This week a steady stream of television and cable executives will appear in Ottawa before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to discuss the "evolution of the television industry in Canada and its impact on local communities." My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that MPs from all parties will demand to know what companies like Rogers, CTV, and Canwest are prepared to do to ensure that local television broadcasting does not disappear in many smaller and medium sized communities.
The current "crisis" feels new, yet the issues are nearly as old as Canadian broadcasting itself. The economics of Canadian broadcasting have relied on a range of policy support mechanisms that include: lucrative commercial substitution, which lets broadcasters substitute Canadian commercials during the simulcast of popular U.S. programs; market protection that has limited local competition; declining programming commitments that allows broadcasters to fill airtime with cheaper foreign programming; and corporate convergence approvals that have resulted in only a handful of big Canadian broadcasters.
Broadcasters now argue these measures are insufficient and with the latest round of threats to shut down some local stations, MPs will be anxious to identify solutions to keep broadcasters in business. As they grapple with the issue, the MPs would do well to remember that at least three separate issues are often lumped together into the single umbrella issue of local broadcasting.