Consumers eye new options as CRTC-mandated trimmed down TV takes effect

Canada's major TV service providers say it's too early to tell how many of their customers will choose to switch to the new slimmed-down services that are on offer as of today.

OTTAWA — Canada’s major TV service providers say it’s too early to tell how many of their customers will choose to switch to the new slimmed-down services that are on offer as of today.

Under new rules adopted last year by the country’s broadcast regulator, cable and satellite TV companies must include a basic service package for $25 or less as part of their packaging options.

What’s contained in the so-called “skinny basic” packages depends on the company.

Rogers, for instance, offers 30 to 40 channels, depending on service location, and includes U.S. network channels. Western Canada-based Shaw Cable’s “Limited TV” features 40 channels, and also includes programming from ABC, NBC, Fox and PBS.

Neither Quebec-based Videotron’s basic cable nor the 26-channel “Starter” pack advertised by Bell offer the American channels.

Smaller player SaskTel offers what it calls “LiteMax,” including more than 16 channels, but none of the U.S. networks.

All of the service providers offer top-up programming, either as individual channels or in theme packs priced from $1 per single channel and $3 for package options.

Currently they are required to offer channels either individually or in small packages of up to 10 channels.

By December, all channels must be available both individually and in bundles, although consumers will still be required to have at least basic service if they want the “a la carte” options.

SaskTel customer Allan Wilson was reviewing his options Tuesday as the new smaller basic packages were coming on stream. He’s been procrastinating for a while, but thinks it may be time to cut his current service — at a cost of $130 per month — down a size.

“For me, it’s just I’m not home enough to justify the expense (of the bigger TV pack),” said the trucker from Humboldt, Sask.

“But because I’m not home much it takes me a little time to get around to these things.”

While some Rogers customers may choose to downgrade, company spokesman Aaron Lazarus predicted that many will decide to stick with what they have now, or even add new channels or buy service for the first time.

“A lot of people are going to look at the entertainment options that they have and keep what they have,” said Lazarus, the company’s senior director of public affairs.

“There are going to be some people who don’t have cable in their home right now who are looking at this and thinking, ‘Well, this is a great way for me to get in,”‘ he said.

“It’s really too early to say how this is all going to shake out.”

Ian Morrison with Friends of Canadian Broadcasting predicted that, as full “pick-and-pay” requirements take effect in December, consumers may have less programming to choose from as individual channels struggle to stay afloat.

But whether some channels go off the air is of little concern to Mike Cleaver.

The Vancouver broadcast services consultant and Shaw subscriber said he would rather have an even smaller basic service, paying extra for the channels he watches.

“I just wish you could simply select each channel you wanted without all the dreck still included in the basic ‘skinny’ lineup,” he said.

“Say a $10 basic fee and a dollar for each channel you want on top of that.”

When he launched the new pick-and-pay model last year, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais acknowledged that many consumers would likely not see any cost savings from the new measure.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era of choice for Canadian television viewers,” Blais said Tuesday. “The television system is evolving as Canadians’ viewing habits change and technology provides more options.”

The smallest service providers, those with fewer than 20,000 subscribers, are excluded from the new rules.

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