Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Cable and Satellite TV Services Must Offer More Consumer Choice, Says Moore

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Cable and Satellite TV Services Must Offer More Consumer Choice, Says Moore

Article excerpt

Tories to mandate pick-and-pay TV services

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OTTAWA - The federal government will unveil plans this week to force cable and satellite TV providers to offer consumers so-called pick-and-pay services, says a prominent cabinet minister.

The move will be part of a consumer-first agenda to be included by the Conservatives in this week's speech from the throne.

Consumers are frustrated over being forced to buy large bundles of channels they don't want when they sign up for satellite and cable TV services, says Industry Minister James Moore.

Companies such as Videotron in Quebec are already moving in the pick-and-pay direction, largely because consumers are shying away from traditional TV and are instead watching programming over the Internet.

As viewer habits evolve, there's no reason why all television service providers can't offer consumers the ability to pick and choose the channels they want, says Moore.

"We don't think people should be forced to buy bundled television channels when they're not interested in watching those channels and those shows," Moore said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"We should have a pick-and-pay model when it comes to television channels."

The two largest cable and satellite TV service providers -- Bell (TSX:BCE) and Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) -- offer subscribers basic packages that include the main television networks and selected other channels. But upgraded packages, at a higher cost, have channels bundled together by category or viewing interest.

Quebec's Videotron (TSX:QBR.B) has recently offered subscribers the ability to choose five individual channels at a time from a list of choices, on top of their basic service. Bell has also offered a similar pricing structure, but only in Quebec.

Canada's broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, urged cable and satellite companies in 2011 to adopt a pick-and-pay pricing model when it unveiled new regulations aimed at preventing television broadcasters from restricting consumer choice.

In response, Rogers experimented with a type of a la carte pricing in the winter of 2011-2012, offering consumers in London, Ont. a so-called "skinny basic" package for about $20, then charging an extra $26 or more to customers who wanted to pick 15, 20 or 30 extra channels.

But others, including Shaw Communications Inc., resisted such a pricing model and it was never made mandatory. Moore said it's about time for that to happen.

"It's not a command economy, we're not going to put in place onerous regulations. We're a government of deregulation," Moore insisted.

"But from time to time, we think that the best interest of consumers need to be enforced in the marketplace."

The Rogers test run in London proved very popular among subscribers, the company's vice president of regulatory, Kenneth Engelhart, said Sunday. …

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