Thursday, September 8, 2016

CRTC to big four telecoms: subscribers are turned off by $25 basic TV packages

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) brought major TV service providers to a two-day hearing in Gatineau, Quebec, on their mandated $25 basic TV packages—the so-called “Skinny basic” packages.

The hearings reviewed how TV service providers—and especially the big four: Videotron, Rogers, Shaw and Bell—implemented the CRTC-mandated lower-cost service earlier this year. Apparently, many subscribers are not happy with how these telecoms implemented the new package or with the choices they offered. (To save me going into the details of the complaints, here is an article which seems to cover them.)

Bell also had to answer to a CBC News story about a training document that a Bell employee leaked, which instructed staff members to downplay Bell’s basic TV package by stating:

Do not promote the Starter TV package. There will be no advertising, and this package should only be discussed if the customer initiates the conversation.”

Just the sort of responsible corporate citizenship one should expect from one of Canada’s iconic organizations, and one that benefited enormously from government-mandated semi-monopoly status for much of its corporate history. I am, of course, being ironic.

As a Cogeco cable subscriber who intended to, but didn’t, downgrade my TV package to the new basic offering, I agree with the complaints. I do believe, however, it’s a bit rich that the CRTC seems to be ignoring its part in the problem. Its insistence on micro-managing the distribution of TV service in this country is as much to blame as is the hubris and lack of good corporate citizenship of the big four service providers.

To begin with, Cogeco’s basic package has too many channels that I never watch, some of which are “mandatory distribution” channels mandated by the CRTC. As a Canadian with ability in English only, services in other languages are a waste of my limited financial resources. Channels intended for those who are visually or hearing impaired are also of no benefit to me. Nor, frankly, are the aboriginal channel, the two multicultural channels or the religious channel that features mainly re-runs of old TV series and shows that are religious in nature.

If these channels are really of broad social value—as I believe some are—subsidize them directly out of general government revenues rather than have cable/satellite customers pay the freight. This is a case of good intentions, but poor implementation.

My biggest issue with Cogeco’s basic package, though, was the absence of either of the two main all-day news channels, CBC /CTV News, or the two main all-sports networks: Sportsnet and TSN.

The above were not available when I checked just after the Cogeco’s new package became available. They were not included in the basic $25 package or in the list of standalone channels offered at extra cost. To get these—must-haves for me—channels I had to upgrade to a much pricier package. In total, what is for me a pretty basic package with about 15 “watchable” networks, I pay about $50 a month.

When I checked today, by the way, I noticed that the two afore mentioned all-news channels are now available as $12 a month add-ons to the basic package.

That’s pretty expensive, don’t you think? TSN and Sportsnet together costs only $6 a month, and we can get the entire basic package of 24 channels for only $25. That is to say, $25 a month gets you 24 channels in the basic package, but to add only two more news channels the cost increases by a whopping 48%. Wow!

But that’s life, eh? Who said fairness would ever influence or inform the quest for profit.

The solution, of course, is not more CRTC involvement—they’ve made enough of a mess already. Subscribers have to do what all dissatisfied customers aught to do: take their business elsewhere. And that’s just what I intend to do.

I have learned to face the fact that I’m a TV addict. I watch some TV virtually every day. It’s mainly sports for me, some news/political shows and a select few drama series. I’m especially fond of movies, British TV’s costume dramas, baseball, tennis and open-wheel racing. I never watch shows that are described as “reality” shows.

Yup, I’m a junkie. But I’m sick and tired of paying for a majority of channels I never watch, and paying for other channels that have commercials every ten minutes or so.

Did you know that:

One-hour TV shows in the US market run about 41-48 minutes … Criminal Minds has a runtime of 41-42 minutes, Bones, Blue Bloods, Once Upon a Time and The Blacklist run 42-43 minutes; Breaking Bad had a runtime of 48 minutes and Walking Dead runs about 42 minutes.

The commercial breaks can come about every 8-10 minutes, some even more frequently, but that's about average. It used to be breaks at the quarter and half hour but that isn't the case anymore….” [source]

I’m spending far too much time watching commercials and annoying self-promotion when I’m already paying for the channels—either give me a channel for free and include commercial messages, or charge me for commercial-free TV, but not both.

So I’m planning to cut the cord—the cable that is. But I’ll bide my time awhile more to see if the à la carte offerings that are mandated to begin by the end of 2016 offer enough benefit to stay on cable. What I need is basic TV plus all-news and all-sports channels for about $35 a month—that’s about the most value I get from cable TV.

Currently, I supplement my cable service with the commercial-free, Internet-based TV services, Netflix and CraveTV. I am happy to pay for these to avoid all those ads and promotions of shows I’m never going to watch. Often, channels run promotions for the very show I’m watching. Smart programming, eh?

I’m also tech-savvy enough to take advantage of other Internet TV offerings using a small, inexpensive computer dedicated to my TV, so there’s not much I miss without the dozens (hundreds?) of channels cable offers—except, of course, live sports. And I’m working on that.

Come January 1, 2017, I’ll make my decision. Based on today’s cable TV landscape, I’ll probably cut the cord then.


  1. my cogeco package with unlimited high speed internet costs 165.00 a month. The tv pkg that I have with this is just about useless.

  2. Kodi box, cut the cable and you can watch anything you want.

  3. went to I-net stream 4 years ago and never looked back - CRTC and Can Con greed/mediocrity created a 500 channel cable wasteland - just as making publishing a protected market killed the Canadian MSM.

  4. The CRTC is yet another corrupt anti freedom Trudopian quagmire better suited to North Korea or communist China. Like everything in Trudopiastan the CRTC is needed in order to keep the artificial empire Pierre Trudo created goose stepping along. Without the CRTC people would have choice, freedoms of sorts, and freedom is anti Trudopian. As for the CRTC having any benefit for non french speaking Trudopians, forget it. The fact that some people believe the CRTC is of any benefit or service to Canadians is frankly, absurd.