It’s hard to overstate how much is at stake in the CRTC’s wide-ranging review of television policy that’s currently going on. The commission has put everything on the table, from the very nature of specialty channels to simultaneous substitution. Anything within its mandate is up for discussion and possible amendment.
With a day to go until the deadline for comments (it was originally Wednesday, but the commission gave a two-day extension), almost 2,000 comments have been put on the public file. This number will increase as the big media and telecom companies file their submissions, which usually happens at the last minute. (The CRTC has taken the unusual step of asking these companies to file comments in both French and English, and in an accessible format — Microsoft Word, text files or HTML files.)
The process began last year with a sort of informal consultation with regular Canadians, highlights of which are posted here, followed by a phase of asking those people who commented to make decisions based on a limited number of choices. The results of that survey are posted here.
The third phase of the process is the formal one, where the serious policy discussion happens. The commission launched that phase in April, and it will lead to a public hearing in Gatineau in September. Anyone wanting to be part of this discussion officially can join in until the deadline for comments, Friday June 27 at 8pm ET.
The announcement sets a framework for the policy discussion, which in turn gives us an idea what types of changes we could see as a result of the hearing. They are:
1. TV packaging
This is the one thing that everyone has seen coming: allowing television subscribers to choose what channels they want and pay for only those channels. It’s the one thing the Canadian government asked the CRTC to act on, even requiring it to submit a report on the issue (the report is posted here). But it’s also very complicated.
For one thing, there’s the question of what exactly we want. There’s “pick and pay” in which each channel has a set price and consumers pay for each one individually. But few people actually get their television that way, partly because it would be so expensive.
One a compromise between large packages and consumer choice is called “pick a pack”, in which consumers buy a package of a certain number of channels, and choose which channels go in that package. Videotron’s custom package system is an example of this, allowing subscribers to benefit from volume discounts while also having choice in channels.
But there are limitations to this. The pick-a-pack system works well if every channel costs about the same. But some channels are a lot more expensive than the average. TSN ($30.79 per year per subscriber on average), RDS ($35.15) and Sportsnet ($20.78), for example, are much more expensive than a channel like DéjàView ($3.32) or National Geographic Channel ($1.90). Add in premium pay TV channels like The Movie Network ($108.11), Movie Central ($95.25) or Super Channel ($80.62), and the difference becomes much larger.
High wholesale subscription fees are why channels like FX Canada, Oasis HD and third-language channels are either excluded from the pick-a-pack system or come with extra fees.
Another limitation is U.S. channels like A&E, Spike TV and CNN. Other than approving their distribution in Canada, the CRTC has no jurisdiction over them. Most distribution contracts signed between broadcasters and distributors cover things like packaging and marketing, and often they outright forbid distributors from offering those channels individually. (The CRTC asked major distributors to give details about their contracts with such U.S. channels. Most of the responses are redacted to protect commercially sensitive information, but some providers said that they were either practically or explicitly prevented from offering these channels à la carte, while Videotron said its contracts do allow it to offer these channels in that way.)
Finally, there’s the issue of services that have more than one channel. The Movie Network is a series of channels — The Movie Network, MFun, MFest, MExcess and HBO Canada — that counts as one pay TV service. Lots of people would love to “just” pay for HBO Canada, assuming that, if separated out, the price for each would be 1/5 of the $15 or so a month they pay for the whole package. But it won’t happen that way.
The challenges have led some industry experts to argue that increased consumer choice in channel selection is actually a bad idea, that channels would cost more that way and people would get less bang for their buck. This is true, but also beside the point. No one is suggesting forbidding distributors from offering large preselected packages that give volume discounts. Videotron, for example, offers custom channel packages, but also theme packs and large all-inclusive packages for those who want as many channels as possible and don’t care what’s on them.
Related to this issue is what’s called “skinny basic“, the idea that the basic package that a distributor gives to all subscribers must only include those channels that the CRTC requires be distributed to everyone (or channels that do not come with a per-subscriber wholesale fee). The purpose is to reduce the cost of getting basic subscription television service and, again, give people more choice.
Many distributors, particularly smaller ones, are receptive to the idea, but they again point to the contracts they have signed with broadcasters (both Canadian and foreign), which include various terms that would prevent them from taking those channels out of the basic package. They include:
- A provision that the packaging of a channel not be changed without the broadcaster’s permission (so if it’s on basic now, they can’t take it out of basic)
- A provision requiring that the channel be distributed to a minimum number or percentage of customers, with that number being so high that only putting a channel in the basic package would satisfy the requirement
- A provision that sets a much higher per-subscriber wholesale fee when a channel is not distributed as part of the basic package
The CRTC is also looking at how consumers are informed about changes in channel packaging by their distributor. Should there be minimum standards? Should the CRTC intervene or establish rules that prevent or regulate unilateral changes to channel packages?
In addition to the report to the government, the CRTC also published this report, which tries to quantitatively compare consumer choice within Canada and between Canada and the U.S.
What will happen: More consumer choice is coming. There’s political force behind it and overwhelming public support. Large distributors have already been slowly moving in the direction of custom packages, and the CRTC will create rules if the industry doesn’t move fast enough on its own.
But that choice will not be absolute. The commission has made clear that the channels that have been granted mandatory distribution (so-called “9(1)h” status, after the paragraph of the Broadcasting Act that gives the CRTC the authority to impose this requirement) will retain that status. The commission just went through a review of channels that have this status and isn’t going to reopen that can of worms again. The commission will also likely keep in place a rule that at least half of all channels that each subscriber’s total package must be Canadian. (In practice, because of the mandatory channels and the large number of popular Canadian channels, it’s pretty rare that this becomes an issue even with custom packages.)
Skinny basic will probably also be imposed, perhaps with a grace period. While U.S. broadcasters like CNN won’t like it (because it would encourage the same thing to happen in the U.S.), if the CRTC makes it illegal to distribute CNN on basic, they won’t have much of a choice.
2. Allowing more foreign channels
Most specialty channels in Canada (at least those in English and French) are Canadian. But the CRTC also allows some foreign channels to be distributed into the country. Under the current system, a request is made to add a foreign channel to a list of channels authorized for distribution in Canada. Once that happens, the Canadian distributor can add that channel if it has come to an agreement with the broadcaster and that that broadcaster has ensured it has the rights to distribute its programming in Canada.
Generally, the CRTC adds a channel to that list if it does not compete directly with a Canadian specialty channel. So channels like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, MLB Network, NFL Network, Speed, Spike and Golf Channel are allowed here. But HBO, Showtime, ESPN, SyFy and others aren’t. (A lot of channels in the U.S. have Canadian versions owned by Canadian companies, which have the same branding and the same programs, but also some Canadian content to meet CRTC requirements. These include Discovery, History, FX, HBO, HGTV, Food Network, E! and OWN.)
The system seems to have more to do with the age of a channel than what it offers. A&E and TLC, for example, are allowed in Canada, even though entertainment and reality shows are all over Canadian cable channels. But the CRTC isn’t going to take those channels away and risk the wrath of the Canadian viewing public.
There’s a somewhat different system for third-language foreign channels. Generally, these are allowed in Canada if they don’t directly compete with a Canadian channel in the same language. Some general-interest Canadian third-language channels also benefit from a rule that requires all subscribers to add it if they subscribe to a foreign channel in the same language.
The CRTC is looking at removing “barriers” for more non-Canadian channels to enter into Canada, by allowing everything except for those channels whose distribution would harm a Canadian channel by competing directly with it.
What will happen: Not much, at least for English and French-language channels. The CRTC might change how it approves foreign channels, but the current system will probably remain about as it is now: Most U.S. specialty programming will be acquired by Canadian channels run by the big telecom companies here, who will share branding with the U.S. version but still be considered a Canadian channel.
And there’s not much of a public outcry for a change. And the channels that people do want access to directly — HBO, ESPN, Showtime — won’t be approved so long as Canadian channels have the rights to their most popular programs.
3. Simultaneous substitution
Ah, simsub. That thing that most Canadians only really care about on Super Bowl Sunday when they want to watch the American ads.
For those unfamiliar, simultaneous substitution is a rule whereby a Canadian television station can force a cable company to replace a U.S. signal with its own when the two are running the same programming. This ensures that Canadian viewers are seeing Canadian ads, and protects the rights of the Canadian station, which has paid good money to get the Canadian rights to a program.
The most common use for this is U.S. primetime programming on CTV, Global and City. The Canadian channels buy the Canadian rights to a major show, air it simultaneously (“simulcast”) with the U.S. network (ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox) and force cable companies to substitute the U.S. channel for the Canadian one in areas where the Canadian network has a local station.
Normally, it’s pretty seamless for Canadian audiences who, other than on Super Bowl Sunday, have no interest in watching ads for DirecTV, Verizon or the 11pm newscast on WPTZ. But often it runs into problems, particularly during live programs. The Super Bowl, for example, is timed to end around 10pm, with some hit primetime show following it. But it rarely does so. And worse, the Canadian network that buys the Super Bowl might not be the same that buys the program that follows it.
More importantly, a big argument against it is that it handcuffs Canadian networks, forcing them to schedule their acquired programming at the same time as the U.S. networks. This often means that original Canadian shows get unfavourable time slots (like Friday and Saturday nights) or get shifted around the schedule.
But the main argument in its favour remains that it helps Canadian broadcasters and keeps Canadian ad money from flowing across the border. The Canadian broadcasters use that money to support original programming and local news. Killing simsub would probably kill a lot of jobs.
The CRTC is exploring alternatives to simultaneous substitution. One of these would be non-simultaneous substitution, which would allow the Canadian networks to air their U.S. shows whenever they want, but still put their ads on the U.S. channels. This is complex, because it would require distributors to store programs with Canadian ads on a server, or get some special simsub feed, instead of just hitting a button that replaces channel X with a copy of channel Y.
Despite its complexity, the big Canadian media companies like this idea, because they would have more scheduling freedom, which includes giving their original shows more prominent time slots.
Another alternative could be program deletion, or blackouts of the U.S. channels when Canadian stations have the Canadian rights to a program. I think we can all agree that there’s no advantage to this over the current system.
Or there could be some other option, like paying extra for U.S. channels to compensate Canadian broadcasters for lost ad revenue. Survey respondents liked this idea more than blackouts but slightly less than the current simsub model.
What will happen: The TV universe is changing, but signal substitution is still very important to Canadian broadcasters’ bottom lines. Killing it without an alternative would take away money from them without giving any tangible benefit to the broadcasting system or the consumer. Some form of non-simultaneous substitution might be in our future, which would end the scheduling nightmares Canadians go through, and we might see some creative solutions to the Super Bowl problem (like a feed of U.S. ads that costs extra) or some improved quality assurance standards, but don’t expect it to just be dropped.
4. Local television
Local TV stations used to be our primary way of getting television programming, back when televisions had actual knobs and were hooked up to antennas. Those stations had captive audiences and employed hundreds of people because of all the technical work required to get programming on the air.
But everything has changed, even the very idea of a local television station. Most local TV stations in Canada are owned by major networks, who have the same programming nationwide except for local news, which even then is sent to a single national master control and then fed back to transmitters. Newscasts are technically automated, reducing the number of technical staff required. And there’s so much competition from specialty channels, video-on-demand or Internet streaming that the audience no longer has to tolerate sub-par programs.
Among the questions the CRTC is asking:
- Should we still be requiring local stations to provide local programming? If so, should it continue to be based on number of hours per week, or some other metric?
- Should we still be requiring local stations to have over-the-air transmitters? Or should we allow stations to benefit from the advantages of being a local station (such as simultaneous substitution) without one?
- Should independent stations like CHEK, CHCH, NTV and ICI be treated differently from the major networks? If so, how?
The local television station model is clearly broken. Aside from ICI, there hasn’t been a new local television station Canada in years. Bell Media has made keeping some existing stations running part of a promise it made to the CRTC, because those stations aren’t profitable. Canwest shut down its secondary CH/E! network before it went under, selling off CHEK, CHCH and CJNT and shutting down CHCA-TV in Red Deer, Alta.
The CRTC has been looking at ways to financially support local stations. One was allowing local stations to charge distributors to carry their signals, but the Supreme Court ruled that this was outside the authority of the CRTC. Another was the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a tax on distributors that was put into a fund to help small-market stations with their local programming. But the distributors passed along the tax to the consumer, adding a 1.5% LPIF contribution directly to their bills. After the recession, the commission decided it was no longer necessary and began phasing it out. As of Sept. 1, the charge will disappear.
There’s a separate small-market local programming fund, supported by satellite companies, but otherwise local stations have to rely on advertising alone to support themselves.
Without financial help, how do we ensure that local television remains a viable business model? Or do we care?
Right now, the CRTC imposes local programming requirements on television stations with a quota, generally 14 hours a week for stations in large markets and 7 hours a week in small markets. (The numbers are smaller for French-language stations.) But it doesn’t require that all these hours be original, which means many stations can meet these requirements by repeating their evening newscasts at 6am. Is that what we want?
The idea of getting rid of over-the-air transmitters will no doubt outrage that cult of Canadians who seem to believe there’s a constitutional right to free TV and that people who pay for TV subscriptions are crazy or stupid. But few people receive TV in this way, and the cost of such transmitters is expensive. CBC, Radio-Canada and TVO shut down hundreds of transmitters in 2012 because the cost was no longer justified. In many cases, stations remain over the air mainly to benefit from simultaneous substitution rules and guaranteed carriage. Otherwise, they would be subscription TV services like Global’s BC1 or Bell’s CP24.
That said, the stations currently transmitting in digital paid a lot for their transmitters, and probably won’t be shutting them down soon. And in bigger cities like Montreal and Toronto, the business model might still work for now.
But OTA television’s days are numbered. The auction of 68 MHz of bandwidth in the 700 MHz band vacated by television during the digital transition gave the government $5.72 billion. Auctioning off the other 50 channels, which take up 300 MHz of bandwidth, would generate $25 billion in revenue if it went for the same price. More importantly, it would greatly increase the speed at which wireless devices communicate, and deliver information much more efficiently. It’s just a question of time before the demand for these frequencies for wireless is so high, and the demand for TV broadcasting so low, that the government will repurpose those frequencies.
What will happen: Probably not much. The CRTC might open the door to local stations not needing over-the-air transmitters. It might also decide to move local programming from a quota based on hours per week to a quota based on a percentage of revenue. But this isn’t a main focus of this hearing.
5. Financing of Canadian programming
Expect this item to get most attention from interest and trade groups who want to (a) ensure their continued existence and (b) get more money or keep the money they already have.
The CRTC’s questions on this matter are vague, which opens up a lot of things to discussion. Among the CRTC rules that could be reviewed:
- Canadian content exhibition requirements (i.e. rules that say a certain percentage of a TV service’s schedule must be Canadian)
- Canadian content funding requirements (i.e. rules that say a certain percentage of expenses must be on Canadian programming)
- Mandatory contributions from distributors to Canadian programming (some of which can be redirected to community channels)
- Rules supporting “programs of national interest” — original scripted dramas and comedies, documentaries and awards shows — by imposing minimum expenditure requirements for these on major broadcasters
What will happen: Lots of talk, definitely. There’s a lot of money involved. Expect an evolution of the current system that takes into account changes in technology. In a PVR world, it matters less whether a Canadian show is in primetime, but matters more whether that show is promoted well enough so Canadians know of its existence. Everyone will argue they need to pay less or get more, and in the end it will be about the same.
6. Services for minority-language, aboriginal and third-language communities
The CRTC wants to make sure that anglophones in Quebec, francophones outside Quebec, and people who speak other languages across the country get better service.
It has already moved to improve the situation by: authorizing a new mandatory service — TV5 Unis — to serve francophones outside Quebec; holding Rogers to a promise to source a minimum amount of English-language programming from producers in Quebec; approving an English-language community TV service for Bell Fibe customers in Quebec (a community TV channel for Videotron is being held up by a complaint); increasing funding to the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network; and renewing mandatory carriage for AMI (and approving the new service AMI télé, set to launch later this year), which provides programming for the blind. It imposes 100% closed-captioning requirements on most broadcasters and imposes quotas on video description.
What will happen: Because of the steps the commission has already taken, it seems unlikely we’ll see something change significantly. We might see higher quotas for video description, or various encouragements to provide better services to minorities of various types.
7. The balance between vertically-integrated giants and independents
The CRTC has a series of rules that prevent the large vertically-integrated companies, which own a lot of our media, from abusing their power to benefit themselves at the expense of their competitors or independents. There are rules that require distributors to include independent TV channels in their packages, or that prevent the big companies from making channels or content exclusive to their subscribers. A general “undue preference” provision prevents anyone from treating a related company better than a competitor when it comes to advertising, carriage or other business arrangements.
But is this enough? Even with these rules, it’s clear that vertically integrated companies are using their positions to benefit related services. FX Canada is on Rogers cable but not Bell TV because it’s owned by Rogers. Sun News had a long free preview on Videotron and a carriage dispute with Bell because Sun News is owned by Quebecor. TSN’s special Canadiens feed for regional games was available to Bell customers but not Videotron customers because TSN is owned by Bell. Even if in none of these cases was the channel in question actually denied to a competitor, the effect is the same.
What will happen: The CRTC moved in the direction of closer regulation in the Bell-Astral deal, forcing Bell to file its carriage agreements with the commission, and imposing tougher rules to prevent anti-competitive actions. We could see some of this proposed as industry-wide standards, or other new rules that reduce the advantage vertically integrated companies have over independents. Promotion is a big deal. The Movie Network started getting lots of promotion on CTV after Bell acquired the pay TV service through the Astral deal. Space, Discovery and other channels also benefit from lots of cross-promotion with CTV. The CRTC could set rules that mitigate this practice.
8. Set-top data ratings
This one might not matter too much to the general public, but the CRTC is looking at having digital cable and satellite companies provide data to broadcasters on ratings by getting that information directly from set-top boxes.
Currently, ratings are done by BBM Canada (recently rebranded Numeris), who send out surveys and portable meters to random samples and make estimates based on the data they receive. But with set-top box data, the sample size would be almost everyone with a digital television subscription, taking information about exactly what people are watching.
There are obvious privacy concerns about this, and some accuracy issues (the set-top box has no way of knowing if it has been left on but the TV turned off), but the main concern is ensuring that the cable and satellite companies that own broadcasters don’t give themselves a competitive advantage by giving themselves more information than they give out. If we adopt this system, it would need to be open to everyone, with everyone getting the same data. Hence the need for the CRTC to get involved.
What will happen: The commission hasn’t said definitively that it will set up such a system, or even that it would run it if it did. But if we do move to set-top box ratings, it would need to ensure the system was fair and respected subscribers’ privacy by limiting the data collected and who has access to it. How interested the major broadcasters are in getting this data will be a major factor in whether this goes anywhere.
9. Genre exclusivity for specialty channels
Aside from packaging rules, nothing is likely to change the face of specialty television in Canada more than changes to genre exclusivity and channel categories.
Under the current system, specialty channels are divided into three categories:
- Category A channels are protected from direct competition by preventing other channels from having the same format, and they have higher Canadian content requirements, in exchange for requirements that they be distributed by all digital cable and satellite providers, and in popular packages. Most channels launched before 2000 are in this category, since the CRTC stopped approving new channels under this category after then. They include channels like MuchMusic, Discovery Channel, YTV, Canal Vie, Vrak.tv, Mystery and Documentary.
- Category B channels have no protection from direct competition and are free to compete with each other (but not Category A channels directly). There are no carriage requirements, so distributors can decide whether or not to distribute them and at what price. Most channels launched after 2000 are in this category, including channels like Discovery Science, ABC Spark, DIY Network, FX Canada, MuchRetro and NHL Network.
- Category C channels are mainstream news and sports channels that compete directly with each other and have common conditions of licence to ensure an even playing field.
The big issue is with those Category A channels, which enjoy de facto grandfathered special privileges, including wider distribution, genre protection and mandatory carriage (meaning distributors must have it on their systems, but not necessarily impose it on all subscribers). Because the most popular Category A channels have been scooped up by the big media companies, this gives them another advantage over independents. Space is owned by Bell, and you can’t launch your own science fiction channel because Space is protected from direct competition.
The notion of “direct competition” is confusing. You aren’t considered competing directly if you narrow your niche. So you can’t launch a movie channel (because it would compete with The Movie Network/Movie Central), but you can launch a channel that airs just action/adventure films.
The result of this scheme is that channels that shouldn’t be competing with each other in theory are in practice. And many channels whose genre is protected are moving away from that very genre. Much doesn’t want to air music videos anymore, for example.
Among the channels with this protection that have essentially abandoned their format with rebranding:
- CMT (Corus), approved as a channel broadcasting country music videos. Now airs reality shows and sitcoms in primetime.
- Discovery Channel (Bell), which is supposed to air science and technology programming, but puts out mainly reality shows
- DTour (Shaw; formerly Prime/TVtropolis), approved as a channel for baby boomers, now airs reality shows and travel programs
- History (Shaw), approved as, well, a history channel, now airs mainly reality shows about people who find or fix old things (that and M*A*S*H reruns)
- M3 (Bell; formerly MuchMoreMusic), approved as an adult alternative to MuchMusic, but now airs sitcoms and dramas in primetime
- Oprah Winfrey Network (Corus; formerly Canadian Learning Television/Viva), approved as a formal education channel, but now airs reality shows. (Its deviation from its purpose was so severe the CRTC slapped a mandatory order requiring it to stop. It didn’t.)
- Sportsnet 360 (Rogers; formerly The Score), approved as a 24-hour sports news and highlights channel, but now airs live sporting events, including wrestling, MMA and collegiate sports
- Vision (independent), approved as a religion and faith channel, but now airs acquired British shows, reruns of old dramas with mild religious themes, and brands itself as a network for baby boomers (and those slightly younger)
- BookTelevision (Bell), approved as a channel devoted to books and authors, but now airs just about anything scripted that was once based on a book
- H2 (Shaw, formerly mentv/The Cave), approved as a channel for men’s lifestyle programs, now airing mainly programs about science and history
- TwistTV (Shaw, formerly Discovery Health), approved as a health and wellness channel, now airing lifestyle reality shows and this fall will rebrand to FYI, which will carry lifestyle shows about health but also fashion and food.
The problem is that natures of service, the sentence-long descriptions of what a specialty channel is about, are so vague that a lifestyle channel, a health channel and a women’s channel could have identical programming but not be considered competing directly with each other.
Clearly this needs to change, but the question is how.
The commission is looking at eliminating genre exclusivity, which would allow everyone to compete freely with each other. It commissioned a discussion paper on the topic, which looks at various options, including having more broad “buckets” like arts, lifestyle and music. Broadcasters could have flexibility instead of pretending they’re something they’re not. But independent niche channels that do need protection could still keep them.
What will happen: Expect the commission to relax genre exclusivity rules, particularly for popular entertainment channels owned by the big vertically integrated companies. These channels have profit margins in the 50% range and obviously no longer need this protection. In 2012, the CRTC looked at the possibility of opening up music channels to direct competition, much like it had news and sports. While Much and MusiquePlus aren’t as profitable as other channels, relaxing the rules could allow them to go after more popular programming while allowing others to experiment with all-music channels.
The question of what to do with the categories is more complex. Without genre protection, is there a reason to keep them separate? If so, should the CRTC end its moratorium on new licences? The commission gives a hint on what it’s thinking in the next item.
10. Simplified licensing
The CRTC is looking at reducing the number of categories of services. It’s also considering expanding exemptions from licensing. Currently the commission does not require a licence from some specialty channels with a low number of subscribers, particularly ethnic third-language channels. It’s looking at expanding this.
What will happen: Expect more small services to get exemption orders, but the big popular channels will still require licenses from the commission.
11. Standards for all-news channels
During the mandatory distribution hearing for Sun News Network, and the subsequent proceeding that led to the compromise decision to force all news channels onto all digital cable systems, many intervenors complained that Sun fails to meet basic standards for what would be considered an all-news network, and giving it mandatory carriage or mandatory distribution would give people an incentive to start an all-news channel with little to no resources that would automatically get carriage everywhere even if people don’t want it and it contributes little or nothing.
The CRTC said that wasn’t an immediate issue because no licence has been issued for another mainstream national news channel that would benefit from this. But it is looking at what minimum standards might be necessary in this hearing.
What will happen: Expect some basic standards. But expect those standards to be more about hours devoted to pure news programming, and not standards that relate to political bias or accuracy of reporting.
We might also see some discussion of whether to bring regional news channels like CP24 and BC1, or specialty news channels like BNN, into this category.
12. Parental controls
Since the advent of the V-chip in the 1990s, parents wanting to prevent their kids from seeing too much violence, sex or discussion of either has been with us. The CRTC is looking at whether there should be any change to how the system operates currently, including how programming information is delivered to subscribers.
What will happen: Probably nothing beyond some encouragements. I’m not aware of any public outcry on this issue, aside from my frustration that I can’t program my set-top box to just skip over the pay-per-view channels.
13. Competition among distributors
Most Canadians are still stuck with few choices when it comes to their TV service: either their local cable company or Bell or Shaw satellite. The emergence of IPTV companies, that distribute television through Internet connections instead of cable, is helping, but other than the big ones like Bell Fibe, their services are in their infancy, their service areas are small and their channel selection is poor. Meanwhile, cable companies are still hesitant to encroach on each other’s territory. Cogeco Cable has repeatedly said it has no intention of expanding into Montreal and taking on Videotron, for example.
Is there something the CRTC could do to help this process along? One idea is to allow small new distributors competing with existing ones to operate without a licence until they reach 20,000 subscribers.
What will happen: A new exemption order makes sense, but for competition to really happen in this country, what we need is someone with a lot of money and a desire to invest it for the long term and take on cable monopolies. So far the only companies doing that are Telus, out west, and Bell, in Quebec and Ontario.
14. Complaints about distributors
The CRTC notes that it gets more than a thousand complaints a year about billing issues with distributors, and wants to know if it should be more involved in such disputes. Should it establish an ombudsman and/or rules that establish consumers’ rights, similar to what it did for wireless companies? (Long contracts are also an issue in TV, with its users getting new set-top boxes instead of new phones.)
What will happen: Cable and satellite companies won’t be happy about this, and will argue that existing government agencies are better equipped to deal with disputes. But it’s hard to argue that when it comes to things like billing issues, TV distributors should be dealt differently from Internet providers.
15. Anything else
This list is non-exclusive. The CRTC is open to discussing other subjects about TV regulation under its mandate. If you have a suggestion, send it along.
The CRTC is accepting comments on the Let’s Talk TV proceeding until June 27 at 8pm ET. Comments can be filed online here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.