The skinny on new Canadian TV packages

“Now is the winter of our discontent!” said every Canadian cable TV customer upon seeing the ugly face of the new “skinny” packages. They are riddled with fees, requirements and consumer loathing.

If you haven’t heard, the CRTC “did” it’s regulatory duty in an attempt to make Canadian cable TV companies offer basic packages allowing consumers to add individual channels to suit their TV habits without pointless filler channels or a hefty bill. It sounded wonderful! The cable TV monopolies were being forced to offer a customer focused service. They in turn would have a defence against the onslaught of Internet streaming services like Netflix. It seemed like a win-win. Sadly, many consumers are disillusioned with the how the companies designed these new “skinny” packages.

Instead of slimming down, companies like Bell have slapped a corset on their packages. On the face of it, the packages are pretty expensive for something that’s supposed to be tailored to people on a tight budget. But with the fees and bundles, will it actually be cheaper? Well, The Globe and Mail has done some convenient research here. They’ve crunched the numbers and analysed the offerings to help consumers discover a pack that’s right for them. They even went so far as to compare the packages of most major cable providers, but the one glaring omission is an alternative to traditional TV.

So the real question is: do these new packages make it worth it to pay for traditional TV instead of cutting the cable and watching TV online? Let me tackle this by looking at the various TV viewer archetypes the Globe used and compare the least expensive of all the packages to what a cable-cutter like me would have to pay for similar service online. I’ll negate the cost of Internet subscription; if you’re reading this, you’re probably already paying for Internet access anyway.


The Sports Fan

First up is a viewer who has one of the better arguments for sticking with standard TV over cable-cutting. With sports channels on the old idiot box you can follow pretty much any team, athlete or pun-loving sportscaster you adore. Seriously, sports reporters love their puns (my kind of people).

TV option: Shaw – $44 per month

At $44 per month you get a good variety of sports channels but, do you really want them?

Cable-Cutter option – $0 + patience

You’re going to have to sacrifice some live sporting events, like a Tuesday Senators game, but you can always check out highlights online after the game and you’ll be able to stream the major sporting events. Most enjoyable sporting events, like the Stanley Cup Playoffs, FIFA World Cup or the Olympics are streamed by different websites. They are easy to find and typically cheap as free.

The Emmy Juror

So you like good quality TV. You’re going to need Netflix anyway, why not just cut the cord? Streaming services are starting to churn out some of the best televisions series. I think one of the greats is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: a comedy that manages to tell the story of someone who has survived traumatizing abuse without making light of the trauma.

TV option: Shaw – $60 per month

Some of these channels’ shows, especially on HBO, are [SPOILER ALERT] like the seven kingdoms of Westeros and Canadians are like the free-folk (or wildlings). They are blocked from use by a massive wall. If you don’t get this simile, then you don’t need to worry about this option so cut that cable!

Cable cutter option: depends on the shows + $8 per month for Netflix

Most mainstream shows ranging from Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory or Doctor Who are available to stream for free during each season’s run. After an episode is aired, just go to the channel’s site and watch the episode from there. Many other shows are available on streaming sites like Netflix, for merely $8 a month.

As for other shows, with the power of the Internet you can buy the current season of your favourite show on services like Google Play or iTunes and you get the whole thing for one price. Sure they may be expensive, but take Game of Thrones for example. It’s on TV for 10 weeks and is off the air for roughly 9.5 months. That’s 9.5 months of paying for something you aren’t getting to watch. Whereas one season would run you roughly $50 on Google Play. This means you can get your money’s worth if there are about 12 seasons worth of shows you want to pay for each year.

The Do-It-Yourselfer

Whether you love to cook or get pleasure from watching other people cook you’re going to want access to all those real life channels with faces like Jamie Oliver, Mike Holmes and … ugh… I dunno, these shows really aren’t my jam (food pun!). If this is you, let me tell you about the Internet. It’s amazing. Just search for whatever DIY project you are into and voila! Or, if you want those British accents on lovely shows, just subscribe to their YouTube channels. You’ll get a notification of when they post a new video and you get to watch the good stuff without waiting through commercial breaks. Gordon Ramsay’s recipe videos are mouth-wateringly seductive and the Behind Bars series is heart-warming and heart-breaking, check it out.

TV option: Cogeco – $45 per month

Cable-cutting option: FREE

Just use YouTube. Seriously, YouTube has more DIY videos and series than all of those channels combined. Every interest, ranging from cooking to computer building to wine making. You want to do it? You can find it on YouTube. Less ads, less cost – it’s kind of a no-brainer.

The Busy Parent

When I was growing up there was a lot of concern about parents not raising their kids but letting TV do the trick. I turned out alright… I think. Just kidding. But if you are a busy parent and need the kids distracted for a few minutes in order to catch your breath, TV isn’t the only place to turn for age appropriate video content.

TV option: Telus – $43 per month

Cable-cutting option: $8 per month

Just get a Netflix subscription. They have a ton of content and you can create a profile for your kids.  No accidentally changing the channel to The Walking Dead, or even less child friendly – the local news!

The Newshound

Really? That’s a type of viewer? Huh. It’s too much for me, even the Weather Network can be a downer some times.

TV option: Telus – $39 per month

Why watch CBC, CTV and other news source for free on their websites at your leisure when you can pay money to watch them when they set the schedule?

Cable-cutting option: FREE

Traditionally, the benefit of TV news was that breaking news events would be reported sooner than waiting for the next day’s newspaper. And unlike radio, you get video to boot. But you can get all of that from websites and news apps. I use the CBC News app and I get notifications of any major news event as soon as they publish it, I don’t need to be near a large screen with a remote.

Also, if you are like me and you prefer to get your news from comedians, the Internet’s got you covered. The YouTube channel for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert is my preferred way to stay up on US politics. Last Week Tonight’s YouTube channel is perfect for getting an investigative-y news report on whatever the producers think should be pissing off North Americans. And don’t forget to check out This Hour Has 22 Minutes episodes on the CBC’s website for Canadian news.

The Final Sum

If you add it all up, cable cutting can save you money, unless you are a diehard sports fan of every team. Even if you consider yourself “all of the above”, it’s more cost effective to find your favourite sources on the Internet for a fraction of the cost of paying for all those bundles. Especially given that you can’t pick and choose the cheapest options from multiple providers.

But you hesitate because you have a small laptop and you want to sit back on the couch. Well, chances are your TV has the right input or apps to stream all the content you want and you can even get little dongles or boxes like Apple TV or Google Chromecast and Roku to help you out.

It may take a little work to get used to turning to a computer instead of your TV but the month over month cost savings will be worth it. Plus, cable-cutting sends a more convincing argument to the cable TV companies that they need to offer customer focused services than anything a tired old federal regulator could do.

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