Can debundling cable bring students back?

Discussions over whether or not TV channels should be bundled or sold individually continue after CRTC hearings in Gatineau, Quebec but how could this impact students?

The CRTC, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, heard from Rogers, Bell, and Shaw representatives on the idea that cable bundles would be reduced to a few Canadian channels at a lower cost with room to add individual channels as the customer sees fit. All three companies oppose the idea, saying it would actually drive prices higher.

The theory is that debundling could make cable cheaper than it currently is and help customers buy channels and services they want without paying for all the channels they don’t. However, industry representatives who spoke against the plain said that popular channels would increase in price and people could end up paying the same amount they already are for fewer channels.

According to Durham College’s director of the marketing program, Ingrid Brand, students are not necessarily the target demographic of cable companies. Homeowners are the targets.

Video streaming services are the more popular option for students to watch their favourite shows.
Video streaming services are the more popular option for students to watch their favourite shows.

But Rogers hasn’t turned a blind eye to students who prefer to watch shows when they please. To compete with Netflix, Rogers has partnered with Shaw to create a service called Showmi, which will emulate the style of other streaming video services.

In a survey of ten students only two preferred to watch cable over watching shows on Netflix, an internet service where a monthly subscription buys unlimited access to a large library of shows that are all commercial free.

Of the eight students who preferred Netflix, four said they would watch more cable if it was cheaper but maintained that Netflix would remain their primary choice.

Brand also said that prices could increase on niche programs or channels without a large body of subscribers. This could mean some programs and channels could stop being offered as cable providers try to make more popular and cheaper channels available.

According to a CRTC revenue report the most popular channels like TSN, Sportsnet, and HGTV would likely retain their subscriber base but channels at risk could include children’s programming like Treehouse TV and Family as well as smaller local stations like CTV2 which is a network covering London, Ottawa, and Barrie which have lower revenues from advertising than larger stations.

Removing bundles might not be the key to cheaper bills and more choice that it appears to be. The popularity of services like Netflix and Hulu Plus reduce the need for cable and are offered for significantly cheaper. Brand said that streaming video services even threaten to remove home owning customers from cable for the same reasons as students.

Hearings and public input closed on September 19th. Though the CRTC is aiming to make these changes by December 2015 the arguments are still being made on just what these changes could mean.