Watch the fine print with Bell’s Alt TV ser­vice

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - DAVID FRIEND

TORONTO — View­ers who hope Bell’s new stream­ing TV plat­form will of­fer an ex­pe­ri­ence that ri­vals con­ven­tional tele­vi­sion should tem­per their ex­pec­ta­tions, says one an­a­lyst.

Even though the com­pany’s new Alt TV, un­veiled Mon­day, is billed as a re­place­ment for tra­di­tional cable pack­ages, there are sev­eral key dif­fer­ences that could leave sub­scribers feel­ing short­changed, says Brahm Ei­ley, pres­i­dent of Con­ver­gence Re­search Group, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that watches Canada’s tele­com in­dus­try.

“It’s not the same,” Ei­ley says. “You’re not re­ally get­ting much of a cut­ting-edge view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Alt TV is the lat­est at­tempt to stem the tide of Cana­di­ans who are aban­don­ing their ex­pen­sive cable pack­ages for low-cost al­ter­na­tives like Net­flix, CraveTV and Ama­zon Prime Video. The ser­vice lets view­ers stream live pro­grams through de­vices like Ap­ple TV, on their com­put­ers and through smart­phones or tablets.

It starts at $14.95 per month for a pack­age of 30 chan­nels, which in­cludes Cana­dian net­works CBC, CTV, Global and City, and the big U.S. net­works ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

More ex­pen­sive pack­ages are also avail­able and in­di­vid­ual chan­nels can be sub­scribed to à la carte.

But there are re­quire­ments in the fine print.

Sub­scribers must al­ready be signed up for Bell’s Fibe In­ter­net ser­vice.

They also can’t watch Alt TV on more than two screens at a time, and Ei­ley sus­pects view­ers won’t be happy to learn the ser­vice doesn’t sup­port record­ing live TV, or paus­ing and rewind­ing shows.

Alt TV is launch­ing first in On­tario and Que­bec with plans to ex­pand to At­lantic Canada and Man­i­toba.

Bell’s prod­uct is sim­i­lar to PikTV, a live stream­ing ser­vice re­cently launched by Telus Corp. that car­ries its own ad­di­tional fees. Users must buy a $100 set-top box to watch at home, and it is only avail­able in B.C. and Al­berta.

Cable com­pa­nies have been strug­gling to slow the out­flow of cus­tomers who are scal­ing back their pack­ages or get­ting rid of them com­pletely — a phe­nom­e­non know as “cord-cut­ting.”

In 2016, about 220,000 fewer cus­tomers sub­scribed to cable in Canada, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by Con­ver­gence Re­search Group. The out­flow is ex­pected to pick up speed this year with a pro­jected de­cline of 250,000 sub­scribers.

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