Canadian Phone Giant Bell Supports 'Pick and Pay' Cable Unbundling

Canada is moving to allow consumers to choose only channels they want, rather than see U.S. channels like CNN and AMC bundled on high-penetration tiers.

TORONTO - A post-bundle world for Canadian cable TV drew closer Friday when phone giant Bell threw its support behind a pick and pay regime.

Bell, whose media division previously warned of an end to U.S. imports like FX and AMC if Ottawa forced cable and satellite TV carriers to unbundle, now backs pick and pay options for all TV channels not included in basic cable packages.

"Bell agrees with Canadian consumers that they shouldn't have to pay for channels they don't want just to get the channels they do," Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Residential Services, said in a statement.

The feds are encouraging the CRTC, the country's TV regulator, to usher in cable unbundling to encourage consumer choice and savings.

And domestic carriers have slowly come round to the prospect of package unbundling to help ease a trend towards cord shaving and cord cutting here.

Canadian cable giant Rogers Communications on Friday urged the CRTC to introduce more "flexible packaging and channel selection options" for consumers, while stopping short of supporting pick and pay options.

A first-time pick and pay regime for Canada will inevitably reopen commercial agreements and change the overall business model for Canadian TV, an eventuality that needs to be addressed with industry bargaining, Bell's Oosterman warned.

"Free-market negotiations are essential if pick and pay is to deliver on the promise of consumer choice, giving broadcasters and distributors the ability to develop the innovative and competitive business models required to make it work," he said.

Canada edging towards cable unbundling, where CNN and AMC may no longer bundled with MSNBC and BET on high-penetration tiers, is being watched closely in New York and Los Angeles in case any precedents from up north spill into the U.S. market.

Bell also Friday urged the CRTC to consider converting loss-making free, over-the-air TV stations into local specialty services carried as part of basic packages.

That move would allow local channels to charge wholesale rates to broadcast distributors, and continue to draw advertising revenue, to ensure a more sustainable future.

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