Cable TV needed massive facelift

It seems cable TV rates are continually going up. Many cable TV subscribers were told a few weeks back rates...

It seems cable TV rates are continually going up. Many cable TV subscribers were told a few weeks back rates for subscriptions were getting hiked. That may explain recent media coverage that more and more Canadian TV watchers are “cutting the cable” and using other methods for televised entertainment.

I’m not a TV watcher; I like watching homemade videos on Youtube and enjoy scientific or historical documentaries, but I’m a movie buff. Nowadays, those of us who love movies can have a living room home theatre to rival anything at the cinema.

Cable TV has, for most of my adult life, rubbed me the wrong way. When I was in college my roommate and I had cable in Calgary, and I was also a cable subscriber shortly after leaving college. One major problem impelled me to cut cable off permanently.

Look at it this way: when you go into the grocery store, browsing around with your shopping list and picking up your bread, milk and eggs…does a store employee follow you around the supermarket putting unwanted groceries like frozen pie crusts, generic sandpapery toilet paper or spinach in your shopping cart? And when you get to the checkout, does the clerk say to you, “Okay Mr. Salkeld, you owe us cash for the items you placed in your cart, and you also have to pay us for the frozen pie crusts and the rest of that garbage.”

No. That generally doesn’t happen at the supermarket.

So why does it happen in the world of cable TV?

Cable TV services traditionally offer tiers or groups of channels and, for the most part, the better the channels (Animal Planet, HBO) the more expensive the tiers. However, the tiers don’t allow you to choose what you want. Some providers “allow choice” by charging extra fees for stand-alone channels you want. The last time I subscribed to cable, good fortune granted me a few channels I liked, but bad fortune ensured I was stuck with the shopping network, Oprah TV, three sports networks that only reported on what the Toronto Maple Leafs were doing (losing games, mostly), the Sun news network, a golf channel, a francophone channel (regardless of how much I try I can’t speak French) and other junk that I didn’t want and wasn’t interested in. But I had to pay for it, and pay substantially. It’s not unusual for cable bundles to be $70 a month or more. Some bundles can be up to $140 a month, which is absolutely ridiculous.

The CRTC is introducing new changes this year to Canadian cable TV, including a mandatory “skinny” package for $25 a month plus a number of new rules that revolve around clarity of billing and protection of consumers from overbilling. But again, that’s not preventing more and more people from fleeing cable TV.

The fact that online streaming services like Netflix allow people to pay a reasonable monthly fee, around $10 a month, should come as no surprise. The time was ripe for a better, cheaper service, and new high-speed Internet made such services feasible.

So to all you cable companies with your generic sandpapery toilet paper, spinach and Toronto Maple Leafs: I’m changing the channel on you.

Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.