Canadian Cable Companies Make A Mockery Of Government's Push For Cheaper TV
from the forced-innovation dept
So far, the Canadian government’s attempt to force innovation and lower prices on the Canadian TV industry doesn’t appear to be going so well. As previously noted, the government has demanded that all Canadian cable TV operators begin offering a so-called “skinny” bundles of smaller, cheaper channels starting this month, and the option to buy channels “a la carte” starting in December. But this being the cable industry, companies are finding all manner of ways to tap dance over, under and around the requirements.
Bell’s solution is to offer a skinny bundle, but hide it from the company’s customers. And while most Canadian operators last week unveiled discounted base bundles starting at around $25, they’ve saddled the options with all manner of fees to ensure that once a customer actually gets their bill, their prices remain as high as always. DVR rental fees, home gateway rental fees, HD fees, “digital service fees,” fees for additional channel packs (since the core pack is intentionally left sparse), and installation fees all quickly demolish any proposed savings.
And companies like Rogers have generously gotten ahead of the December requirement for individual channel purchases, by offering sports channels a la carte — but at the rock-bottom price of $18 a piece:
Ahead of the Canadian rollout, major cable operator Rogers Communications began offering two sports add-ons ? TSN and Sportsnet ? at $18 each, bringing a sports fan’s bill to a minimum $61 a month, not much below the $66 a month for a similar sports-included package that has 230 more channels.
The same thing is happening over at Shaw, where customers will be paying a pretty penny to nab the channels they actually want:
Prices for Shaw?s pick-and-pay channels, which include A&E, CNBC and Fox News among others, range between $3 and $5 per month. More popular channels, like AMC, Bravo and CNN, are only available if you purchase them in $6-$8 channel bundles. Premium movie channels, meanwhile, are priced at $18 per month.
So a move that the CRTC insisted would usher in an “era of choice for Canadian television viewers,” appears to be doing nothing of the sort, with most of the bundles designed specifically to make them as unappealing as possible. One Bell employee tells the CBC the company’s intentionally making the new bundles “unbuyable,” while “just sort of giving the CRTC the finger.” And while Canadian Law Professor remains optimistic that the CRTC’s gambit will work, it remains unclear precisely when or how this is supposed to happen.
Granted it’s early, but whether or not the CRTC’s push for flexible options actually works will depend largely on whether the regulator is willing to call the industry’s bluff on below-the-line fee shenanigans, something North American regulators as a whole aren’t known for. And as with the attempt to disrupt the lowly cable box here in the States, one’s left wondering if it doesn’t make more sense for regulators to give up on trying to “fix” a TV model that’s slowly-but surely dying, and focus any serious regulatory efforts on making sure there’s broadband competition so that these same companies can’t use usage caps to hinder Internet video competition.