Canada Moves Closer to Pick-And-Pay Cable TV Pricing

Showtime's "Homeland"

The CRTC has set out how Canadians may be allowed to only pay for channels they want to view for maximum choice and flexibility.

TORONTO -- Canada on Thursday took another step towards compelling cable and satellite TV providers to allow subscribers to pick-and-pay for TV channels they want to view.

The CRTC, the country's TV watchdog, unveiled a report on cable unbundling that recommends how cable and satellite TV providers could be forced to increase choice and flexibility for consumers.

The regulator proposes allowing "subscribers to select all discretionary programming services on a stand-alone basis (pick-and-pay)."

At the same time, the CRTC recommends also giving consumers the option to "build their own custom packages of discretionary programming services," or to stand pat and continue purchasing programming packages assembled by the providers.

"Those who are not satisfied with the status quo would be offered alternatives, including the choice of smaller packages or customization on a pick-and-pay basis," the regulator said in its report.

Now it will be the turn of U.S. suppliers of popular primetime series like The Walking Dead and Homeland to react to the prospect that their programming may no longer be bundled on high-penetration tiers, or whether Canada embracing pick-and-pay cable pricing sets a controversial precedent for the U.S. market.

The CRTC is responding to a request from the federal government to set out how Canadians may stop purchasing expensive packages of Canadian, U.S. and other foreign channels, and be allowed to just buy the TV channels they want to view.

Domestic carriers have already moved to introduce a partial a la carte system for cable and satellite TV subscribers, mostly in Quebec, as Netflix Canada and other U.S. digital platforms increasingly draw Canadians online to view TV content.

But as the CRTC moves closer to mandating pick-and-pay cable pricing, it will need to ease industry fears that Canadian TV channels will disappear and pricing for surviving channels will rise if they cannot be protected and promoted when packaged with more popular domestic and foreign channels.