TV packages are supposed to undergo major changes this year, but the sound of crickets is currently drowning out what providers will offer consumers when the changes take effect March 1.
After a long process in which the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission) collected feedback from the public over spurring reforms in the TV industry, it set a March 1 deadline for all Canadian TV providers to offer what is called a “skinny basic” package of channels, priced at $25 or less. Bundles would have to be smaller or channels would be offered individually a la carte. December is the deadline for providers to offer all of the options, beyond the skinny basic.
Yet, as the March 1 deadline looms, there is precious little from the providers as to what they will be offering from that date. The Big 3 — Rogers, Bell and Telus — have been mum, and their respective websites say nothing about their skinny basic plans will look like, or what they will cost.
The only ones who have are Toronto-based VMedia, which announced its own skinny basic package with 28 channels for less than $18. Shaw has also begun rolling out its own Limited TV package with 40 channels for $25. The rules don’t restrict channels by language, so French channels are among the list. In addition, it must include local and regional stations, along with public Canadian channels like APTN. And finally, standard-definition and HD feeds from the same network count as two channels.
Providers will also add selected U.S. major networks — NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and PBS — but are restricted from raising the price any higher in doing so. Over and above skinny basic, channels will need to be offered in pick-and-play format, replacing the large bundles that have characterized TV subscriptions for years.
Part of the reason why much of this may seem unknown is because, under the new regulations, providers were not required to market or promote any of their new packages until March 1 at the latest. Responding to public frustration, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has stated that providers will need to begin doing so before the deadline hits. It’s not clear, however, how much leverage he has to force the issue.
Much like providers are waiting till the last minute to promote this leaner service offering, it’s highly likely they will repeat the same pattern in December. As there is no obligation to offer smaller bundles and a la carte channels until then, don’t bet on seeing much about those until that time. If there is a silver lining, it may be that providers make more of a point in advertising what’s new earlier to attract subscribers in the busy holiday shopping season.
And, as is to be expected, there is a catch or two to consider. The box required for the subscription will cost $138 outright or $5/month to rent. There’s also no PVR, unless you pay $10 extra to get that feature built-in.
It’s also not clear what bundles or individual channels will cost. One clue can be derived from Shaw’s Personal TV plan, which adds extra channels to the skinny basic, including TSN1, Sportsnet, NFL Network, History Channel, Food Network, Much, YTV, CBC Newsworld, CTV NewsChannel for about $42/month. Adding the other specialty sports, U.S. news, HBO and ethnic channels will cost more, but pricing or bundling for them won’t be revealed until later this year.
Those with a digital antenna capable of pulling in several channels over-the-air for free are unlikely to be swayed to reconnect the cord. A majority of the channels skinny basic offers are reachable through an antenna, though location and orientation are factors. Others living in larger cities or municipalities closer to the U.S. border are likely to pull in more than those living in rural areas further inland.
With less than two weeks to go until the March 1 deadline, you can inquire with your provider as to what they will offer, in spite of a lack of promotion.