FEATURE: Video Streaming Services Compared

Christine Persaud


Published: 06/29/2018 10:20:01 AM EST in Sound

FEATURE: Video Streaming Services Compared

Bell CraveTV

How can you access it?

Web browser; iOS, Android, Windows 8.1 devices; select Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players with Smart Hub; streaming sticks and media boxes; Apple TV; Xbox One; Amazon Fire TV; directly through Bell Fibe, Satellite, Aliant FibreOP, Shaw, Telus Optik TV, and several other regional TV provider set-top boxes.

What type of content is available?

A wide variety of content across multiple genres, including Canadian, comedies, dramas, documentaries, British TV, and originals; along with a section for LGBTQ content. Most content is posted with entire series seasons at a time, but some episodes are available weekly after the latest airs on network TV, like HBO's Billions and Starz's Counterpart.

Doctor Who

Video quality

HD; no 4K or HDR content as yet.

Anticipated content spend

Unknown. Bell has not publicly stated its investment plans for CraveTV, but says it is "committed to continuing to invest in new programming, both Canadian and acquired, and expand on CraveTV's vast offering."

Major content deals and "gets"

South Park; Showtime series like Dexter, Nurse Jackie, and Californication; HBO content through Bell's ownership of The Movie Network (TMN) which, in turn, offers HBO Canada content, including popular current and library series like Silicon Valley, Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Big Little Lies, and Billions; Hulu's Emmy-winning original series The Handmaid's Tale; the entire Seinfeld collection; the resurrected series Twin Peaks; Star Trek: Discovery, which was created for the CBS All Access streaming service in the U.S.; Orphan Black; the entire James Bond collection; Doctor Who; Comedy Central content; and more. Interestingly, some Amazon content is also available through CraveTV, like the first three seasons of Bosch. Bell says some of its most popular titles include Game of Thrones, The Handmaid's Tale, Letterkenny, Seinfeld, South Park, Billions, and The Affair.

Letterkenny

Mobile experience

Simple, intuitive. Browse recommended or new content, search by genre, or select a specific title. You can also search by collections, including all series by Showtime, HBO, Starz, and more. Like Netflix, CraveTV also recommends similar shows based on others you have liked/watched. Once you select a series, read a synopsis, play an episode, and get a rundown of the cast and crew, though it only lists names and does not link to more information, as you'd get with Prime Video. Once you start watching a series, it will be added to the "My Cravings" list where you can pick back up where you left off on another device, or another day. However, note that there's no way to "hand-off" a show, so to speak, when watching via a set-top box to the app, and vice versa. So you can't start watching an episode by accessing it from the CraveTV link from your TV guide's On Demand menu or channel 310, for example, then resume where you left off on the mobile device or Apple TV app. It's not a big deal, but knowing this, bingers might prefer accessing CraveTV at home through a Chromecast or Apple TV instead to accurately keep track of what and which episodes they've watched. One additional thing worth noting: while you should be able to watch simultaneously on two devices, when I was flipping between my smartphone app and the app via Apple TV, I would sometimes get a message on my TV screen when I tried to play something advising that I was streaming content on too many devices.

Most notable original series

CraveTV's roster of original series hasn't quite made the same impact as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, in part because the service is only available in Canada. Among the handful of originals launched thus far, the first, Letterkenny (based on the Letterkenny Problems series of Internet shorts) is the most popular. Bell says one-in-three subscribers have watched it, including the various special editions of the series. Several ad spots that aired during the 2016 Super Bowl helped raise the series profile. While that's the anchor, other originals, which refer as well to series that stream through CraveTV as a first window in Canada, include Snatch, Shut Eye, Casual, and Hit the Road. CraveTV also recently produced stand-up comedy specials, including Darcy Michael Goes to Church; Debra Digiovanni: Here's The Thing; and Graham Chittenden: Reluctant Adult.

Silicon Valley

Smart TV integrations

View CraveTV content through compatible Samsung Smart TVs, and Samsung Blu-ray players with the Smart Hub.

Can you view content offline?

There is no capability to download content to watch offline at the time of this writing.

Subscription options

$7.99/mo. (pricing varies if you sign on alongside a Bell TV subscription). Subscribe for one, three, six, or 12 months at a time, with auto-renewal. Sign up at cravetv.ca to be billed to your credit card, through an iTunes account via Apple TV, or add it to your bill from a compatible TV provider. Stream to up to two devices at once, and watch via a set-top box. (Though, as noted, I oddly received a warning when trying to stream via Apple TV and my iPhone app simultaneously.)

Game of Thrones

Evaluation

If you haven't cut the cord, and use CraveTV to supplement a linear TV subscription like I do, the ability to access it conveniently through a compatible set-top box is wonderful. Call it up from the menu, under On Demand or through the guide on channel 310. If you search for programming in the Bell Fibe menu, CraveTV fare appears alongside live TV and on demand results. And if you download the Fibe TV app, a neat trick: search for content by typing on your smartphone or tablet's keyboard versus using the television remote to painstakingly select each letter. If you use an Apple TV, set-up is simple: enter the activation code via the Web address on your computer or mobile device, log-in through your television provider, and the details will automatically update on your Apple TV so you don't need to deal with the cumbersome on-screen keyboard.

Navigating series via CraveTV through a PVR is a more clinical experience than accessing it via the app. The interface is more attractive via the app, with episodes listed vertically, one after the other versus side-by-side via a PVR. In the app, you can highlight a series to get a synopsis of each episode. With CraveTV via PVR, you need to click into each episode icon to get more details. Browse by category, search a title, or scroll through your watch list, which is cleverly called My Cravings.

When it comes to watching the content, however, there was little visual difference regardless of how you access it. I watched the same episode of Bosch I watched via Prime Video, and it looked wonderful. Consider that this could also be a product of the TV's upscaling capabilities, since the series streams in HD, not 4K. Colours did look more natural in certain scenes when watching via Prime Video - it was particularly noticeable, for example, in a scene when the camera closes in on a dead woman's bruised face, covered in blood.

Star Trek: Discovery (Michael Gibson, CBS)

If you're looking for an intuitive streaming TV experience, access CraveTV via the app through a device like a streaming stick or Apple TV, even if you have Bell Fibe. But the convenience of being able to access it directly via a PVR's guide, without requiring third-party devices or a smart TV, is a fantastic option. Whichever way you access it, CraveTV is a great streaming TV option with a wide and growing selection of series, including some exciting and fun Canadian-created content. Sadly, there's no 4K content just yet, but that doesn't mean we won't see some in the near future. Bell says it is "constantly looking at ways to enhance our technology." From a content perspective, while Bell's original series haven't earned the same respect as Netflix and Amazon's, its licensing agreements with major networks like Showtime, HBO, and Starz, make it a destination for accessing some of the best TV series of the last few decades, including both legacy and current content.

[SIDEBAR] What Else is Out There?

What represents the future of streaming TV? Beyond these three services, and other popular ones like YouTube, Funny or Die, the sports-centric DAZN, and more, here are some interesting developments in streaming TV.

Apple TV

According to The New York Times, Apple has aggressive plans for this space, having made deals to acquire 12 television projects, nine of which received straight-to-series orders. The company is reportedly working with a US$1 billion budget for programming, with potential plans to launch a service as early as next year. Apple has already launched original series, including Carpool Karaoke: The Series, based on the skit from late night talk show The Late Late Show with James Corden; and Planet of the Apps, a venture capital reality series similar to ABC's Shark Tank that focuses on mobile app ideas. At the South by Southwest conference in Austin, TX earlier this year, Apple executive Eddy Cue admitted that the company doesn't "know anything about making television," but says they're "all in" with the idea. Several Hollywood heavyweights have signed on the projects, like Reese Witherspoon, Steven Spielberg, Damien Chazelle, M. Night Shyamalan, Jennifer Aniston, Octavia Spencer, and Kristen Wiig. Witherspoon and Aniston will star in a series about a morning TV show; and Chazelle, who directed the Oscar-winning film La La Land, will write and direct a new series. Spielberg, meanwhile, will head up a reboot of Amazing Stories, Wiig will star in a comedy, and Spencer in a drama. The strategy will presumably focus more on quality versus quantity, which follows Apple's branding in every space: few products that garner a loyal following.

Carpool Karaoke: The Series (Apple Music)

Facebook

Facebook has been trying its hand at streaming TV with a number of series spanning different genres, including the game show I Want My Phone Back, cooking show The Mind of a Chef, and reality/sports program No Script with Marshawn Lynch. One of its most notable projects and original scripted shows is a drama called Strangers about a woman exploring her bisexuality. Episodes are 15-20 minutes each, and when you follow a series' page, you receive notifications when new episodes are available. Facebook has several new series in the works, having attracted the likes of Elizabeth Olsen and Kerry Washington. Rather than be subscription-based, Facebook's content is supported by ads. But according to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook has committed to spending as much as US$3 million per episode for scripted series. The company is tight-lipped about viewership, and presumably measures success based on social buzz versus "ratings." Ricky Van Veen, Head of Global Creative Strategy, was quoted by Variety as stating at the January National Association of Television Programing Executives conference that the company is aware it is "not going to win by competing in prestige hour-long dramas. There are many people who do that well. What's going to differentiate us is that show that uses the social fabric of Facebook."

CTV GO

Several networks in the U.S. are offering their own streaming services, like CBS and HBO, and Canadian providers like CTV are following suit. CTV GO affords access to both live and on-demand content via mobile devices. The catch? It's only available as an added value to subscribers of a participating linear TV service provider. Customers can access the content on mobile devices, including tablets, smartphones, and computers. Programming can be streamed to up to two devices simultaneously while also watching via set-top box, and in HD quality where available. You can also "cast" content to a big screen TV using Apple Airplay Mirroring (no official Airplay support just yet) or Google Chromecast; or download the app to compatible Samsung Smart TVs with the Smart Hub. Stream over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G wireless connections, in the home and out.

LG ChannelPlus

LG ChannelPlus isn't a streaming service in and of itself, but it's an interesting look at how the company is trying to combine the world of traditional television viewing with streaming TV. Through a compatible LG TV and the webOS interface, you can browse a variety of streaming "channels" just as you would scroll through a traditional TV guide. Each "channel" is preceded by "IP," so you know it's an Internet-based one, allowing you to easily distinguish between Internet content and traditional linear television channels. If you're a cord-cutter, or a new generation of "cord-never," your entire "channel" guide will be filled with Internet-based content, yet you'll still get a traditional television experience, flipping through everything from over-the-air (OTA) channels, to news bits, short Funny or Die skits, and one-minute viral videos. Powered by Xumo, ChannelPlus launched in Canada last October with over 50 channels, with new channels being continuously added.

Kevin Hart

Bell Snackable TV

Exclusively for iOS and Android mobile device streaming, Bell Media's SnackableTV service launched earlier this year, and combines our desire to consume short video clips on the go with quality television content. Beginning as a free (and ad-free) service, it will eventually be supported by short-form advertising. Content originates from networks like HBO, Comedy Central, Just For Laughs, Etalk, Gusto, and more. The first SnackableTV original series is a short-form extension of CraveTV's Letterkenny. A partnership with comedian Kevin Hart and Lionsgate offers Laugh Out Loud, a comedy network that features original, scripted, and unscripted comedy series, stand-up specials, licensed programming, and live broadcasts. Snackable TV launched with 45 series, 30 of which are exclusives, including HBO's High Maintenance web series from Comedy Central, Honeymoon Tour starring Natasha Leggero, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's Vandaveon and Mike, Nothing to Report starring Chris Jericho, and the Bell Media original sci-fi comedy series Space Riders: Division Earth. There is also a weekly themed collection of South Park clips; shorts from the satirical news series The Beaverton; and daily entertainment bites from ETalk.

At top: The Handmaid's Tale (photo by George Kraychyk, Hulu)





Article Tags:  streaming, television, netflix, amazon prime video, cravetv, canada, services, compared, review, smart home

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FEATURE: Video Streaming Services Compared








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