Bell Media President Kevin Crull at CRTC cable TV hearings

Bell Media president Kevin Crull was on hand to launch CraveTV at an event in Toronto on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Bell unveiled its debut in the content streaming race on Wednesday with CraveTV, which the media conglomerate says isn't meant to replace cable television, but rather add to it.

Starting Dec. 11, CraveTV will be available to anyone who's currently a TV customer of Eastlink, TELUS Optik TV, Bell Fibe TV, Bell Aliant FibreOP TV and Bell Satellite TV at launch, with Northwestel and others coming on board later.

The service will cost $4 per month, on top of your cable bill. The service will be available immediately to cable TV subscribers via set-top box, but the company says they plan on rolling out new ways to watch, including mobile apps, access via video game console, and through select so-called "smart TVs" that can access the internet directly.

Executives at a launch event in Toronto were coy on the timing, but said they expect the service to be available to Rogers and Shaw television customers soon.

"We think this is a service their customers are going to be clamouring for," Bell Media president Kevin Crull said.

It will not, however, be available to anyone with just a high-speed Internet connection, meaning it's not an obvious alternative to so-called cord cutters who have left cable behind in favour of online-based content services.

That also likely means it's not a true rival to Netflix, the U.S.-based streaming service that has gobbled up customers in Canada by offering thousands of hours of TV shows and movies for a monthly fee of $9. Netflix is available to anyone with an internet connection; there's no need to pay for any sort of television service.

A few months ago, Rogers and Shaw teamed up to create Shomi, a streaming service that offers thousands of hours of programming in much the way Netflix does. The catch with Shomi was that you must be a Rogers or Shaw customer to get it — but you could do it just with an internet connection, making it a little closer to the Netflix model.

At least in the early going, Bell is clearly going in a different direction with its streaming service.

"Ninety per cent of Canadians have a TV subscription," Crull said at Wednesday's Bell launch. "We think that gives us a fantastic base of customers to subscribe to," he said, noting that more Canadians pay for some sort of television service than pay for an Internet connection.

CraveTV to have hundreds of titles

Crull also said the service would be free of advertising at launch.

In the streaming game, content is king — and one of CraveTV's big gets at launch is access to HBO's entire back catalogue of programs.

The ability to offer unlimited viewings of award-winning shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Sex And The City, Six Feet Under, Band of Brothers, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Big Love, Entourage, Oz, Rome and Deadwood is something no other streaming service in Canada currently offers.

CraveTV will have about 300 titles at launch, but says that figure will double within the first year and collectively add up to thousands of hours of programming. About two-thirds of the content on the service will be exclusive to CraveTV, executives said. Another new twist is that CraveTV will also offer "first looks" at new stuff — the ability to watch certain premium content ahead of when it will be released via other media.

"We think it'll be a special treat for others who want to get a first peek," Crull said.