New streaming service marred by bad name, net neutrality and exclusivity concerns.
Fibe Alt TV:
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Following through on a promise made earlier this year, Bell has launched a new standalone internet TV service, Fibe Alt TV, starting at $14.95 a month. No set-top box required – Fibe Alt TV delivers live channels through an app.
Cord cutters shouldn’t get too excited just yet, because it looks like the service is offside in several ways.
For starters, it’s horribly named. Not only does the “Alt” tag have political connotations with the “alt-right,” or even “alternative facts,” it also highlights Bell’s priorities.
The company evidently considers its new service an alternative to proper TV, which stirs memories made by former Bell Media president Kevin Crull a few years ago. In launching CraveTV, Bell’s answer to Netflix, he said, “The 10 per cent [of Canadians] that aren’t TV subscribers, in a general sense, they’re not TV lovers.”
It’s hard to imagine a company that doesn’t have a legacy TV business to protect identifying its streaming service as an “alternative,” which makes you wonder how much effort Bell will put into this over the long run. Time will tell.
Poor name choices aside, Fibe Alt TV has a few execution issues that could be problematic as well – especially that it’s a rather overt violation of net neutrality. As per the press release:
Consumers don’t need to worry about data usage or fees when viewing Alt TV at home. Like Bell’s Fibe TV service, Alt TV operates as a licensed broadcast service on the privately managed Bell Fibe broadband network for in-home viewing, and on mobile or Wi-Fi networks outside the home.
Not counting a specific app against data usage caps is specifically prohibited by the CRTC’s net neutrality rules. Indeed, the ink is barely dry on that order, which came down just a few weeks ago.
The regulator does allow usage exemptions on so-called managed services, which are those applications that must by necessity be carved off from the public internet in order to maintain their quality.
A good example are the phone services offered by cable companies such as Rogers and Shaw. While running over the same pipes as the public internet, they have be kept separate to avoid the sorts of hiccups and interruptions that are common to similar third-party calling services such as Skype.
Bell will certainly argue that Fibe Alt TV is such a managed service, but the company will have a hard time proving it.
With the end user needing no additional hardware, it walks, talks and sounds like Netflix or any other so-called over-the-top streaming service. If MLB and the NFL can live stream sports over non-managed connections, it’s hard to see why Bell’s service should be different.
It’s also puzzling that the company is even bothering with zero rating, given that almost all of its Fibe internet packages now feature unlimited usage. Perhaps Bell is desperately trying to avoid normalizing unlimited.
Telus’ Pik TV internet television service is in a similar boat, with one key difference. It generally requires a dedicated set-top box, which at least gives Telus a leg to stand on with the managed service defence.
Still, that doesn’t make its marketing slogan – “Telus Pik TV doesn’t play by the rules” – any less funny.
Fibe Alt TV’s other hitch is that it’s available only to Bell’s internet subscribers, which could also be offside with CRTC rules.
Back in 2015, shortly after Bell launched CraveTV and Rogers/Shaw the dearly departed Shomi to just their own customers, the regulator stepped in to prevent this sort of unfair exclusivity.
Its “hybrid video on demand” rules state that if a streaming service has exclusive content – TV shows or movies that aren’t available through any other streaming service – it must be made available to all Canadians, not just one company’s subscribers.
A company can choose not to do that, but its streaming service is then subject to Canadian content rules, which involve paying into program creation funds and quotas on Canadian airtime.
It looks like Bell is going with door number two, which is fine, but it raises the same questions and potential problems that CraveTV and Shomi initially did. Namely, is Fibe Alt TV a product for cord cutters or isn’t it?
Sooner or later, somebody who isn’t a Bell internet customer and who doesn’t want to be is going to complain about not being able to get Fibe Alt TV, at which point the CRTC will once again have to investigate, and so the never-ending carousel goes.
In the meantime, everything about Fibe Alt TV makes it feel like a defensive product rather than a true effort at an innovative service. Such efforts are rarely worth getting excited about.