CRTC Should Force Broadcasters To "Compete Just Like Any Other Sector"
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Monday April 22, 2013
Appeared in the Toronto Star on April 20, 2013 as CRTC Should Force Broadcasters to Compete
Last month, Jean-Pierre Blais, the chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, delivered a much-discussed speech at the Canadian Media Production Association's annual conference. The CMPA is Canada's leading organization for the production of Canadian film and television programming and Blais' message was intended to both congratulate and challenge the industry.
On the congratulatory side, Blais noted the Canadian film and television
production had a record year in 2012, growing by over $500 million over
the prior year, by far the highest total and fastest growth in over a
decade. Canadian television production led the way, increasing 21.3 per
cent in 2011/12, for a ten-year high of just under $2.6 billion. Most of
the increase was due to English-language programming, with fiction
production growing by over 41 per cent.
Yet there was a second comment that garnered less attention, but that
may ultimately prove more important. After encouraging the industry to
become more innovative and entrepreneurial, Blais warned "you will need
to compete, just like any other sector."
For example, most of the funding for the record amount of Canadian
English-language television programming came from taxpayers and
broadcasters, not the original producers of the content. According to
Profile 2012, an annual report on the state of the industry, only ten
per cent came from private funding such as production companies and
private investors. Canadian distributors covered 18 per cent of the
total costs, with foreign distributors kicking in an additional nine per
The notion of competing in the market should take centre stage this week
as the CRTC conducts its hearing on whether Canadians who subscribe to
cable and satellite television packages should be required to pay for
channels such as Sun News Network and Starlight, a proposed all-Canadian
movie channel. The regulatory process has been likened to winning the
lottery, since channels selected for mandatory carriage are guaranteed
millions in revenue regardless of whether Canadians watch or even want
That shift in approach would represent a significant change in Canadian broadcast policy, effectively establishing a framework that requires the industry to compete for subscribers. As CRTC Chair Blais would say, just like any other sector.Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.
Monday April 22, 2013