Canadian regulators mandate a la carte distribution for pay-TV

They actually went through with it.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled Thursday that pay-TV operators must offer subscribers a basic programming channel selection, priced at no more than $25 a month. Any other networks on top of that must be offered a la carte, or in small bundles.

Cable, satellite and IPTV operators have until March 2016 to create the basic channel packages. By December 2016, selections of a la carte channels and small bundles must also be made available. 

"Today's decision reflects what we have heard from Canadians," CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said to reporters, including those from the Toronto Sun. "They told us bundles offered by cable and satellite companies were large, unwieldy and expensive. They expressed frustration that to access a particular channel they had to pay for a station they did not want."

In a statement, Brad Shaw, CEO of Shaw Communications, one of Canada's biggest pay TV operators, tried to sound upbeat.

"While this new regulatory environment will not be without challenges," he said, "the commission has provided real opportunities for Shaw to continue delivering the best content experiences possible. We support the government's direction and the commission's commitment to maximize  choice for Canadians."

Meanwhile over at Rogers Communications, the Great White North's other big pay-TV operator, spokeswoman Patricia Trott released this statement:

"We know consumers want more flexibility and we started down this path several years ago. We already offer dozens of services a la carte and in theme packs. This decision gives us more certainty so we can offer customers even more choice."

While providing a useful test case for American pay-TV operators and programmers to observe, the so-called "pick-and-play" rules aren't popular with American networks.

In the run-up to the CRTC's decision last October, for example, Viacom senior VP of government relations Keith Murphy said Canada would embark on a "consumer-welfare-destroying death spiral" if it adopted such a la carte rules.

For more:
- read this Toronto Sun story
- read this Wall Street Journal story
- read this Deadline Hollywood story

Related links:
Parks: 17% of broadband homes likely to subscribe to HBO's upcoming a la carte service
Small Canadian ISPs starting to offer TV service bundles using telco, cable networks
Bell Canada tells CRTC to not force it to share last mile fiber
Canada's Rogers and Shaw launch shomi SVOD service
Viacom threatens to bolt Canada if a la carte rules adopted, warns pay-TV faces 'death spiral'