Bell appeals to cord-cutters with live TV streaming service Alt TV
Consumers who hope Bell's new streaming TV platform will offer an experience that rivals conventional television should temper their expectations, suggest analysts.
Even though the company's new Alt TV, unveiled Monday, is billed as a lower-cost replacement for traditional cable packages, there are several key differences that could leave some subscribers feeling shortchanged.
``It's not the same,'' said Brahm Eiley, president of Convergence Research Group, an organization that watches Canada's telecom industry.
``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, catering to sports fans and movie buffs, are also available while individual channels can be subscribed to a la carte.
But there are requirements in the fine print.
Subscribers must already be signed up for an ``unlimited'' plan with Bell's Fibe Internet service, which is regularly priced starting at $84.95 per month.
They also can't watch Alt TV on more than two screens at a time, and Eiley suspects viewers will be frustrated that Alt TV doesn't support recording live TV, or pausing and rewinding shows.
``That makes things a little bit difficult,'' he said. ``It's a great advertisement for sticking with the traditional TV offer, at the end of the day.''
Kaan Yigit, a technology analyst at Solutions Research Group, believes telecom companies see offerings like Alt TV as ``niche'' services for their customers.
``It's the equivalent of side dishes ... in the restaurant menu,'' Yigit said in an email.
``The millennial consumer comes for the unlimited Internet, and maybe (their provider) can upsize the order by $15 to $20.''
Yigit said Alt TV could find popularity if it manages to emphasize its lack of technological shackles. The service does not require a cable box or wires, which is appealing to viewers accustomed to streaming on their portable devices, Yigit said.
Hooking up Alt TV also doesn't require a visit from a cable technician to get started, which will save customers from the hassles of scheduling around their workday.
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. 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 known as ``cord-cutting.''
But they're also facing a maturing generation of ``cord-nevers,'' or viewers who decided to forgo cable services after they moved into their own home.
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.
Those numbers could worsen even further over time.
In the United States - often a harbinger of trends that will eventually reach Canada - cable companies lost 762,000 subscribers in the first three months of this year, according to research firm MoffettNathanson. That's a huge jump from last year when only 141,000 cancelled their packages in the same time period.