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Peter Vogel

Skinny TV holding on after two years

Voices March 8, 2018

Cable companies are struggling to deal with cord-cutters and cord-nevers – millennials who never sign up for a cable TV page. (Pexels photo)

Two years ago Canadians gained access to so-called skinny TV packages after the CRTC, Canada’s broadcast regulator, mandated that the cable TV companies make available a barebones $25 a month TV package to their customers.

Let’s just say that I was one of the first in line. I had grown tired of my ever-increasing cable TV bill. Sure, it was a full-service bill, with every TV channel, save for specialty services, offered by my provider, Shaw Communications.

The savings were immediate and considerable. Of course the reduction in channels was considerable too. I did ante up for the addition of CNN and BBC to the mix offered by Shaw’s skinny package, which unlike its competitor Telus includes the so-called 4+1 American lineup of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC plus PBS.

No sports channels mind you. I have no interest in live sports coverage. The CRTC-mandated channels are the local broadcast channels, several Canadian specialty channels, and then the cable companies have the option of providing at no additional cost the American 4+1 channels. I do want news, which is why I added CNN and BBC News.

In the two years we’ve had the low-cost service we haven’t really missed the loss of all the other specialty channels; well maybe Rick Harrison and his Pawn Stars compatriots, or the occasional WWE event. :)

Subsequent to the adoption of the $25 TV package I thought we might eventually phase out cable TV altogether. About a year in I acquired a Roku Ultra box. Any thoughts that it might replace cable TV were quickly squashed. There was no local Vancouver content to be had, nor could I pull in a reliable CNN feed.

After some considerable effort I manage to locate a number of private Roku channels that became a staple of our TV viewing for a few months. However, shortly before Roku filed an IPO to become a publicly traded company, it swept through its channel lineup and a number of popular services were simply shut down.

Basically I shaved $100 off my cable bill when I dropped down to the skinny TV package. I put half of that savings into improved Internet service. If I could get reliable CNN and a few local stations over the Roku I'd cut the cable subscription completely.

Here in Canada we have far fewer options for TV content than do our neighbours to the south. Popular services such as Hulu are geo-blocked or not offered in Canada.

Cord cutters here have a little access to OTA TV (TV service via antenna) but not as much as in the U.S. For those cutting the cord completely the problem is getting local access TV, live sports for those who want it, and, believe it or not, CNN. The latter is virtually unobtainable without a subscription.

As noted earlier, CNN will occasionally surface on the Roku or Android TV platforms but that network’s owner is pretty adept at getting those shut down with a few days. Android TV has become all but illegal here. The big telcos managed to get a court order forbidding advertising of pre-programmed Android TV boxes.

Cord cutting – doing away with a home TV subscription altogether – has become a big concern for the cable TV providers. Shaw Communications recently served notice that it foresees a transformation of that company into an Internet services provider rather than a TV services provider.

TV viewing, perhaps aside from live sports and news, is not the linear medium it once was. The days when most of the TV sets in North America were tuned to a single program are long gone.

And yet there are some indications that people are frustrated with specialty boxes such as the Roku and Android TV units. Let’s face it, cable TV is highly reliable and completely predictable. If you want to watch the news at 6 p.m., you know it will be there, on your favourite channel. It’s extremely unlikely that there will be a technical issue.

It’s possible that the absolute number of cord-cutters will begin to decline. Unfortunately for the cable companies, millennials are mostly cord-nevers, that is people who never sign up for a cable TV package in the first place.

Might TV viewing suffer a similar fate as newspapers, losing advertising and viewers to other media and platforms?

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