CRTC Radio Review Needs to Dial In New Frequency

My weekly LawBytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses on the CRTC's Commercial Radio Review.  I argue that missing from the debate is any real vision about how public policy goals to promote Canadian artists and encourage a diverse, financially successful commercial radio market can be adapted to an environment that faces increasing competition from a plethora of new options including webcasts, podcasts, and self-programming iPod users.

Claims that "smart" Cancon requirements that lead to a reduction of Canadian artist airtime clearly does not provide a solution, yet neither do arguments that simply ratchet up Cancon requirements given that Canadians will be listening to less and less music on commercial radio regardless of how much Cancon fills the airwaves.

It may be that there are no obvious solutions at the present time – the Internet is indeed changing at an incredible pace – however, it would help if the industry at least started to ask some of the right questions.  

Why is there so little Canadian content on online music services such as iTunes?  Why is French music from Quebec almost entirely absent from most Canadian online music services?  What policies could be adopted to encourage Canadian content on webcasts and podcasts?  What are the implications of the growing importance of peer-to-peer technologies as a critical method of music promotion and discovery for emerging artists?

While these are difficult questions, they must be asked and answered.  Unfortunately, it appears that this week's hearings will not provide many solutions since the participants are stuck on an entirely different frequency.  


  1. Vladimir Orlt says:
    “Why is French music from Quebec almost entirely absent from most Canadian online music services?”

    A valid question. It may be for the same reason that Quebec culture is absent from the radar of most culture-related Canadian TV shows. The other week, CBC (Newsworld?) ran ads for an upcoming show about Canadian music in the ’60s: Lightfoot, Mitchell et al, but not one snippet in there about Charlebois, Vigneault, Ferland, Leveille, Ferre… it is regrettable if you don’t speak the language, but the beauty of music transcends language barriers. More than ever, I felt the sadness of the Two Solitudes in that advert… doubtless the internet reflects the state of other media to some extent, esp. if one is talking about businesses which face the same market realities.

  2. Darryl Moore says:

    When financial interests make cultural d
    When financial interests make cultural decisions then culture will be created and distributed so as to meet the demands of the largest market.

    This is the way it has been since people started buying theater tickets, and this is the way it will be long after the Internet has evolved.

    The real (but unworkable) solution is to remove financial motivation from culture. I know, I know, that makes me one of those radical anti-IP anarchists. Admittedly I have gone more and more in that direction as current Intellectual Monopoly laws focus on how to take more and more of my rights away. But think about it. With the current ease of creating art for anybody, would the loss, or at least significant roll-back of I.M. laws, (I don’t use the P word in this context) really prevent people from creating culture? With less to worry about in terms of copyright infringement, and more works of the past available to build upon it might even create more.
    I digress…

    The United States, with its huge domestic market, has had an easy time creating their own culture for domestic consumption, then once paid for, ‘dumping’ it into foreign markets. This is not something that smaller markets can compete with in a sustainable fashion. Therefore governments in smaller markets have taken to subsidizing their own culture to compensate. Hence CANCON requirements, magazine postage subsidies, public television and more. Just about every country outside the US does it. and for the same reason.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with subsides. In fact, I think we need them in order to prevent a huge homogeneous US centric culture taking over the world. There is nothing wrong with US culture, but if that is all there is in the world, then the world becomes a less interesting place.

    The key is to recognize CANCON as a subsidy. A subsidy which in the Internet age is no longer feasible. The question then becomes what kind of subsidy can we replace it with. There are many options. How about a third CBC radio station aimed at the youth. How about government subsides to reduce the licencing cost for using Canadian culture in derived works. How about some anti-dumping levies on US cultural industries (If the US can get away with it on softwood…) How about more money for Canadian cultural events and projects in general.

    However, the CANCON requirements promoted Canadian culture at the expense of industry profits. I think the same method of financing needs to incorporated into any solution that replaces it. Even better if it is the US industry that pays.

    Just my 2 bits. Thanks Michael for the sane perspective you put on all these issues. Our law makers need to here more of it!

  3. Michael:

    Why do you have a built in assumption that it is right and proper for the government to promote Canadian content?

    Good Canadian content WILL rise to the top. Witness the CBC podcasts consistently ranking high on the iTunes podcast list. The top two podcasts on iTunes as I write this (May 15, 2006) are the CBC’s “The Best of Ideas” and the CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks”.

    In my opinion, it is time for Canadian content rules to be dropped! The best public policy pertaining to Canadian conent is no public policy.



  4. Darryl Moore says:

    Funny post!
    Dale, I thought your post was a hoot. The way you say so many good things about the CBC, and at the same time call for an end to government involvement in our culture. Really. It’s so well done, I bet most people reading it miss your sarcasm.

  5. nexxtech says:

    Culture Shmulture
    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says survival takes priority over warm fuzzy feelings.

    And so, democratic debate should take priority over culture.

    Can this happen on TV or newspapers?
    Only radio is interactive.
    Only on radio can you call in to correct a fact, add something to the agenda, make a counterpoint, discuss the context of an issue in real-time.
    Talk-radio won the US election for Bush according to think-tanks.

    Wnat does the CBC offer us?
    -2 stinking hours a week (cross-country checkup).
    -A host nobody chose, who also gets to spout his views on CBC TV.
    -no local talk show.
    -no way of participating in choice of topic.
    -no simulcast into french (so much for cross-cultural understanding).

    What do the commercial radio stations offer us?
    Whatever the owner’s want, usually some Bush-apologist .

    Internet has potential, but is fragmented.
    Also, now I understand that the US government wants to track of the websites you visit, something they can’t do with radio.