For the first time, Apple Inc. is adding made-in-Canada streaming video apps to its Apple TV service.
On Tuesday, BCE Inc.'s CraveTV and the Shomi network (a partnership of Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc.) were added to the set-top box's list of available services. They won't be available in any other country, though, as both require a subscription to traditional paid TV services, (CraveTV) or Internet (Shomi) inside Canada.
There are already more than 20 video streaming apps available to Canadians, including Netflix, YouTube, Crackle, TED and NHL GameCenter, not to mention apps for Flickr photo streaming and Apple's own podcast and iTunes libraries.
Apple doesn't release country-specific sales figures, but Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group Consultants, says there are about 1.1 million Canadian households with an Apple TV, about half of which also subscribe to Rogers, Bell or Shaw services.
"We know our members are on Apple TV, so having Shomi as part of that experience is a must-have," said Shomi's director of product management, Ann Tebo.
Combined, Shomi and CraveTV have about one million households, Mr. Yigit said.
In which case, getting on to Apple TV is "the equivalent of a decent-size carrier picking up your channel," he said.
Shaw has 1.9 million cable subscribers excluding satellite (about the same for Internet), while Rogers has 1.9 million cable and 2 million Internet subscribers. Bell has 2.6 million TV subscribers, but makes CraveTV available to thousands more through Telus Optik TV, Eastlink, Northwestel and several smaller paid TV operators.
The elephant in the streaming video room is Netflix, the web-delivered service that requires no other subscription (other than any Internet provider) and has more than four million Canadian households signed up.
"Netflix is the Kleenex of the category from a value standpoint," Mr. Yigit said, suggesting that every other streaming option is a facial tissue while Netflix has the brand recognition of Kleenex. "When we ask people what people have heard of [Crave or Shomi] they say: 'It's a new one, it's like Netflix.'"
To compete with Netflix's offerings, CraveTV has relied on content deals related to Bell's TV holdings, including HBO's archive of old shows (The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City and so on) and also the entire series of Seinfeld.
There are also CraveTV exclusives (as in, they are not being broadcast on Bell's other channels), such as Showtime's Happyish starring Steve Coogan, Hulu's Deadbeat starring Canadian Tyler Labine and Amazon Studios's original crime series Bosch.
"CraveTV delivers hit programs not found on any other streaming service," said Mike Cosentino, senior vice-president of programming at CTV Networks and CraveTV.
Similarly, Shomi has such exclusive shows as Amazon's award-winning Transparent and the British series A Young Doctor's Notebook starring Mad Men's John Hamm and former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe.
CraveTV has one original series in the works, a six-part, half-hour sitcom based on the web video series Letterkenny Problems, which focuses on rural life and the essentials of being a Canadian hoser. In development since 2013, there is no timeline on the show's release.
Studies by Charlton Strategic Research suggested that Canadian viewing habits have become increasingly split across a number of options in recent years. Paid TV services are still in the lead with an average 18 viewing hours per week.
If you combine streaming onto a computer, onto a TV set, via a video game console application or tablet, it adds up to less than six hours a week on average, even though all those methods are growing while traditional cable options are falling.
Also, about 20 per cent of Canadian households are doing some form of illegal downloading, streaming or DNS spoofing to get some of their TV content, according to Mr. Yigit.
Apple also announced on Tuesday new channels for CBS Sports, Fox Sports, USA Network, ARTE (aimed at French and German-speaking nations in Europe) and Hopster, a child-friendly subscription service for British residents.
The channel updates come just six weeks ahead of Apple's WWDC conference, where the technology giant is expected to announce updated Apple TV hardware. It is also rumoured to be prepping a new Internet TV service that could include live television.