Policy Toolkit Nearly Empty In Bid To Support Local TV

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.

The first is local programming, primarily local news.  Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission established the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF), a $60 million fund targeted at supporting local programming in smaller markets.  While the LPIF would seem to be an ideal mechanism to address programming concerns, broadcasters have been cool to the idea.  MPs may want to ask why they continue to ask for new carriage fees, but have not embraced funding that targets the local programming that is said to be in dire straits.

The second issue is local broadcasting, particularly the financial viability of stations in smaller markets.  Private broadcasters have announced plans to downsize or drop certain stations, raising questions about how (or whether) those stations should receive support. 

The broadcasters have been using the threatened closures to build support for a fee-for-carriage system that would see cable and satellite subscribers pay upwards of $75 per year for over-the-air television signals that are currently free.  The CRTC has already agreed to demands for millions to compensate for "time shifting" of those channels, but has twice rejected the fee-for-carriage proposal, noting that broadcast executives have been unwilling to commit the money to local broadcast stations.

Looming on the horizon is the third issue – local access to over-the-air broadcasting (OTA). Canadian broadcasters will switch from analog to digital signals in 2011 and they have left little doubt that some communities will lose their signal as part of the transition. With one in ten Canadians relying on OTA broadcasts, this means that millions of Canadians may lose access to television, with residents in smaller communities particularly hard hit.

Each of local programming, broadcasting, and access presents its own set of challenges. Some may be hoping for a silver bullet solution, yet the reality is that the Canadian policy toolkit that has long supported local television broadcasting is now nearly exhausted.  Moreover, there have been no indications that politicians or policy makers are willing to consider radical reform the Canadian broadcasting landscape by relying more heavily on community access channels or creating new demand for commercial advertising on private broadcasters by shifting to a commercial-free CBC. 

The committee will hear much about "business-to-business" solutions. However, it appears that the answer will ultimately lie in asking Canadians to pay – directly or indirectly – for the continuation of local broadcasting in the digital era.


  1. ota numbers
    Where does the “one-in-ten” number come from? Could you cite sources, please? I think you define what a network is, and what their broadcast obligations are. Let them charge the cable and satellite companies for licensing, who are NOT network broadcasters and seem to be ok with accepting pay-for-play from everyone _but_ the networks, and it’ll work out. So what if it costs more money to the consumer; if they don’t like it, they can opt out and get their broadcast OTA… or just stick to downloading that which they’re interested in.

    The continued reliance on legisltion to preserve business models is stupid. Our government is there to regulate to ensure there’s a balance between the interests of the corp and the interests of the consumer. High time they start actually doing that.

  2. arlo bundsen says:

    There is a useful report from the crtc analyzing cable, satellite and OTA usage:

    They conclude that about 87% of households with television subscribe to the major cable provides; thus, the remainder 13% of households with televisions are likely using over-the-air broadcasts.

  3. United Hackers Association says:

    im so sick i want to puke.

  4. United Hackers Association says:
  5. Dwight Williams says:

    And that’s likely being charitable. On top of those who can’t afford cable or satellite to hook to their TVs, there’s still those who won’t want to use either as well…

  6. NO Broadcasting Bailouts! FIND a New Business Models You Idiots!
    It should be NO surprise to any Canadian television viewer that Canadian Broadcasters are in trouble… AGAIN!

    Shitty Canadian filler programs, over reliance on American programming and the kids watch it free online.

    At least the US broadcasters are acknowledging their audience’s shifting viewing habits and is modifying their business models appropriately.

    Canadian broadcasters offer pitiful online offerings. Tiny viewing areas on sites stuffed to overflowing like some cheap porno site while the US broadcasters offer clean website with HD viewing… FREE!

    So it’s hard to understand why the Canadian broadcasters are not in trouble given their shitty programming, constantly shifting schedules and over-priced packages.

    See you on Hulu! 🙂

  7. Commercial-free CBC?
    I don’t understand what you mean by “creating new demand for commercial advertising on private broadcasters by shifting to a commercial-free CBC”. CBC doesn’t currently advertise on their stations, and how would stopping CBC ads on other networks create new demand? It would mean less demand (less advertising)

  8. This may at least partially backfire
    Advertising rates are, I understand, determined by the audience size. The argument being made by the broadcasters is that they should be paid for their signal to be carried. If the broadcasters want a fee for carriage then the carriers should be free to not carry the station. The station’s audience goes down, reducing the advertising rate… Arguably the broadcaster could be paying the carrier, as this allows them to increase the size of the audience (allowing them to charge more for advertising) while they need to layout nothing.

  9. United Hackers Association says:

    and where does most of this cash GO?
    It goes to Hollywood, they got a levy increase suck it up and piss off

  10. Chronoss, is that you?
    “NDP with ACTRA: so no political party can not be bribed……”

    For the record, I spoiled my ballot on the last provincial election and I am going to spoil my ballot on the next federal election.

    If you are not satisfied with anyone, it is still important that you come to the elections and spoil your ballot. Spoiled ballots are counted. If even 3% of the ballots are spoiled, this sends a strong message to all parties.

  11. France is busy sabotaging the Telecom Package

    The governing party of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, scrambling to save a national law that would cut off Internet service to those who make repeated illegal downloads, is threatening to block a European Union telecommunications bill that would undermine the legal foundation of the French plan. The E.U. bill would create a new telecommunication regulator in Europe, enable regulators to separate dominant phone companies from their networks, and increase coordination of broadcast frequencies within Europe. But the measure prohibits the exact proposal that France is considering — allowing a government agency to cut off the Internet service of E.U. citizens.

    ““This has the potential to hold up the entire telecoms package,” said Miloslav Ransdorf, a Czech lawmaker and vice chairman of the committee. “We’ve agreed to everything in the package except for this and the French are the reason.””

    Are they negotiating ACTA version 0.9?

    “In Brussels, France is finding support from Italy, Sweden and Britain, all of which oppose E.U. restrictions on domestic copyright law, according to a person with knowledge of the deliberations.”

    France is in a good company now. All these governments look infested with copyrasts top to bottom.

  12. Monica Auer says:

    Digital-analog conversion #s and a new business model
    CRTC finally posted the report of the broadcasters’ working group on converting their analog transmitters to digital — Data on #s who may not be covered, and costs of conversion may be there.

    What evidence is there that we need a new business model? Crawl through the CRTC’s #s ( and it works out that CTV and CW together took in 78% of ALL conventional, pay and specialty revenues in 2007. How much more money do they need to make their businesses work? Maybe the real problem is that their businesses are working just fine, but it is a lot cheaper to pay lobbyists to get all domestic programming requirements dropped, than to actually do what these broadcasters have been promising for years … and years …. and years.

  13. United Hackers Association says:

    greed shall destroy us all
    and yes perhaps a massive spoil the ballet campaign to show them that the majority REALLY don’t like there crap.

    Ya know i deal with logic all day. I do not see human beings surviving the next 50 years the way its going.

    time to rebuild the wall i suppose is there attitude

  14. Question copyright
    There is too much propaganda fabricated by the entertainment cartels and regurgitated by their media puppets, but the resistance is growing.

    “One of our upcoming projects is the Minute Memes video series (we’re hunting down funding for that and other things right now — leads welcome). Nina Paley, award-winning animator of Sita Sings the Blues, wanted her next work after Sita to be about copyright restrictions and censorship, and hit on the idea of “Minute Memes”: short, viral videos that use visual storytelling to spread truly revolutionary ideas. You know, radical stuff, like the notion that people should be able to share music without asking permission, or that making a derivative work is an act of homage not destruction. The sorts of ideas you’re not likely to hear from the MPAA or the RIAA, who, of course, are busy making their own videos to convince you that culture should be owned.”

    The rest of the site is great too.

  15. Bandwidth costs $40 million, TV programming costs $3 billion
    Time Warner Cable’s bandwidth costs a minuscule $40 million, TV programming costs: $3 billion, yeah unmetered Internet is the problem…

  16. Tom Purves says:

    Propping up last century’s media distribution model
    Who cares? won’t cost canadians anything if they don’t sign up for Cable TV.

    Oh wait, legal digital distribution of TV content hardly exists in Canada. The US gets hulu, we get consumer-funded subsidies to sustain last century’s cable model.

    fucking hell.

  17. Mr.
    The real irony is that by subscribing to cable, which in our area is almost mandatory as local programing on antenna is almost non-existant so therefore we pay for local programing anyway. The cable companies change station location to suit themselves and remove what they want when they want and if we require/want these its a must pay situation. Therfore local tv should be included.