The savings – on hardware, rather than programs – are available whether a customer elects to stick or shift among deliverers of TV programs via cable or satellite.
Rogers, the cable-TV giant that claims a 65-per-cent share of markets it serves, is being aggressively challenged by two other giants of the media industry – Bell Canada and Shaw Direct. These two companies both deliver TV signals in the Ottawa area by satellite.
A few diehards still get a limited number of often-blurry TV signals for nothing out of thin air. But the vast majority of television viewers buy the signals from Rogers, Bell or Shaw. And it’s a good bet that some of these people are paying too much.
Buying TV programs – as most of us know – can be much more expensive than buying the large, flat-screen, this-that-and-the-other TV set on which to watch them. It can easily cost $100 a month to watch TV if you purchase a wide choice of channels and rent an occasional pay-per-view movie.
It’s tough to save a great deal on the cost of packages of TV channels, as I discovered when I compared those offered by Rogers, Bell and Shaw.
Yes, it’s maddening to have to choose a package consisting mostly of channels you’ll never watch in order to get a few channels you like. A cynic might wonder whether these packages are designed to maximize a cable or satellite company’s profits.
Not so, according to Rogers, which told me in a written statement: “Rogers’ packages offer greater value to customers than if the customer were to build the package by paying for each channel individually. They are designed to provide the most value and choice possible at varying price points.”
There are differences in the packages offered by the big cable and satellite providers, but I did not find that any of the three companies was significantly cheaper than the others. The only way to compare is to draw up your own list of favourite channels (PBS, the Golf Channel, BBC World News, CNN are among mine), and see what you’d pay for a package that includes them.
At present, I’m one of Rogers’ 2.3 million cable TV customers in its service area of Ontario and Atlantic Canada. While some see Rogers as a near-monopoly, the company says: “Television distribution in Canada is a competitive market and any company can apply to the CRTC (government regulator) to get a cable licence.”
So far, I’ve stuck with Rogers – in part persuaded by its argument that “there is less weather interference with Rogers’ cable and no external equipment required on the outside of the home,” as there is with satellite.
But in looking into a switch of TV provider, I came across a fierce price war now raging among Rogers, Bell and Shaw. In calling the customer-service departments of all three companies, I presented myself as a consumer, and did not mention that I am also a reporter.
The price war is not being fought over programming (the goose that laid the golden egg). It’s being fought over the cost of the receiver box required with each television set in order to get TV signals by cable or satellite.
Such a box can cost as much as $320 to purchase, which was the pre-tax price recently given by Rogers in advertising material for its high-definition digital receiver. Rogers’ monthly rental of such a box is $12.95 plus tax.
When I called Rogers and told a customer service representative that I might switch to satellite, he promptly offered me a free high-definition digital receiver for one year. That represented a saving of $175, tax included, over the usual rental cost for one year.
Bell and Shaw both list the purchase price of a high-definition digital receiver at about $200. When I checked, both were offering the box at a special price of $49. That’s a saving of $150.
Bottom line: shop around, and compare. You may be able to cut the cost of watching TV. And, if you’re thinking of purchasing more hardware, it will almost certainly pay to shop around – and perhaps to play off one supplier against the others.