Watching This Week #112
Listings for May 29 to June 4, 2023; Corus channels appear set to leave Eastlink.
More on the latest changes at Crave, plus news about "Station Eleven", "Mayor of Kingstown", a Disney+ discount, and more.
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Welcome to the November 8, 2021 edition of This Week in WCIW, the weekly newsletter from Where Can I Watch – covering the latest news on where TV shows and movies will be available in Canada.
This week, news about Station Eleven, Mayor of Kingstown, a discount offer on Disney+, and more. But first, a discussion on the state of Bell Media's streaming service.
In its relatively short life, Bell Media's Crave platform has been through a number of incarnations. It began in 2014 as a low-cost, $4-per-month Netflix alternative, albeit one you had to subscribe to through a cable provider (and, of course, call to unsubscribe).
Eventually it went over-the-top and moved towards premium programming from Showtime and HBO, and in late 2018, it merged with Bell's pay TV service The Movie Network, bringing its library of mostly older TV shows to legacy TMN customers at no extra charge. Essentially, it became Canada's version of HBO Max, before AT&T/WarnerMedia decided it wanted to create HBO Max.
And now, in a change that is simultaneously significant in terms of the service itself, but also likely all but meaningless to the majority of current subscribers, Crave has now eliminated the old basic programming tier altogether, and moved all the Movies + HBO and Super Écran programming into the main Crave library.
Instead, on October 26, Bell Media launched a "Crave Mobile" plan which offers everything in the previous Movies + HBO and Super Écran tiers – including, for example, the current season of Succession, in both English and French – for only $9.99 (plus tax) per month, the same price as the previous basic tier. The catch is that it's only available on a single device at a time, and that device must be either a web browser accessing the Crave website, or a mobile phone or tablet using the app.
Existing Crave + Movies + HBO and (we presume) Crave + Super Écran subscribers have been transitioned to what's now referred to on Crave's website as "Crave Total" (and by service providers like Rogers and Cogeco as just "Crave"), which remains about $20 per month and has the same technical features as before, just with the full range of programming in both English and French, and all of the Crave, HBO, and Super Écran linear channels, at least on the app.
However, Starz remains a separate English-language add-on. This leads to a few oddities, like this year's Saw spinoff Spiral being available in French for all Crave subscribers, but – at least for a few more days – only available in English with the Starz add-on.
What happens to legacy basic Crave subscribers is a bit less clear. Shortly after the announcement, The Canadian Press' David Friend reported that those customers would get a no-extra-charge trial of Crave Total until late Match, following which they would presumably drop to the Crave Mobile tier... except maybe not?
So why this change, and why now?
Well, that Bell Media press release mentions that Crave Mobile will also be available "in the future through participating wireless carriers". Meaning, most likely, it'll be offered as a free or discounted option to Bell Mobility and/or Virgin Plus customers who sign or renew contracts. Assuming Bell doesn't "zero-rate" the data customers use to stream Crave, such a promotion would not run afoul of the CRTC net neutrality rules that forced Bell to discontinue its mobile TV service in 2015.
But we're not sure if this change will drive that many more active subscribers for Crave, which from all indications has long trailed both Netflix and Prime Video, despite all the promotion the service gets on CTV, Astral-run transit shelters and billboards, and other Bell outlets.
In a vacuum, even at C$20 a month, Crave strikes us as being a good value, considering it has most of the original content of HBO Max, which costs US$14.99 for its ad-free plan, and Showtime, which is costs at least US$10. And Bell says that, at almost three million subscribing households, the service is and has been profitable.
But Canadians have never warmed to it in the same numbers as Netflix, for a variety of (admittedly anecdotal) reasons we've seen or heard cited in multiple forums: app quality, program variety, price, that five-device registration limit, delays in adding support for things like 4K (since added), not carrying those WB same-day releases, the service's ownership by Bell, and probably others we're forgetting.
Some of these issues are perhaps inevitable for a streaming service that operates in a single country with one-tenth the population of the United States, and thus can't justify the same app development expenses as other services. And of course, it's run by a legacy telecom company, not a tech company.
But with Bell's deals with WarnerMedia for HBO Max programs reported to run out in 2024 or 2025, and its deal with ViacomCBS for Showtime programming, which was announced in 2015, likely running out by the same time, there may only be so much more Bell / Crave can actually do to secure the service's long-term future.
Notwithstanding the current confusion over Paramount+ programming in Canada, we think it's safe to assume that ViacomCBS (or whatever becomes of it by 2025) will eventually pull back its content like Showtime and Star Trek to bundle into its Canadian offering.
As for the soon-to-be-merged Warner Bros. Discovery (which I'll abbreviate WBD), depending on the number of people subscribed to Crave through a TV provider and the state of Canadian ownership regulations, there might still be reasons for them to stay partnered with Crave in some form.
This is purely speculation on our part of course, but conceivably, the streaming platform could merge into the WBD infrastructure – think "Crave powered by HBO Max" or something like that – with Bell continuing to hold the TV channel licences and commissioning Canadian programs, but letting Warners run (and profit from) most of the pieces not subject to CRTC regulation, and allowing customers to use the service more easily when travelling abroad. (Crave's change to a language-independent mobile / total plan structure, which aligns with the options offered by HBO Max in Latin America, at least makes this possibility more straightforward to accomplish.)
But the way things have been going at both WarnerMedia and Discovery, we would not be surprised if after 2024, WBD / HBO Max pulled off the proverbial bandage and went it alone in Canada. And, barring a suitable replacement programming source, that would leave Crave with little more than the small number of Crave originals, other Bell Media programs, and maybe a smaller patchwork of foreign acquisitions. At that point, Crave may struggle to justify $10 a month, let alone the $20 it gets from most customers now.
So all Bell may be doing now is buying a bit more runway to figure out Crave's next evolution.
We've updated our post about The Other Two to reflect the fact that season one has now disappeared entirely from Crave (season two remains nowhere to be found in Canada). We also updated our November guide to point to some information about Discovery+ (with the caveat that it's not clear how much of that information applies to Canada), and that the new episodes of Yellowstone being added to Prime Video this month are actually being added roughly simultaneously with their airings on Paramount Network.
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