Is the new Crave any good?

In November 2018 Bell announced that Crave TV would be rebranded into Crave. Along with this rebranding came some other changes. We’ll have a look at some of the new features of the service and compare it to other similar services to determine if it’s worth it for cord cutters.

New Name, New Look

This is what the home screen of Crave TV use to look like on the Apple TV

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With the redesign and the new name, Crave’s home screen now looks like this on the Apple TV

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Crave now supports user profiles which is a huge win for users who share an account.

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You can also bookmark movies and shows in your ‘My Cravings’ section. You can also see your full history of what you have watched previously,

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Crave also now has a continue watching feature in the ‘My Cravings’ section but also selectable from the home page of the app.

The problem with this feature especially via the home page is that shows and movies you have completely finished will remain there and there isn’t a way to remove them.

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TMN is now Crave

Bell also merged The Movie Network (TMN) with Crave renaming the traditional cable channels as Crave.    

That means that the Crave brand now comes to the cable box and in turn that cable users can log into the Crave streaming service with their cable credentials.

This means that anyone who subscribes to what use to be The Movie Network on cable can log in and use Crave for free.

A list of the cable providers that Crave now supports.

A list of the cable providers that Crave now supports.

New look, new price

Crave also raised the price of it’s basic plan in November 2018, it went from $7.99 up to $9.99.

They also announced a second tier called Crave+ for an additional $9.99. The big news that comes with this new tier of pricing is that users will now have access to all new HBO & Showtime programming, but only with this extra tier.

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Along with this additional tier and content comes the ability for users to watch the newly re-named Crave cable channels live via the Crave app. It’s a nice touch but it’s not really required. A channel that randomly broadcasts movies isn’t really a draw when all of the movies are already available on demand.

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So do all of these changes make Crave a viable worth while service for Canadian cord cutters?

Crave History

It’s important to understand how streaming has slowly evolved in Canada compared to the US.

In a recent article in the Financial Post titled “Bell doubles down on Crave with soft rebrand, premium service that includes current HBO content” Bell Media president Randy Lennox was quoted as saying:

“We are so bent and determined on Crave … we’ve been in it for years now, tweaking it, improving it, evolving it, but sticking with it where others haven’t stuck with it because we do believe we’ll come out with a similar trajectory to that of the music business.”  and  “We feel responsibility as Canada’s leading media and broadcast company that we have to be a modern, forward-thinking company.”

These quotes are exactly what one would except from a senior Bell representative when a service like Crave announces not only a price increase but a whole other secondary tier of pricing. The fact is that Bell has never been a modern forward thinking company and Crave has never been a modern forward thinking service.

It could have been. We would go so far to say it should have been a modern forward thinking service.

Unfortunately Bell hasn’t been tweaking, improving or evolving the product since it first launched in December 2014.

Consider this. Netflix first launched as a company in 1998. At first the company was focused on DVD rentals that got mailed to your home. In 2007 they launched their streaming business in the US with about 1000 titles.

By 2010 Netflix had become one of the biggest cultural phenomenons in the US having about 15 million subscribers (source) and announced they would expand and launch the service in Canada. 

So what do you do if you are Bell? Again you call yourself “Canada’s leading media and broadcast company” and that “we have to be a modern, forward-thinking company.”

Well you don’t do anything. You watch as Netflix grows massively in the US over 3 years. You watch again as they launch in Canada and grow the business to an estimated 4.6 million subscribers (source) by 2014 and then and only then do you launch a competing service.

When Bell finally launched Crave TV in December 2014 most Canadians couldn’t even sign up for it. That’s because if you wanted to use Crave you also had to be a Bell subscriber.

Then Bell president Kevin Crull explained that television content on any streaming service "[would not] exist if you didn't have the traditional TV system. So you really can't sustainably have one without the other."

At the time the Financial Post said this about the launch of Crave TV “not opening up the service to everyone will be a significant issue for most people interested in subscribing to CraveTV and also limits the platform’s audience.” (source)

The other knock on Crave TV when it launched at the time was the fact that Bell owned the rights to HBO content as well as other big catalogues from Showtime, Comedy Central and other major US TV networks.

HBO had first launched it’s HBO Go streaming service in 2010 in the US. This service allowed US cable subscribers who had HBO as part of their cable subscription to stream both the back catalogue of HBO shows along with the latest episodes.

Crave TV at it’s launch would only have a limited selection of the HBO back catalogue. At that time HBO’s biggest show, Game of Thrones was now in season 4 and if you we’re already a Bell subscriber and paid Bell and additional $4.99 for Crave you still couldn’t stream any episodes of Game of Thrones.

It took another two years before Crave TV became available to any Canadian to subscribe to. This wasn’t because Bell was forward thinking. It was because The Public Interest Advocacy Centre joined with the Consumers' Association of Canada and filed a complaint to the CRTC in 2015 . Bell attempted to fight this complaint, but the CRTC ruled that both Crave TV and Rogers Shomi service must be available to all Canadians to subscribe to in March 2015.

Bell finally opened up Crave to all Canadians at a new price ($6.00 per month) on January 2016, 9 months after the CRTC ruling and a year after it’s initial launch. Even with the price increase and the option for anyone to subscribe, you still couldn’t watch a current or past episode of Game of Thrones on Crave TV.

By this time in the US HBO had now launched (April 2017) it’s HBO Now streaming service that cost $14.99 US per month and allowed anyone to subscribe and watch all of HBO’s back catalogue and current shows seasons without the need for a cable subscription. It was estimated that by February 2016 HBO Now had 800,000 paid subscribers (source) Netflix Canada around this same time was estimated to have 5.2 million subscribers (source). Since it’s launch HBO Now has added more and more content and hasn’t budged on the price.

By November 2016 Rogers pulled the plug on it’s streaming service Shomi and Bell was saying it’s Crave TV service had recently hit one million subscribers, although it has never clarified what percentage of those Crave TV subscribers pay for the service independently versus are given free subscriptions by way of being existing Bell subscribers.

This brings us to November 2018. Crave TV changes it’s name to Crave and raised the price of it’s base service from $7.99 to $9.99 plus tax.

Crave Content & Pricing

The new basic $9.99 plan is described like this:

A Crave subscription includes Showtime*, classic HBO**, Originals like Letterkenny and hit series like the Handmaid’s Tale, Star Trek: Discovery and more.

The fine print says: Select titles including Shameless and some seasons of Homeland not included due to rights restrictions. **Past seasons available only for select series. No current seasons included.

The fact that is says classic HBO series but then in the fine print says past seasons available only for select series means most consumers won’t know what they actually will get access to.

You can browse what does come with the $9.99 basic plan your self here

When we dove into the catalogue of the basic $9.99 plan we found some of the bigger HBO shows there like:

Ballers (4 Seasons), Band of Brothers, Big Little Lies (1 Season), Big Love (5 Seasons), Boardwalk Empire (5 Seasons), Crashing (3 Seasons), Curb Your Enthusiasm (9 Seasons), Deadwood (3 Seasons), Eastbound & Down (4 Seasons), Entourage (8 Seasons), Flight of the Conchords (2 Seasons), Game of Thrones (8 Seasons), Girls (6 Seasons), High Maintenance (3 Seasons), The Larry Sanders Show (6 Seasons), Mr. Show (4 Seasons), The Newsroom (3 Seasons), The Night Of (1 Season), Oz (6 Seasons), The Pacific (1 Season), Sex in the City (7 Seasons), The Sopranos (6 Seasons)

We also found that older seasons of a few bigger shows were missing like:

Barry, The Deuce, Divorce, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Real Time with Bill Maher, Room 104, Sharp Objects, Silicon Valley, Six Feet Under, Togetherness, Treme, True Blood, True Detective, Veep, Westworld, The Wire and The Young Pope

Overall it is a good amount of HBO content. What Bell doesn’t make clear is when a show goes from being available on the $19.98 plan to the $9.99 plan. It’s odd that previous seasons of current shows like Ballers, Big Little Lies & Game of Thrones are available but previous seasons of other shows like Barry, Silicon Valley, True Detective, Veep and Westworld are not. 

Even stranger that shows like Six Feet Under, The Wire and Treme which are shows that finished many years ago aren’t available.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to what shows are and aren’t available in the basic $9.99 plan which we could see frustrating users.

We have zero problem with this tiered pricing approach to content. 

Amazon does it. Hulu does it (see example below). 

An example of the tiers of pricing available through Hulu

An example of the tiers of pricing available through Hulu

The biggest problem with Crave and their new tiered pricing model doesn’t really come with any new content.

In fact all they have done is raised the price and separated existing content that was already available on the service when it was $7.99 and other content like current HBO shows that should have been available all along when it first launched in 2014.

In fact further complicating things Bell added an additional tier earlier this year when in Jan 2019 they added a Starz add on to Crave for an additional $5.99

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Comparing Crave to HBO, Showtime and Starz

Starz content had already been a part of Crave, but now you need to pay an extra $5.99 for it. On top of that it doesn’t include many of the Starz shows like American Godz, Outlander, Spartacus and The Spanish Princess.

In fact if you compare it to the US independent streaming service that Starz operates and that users can subscribe to for $8.99 US per month there is a lot of content missing.

The Starz series page on Crave has 29 shows listed and it brings about one annoying pet peeve about every page on Crave, the content is not sorted in alphabetical order and there is now way to sort it that way.

The available Starz shows on Crave for an additional $5.99

The available Starz shows on Crave for an additional $5.99

Where as on the US Starz app there are 154 series available to choose from.

The full list of series available on the US based Starz app that costs $8.99 US a month

The full list of series available on the US based Starz app that costs $8.99 US a month

Since it’s launch in 2014 Crave has been a mixture of content from a variety of US sources both traditional TV networks (HBO, Showtime, Starz, CBS, Comedy Central) and US streaming services (Hulu, Amazon).

Much like the Starz content on Crave though there is a lot of content from HBO Now (US) and Showtime (US) isn’t on Crave.

As an example HBO Now (US) has a deal in place with Sesame Street. This content is not on Crave.

A sample of Sesame Street content on HBO Now (US) streaming service

A sample of Sesame Street content on HBO Now (US) streaming service

HBO Now, Showtime and Starz also have a huge library of movies that rotate monthly on their service. Each of these services has between 300-400 movies on their service at any given time.

Crave seems to only get a handful of movies from each service. There is a decent amount but it’s certainly not in the same range of the US services.

As one of the bigger rights holders in Canada, Bell licences a lot of content from the US from a variety of providers. They also own and operate several traditional Canadian TV channels (source) here in Canada.

Some of the shows Crave has added include Bosch (Amazon), Game of Thrones (HBO), Casual (Hulu), Star Trek Discovery (CBS All Access) and The Handmaids Tale (Hulu).

Where is the rest of the content?

The thing that has always baffled us about Crave is that being that it is owned by Bell there is so much content that Bell owns that isn’t available on Crave.

Let’s start with the Bell owned CTV. While CTV shows like The Amazing Race Canada, The Big Bang Theory (Season 1 - 7), Blindspot (Season 1-3), Blue Bloods (Seasons 1-8), Bold & Beautiful (Season 32), Cardinal (Seasons 1-3), The Good Doctor (Season 1), The Launch (Seasons 1 & 2), Master Chef Canada (Seasons 4-5) are on Crave.

There are even more CTV shows missing from Crave including American Idol, Big Bang Theory (Season 8 -12), Criminal Minds, The Daily Show, Dr. Phil, The Ellen Degeneres Show, The Enemy Within, etalk, For the People, God Friended Me, Gotham, Grey's Anatomy, Hollywood Game Night, How to Get Away With Murder, The Kids Are Alright, The Late Show with James Corden, Law & Order: SVU, Late Night with Seth Myers, Magnum P.I., The Marilyn Dennis Show, Master Chef Canada (Seasons 1-3), The Match Game, The Resident, The Rookie, Shark Tank, The Social, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Station 19, The Voice, This is Us

You can see all of CTV’s shows here.

The same issues apply to content from the Comedy Network that Bell also operates. While shows like The Jim Jeffries Show, Corner Gas, Corner Gas Animated, Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, Drunk History, South Park, Tosh O, Angie Tribeca, Brockmire, The Detour, Key & Peele, Wrecked, This is Not Happening, Seinfeld & Homegrown Comics are on Crave.

Shows like The Other Two, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, The Indian Detective, King of Queens, Young Sheldon and Friends aren’t on Crave.

You can go through the full list of Bell owned properties and you’ll end up seeing a pattern, there is still a lot of content missing from Crave. For the amount that Crave is charging for their service, you should get access to all of the content from every Bell owned channel.

Consumer response to Crave

So far most people have been excited that HBO current content has finally come to Crave and the price of that additional content is fairly reasonable especially when you compare it HBO Now that costs $14.99 US a month. Not every one thinks that is worth it though.

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Unfortunately Bell has run into some other issues with Crave.

First off although apps on the Apple TV, X-Box and even some smart TV’s have been updated there still is no app for the PS4, Android streaming devices or the Roku. This is nothing new. Crave has been telling users that apps for those devices have been coming soon since 2015.

In comparison HBO Now, Showtime and Starz, Hulu and Amazon is available on all of these platforms.

There have also been complaints about the lack of 1080p support and 5.1 audio. Bell updated some of their apps just before the start of Season 8 of Game of Thrones but not all of them.

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There was also a lot of speculation about how Crave would fair when Season 8 of Game of Thrones premiered on April 14th, 2019. Each week it seemed like Crave was having major issues with people trying to stream the episode.

While this is to be expected with a show like Game of Thrones, Bell and Crave did themselves no favour by waiting 8 years to to allow users to stream the show live.

Even HBO Now has had issues in previous years since the show first streamed, but they have built up experience in running their streaming service for awhile.

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With the final episode set to air on May 19, 2019 it remains to be seen how Crave will handle what will probably be it’s biggest challenge.

Final Impressions

While we think the over all look and functionality of Crave has improved the library of content is still lacking a great deal especially when you compare it to other services like Hulu, HBO Now, Showtime, Amazon Prime (US), Starz and Netflix. The standards of what constitutes a premium priced streaming service has been set by these services both in terms of content and usability. Crave still feels amateurish compared to these other services.

The reality is that it’s not going to get easier for Bell. With even more competition set to enter the market later this year via Disney+ set to launch in November and they have now taken full control of Hulu.

It’s nice for Canadian cord cutters to have more options in Canada but Crave could be and should be better by now considering all the assets Bell owns and operates. We always imagine what Crave could have been if Bell had launched it before Netflix entered Canada and actually put their full effort into the service.

For many Canadians trying Crave out for a month or two may be more than enough but the current pricing structure and lack of library depth of the service will limit users from committing to the service long term. The reality is that the bulk of ‘subscribers’ to Crave will be people who are already Bell customers and are given access to Crave for free.

Bell needs to decide if they are really committed to improving the service and if they are not they should get out of the streaming business and allow the US services to expand into the Canadian marketplace. Especially since 99% of the content on Crave is from American networks. It’s not like Bell is using Crave as a Canadian content hub.

Bell has said they “feel responsibility as Canada’s leading media and broadcast company that we have to be a modern, forward-thinking company.”

With Crave still not available on many major streaming platforms even 4 years later it feels more like Bell is treading water with Crave rather than growing and improving it. The real truth is that broadcasting has already changed and Bell is still trying to keep consumers in the past and stem the tide of cord cutters.

As a result we still recommend our clients spend their money elsewhere because they are plenty of other options and we love helping our clients explore all of the options available to cord cutters.