Monopoly’s cable game irks TV lovers

Northwestel’s new stranglehold on cable TV service is forcing families to make some tough entertainment choices, says a Whitehorse couple.

Northwestel’s new stranglehold on cable TV service is forcing families to make some tough entertainment choices, says a Whitehorse couple.

The telecommunication monopoly’s buyout of WHTV this summer has disrupted carefully chosen packaged-channel selections that TV viewers have become used to, said Helen and Ken Doughty.

Northwestel’s new packages are costing cable viewers a lot more money, they added.

The couple must now pay more than $110 to get the stations they used to get for about $65, said Helen.

“When we made the switch to digital cable, we thought this out for like two months.”

The couple now must buy entire packages to gain access to one or two channels they used to enjoy through WHTV, said Helen.

It’s not fair to force two “hockey nuts” to buy the entire sports package to get TSN, she said.

The new packages are pushing the Doughtys’ cable bill through the roof.

“It’s almost $50 a month more,” she said. “I don’t think it’s right that we’re going to have to pay $400 more a year to get what we had before.”

Under WHTV, the Doughtys used to order the 29-channel core pack for $34.95, the 21-channel family pack for $12.95, the 18-channel super pack for $12.95, the 16-channel core plus pack for $2.95, and the eight-channel family plus pack for $1.95.

Northwestel, a subsidiary of Bell Canada, which also owns ExpressVu, the largest provider of satellite television in the country, has split channels such as TSN, KTLA Los Angles, WSBK Boston, A&E, and BRAVO into different packages.

It’s not acceptable, said Ken.

With TSN being lumped in with American sports stations featuring teams the Doughtys don’t care about, and channels that feature reruns of Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld being sold as movie channels, the couple has no choice but to consider satellite as an option, he said.

“The point of this is TSN is a Canadian network.

“They’ve taken a Canadian channel and bundled it with a bunch of US stations.

“These channels (such as Movie Central) run movies all day, 24-7. These other channels (like WPIX, TBS Superstation and KTLA) are not movie channels — what kills me is they call this movies.”

Now if he and his wife want to watch TSN, Bravo and A&E every month — which used to be TV staples — they have to pay for three separate bundles, said Ken.

“It’s well thought out. This is basically ramming it down somebody’s throat.

“I’d like to see it go back to WHTV.”

The couple would consider switching back to analog from digital, but they paid a lot for a digital receiver.

Also, Northwestel’s core pack for analog has a ton of ads and French channels, which the couple doesn’t want, he said.

“If I decide to go analog, because I’m not a French-speaking person, (and I have nothing against French), I wind up with a bunch of channels I don’t want and they’re in there and I’ve got to pay for them.

“In the (analog) core package, you take out the community channel, which is just ads, you take out the ad channels, which are just ads, the TV guide and the French and you get basically dick all,” said Ken.

Northwestel changed the digital programming packages offered by WHTV when it became the Yukon’s sole cable provider because the company wants to be more competitive with satellite TV, said Curtis Shaw, the general manager of Northwestel Cable, Tuesday.

“All the changes we made were to be more competitive with satellite and closer to satellite; we’re trying to win customers back from satellite,” he said.

The company decided to change the digital packages because the technology makes it easy, said Shaw.

The analog tweak would have been very confusing for TV consumers to adjust to, he added.

“Generally, you can move channels around in the digital world more easily.

“Digital is menu driven, you can search with a guide scrolling seven days in advance. With analog, you would have to change to channel 21 and watch the menu, and that takes time.”

Many analog customers, including hotels and elderly customers who have been subscribing to the old service for years, would not adapt to changes very willingly, he said.

“Analog is very difficult to change.”

And, while the digital lineups have been shifted around from what people are used to, the company will offer more high-definition TV in the near future and is already offering more channels in basic cable, giving people more bang for their buck, he said.

“Previously people’s base package, the core pack, was $34.95, and it had 29 channels in it.

“What we’ve done, and we’re calling it essential digital, is we’re dropping it by $5, so it’s $29.95, and you get 63 channels of video, up from 29, and you get 14 channels of high-definition TV.

“You’re getting a lot more, plus the HD, which we used to charge $10 for, for free.”

TSN was moved to a sports package because it’s a sports channel and for cost considerations, said Shaw.

“I think if we did have TSN in the essential pack, it would have cost more money and we really wanted to hit the under-$30 price point.

“From other markets we’ve been in, we’ve found TSN was more appropriate in sports.”

As for “super stations” and movie channels, the company has changed things around a little bit.

Many of the channels included alongside the super stations in WHTV’s old digital super pack have been moved into the $29.95 essential pack.

The super channels, including WPIX and the like, were moved into the movie package because they often offer movies, said Shaw.

Ordering the movie package along with basic cable would give viewers all the super channels, plus the movies for only an extra $1 a month.

And that’s a better deal than what WHTV was offering, he said.

Northwestel is also trying to offer more French channels to its digital cable arsenal and has created a package for city francophones.

“We actually have a French package, which was never offered in Whitehorse before. With that we’re adding another 13 channels in French, which weren’t available before.

“Those will be available hopefully by Christmas all across the city.

“In terms of the French community in town, we’re offering more for a reasonable price,” said Shaw.

Northwestel also unveiled a rental program recently where customers can rent expensive receivers that used to cost nearly $800 to buy, said Shaw.