Although polls show that most Canadians are not willing to cut their cable subscription due to convenience and reliability, there are a small number that do say goodbye to that cable connection every year. In 2011 the number of cable cutting households in Canada stood at 100,000 with a similar number expected to have taken the plunge in 2012.
Likely the top reason these people are moving away from traditional cable subscriptions is the cost. If you presently have cable you are paying anywhere from $50 – $100 per month for access to hundreds of channels, many of whom you are not even watching. In addition, if you haven´t purchased your own recording device (i.e. PVR) then you are paying another $25 per month for it´s rental. You can actually save quite a bit of money each year if you can find an alternative.
Alternatives do exist and the number of on-line sources of content are increasing each year. Although the amount of media available on the Internet in Canada is somewhat limited compared to the United States, if you look around a little you would be surprised what you could find. Netflix and iTunes are prime examples of this, although the Canadian versions do not have as much content as their American counterparts, when supplemented with other sources they may suit your needs. Many networks are now making many of their TV shows available on their websites, usually within a day of their over-the-air broadcast date. Also, with the switchover to digital over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting in 2011, high quality signals from your local Television stations may be available for free and may be able to satisfy your live TV needs for example sports.
Some of the options for those pioneers out there are discussed below. I have also supplemented this information with links to a number of other articles about cable cutting in Canada.
Over the Air TV signals
In September 2011, TV stations in large cities throughout Canada were forced to switch from analog to digital transmission of their signals. The availability of local TV stations varies from city to city but in some areas in Canada you can pick up 10-12 HD quality TV signals absolutely free. If you live close to the border you may even be able to pick up transmissions from the US. You can find out which channels you might be able to pick up by going to the TV Fool website at TV Fool. You put in your address or postal code and it tells you the direction and location of nearby transmitters and if you could pick these up with an antenna. Of course the more distant stations would require a bigger, higher antenna. More information about OTA broadcasting and how to make your own antenna are given in a previous post.
With the explosion of users on the internet many networks (e.g. CBC, CTV, Global, TVO Space) have started to make their programming available on their websites. Not all programming is available and it is usually delayed by a day or two compared to its broadcast time but you can find quite a bit of your favourite shows available on demand. Of course watching this programming will use your Internet bandwidth so you may want to keep an eye on your usage so that you don’t go over your monthly allotment. Depending on your Internet Service Provider, you will have anywhere from 40 – 80 GB/month. If you do find yourself getting close to your limit, most ISP’s offer additional bandwidth at a reasonable cost.
Although Netflix is not free ($7.99/month) it does have a lot of content including older TV shows and movies as well as documentaries. You will need to setup an account to start watching but you can try it out for free for one month (Netflix). If you previously used a mail-in DVD service this would probably provide similar content, in this case you get your content on-line and there is no limit to the number of programs that you can access. You can watch Netflix directly on your computer screen or if your TV has the right type of video input you can hook your computer to your TV and watch it on a bigger screen.
Many of the newer television sets already have a Neflix app built right into them so if you have an account and an Internet connection (many TV’s now even offer wireless connections to your network) you can access Netflix without any additional hardware. Another alternative if your TV does not have a built in Netflix app is to purchase a set-top box (e.g. Apple TV, WD Live Media Player, Boxee Box) that allows easy access. You will have to make sure that the set-top box that you purchase has a video output that you can hook up to your television; for example the Apple TV only has an HDMI output that some of the older TV’s don’ have. These boxes are connected to the Internet and also to your TV and effectively turns your “dumb” TV into a “smart” TV.
In addition to giving you access to Netflix, a set-top box can give you access to other content on the Internet (e.g. YouTube). Some of them even will even have a built in web-browser although their capabilities are limited. An Apple TV provides a beautiful and simple user interface but its capabilities are quite limited (e.g. Netflix, YouTube). If you have other Apple devices and use iTunes to buy and rent music, TV shows and movies, an Apple TV is probably the best option for you as anything purchased on another iOS device is accessible with an Apple TV. Other boxes, like the Western Digital (WD) Live Media Player concentrate more on your content and can play most types of media from any computers connected to your network. The WD set top box also gives you access to Netflix, YouTube and some other limited content on the Internet.