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Cable firms slow to share details about 'skinny' basic package and pick-and-pay TV

Rogers reveals some details after leak to CBC News

Andrew Hiscock rogers cable

Andrew Hiscock in Mount Pearl, N.L., is still waiting for Rogers to unveil its 'skinny' basic TV package and pick-and-pay options the company must offer by March 1. (CBC)

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Just days before the March 1 deadline, details about TV providers' new $25 "skinny" basic package and added pick-and-pay channels have been slow to trickle out.

At the time of publication of this story, major TV providers Rogers, Bell and Telus were still keeping customers in the dark about their plans to comply with new regulations mandated to give viewers more choice.

But an employee at Rogers leaked information to CBC News about its upcoming offerings, pushing Rogers to reveal major details. 

The new deal won't be made available on its website until March 1. But CBC News has learned that Rogers will offer a "Starter" TV package for $24.99. It will include mandatory Canadian channels plus some major U.S. stations like PBS and ABC.

Customers can then top up the basic package with new "Starter Theme Packs" ranging from $3 to $18.

"These new options are great for customers on a budget," said spokeswoman Jennifer Kett in an email to CBC News.

The employee who leaked the information also said that Rogers has told staff to push the current bigger channel packages and downplay the "skinny" pick-and-pay plan.

Industry analysts have speculated that providers are not eager to promote the mandated cheaper basic package because it could inspire customers to pare down their TV plans.

"Throughout the training there was a strong theme: Show the value of the current products versus the new options. Basically, they don't want people to move to these packages," said the employee in an email. The worker has asked to remain anonymous because he fears retribution from Rogers.

But the cable company claims it's not about discouraging people from downsizing plans — but making sure they understand all their choices.

"We were clear with our agents that the new options weren't going to make sense for everybody and they shouldn't be sold as a one-size-fits-all approach," said Kett.

Waiting until the last minute

By March 1, the CRTC has mandated all Canadian TV providers must offer a so-called "skinny" basic package of channels priced at just $25 or less.

They must also let customers top it up with pick-and-pay channels either offered individually or in small theme packs. Come December, TV companies must offer both options.

Shaw, which dominates in the West, and Vidéotron in Quebec are already publicly offering a pared-down $25 basic pack.

Customers can then top up the deal with added pick-and-pay channels.

But like Rogers, other major TV providers have been reluctant to reveal their plans until the final deadline. 

Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis told CBC News in an email the company hasn't yet posted its new offerings "for competitive reasons."

Telus stated it will launch its new deals on March 1.

The wait frustrates Rogers cable customer Andrew Hiscock. His TV bill has just jumped by $4 and now he's shelling out about $94 a month for hundreds of channels, he said, just to get the few he wants, like sports.

Hiscock, who lives in Mount Pearl, N.L., won't be able to evaluate the new Rogers offering until March 1 to see if they work for him.

"It's not very [good] customer service," he said. "I am in the dark as to what I will be able to save in the future once these slimmer packages come into effect."

I'm going with the skinny

But some are lucky enough to already start making plans. Shaw Direct satellite TV customer, Daniel Langlois, said he has crunched the numbers and likes what he sees. He said he's switching to Shaw's $25 new basic package plus added pick-and-pay packs, concluding he'll save considerably on his TV bill.

"I was quite impressed with how they're going about it," said Langlois, who lives in a suburb of Montreal.

His Shaw Direct TV bill jumped by $10 this year to about $110 a month with taxes, he said. He pays for more than 200 channels even though he only watches a small selection.

"In essence, you want one channel, you got to buy eight, and that's not right," said Langlois.

He adds that he plans to top up the new basic package with two theme packs plus a choice of 10 pick-and-pay channels — totalling about $85 a month.

He concludes he'll save about $25 a month but still get his favourite channels like TSN, Discovery, History and the Space channel.

"Once you get past the idea of 'Limited,'" said Langlois, noting the choice of words to promote the basic package, "it's a pretty good deal overall."

Daniel Langlois shaw TV

Daniel Langlois in Roxboro, Que., checks out the new $25 basic 'Limited' package offered by his TV provider, Shaw Direct. (CBC)

Meanwhile, cable customer Hiscock is still waiting for the fine print to see if Rogers will give him a better deal. If the new offerings don't save him money, he'll consider cutting ties with the company and exploring alternatives such as cheaper streaming services.

"All along it's been kind of unsettling that we have all these channels that we are paying for that we don't watch," said Hiscock.

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