Starz Exec Calls Canada's Cable TV Unbundling a "Great Service" to Rest of the World

John Penney -SQ 2016
Courtesy of Starz

Chris Albrecht's longtime lieutenant says a cable packaging shake-up north of the border will be a learning experience for U.S. operators.

Canada's great cable unbundling isn't a cross-border threat to American networks  it's a learning experience.

So said John Penney, Starz chief strategy officer, on Thursday as he argued global operators will gain valuable intelligence when Canadian cable and satellite TV providers start allowing subscribers to purchase a skinny basic package and to pick and pay for TV channels from March 1.

"Having an experiment at the grand scale that Canada is doing is a great service for the rest of the world's operators to see what it looks like when you go to these models," Penney, who spearheads partnerships and new business initiatives at Starz, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Penney delivered a keynote address to the Canadian indie producers' Prime Time conference in Ottawa just as U.S. suppliers of popular primetime series like The Walking Dead and Homeland debate whether Canada's emerging pick-and-pay regime will set a dangerous precedent to spill over into the U.S. market.

As mature media markets everywhere struggle to understand the impact of cable unbundling, Penney argued "we will learn through grand experiments like in Canada what is effective for the consumer, for the service provider, for the network owner and for the physical distributor by doing this."

Critics in the Canadian industry insist introducing a pick-and-pay regime for consumers could spell the end of less popular local channels, and so cost industry jobs. But the CRTC, Canada's TV regulator, remains determined to allow Canadians to stop purchasing expensive packages of Canadian, U.S. and other foreign channels, and to just buy the TV channels they want to view, along with a skinny basic package.

Penney added cable unbundling beyond Canada will impact the content and economics of five or six key entertainment industries worldwide. "And if it's not tested and tried before, you often can have unintended consequences that you can correct if you're a smaller country (like Canada) where you may be able to move the gears faster because they system isn't as large and complex to start with," he explained. 

Penney added much can be learned north of the border on how consumers react to pricing for surviving channels possibly rising if purchased a la carte. "You may be far more satisfied knowing that, in a more targeted model, even though the pricing is not much different, you're getting more of what you want and less of what you don't want," he ventured.