Canada's Great Cable Unbundling Launches With "Skinny" TV Packages

Plugging in Cable - H 2015

Plugging in Cable - H 2015

Bell Canada unveils a $25 per month slim package of TV channels with no American networks or cable services to discourage any take-up, says critic.

Canadian media giants have finally unveiled "skinny" entry-level TV channel packages as the country's great cable unbundling gets underway Tuesday.

But leading up to the March 1 deadline, phone giant Bell Canada unwrapped a $25 per month slim TV package with no cross-border U.S. network station signals or American cable services and 10 French-language services among its 26-channel offering. And that had Dwayne Winseck, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication, on Monday insisting Bell leaving out U.S. networks like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox makes the phone giant's "starter" TV package a non-starter with consumers.

"They're not looking to attract people to this [skinny package]. They're looking at giving this a stillbirth," Winseck told The Hollywood Reporter. Canada's cable-unraveling scenario in 2016 will see popular U.S. channels such as FX and AMC become available for purchase on their own, leaving American suppliers of popular U.S. primetime series to fend it alone for the first time since cable bundling was introduced in Canada in the 1970s.

That will have Canadian carriers like Bell reluctantly gearing up to battle for the attention — and dollars — of cable subscribers otherwise attracted to Netflix Canada and other digital alternatives. Rival cable carriers Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications also rolled out their own skinny cable packages at $25 per month that include U.S. channels like the major networks and PBS.

Canadian TV viewers that choose the skinny cable packages can purchase additional pick-and-pay channels anywhere from $3 to as high as $20 for HBO or popular cable sports channels. The era of pick-and-pay TV underpinned by affordable entry-level packages was ordered by the CRTC, the country's TV regulator, to discourage cord-cutting and cord shaving as Canadians increasingly embrace Netflix Canada and other digital options.

But Winseck questioned the affordability of thin cable TV packages which, in the case of Bell, require additional hardware and Internet access charges. "The Bell package is tied to a subscription to its Fibe TV Internet service. So when you throw that on top, we're up to $90, and then it's $15 for the TV set-top box," he said.

"We're at $105 to get your skinny basic from Bell," Winseck added.

Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis said her company's starter cable TV package follows local regulatory rules.

"Our TV packages comply with CRTC rules and our new TV starter offering allows customers to either create their own package by selecting channels and packs individually or just have a basic TV service," she said. From March 1, Canadians can top off the skinny package with pick-and-pay channels, or stay with their current cable package.