Should you switch to skinny basic cable?

That depends on if bare-bones is all you want



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Skinny basic cable was optioned by the CRTC nearly a year ago and finally entered the broadcast TV realm to mixed reviews. Some of the country’s major TV providers revealed their bare-bones offerings last month, in time for the March 1 mandated by the broadcast regulator. Just a few weeks later, the CRTC disclosed that they’d been hounded by more than 500 questions and complaints about the slimmed down channel package. The grievances ranged from frustration at lack of choice, to extra fees paid on top of the supposed “bargain” price. If you’re thinking about trading in your expensive, souped-up cable package for the simpler subscription, keep in mind that most major providers charge extra fees for renting digital boxes (an expense that is often included in the cost of other premium offerings). Also, fair warning: The “pick and pay” and “theme pack” options add up quickly.

Here’s how much the switch to skinny basic cable would cost for Rogers, Bell and Shaw customers. We had a look at the basic cost of skinny basic, plus what you’d pay if you added a sports and/or movies theme pack. Keep in mind that our cost calculations don’t include taxes, which may differ depending on which province you live in.

Rogers* “Starter” package
$24.99 for 35 channels

The Skinny: Rogers calls its skinny basic cable package the “Starter” package. It costs $24.99 for 35 basic channels, but doesn’t include the cost to rent a digital box. That costs an additional $12.95 per month, which brings the total for a skinny package to $37.94 per month.

The Add-ons: If you add a sports theme pack, which includes an extra seven channels, you pay an additional $18 per month, bringing the total cost to $55.94 per month for 42 channels. Adding a movie package (which includes 10 channels like FX, AMC and MovieTime) costs a little less. You’d pay a total of $47.94 per month for 45 channels. Adding both theme packs would shoot up to $65.94 per month for 52 channels. Another option is to skip the themes altogether and add individual channels to your starter pack for anywhere between $2.79 and $19.95— but keep in mind that many popular channels are only available in packages and theme packs.

The Bottom Line: So, how does this compare to one of Rogers’ existing packages? The next one up from the Starter package is “Basic TV,” which runs $40.48, plus an additional $12.95 for the digital box, bringing the totalto $53.43 for 112 channels, including plenty of sports offering and some movie and entertainment options.

Bell “Starter” package
$24.95 for 26 channels

The Skinny: Bell’s skinny basic package is also called the “Starter” and costs $24.95 per month for 26 channels. This plan is in addition to the required HD receiver, which will set you back another $7 month. Stick to just the plain old skinny offering and you’ll be spending $31.95 monthly.

The Add-ons: Bell’s more robust sports theme pack offering includes a total of seven TSN and Sportsnet channels for $25 per month, meaning you’d pay $56.95 for 33 channels monthly. If you only want to add a bit of movie magic to your cable viewing experience, Bell’s Super Channel theme pack would cost $15 a month, meaning you’d pay a total of $46.95 monthly for 30 channels. Add both sports and movies and your monthly bill would skyrocket to a total of $71.95 a month for 37 channels. You can forgo the theme pack altogether and just stick to adding a channel here or there, a la carte for $4 or $7 each. Sports or movie channels are not offered a la carte.

The Bottom Line: Bell’s next cheapest cable TV package option, called “Good” (helpfully descriptive) would set you back $49.95 for 98 channels, including a full host of sports channels but no movie channels of note. The cost of the HD PVR equipment rental is included in the price.

Shaw “Limited TV”
$25 for 39 channels

The Skinny: If you’re with Shaw, your skinny basic cable package option is called “Limited TV” and offers a total of 39 channels for $25 per month. The rental of an HD box is required for an extra $5 a month, meaning the true cost of Shaw’s skinny basic offering is $30 for 39 channels.

The Add-ons: Sports lovers can opt to spruce up their Limited TV viewing experience with an extra six channels for $8 a month, bringing your skinny basic bill to $38 monthly for 45 channels. If you’d rather up your movie intake (but don’t want Shomi), you can add an extra 10 channels for $6 a month, meaning you’d pay $36 monthly for 49 channels. Get both and pay a total of $44 per month for 55 channels. Individual channels cost just $3. As with other providers, it seems that popular sports and entertainment channels are only available as part of theme packs.

The Bottom Line: The next priciest plan on Shaw’s roster is called “Personal TV” and costs $43 per month (HD equipment included), and comes with six sports channels and no movie channels of note. This price excludes any promotional intro offers they may have going on, for consistency’s sake.

The verdict?

Whether you should switch to skinny basic or not relies solely on what you’re looking for when you collapse on the couch. Skinny basic is just that—pretty basic. The CRTC touted that it would “maximize choice” and it does: It gives you the choice to downgrade and save if you want cable but spend most of your time soaking up the major Canadian networks. The fact is, if you want anything more than basic—movies, sports or otherwise—you’ll quickly find your cable bill climbing back up and over pre-skinny basic levels.

*Full disclosure: Rogers is a parent company of MoneySense 

2 comments on “Should you switch to skinny basic cable?

  1. This whole charade has been an insult to all Canadians. How much taxpayer money was wasted by the CRTC to simply have the cable providers throw this back in all our faces? They should be embarrassed, as well as some heads should roll. But I forgot, this is Canada where we congratulate failure or simply call it something else, obscuring the negative outcome.


    • … and don’t forget that you have one of Bell’s shills explaining how great it is!


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