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Broadcasting Policy Without The Net

The CRTC's release of its much-anticipated broadcasting regulatory policy decision set off a flurry of comments yesterday with broadcasters welcoming the prospect of negotiating fees for their local signals, broadcast distributors warning of increased costs, and the CBC arguing that the decision was a "dark day" for public broadcasters after it was excluded from the negotiating process.  While there is understandably considerable discussion in the decision on programming requirements, the media focus centered on the fee-for-carriage issue.  On that front, the CRTC has opened the door to negotiations, subject to a court ruling confirming the Commission's jurisdiction to implement such an approach.

It seems appropriate that on the day the CRTC released its decision, a new study was published that found Canadians now spend more time online than watching television.  While the world is increasingly moving online, the CRTC decision acts as if the Internet scarcely exists.  The broadcasting policy decision mentions the Internet once (acknowledging that it is a platform for content distribution) and does not including any reference to streaming, Youtube, podcast, BitTorrent, or peer-to-peer (used by the CBC to distribute its content).  The word "consumer" is mentioned five times, though the consumer perspective will be addressed in a second report due later today to Cabinet.

Why is this relevant in a broadcast policy decision?  The reality of how consumers access broadcast content is surely worth considering in the context of a broadcast policy that envisions the possibility of blacking out U.S. broadcasts of television shows where a Canadian broadcaster has purchased local rights to the program and failed to negotiate a fee with a cable or satellite company.  In other words, if the broadcaster chooses to negotiate and fails to reach a deal, it will have the right to mandate blocking broadcast of programs from both local and foreign sources.  I wrote about the possibility of blocked signals last fall, noting:

The proposal, which would lead to millions of Canadians regularly encountering blank screens instead of expected programs, would perversely increase the attractiveness of U.S. programming.  Moreover, given the increasing expectation of on-demand program viewing, it seemingly would send more Canadians away from broadcast television to the Internet where there are no blackout messages and most programs are readily available in both legal and illegal forms.

Of course, this may be precisely what the CRTC is counting on as it hopes the blackout option is so unpalatable both to broadcasters and broadcast distributors that it will force the parties to reach a deal.  Consumers may not be inclined to wait around for this particular fight to be resolved, however.  Given that they now spend more time online than watching television, the programs are readily available online, and U.S. over-the-air digital signals are freely accessible to sizable percentage of the Canadian population, basing a broadcast policy on forced scarcity in a world of abundance hardly seems like an optimal approach.

22 Comments

  1. Ha
    The CRTC, like much of the governing / regulating bodies around here, are a pile of old fossils. We are not the 1980s anymore. Wake up.

  2. Darryl Moore says:

    Good riddance
    So the dinosaurs are going to have to duke it out to see who becomes extinct first? We should be concerned exactly why? I stopped watching broadcast television years ago. All this will do is hasten their demise as more and more people turn to other alternatives as they try to avoid being squashed when their great hulking carcases come crashing down. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  3. it’s encouraging…
    TV watching is dwindling in Canada? Great!

    I hate to sound like my parents, but TV really is the idiot box.

  4. Another Option
    So first people have to pay a LPIF that the cable/sat companies have tacked on and now will ultimately increase the tv bill even more to pay for carriage. Seems like double dipping to me. Maybe companies like Bell and Rogers should add ATSC tuners to their boxes and let the public receive the signals over the air. Or maybe give the consumer the option of paying for local channels. If they don’t want those channels, why are they forced to pay for them when you can get them for free over the air already.

    If there is a large problem with blackouts regarding American produced programming, why does the CRTC not let American satellite companies come into the market. They are much cheaper than the Canadian counterparts and over so much more.


  5. Funny how they mention “two sides” when CTVglobemedia and Bell are connected, Rogers owns a large amount of local TV stations, and Shaw has/is bought/buying some of Canwest. That’s a great majority on the “local TV” side. I also don’t think that Bell and Rogers are *really* against raising their prices, when you consider how much they rip off customers already with secret contracts and already overpriced services.

    Congrats CRTC. After a long period of discussion, you have accomplished nothing.

  6. Schultzter says:

    http://cameron-schultz.ca
    I agree with Eric L. How many local stations are already own by one of the national broadcasters? All this ruling is going to do is make the national broadcasters into regional monopolies! “Free” content for the parent company, high prices for the competitor.

  7. I’m also wondering how this could affect the canadian broadcaster’s right to trump US broadcasts with their own feeds. any thoughts, there? I can see a pretty strong argument being made, if they’re getting fees for carriage, that they lose that should the consumer choose not to subscribe to their services. be interesting to see what kind of arguments pop up there.

  8. So we’ll just all stop watching TV on TV and turn to the internet instead!

    Oh wait… Bell and Rogers are the ISPs too! Funny how they are introducing bandwidth caps and throttling. Coincidence? I think not.

  9. @Cory:
    I have two words: Rabbit Ears.

    Works even if you don’t have a high-speed internet connection. Of course, you don’t get channels such as NewsWorld, TSN, etc, but you can get unfettered access to US channels, without the nasty blackouts that the Canadian networks want… of course, they may start to insist that the American networks OTA transmissions get jammed.. 😉

    The best thing that I can say about all of this is that, according to the Globe article I saw on this, that they are going to the US system for FFC… if they demand FFC, they lose mandatory carriage and preferred placement on the dial. Forces the networks to decide which is more valuable to them.

  10. CanWest and Shaw
    Here we have Novus as cable provider. A provider that Shaw is desperatly trying to kill to take the market from, by offering bait and switch pocket pricing. Now with CanWest being purchased by Shaw (Global TV), I bet yet that this is gonna go horribly wrong since the fee for carriage is to be negotiated.

    (oh irony, the reCAPTCHA is “the pettiest”)

  11. Junji Hiroma says:

    Miron WAS right when he said the Customer is always powerless
    Cause Of Their Lobbying Power and their motto’s.THEY look out for #1 which is themselves and not their custome and this will NEVER change unless something serious happen which I’m not holding my breath for.

  12. Dan Goodchild says:

    Market Forces
    If the CRTC is serious about letting market forces set the value of broadcasters’ signals, will it drop the requirement that cable and satellite providers carry those signals? After all, market forces cannot act as intended on a commodity that one is required by law to purchase.

    That said, I don’t believe the CRTC when they say they want to let the market decide. My experience with them 6 years ago regarding TVN Niagara suggests this is a convenient excuse to avoid responsibility. In 2004 they denied TVN (an innovative startup by a long-time, experienced broadcaster) a broadcast licence maily because they thought the station would most likely fail. They didn’t let the market decide if the station would sink or swim, they chose to simply prevent its launch.

  13. Darryl Moore says:

    @Anon-K
    You obviously do not do this yourself. If you did you would have discovered that those rabbit ears, which are designed for VHF signals, don’t work anymore. At least for the US stations. They stopped broadcasting on the VHF band a year ago, and we will soon too.

    You can still pick up their digital UHF broadcasts, but you wont likely be able to do it without a larger outdoor antenna.

    My suspicion is that if the networks get their FFC then they will probably dump their OTA broadcasts. (unless the CRTC forces them to keep them.) I mean why maintain the expense of broadcasting when others will deliver your signal and pay you for the privoledge at the same time.

    If FFC happens, then OTA broadcasting cease soon after.

  14. TV is for old people
    If you’re a smart consumer you’ve already moved to the Internet these companies have been overcharging and screw us over for years. Don’t pay for TV, Movies or music. The Internet has a better selection and its available in many formats from Ipod to 1080p.
    I’m downloading Saving Private Ryan 720p right now. Don’t settle for outdated and overpriced formats that you need to buy a new propitiatory player for or this political theatre called the CRTC that everyone knows is one sided bullshit. If nobody pays these shitty companies money they can’t corrupt our politicians with their cash. You can say downloading is unethical but you can’t tell me these companies have morals. You are not powerless just go online you might be surprised at the quality and quantity of content you can find once you get more familiar with the technology. Maybe when these companies get with 21st century technology I’ll give them money but piracy is better and its not just the price.

  15. Consumer bail out of the broadcasting industry
    It floors me that the CRTC acting as a broadcasting regulator in the country, has actively refused to follow industries own data. The ad market tanked in 2008. It was widely reported that the reason the ad market was tanking was due to viewers moving towards the web for content. The ad market on the web is still maturing. The media industry has been actively fighting with consumers on online content over the past 10 years until recently caving. Had traditional broadcasters followed the market right from the get go, the online ad market would be booming! But that didn’t happen.

    This is a very similar in nature to what happened with the Auto Industry. The failure to act and follow the marketplace causes government to intervene and bail out them out while they get their act together. Although in this case no “payment” is required by the broadcasters to pay back consumers and tax payers.

    Clement should put in a provision with respect to consumers having a choice on which stations to support on this. There are a few local TV channels I do NOT want my money going to, nor do I want on my channel lists due to this. If cable rates go up, I’ll cancel my digital cable, and go directly to the net to download my programming. My money will not support this bail out! That is my choice.

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  17. http://www.knowyourmedia.com says:

    We need a new Broadcasting Model
    I find this quite interesting. I don’t think their are issues with the CRTC… rather…, I think their are issue with the Canadian Broadcasting Act. For anyone who knows anything about the Canadian Broadcasting Act, the Act itself has to be revisited to account for New media and its impact in the production of Canadian content that “informs, enlightens and entertains Canadians” (The Canadian Broadcasting Act, 1991: subsection 3(1)) .

    The Act governs the CRTC and guides them… but the Act itself is out of date. The Internet was originally not considered part of the Broadcasting Act.. but now given more Canadian’s are consuming their media online… perhaps it should be. However, by no means should the Internet be regulated.

    The CRTC seems to be working within the same business model, a model.. that what from what we have seen is “broken”. We have to come up with something new.. rather than trying to save the “model”.. we need a new model.


  18. I just thought of something. Since the CRTC seems to be incapable of doing anything as I mentioned above, why don’t we make our own TV stations and transmitters?

  19. Powerless?
    Junji Hiroma said:
    Miron WAS right when he said the Customer is always powerless
    Cause Of Their Lobbying Power and their motto’s.THEY look out for #1 which is themselves and not their customer and this will NEVER change unless something serious happen which I’m not holding my breath for.

    Consumers are not powerless. Show your displeasure by either canceling your cable/satellite subscription or reducing it to only basic cable.

  20. Laurel L. Russwurm says:

    Funny how the CRTC is STILL not protecting the interests of Canadian Internet users.
    I think its time for the CRTC to be turned out of their ivory tower so that they have a grasp of what it is like to live in the real world.
    http://stopusagebasedbilling.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/what-century-is-the-crtc-in/

    @Eric L. – people are doing that … there’s all kinds of great LEGAL video content on the Internet…. LIFEFORCE[tv] … Flickr video … YouTube … vimeo …. BlipTV (no relation to Max Headroom’s blipverts)

    The truly depressing thing is that unfortunately the CRTC has sway over the Internet too, with even less understanding of it.

  21. Remind me again why BitTorrent shouldn’t be my TV provider?I swear, I can’t think of a single reason.

  22. Bernard C. says:

    The programs are readily available online ?
    I am not sure that the programs are readily available online. When I try to see programs on Hulu I get the following message: We are sorry, currently, our video library can only be streamed within the United States.”

    Why ? Because the rights for these programs has to be paid somehow. One way or another. Over-the-air, on cable or on the Internet, someone has to pay for these programs. How would we pay in the future is THE question. In particular , who will pay for Canadian programs ?