'Skinny' cable TV a day away: What's coming for consumers

Cable TV customers will have access to slimmed-down cable packages costing around $25 per month, starting Tuesday.

CRTC ordered providers to offer low-cost basic cable option

New rules will cap the most basic of cable packages at $25 per month and require cable companies to offer extra channels individually or in small packages. But consumers will have to wait until Tuesday to find out for certain if the changes will be worth it. (CBC)

It won't be long now. As of tomorrow, cable TV customers will have access to slimmed-down cable packages costing around $25 per month. 

The federal broadcast regulator ordered the changes a year ago, calling for "smaller, more affordable basic service that prioritizes Canadian TV services."

Most of the major players have already revealed at least a few details of what will be available.

In mandating "skinny basic" packages, with a focus on local and regional Canadian TV stations, the CRTC said providers should offer a basic package of channels for about $15 less than most of their cheapest plans currently offered. Come December, the companies must offer both theme packages and individual pick-and-pay channels.

Here's a breakdown of what has been reported so far on some of the new packages:

Starter TV on Rogers

Rogers, primarily serving southern and eastern Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, says it will have "dozens" of options, including one called Starter for $24.99 (plus digital box or purchase). Additional theme packages of specialty channels will range in price from $3 to $18. A pick-and-pay option will be unveiled later in the year. But tomorrow, Rogers will offer theme packages.

It's up to individual providers if they wish to offer the local U.S. network affiliates in their new entry-level TV packages, but if they do, they can't increase what they charge for them.

Bell stripping away U.S. channels

Although the basic plan from Rogers will include local U.S. stations ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS, the Starter package of its competitor, Bell TV, will not.

Come March 1, Canadian consumers will have more choice over what channels they want to watch — and pay for. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

The inclusion of these channels is not CRTC-mandated. Bell TV is expected to stick to offering stations such as CBC, CTV and Global, as well as CPAC and minority French- or English-language channels, as required.

A Bell training document states that costs for the Fibe TV Starter pack can go much higher than the initial $24.95 monthly fee. The plan comes with about 20 mandatory Canadian channels. Customers can then add individual pick-and-pay channels priced at either $4 or $7.

Vidéotron, Telus, Eastlink news pending

Vidéotron in Quebec has a $25 basic package, but currently it must be supplemented with a $12 bundle of five channels. An employee told CBC News this will change by the Tuesday deadline to conform to CRTC regulations.

For cable customers in Alberta and B.C, there's Telus, which has only said that it is waiting for the deadline day before it divulges the specifics of its skinny plan.

Providers in Nova Scotia include Bell Aliant, Bell Satellite TV, Shaw satellite and Eastlink. Few pricing details were available on Monday. Bell Aliant says its Starter package is only available with Bell Aliant's FibreOp TV and does not include any high-definition channels.  Eastlink has not posted any information about the new choices on its website.

Shaw's 40-channel plan

Calgary-based Shaw, with many customers in the West, posted a 40-channel $25 basic package last week.  Shaw is calling its skinny package Limited TV.

According to Shaw's website, its "plan focuses on the basics, providing access to limited programming options." There's a limited selection of extra individual channels starting at $3 per month currently available. 

MTS in Manitoba

Cable TV customers in Manitoba can choose slimmed-down basic packages from MTS, as well as Shaw and Bell. MTS said its Starter package will cost $25. Customers would also need to purchase a converter box for $3, for a monthly total of $28.

Viewing habits have changed

When the CRTC announced the changes, it said they were needed in an age of new technology led by internet-based viewing.

It makes sense from a business viewpoint that several of the providers are keeping details of their new packages under wraps until deadline day and have not been eager at all to promote them.

Industry observers and insiders within Rogers and Bell have said that sales teams at the companies will be downplaying the slimmed-downed packages, effectively discouraging customers from switching plans, in order to protect the bottom line.

However, Rogers has denied this is the case, saying it simply advised staff to inform customers that the package is not for everyone and that "they shouldn't be sold as a one-size-fits-all approach."


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