The CRTC released its TalkTV decision this afternoon and – as expected – it includes a mandatory basic service capped at $25 per month (which may include U.S. channels) and mandates a pick-and-pay alternative no later than December 2016. Why did the CRTC conclude that it needed to regulate a pick-and-pay option? Because the public wanted it and it was convinced that cable and satellite providers would not do it on their own. This passage from the decision tells you everything you need to know and gets it exactly right:
while some parties argued that it would be sufficient to prohibit programmers from preventing BDUs from offering programming services on a pick-and-pay or build-your-own-package basis, this approach does not take into account the fact that vertically integrated BDUs have every incentive to ensure that their related programming services are insulated from the financial pressures that come with greater choice and packaging flexibility. As such, BDUs, and vertically integrated BDUs in particular, may not be sufficiently incented to make the necessary changes to their current offerings or might make these changes at a much slower pace than that desired by Canadian subscribers. Moreover, the Commission considers that BDUs have not generally demonstrated that they would willingly move to more flexible packaging options on their own.
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The CRTC will release its latest decision in the TalkTV consultation later today as it announces much-anticipated plans to require cable and satellite companies to offer consumers the option of picking the television channels they want without requiring them to purchase expensive bundles. The decision, which builds on earlier rulings that focus on a more competitive marketplace, will fulfill the government’s promise to bring in consumer choice for television packages, which was a prominent part of its 2013 Speech from the Throne.
The specifics are yet to come, but the CRTC will likely require distributors to offer a basic service of Canadian and mandatory channels at a relatively low price (a 2014 working document suggested a cap of between $20 – $30/month), offer consumers a pick-and-pay option, and adjust the Canadian content requirement for bundles.
Consumers will emerge as the clear winners, benefiting from increased choice and the potential to lower their monthly bills. Yet the CRTC decision will undoubtedly be greeted by doomsayers who will argue that pick-and-pay will increase prices and decrease choice (because some channels will fold).
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The Federal Court has issued its ruling on the costs in the Voltage – TekSavvy case, a case involving the demand for the names and address of thousands of TekSavvy subscribers by Voltage on copyright infringement grounds. Last year, the court opened the door to TekSavvy disclosing the names and addresses, but also established new safeguards against copyright trolling in Canada. The decision required Voltage to pay TekSavvy’s costs and builds in court oversight over any demand letters sent by Voltage.
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The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments yesterday in the copyright case of CBC v. SODRAC. While the case was ultimately about whether CBC should be required to pay royalties for incidental copies necessary to use new broadcast technologies, at stake was something far bigger: the future of technological neutrality under Canadian copyright law.
CBC argued that technological neutrality means that it should not pay for incidental copies since it already pays for the use of music in broadcasts. The incidental copies – copies which are made to create the final broadcast version of a program (including copies from the master to a content management system or other internal copies to facilitate the broadcast) – do not generate revenue and are simply made to facilitate use of the music that is paid for through a licence. SODRAC, a Quebec-based copyright collective, countered that CBC had always paid for these copies and that the CBC argument was the reverse of technological neutrality, since it wanted to avoid payment in the digital world for copies that were being paid for with earlier, analog technologies.
The case emerged as an important one when the question of the meaning of technological neutrality took centre stage. That elicited interveners such as Music Canada, which argued for a narrow interpretation of the principle, claiming that it was just an “interpretative metaphor” (similar arguments about users’ rights being no more than a metaphor were rejected by the Supreme Court in 2012). The danger in the case from a technological neutrality perspective is that the Supreme Court could roll back its finding that technological neutrality is a foundational principle within the law. Moreover, if the court were to rule that all copies – no matter how incidental – are copies for the purposes of the Copyright Act, there would be the very real possibility of payment demands for the myriad of copies that occur through modern technologies.
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In September 2007, I wrote a column titled “Canadian Broadcasting Policy for a World of Abundance”, which focused on a report commissioned for the CRTC that recognized that conventional broadcast regulations were crumbling in the face of new technologies and the Internet. As it turns out, the Dunbar-Leblanc report was ahead of its time as the CRTC was not ready for the regulatory overhaul it recommended.
Standing beside two giant screens proclaiming “Age of Abundance”, CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais unveiled the latest round of decisions from the TalkTV hearing and left little doubt that the Commission is now ready to lead with changes that have been a long time in coming. For Canada’s broadcast regulator, it was time to admit that decades-old policies must adapt to a changing environment in which the viewer is in control (or the emperor, in Blais’ words). Those policies were largely built on creating a regulatory wall for the Canadian system with Cancon requirements, genre protection, foreign ownership rules, and simultaneous substitution. Like many walls, the rules shielded the Canadian market from competition, guaranteeing a place for Canadian content and limiting the impact of more popular U.S. programming.
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