Free To Air, GoodBye Express-Vu!


I have had a tumultuous relationship with Bell Express-Vu since day one. In fact, my relationship with Express-Vu is not all indifferent from my overall relationship with Bell. A company that is so out of touch with it’s core user base that it openly engages in practices that drive users away in droves, until at least the users realise that Bell has locked them into all kinds of unfair and anti-competitive long term contracts. Sure no one has to sign the long contract but often there is no way to get any kind of competitive pricing without doing so. And at the end of the day, who are they really competing with. Most Canadian markets are broken up into “Duopolies”, if you forgive the expression.  In Montreal, the only legal television alternatives are ExpressVu and Videotron, I am not even sure if StarChoice is grey market or completely illegal like DirectTV.


But suddenly there is an emerging alternative that I has not seen the light of day since I first moved into the Montreal subarbs Burbs almost 28 years ago: FREE TO AIR TV. This time is has a new spin, it’s digital and HDTV. Fellow blogger Laurent Lasalle is already enjoying several stations Downtown with a basic set of UHF rabbit ears on top of his High Def TV. Of course he is using the TV’s digital tuner to capture the station, the rotary dial on your old 27 inch Boob Tube just won’t cut it. And my pal Al points out that the broadcast signal is 720p and not the much revered 1080p. But the choice of 5 Montreal stations and the full complement of U$ free to air station including both PBS affiliates makes it a viable basic service for any one that simply wants to watch… TV. [I bet that was as awkward to read as it was to write.]

Laurent’s post got me thinking that the HDTV dream is not as far away as everyone thinks it is. If you’re like me and have few kids, you probably already have a couple of Boob Tubes and the thought of replacing perfectly good sets with Flat Panels versus sending your eldest to ballet class just does not seem right. So how do you justify making the digital and HD leap at once. To be quite honest, you’re going to have to be quite creative with how you present this to the Home Ministry, which in our house is also the Finance Minister. These minority governments often mean small cabinets juggling multiple jobs, I have the Environment, Communications and Industry but not Power. So how do you pull it off? Have a look at your current ONE bill or whatever the non-Bell equivalent is and you’ll see you are paying almost $160 for the basic phone service, internet, satellite and maybe one cell phone. Your TV alone is probably setting you back $60.00 a month, which is $720 a year, less taxes of course. 720, this number is coming around a lot already. What makes 720 so special as a number is that our economy sucks. Well it does and it doesn’t. A lot of us are going through hard times, people in the money business are having a very hard time, and start-ups are having a terrible time convincing Venture Capitalists to part with their… capital [I’ve done it again]. But there are quite a few of us who are going to continue to be employed because our jobs involve automating or giving support to what other people do, whether it’s e-commerce, IT and even trades-people. We have a little cash and are able to use it to buy some nice stuff. Big box stores also know this, the economy sucks but not everyone is losing their house and they still have to make their Holiday sales numbers. So they are basically taking a beating in the margins to get rid of all this stuff they ordered back in the summer when the sun was shining out of Dubya’s butt and we were all paying $1,50 a litres of unleaded, ordinary¹ as it’s known at my Utramar. This mean you will soon be able to get a nice HDTV for $720. [Nice arc huh? Who needs heroes] You’re gonna have to work at it a little, haggle with the guy, maybe you’ll have to buy a VIZIO smart tv and experience a home theater as well, I know it’s what you wanted but we have to make concessions. Or you might even have to scale back on the lattés or some of those long distance minutes packages and start using Skype instead.

I truly beleive that HDTV is here for the masses, as long as we can all convince our wives they don’t need TLC for a year and you’re also giving up RDS. Just  don’t tell them that the CBC has 25 Habs games this season.

For the Fans
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¹ In Quebec Regular unleaded 87 octane gasoline (petrol) is referred to by the literal translation fo its French name on the pump ORDINAIRE == ORDINARY.