Back in the dark ages of television and internet, about 15 years ago, I tried to sign up with Shaw’s most basic cable package, which included the major Canadian networks, major US networks, and not much else. Though I’d had the package before at a previous address, the man on the phone kept telling me about their smallest package which was bigger and more expensive than what I’d had before. I finally asked him to mail me a brochure since that’s where I’d originally seen evidence of it — yes, the ages were that dark — and sure enough, there was the most basic of basic plans on offer.
So the news that Bell is discouraging employees from selling the new $25 skinny basic package mandated by the CRTC as of March 1 is no surprise, and nothing new in the cable industry. The difference today from those dark ages is the internet is now our instant-access brochure.
Since moving to just outside of Vancouver, my over-the-air antenna doesn’t work as well, and I reserved judgement on whether skinny basic would entice me back to the cable world until I could see the offerings. Because Shaw is my internet provider — and I’ve sporadically signed up for Shomi through them as well — I checked out their skinny package.
For $25 a month Shaw’s Limited TV offers more than what is mandated by the CRTC; it includes the optional US major networks for example. What it doesn’t include — and what every other Shaw TV package does — is the required HD equipment. That’s another $5 a month or $138 to buy outright. For most of us that’s $30 per month for skinny basic, then.
Shaw’s larger packages currently have introductory offers for the first six months starting from $29.90 a month, which is smart marketing. My choice is to sign up for a skinny package that includes fewer channels for more money, knowing that in six months it will be slightly cheaper, or sign up for the package that’s 10 cents cheaper and has more channels, knowing that it will be about $13 more expensive in six months.
The 10 cent difference during the introductory period is immaterial to the pocketbook yet psychologically profound — I can’t make myself sign up for less for more, even knowing that wouldn’t be true in six months. I’d fail the marshmallow test. And I think the CRTC failed this test. How many current cable consumers will downgrade for a package that won’t save them much money but will significantly reduce their number of channels?
Skinny basic isn’t going to lure me back to cable. But then the cable companies don’t want it to. I’ll continue to binge watch on Netflix and occasionally Shomi and watch my essential shows with the over the air antenna or online the next day. And the cable companies will continue to follow the letter of the new CRTC rules without actually offering a new benefit to consumers.