it’ll still keep the average Canadian from accessing (or even knowing about) HBO’s treasure trove of content. So what’s a Canadian to do, then? Well, there are some domestic options on the horizon, too. Shomi (offered by Shaw and Rogers) and CraveTV (Bell and Telus) are all currently available… but they’re not very good. They might make do for casual watching where you don’t particularly care what you see, but if you know what you want to watch, you’ll need to do a little research before diving in.

There’s also the absurd problem of requiring a cable subscription to even access some of these services. CraveTV, for example, is only available to Bell and Telus customers, which strikes me as some kind of hacky add-on service to give people what they really want: pick-and-pay TV.

So if the future is already here, why not just cut the cord? Well, the problem for many is sports. With CBC out of hockey and Rogers threatening to stop its free streams, even Saturday night NHL may be off the menu. While there are options like NHL Gamecenter and TSN Live Streaming, they aren’t really options for cord cutters looking to save money. Gamecenter on its own is pricey and TSN Live Streaming, like CraveTV, requires an existing cable subscription to access.

If you can do without sports, you’ve got options, but those who can’t miss the CFL, NHL and everything else, you’re stuck with cable for a little longer.