Subscribers continue to choose streaming services over cable
by Peter Vogel
On March 1 we saw the first round of the CRTC's attempt to rile the big telecoms by forcing them to offer so-called "skinny TV" packages.
On Dec. 1 we'll see the second round take shape as the CRTC mandates the offering of a-la-carte channel pricing.
Here at The B.C. Catholic we've been writing for years on the unhappiness of cable TV subscribers over the ever-increasing price of TV service plans. Many readers have offered solutions, ranging from complete cord-cutting to antenna installation and streaming-only solutions.
For now, cable TV subscriptions remain lucrative for the major players here in B.C.: Shaw Communications, which delivers its feed over coaxial cable, and Telus, which delivers its Optik TV service over modified phone lines or optical glass fibre.
However, cord-cutting, the complete abandonment of a traditional TV subscription, is picking up steam, moving from a few tens of thousands of people per year a couple of years ago to, by some accounts, around 200,000 last year.
Cord-cutters, of course, aren't abandoning their Internet feeds. The telcos hope they can convert some of the money the cord-cutters are saving into more lucrative, higher bandwidth, Internet service plans.
Shaw has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into that thinking with the province-wide rollout of its 150 megabit service at an initial price of either $50 or $80 a month (the lower price being for churn customers who switch from another provider). This is considerably less than other lower-speed plans, and even less than second-tier players have been offering.
It is difficult to get solid data on the adoption rate of the skinny TV packages, priced at $25 per month. However, it must have rattled the big players, as they all held off making announcements on the makeup of their plans until the absolute last minute.
Even then, the regulator, the CRTC, called all the telcos on the carpet in September to explain why consumers have been complaining about price gouging on channel add-ons to the basic plan.
Now, just a few days ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for a-la-carte, or pick-and-pay, channel pricing, we see that neither Shaw or Telus has provided any details of just how this offering will work. Shaw, in response to a request from The BCC, simply said stay tuned. Telus did not reply to a request for comment.
Here's my situation. After years of being a full-service subscriber to Shaw's TV service plan, I pulled the full-service plug and switched to basic TV. Surprisingly, the company did nothing to persuade me to stay with the full plan.
Shaw's $25 plan includes all the locally available over-the-air channels (such as CBC, CTV, Global), a number of specialty channels (such as the Knowledge Network), and the five American networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS). In addition I wanted CNN. That one add-on can presently only be obtained in a package of three channels for an additional $6.
After Dec. 1 I will contact my provider to reprice that CNN addition. And it is here that the CRTC has left subscribers in a bit of a lurch. The regulator has not spelled out how pick-and-pay is supposed to be priced. The only definitive price on the books is that $25-a-month figure for basic TV.
Presumably there will be an outcry if the telcos attempt anything more than, say, $3 a month per add-on channel. In the meantime, the CRTC is urging subscribers to shop around. However here in B.C. there really isn't anything other than the two big companies. Bell is not a significant player here, and Rogers does not operate as a cable provider in this province.
Let's face it, traditional TV viewing: a particular program is watched on a specific channel at a specific time on a network-determined day, is rapidly disappearing. Whether or not it survives a Netflix-dominated environment remains to be seen.
Perhaps we'll look back a decade from now and see skinny TV and a-la-carte channel pricing as curiosities that fell by the wayside as streaming-on-demand replaced broadcasting.
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