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Eastlink rolls out cable customization plan

Cable provider Eastlink rolled out a unique plan Tuesday that allows customers more flexibility in selecting what TV channels they want to watch.

paul darrow The Globe and Mail

Cable provider Eastlink rolled out a unique plan Tuesday that allows customers more flexibility in selecting what TV channels they want to watch.

The Halifax-based company, which serves markets across Canada, says people will be able to customize their packages by swapping out channels they don't want from about 150 channels in the TV Channel Exchange.

Eastlink CEO Lee Bragg said customers won't be able to switch out the same channels on a nightly basis and must have an existing package of channels over and above the so-called skinny basic, which includes about 30 channels.

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The new system will be for more "fulsome" TV customers who already have 50 or more channels in their Essentials Plus or Maestro bundle, he said.

"Now they can have the flexibility to say, 'Well, I'm buying this big group of channels that I don't want to watch,' so now from the other 150 channels we offer you can swap out the 25 you don't watch for the other 25 you do want to watch and keep your big package," he said in an interview.

"Our goal is to pay attention to what customers want."

Bragg said people can customize their programming by going into their online account, reviewing channels they already have and then switching them immediately for ones they want for no extra charge.

Customers have complained for years that they are tied to costly cable packages that don't suit their viewing tastes or allow room to choose the channels they want.

When asked why it has taken so long for cable companies to offer this kind of flexibility, Eastlink vice-present Dan MacDonald said digital technology made it technically possible a while ago but strict contracts with content providers prevented such a move. He said those contracts are not as restrictive as they used to be.

"Once we got into the digital world, that was the first step but we were still burdened with all the contracts from the content owners and most of the time they wouldn't allow us to sell channels on an individual basis," he said.

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The move comes in advance of a CRTC deadline of Dec. 1 for big TV providers to offer both small channel packages and individual channels, on top of their smaller basic packages.

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