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Peter Vogel

TV business facing uncertain future in 2019

Voices Jan. 11, 2019

Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have created uncertainty for broadcast television. (Pexels photo)

When it comes to the TV, Internet, and media businesses, 2019 is starting pretty much where 2018 did, and as a number of years did before that.

“How’s that?” I hear you saying.

Uncertain, I say.

There’s uncertainty over the future of TV programming and the traditional mix of local content: mostly news, network programming, and sports. There’s uncertainty over how consumption of this programming will change, and there is uncertainty over delivery of all this programming.

Consumption is no longer predominantly linear, at fixed time slots, and on devices we commonly recognize as television sets. The primary television networks in the U.S. and Canada are no longer the primary purveyors of content.

How many of you still watch local television? At one time it was a household ritual to watch one of the provincial news broadcasts at 6 p.m., be it from CBC, CTV, or local powerhouse BCTV, now known as GlobalBC. Today, not so much. As Internet-based content has risen in prominence, broadcast television has increasingly had to take a back seat.

For most of the past 40 years or so, cable television here in the Lower Mainland, and indeed in much of B.C., was the product of a single company, Shaw Communications, which took over this province in a territory swap with Rogers.

At the time of the regions swap, Rogers had begun the process of evolving into a telecommunications giant, looking beyond television delivery to Internet home services and mobile communications. Today, only the mobile phone business remains for Rogers here in B.C.

Our television sets today are likely being used more for streaming services than they are for linear broadcast television. These streaming services are spending big to attract and keep audiences. Netflix, for instance, has pledged to spend heavily on production within Canada, presumably extracting an indication from government that it will not add a tax on streaming services.

Amazon’s Prime Video service is rapidly gaining customers in Canada, particularly here in B.C. where its popular Man in the High Castle series is filmed.

Bell/CTV’s CraveTV service has recently rebranded as Crave, coming in two flavours, one incorporating the popular HBO service, and no longer requiring a cable TV subscription.

Bell’s move is effectively confirmation that the big three are hurt by cord-cutting (when cable TV subscribers drop their subscription in favour of one or more streaming services) and never-cording (those who never obtain a cable TV subscription, something particularly commonplace among millennials).

There are viewers who fall somewhere in between and maintain a minimal TV subscription, particularly the CRTC-mandated $25 plan often labelled as “skinny” TV. A few others rely on inexpensive antennas, mostly mounted indoors, to pull in a handful of channels with an over-the-air presence in the Vancouver area.

Cord-cutting and “skinny” TV plans are clearly affecting the fiscal bottom line for Shaw Communications and Telus Corp in the B.C. market, as they are elsewhere in Canada for Bell, Rogers, and other service providers.

For most people here in B.C., the cable TV providers are also those delivering Internet services. As revenue from TV subscriptions has declined, those same providers have slowly been raising their Internet plan rates. Watch for more such increases in 2019. That much is a certainty.

Still subscribing to a Telus landline?

I am, and I’m not planning to give it up. The phone company will pretty much do anything it can to keep you as a landline customer. The infrastructure for landlines was amortized and paid for long ago. If, like me, you’ve had your landline for decades, phone Telus and tell the company you want the loyalty rate. It’s $10 a month plus some taxes. That’s it. Unlike earlier discounts, this one also isn’t time-limited. My rate had climbed to $30+ until my mother told me to stop paying such a ridiculous amount!

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