Northwestel has unveiled its new “skinny” basic cable TV package, but the deal may not be quite as sweet as it appears.
The TV Lite package costs $24.95 a month, and includes 62 television channels, including 27 high-definition channels, and 23 live radio stations.
Customers can also add pick-and-pay channels or “theme packs” that offer more sports, lifestyle and entertainment channels, at an additional cost.
“We’re really excited to offer a product that we feel is the best available in the North,” said Northwestel spokesperson Adriann Kennedy.
The new plan was released on Tuesday, to coincide with new basic cable packages offered by providers across Canada.
Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ordered cable providers to offer stripped-down packages for $25 a month or less by March of 2016.
At the time, Northwestel claimed it was exempt from the decision because it had fewer than 20,000 subscribers. But the CBC reported that the company felt it would likely have to offer a skinny package anyway, to compete with satellite TV providers.
But on Tuesday, Kennedy said the new package is all about giving customers more “flexibility and choice.”
“I think people want solutions that deliver entertainment,” she said.
Northwestel is also dropping the price of its existing Pulse TV Essentials package from $47.49 a month to $44.95 a month. It says this price drop will be automatically included on customers’ billing statements.
But a closer look at the TV Lite package reveals that it may not be as good as it sounds.
For one thing, though the plan technically offers 62 channels, over half of them belong to just seven networks. The package includes six CBC stations, eight CTV stations and five Global stations. ABC, APTN, CityTV, CBS, FOX, ICI, NBC and PBS are also featured more than once.
And the TV Lite package is not eligible for several promotions that make the TV Essentials package more appealing. For instance, TV Lite cannot be bundled with Internet, while TV Essentials customers get a $12 monthly discount on their TV bill if they bundle it with Internet.
Let’s break down the math. A TV Essentials customer with a 110-gigabyte Internet plan - what Northwestel defines as a moderate user - will pay $44.95 a month for over 230 TV channels and $79.95 a month for Internet, minus a $12 discount. That adds up to $112.90 a month.
A $25-a-month TV Lite customer with the same Internet plan will forego the discount, and end up paying $104.95 a month - an $8 difference for less than half the number of channels.
And that’s without any add-ons. If the TV Lite customer adds any pick-and-pay channels at $2.95 a piece, or one of those theme packs at $6.95 a month, the plan could quickly end up costing more than the existing TV Essentials package.
TV Essentials customers also receive free installation and a discount for the first four months of their subscription, perks that are not offered to TV Lite clients.
And Northwestel is also not going out of its way to advertise the new deal. On the company’s webpage that gives an overview of its TV plans, the TV Lite plan is given a single line near the top of the page, in smaller font. It’s also not included among the list of options for customers who choose to build their own packages online.
Northwestel is not alone, however. Providers across Canada have come under fire for offering skinny basic packages that aren’t as cheap as they appear, often because of additional fees for extra channels.
A report has also surfaced that sales staff at Bell Canada have been instructed not to promote the plan.
On Tuesday, Kennedy told the News that Northwestel’s customer service representatives had been trained in all the specifics of the new plan.
But when the News called the company’s customer service line, posing as a potential customer who’d recently moved, the agent didn’t mention the TV Lite plan until explicitly asked about it.
And when asked about it, she immediately offered discouragements from subscribing to the skinny package.
“All you get is CBC, CTV, like all those news channels,” she said. “You would lose all of the sports channels.”
She also emphasized that TV Lite customers would receive fewer than half of the channels in the TV Essentials plan, and would not be eligible for bundling discounts and other promotions.
“You do lose quite a lot of content,” she said.
Kennedy wouldn’t say whether the number of Northwestel’s TV customers is growing or shrinking, but she did say that “both of the announcements we made today were in response to what customers were asking for.”
Northwestel’s TV Lite plan is not available in Norman Wells.
Contact Maura Forrest at