Rogers Communications Inc. is responding to a call from Canada's broadcast regulator, experimenting with a new cable package that will let customers pick and choose their channels.
The company will test out a new TV package in London, Ont., beginning Nov. 8 and running until the end of March. The package begins with a roughly $20-per-month basic cable offering, and then charges an extra $26 and up for customers to pick an extra 15, 20, or 30 channels. Usually, those extra channels are offered in bundled packages.
The trial will be used by Rogers to demonstrate to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission the demand (or lack thereof) for more "skinny basic" and à la carte (or pick-and-pay) cable packages. Rogers, like other cable and satellite companies across Canada, has been asked to file documents with the CRTC in April demonstrating what steps it has taken to give consumers more choice over what channels are included in the TV packages they buy.
"We think this Rogers-first is a very positive step forward for the industry and for consumers," Rogers chief marketing officer, John Boynton, said in a statement on Tuesday. "We look forward to working with our content providers to measure the results of this trial to ensure it works for everyone."
Rogers will be noting this experiment in its filing to the CRTC in April. If it decides to expand the skinny basic and pick-and-pay options to more markets – or if it is asked to do so by the regulator – it could introduce new competition among TV distributors.
In Quebec, Vidéotron Ltée kicked off more competition when it started offering à la carte channels in a bid to gain market share. Its competitor, BCE Inc., responded by doing the same. But Bell's satellite service does not offer similar packages outside Quebec – including in Ontario, where Rogers is testing the new model.
Telus Corp. also offers a skinny basic package and à la carte options through its Optik TV service in Alberta, B.C. and parts of Quebec. Its pick-and-pay menu includes 46 channels. However, some of the most popular specialty channels, such as TSN and Sportsnet, are only available as part of a package.
The CRTC announced in September that it expects distributors to offer greater control to TV customers over the packages they buy.
"We heard it loud and clear from consumers … You do not offer consumers the choice they want and deserve," CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein said in an interview at the time. "They see it on the Internet, they see it on mobile, and they say, 'Why can't I have it here when I buy programming from cable or satellite?'"