Global, CBC join CTV’s “Save Local TV” campaign

A few months into its campaign to “Save Local Television”, CTV has managed to get its competitors CBC and Global to join its rebranded campaign “Local TV Matters” (there’s even a Twitter account!), trying to get public support for CRTC regulatory changes that would allow conventional television stations to charge cable and satellite companies for distribution of their signals.

The website’s FAQ lists PR-generated counter-arguments to some common complaints, but seems to ignore the history of conventional television and why it’s free in the first place.

Decades ago, before there was cable, conventional television was all there is. Most stations were locally-owned and had powerful transmitters to reach as many homes as possible. Revenue came from advertising, which was fine because everyone watched TV in primetime, and everyone watched the local news.

In the early days of cable, the specialty channels were low-budget affairs and highly specialized. Music videos on MuchMusic, live sports on TSN, non-stop weather updates on the Weather Network. Quality primetime programming came from the conventional networks like CTV, which was back then a cooperative of local stations. Local programming gave way to network (Canadian and U.S.) shows in primetime, but mornings and early evenings were still largely local affairs.

Canadian television network breakdown

The proliferation of specialty channels is a large part of why conventional television isn’t what it used to be. The audience is fragmented, and the conventional networks’ piece of the pie has diminished, along with advertising.

Specialty networks don’t have to provide local programming, though on the other hand they cannot accept local advertising and they cannot transmit over the air.

Now that more than 90% of Canadians have cable or satellite service, the advantage of over-the-air transmitters is outweighed by their cost. And because most advertising is national in scope, and targetted to specific demographics that specialty channels are better at reaching, that advantage too has disappeared.

What’s left to give conventional television stations an advantage is the programming itself. But while many people still watch the news, it’s not enough to pay for it. In very few markets does local news attract enough advertising revenue to pay for itself. So those newscasts (especially in smaller markets) have been drastically cut. Local news has been replaced by more pre-packaged news packages from the networks. Programming outside of the local newscasts has been all but eliminated.

So what can we do about this? Should we just shut down the conventional networks? Obviously the networks don’t agree with that idea, because conventional television is still making them money.

How about a government bailout? Consumers would be opposed to that, and it creates all sorts of problems (should broadcasters be paid equally, or based on the ratings of their newscasts?). Besides, there already is one in the form of the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a 1.5% tax on cable and satellite companies’ revenues that goes to help programming in small-market stations.

What CTV et al are proposing is that broadcasters and distributors negotiate a fair market value for carrying their stations. It’s not entirely clear what the details are, such as whether consumers would be able to choose which conventional television stations they would pay for (they could pay for none of them and just hook up the rabbit ears to get them free), or whether they would be forced to pay for them like we’re forced to pay for CBC Newsworld and CPAC whether we want to or not (such mandatory carriage would leave cable and satellite companies without a bargaining chip, making negotiation difficult).

It’s the economics, stupid

The networks’ prime argument in launching this campaign is this:

One of the campaign’s concerns is that cable and satellite providers continue to charge viewers for our services, yet they pay nothing to local television stations. However, Canadian cable companies pay U.S. cable channels in excess of $300 million a year for their services, and these cable channels are not required to produce any Canadian content. The campaign members are standing up to change this system because they believe local stations deserve fairness so viewers can continue to enjoy local television programming now and in the years to come.

The argument about channels like Spike and CNN not producing Canadian content is valid. Of course, the CRTC takes this into consideration when approving a U.S. channel for distribution here. U.S. networks aren’t allowed to compete with Canadian ones on (basic) cable, which is why we didn’t have MTV to compete with MuchMusic or HBO to compete with the Movie Network until Canadian versions of those channels launched recently.

But the comparison to conventional television is based on a faulty assumption. People don’t pay for conventional television stations as part of their cable bills. People get cable because they want CNN and Spike, not the local news. The bills for basic service cover the physical cable service as well as CRTC-mandated specialty channels like Newsworld and CPAC. Cable and satellite companies don’t charge consumers to give them local television stations, because you can’t charge people for something they already get for free.

The big irony of the argument is that the CRTC mandates that cable and satellite companies distribute local television stations as part of their basic service at the request of those television stations. In cable’s infancy, local TV wanted to be on cable to reach larger markets and get more advertising revenue. They even got the CRTC to guarantee they’d get the lowest spots on the dial, which back then were considered prime electronic real estate.

But I understand times change. Things are different now, the model is broken.

At least, they say the model is broken. CTV and Global haven’t released detailed financial reports showing how much money they’re losing on conventional television (or if they’re losing any at all). We have only their self-serving word to go on here.

The CRTC will be debating the future of local television in November.

Comments enabled

A side note about the “Local TV Matters” campaign: the website (which is WordPress-based) has open comments on its posts, and there’s already a lot of them from incredulous consumers asking why they’re being asked to pay more when their local programming is being cut to the bone. I’m a bit surprised the comments are still up there, and wonder what it will take for them to shut down dissenting consumer opinion.

26 thoughts on “Global, CBC join CTV’s “Save Local TV” campaign

  1. Fassero

    The conventional networks were hardly given “nothing” for cable and satellite distribution. They were given a whopping privilege known as “simulataneous signal substitution” which forces distributors to block American commercials when the program is simulcast on a Canadian network. In fact, I’d bet the farm that if the CRTC had the cojones to grant the conventional broadcasters their wish for fee-for-carriage in exchange for termination of the simultaneous signal sub rules, the networks would back off their entire campaign pronto.

    Reply
  2. Brian Kerwood

    Here’s an idea CTV. Maybe if you were so strapped for cash, you shouldn’t have hugely overbid on the Olympics. Maybe that $200 million could have gone to saving some jobs and producing content. CTV will likely lose millions of dollars because of this ridiculously overbid so what do thy do? Try to hit up the cable companies for cash.

    Or how about not spending the likely $2.5 million dollars to purchase the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada song?

    It’s ridiculous that CTV should be paid 100s of millions of dollars for what is mandatory coverage and favourable placement on the dial. Plus let’s not forget simsubbing which also hugely favors the Canadian broadcasters. This is also mandatory for the cable companies.

    If they want cable companies not to pass on the LPIF fee they should:

    a) Drop mandatory pick up of the channels. Let people pay for the local channels if they are so important.
    b) Let the channels be put wherever they want on the band
    c) Drop mandatory simsubbing for the Canadian broadcasters and come up with your own shows – ie., no more CSI on CTV or Survivor on Global, both of which I can get from CBS directly.

    Reply
    1. Kathy

      I am new to this, as I have just found out about this simsub thing. And as a Canadian, I am livid!
      I had hoped that the veterans we all respect so much that gave for Canada to be free, did it for real.
      Removing my choice of channel is wrong, and it must be against civil rights.

      I agree with you, if local or Canadian programming is important, we should pay for it the same as we do movie networks, HBO, or Fight Channel.

      Leave us to choose freely the channel we want to, and see it on the network we want to.

      Is there a way around this, Do you know?

      Reply
  3. CTV_Matt

    As we all know very well times have changed, and even more recently economic times specifically have changed, which you noted in your blog. We recognize the changes in media from a time when people got their signal from transmitters. But we also know that local television is a product people want and is worth protecting. While Canadian audiences continue to fragment in an evolving and expanding market, it is still important to sustain local television to ensure that Canadian content, issues, local news and the sense of community that many local television news stations help to maintain is protected.

    You mention that cable companies shouldn’t have to pay for something that people already get for free over the air using rabbit ears. However, only a relatively small number of people are able to easily pick up signals using this method. The reality is that it’s the cable companies that are getting something for free, bundling local TV signals they don’t pay to carry into cable packages, and then charging subscribers dearly for them.

    We want fairness from the cable and satellite companies that are charging consumers for our signals, but not sharing the revenues they receive. As you mention in your blog, cable companies are paying for the right to distribute U.S. cable networks, and that same support should be extended to Canadian broadcasters. Fair is fair.

    The long time industry model is broken as you also mention, and the current economic climate is amplifying the call for immediate changes and readjustments. The evidence can be seen in the recent purchase of four local stations for a grand total of $15, including CJNT in Montreal. These four stations serve close to 8 million Canadians every week, so it’s not just small market stations that are at risk.

    We are recommending fair negotiation for our signals and believe cable companies collect enough from consumers to absorb the cost. In fact, basic cable bills have gone up more than four times the cost of living in the past five years. At the same time, the profits of cable companies have almost doubled to 2.1. billion. There needs to be more fairness in this system so that local television is both supported and protected, in the interest of the news that is important and valuable to Canadians across every province, small town and big city because Local TV Matters.

    Feel free to connect with us online at http://localtvmatters.ca/about/ or follow us on Twitter for more information.

    CTV_Matt

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      You mention that cable companies shouldn’t have to pay for something that people already get for free over the air using rabbit ears. However, only a relatively small number of people are able to easily pick up signals using this method.

      Where do you get this from? CFCF-12 has a 325,000-Watt transmitter on top of Mount Royal, and is viewable on the island with an antenna as simple as sticking a metal paper clip into the RF-in socket. Its signal reaches beyond the U.S. border and even into eastern Ontario. And even if none of that were true, CTV still chooses to freely transmit this station’s signal over the airwaves. It can’t seriously put a price on that signal if it’s giving it away for free.

      The reality is that it’s the cable companies that are getting something for free, bundling local TV signals they don’t pay to carry into cable packages, and then charging subscribers dearly for them.

      Do you seriously think anyone pays their cable company to get local television channels? Do you think bundling local TV channels offers any incentive for people to get cable? Considering all the CRTC complaints I’ve seen recently about satellite companies wanting to delete local TV stations from their lineups and replace them with cable stations, I highly doubt this is the case.

      Reply
  4. Mark Hargrove

    The cable and satellite companies are forced to carry CTV and Global, and put them lower in the dial. I’m sure the cable companies would consider not carrying them if they didn’t have to, and they certainly wouldn’t want to carry out simsubs if they didn’t have to either.

    The transmitters are in all major markets, and everyone can get CTV and Global’s signals for free without any elaborate fancy grandesque roof-top antennas.

    And in fact, without cable and satellite, CTV and Global wouldn’t get as much exposure as they do, so they should actually be paying the cable / satellite companies to carry their signals in the lower position of the dial!!!

    Reply
    1. Margaret L Clarke

      Mark Hargrove, you said “The transmitters are in all major markets, and everyone can get CTV and Global’s signals for free without any elaborate fancy grandesque roof-top antennas.”

      I don’t know what Canada you live in, but there are many people in Canada can only receive a flickering ghostly version of local stations over the air. There are even some who can receive nothing without satellite TV.

      I for one, am dependant on “peasant vison” as they call the free signals. I wish there were more local news. CTV news only carries a national news program while Global TV only has a very limited regional news which is repeated during the day.

      In the small city in which I live, there are three newspapers, but they carry more advertisements than news stories, and are more useful for the flyers included than for content.

      So where can we go for our news? Many people over 50 don’t have access to the internet, and don’t know how it use it, when they do have access. The Communications / Media have focused on the young market so much that they are depriving the older half of the citizenry with information on what is happening in the world. Maybe that is not accidental.

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  5. Michael

    Steve, I have no firm opinion on the “Save Local TV” campaign, but I think it’s incorrect to say that people get cable for cable stations only. I think people get cable service for all of their TV programming, both local, pan-Canadian, and US/International. If you get cable, it replaces over-the-air, so it’s false to say that because I *can* get local station over the air, when I choose Videotron it’s only for the other stuff. No cable carrier will sell you a package *without* your local stations (and on Rogers in Ontario, ALL of the local stations from coast to coast) anyhow so it doesn’t really make a difference.

    That’s not necessarily an argument for requiring the cablecos to pay the locals, however – at the end of the day they already get a kick at the can because the very fact that they must be included in a cable company’s package is likely the only thing giving them ANY ability to sell local advertising. Seems like a fair tradeoff to me (and with simsubbing – maybe more than fair).

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    1. Terry

      Michael:
      You’re dead wrong.
      If you REMOVED CTV & Global from my cable, I’d be happy.
      I can’t these networks, and their simsubbing is revolting.
      The b’tards cut out the last 15 minutes of Amazing Race tonight.
      Bloody, gutless pukes.

      Reply
  6. Larry

    Michael/Steve = I think you are both sort of right. Most people I know buy cable/sat to get the broad scope of programing offered. Local is not really a determining factor for everybody but it is for somebody. If customers were given the choice of regional service from the Canadian networks rather than local service from every little village or town, I wonder what would happen?
    As I live in Vancouver, I really don’t care much about local news in Prince George, Kelowna or Thunder Bay. I resent being told I have to take these stations. I want to choose and pay for some all HD packages, other than CBC none of my market local news is even in a 16:9 HD format.
    The CRTC will never allow it but I want to pick the channels I want and pay for them.

    Reply
  7. Patrick S

    I think that if the CRTC is smart, this is how they will rule on such a demand by CTV, Global et al:

    If CTV and Global want fees-for-carriage then fine — it will mean that simultaneous substitution REQUIREMENTS for these stations will cease. As with cable stations, simsubbing will still be ALLOWED, but will not be required by law.

    This means that since Bell TV has a stake in CTV channels, they can simsub those channels when appropriate, if they wish. However, since Shaw Direct for example has no stake in any of these networks, they will not be required to simsub CTV over CBS, for example.

    If they want fee for carriage like the cable stations, then they should also acquire the status of not being able to get simsub rights, like the cable stations.

    Reply
  8. Farhan

    There really is something wrong when Global and CTV want help to protect their US programming. That in itself should raise flags with the CRTC that the system is broken when all the private networks do is buy and rebroadcast US programming with a little bit of news mixed in so they seem Canadian. We don’t need them and we defintely don’t need to find new ways to funnel money to them so that they can continue this practice.

    Frankly I blame the practice of signal substitution for ruining the Canadian television system as all that did was encourage them to further their US progam buying and rebroadcasting way of doing things. It’s time to change things drastically and maybe even let them fade to black if they can’t offer anything remotely Canadian.

    When the Super Bowl is available on CTV but the Grey Cup is only available on their specialty channel I think that pretty much tells you what they think of being a Canadian broadcaster (can’t simsub the Grey Cup so leave it on the specialty channel)…pull the plug already.

    If we can survive without a TLC Canada or A&E Canada (we get the US versions), then why do we need to have CTV and Global to air the shows we can already see on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox or The CW?

    The answer is a confusing one. Clearly the only driver for CTV and Global to exist aside from rebroadcasting US shows is to provide local news competition against the CBC, and also Canadian content. But they’re not doing a very good job with the Canadian content, and local news can easily be transferred to solely newspaper and online services.

    So what’s the solution? If I had it my way, CTV and Global would become defunct, and then Fox and CBS (and the like) would set up affiliates in Canada. That way the Canadian advertisers would be happy, there would be few lost jobs, and a primetime show like House would air just as it does on a US Fox affiliate. So no more simsubbing, and no opportunities for missed sections and bits of Fox ads and clips because of a Global simsub gone awry yet again!

    CBC could continue to be our outlet for Canadian content, and we clearly don’t need more than the CBC for Cancon… it’s just not very popular. Now and then Fox could set up a “Canadian Idol” or something, whatever. Canada is just too small of a country to have as much self-owned private terrestrial broadcasters as it does. Heck, we even have too many cable channels (most of which are merely Canadian bastardizations of US cable channels).

    We already have Sears Canada, Walmart Canada, Best Buy Canada… can you really argue against Canadian versions of the US television networks?

    Bottom line, there is no need for Global or CTV… and there is especially no need for these crybabies to whine like a bunch of premadonnas when all they are worthless hacks that can’t cut it in the TV industry and just copy US shows non-stop left and right.

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  9. Rubio Sparks

    I’ve had enough paying for channels I don’t watch in the least. Now the local channels want to get money from the cable companies and that will in turn raise our cable rates. I think it’s high time that the cable companies change their setup so we can pick the channels we want to pay for. So if I don’t want to pay for CTV or Global, whom offer nothing of value that is Canadian, then I can omit them from my lineup and not pay for them.

    So for example, For $20 a month I can pick 10 local channels, 5 cable channels and 3 specialty channels. Or say for $40 a month I can pick 10 local channels, 10 cable channels, 5 specialty channels and 1 premium channel. As consumers we should not be forced into paying for channels we never watch. Get rid of these bundles that contain maybe 1 of the 5-7 that we actually watch. Further if the local channels want to get more money from the cable companies it should be part of the deal that they follow the lead of the cable channels.

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  10. Dan Nestean

    Please be advised of my opposition to any type of fee for carriage as listed under CRTC notice 2009-614 for local programming.

    A fee for service would mean that there is some value to local programming, which begs the question what? Local news, guess what I can get local news any time I turn on my radio, 24 hours a day and at no charge and a lot more up-to-date than television.

    For regular programming, nope again! In fact as I ALWAYS watch HD programming and even then when the channels are simsubbed, they are simsubbed out of Toronto for the eastern U.S. channels and out of Vancouver for the western U.S. channels. So how much value do the CTVs, Global, etc place on local channels? Not much except to extort more money out of consumers by the FFC brainstorm and make no mistake this will come out of consumers pockets.

    It may be said trust us, it will bring a stronger local broadcaster…Well this was said with simsubbing in that it would allow us to have made in Canada programming! Well take a look, there is virtually no Canadian programming anymore, but simsubbing is fast and fierce in the country while Canadian content is going the way of the Dodo bird. I challenge you to watch tv on any given evening and you will find American programming rampant on any channel except possibly the CBC. In fact it is so bad that you will find the Canadian broadcasters playing reruns of American shows instead of even contemplating buying/playing anything Canadian in primetime.

    Instead of continually giving into Canadian rebroadcasters, let the market decide who survives and who does not. We now have CTV, CBC, Global, CityTV and to a lessor extent SunTV (Sun is a wannabe) as what I would consider national broadcasters. Now the USA with 10x the population has ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and again to a lessor extent TheCW. The fault in this I am sorry to say is our system which has the same amount of national broadcasters as our U.S. counterparts with us having 1/10th the population…something has to give here and the CRTC should not just keep giving in to the broadcasters. Let the market/viewers decide…and at a share price of 0.27 dollars for Canwest Global the market is trying to tell you that Global is worthless.

    Finally if you want to introduce FFC, give me the option subscribing to the channels if I wish to…the national broadcasters would still make their money off advertisers with their simsubbing with their eastern/western channels out of Toronto/Vancouver. Me I can continue to pay for channels that I can’t watch due to simsubbing, but hey the broadcasters are happy, which is the main thing isn’t it?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Sun TV is a single station in Toronto. At best it is a superstation. It is most definitely not a national broadcaster.

      CBC is a national broadcaster, so if you include it here you have to include PBS in the U.S. That leaves CTV, Global and CityTV (the latter has only five stations, none east of Toronto) vs. ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and the CW. And while the number of networks may not reflect the 10:1 ratio, the number of stations and amount of original programming certainly does.

      Reply
  11. Pingback: Fagstein » Battle of the fee-for-carriage misinformation campaigns

  12. Hank Winfield

    The CRTC already requires cable companies to switch to the Canadian feeds for shows when there is a Canadian feed available, even over the top of major shows not shown by the Canadian feeds.

    This is regardless of how many complaints the broadcasters get from their viewers due to shows being cut off and American shows not being shown due to crappy CTV content needing to be shown instead BY LAW. This is something that CTV has lobbied for through the CRTC, and something the cable companies have no control over.

    The best example of these is the Superbowl, where the American ads are NOT seen in Canada as BY LAW the Canadian broadcasters HAVE to carry the feeds from the Canadian CTV broadcast so they can show their ads instead of the ones the viewers actually want to watch.

    Many people I know have been personally fed up by these interruptions that they don’t even support Canadian cable companies anymore, and subscribe to DirecTV or Dishnetwork to watch American shows uninterrupted. The demands of CTV and other Canadian broadcasters, if they continue to grow and be even more needy, will drive more and more people away from the Canadian system.

    Canadian Cable and Satellite companies pay millions of dollars a year into a fund to keep CTV and other “local” networks running.

    If it wasn’t for cable companies broadcasting these signals AS REQUIRED BY THE CRTC (they are NOT “stealing” the signal for nothing) these companies would have extremely minimal “over the air” viewership.

    Don’t blame the cable companies – they are bringing these channels to you as required by CRTC broadcasting regulatinos that have been lobbied for by companies such as CTV and Global. These signals are NOT being stolen. CTV and Global need to get out of the business before they tick off even more people.

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  13. Henry

    Why would anyone pay for channels that they can get free over-the-air?

    If anything, channels like CTV should be paying the cable / satellite providers for carrying their must-carry channels low on the dial for giving accessibility to millions of people across this nation.

    And on top of the must-carry status, cable companies are forced to carry out simultaneous substitutions of American channels because channels like CTV and Global can’t come up with anything of their own to air!

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  14. John Westlake

    A few weeks ago, after my mother (in her 70s) bought a new TV, I asked her what channels she watched, and the Buffalo PBS and Toronto over-the-air stations were the only ones. I bought a silver sensor type of indoor antenna from a nearby electronics big box store, and put it on the back corner of her TV stand that luckily happened to be right next to the sliding glass balcony window/door that faced the general direction of the CN Tower and Buffalo, and she easily receives those channels. She previously had basic Robbers Cable. Now, instead of paying every month for a HD box and service as others told her she should, she cancelled it completely and gets the channels she watches for free and in HD. And she only needs the one remote for the TV, not a cable box with another remote, which I know would have confused her.

    If you’re really so eager to give money to CanWest and CTVglobemedia, maybe you could just send cheques to them once a year.

    Completely a la carte service would be great for viewers, but somehow I doubt it’s likely, particularly with the way the broadcasters, BDUs, and CRTC work together to squeeze cash out of us. I understand the media conglomerates sell their channels to BDUs in groups — the BDUs have to agree to take the less popular ones few people watch in order to get the popular ones. So I don’t see how the BDUs would completely drop the packaging even if they were allowed to, not to mention that the broadcasters and CRTC would be unwilling to let a lot of specialty channels no one watches just die off, which I think would be a distinct possibility if every single channel was individually optional.

    I only count seven specialty channels I might be willing to continue receiving if I had the choice to pay or not pay for them. Obviously I’d never pay for the over-the-air channels since I get them for nothing with an antenna. And certainly not Global or CTV in their present form, since I never watch them because I see the US programs on the Buffalo stations. CTV and Global have nothing originally to offer. Like a growing number of people in southern Ontario (that I think would greatly increase if FFC is implemented), I’ve almost forgotten Global exists, and the same goes for CTV.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Completely a la carte service would be great for viewers, but somehow I doubt it’s likely

      Outside of the basic service, which includes local broadcast stations and CRTC-mandated specialty networks like CPAC and CBC Newsworld, I get my channels a la carte from Videotron. You can choose a 20- or 30-channel a la carte service, with the only restrictions being (1) no Movie Network or other premium channels, and (2) more than 50% of your total number of channels must be Canadian, to comply with CRTC rules.

      Reply
  15. Mark Doucette

    The issue now has great exposure – use the opertunity and start promotting and useing more effectivly your transmittion towers. I am am more than willing to put up the smaller more compact HD antenna on my roof. You could also offer your transmitting stations to other affiliates or oganizations for program transmition.
    I support you but for gods sake think out of the box and get competitive.

    Mark Doucette
    North Vancouver

    Reply
  16. Kaitlynn

    SAVE LOCAL TELEVISION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We need local tv. My mom is taking care of lots of things and is single and dosent need another bill from a stupid tv. If local tv is taken away, then certain people will never no what is going on because they wont have enough money to pay for another bill. If local tv is taken, then the government will have a lot of deaths on there hands. For example if a severe storm comes through and a person dosent have tv, then they could get blown away by a tornado because they wont no if there is a tornado warning. If a rapist is on the loose and a person has children and no news what is going to happen? Those kids could be kidnapped, raped, and killed. So before local tv is taken think about all those people who will die.

    Reply

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