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    Consumer Choice Holds The Key To Solving Fee-For-Carriage Fight

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    Monday November 02, 2009
    Today is the deadline for submitting comments on the fee-for-carriage issue (you can do so directly at the CRTC's website) and I wade in with my views in this week's technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version).  I note that for the past two months, Canadians have been subjected to a non-stop marketing campaign pitting two deep-pocketed industries - broadcasters and broadcast distributors - against each other.  Television and radio commercials, full-page newspaper advertisements, websites and Twitter posts all seek to convince the public that new fees for local television signals are, depending on your perspective, either a TV tax or crucial funding to save local television.

    Broadcasters claim some local TV stations will close if they do not receive millions in additional fees from cable and satellite companies as compensation for distributing their signal.  Cable and satellite companies leave little doubt they will pass along any new fees - possibly as much as $10 per month per subscriber - to their customers. The additional fees inevitably will not come from the bottom lines of cable and satellite companies, but rather from the pockets of consumers.

    While the reaction for many Canadians might be sensibly to tune out the entire mess, politicians and regulators will still be left seeking a solution. In fact, some politicians have pledged to support local television, but also promised to avoid new consumer costs.  Can these two positions be reconciled?

    Perhaps.

    The answer may lie in giving consumers more choice, by allowing them to pay only for the channels they want - regardless of whether they are local, foreign, or specialty (such as CNN or movie networks).  

    A full "a la carte" model would require three steps. First, exclude public broadcasters from the issue altogether. The CBC argues it is also entitled to fee-for-carriage compensation, yet that runs counter to the very notion of a public broadcaster.  The public has already paid for the broadcasts and should not be asked to pay again.  Public broadcasters should instead form a new basic tier for cable and satellite providers that would be considerably cheaper since it would only include channels for which no fees are attached.

    Second, make all remaining channels - local, foreign, and specialty - optional for consumers.  Groups of channels can still be packaged to offer better value (sports, movie, local channel, or U.S. channel packages), but the crucial difference from the current system would be that Canadian consumers would get to decide what channels they want to pay for.

    Third, institute a fee-for-carriage system so private broadcasters are compensated for their local signals where consumers choose to subscribe.  If Canadians are really concerned with their local television, they will subscribe and the broadcasters will be the beneficiaries. If the Canadian broadcasters are wrong, however, they lose both compensation and mandatory carriage.

    Such a system should meet everyone's needs. Politicians succeed in getting local television stations fees for their signal without forcing consumers who don’t want the channels to pay for them.  Consumers gain much-needed control over their cable bills so that they are not forced to pay new fees for signals they don’t want.  Broadcasters get their long sought-after fee-for-carriage model.  

    Moreover, this approach fosters incentives for broadcasters to invest in local news and original programming because strategies based on simply licensing popular U.S. content will become less effective as consumers anxious to view those programs subscribe to the U.S. channels rather than the Canadian simulcast.

    Adopting a genuine choice model would undoubtedly represent a dramatic shift in Canadian broadcast policy that has long featured must-carry obligations for Canadian broadcasters.  Yet it is the broadcasters themselves that argue for a new paradigm.  A system that matches fee-for-carriage with consumer choice may best reflect the needs of a television universe scarcely imagined when the Broadcasting Act was first drafted.
    Comments (41)add comment

    Bob Harrison said:

    Understanding the Fee for Carriage fight
    I think most consumers do not understand what the issue is (including myself).
    I thought television stations both, local and national sell ads to fund their operations.
    I thought Cable and Satellite companies sell subscriptions to Television (and now radio) stations.

    Whats the issue ?
    November 02, 2009

    Jason K said:

    ...
    I was actually wondering why the CBC was involved with this. Found it very interesting.
    November 02, 2009

    Vincent Clement said:

    ...
    Michael,

    Do you really think that the CRTC, the TV Networks and the Cable/Satellite providers will agree to a system that takes control out of their hands and back into the hands of the consumer?
    November 02, 2009

    Paul T. said:

    Never going to happen
    Remember, the government, the cable companies and the TV stations are all out to make money off of us. Your proposal would not only make less money for the cable companies, as we would obviously choose to get less, but it would mean the death of some of the TV stations in this country.
    November 02, 2009

    Dean K Owen said:

    These ad campaigns are misleading
    Both parties - the broadcasters and the distributors - are misleading us with claims of 'supporting local tv' and 'tv tax'. Broadcasters are not interested in local TV unless it's located in a major city. Here in Red Deer Alberta (pop. 89,000) we have watched them pull out with Global being the last to leave this summer. We now have no 'local TV'. The so called TV tax isn't - it's just a cost of doing business but the cable-co's are trying to divert our attention.

    Having a genuine choice would be great but for those of us who reside outside of large urban areas (e.g. Toronto) we don't have much to choose from. For cable it's typically a single source provider and satellite is limited as well in rural areas.

    This ad campaign is just that - an advertising campaign built on catchy slogans and questionable claims.

    Dean
    November 02, 2009

    John said:

    The "Real" Underlying Problem
    I think your approach is attrative. The problem is that it requires the CRTC to micro-manage the business models of the distributors.

    I would say the "real" problem is a lack of competition generally. These proceedings, as well as the traffic shaping proceedings, demonstrate that Canadians severely starved for competition in the telecommunications sector. If there was sufficient competition, the "a la carte" option would already be available to Canadian consumers. But, unfortunately, the CRTC has time-and-time again proven itself to be anti-competition and pro-incumbent as demonstrated in the Globalive decision.
    November 02, 2009

    Anon-K said:

    @Dean
    Not just "smaller" centres are affected. Here in Ottawa, we have 2 English language broadcasters with local studios; CBC and CTV. CBC owns one channel, CTV owns 2. Between them, the closest thing that we have to what I call "local" tv is a single, half hour per week, show on CTV... and CTV tried to kill that off a few years ago (note that I don't consider the news local TV as is has been mandated by the CRTC). We have other broadcasters, they are repeaters of Toronto-centric programming (Global, OMNI, CITY-TV, CTS, TVO).

    Last year CTV gutted the news crews at both of their local stations.

    The broadcasters are the big losers in the Prof Geist's proposal. They don't just want fee-for-carriage. They want fee-for-carriage in addition to their current mandatory carriage and preferred dial placement privileges. They would lose the latter two under the proposal.

    Frankly, I see this whole thing as a PR exercise for both the broadcasters and the cable/satellite operators. The broadcasters were smoking something if they thought that the cable/satellite operators wouldn't pass on the added costs... the PR exercise for both is in not making themselves look like the bad guys to the consumer in all of this.

    The broadcasters have done a poor job lately. Even the OTA digital conversion was botched by them; in this area, OMNI has converted (2 channels); Sun-TV came in digital only (1 regular, 1 HD). CBC has converted (HD). Only Global and CTV haven't, they squandered the funds on over-priced asset acquisition.
    November 02, 2009

    Randy C said:

    Another solution
    As Bob mentioned traditional broadcasters sell advertising to fund their operations. Cable companies merely act as a local repeaters of the traditional broadcast stations and do not benefit from the advertising revenue. In essence traditional broadcasters are reducing their costs by offloading local transmission onto the cable company and demanding a fee in the process. If fee-for-carriage is approved the day will come when there will be no local over-the-air broadcasting except in very large centers and everything will be "broadcast" by cable carriers.

    My solution to the problem of new consumer costs is to allocate the advertising revenue to whoever "broadcasts" the content. By paying fee-for-carriage the cable companies have purchased the content and the right to substitute their own advertising in the place of network advertising. Cable companies can then sell the advertising to offset the cost of fee-for-carriage.
    November 02, 2009

    Anonyme said:

    ...
    Well Bell did send a email to sympatico users crying about a tax... but I guess like the Real-time application definition, they have a wierd definition of tax.
    November 02, 2009

    2bad said:

    ...
    Consumer choice? In Canada? You gotta be kidding.

    This will never fly. It's like the record companies wanting to sell albums rather than singles. But Bell and Rogers etc. have their CRTC to back them up.
    November 02, 2009

    Sal said:

    ...
    Bell and Rogers should NOT carry local programming if they don't want to pay for it...but if they use it, they should pay for it. Just like I have to pay for a satellite signal the 'falls on my property'.
    November 02, 2009

    tyres said:

    ...
    I most certainly favour choice. I desperately want to CHOOSE what i pay for. There is so much JUNK on the TV as it and i don't want the PACKAGE of junk that i am forced to subscribe in order to get one station that I _do_ want. By all means give consumers greater control. The stations that we don't support can wither on the information highway for all i care...
    November 02, 2009

    MaryT said:

    ...
    I read your column in the Star this morning and I agree wholeheartedly. I'm fed up with the idea of paying for multiple channels that I have no desire to view. I have now been minus TV for four months (reading a lot). I've also been spoiled because for six years I was a snowbird in Florida where a subscriber only had to pay extra for HBO, Showtime and Pay-Per-View. I don't know whether that's still the case. I wish that Canadians weren't so passive and revolted en masse regarding the various fees charged by Bell and Rogers...I can only imagine how quickly rates would drop. Unfortunately, people can't do without their TVs.
    November 02, 2009

    Thomas Malenfant said:

    Let the vipers fight
    I understand ducking our heads isn't a solution, but without needing to state the manipulation on the cable co's part, its important to think on "local" tv.

    Recently a lot of the grass roots (consumer groups, special interest groups, grass root political groups) have tried to purchase ad time with their "local" tv broadcasters. One example would be the current adbusters charter challenge adbusters vs. canwest. How "local" is a channel, when they refuse to sell citizens ad space? Aside from being contradictory to the notion of free press, we get pummeled every day with ads about nonsense we don't want to buy, to pay for mostly inaccurate "local" television news. If these broadcasters want to save space, they should consider opening up the airwaves. There are plenty of citizens groups, with the money, to pay for ad space, while the broadcasters are manufacturing an advertising "revenue shortfall". Instead of giving deals to more plastic garbage, ...

    I think I've made my point

    "local" TV. What a joke.
    November 02, 2009

    Joran Sorten said:

    Go ask rogers or shaw to carry your local TV station for free, they won't
    Even if you provided local content Rogers and Shaw wouldn't carry your TV station. If a community banded together to form local cable access TV like we used to have, Rogers and Shaw would not carry them.

    November 02, 2009

    Thomas Malenfant said:

    Let the vipers fight
    I understand ducking our heads isn't a solution, but without needing to state the manipulation on the cable co's part, its important to think on "local" tv.

    Recently a lot of the grass roots (consumer groups, special interest groups, grass root political groups) have tried to purchase ad time with their "local" tv broadcasters. One example would be the current Adbusters charter challenge, Adbusters vs. Canwest. How "local" is a channel, when they refuse to sell citizens ad space, or only sell it at off peak hours? Aside from being contradictory to the notion of free press, we get pummeled every day with ads about nonsense we don't want to buy, to pay for mostly inaccurate "local" television news. If these broadcasters want to save space, they should consider opening up the airwaves. There are plenty of citizens groups, with the money, to pay for ad space, while the broadcasters are manufacturing an advertising "revenue shortfall". Instead of giving deals to more plastic garbage, ...
    Imagine us being able to put michael, or any net neutrality advocate on a thirty second ad space for net neutrality. They won't though, because, "local" IS NOT LOCAL

    I think I've made my point

    "local" TV. What a joke.
    November 02, 2009

    Jeff Power said:

    I have the Answer
    It's called an Antenna
    If I see one small increase on my cable bill It's Antenna time :)
    November 02, 2009

    Jack Robinson said:

    Airwave Anorexia versus Broadband Bulimia
    Excellent piece as usual, Mr. Geist... offering both a perceptive analysis of the broadcaster versus carrier conundrum... and a sane template for a workable, audience-driven solution.

    But my tiny antennae tell me that, despite the earnest outcries of Canadians on both sides of the issue... the toothless and compromised CRTC will once again favour the interests of the Big Media Distributors... and the shafted citizenry of New Rome North will see their cathode connectivity reduced to a fuzzy-wuzzy test pattern.
    November 02, 2009

    Brian P said:

    Amazing
    Michael, somehow you've managed to come up with a solution that would, in the long run, be best for everyone involved, but which none of the groups involved would possibly want to implement. Nicely done.

    A la carte TV is a pipe dream. I've always thought it made the most sense and would love to see it introduced, and the way television is delivered now there's certainly no excuses why it couldn't be done technology-wise. But there's certainly no way the channels will go for it and gamble their guaranteed carriage fees, it's extremely unlikely the CRTC has the guts to make such a radical change, and as for distributors like Rogers, Bell, Shaw or Telus stumping for more consumer choice...well, I'd laugh if it weren't so sad.
    November 02, 2009

    Brad Fortner said:

    www.bradfortner.com
    How about a consumer bill of rights built around some of my needs...

    I'd like to be able to get my local stations off the air for free and not be penalized by having to subscribe to a basic cable subscription and pay for a standard definition version of the same signal.

    I'd like not to have to pay a premium to receive HDTV signals from my cable company when the broadcasters are delivering the signals to them in HDTV.

    I'd like to be able to subscribe and pay for just the channels I want from my cable company and a set top box that combines my free over the air HDTV channels with my cable originated subscription channels.

    I want over the air broadcasters to increase their transmission power in HDTV to match the signal distance one gets with analogue transmission.

    If satellite is supposed to compete with cable I want them to have regulated standards so they don't destroy HDTV channels with undue image compression

    I want satellite signal strength increased so snow, heavy rain or even in heavy clouds the signal does not drop out as it's unfair to me as a consumer when compared with cable tv.

    ....brad....
    November 02, 2009

    tyres said:

    ...
    Apple’s iTunes Pitch: TV for $30 a Month... perhaps what iTunes did to CD sales will be visited upon TV land. I would sign up a t a drop of hat! I love disruptive technologies... http://mediamemo.allthingsd.co...0-a-month/
    November 02, 2009

    Anon-K said:

    @Jeff Power
    I have an antenna (no cable where I live, and O don't get satellite). There are a number of channels that are available only to cable/satellite subscribers. For instance, I am interested in getting Space, Discovery, A&E and History. They do not offer OTA broadcasts. Of course, these are the ones that the cable and satellite companies pay FFC on; so that the network doesn't have to put up the cash for a transmitter. Hmm...
    November 02, 2009

    KR said:

    Waaay to much sense making happening here
    Mr. Geist, you sir are guilty of making too much sense - which, of course, you already know.

    While I will not descend to bashing some group - governmental or otherwise, I will note that things that make this much sense rarely occur. Meaningful choice in Canadian telecommunications? Darn right impossible, I say. (Oh, and I'm sure they someone will soon be insisting to geo-block the crap out of Apple's latest announcement). In all seriousness, though Mr. Geist knows very well the implausibility of his suggestion. I would argue that our CRTC is not really to blame here (neither are the 'casters or BDUs). Rather, it is the Broadcast and Telecommunications Act that we should re-think. From CanCon right on up to the ISP, they s%@t was written when DARPA was still noodling around with big o' transistors - and has proven quite resirant to change. How to change the acts? Grow some spine-ful leaders...now I'm being wishful, eh?

    Solution: stop making any sense whatsoever.

    PurpleMonkeyDishWater!
    November 02, 2009

    Joanne Levy said:

    Broadcast Consultant
    The Federal Government has mandated this current hearing on fee for carriage and it is the Federal Government, not the CRTC, that will ultimately make a decision.
    It is very unfortunate that Canadian viewers are caught in the crossfire in a war where truth has long since been the first casualty. Mr. Geist offers what is on the surface a simple, fair solution but much as I would like to embrace something so elegant I fear that there are many unintended consequences that would emerge to the detriment of Canadian content let alone local content.
    November 02, 2009

    Dan said:

    ...
    Has anyone even considered streaming the broadcast of the local stations on the 'net? Why does the delivery vehicle have to be cable or satellite? If the model worked before using conventional means, why should changing the delivery vehicle bork the model? Costs involved streaming the signal via the internet would seem to be comparable to operating and maintaining broadcast towers right? Any foreign market ip viewing could be blocked/managed to protect/maintain the proper market boundaries right? So what's the problem? Why can't this be a solution? fodder for thought. Dan...
    November 02, 2009

    MarcR said:

    in the clear
    Local TV should be carried unencrypted so that any FTA receiver or ATSC equipped TV can get the signal. No need to pay even a basic tier as no set top box would be required. Just plug the cable directly into the TV.

    Also, Bell already offers a-la-carte for $3 per channel. Quite a deal - NOT!

    Anyhow, lack of competition is the problem as others have mentioned already in this thread.
    November 02, 2009

    ClaytonZ said:

    Broken Business Model
    The TV stations shouldn't have it both ways. They can't have fee for carriage AND be on the must carry list.

    When Cable TV threatened to potentially cut local stations out of the market, they were added to the must carry list. This allowed them greater reach into more homes with better picture quality.

    Now that their advertiser supported business model is broken, they see a revenue opportunity.

    Why should the cable TV distributors be forced to pay for the same signal that a subscriber can receive for free just by putting up a regular antenna?
    November 02, 2009

    Hook said:

    The bigger the carriage fee the better
    I fully support the broadcasters call for carriage fees. The carriage fee should be imposed on all cable subscribers, and no one should be able to opt out of receiving local broadcasters either. Just like the broadcasters want.

    I'll even go one further and say that the fee should be twice what they are asking for. More even.

    Why?

    Because it will spell the end of both the broadcasters and the cable companies. I get all the television programming I could possibly want over the Internet already. It's free, without commercials, and every single current program is at my finger tips. It is the way of the future. Why would anyone possibly want to deal with these dinosaurs anymore any way?

    Let them hike their fees and hasten their self destruction. Good Riddance.
    November 02, 2009

    Scrand said:

    Just remember who owns the rights in Canada
    Broadcasters are all for this style of an "a la carte" business model - the cable/satellite companies not so much. Those cable/satellite companies would have to manage what each household gets - although possible today - to much work for too little return. And why would Broadcasters want it? Because they would push for Owners Rights - meaning if they own the rights to a programme you will have to subscribe to them to watch it. Don't think you could just order ABC, NBC and CBS and get their shows - uh-uh! If CTV owns the rights to Desperate House Wives in Canada then you would only be able to watch it on your "local" CTV station otherwise it would be blacked out to you. This would do away with the cable companies complaining about "commercial substitution" If your show is on at 9:00 and CTV owns the rights then you better be tuned to a CTV station. I'm afraid then that many would be crying the blues about which package they subscribed to and Cable/satellite companies would be fielding the calls. Look at the internet now - there are some shows available on US Network websites that I can't access because I live in Canada - I don't hear anyone here moaning about that - same issue. Canadian stations who own the rights for US shows should have exclusive rights to those shows - end of story - they paid for them. Let's get this right if we are going to make changes and keep local stations in business. You get what you pay for and if you don't pay for it - then buddy you don't get it!
    November 02, 2009

    Sean Hunt said:

    That would be nice, but...
    I would very much support this model, except for one detail - it's not feasible. Cable services can't control what analog channels people get in the same way that they can do with digital cable due to the lack of a terminal box on analog channels. If this system were mandated, they would only have two options for the implementation of this - either show these channels on digital only, or install cable filters on everyone's cable lines unless they pay for every channel.

    I've spoken with a Shaw employee who said that the latter is completely infeasible, so they'd end up having to pick option 1, which would irritate many many people and quite possibly reduce viewership of these free channels to the point where the change costs them money.
    November 02, 2009

    Laurel L. Russwurm said:

    What local television?
    The big TV networks pretty much killed off real local programming years ago.

    The problem with switching to watching TV on the internet? Lets see... internet is brought to us by: Bell/Rogers. And surprise surprise, video increases bandwidth big time.

    Which will be a real big problem when the court challenges are done (soon) and the CRTC allows implementation of Usage Based Billing, there will be caps (I've heard 25gb and 60 gb) and as you rise above them rates will rise exponentially.

    If you want to be really scared at what's coming check out the chart at http://bob.jonkman.ca/blogs/20...d-harmful/

    then sign the petition:
    http://dissolvethecrtc.ca/
    November 02, 2009

    MarcR said:

    Analog & local TV
    Simsub should be done away with and replaced with the good old regime of blackouts. TV rights should be respected and making said rights apparent to the consumer will make a better informed customer.

    I'm surprised no one has picked up on the CTVgm submission where they advise the CRTC that no more than 6 stations (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, and Ottawa) will be DTV OTA by Aug/2011 (digital deadline). FFC or not - they have no intention of converting other stations in their network.

    So, how exactly is CTVgm the savior of local TV?
    November 03, 2009

    Anon-K said:

    ...
    In a sense, I agree with Laurel. However, the problem with Dan's solution is that it assumes that everyone has access to high-speed internet (affordable or not). This is untrue. The cheapest available high-speed internet at my place is $50 per month for 3 MBps and a 50 GB cap (wireless... landline/cable based is not available). Unfortunately, topology means that I can't receive the signal from the tower 3 km away. Next option; satellite. For that same service, well, it isn't available. The closest in bandwidth available is 1.2 Mbps for $80 per month.
    November 03, 2009

    Russell McOrmond said:

    My submission to the CRTC Re: Local TV Matters
    http://www.digital-copyright.ca/node/5079

    Agree with MG, but believe we need to go the next step of bypassing the cable companies entirely. It will be very hard to regulate them such that a-la-carte won't be priced too high and subsidise cable bundles where we continue to pay for stations we don't want.
    November 03, 2009

    Benjamin Smith said:

    Distribution
    Here is my idea:

    Rogers/Bell = Distributors = Flat Access Fee to the Signal

    Broadcasters with Commercials = No extra cost to the consumer and available to everyone who has access to the signal

    Broadcasters with out Commercials = May charge what ever they wish the consumer to pay for their content, Rogers/Bell will give access to this content to the consumer as well as forwarding the cost without adding fees.

    In this model everyone, including broadcasters pay Rogers/Bell a static fee. The money earned this way is used to maintain, upgrade and expand the network.

    Proof that this model works http://www.twit.tv
    November 03, 2009

    Noralee S. said:

    Something completely different...
    In the past 20 years, for financial reasons, I have done without TV a few times. The first time was Hell, but I survived. LOL Now that I know I have this option, I'm not going to get drawn into this war for more of my money. My simple solution is to throw some money into the pot to pay for signal at a friend's place, and watch what I choose on his second televison - which I got at a yard sale for 5 bucks! If it looks like TV signal will be forever beyond my means, I will move my 27" TV to his place as well. That way, 3 people can be watching simultaneously. It will work because he has a house where each TV can be in a separate room. Of course, the idea of sharing resources is older than this country, and maybe it's time has come 'round again.
    November 04, 2009

    James Morrison said:

    Great Idea
    Prof Geist, you are a beacon of hope in a world of idiots and lobbyists (those two groups are not mutually exclusive). When are you going to run for public office? I doubt I'd be in your riding but I'd support you for sure.
    November 04, 2009

    Bob said:

    ...
    Michael, you have an unquestion assumption under your argument that Canadians consumers and Canadian cable and satellite companies should be able access "U.S. channel packages". US cable and satellite companies pay to retransmit local tv signals and programming. US customers are not able to access imported or distant signals. So if Windsor, On, was an American city, they would not be able to access Detroit TV. Why limit importation to only US signals, heck lets open it up and import signals from around the world, whether they are legal or not. Who cares, Canada can become the worlds leading pirate of TV signals, and cable and satellite companies can charge customers to deliver it and not remit any money to the people that own those signals and that will sure show Canadian broadcasters!
    November 04, 2009

    JM said:

    ...
    To me, as a viewer, this whole debate has been rather confusing but there are two issues that I think deserve some consideration in the overall discussion on this matter:

    1. Who benefits from advertising revenues?
    Without knowing all the specifics at play, it is my understanding that networks sell advertising to companies and organizations and collect the advertising revenues exclusively. The cable and satellite companies re-broadcast these ads as they re-transmit the network signals but do not gain any benefit from the ads shown. Lately, the networks have also started to provide a few programs over the internet, collecting new ad revenues from this medium as well. While the number of off-air customers may have been declining in recent years, I believe cable and satellite companies have seen their numbers increase. It can therefore be viewed that the networks are benefiting from the cable/satellite rebroadcasting of their signals. If it were decided to force the cable and satellite companies to pay the networks for their signals, then these same companies would need to be allowed to replace the network ads with their own. A central administration function would need to be set up to co-ordinate selling their ads and collecting the associated revenues. It is hard to find any sympathy for the networks these days, CTV in particular, based on past performance. I have heard that this network had purchased programs in the past to prevent their competitors from purchasing them, delaying their airing by considerable lengths of time. While the CBC has been providing an off-air HD signal as well as a standard signal in Ottawa for some time, I was told by CTV staff a few years ago that their plan was to re-use the hardware purchased for the Olympics to provide HD signals at their locals stations once the Games were over, thereby resulting in some significant savings. I don't think additional customer charges are the answer. Yet that is what will surely happen if the networks are allowed to charge cable/satellite companies for their signals.

    2. Do we really need such duplication of programming?
    At least in Ottawa, I believe that most of the daily local programming we receive is related to news. While it is true that there are a few unique programs and special events during the week, these are not the norm. On week-day mornings, there are news/information programs on CBC, CTV and A-channel. Here, it is not uncommon to see similar analysis of the same situation (H1N1, ...) or in-depth interviews with the same government ministers. At noon, there are news/information programs on CBC and CTV. At supper time, on CBC, CTV and Global, you'll find that 80-90% of the news stories are almost identical in content. The presenters may be different and the order in which they are presented may vary but in the end the viewer ends up with basically the same information whichever channel he/she watches. (There is one additional issue here and that is that the Global program originates in Toronto. This can at times lead to some confusion. For example, the directions taken in relation to the H1N1 pandemic are different in Toronto than in Ottawa. See story in Ottawa Citizen Oct. 29, 2009.) Nonetheless, my point is that there is a great duplication of effort and expense by these local stations. The question therefore becomes, why couldn't the networks be directed to work together to fund a common high-quality operation in each city/town of a certain size. A common studio could produce local newscasts, special events coverage (walk-a-thons, charitable campaigns,...) and the odd-special production when appropriate. Funding could be provided through some kind of viewership formula. If a network wanted a special program produced, they would be expected to provide the funding required. All contributing networks would have access to high-quality morning, noon and supper-time programs for re-broadcast on their local networks. The shared costs would be considerably lower for each network.
    November 04, 2009

    glen Merrick said:

    Simulcasts
    Moreover, this approach fosters incentives for broadcasters to invest in local news and original programming because strategies based on simply licensing popular U.S. content will become less effective as consumers anxious to view those programs subscribe to the U.S. channels rather than the Canadian simulcast.

    I have a better idea on this. Make simulcasts illegal. All the cable companies are doing is overriding the American's channel signal with the Canadian content and advertising. As well the idiots often forget to stop the simulcasts when the show is over.
    November 09, 2009

    John Fallows, Calgary said:

    Musings from a former broadcaster who now lives in an interconnected world
    Thanks for your useful suggestion, Michael. It appears to be based on a clear “public interest principle” (consumer choice), rather than special interests of the regulated. With a bold, visionary regulator, it might even be feasible as a transition strategy. But in the longer run, the question that I wrestle with is: what will emerge as the twenty-first century equivalent to local broadcasting, which was so instrumental to our social fabric for most of the twentieth century, but is no longer feasible under its existing business model?
    As a consumer and community member, I would subscribe to a daily local broadcast news program (especially if it was on demand, and the cost reduced through customized advertising insertions targeted at my personal demographic). But the production of a local broadcast news program does not require anything resembling a traditional “television station”, which is now an anachronism and not required for other forms for program content, so why would I buy it if I was not forced to? Sooner we focus on blending your consumer choice principle with new organizational and business structures which can profitably provide local broadcast content without all the baggage of a no-longer relevant industry trying to survive. Interestingly, television broadcasters have historically been allocated a scarce common resource (airwaves) without cost in return for providing public value. Less than 10% of Canadians (and declining) currently rely on airwaves for receiving television broadcasting. Who cares if the local stations go dark – it’s the content people will want, not the legacies.
    December 01, 2009

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