Cable TV has been like an all-you-can-eat buffet except you pay for items that you would never eat. Cable TV viewers want access to an all-you-can-eat buffet but only want to pay for the items they choose.
Canadians will see that dream come true on March 1 as they will get access to the $25 "skinny basic" bundle — local and public affairs stations. Part II involves "pick-and-pay" where cable subscribers add only the channels they want to that skinny basic package. The absolute deadline for Part II is December 1.
The skinny packages vary, but generally include local affiliates from CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global, and City TV along with U.S. over-the-air networks. U.S. cable companies do offer something similar though only U.S. channels.
The key difference is building a unique cable/satellite package based on the tastes of the individual subscribers.
Let's use this example from V Media. Its skinny package is $17.95/month. For $30 more per month, viewers can choose 20 extra channels, and add extra channels for $1.50/channel. For $47.95/month, you can get the basics plus 20 extra channels.
Even if you buy 30 channels, you are still only spending $62.95 — way less than I spend in the U.S.
If I could pick and pay based on this model, here is how I would spend for 20 channels.
CBC News Network and CTV News Channel would be staples. Even though I would mostly watch CBC News Network, I would feel comfortable having both. CTV News Channel would be $1.50 extra if I ran out of channels.
If you get all the TSN and Rogers channels, that will be 11 toward your count. All 5 TSN channels will come in handy to get all of the CFL games. If you live in the Jets, Maple Leafs, or Senators territory, you need your local TSN station to get your local NHL team.
Rogers Sportsnet requires 6 channels if you get all the regional channels plus Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360. Even if you aren't thinking NHL, the Blue Jays will make a difference. You lose a bit if you sacrifice one of them; is that worth $18 a year per channel?
I would stop at those 11 but keep notes on how often I watch Sportsnet 360 or TSN1.
Food Network Canada and the Comedy Network would be virtual guarantees. The U.S. splits food programming with the Cooking Channel and the Food Network. Comedy Central in the States is more of a 1-stop comedy mecca; programs are spread out to other channels in Canada. In the U.S., you could watch Comedy Central shows on a smartphone or tablet. Without those options in Canada, I would have to see where those shows are up north.
Space carries "Orphan Black" so that would be required viewing, though I might switch out in between seasons.
These would depend on how often they show Canadian film, but I would stock up on movie channels at the start. Given the price and access of seeing films in theatres, a movie channel at $18/year could be a bargain. This clearly wouldn't apply to premium channels such as HBO Canada.
I welcome the idea of lower cable bills, like any rational person. Too much money for too few channels worth watching.
The question is how much lower cable bills for Canadians will impact Canadian content. Here are 2 conflicting theories:
Canadian cable becomes more American
Consumers reduce their cable bills by reducing Canadian channels and sticking with U.S. channels. This wouldn't affect the CBC as much since a skinny basic package would include CBC in English and French. But some Canadian TV shows, especially those not based on U.S. versions, might not get as many potential eyeballs. "Schitt's Creek" and "Orphan Black" have no worries but "Strange Empire" and "Young Drunk Punk" might struggle more (if they weren't on CBC).
The impact could also affect Canadian films on cable channels. If cable consumers drop channels that carry too many Canadian films, then fewer eyeballs would potentially see homegrown films.
Canadians can free up money to choose Canadian content
You don't have to pay for channels you don't want so you get upgrade to get cable channels that are more likely to carry Canadian content. If you knock $35 off your cable bill, you might pay $10-$15 to upgrade to a channel you do want but felt like you couldn't afford, especially if you had to upgrade to a whole package to get a single desire cable channel.
A year ago, the CRTC reduced the already light requirements of TV outlets to carry Canadian content. So fewer Canadian outlets produce fewer Canadian shows that will be watched by fewer Canadians.
The CRTC approach to Canadian content is pretty loose: counting local newscasts as Canadian content doesn't help give life to TV shows and films that deserve a larger audience.
We wrote recently about the consolidation of Canadian newspapers. The television media companies are also suffering. Rogers just cut 200 employees. Bell Media's 30 local stations are losing a lot of money; the company has warned some channels could be closed down. Hamilton's CHCH-TV, a significant independent in Canada, cut more than half the network's staff and pushed a subsidiary to file for bankruptcy. And we all know of the CBC television financial woes.
Cord cutting has been happening in Canada even before the CRTC rules have kicked into the marketplace. Canadians and Americans have every right to pay for what they want and not pay to avoid what they don't want. However, Canadian content has always been on fragile ground. Moves in the marketplace and regulation are making that landscape even less secure.