Do you pay for cable or satellite TV? If so, I have some good news and bad news. The bad news is that you’re a sucker. The good news is that your TV bill is about to come down a bit. The CRTC recently decided that Canadian cable and satellite companies must provide a basic $25/month service, and that Canadians must be allowed to pick and pay for additional channels beyond that basic package. Bring on the fire sale in an empty marketplace.
The CRTC reports that the basic cable package will feature local and mandatory stations, including APTN, TVO, CPAC, a host of educational channels, and the option to include several American networks. In other words, your basic TV service is not only becoming cheaper, it’s also becoming more boring.
Currently, Canadian cable companies, Rogers and Bell, charge about $40/month for over 150 channels. There’s nothing worth watching on 149 of those channels 23 hours/day, but it still looks like a better deal on paper. So why did the CRTC make the change?
According to CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais, “[the CRTC] had to make this change [to force] the industry to finally face that the world is changing.” To what aspect of our changing world was Blais referring? Was he talking about the fact that people no longer pay for TV because they can get it free online? Did he overlook that a price control can’t fix that problem unless it forces TV companies to provide free service?
Perhaps the CRTC should have considered that Canadians still pay for TV, even if we don’t watch it. We shell out millions of dollars to government advertising for economic stimulus and job creation programs that don’t exist. We pay higher prices for prime time ad spots during hockey games and award shows. I have never met a Canadian (or foreigner) who would choose to pay for this stuff or even want to watch it. It follows that the most agreeable change the CRTC could make might be to mandate a pick-and-pay channel that doesn’t show any of those ads.
Years ago, when Netflix shifted from an order online service to a watch online service, many people predicted a failed venture. How wrong we were. It turns out people don’t want to wade through hours of crap to find the one show they want to watch. They’d rather just pick it from a list. The CRTC changes sound nice because, in theory, they open access to television to people with smaller incomes. In practice, 87% of Canadian households are connected to the internet. Nearly 9-in-10 Canadians already have what the CRTC is forcing cable companies to offer. Does that mean TV is dead? No, but it means making it marginally cheaper might not make it any more appealing.