Will 'skinny packages' tempt cable customers to stay connected?

Starting today, consumers will have new choices when it comes to television — including whether to stick with their cable provider or cut the cord.

Cheaper TV packages, 'pick-and-pay' channels available today

One of many online streaming devices that can be hooked up to television. (Sandra Abma/CBC News)

Starting today, consumers will have new choices when it comes to television — including whether to stick with their cable provider or cut the cable cord.

Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that cable and satellite TV providers in Canada must offer "skinny packages" — a parcel of core Canadian and American channels for the slimmed down cost of less than $25 per month.

Subscribers will have the option to top up this starter package by adding pick-and-pay for the extra channels they really want to watch. 

That's compared to the $50 and more that Canadian households currently pay on average for a bundle stocked with many channels they don't watch.

Geist says although cable and satellite resisted the CRTC's demand for cheaper packages, it may actually help it attract younger viewers. (CBC)
"Trying to lock in people to those expensive packages, forcing them to pay for channels they never really wanted is anti-consumer," said Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.  

More choice 'a good thing'

Geist said expensive, bloated cable packages have driven customers online to streaming services, such as Netflix, but the new packages may stop that trend.

"I think anytime you have more choice it's a good thing for consumers," said Geist.

"As we get more and more people, so-called cord-cutters leaving behind their cable or satellite packages, and what are called 'cord-nevers' — never subscribing to those kind of services — having a low-end cheaper service may be attractive to some of that market."

Geist thinks the new cheaper choices may even attract new customers or bring people back to subscribing to cable.

Too little too late?

But others, like self-described "super geek" Jeff Dubois, say the trend to cut cable is the way of the future  — and cheaper cable won't stop it.

Dubois teaches a popular monthly course, called Streaming 101 at the Elmvale Acres branch of the Ottawa Public Library, where he shows people how to move to online delivery of programming.
Jeff Dubois, self described 'super geek' conducts course on online Streaming. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Like a kid with new toys, Dubois lays out an assortment of hi-tech contraptions that can turn an ordinary television into an online streaming device, offering a multi-channel universe without a cable fee. 

"Most people want to watch programs when its convenient for them, streaming video allows you to do that. It's available in most cases, commercial free, for a far less cost than traditional cable media services," Dubois said.

Dubois said all the products he features in his class are easily available at electronics stores. 

Not the end of cable

Canadians want the same kind of choices over what they watch that consumers in other countries enjoy ,according to Dwayne Winseck, professor of communications at Carleton University.

Winseck said that demand means it is not the end of cable and satellite services.

Winseck says consumers no longer want cable providers to 'curate' what they watch. (Sandra Abma/CBC)
With 80 per cent of Canadian households subscribing to some sort of cable or satellite service, Winseck said it's is a powerful habit with viewers.

But Winseck said the cable model must change.

"A tug of war is going on between what audiences want and what cable and satellite companies own and want to provide."

Winseck said the CRTC ruling is giving a chance for cable companies to give consumers what they have demanded — more control over what they watch at cheaper prices.