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Canadian TV 'cord cutters' reach 8 per cent of population: poll

Mike Halminen’s family cancelled their cable subscription and began using a digital antenna.

DELLA ROLLINS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL/della rollins The Globe and Mail

The number of "tuned out" Canadians, those who don't subscribe to conventional TV, has doubled in recent years and now represents eight per cent of the population, suggests a new report.

Since 2007, a steady four per cent of Canadians surveyed by the Media Technology Monitor, which regularly polls Canadians about tech trends, reported they were tuned out.

So-called "cord cutting" Canadians either didn't have a TV set, only used it to watch VHS tapes, DVDs or Blu-rays, or streamed digital content rather than paying for a TV plan. They tended to be younger and highly educated and major users of the Internet, says MTM.

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In the recent fall survey, about 49 per cent were between 18 and 34, and 51 per cent had a university education. Tuned out Canadians spent 20 hours a week surfing the web compared to the 15.4 hours TV subscribers were online.

MTM noted the numbers of tuned out Canadians started to rise in 2011, after those who were receiving analog over-the-air signals for free TV were forced to transition to a digital signal or lose access to the limited number of channels they were picking up by antenna.

According to MTM, many decided they were fine without TV, as the number of tuned out Canadians nearly doubled to seven per cent of the population.

In 2012, the number of tuned out Canadians rose another percentage point, which MTM attributed to the growing availability of video content available to stream online, via TV network websites and services such as Netflix.

MTM's most-recent numbers on tuned out Canadians are based on polling of 8,011 adults conducted between October and December of last year and are considered accurate within plus or minus 1.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Another report, released Tuesday by the Convergence Consulting Group, suggested about 2.1 per cent of Canadian TV customers, totalling about 250,000, cancelled their subscriptions between 2011 and 2012. The report predicted the figure would rise to 3.2 per cent, or about 380,000 households, by the end of 2013.

Rogers says their company is paying attention to tuned out Canadians and exploring ways to turn them into customers.

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"There's definitely thinking going on about what kind of model would make sense – to university students (for example) who perhaps don't have a cable, satellite or IPTV subscription – how do you create a product that's relevant for them?" said David Purdy, senior vice-president of content for Rogers.

"You've got to be customer-centric and innovate and recognize there's a certain number of people out there that today don't subscribe to (a TV package). But you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot with pricing that's not smart."

Rogers already sells digital access to its Sportsnet World programming, including international soccer, rugby and cricket matches, for between $99 to $275 a year, to view within a web browser. Curling fans can also pay $25 to stream one of the Grand Slam of Curling tournaments or $80 for the whole package.

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