$25 'skinny' TV packages called a 'ripoff' as industry 'stares down' CRTC
No one is stopping cable companies from adding big fees to a cheap TV package
March 1 was supposed to be the dawn of "a new era of choice for TV viewers," in the words of the CRTC.
Customers can now purchase a $25 basic TV package. They can also top it up with individual pick-and-pay or small bundles of their favourite channels — essentially paying only for the ones they want.
The era of being forced to pay big bucks for hundreds of channels customers never watch is supposedly over.
- New $25 basic TV package: A deal many consumers simply won't want
- Bell tells staff to downplay new $25 basic TV package ordered by CRTC
But it's not. So far, the new CRTC regulations appear to be rather toothless — definitely not the game-changing legislation TV customers were hoping for.
"Looked into all of them yesterday," commented a CBC reader, referring to the TV service providers' CRTC-mandated deals. And what was the person's conclusion? "It is still a ripoff."
That's because many cable and satellite companies are making the new offerings at least as pricey as their other packages, once you add up all the fees.
And the federal broadcast regulator hasn't taken any action. The CRTC tells CBC News that at this point it is "monitoring" the situation.
Meanwhile, many Canadians searching for better TV deals are feeling let down, wondering what exactly was the point of the new CRTC rules.
"Thanks for nothing CRTC," commented a CBC reader on one of our stories on the issue.
A grand idea that didn't pan out?
The CRTC mandated that by March 1 service providers had to offer a "skinny" basic TV package for $25 or less that included mandatory Canadian channels. They also had to provide individual or small bundle channel options.
"These changes will ensure Canadians have the ability to choose the television content that meets their unique needs, budgets and realities," the CRTC told CBC News in a statement.
TV service providers didn't exactly embrace the new rules from the start. And why should they? What for-profit company wants to shop around a pared-down, cheap TV package?
Now that the regulations have taken effect, it appears many providers are going out of their way to make the basic plan and added pick-and-pay channels as unattractive as possible.
- 'Skinny' cable TV a day away: What's coming for consumers
- 'Skinny' cable and pick-and-pay TV: What you need to know
"They're making the skinny basic package simply unbuyable," a Bell employee told CBC News. He asked to remain anonymous because he fears retribution from Bell.
"The company is just sort of giving the CRTC the finger," he adds.
Often, the new TV plans come with none of the deals typically offered, such as discounts for customers getting multiple services. So subscribers find themselves stuck paying full price for everything including necessities like PVR rental and installation costs.
In Bell's case, customers getting its $24.95 Fibe Starter pack also have to shell out money for Bell internet service.
Pick-and-pay channels and theme pack prices are extra charges on top of all the fees. For example, Rogers is only offering added small channel packages at this point, which can run as high as $18 each.
Has the CRTC lost control?
Many customers who have crunched the numbers are not happy with the results.
"Checked out the 'skinny' being offered by Rogers. Just as I suspected, getting less and paying more," commented one CBC reader.
"I checked my account with Bell and discovered I'd be paying more for less!" concluded someone else about the company's new offerings.
So who's at fault? TV providers run for-profit businesses and will do what they can to make money.
"That's just a competitive market, the different companies trying to get you to buy as much from them as you can, and I don't blame them," says Mario Mota with the Ottawa-based Boon Dog Professional Services.
It's up to the CRTC to ensure that consumers are getting a fair deal. CBC News laid out how some of the providers are pricing the new options and asked the regulator what it plans to do.
"The CRTC will be watching how service providers implement these changes," responded spokeswoman Patricia Valladao. She added that the commission "will not hesitate to act" if it sees companies disregarding the spirit of the rules.
So far, the CRTC hasn't seen reason to act.
The bumpy road ahead
It's complicated, says Dwayne Winseck, a professor at Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication.
He says the CRTC has already allowed a concentration of ownership where a small number of service providers dominate the marketplace.
Now, he says, the CRTC is attempting the tricky task of trying to control TV providers' "behaviour" in order to provide better deals for consumers.
"So far it's not panning out. The companies are really trying to stare down the CRTC on this one," he says.
But Winseck says that if the CRTC wants to usher in a new era of choice for TV viewers, it's going to have to take charge.
"The CRTC is really going to have to steel its spine and the government is going to have to line up behind it," he says.
Until then, the marketplace will rule. Which means many cable TV providers will continue to push their bigger TV packages and convince consumers the $25 basic plus pick-and-pay deal is not such a good deal after all.
It seems that, at least for now, the new era of TV choice isn't much different from the old one.
- An earlier version of this story quoted Prof. Dwayne Winseck as saying "the CRTC is going to have a steal a spine." He actually said, "The CRTC is going to have to steel its spine."Mar 03, 2016 10:27 AM ET