The TV is the centerpiece of the Canadian family’s living room and even with the increasing domination of the internet, people still look to their television as their primary source of entertainment. Spending a lot of money on cable, satellite, or fiber optic television is very common thing in Canada with many people having monthly bills approaching $100. Of course, this is very expensive, particularly if you end up with a busy life and don’t have much time to turn the TV on and make use of the service you are paying so dearly for.
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The personal video recorder (PVR) was a great invention that allows people to take control of their TV again so they don’t have to conform to a schedule of when their favourite shows are being aired and stop worrying about other life events interfering with their television watching. Unfortunately, PVRs are also incredibly expensive too and just serve to increase the overall cost of TV viewing even more. There must be a better way, right? This guide will present a bunch of different ways you can cut down on your TV entertainment costs and maybe even eliminate them entirely with a little help from legal internet TV.
1) Replace Your Existing Service With Free Internet TV
People have been pirating television shows and movies via file sharing and torrent sites for a long time, but fortunately an alternative that is both free and legal has emerged over the past few years. Most television networks in Canada and the USA have begun broadcasting full length episodes of their shows via their own websites. These shows can be streamed by anyone with an internet connection on any device that has a web browser that supports flash content.
What does all this mean? It means, with the help of a home theater PC (htpc) or capable laptop hooked up to your television using a single HDMI cable, you can watch all of your favourite shows in full screen on your TV using your internet connection allowing you to cancel your cable or satellite subscription with almost no consequence! Better yet, many networks are offering theirs shows in full 1080p high definition also free so you can take full advantage of your HDTV without paying a cent. The only major piece still missing from the free internet TV puzzle are sports broadcasts. Most sports networks only show clips on their websites instead of full length games, but even this is slowly starting to change because the Olympics are always broadcasted online for free and I have even started to see full length hockey games appear on CBC.ca as well! It’s only a matter of time before all major sports will be available either for free or for a small subscription fee and then the full puzzle will be complete.
There is also a lengthy list of advantages internet TV has over traditional cable that has nothing to do with the cost. To get all the details on what you need to cut your cable check out our guide to Canadian Internet TV:
2) Take Advantage Of Free Over The Air HD Broadcasts
One thing that many people don’t know about modern TV is that it is still broadcasted over the air (OTA) and can be received using a simple and relatively cheap antenna! Better yet, this is actually one of the only ways to get a completely unadulterated digital HD signal for the absolute best quality. Even cable and satellite providers that offer HD service typically compress their signals to save bandwidth on their network, which can have an effect, albeit a minor on, on picture quality. Did I mention the best part yet? It’s 100% free for those lucky people who live within range of the network broadcast towers, typically only major Canadian cities or border towns that are in close proximity to a major American city.
Unfortunately, I am far from an expert on OTA because I don’t live in an area that is in range of many stations. I have read a fair bit about it on forums and did try hooking up an internal UHF antenna to my TV once but the reception was pretty poor. To have any sort of success I would have needed a professionally installed rooftop antenna, and with the limited channels available in my area it just wasn’t worth it for me to pursue it any further. However, if you are in a major Canadian city like Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal then you may be able to get several channels with a cheap indoor antenna and 30 or more channels with a good outdoor antenna setup. If you live in close proximity to the CN tower, you could probably attach tinfoil to your HDTV and get 20+ channels ;)
Here are some good resources you can use to get up to speed on OTA and figure out if it will work for you:
- How To Get Free HDTV (In Canada) @ MillionDollarJourney
- This is an easy read to get you started.
- HD channels over the air from antenna @ RedFlagDeals
- Extremely long forum thread dating back to 2007 and is still active now.
- To get up to date information you may need to skip to later pages.
- Information on antenna models and other equipment needed to get started.
- Lots of discussion about the channels you will receive and the results you can expect.
- A very useful website for locating the broadcasting towers in your area.
- You can simply plug your postal code into their tools to get your results fast.
- Use their Google Maps tool that plots towers and stations.
- You may need to zoom out significantly before you see the red and green dots that represent the actual towers.
- Be sure to scroll down and look at the table that summarizes which stations you can get and whether it is analog or digital.
- Use their TV Signal Analysis tool to get exact directions and distances from your location including the signal strength you can expect.
- The Netwk column will tell you the actual TV network each transmitter represents.
- Pay attention to the green, yellow, red, and grey colours that tell you what type of antenna you will need to pick up the channel.
- Over-The-Air Digital Television Forum @ DigitalHome.ca
- This sub forum is entirely dedicated to OTA television with hundreds of relevant threads.
- If you want all the hard core details or just need to ask a question, this is the place to go.
- UHF Reception Guide @ tvantenna.com
- Gives you the basics about antennas, reception, and other necessary hardware in easy to understand terms.
- Antenna Help FAQ @ SolidSignal.com
- Answers a lot of common questions about OTA in one quick read.
3) Buy TV Episodes And Movies Online For Download Or Streaming
Downloading or streaming TV shows and movies on a pay per use or subscription basis is another great way to save money on television costs. If you are a light viewer you can sever your cable but still watch single episodes, old and new, of your favourite TV shows by buying or renting them when you have the time to watch them. If you are a heavier viewer, you can use a cheap subscription service like the just-launched Netflix Canada to get unlimited access to their entire TV show and movie library to watch as much and as often as you want.
With all the previously mentioned free TV that is now available, you might not think that paying to download or stream television makes sense. That is not entirely true because these pay services do a great job of filling in the gaps of what you can’t get for free online as well as giving you access to a bunch of movies in the case of Netflix. You also get the advantage of HD quality on almost all shows that you download and the ability watch entire TV show seasons all at once. Finally, you can rewatch previously purchased shows as often as you want, whereas you usually have a limited window of time to watch an episode online.
Netflix is an all you can eat TV and movie streaming service that gives you access to their ever growing library of of shows and movies that can be streamed in high quality anytime and anywhere you have access to a high speed internet connection. You can try it free for one month and it is only $7.99/month if you decide to continue after that. The best part is that so many devices are supported; You can stream to any internet connected computer or htpc, video games consoles (PS3, Xbox360, Wii), many smartphones, and specialized digital media receivers (Boxee, Apple TV, etc).
If you are more of a light TV viewer, then buying individual episodes or seasons of the TV shows you are interested in can save you a significant amount of money. You also get to completely skip the commercials, watch on your schedule, watch previous downloads again whenever you want, and view your shows on multiple digital devices. Episodes in the iTunes store can be expensive at up to $3.49 per episode, but if you buy an entire season it is usually at a discounted price. In the past, it was also possible to “rent” episodes for a cheaper price ($0.99) using the Apple TV and it is expected that they will bring back this option sometime in the future.
4) Watch TV Shows On DVD or Bluray
Another great way to enjoy TV shows without paying for cable is to rent or buy your favourite shows on DVD or Bluray. This allows you to watch the entire seasons or even a complete series in succession at your own pace without needing a fancy computer setup or media device and you don’t have to bother managing digital downloads and files. Doing this would seem expensive at first glance, but, if done properly, it can actually be quite cheap. You have to remember that if you are saving the $60-$100/month in cable that can buy quite a few TV series on disc, especially if you follow the below tips.
Tips For Purchasing
- Hunt for deals when purchasing shows so you get them at the absolute lowest cost:
- Older shows or earlier seasons can often be found at very cheap prices brand new.
- Check out the bargain bins at Walmart and your other favourite shops.
- Use online price comparison tools to find the lowest retail price.
- Use price matching policies to your advantage to save even more.
- Buy on classified and auction sites like Kijiji, Craigslist, or Ebay.
- Prices on used media have plummeted in recent years from waning demand.
- Check out rental stores like Blockbuster to get used copies relatively cheaply.
- Consider buying a complete series collectors edition because they can be cheaper overall.
- Stockpile a few seasons in advance so you never have to make an impulse purchase.
- Older shows or earlier seasons can often be found at very cheap prices brand new.
- Sell your shows immediately after watching them on Kijiji or Craigslist:
- If you got a hot deal or good used price on the purchase you might even make a profit.
- If you purchased brand new, be sure to mention that it is in like new condition and only watched once.
Tips For Renting
- Use a mail order service like Zip.ca to get unlimited DVDs or Blurays for cheap.
- I find it hard to rent movies with these mail order services but they are great for TV shows that have multiple discs in every season.
- It works best if you are close to their distribution center so you get new DVDs as quick as possible.
- Look for $1 or $2 rental kiosks in your area and see what TV shows they have available.
- Use monthly unlimited rental programs at chain rental stores.
- Blockbuster currently offers one month of unlimited favourites rentals for $9.99/month.
- Buy one or more entertainment packs at chain rental stores.
- These are usually offered around Christmas time and provide incredible value when compared to normal rental costs.
- In 2010, Blockbuster offered one for $21.99 that had $485 in savings in it.
- It really only costs $11.99 after you discount the $10 gift card that comes with it.
5) Call The Retentions Department And Negotiate A Better Deal
The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” definitely applies when it comes to saving money on almost any type of service. Most companies are happy to quietly raise the rates of their existing customers and never offer them any sort of service improvement or upgrade as long as they don’t rock the boat and continue paying their monthly bill without question. All the while they are offering copious amounts of freebies and promotions to attract new customers without extending those same offers to their existing customers.
You can easily counteract this problem by picking up the phone and calling your existing television service provider, asking to speak to the retentions department, and then negotiating a better deal with them in exchange for your loyalty. Not everyone is comfortable with negotiations or asking for a discount. If that’s you, continue reading the SaveLog post I wrote with tips for negotiating with retentions. If you have any specific questions or need additional help, post a comment there and I will promptly respond:
6) Switch Providers And Take Advantage Of New Customer Sign Up Bonuses
If you are unsuccessful negotiating with retentions or doing so is not for you, then it can pay to regularly look at the competition and wait for a really good promotion that is cheaper or more beneficial than your current service. Many companies are more focused on customer acquisition than customer retention and, as such, it is much easier to get a good deal when signing up for new service than it is continuing on with your old service. Be sure to pay close attention to the terms and conditions of the new service you are signing up for because they may try to lock you into a lengthy contract, raise your rates substantially after a few months of service, or pull some other trick to get more money out of you.
When it comes to television service, it is pretty common to see deals for 3 months of free service that often include further free upgrades like movie channels, multiple theme packs, PVR rentals, and HD channels. Just make sure if you decide to take advantage of all the extra perks, that you don’t end up enjoying them so much that you can’t bring yourself to cancel them when the free trial period expires. If that possibility describes you, then it may be best to decline or cancel them right at the start to make sure you don’t get hooked. Another typical deal is to get a significantly discounted rate for the first 6 months or 1 year of your service before you have to start paying the regular rates. If you can’t get cable or satellite company to give you a decent ongoing deal, then I wouldn’t consider switching providers every year or so to be too much. Keep doing it until someone offers you the right deal!
Here are a few partial lists of Canadian cable and satellite providers to get you started:
7) Choose The Right Package For Your Needs
This is pretty obvious, but it can pay to evaluate what your needs are when it comes to your TV service and potentially downgrade your package to save money if you don’t really all the extra frills and channels that come at a higher cost. It pays to make service evaluation a part of your regular routine at least annually to ensure that you aren’t missing out on newer, better, or cheaper services and that you aren’t subscribed to services and features you no longer need. You should never procrastinate when it comes to making these changes, instead you should call today and start reaping the savings immediately. You may even find you are offered a better deal or more value not to downgrade!
As always, when choosing a cheaper package or downgraded service, don’t limit your search to your existing provider. Remember to check out all of the television service providers in your area to see who has the best deal. Prices will often be quite similar but you may end up with a substantially better service that provides more value by casting a wide net during your search.
8) Bundle Services For A Discount
Bundling your services together with one provider would be a last resort when it comes to trying to save money on your television costs or services in general. It is true that bundling services can be cheaper than what it would cost you to have all of the services individually from the same provider but it also highly restricts your flexibility and negotiating power. When you bundle services together you may end up locked into a contract for all your services that can be hard to get out of, plus it can create a psychological barrier that prevents you from switching one or all of your services to a different provider when a better deal comes along.
If you have already tried negotiating with retentions, checked out low cost alternatives, and don’t have the energy to sign up for new customer promotions and good deals when they come along, then bundling may be the only thing left that can save you money. In that case, you might as well go for it.
Check out the rest of Services section for ways to save money on all of your other services!