The federal broadcast regulator wants to know how pick-and-pay television is working out so far, and is calling Canada's largest cable and satellite distributors to account for the way they've rolled out new choices to viewers.
On Sept. 7, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will kick off a public hearing to discuss how the new, more flexible traditional TV packages it has mandated "are being implemented across Canada." So far, the CRTC is summoning only BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc. and Videotron Ltd., which is owned by Quebecor Inc., to appear at what is expected to be a short hearing.
The commission has heard complaints from consumers who felt the long-awaited arrival of more choice in assembling TV packages hasn't proven to be the deal or the discount they hoped, as many TV providers excluded the new options from bundling discounts and added on hardware costs such as set-top cable box rentals.
A series of major decisions stemming from a lengthy public hearing dubbed Let's Talk TV required distributors to offer a so-called skinny basic bundle of channels for no more than $25 per month, and the option to choose and pay for some channels either individually or in smaller packages.
But some of the changes, including the requirement that every channel be offered on a standalone basis, won't be in force until the end of 2016. Until now, the CRTC had been preaching patience.
In an interview in March, Jean-Pierre Blais, the CRTC's chairman, said that Canadians would "have to do some work" to haggle for a better deal from their providers. And in a speech last week to the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters, commissioner Stephen B. Simpson answered critics by saying, "the CRTC's goal was never to ensure that subscribers would get more and better channels for free. We wanted to give Canadians the tools and options to find the value proposition that best meets their needs."
Mr. Blais had also said the CRTC would watch the rollout closely, and "will not hesitate to act" if TV distributors ignore the spirit of the new regulations.
The commission says "nearly 100,000" customers have signed up for the new, smaller basic package since March 1, up from about 66,000 in mid-April. But it had also received 587 complaints about what they saw as high fees and lack of choice by mid-March.
"Concerns have been raised, however, about how some television service providers have been implementing these new options," Mr. Blais said in a statement. "As we prepare for the full implementation of pick-and-pay, we will have an opportunity at the public hearing to verify whether their actions are in keeping with our objective."
The commission said it wants to make sure TV providers are making the new options available in a way that respects both the letter and the spirit of its new rules before it enters the process to renew their licenses. Some licenses were set to expire on Sept. 1, but the CRTC has granted administrative renewals until Nov. 30 to make time for the hearing to run its course.
The CRTC is also accepting public comments on the process until June 23.