Cutting the Cable, Rating the Canadian Options

By Diane Wild of TV, eh?


I’ve lived without cable before. I’ve lived without a television set before. But my decision last month to say goodbye to Shaw came with the expectation that cutting cable wouldn’t significantly reduce my access to content. So far that’s true, for both US and Canadian shows, despite being geoblocked from Hulu and US network sites. Through a combination of Canadian network web streams and iPad apps I’m (legally) watching as much as I ever do. iTunes and Netflix offer additional options, though I haven’t resorted to them for my TV consumption.

The method of delivery has changed, but my habits have changed very little. I’ve fallen in love with the portability of watching TV on an iPad, but for the most part I still watch whatever I want to watch and still on my TV set, either through the Xbox that came with my switch to Telus internet, or with my iPad connected to the TV.

Watching off-network does come with sacrifice. The serendipity of flipping channels is gone, though I haven’t been prone to channel surfing since adjusting to the PVR a few years ago. If I watched a huge amount of television I’d have to worry about bandwidth caps.

Selection is reduced, though so far I haven’t run into a series I watched via basic cable that I can’t watch online now. Pay cable series from HBO Canada and The Movie Network/Movie Central are another matter – as far as I can tell, there’s no legal way to catch current episodes of their series. What happens when Call Me Fitz starts up again? Do I invite myself for dinner every week to the home of a friend who subscribes? I can’t see going from zero to a package that includes those premium channels just for one show.

The biggest downside I can see affecting me is the time delay. Even as a PVR convert, recording everything and watching on my time table, I frequently enough watched shows the same day they aired that I wonder: with Twitter discussing shows as they’re broadcast, friends posting opinions to Facebook, maybe even real-world chatter with friends and colleagues, will I want to wait for the latest episode of my favourite series to show up online, even if it’s just the next day?

My TV, eh? webmaster license should be taken away for saying this, but the real test will be when the fall season of US programming begins. Summer is the time for many Canadian shows, but I have yet to be spoiled or even engaged in a “did you SEE that episode last night?!” conversation over any of them. So stay tuned for how my willpower holds up over time.

In the meantime, here’s an overview of the cable-cutting experiment so far, focusing on Canadian shows on the major Canadian networks.

CTV (Bell Media)

Surprisingly, of all the networks, CTV’s alternate content delivery is my least favourite. Their online video is clunky and they’re the only major Canadian network not to have an iPad app. Still, from the website you can catch current and past Canadian shows from the mother network as well as specialty channels such as Space and MuchMusic. Annoyingly split into several clips are full episodes of Dan For Mayor, Hiccups, The Listener, Degrassi, Canada’s Worst Handyman, Flashpoint, Sanctuary, Robson Arms, and more Canadian offerings. Many of their US imports are also available. If you’d rather pay a couple of bucks an episode for a less frustrating experience, a similar selection of shows is on iTunes.


When I first downloaded the CBC iPad app it was glitchy, geoblocking me in Vancouver. That’s been fixed and they have a great selection of their current and current-ish series on the app and online – 18 to Life, Dragons’ Den, Heartland, InSecurity, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Republic of Doyle, The Rick Mercer Report, and Village on a Diet among them. The public broadcaster also puts some of their series on Netflix and, sometimes for free, on iTunes.

Global (Shaw Media)

There’s a scarcity of Canadian programming on Global – currently Rookie Blue and the last few episodes of Shattered are the only ones available online and in their iPad app, and Shaw Media’s specialty channels aren’t represented in the app. Showcase is where their Canadian content is at, so fortunately their site does have full episodes of King, Endgame, Lost Girl, Haven, and XIII.


Citytv barely airs homegrown shows, so it’s surprising it doesn’t seem to have the online rights to Murdoch Mysteries, its only scripted drama. Maybe that will change when new episodes start airing in June. Available online and in the iPad app are Glenn Martin DDS, My Rona Home, and Cityline, for example.The mini-network has the best app as long as you overlook the lack of Canadian content and the intrusive, repetitive, and badly edited-in commercials. Which, come to think of it, is a lot to overlook. But the US selection is great – I’d forgotten how many of my favourite US comedies air on Citytv – and it has features the others don’t, like letting you flag your favourite shows and get a notification when a new episode is available.

Any other sources you like for Canadian series? Have you cut or are you considering cutting cable?


11 thoughts on “Cutting the Cable, Rating the Canadian Options”

  1. Great post! I’ve been watching tv over internet for the last couple of years and most regular US & Canadian programming can be found via CBC, CTV, Global, Showcase and City’s websites but usually only when the season is current and many will only keep an episode posted for a couple of weeks.

    City does indeed post the Murdoch Mysteries while the season is airing but in the past City had all of the episodes for most seasons online. I was surprised to see they do not now.

  2. I know this is about Canadian’s internet options when it comes to watching television, but going old-school, with an antenna, helps fill in some of the gaps. And the quality of OTA HD is fantastic.

    Between the net and the antenna, I find I don’t miss anything cable offered.

    (Except Turner Classic Movies…)

  3. I just cut the cord as well! We get excellent OTA HD signals where I live so I can catch a lot live. Otherwise we use iTunes, Netflix and the online stuff.
    The main hole I see is the AMC/HBO-type series – Mad Men Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, the Killing..not all available to buy on iTunes so I guess we just have to accept that we’ll need to wait for the DVD releases : (

  4. The package that SHAW says they will be offering in August 2011 will be “up to” 250 Mbps and with a monthly limit of 1TB. This will allow for a couple shows per day in high definition. The problem will remain that there are no reliable sources forquality HD 1080p content online. What they are offering right now is considerably less than good quality SD and doesn’t come close to good quality HD.

    Right now I use ExpressVu with a two tuner HD PVR and an external hard drive. Even with this, there are the artifacts that the signal has when transmitted which are exacerbated by the re-encoding that the PVR does. I put up with the macroblocking and banding because it is currently the best I can get.

    High speed Internet with on-demand access to the full selection of channels from SHAW, ROGERS or TELUS- this is where we are heading and it should be able to deliver a good viewing experience. I would expect this to be about two years away for a smooth user experience with an image that I would accept.

    I really hope that the customer doesn’t become so accepting of the low quality that we are getting online right now. I have been forced to go to the online services when I’ve missed setting up the PVR and it is ugly right now.

  5. I might try the OTA HD thing in the fall but so far I’ve gone the lazy/easy way – I’d have to look into what’s available here and what equipment I’d need and how to set it up.

    Clint, I get your point but I’m not all that concerned with super high quality – so far I’m completely happy even with a web stream over my HD TV.

  6. Hey Diane,
    The OTA HD antenna is super easy. It looks like a square version of the monolith from 2001. About the size of a dinner plate, or a square vinly record (maybe a 10 inch?) flat…you just need power, and ability to place it in a window with line of sight to the sky. You’ll get all the Cdn nets for sure and depending on positioning, you should get US nets as well — at least some. Total cost is about $70-80.

  7. Cool, thanks, looks like it’s not as complicated as I thought. I’ll probably do that in time for fall season. Still doesn’t solve my Fitz problem. Sniff.

  8. Haven’t cut Cable yet, but am exploring other options. It isn’t a money thing for me, but the fact that I consider the phone/cable to be competition/barriers to the Internet. As I tweeted this weekend: Getting ISP services from phone / cable companies is like getting hunting equipment from PETA.

    I purchased a Boxee Box (with a HDMI to composite converter to plug into old TV) and have subscribed to Netflix (Free month started on Saturday).

    Boxee has an interface front-end to many of the websites like CTV (and sub-channels like which makes viewing the shows they make available online convenient. NetFlix is far preferable for shows available there as the quality of the stream is much higher on NetFlix.

    I only set things up last weekend, so don’t have much of an impression yet. Rina (my wife) already evaluated the Boxee Box remote control as being too geeky for her, but we’ll see if that changes over time.

    In our household I would be perfectly happy to drop cable if I could get the OTA channels (ATSC digital) plus Space (I really like that channel). It really is about Space for me, and I would be very happy to spend money to get a Netflix-quality stream of all the content that airs there (Including a “live” stream).

    Rina has other things she is interested in, so that will likely be the determining factor for when/if we drop cable. In the meantime I’m happy to add NetFlix to what I’m doing — and I’ll also participate in the CRTC consultation..

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