Watching This Week #112
Listings for May 29 to June 4, 2023; Corus channels appear set to leave Eastlink.
HBO Now is not available in Canada, but most series are on Crave. A few other shows like Sesame Street are harder to find - we'll show you where they are.
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Home Box Office (HBO) has developed a reputation as one of the leading sources of quality American television programming like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones.
It's straightforward for Canadians to access most of its original programming through Crave. At about $20 per month plus tax for near-full access to original programming from the main HBO service (plus a lot more), it's comparable to the typical USD 14.99 monthly price of HBO in the United States (which itself works out to about C$20 as of February 2020). That said, the price point is higher than many other streaming services available in Canada.
Crave does not carry certain shows from HBO U.S., like Sesame Street, Hard Knocks and Los Espookys. For many of these, we can help point you in the right direction.
(We also have a separate article about other programming from the recently-launched HBO Max service.)
In the United States and many other countries, it's possible for viewers to subscribe to HBO through a cable or satellite TV provider, which also provides access to the HBO Go mobile streaming service. More recently, it's also been possible to subscribe without a cable subscription, through a standalone over-the-top service called HBO Now (in the U.S.) or HBO Go (in some other countries).
However, it is not currently possible for Canadian residents to subscribe directly to HBO alone – at least not in a way endorsed by HBO itself.
HBO has also made it clear that, for Canadians that attempt to use VPNs to work around geoblocking restrictions to subscribe to an international HBO service, they reserve the right to cancel these subscriptions without any refund.
Instead, HBO has sold exclusive Canadian broadcast and streaming rights to the vast majority of its programming to Bell Media, the media division of telecom company Bell Canada. According to Canadian telecom industry website Cartt.ca, Bell is currently paying C$100 million per year to WarnerMedia for exclusive rights to HBO and (most) HBO Max original programs, and will continue to do so until at least 2024.
Bell, in turn, has made HBO programming the centrepiece of its Crave service, which is available both as a pay TV package through cable/satellite TV providers, and as a standalone, over-the-top streaming service. This does include an HBO Canada multiplex pay TV channel, which launched in 2008 and focuses on HBO original programming, but it has never been 100% identical to the HBO channel seen in America, and it is not available as a standalone subscription.
Crave, and its predecessor pay TV channel First Choice / The Movie Network, have been the primary home of HBO programming in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada since the 1980s, and across Canada since 2016.
Historically, the American-based HBO was not allowed onto Canadian cable TV due to federal regulations that have been in place for decades (the most recent version enacted in 1997 is available here), maintained by governments of different political stripes, that prohibit foreign ownership of TV services, and make it difficult for some other international pay TV channels to be imported directly into Canada.
This meant that Canadian-owned movie channels were allowed to operate beginning in the 1980s, and a few U.S.-based classic movie channels were eventually let in too, but the American HBO channel was never allowed.
Of course, the foreign ownership regulations had more impact before the Internet age, and while many of the same rules are still in effect for traditional TV services, the government and the CRTC (the national telecommunications regulator) do not regulate Internet content and there are no foreign ownership restrictions on streaming services serving Canada (like, say, Netflix).
So if HBO and its parent company WarnerMedia (itself owned by AT&T) decided they now wanted to bypass the traditional TV market entirely and operate in Canada solely as an over-the-top Internet-based provider, the Canadian government would likely not interfere.
But HBO would have to abide by (or buy out) its existing contracts with Bell Media, which currently give Bell exclusive rights to distribute its original programs. Perhaps more importantly, they'd also lose access to Crave's existing pay TV customer base and have to rebuild it from scratch as an Internet-only service.
We don't know what's in the minds of HBO's executives, but based on past media reports, it seems HBO has estimated that for now, they will make more money continuing to sell its programming in Canada through Crave, rather than attempting to run its own operation in Canada. HBO has made a similar determination in some other parts of the world, which is why you can't order HBO as a standalone service in the U.K., Australia, France, or Italy either.
WarnerMedia launched HBO Max – a new streaming service with an expanded program lineup on top of the HBO library – in the U.S. in May 2020.
However, HBO Max will not be available in Canada as a standalone service for several years – at least. HBO Max is only launching in the U.S. to start, followed by Latin America and parts of Europe, all in places where HBO is already available as a standalone TV channel or streaming service.
For Canada, WarnerMedia instead agreed to a further extension of its Canadian rights deal with Bell Media, not only extending the length of its current deal for HBO programming, but also adding many of the new programs that will be exclusive to HBO Max. Bell currently plans to add these new "Max Originals" programs to its existing Crave packages at no extra charge, with the possibility of additional airings on its linear TV channels like CTV.
An HBO spokesperson didn't leave much room for doubt when telling the Financial Post in October 2019: "There are no plans at this time to enter Canada with the HBO Max streaming service or change how HBO content is available in Canada."
Again, you can find more information about Max Originals programming in Canada in this separate WCIW article.
You can browse every HBO program Crave currently has available on this page (you do not have to be a subscriber to view or search the listing). You'll have to click on each program individually to see which tier (discussed below) it falls under. We've listed a few HBO original programs not available on Crave in a section further down.
At this time, Crave does not offer a way to subscribe only to HBO programming. You must take it as part of a package that also includes other original and international programming. However, customers do have a choice between two tiers, one with a reduced selection of HBO shows:
If you prefer a French-language option, the base Crave service became bilingual in January 2020, and the remaining HBO programs en français (and French-language dubs of most of the same recent movies) are available through Super Écran, the Quebec-based francophone counterpart of the Crave pay TV service. It too is available as a separate $9.99/month (or $99.90/year) addon to the direct-to-consumer version of Crave (so again, a monthly total of $19.98).
Note that there are occasional HBO foreign acquisitions where Super Écran has not been able to secure French-language rights, such as the Italian series My Brilliant Friend for which the French-subtitled version was acquired by Vidéotron's Club Illico service.
Anything's possible, but you shouldn't count on it. In particular, you should not expect any HBO shows to appear on Netflix anytime soon.
While HBO has sold second-window rights to its library of original shows to other broadcasters or streaming services in the past, at this point WarnerMedia seems focused on growing HBO Max, and maintaining a handful of international partners with exclusive local rights, like Crave in Canada (and similarly with Sky in much of Europe).
In Canada, some HBO series had eventually made their way to other broadcast or basic cable channels in Canada – like The Sopranos re-airing on CTV beginning in 2000, or the first few seasons of Game of Thrones on Showcase – but this was largely put on pause after the launch of the Crave streaming service in 2014. Instead, as discussed above, HBO library series have eventually moved to Crave's lower-cost base package, usually about a year after their original runs ended (recent examples would include The Leftovers and Sharp Objects).
Beginning in spring 2020, we have seen this sort of trickle-down of programming resume to an extent with Bell Media's specialty channels. This includes HBO comedy specials airing a few months later on CTV Comedy Channel, HBO Sports documentaries airing on TSN and being available on-demand, and E! Canada airing the syndicated rerun versions of Sex and the City. However, it's unclear whether this will extend to more recent series.
The best we can suggest if you're on a limited budget is to wait for the show(s) you want to reach the lower-price Crave service, and then just subscribe for as long you need to see them. (Or you could buy a copy of the show you want outright, as discussed below.)
You can subscribe to Crave by visiting Crave.ca or downloading the Crave app on most mobile devices and selected smart TVs and streaming devices (like Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV).
You can also subscribe to Crave through just about any cable, IPTV, or satellite TV service provider in Canada, such as Rogers, Bell, Shaw, Telus, Vidéotron, Cogeco, Eastlink, VMedia, or TekSavvy TV. Prices vary compared to the direct-to-consumer offering, so if you already have a TV service, it may be possible to get a better price through your TV provider rather that subscribing directly.
Crave is owned by Bell, but there isn't any special benefit we can see to subscribing through Bell TV compared to other providers. Both Bell and competing providers like Rogers very frequently have introductory offers for new Crave subscribers (e.g. 50% off for a certain number of months). Just make sure you're clear on which version of Crave you want - the cheaper Crave On Demand package, or Crave + Movies + HBO.
Crave has gradually expanded their partnership with HBO to ensure its Canadian subscribers can access the vast majority of the original or exclusive programming from the American HBO service. For example, Crave has readily made available most of HBO's original documentaries in recent years, many with (in this author's opinion) fairly niche or U.S.-specific, if still interesting, subject matter.
There are, however, occasional (but certainly notable) exceptions with HBO original programming not available on Crave. The exact reasons are rarely publicized, but we've filled in what we know below.
|Series / program||Where you can watch in Canada (and why)|
Esme & Roy
Both of these series are produced by Sesame Workshop. HBO only held the U.S. broadcast rights to these series, and these rights transferred to HBO Max in late 2020 (i.e., they no longer air on the main HBO channel in the U.S.).
In Canada, Sesame Street had already aired for several years on Treehouse – a basic cable channel in Canada – when the producers announced their U.S. deal with HBO. Sesame Workshop has since expanded its partnership with Corus Entertainment (Treehouse's parent company) which also involves co-production of Esme & Roy.
If you don't have a cable subscription, Treehouse is part of Corus' StackTV package available through Amazon Prime Video Channels. (This requires a subscription to Amazon Prime as well as a separate subscription to StackTV through Prime Video.)
|Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel||Selected full segments available on YouTube
We're not certain why this has not been made available as part of the HBO library in Canada. The program has occasionally faced lawsuits by those claiming to have been done wrong by its reporting, but the most recent suit of this nature (to our knowledge) was settled in 2015.
|Past seasons of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver||Selected full segments available on YouTube
For reasons that are not clear, Crave's streaming platform only shows the current and previous two seasons of LWT. (It's our understanding that this is also true, at least currently, for HBO Max in the U.S.)
For a time, access to the show's YouTube channel was also blocked to Canadians. However, access has since been reinstated, with "main story" segments being unlocked after about two weeks, and select segments going back to the very beginning of the series still available.
|Hard Knocks||DAZN Canada
This annual series is co-produced with NFL Films, and the NFL retains international distribution rights. In Canada, the series is available on DAZN, as part of its Canadian rights to the NFL's Game Pass service.
|Other NFL Films documentaries, e.g.: Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching (2019)||Unclear
As with Hard Knocks, it's our understanding that the NFL retains international rights. Some of these programs may be available on DAZN in Canada, and it's likely they will eventually show up in some form on NFL Network.
|Los Espookys||Available on Crave beginning January 15, 2021
Crave finally picked up this Spanish-language series (with English subtitles) in January 2021, well after its first season debuted in the U.S. and elsewhere in June 2019.
HBO had previously made Los Espookys available for standalone digital purchase in Canada, through iTunes and Google Play.
|Other HBO Latino programming||No known streaming or other availability
Crave has not picked up most of HBO Latino's Spanish language programming (which also includes the Entre Nos comedy specials, and certain other programs including a 2020 concert special with Shakira), either as-is or with English or French subtitles, though it has aired recent Habla documentary specials. The exact reason has not been publicized, however the comparatively smaller size of the Spanish-speaking community in Canada may be a factor. It is similarly unclear whether these programs could be picked up for future broadcast or streaming by another company.
It's possible that, like Los Espookys, HBO could choose to offer programs for standalone digital purchase in Canada, though we haven't come across anything to date.
|Programming from HBO international networks||Limited availability
Some of the original local programming from HBO's offshoots around the world, such as HBO Europe's Wasteland or HBO Asia's The Teenage Psychic, started to become available for on-demand viewing on HBO Go / HBO Now (and more recently HBO Max) in the U.S. beginning in the late 2010s. This programming remained absent from Crave until January 2021, when it began carrying HBO Spain's 30 Coins – however this seems to have been tied to its airing on HBO's main U.S. channel. Other international programming which have only been streamed in the U.S. on HBO Max, like Patria, have not yet appeared on Crave.
|Certain past series, e.g.:
Summer Heights High
|No longer streaming on Crave; may be available for direct purchase or streaming elsewhere
Although most HBO series are owned by HBO outright and will likely remain on Crave indefinitely, certain acquisitions and co-productions may only be available for a limited period of time. In many (though not all) of these cases, the program will leave HBO U.S. at about the same time they leave Crave.
In some cases, second-window rights may be picked up by another broadcaster or streaming service. It may also be possible to buy DVDs or digital downloads of these programs from retailers such as iTunes or Amazon.
|Certain theatrical films||Various services
HBO currently has output agreements in the U.S. with sister company Warner Bros., as well as Universal, 20th Century Studios, and Summit Entertainment. Crave has similar rights to at least the first three in Canada, but most recent Summit releases have instead gone to Prime Video (though this may change in the future due to a more recent agreement between Bell Media and Summit's parent company Lionsgate).
While HBO in the U.S. also typically rotates through a few classic movies every month, Crave has mostly relegated these sorts of films to its Starz addon, which is an additional $5.99/month – though to be clear, the actual movie selection between the two is quite different. (The flip side of that is that recent movies tend to stay on Crave for longer than on HBO U.S., which moves most of its new-release offerings to Cinemax after a few months.)
If you're looking for a specific movie, you may need to search through a few different services - which can include Netflix, Crave, Prime, Disney+, Super Channel, and Hollywood Suite (the latter two are smaller Canadian pay services which are also available as addons to Prime Video).
If you have any further questions about the Canadian availability of these series or any other program you can't find listed above, you may wish to consider contacting Crave and/or HBO directly.
From time to time, HBO will provide free on-demand access to some of its original series, and in some cases post them directly on a site like YouTube.
Unfortunately, this access is typically limited to the United States. Even if it's posted on a free-to-watch site like YouTube, channels like HBO's are able to restrict access to specific countries on a per-video basis. Even though the content in question is (usually) owned by HBO outright, they appear to be constrained by their exclusive licensing agreements as discussed above.
Even in other countries where HBO operates local versions directly like Latin America, different licensing rules may not allow them to offer these programs in the same way. And as discussed above, any technical magic that might allow you to access the U.S. service abroad is (still) not condoned by HBO.
Bell Media / Crave is, of course, free to work with HBO to open up this access in Canada as well – and from time to time, they do offer free previews of episodes or seasons on TV provider on-demand services (we saw Succession season 1 on one cable provider's free preview folder in June 2020). However, they may have concluded it is not worthwhile matching the U.S. offerings every time.
As noted above, "main segment" clips of Last Week Tonight are now unlocked about two weeks after airdate on the show's YouTube channel.
Many HBO series are also available as one-time purchases, either on DVD or Blu-Ray from retail and online stores like Amazon.ca (affiliate link), or as digital downloads from online marketplaces like iTunes and Google Play. However, a single recent season will typically set you back somewhere in the range of $20 to 45, depending on the show. So a one-month Crave+ subscription may still be a better option if you expect to be able to watch the season within the span of a month (and don't expect to rewatch it).
Note that unlike some networks, it is not usually possible to buy individual episodes of HBO series as they air. Instead, HBO will release the whole season some time after the final episode has aired. How long that will take depends on the show, but the window has gotten shorter over time. For example, the final 2019 season of Game of Thrones was released on iTunes within days of the finale airing (whereas past seasons were not released for several months post-broadcast).
Yeah, we're aware of them. But ultimately we believe that most consumers understand that TV shows and movies cost money to make, and are willing to pay a reasonable price to support the people that create the content they enjoy, under the system (however flawed) we have now. For those consumers, we hope this post helps you make an informed choice about the best and most cost-effective ways of finding the content you're looking for.
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