Netflix cuts prices in some markets to lure more subscribers
Netflix is cutting its prices in several of its smaller markets in the latest twist on the video streaming service’s efforts to keep its recently revived subscriber growth rolling amid stiffer competition and inflation pressures that are pushing more households to curb their discretionary spending.
The lower prices that began to roll out earlier this week affect more than 30 of the roughly 190 countries where Netflix’s steaming service is available — an expanse that has enabled the company to attract nearly 231 million subscribers. The areas getting lower prices include Middle East markets in Yemen, Jordan, Libya and Iran; European countries such as Croatia, Slovenia and Bulgaria, and sub-Saharan African markets.
Netflix isn’t changing its prices in any of its largest markets, including the U.S., where it has been regularly increasing its rates during the past four years to help offset the cost of an programming lineup that includes popular series such as “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.”
Although Netflix has established itself as the largest video streaming service, it has been vying for viewers with other deep-pocketed rivals that include Apple, Amazon and Walt Disney Co. at the same time stubbornly high inflation is causing more people to tighten their budgets.
Those factors contributed to Netflix losing nearly 1.2 million subscribers during the first half of last year, prompting the company to introduce an ad-supported option of its service t hat cost just $7 per month in the U.S. — less than half the price of its most popular plan. That helped Netflix bounce back during the second half of last year when it added 10 million subscribers, a recovery that made its long-time CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings comfortable enough to step down last month.
In another attempt to gain more subscribers, Netflix has started to crack down on rampant password sharing that has enabled an estimated 100 million people worldwide to free load on its service. Netflix has already clamped down on the practice in Latin America and several other countries, including Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and Spain earlier this month. New rules governing the use of the same password in multiple households are expected to be imposed in the U.S. by the end of March.
Netflix’s new co-CEO Greg Peters hinted last month during a quarterly conference call that the company was examining ways to attract more subscribers in its smaller markets, although he didn’t say anything specifically about using lower prices as a lure. “There’s a bunch of people around the world in countries where we’re not deeply penetrated, and we have more opportunity to go attract them,” Peters said.
In that same call, Peters also indicated that Netflix sees little need to drop prices in markets, such as the U.S., where its service already proved its value to long-time subscribers. “We think of ourselves as a non-substitutable good,” Peters said.
Even so, Netflix lost 920,000 customers in the U.S. and Canada last year, leaving it with 74.3 million subscribers in that region at the end of December. Despite the subscriber erosion, Netflix’s price increases in the U.S and Canada helped boost its revenue in the region by 9% last year to nearly $14.1 billion. The financial gains are becoming more important to Netflix because it is now placing more emphasis on profit growth now that it has become tougher to attract more subscribers.
Michael Liedtke, The Associated Press
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B.C. hit with tax and fare hikes starting April 1 – CTV News Vancouver
April Fools’ is bringing more than just practical jokes to British Columbians — the province will be hit with new taxes and fare hikes starting on Saturday.
One of next month’s changes will leave many commuters debating on walking or taking public transit due to the federal government’s increased carbon prices.
The bump will see carbon pricing go from $50 a tonne to $65, which the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says will account for a spike of over three cents per litre of gas.
Alcohol sales are also expected to climb, although a recent announcement could temper it.
The federal government initially planned to implement a 6.3 per cent increase, but decided to scrap it after receiving backlash from alcohol operators and breweries nationwide. So instead, the spike will be capped at two per cent for a year.
The duties are imposed at the manufacturing level and adjusted annually based on inflation.
National increase aside, BC Hydro says the residential electricity rate will increase by two per cent, or about $2 per month on average, following interim approval by the BC Utilities Commission.
“Last year, we reduced residential rates by 1.4 per cent, and in 2024, we expect to increase rates by 2.7 per cent. Over the three-year period, it works out to an average rate increase of 1.1 per cent per year. This is below forecast inflation in B.C. over this period,” said BC Hydro in an email.
The increases in British Columbia will also be seen at the ferry terminals.
BC Ferries is expected to raise its prices by over two per cent, which is curranty capped until next year.
They projected this increase could have been more than three times larger due to inflation.
“It was clear BC Ferries users could face fare increases of 10.4 per cent a year for the four-year period of 2024 to 2028,” wrote the province.
The province announced in late February that a $500-million investment in BC Ferries was intended to keep fare increases below three per cent.
Other additional expenses coming into effect in April will be Stanley Park parking fees.
For the next six months, parking will be an additional dollar per hour or $14.25 per day. For fall and winter parking, it is set at $2.75 per hour and $7.75 per day.
Rogers-Shaw deal approved — with ‘unprecedented’ conditions. Here’s what to know – Global News
Rogers Communications Inc.’s proposed takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. will go ahead after it received the final sign-off it needed from Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.
He called the merger a “watershed moment” for the telecom sector that he claimed would drive wireless prices down for Canadians while growing the combined firm’s overall headcount.
The merger, a union between two Canadian telecom giants valued at $26 billion, including debt, has changed significantly in response to political and industry pressure since it was first announced in March 2021.
The final permutation of the merger will see Shaw sell its Freedom Mobile business and transfer wireless spectrum to Quebecor’s Videotron as the latter seeks to expand outside Quebec.
“We are at a crossroad for the telecom sector in Canada,” Champagne said in his announcement.
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Champagne’s approval came on the companies’ March 31 deadline to close the transaction.
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Rogers, Shaw and Quebecor released a joint statement Friday morning saying they have agreed to extend that closing date to April 7 in order to give enough time to finalize the agreement and meet other closing conditions.
While shares of Shaw were up slightly in trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday, Rogers’ stock price had dropped 2.8 per cent on the day.
Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri called the merger “transformative” in a statement on Friday, and said the combined companies “will invest substantially to bring more choice, more value, and more connectivity to Canadians across the country.”
Brad Shaw, the CEO of Shaw, said in a statement that “the merger will provide the scale necessary for the future success and competitiveness” of the Calgary-based company.
Shaw Communications and Corus Entertainment, the parent company of Global News, are owned by the Shaw family based in Calgary.
Pierre Poilievre, leader of the federal Conservative Party, fired a shot at the government’s approval of the deal in Question Period on Friday.
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“When will they start standing up for consumers instead of standing up for price raising and high cost corporate oligarchs?” he asked.
Brian Masse, the NDP’s industry critic, said Friday’s approval was a “cave” to the big telcos that would see Canadian consumers continue to pay some of the highest wireless prices in the world.
“We’re going to see less competition. We’re going to see higher prices and we’re going to see continued frustrations for Canadians as things go forward,” he said.
Pierre Karl Péladeau, president and CEO of Videotron-owner Quebecor Inc., said in a statement Friday that the company would bring its competitive force to bear on the national market.
“Just as Videotron has done in the Québec market, Freedom will promote competition by competing aggressively with Canada’s wireless carriers in order to lower prices for the benefit of consumers,” he said.
‘Unprecedented’ conditions added to the deal
In an effort to get ahead of criticisms that the merger would hurt competition, Champagne said Friday his approval is subject to 21 “unprecedented and legally enforceable” conditions.
Videotron’s wireless prices in Quebec, which tend to be 20 per cent lower than other parts of the country, must be expanded out of the province and into Western Canada as part of Champagne’s stated goal of creating a fourth-national player to drive down Canadians’ phone bills.
“The way to drive down prices is through competition. Having a fourth, strong national player does lead to lower prices,” he told reporters Friday.
Rogers is also expected to keep a headquarters in Calgary and add 3,000 new jobs in Western Canada, both of which are expected to be maintained over the next 10 years. Champagne did not say whether any job protections are extended to Rogers’ operations in Eastern and Central Canada.
The newly merged telecom giant is also expected to spend $5.5 billion expanding 5G network coverage and invest $1 billion in connections for rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
The $6.5 billion in spending and promises to add jobs and maintain the western HQ were included in the original announcement from Rogers and Shaw in March 2021.
Violating the conditions would come with “significant” penalties of up to $200 million in fines for Videotron and up to $1 billion in charges for Rogers, Champagne said.
He added that all of these conditions are set out in a legal undertaking he called a “contract with Canadians” and are subject to arbitration if the companies violate the agreement.
Champagne said he would watch the telcos “like a hawk” on Canadians’ behalf.
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, argues that the significant number of conditions placed on the deal amount to a tacit confession from the federal government that what they’ve approved won’t benefit consumers.
“It’s largely illusory,” he tells Global News.
“Let’s recognize we’re talking about a 10-year horizon. We don’t even know who’s going to be in the government at that stage, much less what the environment will look like.”
The NDP’s Masse, too, was skeptical of Champagne’s conditions and critical of the proposed penalties, which he said would end up being paid by Rogers and Videotron’s customers on their bills, not by the companies or their executives.
“He may be watching them like a hawk, but I mean, he’s left Canadian consumers to be basically open to the buzzards,” Masse said.
Champagne’s office confirmed in a statement to Global News on Friday that the companies’ agreement is signed with the Government of Canada, not the minister himself, and will remain in force even if the Liberals leave office over the next decade.
Minister threatens more regulation if prices don’t drop
The industry minister also announced a freeze on the transfer of large amounts of spectrum from major carriers for an indeterminate period and a comprehensive review of Canada’s spectrum transfer rules for the first time in a decade to ensure the framework is appropriate for the modern telecom landscape.
If prices do not materially lower following the completion of this deal, Champagne threatened that he might seek more legislative powers to force companies to offer Canadians better deals.
What Rogers purchase of Shaw will mean for Canadian consumers
“Everything is on the table,” he said.
Michael Osborne, a competition lawyer with Cozen O’Connor in Toronto, says the conditions imposed on the deal largely amount to “political theatre” but they are “real.” He says the conditions reinforce actions Rogers already said it would take, like maintaining a presence in Western Canada.
He says the introduction of Videotron, which will be incentivized on its own to offer cheaper rates to compete in the market, will result in less concentration in Canada, rather than more.
As for Champagne’s suggestion that he could seek more powers to force telecom prices lower in the years to come, Osborne says the impulse to regulate the market rather than letting competition run its course is misguided.
“There seems to be a bit of a view out there that we should regulate prices charged by businesses in our economy. We’re seeing that in telecom. We’re seeing that from people in relation to groceries,” he says.
“Having the government decides what prices are going to be is not historically a winning formula for having an efficient, competitive, strong economy that grows.”
How did we get here?
Champagne’s sign-off was the final regulatory hurdle needed to get the deal across the finish line.
The Competition Tribunal approved the deal on Dec. 30, 2022.
The Competition Bureau had appealed the tribunal’s decision, citing what it claimed were legal errors in the judgment. But a Federal Court of Appeal judge ruled last month that the Bureau’s arguments did not meet the threshold needed to overturn the ruling.
The Bureau had lobbied against the merger, saying the transaction would hurt competition in the telecom industry in Canada.
The Competition Tribunal concluded that the merger was not likely to result in higher prices for wireless customers in Western Canada, and that the Tribunal was satisfied the plan to sell Shaw’s Freedom Mobile to Videotron was adequate to ensure competition isn’t substantially reduced.
Osborne believes that if Champagne had shut down the deal — disagreeing with the call made by a judicial body — Canada’s reputation as a good place to do business could be at risk.
“It would be catastrophic for merger review in this country,” Osborne says.
“It would mean that instead of a system which is governed by law and by an objective, measurable standard … that in fact, merger review in this country is based on how many letters the minister got opposing the deal.”
But Keldon Bester, co-founder of the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project, tells Global News that the deal’s approval reflects the “poor state of Canada’s competition laws” and called for a boost in oversight that would prevent industry consolidation like this in the future.
While he says it’s “entirely possible” that Videotron will become a strong national competitor, there are many questions about the effectiveness of the conditions imposed on the deal and whether the long-term drop in prices described by Champagne will come to pass.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday that, like the 2023 budget tabled earlier in the week, the Liberal government’s focus is on “affordability” for consumers.
“Our focus is very much on Canadians. It’s on Canadian consumers. It’s on imposing tough conditions to ensure that Canadian consumers get the services they need at prices they can afford,” she said.
— with files from Global News’s Anne Gaviola, David Baxter
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