Canada Going A La Carte

CRTC Mandates ‘Pick and Pay,’ Citing MVPD Pricing, Viewer Choice
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Calling cable bundles large and expensive, Canadian regulators are breaking them up, big time.

In what was billed as a World of Choice "roadmap," Canada's version of the FCC, The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), will start requiring MVPDs to offer a la carte programming options and will not allow blackouts during carriage disputes between programmers and distributors.

By year-end 2016, viewers will be able to subscribe to the low-cost basic tier, which will have to include all local and regional television stations, public interest channels such as the Cable Public Affairs Channel and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network,  education channels, and, if offered, community channels and the services operated by provincial legislatures, then, rather than having to add bundled tiers, they can "pick and pay" among other channels, or add "small, reasonably priced" packages of service.

CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blaise said the decision was all about choice and affordability. "More and more Canadians are watching the content they want, when they want, and on multiple devices. They are enjoying the freedom and benefits that come from living in a World of Choice," he said. "They told us that the bundles offered by the cable and satellite companies were large, unwieldy and expensive. They expressed frustration that, in order to access a particular channel, they had to buy others that they didn't want."

Sounding a little like his opposite number in the U.S., Blaise said that the decision was "all about choice and affordability.

The CRTC will let viewers stick with their bundles if they prefer.

The CRTC also created a code of conduct for programming negotiations between broadcasters and TV providers that says channels "cannot be unduly withdrawn from subscribers as a result of a commercial dispute at the wholesale level."

It will also require that independently-owned channels be offered in at least one -pre-assembled package.

“Oh Canada -- what an historic day for your cable customers," said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, which has been pushing for a la carte as a way to give viewers the power not to pick and pay for channels with that it says is inappropriate fare. "Today’s announcement by the CRTC allows our friends to the north the freedom to choose and pay only for the cable networks they want. Let’s have that same freedom here in the US-of-A."