Instead of Rights, How About Access?

Rights vs. Access

The big news yesterday was that the CBC secured rights for another 12 years to probably the only TV show in this country that actually makes any money — Hockey Night in Canada. Another source without the CBC spin makes matters a little more clear: CBC has actually ceded control of HNIC to Rogers; they now own the brand, along with national rights for all NHL games on all platforms.

So high-fives and chest bumps all around… Rogers will no doubt be streaming NHL games on their proprietary mobile TV service in short order, likely at rates far more attractive than the equivalent raw data throughput. Sound familiar?

But this is not the story. The story is the siloing of Canadian media, and how it’s 100% at odds with a free and open Internet, on mobile phones or otherwise.

Back in 2011 I read Tim Wuster’s The Master Switch, a rather enlightening account of how the disruptive and democratizing power of cinema, the telephone, radio and television were eventually locked down and arguably hobbled by the big businesses that gobbled them up. There is a similar future in store for the Internet — I don’t think we’re there yet, so I want to point out some alternatives to big media content before they wither and die.

And since the only thing better than a free and open Internet is a free and open Internet in your pocket, we’ll be considering this from a mobile point of view.


There’s YouTube and there’s everything else.

Hopefully you agree that YouTube is the single, must-have app for streaming video on the Internet. Netflix is probably the standard for long-form video content but YouTube is, in my opinion, more true to the democratizing power of the Internet — despite being owned by Google. It should also be pointed out  that some YouTubers regularly get numbers that Canadian TV  broadcasters would kill for.

The proprietary TV services from Bell and Rogers are probably fine, but what happens when you want to switch carriers? You risk losing access to your favourite content, that’s what.

Sports is a little different in that it holds the greatest value when streamed live. I think Major League Baseball and the NBA got it right. At least with them you’re getting games straight from the source. But it sure ain’t cheap.

For everything else there’s YouTube. But even that isn’t ubiquitous; thanks to an ongoing feud between Google and Microsoft there is still no official YouTube app for Windows Phone. That’s just dumb.


I myself don’t generally buy music because for me it’s like air. It surrounds me on all sides so why would I want to pay for it?

Nobody’s stopping you from buying music on iTunes or paying for a streaming music subscription, but you should at least be aware of other free — and legal — alternatives that are out there. My favourite by far is Jamendo. This Luxembourg-based site and service streams nothing but Creative Commons-licensed free music. And the majority of it is surprisingly good!

On your mobile you can stream albums from a particular artist or “radios” from a particular genre; when you get home you can download your favourite tracks for free. How cool is that?

If commercial music is more your thing you can pay a one-time fee for a TuneIn Radio app and enjoy streaming music from terrestrial radio stations around the world. And if it’s specifically Canadian music that you’re after, CBC’s got your back.

I think we’re in good shape here.


As far as I know there is no such thing as a streaming book.

The closest thing I can think of is something like Wattpad, very similar to Jamendo in that it’s a platform for user-submitted content. It seems to excel as a showcase for short stories, perfectly suited for mobile devices as you can start and finish something during a bus or train ride. And like Jamendo, there is no charge for either the app or the content.

For long form ebooks you’ll have to pledge allegiance to either Kindle, Kobo Apple iBook or (taking a deep breath to spew out the worst name ever) Google Play Books. Either that, or rely on the kindness of strangers — like this guy I know who wrote this personal history of mobile phones that you can totally download for free. 😉

For comics there is at the very least a free xkcdViewer for Android, along with proprietary apps and content from the usual suspects.

Rogers’ Next Issue has been touted as “the Netflix for Magazines”. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s available to users on all carriers and platforms — except BlackBerry. Alternatives include per-title purchases on Zinio and, to a lesser extend, the Android-only Google Play Newsstand.

Use it or Lose it

I’ll wrap this up with a reminder of the point I’m trying to make here: Before you go and lock yourself in to a carrier-exclusive product or other proprietary service, remember that free and open alternatives do exist. If you don’t try them today, they might be gone tomorrow…