TORONTO — While Netflix and CraveTV boast about their arsenals of blockbuster series, the CBC’s new streaming app is hoping to find a niche with news junkies and hockey fans.
The national broadcaster lobbed a uniquely Canadian offering into the streaming marketplace Tuesday that could appeal to cord cutters who have missed some homegrown content since giving up on their cable packages.
For $4.99 a month, consumers get a live stream of the CBC News Network and commercial-free access to the CBC’s TV library, including “Kim’s Convenience,” “Baroness Von Sketch Show” and “Schitt’s Creek.”
But viewers don’t necessarily have to pony up the subscription fee to watch most of the content. A free version of the app doesn’t include access to CBC’s news channel but still streams the network’s TV shows with commercials.
There’s also free access to live streams of CBC’s 14 regional local TV channels, no matter where you are in Canada, including Saturday night broadcasts of “Hockey Night in Canada.”
Throwing open the doors to its programming is part of an experiment to see how viewers will react, said Richard Kanee, the CBC’s executive director of digital.
“What we’re doing at this stage is trying to learn with our audience,” he said.
“For us, this is all a starting point.”
Users can access the paid features on Apple smartphones and Apple TV boxes, though it won’t be available on Android devices until April 2018.
The CBC has often been at the forefront of streaming major events such as the Olympics and last year’s farewell show performed by the Tragically Hip in Kingston, Ont.
Those past experiences give the broadcaster an advantage as it pushes forward with viewership experiments, said Kaan Yigit, a technology analyst at Solutions Research Group. He suggested the CBC has plentiful resources versus its broadcast competitors, helped by annual funding contributions from the federal government, and owns rights to a notable chunk of its programming.
“That does help in terms of being able to commit to the scale of this kind of operation,” he said.
CBC News Network has already been offered as a standalone streaming service for years for $6.95 a month.
Kanee said the CBC carefully considered the pricing of its new premium app by comparing against other streaming services such as Sportsnet Now ($24.99 a month), Netflix ($8.99 and up) and CraveTV ($7.99).
He said the revamped CBC app is part of the broadcaster’s ongoing efforts to meet the requirements of its government-instituted mandate under the Broadcasting Act. The CBC is required to make its programming accessible throughout the country by the most appropriate and efficient means available.
The CBC has also taken its marquee news program “The National” online and streams it live, for free, across a number of platforms, including Facebook and YouTube.
Brahm Eiley, president of Convergence Research Group, suggested the CBC’s new premium app will be especially attractive to the more than four million Canadian households that don’t have a traditional cable or satellite package.
“There’s huge space for these types of products,” Eiley said.
“In the long run it’s the right move. This is where things are going.”