CRTC rules for ‘skinny basic’ programming take effect March 1

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

The future of cable TV is being discussed in Quebec this week, including the possibility of viewers choosing their channels. PHOTO:

The future of cable TV is being discussed in Quebec this week, including the possibility of viewers choosing their channels. PHOTO:


A new era in television programming arrives in Canada March 1.

Many viewers in Norfolk County will not notice an immediate difference. Change, however, is in the works according to local cable providers.

Last year, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission directed major signal providers to come up with plans for affordable basic packages of cable stations.

The deadline for “skinny basic” programming is Tuesday. These entry-level packages must contain certain stations such as the CBC and TVO. They also must cost no more than $25 per month.

The CRTC has also ordered major providers to come up with a pick-and-pay format that allows viewers to select speciality channels in addition to their basic subscription. The deadline for this is Dec. 1.

Local TV viewers who get their signal from Nor-Del of Otterville or Execulink of Delhi are not immediately affected. Both are members of the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance -- an association of “exempt companies” with 20,000 or fewer customers.

“Anyone under 20,000 customers is exempt from this ruling,” says Mark Baxter, chief administration officer at Nor-Del. “There is a huge number of such companies.”

Members of the Canadian cable alliance purchase signals from major providers such as Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Videotron. While smaller players are not obligated to offer basic packages, the CCSA is negotiating new deals with the big providers on their behalf in light of the CRTC directives.

“We are not required to release the skinny basic package by March 1 as many others must,” says Karen Chalmers, Execulink’s marketing and public relations manager. “That being said, we have every intention of offering a skinny basic package to our customers."

For satellite customers, Bell quietly announced its “Starter” package on Sunday. That package, which costs $24.95 per month, includes a wide selection of standard Canadian channels but no American stations.

Eastlink – the major signal provider in Simcoe – was waiting until Tuesday to announce its plans.

“We are busy putting the finishing touches on the new TV packaging and will share details March 1,” says Eastlink spokesperson Jill Laing. “If you are wondering if we will meet the CRTC’s requirements – yes, we will.”

Nor-Del serves customers in Waterford, Delhi, Port Dover, Norwich and Otterville. Baxter feels like the rest of the industry is catching up with Nor-Del now that basic skinny and pick-and-pay are the new standard.

Baxter says Nor-Del has always offered basic packages with options to add speciality bundles related to arts, science and sports. Since its inception in 1979, Nor-Del has never required its customers to sign a contract.

“We have always been about customer choice,” Baxter said. “We are pro-choice as much as we can be as allowed by our signal providers. They determine what we can do with their signals.”

The viewing public got a glimpse of what skinny basic programming looks like last week when Rogers’ plans for a $24.99 package were leaked to the media.

According to reports, Rogers’ basic package includes standard Ontario channels such as City-TV, CBC, CTV, TVO, CHCH, Global, OMNI1, OMNI2 and the French-language CBC. Other stations include CPAC, the Weather Network and aboriginal channel APTN. American stations include ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS.

Monte Sonnenberg

519-426-3528 ext. 529150