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The Bell TV app is something different. It sets subscribers free in a way that really hasn’t happened in Canada – if there is a Wi-Fi connection a wireless device (including Android devices) can serve up many of the stations viewers have access to at home. (Bell Media)
The Bell TV app is something different. It sets subscribers free in a way that really hasn’t happened in Canada – if there is a Wi-Fi connection a wireless device (including Android devices) can serve up many of the stations viewers have access to at home. (Bell Media)

Bell TV app expands channels for tablet, phone viewing Add to ...

After years of whining, I can finally watch live news on my phone and tablet.

It may not sound like that big a deal, but my inability to watch Canadian news in real time online without paying additional money has bothered me for a long time. It seems so archaic – I pay for television, I pay for Internet. This should be easy.

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CTV News Channel is one of several dozen channels offered by Bell in the new app it rolled out Monday. There’s also CP24 and BBC World. That’s a lot of choice, compared to nothing.

It’s likely to find a limited audience, given that only Bell television subscribers can actually log-in and watch. But the app provides a glimpse into the future for anyone with a television subscription. Companies are doing what they can to keep viewers from cutting their cords, and making online access simple and inexpensive is one of their key goals.

Other television providers have dabbled with online access – Rogers Communications has offered its customers some live programming for more than a year, provided they are at home using a Rogers Internet connection. Astral (now owned by Bell) also allows anyone who subscribes to HBO to watch archived content via its To Go app.

But the Bell TV app is something different. It sets subscribers free in a way that really hasn’t happened in Canada – if there is a Wi-Fi connection a wireless device (including Android devices) can serve up many of the stations viewers have access to at home.

Here are some highlights.

  • Only Bell customers can use the app, and they can only watch channels they currently subscribe to at home. That means you can’t watch BNN, for example, unless that’s part of your package. There’s a pretty broad range which includes TSN, Leafs TV and Bravo and several children’s channels such as Treehouse. It sucks back the Wi-Fi, using about 0.70 gigabytes an hour. My home plan offers about 150 gigabytes, but those hours add up if you’re just mindlessly streaming content while doing other things.
  • Just because a channel is offered doesn’t mean you can watch it when you leave home. That’s because of content rights – Bell doesn’t have permission to live stream some of the channels it offers unless it’s within a viewer’s home. That means no Dora The Explorer in real-time while you’re at the office, although the on-demand episodes will work just fine. Don’t try and pause on-demand content though – that’s disabled.
  • Sports is also problematic when you’re not at home. TSN vanished from my screen on Monday night just as the NFL pre-season game was about to start. TSN2 was showing the “best of” Little League, and that was blacked out too.
  • Bell’s mobile phone subscribers have had access to Mobile TV for some time, which is a service that allows viewers to stream content to their phones via the company’s wireless network without using data from their plan. Those users will have more than 100 channels for the $5 a month (for 10 hours of TV on their device).

Those are small complaints for a service that doesn’t actually cost me any money (other than data costs). Companies such as Bell hope by offering greater flexibility, viewers won’t seek content elsewhere. The new app may not be enough to convince people to sign up for a television package, but it’s probably enough to convince some current subscribers to stick around that much longer.

It also means I can stop whining about the lack of online television news, although I’ll probably start complaining that the onscreen news tickers are giving me motion sickness. If that’s the price of progress and portability, I’ll deal with it.

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