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How to Watch TV Without Cable in Canada
If you're one of the many people interested in watching TV without cable – also known as a cord cutting – you'll be happy to know the past few years have seen a rise in streaming providers. That includes a growing number of local alternatives and improved Canadian programming from international brands.
In this article, we'll cover some free and paid streaming services for internet TV available to viewers in Canada. While not all are based primarily in Canada, almost half of our list is Canadian – representing the majority of free providers on our list.
Free streaming services
1. CBC Gem
CBC Gem is a streaming platform from Canada's primary public broadcaster, CBC Television. Building on the features of their original CBC TV app, Gem is a great way to catch popular shows like Schitt's Creek or Kim's Convenience. CBC Gem is available as a free, ad-supported platform. And if you don't like the ads, you can upgrade to a $4.99 per month plan that removes those commercial interruptions.
CTV uses a model similar to the CBC for its streaming service, but the streaming is entirely free and exclusively ad-supported. CTV, along with the separate Crave (previously CraveTV) brand, represents the two major streaming options from Canada's Bell Media corporation.
Compared to other broadcasters, CTV's programming focuses heavily on American shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Amazing Race. However, it remains a great source for older Canadian content, including Due South and the Canadian Idol competition.
3. The National Film Board of Canada
With a much longer history than most of the other streaming platforms on our list, The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is one of the more unique resources for digital video content. Free and easy to access through your internet service, the NFB is an official arm of the Canadian government within the Department of Canadian Heritage. Their official mission is to educate and edify.
Thanks to the spread of streaming, that means easy access to their deep archives of visual content that include documentaries, visual experiments, and classic illustration work. They also feature a distinct Indigenous Cinema collection, and be sure to check out NFB's subject tab for indigenous peoples in Canada (First Nations and Métis) to break the collection down by topic.
4. Family Channel
Family Channel and parent-company WildBrain offer one of the largest kid and family-friendly content collections of its kind. Plus, you can use the Family Channel app to watch even more content, including teen-oriented shows in their CHRGD section, as well shows for very young viewers under Family Jr. and French-language counterpart Télémagino.
While older viewers may remember it as an early source for Disney programs, the Family Channel's current library is split between older collections and new productions. As of now, their website is highlighting new episodes of fantasy-comedy Dwight in Shining Armor (who can resist?) and long-running teen drama The Next Step, among others.
YouTube may be organized differently than platforms like Netflix or Crave, but the sheer quantity and quality of content available makes it an inevitable contender for both free and paid content.
For the majority of users, YouTube TV is a great way to find free content from independent creators, international producers, and more. You will have to watch ads, of course, especially with popular content. But with the rebrand of YouTube Red to YouTube Premium, Canadian viewers gained access to a paid tier that removes advertising and provides access to YouTube Originals.
TubiTV is an increasingly popular, ad-supported platform for free streaming. Drawing on titles from a variety of studios and producers, Tubi adds new titles each month and features free movies ranging from Adam Sandler's oddball comedy Little Nicky to Jackie Chan's newer release, Bleeding Steel.
There's also good news when it comes to accessibility. Check out Tubi's list of compatible devices by country to see if you can watch on your smart TV, streaming device, or gaming console.
Paid streaming services
For many years, paid streaming services offered a limited variety in Canada. Changes are already well underway, thanks in part to newer brands like The Criterion Channel providing support.
Even smaller broadcasters and institutions are rising to the occasion. The APTN Lumi streaming service, for example, launched in 2019 by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and you can watch it for $4.99 per month. While our list focuses mainly on well-known names, new options are appearing all the time, so keep an eye out for alternatives.
Netflix is the number-one force in the world of video streaming. New TV shows and movies are added every week, though the full collection is still somewhat smaller than what's available to other audiences.
However, Netflix in Canada is growing and appears committed to more local programming. It was widely reported in early 2021 that Netflix would open a new office in Vancouver or Toronto, allowing them to “keep their fingers on the pulse of what's happening in the creative community in Canada.”
- Basic: 1 simultaneous stream for $9.99/month
- Standard: 2 simultaneous streams for $14.99/month
- Premium: 4 simultaneous streams for $18.99/month
Owned by Bell Media, Crave is Netflix's biggest competition in Canada and has a huge library of exclusives to prove it. March 2021 saw the addition of popular titles like Justice League, Tina, and Framing Britney Spears. Thanks to a huge library of Canadian rights from parent company Bell, Crave offers an especially varied selection drawn from a range of studios and markets.
CraveTV's pricing is tiered like Netflix, but it works a little differently. The basic offering includes Crave exclusives and Showtime for $9.99, but you can pay more for add-ons like content from HBO (available in Canada only via Crave) and STARZ. Unlike most of its other competitors, you can add Crave to most conventional cable packages. There may even be a discount available if Crave has an agreement with your provider.
- Basic: $9.99/month
- Movies + HBO: $19.98/month
- Movies + HBO + Starz: $25.97/month
3. Amazon Prime Video Canada
Prime Video is available as part of Amazon Prime, which means that if you have a Prime account, you can access Prime Video. This also means that Prime provides the largest variety of services at its price point with free shipping, access to music via Amazon Music, and literary content via Prime Reading.
A subscription to Prime costs $7.99 per month or $79 per year. Like Crave, you can also upgrade your Prime Video account with optional add-ons. These provide access to additional content from specialty channels like Showtime, STARZ, Shudder, and Acorn TV.
- Amazon Prime: $7.99/month or $79/year
Founded by the BBC and ITV, BritBox is an extensive collection of British television shows from the U.K.'s main public broadcasters. That means loads of content from dozens of shows like the classic whodunnit Father Brown, hit period drama Downton Abbey, and its 68-episode original inspiration, Upstairs, Downstairs. In addition to the archives, you'll also gain access to new episodes of hit shows like EastEnders and Coronation Street as they air.
- Basic: $8.99/month
5. The Criterion Channel
The Criterion Collection launched The Criterion Channel as a dedicated service in 2019. With a rotating selection of full-length films and the extra features you'd expect with the fancy DVD editions, the Criterion Channel is a cinephile's dream. The platform is exclusive to Canada and the U.S., charging $10.99 per month or $99.99 USD for an annual subscription.
If you're curious about a homegrown TV alternative, there's a new service with a niche focus on new film festival picks called HighBall.TV. It has a similar premise, as their team curates high-quality, lesser-known titles for an audience of film lovers.
- Basic: $10.99/month or $99.99/year
With Disney+, you gain access to Disney's massive existing catalogue and their new Star hub. Designed as a counterpoint to their main library of family-friendly fare, Star pulls together titles from big studios like 20th Century, Searchlight Pictures, and more.
According to Global News, existing users can expect a price hike in summer 2021, but subscriptions as of this writing are priced at $11.99 per month. Price changes aside, you can watch Disney's film library and new hits like The Mandalorian, plus international exclusives within the Star hub.
- Basic: $11.99/month or $119.99/year
TV antenna for over-the-air programming
While most broadcasters don't use over-the-air broadcasting to deliver content these days, it remains accessible for some local channels. Simply purchase an indoor antenna – there are tons of models available – and see what's available in your region. You may not get access to everything you want or see a crystal-clear picture, but this remains a viable alternative to cable or satellite TV.
No-cost and paid services both have their own unique advantages, offering your choice of savings and variety. International services like Netflix and The Criterion Channel have expanded availability, while competitors like CraveTV are certainly making waves with their available content.
Watching TV without cable is easier than ever. You can assemble a varied lineup of shows and films from a variety of sources, whether you want to watch old favorites or see the latest hits. If you haven't checked in a while, you may be surprised to see all the alternatives to cable TV – and how affordable they are.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.