February 22, 2016

Opting out of the stations you never watch or buying just the channels you do watch on cable isn't the biggest worry Canada's Catholic broadcasters face.

The advent of the "skinny basic" cable packages - which cable companies must offer starting in March - and pick-n-pay menus that allow viewers to purchase only the stations they want by the end of 2016, are only a small part of bigger changes in how people watch television, broadcasters said.

"We're not anticipating it's going to be a big change (as of March)," said National Catholic Broadcasting Council executive director Deacon Mike Walsh.

The NCBC produces The Daily Mass Monday to Saturday and offers it to viewers three different ways - on Vision TV, on Salt + Light TV and on its own YouTube channel.

The NCBC may see its cable television audience shrink if many subscribers opt for the new "skinny basic" option - a stripped down offering of about 40 television options plus radio stations.

This new version of basic cable does not include Vision.

Walsh said he doesn't think bargain-hunting viewers will rush for the exits on their current cable plans.

Viewers will only get the new, cheaper, Vision-less version of basic if they specifically call their cable company and ask for it. Otherwise cable companies will continue to deliver current packages to subscribers.

Because it never was part of basic cable, skinny basic and pick-n-pay represent no change for Salt + Light, said Noel Ocol, Salt + Light director of marketing and communications.

"Salt + Light was always a pay channel that you had to select," said Ocol. "It's always been either stand-alone or à-la-carte, or part of bigger packages."

The new rules may make Salt + Light cheaper for many cable subscribers.

Rogers is offering a "spiritual package" that includes Salt + Light, the American Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), Vision TV and Grace TV - a Canadian platform for various Evangelical and Pentecostal broadcasters. The add-on package could come to as little as $3 per month.

As a relatively obscure offering on cable, Salt + Light has chosen to concentrate its energy on its website, saltandlighttv.org.

Cable companies aren't the future for most broadcasters who produce original content, said Ocol. Many viewers are cutting cable and watching television through their Internet connections - whether on Netflix, Shomi, iTunes, Crackle or dozens of other services.

Salt + Light has taken a first step into this brave new world by launching its own Roku channel. Roku is one of a number of boxes available that connect a TV to the Internet and make it possible to watch everything from YouTube to Netflix to Major League Baseball.

Others include Chromecast, AppleTV, Fire TV and Android TV. For a one-time payment of between $60 and $110 for the box, Roku delivers a broad range of Internet streaming directly to a television.