The big news is the CRTC's decision to extend its hands-off policy regarding regulation of content on the Internet. The decision, which is explained in some detail point-by-point, was praised by Internet providers and condemned by actors and writers unions (PDF), both for entirely self-serving financial reasons.
One thing the commission did decide to implement was a provision regulating "undue preference", which is when a media company uses its power in one industry to help affiliated companies in another. For example, if Rogers were to arrange for Rogers Cable to carry Rogers SportsNet but dump TSN, or if Videotron were to give sweet deals to TVA and LCN, that would be considered undue preference.
The CRTC is looking for rules that would extend this to the new media environment, citing the walled gardens of wireless carriers as Exhibit A that the industry isn't very good at self-regulating.
Martial law: Weather Network in control
The CRTC has agreed to a scheme whereby Pelmorex, the company that owns the Weather Network and MétéoMédia, would become national emergency alert aggregators, providing emergency broadcast information to local broadcasters. This scratches an itch pointed out by Public Safety Canada, and satisfies the CRTC's wish for an industry-based solution.
But, of course, there's a catch. In exchange for providing this service, the CRTC agrees to require all digital cable and direct-to-home satellite providers to require mandatory carriage of the Weather Network and MétéoMédia for all subscribers, who will get charged the $0.23 per subscriber per month fee. Currently, the networks profit from mandatory carriage only on basic analog cable.
As more Canadians move to digital forms of television delivery, Pelmorex has been anxious to get the CRTC to force its channels (and fee) on subscribers. This is its second attempt at securing such an order. The first didn't have the emergency alert component but did propose a modest decrease in per-subscriber fee in exchange. In both cases, Pelmorex talks of the danger to its business model if television subscribers are given the option to choose not to carry the networks.
The decision (which features some absurdities like nothing that the stations have "100% Canadian content" and make "a significant contribution to the development of Canadian expresson") was not unanimous. Commissioner Len Katz was highly critical that a company that has a profit margin of about 25% could be in such serious danger.
The mandate is effective Sept. 1, 2010 and expires on Aug. 31, 2015, by which point Pelmorex will need to come to the CRTC to seek another order.
Welcome Current.tv Canada
The CRTC has approved an application from a company mostly owned by a company owned by the CBC to create a Canadian version of Al Gore's Current TV. Like its U.S. counterpart, the network would broadcast short-form user-generated content.
The CRTC took issue with the fact that Current TV has a 20% interest, and forced the CBC-controlled company to make amendments to ensure the U.S. interest couldn't assert any control over day-to-day operations.
The channel is a Category 2 digital specialty channel, which is what most new specialty channels are. That means it's discretionary and won't be on analog cable.
APTN wants Olympics exceptions
The Aboriginal Peoples' Television Network, which is part of the mega consortium of private broadcasters that will show the Olympics in Vancouver next winter, has asked the CRTC for some leeway on its obligations for the two-week event. Specifically, it wants to be relieved of its French-language, aboriginal-language and "priority programming" (i.e. drama) requirements for those two weeks.
The latter makes sense if they're devoting those weeks to sports. Clearly they will be Canadian productions. But the language requests don't make much sense, especially because CTV has argued that APTN would help in bringing French-language Olympics coverage to francophones outside Quebec.
TVA Sports, TVA Junior
Quebecor is looking to expand its cable channels with new uncreatively-named networks for sports and youth programming. The former would take advantage of recent loosening of policy restricting competition in sports networks, as well as provide an eventual outlet should Quebecor's bid for the Canadiens be successful.
One pipe, one policy?
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finkenstein did some public thinking, wondering if a single policy encompassing both broadcasting and telecommunications isn't the future of the commission. Of course, he says, that's up to Parliament to decide.
Take your time
The following approved specialty channels have been given extensions to launch them:
- RCS Television (rugby, cricket, soccer)
- Soccer Television
- Smart Living Television (sustainable living)
- The Horse Channel (horse racing, equestrian events, and general horsing around)
- Equestrian Planet (ditto)
- Équestre Planète (ditto, in French)
- South Asian News Channel (niche news in languages from the region)
- Portuguese TV
- Bangladeshi/Bengali TV
- Arabic TV 2
- Punjabi TV
- ATN Cricket Channel II
Most of these channels were approved around 2006 and still haven't launched yet. After a couple of extensions the CRTC forces you to start over from scratch. Expect most of these channels to expire before they ever see the light of day.