Reports this morning indicate that the federal government is planning to overturn the CRTC' s satellite radio decision. Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla, with the frankness that has made her a cabinet liability, is quoted in the Globe as saying that "our mind is pretty much made up, but right now I am obligated to say it is among the three options."
The entire satellite radio process has become an embarrassment. Like it or not, the CRTC held lengthy hearings on the matter and sought to develop a solution that added significant Canadian content to satellite radio offerings, albeit in a different form than on conventional radio. The plan most notably has the backing of independent Canadian artists, who stand to be big winners with more mandated exposure of their music than is heard on conventional radio.
The interests of artists don' t really matter here though as this issue will apparently be resolved by lobbying power. Lined up against the decision are the losing bid (CHUM/Astral), the Canadian Recording Industry Association (whose pie in the sky request for anti-copying technologies did not even merit a response from the CRTC), and most importantly, Quebec artists groups. The approved services are set to run three French channels as against five English channels, which would be an over-emphasis of French based on Canadian demographics. Nevertheless, the Quebec lobby wants more and with an election looming, what Quebec wants, it gets (particularly with Ms. Frulla' s re-election hopes on the ropes).
Left to support the interests of Canadian artists (along with consumers who are left with nothing) are the automakers. Yes, American and Japanese automakers (along with Best Buy and Circuit City, a pair of U.S. electronics retailers) are the primary supporters of Canadian artists on this file.
Ultimately, it appears that everyone loses: no Canadian-specific satellite radio services for months or even years, no economic bump for the auto and retail industry, no direct Canadian benefits with the growth of the grey satellite radio market, no genuine policy process, and no additional exposure for Canadian artists. And come next winter, no more Ms. Frulla.
Update: The Globe and Mail now reports that the auto industry and satellite providers have increased their lobbying pressure in response to the weekend reports.