As we all know, CTV – and its growing “Local TV Matters” coalition of conventional television broadcasters not owned by telecom companies – doesn’t want the CRTC to impose fees on cable and satellite companies, but wants the power to negotiate fair rates for their signals. In a new TV ad (yes, they made even more of them), CTV literally brings out a table and two chairs and says “we just want to talk”.
In my last blog post on the subject, I was a bit skeptical of this idea. Cable companies have little incentive to carry local stations, and aren’t about to pay for them. Consumers also wouldn’t miss much if those stations disappeared. Most of their programming comes from the United States, and nothing outside of the newscasts is locally produced. And even then, local news and crappy Canadian programming are increasingly available online, where CTV doesn’t charge Canadians directly to watch. (I can only assume from the “Local TV Matters” logic that I am stealing CTV’s programming from its own website).
I pointed out why I don’t think local stations would have much of a bargaining chip at this table, even with the right to pull their signals:
Unless blocking U.S. channels is part of this plan, Canadians could tune into stations from Burlington, and all we’d miss aside from local news are shows like So You Think You Can Dance Canada.
Well, it turns out that’s exactly what CTV has in mind. This is what they told the Calgary Herald:
“We need a hammer,” says Sparkes.
For instance, broadcasters say they should have the right, as a negotiating ploy, to pull their signals from cable along with the rights to shows they own in their local markets, such as the popular series House — without cable simply importing the show from an American broadcaster.
In other words, if Videotron and CKMI can’t agree on a fee, CKMI would have the right to demand that Videotron not only be barred from distributing CKMI’s feed, but be forced to black out U.S. stations that carry programming CKMI has rights to, like House, Entertainment Tonight, The Office, 90210 and Family Guy.
This proposition is a scary one for consumers. Canadian broadcasters want the right to block out U.S. broadcasters from cable.
Blackouts are common in cable these days, but they’re never imposed by the CRTC. Instead, they’re usually done because of demands from major sporting leagues who have broadcast agreements with different broadcasters in different markets. In each case, it’s the broadcaster that wants to be blacked out to comply with that agreement.
But this is different. And aside from the unbelievable public outrage CTV’s idea would cause if it was ever invoked, and the dangerous precedent it would set, here’s why I think the CRTC should turn them down on this point:
Canadian rights to U.S. shows are set by contract between the Canadian networks and U.S. networks. The CRTC is in no way involved in these deals, nor should they be. But giving Canadian networks the power to block U.S. stations based on these private contracts means that the CRTC (and cable and satellite companies) would be bound by agreements made between private commercial companies. That’s simply unreasonable.
But then, reason wasn’t a part of this from the beginning, was it?