24 myths about the CRTC, TV and Netflix

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has had to answer for decisions that the CRTC hasn't made or positions it hasn't proposed.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has had to answer for decisions that the CRTC hasn’t made or positions it hasn’t proposed.

Over two weeks of CRTC hearings over the future of television in September, I monitored discussion over Twitter. And I saw a lot of crazy ideas being thrown out about the commission, some of which I might simply disagree with, but much of which is just plain inaccurate or misinformed. Since then, the volume has died down, but the same points keep getting brought up.

So to try to clear things up, here are some things people are saying about the CRTC and how television is regulated in Canada that could use a reality check.

1. Abolishing the CRTC would be the best move for consumer choice

It’s easy to say that the CRTC should just be shut down when you think of it as a protectionist nanny-state nagger trying to force Canadians to watch more Rick Mercer or Heartland and denying them access to U.S. Super Bowl commercials. But the CRTC is also concerned about the interests of consumers, and has become more so under the leadership of chairman Jean-Pierre Blais. The CRTC is the reason why cellphone contracts are limited to two years. It’s the reason why you can keep your phone number when you change cellphone providers. It’s the reason why we have a national telemarketing do-not-call list.

Even if we separate the two areas of regulation and call for dismantling the broadcasting regulatory side only, we would lose a lot of consumer protections. For example, a CRTC rule prevents broadcasters from pulling their signals from providers during carriage disputes. This differs from the U.S., where a company can pull all their channels from a provider if it thinks it’s not getting a good price. And there are lots of examples of U.S. consumers being held hostage in these disputes.

The CRTC also has rules that limit the power of the giant vertically integrated media companies, who have to play nice not only with independents, but with each other. They can’t launch new channels and keep them exclusively to themselves. They can’t demand unreasonable rates from smaller cable companies. And when there are disputes, and one party asks the CRTC to intervene, both parties have to abide by its decision. If anything, the public tends to want more of these regulations, not less.

Not to mention that the idea of pick and pay would never see the light of day if the government didn’t regulate the system.

2. Regulating pick and pay is a bad idea because [insert analogy to any other consumer good or service]

I’ve seen cable TV compared to all sorts of other things, but these analogies all fail for various reasons — two in particular:

One is the uniqueness of content. In a grocery store, if you don’t like their peanut butter brand, you can buy another one. They’ll offer several brands at different prices that mainly taste the same. But you can’t get your local team’s NHL game or a Mad Men episode from some other broadcaster. At least not yet.

The other problem is lack of competition. If you don’t like your grocery store, you can go to a different one. Or you can purchase some food from that store and other food elsewhere. With cable TV, most Canadians don’t have that choice. I can’t subscribe to Rogers or Telus or Cogeco or Eastlink. I can’t realistically get some of my channels from Bell and others from Videotron without paying a fortune. So I have to choose between Videotron, Bell Fibe, the two satellite services (if I live in a place that allows satellite dishes) and a growing number of independent IPTV services that have only a handful of channels in their lineups.

Most Canadians have far less choice than even that. Which means the free market can’t work to balance it all out, and that’s why the government has to step in. At least for now. One of the CRTC’s proposals is to expand exemptions on small TV providers that would encourage them to sprout up and compete with the bigger guys for clients. But despite everyone telling you that the world has changed, the free market is here and regulations are obsolete, we’re still a few years from being able to see proper competition in the TV distribution market.

3. Enforcing pick and pay would mean some channels go bankrupt, and that would be a bad idea

No one argues that pick and pay won’t create winners and losers. But if no one wants to subscribe to a channel, and the CRTC has determined that it’s not important enough to get mandatory distribution to everyone, then why does it exist?

There are channels out there that are completely useless but exist on subscription revenue because they’re part of large packages. Bell’s Book Television is a great example. Bell hasn’t bothered promoting the channel in half a decade, and it has no original programming. It generated less than $30,000 in ad revenue last year. But it had a 70% profit margin. Rogers has done little with the Biography Channel lately (though probably will soon). Many channels by companies big and small are devoted to showing old series and movies, which Netflix and others have rendered largely redundant.

Pick and pay would cause many of these channels to die, would send more consumer subscription dollars toward the channels that they do like, and most importantly would encourage TV services to offer programming that people want to watch.

4. Pick and pay works in Quebec because of the language difference. It wouldn’t work in the rest of Canada.

There’s no real evidence of this. When I asked her about it recently, Videotron’s president said she doesn’t think it’s true either. The Quebec market does make some things different — we pay more for RDS and less for TSN, for example — but we have the same TV channels as the rest of the country.

What makes Quebec different is Videotron, which has seen so much success with its custom packages that Bell has followed suit (but only in this province). Companies like Cogeco and Eastlink are also moving toward individual channel selection or smaller packages. They’re limited in what they can do by their contracts with content providers, but if pick-and-pay forces changes to those contracts, those barriers get lifted.

And it’s not just in Quebec where pick and pay is a reality. Small packages, custom packages and à la carte selection are growing in popularity. Cogeco, Telus and Eastlink are experimenting with them. Verizon is reportedly preparing to launch a new pick and pay TV service in the U.S.

5. The CRTC wants to ban TV packages

Pick and pay, if approved the way the CRTC has proposed, would be like gay marriage. Available, but not mandatory. The commission has made it clear that providers could offer channels in small or large packages in addition to making them available individually or as custom packages.

Again, Videotron offers an example here. You can buy channels like Space or Showcase individually, or you can get them in the large Anglo package. It’s your choice.

6. Ending simultaneous substitution would make Canadian content better because it would force it to compete better

Simultaneous substitution, the rule that requires cable providers to replace distant stations (usually U.S. networks) with local Canadian stations when the two air the same programming, has a lot of unintended consequences. It’s the reason why regular-season NFL games are on CTV but CFL games — including the Grey Cup — are on TSN. It forces Canadian networks to shuffle their primetime schedules, often moving their Canadian shows to different time slots.

One argument against simsub is that without it, the Canadian networks would lose their incentive to run popular U.S. network shows and might get more creative about original programming.

But that argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

We don’t know exactly how much simsub brings to Canadian networks. We’d have to find a way to count how many people would watch a U.S. show on the U.S. vs. Canadian channels (and U.S. channels aren’t measured in Canadian ratings). But estimates put it in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year, more if you include indirect benefits.

For all the benefits that eliminating simsub would bring, none of them stand up to those hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, CTV, Global and City might be encouraged to do more original content, but they’d have far less money to do it with, which means their quality would be poor.

Eliminating simsub would make the already precarious business model of English-language private conventional television even more so. And it might result in one or more of these networks simply pulling the plug on local television stations and putting all of their efforts into specialty channels.

7. Cable companies want to end over-the-air TV so they can force more people to buy cable

If that were true, Bell, Shaw and others would be eager to embrace this idea. But they’re not. Most companies that operate over-the-air television stations say that shutting down their transmitters would cost more in lost ad revenue than they would save in maintenance costs. Cogeco, which owns a TV distributor but no TV stations, is also against the idea.

Bell has proposed a local-specialty-channel model in which local stations would shut down their transmitters and be converted into services that can seek subscription fees in exchange for providing local news. But that’s a different issue, and reflective of the fact that conventional TV is finding it much harder to keep running on a single revenue stream.

8. Ending over-the-air TV is unnecessary because big media companies make billions of dollars

If you look at the quarterly reports of BCE, Rogers Communications or Shaw Communications, they’re clearly very profitable companies. But judging their over-the-air television networks by their parent companies’ bottom lines is like saying Statistics Canada must be wasting money because the federal government as a whole is in deficit.

These big vertically integrated companies are quite financially healthy, but their media divisions aren’t what’s driving it. It’s wireless, Internet, cable TV and other telecommunications services. Profits from media are small contributors, and profits from conventional television are a small fraction of the small media pie, if they even contribute positively at all. (At last report, City was still losing money.)

Some have made the argument that Bell and Shaw should essentially be subsidizing local TV as a public service through the money they’re making as distributors or telecom companies. But that argument only makes sense if you think every telecom company should be subsidizing TV stations. Should Cogeco and Telus and Eastlink and MTS be forced to take over or start local TV stations as a condition of maintaining their phone and Internet networks?

Rogers has been subsidizing losses at City, and Bell has been subsidizing losses at CTV Two, but any sane company isn’t going to keep writing cheques to money-losing divisions forever. Either we have to make local TV profitable or we should expect that private broadcasters will get out of it entirely.

9. The CRTC is responsible for the fact that Canadians can’t watch video on U.S. network websites or Hulu.

it’s a thing it gets blamed for a lot, but the CRTC has nothing to do with this. The commission doesn’t regulate Internet content in this way. Instead, this is an issue of contracts over copyright.

Usually it’s one of two things: A Canadian broadcaster like Bell or Shaw or Rogers has purchased the Canadian rights to a program online, and in exchange the U.S. and Canadian broadcasters agree not to allow streaming into each other’s countries. Or it’s a U.S. website that has not acquired the Canadian distribution rights from the content producer, and is therefore forced to prevent Canadians from watching the service.

None of this has to do with the CRTC.

10. The CRTC is responsible for hockey blackouts

Again, this is an issue of contractual rights, not regulation. In the case of NHL regional games, it’s the league that requires broadcasters to ensure their broadcasts are blacked out in other regions, to protect the interests of the teams in those regions.

The CRTC has no involvement in these contracts, and does not enforce them. It had no say in the $5.2-billion rights deal with Rogers. Its only involvement in the entire NHL rights saga is a request to Rogers to disclose how it divides its NHL revenues and expenses, and a requirement that Rogers file an application for a network licence so that CBC television can be legally put under its control on Saturday nights. Neither of those have to do with blackouts or involve telling anyone what they can and cannot show on television.

11. The CRTC wants to tax, block, or shut down Netflix

On Aug. 21, the CRTC posted a document to its website which listed 29 proposals about TV regulations. It said the proposals in this “working document” are not done deals, but ways to start a discussion.

Only two of these proposals had to do with online streaming services. One said that licensed broadcasters (of which Netflix is not) would include revenue from online programming services toward their total revenue under the regulated system, and in exchange would be able to count Canadian online-only programming expenses as part of their Canadian content funding quota.

The other proposal had to do with closed captioning, proposing a rule similar to one put in place by the FCC in the United States: That programming that had been produced for television, and therefore included closed captioning, must be available with closed captioning when posted online. This might require some technical upgrades for some broadcasters, but probably wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Of these two proposals, only the second would apply to Netflix. And Netflix has closed captioning, and says that 90% of its catalogue has it.

Other groups, such as the Ontario government and the CBC, have proposed things like taxes on Netflix, which right now doesn’t even pay GST. It’s unclear if such a plan is workable or how it would function. And the CRTC hasn’t indicated any interest in it. Plus, the federal government has already indicated that it wouldn’t support such a tax.

No one I heard made any proposal about preventing Canadians from accessing Netflix.

12. The CRTC wants to impose Canadian content regulations on Netflix

The commission asked for information from Netflix about its Canadian content. Which is a prudent thing to do if your job is to evaluate how Canadians get their television content. But that’s a far cry from assuming that it will impose Canadian content rules on the service. There’s no proposal in their working document, nor has anyone brought forward a reasonable case to require Netflix have a certain percentage of Canadian shows in their library or meet some other Canadian content quota.

13. The CRTC demanded private information about Netflix subscribers

News reports about the CRTC asking for “confidential customer data” or “confidential subscriber information” left many people thinking that the commission wanted information that they considered confidential, such as names, addresses, viewing logs or credit card numbers.

But the CRTC didn’t ask for any of that. Instead, it asked for (or rather ordered Netflix to provide) this:

  • The total number of Canadian subscribers to Netflix
  • Its total revenues from Canadian subscribers
  • The total amount it spends on Canadian programming (as defined by Netflix, which may differ from the CRTC’s definition)
  • The total amount it spends on Canadian production (including things like dubbing)
  • Information about the popularity of programs Netflix has categorized as Canadian — both within Canada and abroad
  • Its total spending on French-language content
  • Its total spending on Canadian children’s programming

These are the pieces of “confidential” information that Netflix refused to divulge. (It was also asked for things like its privacy policy, which it provided.) These things are “confidential” only because Netflix itself considers this information commercially sensitive and did not wish to disclose it.

14. The CRTC cannot be trusted with confidential information

As the chairman explained during the hearing, the CRTC deals with commercially sensitive information on a daily basis. The leak of just a few numbers could be devastating to Bell, Rogers or a bunch of other companies big and small. But the CRTC has a legal obligation to protect that information, as do its employees. And this means that anyone who does put this information out, even if they no longer work for the commission, could face criminal charges. It would be akin to leaking details of a federal budget before it’s tabled.

This is not to say that Netflix was entirely out to lunch about its confidentiality concerns.

Leaks from the CRTC are extremely rare, especially considering the amount of commercially sensitive information it collects, but it has happened. The last major case was in 2000, when a list of newly approved specialty channels was leaked. The CRTC was forced to publish a list early.

And while it’s pretty well inconceivable that the CRTC would choose to publish information that would have a strong negative impact on Netflix’s business, the commission could not give an absolute guarantee that anything submitted would be granted confidentiality. If the commission feels that the public interest in a piece of information is more important than its commercial sensitivity, it can choose to release it. Its rules of procedure explicitly give it that power.

But the commission isn’t going to release data that has a legitimate reason for being confidential.

Still, without absolute certainty of confidentiality, Netflix was unwilling to turn over the information. And the CRTC is unwilling to pre-approve confidentiality for information it has not seen.

An argument was brought up that access-to-information laws would apply, but for obvious reasons access to information does not apply to documents granted confidentiality.

15. The CRTC does not ask for similar information from Bell, Rogers and Shaw

Are you joking? The CRTC demands a ridiculously large amount of information from these three companies that it hasn’t demanded of Netflix. These companies have entire regulatory departments whose job it is to ensure they meet their regulatory obligations, much of which relates to disclosure of information.

Revenue, programming spending, subscriber numbers — these are all requested of these companies. And large vertically-integrated companies are granted much less confidentiality than small ones on those kinds of numbers.

16. The CRTC’s decision to disregard Netflix’s testimony is an immature act of wilful blindness

The commission was sitting between a rock and a hard place when it came to Netflix and Google. Push hard against their refusal to provide data, and you enter a cross-border legal battle you have no guarantee of winning. Back down, and you’re seen as impotent, leaving others free to similarly ignore your power.

So the commission decided that it would disregard everything Netflix and Google presented. Not out of spite, it said, but because it can’t simply take their “anecdotal information” without data to back it up.

The CRTC is well aware of the opinions of Netflix and Google and plenty of Canadians about the future of technology, but the questions to these companies were about how they operated, and they aren’t much better informed about that than they were before the hearing.

17. The CRTC is going after Netflix to protect Canada’s large vertically-integrated media companies

It’s tempting to think the bad guy must be the largest companies, and that because they have such large businesses with big bottom lines that they must have forced the CRTC to do their bidding, but the loudest voices calling for regulation of Netflix aren’t from them, they’re from organizations like the CBC and the Canadian Media Production Association.

If anything, the large vertically-integrated companies don’t want more rules imposed on Netflix as much as they want fewer rules imposed on themselves so they can start up their own services that compete on a level playing ground with Netflix.

18. The CRTC heard only from large companies and not from ordinary Canadians during its hearings

The CRTC received official comments from 2,550 people and groups for this hearing, on top of the online forum it set up and encouraged Canadians to contribute to. The oral phase of the hearing included more than 100 presentations, from big companies like Bell and Shaw, interest groups like the Directors Guild of Canada and Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and several individuals.

All of these comments are part of the official record and will be considered when making a decision.

19. Canadian television is poor quality and nobody wants to watch it

I find a lot of people who say things like this set double standards as far as quality is concerned. They compare the average Canadian TV series to Breaking Bad. But the average American series also compares very poorly to Breaking Bad. In fact, the average American series probably won’t last more than a season, if that.

Television, particularly scripted series, are hit-and-miss, and that’s no different on either side of the border. What is different is that American TV is a larger industry, and has more money.

Despite that, there are plenty of Canadian TV success stories, even if we set aside news and sports, which are very Canadian and very popular, and discount reality television (The Amazing Race Canada was the most popular program of the summer).

Consider Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for lead actress for her work on the Canadian-U.S. co-production Orphan Black. And the fact that she and the series weren’t also nominated for Emmys was considered a snub by major media in the U.S.

Consider popular Canadian shows past and present like Corner Gas, Murdoch Mysteries, The Rick Mercer Report, Lost Girl, Mayday and Flashpoint.

Yeah, we have far too many cop dramas and medical dramas and other shows that get a lukewarm reaction in the U.S. even when they are picked up by those networks. And allowing co-productions to count as Canadian content leads to stripping away any Canadian character from these shows. But there’s nothing about Canadian television that makes it inherently inferior, other than the quantity of it and the quantity of money that funds it.

20. The CRTC wants to dictate what we can and cannot watch

The CRTC has very few rules that actually block programming, and other than the rules it has in place for Al Jazeera Arabic to prevent hate speech from being distributed in this country, none of them have to do with the actual content. Instead, they’re mainly rules that protect the exclusive rights acquired by Canadian broadcasters for programming.

Even if the commission were to license and directly impose restrictions on Netflix, it wouldn’t be about forcing subscribers to watch a certain amount of Canadian programming. At worst, it would impose a quota of how much Canadian programming should be in its library. But again, the CRTC hasn’t proposed any rule of the sort.

21. CRTC commissioners are career civil servants who know nothing about the industry

I’ve actually seen people allege that CRTC commissioners are both out-of-touch bureaucrats and puppets of the big cable companies.

You can go to the CRTC’s website yourself and read up on the background of each commissioner. The ones on the panel for this hearing are the following:

  • Jean-Pierre Blais (chairman): Clearly meets the definition of “career civil servant” having worked for various federal government departments including Canadian Heritage.
  • Tom Pentefountas (vice-chairman): A lawyer, part-time radio host and ADQ activist who had little connection to the CRTC or the industry before his appointment.
  • Candice Molnar: A former executive at SaskTel, the main telecommunications company in Saskatchewan.
  • Stephen Simpson: His background is in advertising and marketing.
  • Yves Dupras: A lawyer specializing in media who sat on the CRTC previously in the 1990s.

Perhaps one or more of those biographies don’t sit well with you, or you think there’s a perspective that’s missing, but there’s a diversity of backgrounds here and nothing to suggest that this group is complacent or out-of-touch or improperly connected to players in the industry.

22. The CRTC is too stupid to realize that it can’t protect Canadian culture through regulation anymore

If you actually talk with CRTC commissioners, or its chairman, you realize that they know an awful lot about the broadcasting industry, far more than you or me. And they’re well aware that the powers available to them are not the same as those that were available 10 or 20 years ago.

In many cases, the CRTC wants to deregulate. It wants more direct competition in telecommunications and broadcasting, and where such competition exists, it wants to take its hands off the wheel, and does. It is expanding the number of providers and services that qualify for exemptions from licensing in an effort to encourage more smaller players to get into the system.

But the commission still has a mandate as set by the Broadcasting Act. And it’s the federal government through its legislature that would need to change that to remove the provisions that call for the Canadian broadcasting system to protect Canadian culture and be controlled by Canadians.

23. Netflix is not a broadcaster

The definition of “broadcasting” is set by the Broadcasting Act:

“broadcasting” means any transmission of programs, whether or not encrypted, by radio waves or other means of telecommunication for reception by the public by means of broadcasting receiving apparatus, but does not include any such transmission of programs that is made solely for performance or display in a public place;

The act also defines “other means of telecommunication” as “any wire, cable, radio, optical or other electromagnetic system, or any similar technical system” and “broadcasting receiving apparatus” as “a device, or combination of devices, intended for or capable of being used for the reception of broadcasting”

These definitions are purposefully vague and open to interpretation (not to mention a bit circular). Are video-on-demand services like Netflix broadcasting? Netflix says no, but the CRTC says yes. It may eventually end up in court if the government doesn’t amend the act to clarify.

But what is clear is that the definition of broadcasting is not limited to over-the-air AM, FM and TV transmission. Any telecommunication of programs to the public is broadcasting.

That doesn’t mean the CRTC has to treat Netflix and CTV the same way. But it means Netflix is under the umbrella of CRTC regulation, regardless of how realistic such regulations could be in a free and open Internet.

24. Regulating new media would only restrict consumer choice

Actually, some regulations related to new media are designed to improve consumer choice. For example, Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Quebecor can’t restrict the on-demand rights to their programs to their own cable and satellite TV subscribers or wireless subscribers. They have to offer access to their competitors at commercially reasonable rates.

So if you want to watch an NFL game on your cellphone, or get access to Global Go, your provider has the right to buy access to those services for you.

It’s not a perfect system, and the companies still have to negotiate with each other and often give themselves preferential treatment, but I don’t think too many consumers would appreciate the alternative of having to subscribe to Bell Mobility to get CTV shows on your phone, and having to subscribe to Rogers Wireless to get City TV shows.

See also:

34 thoughts on “24 myths about the CRTC, TV and Netflix

  1. Dilbert

    The worlds tiniest violin plays for the “canadian” content industry. It’s an artificial construct if there ever was one, and hearing the people with a vested interest in maintaining this charade by handing the bill to the consumer through the CRTC is laughable.

    First and foremost, let’s start with the big one: “The CRTC also has rules that limit the power of the giant vertically integrated media companies, who have to play nice not only with independents,” This is true in theory, less so in practice. We only have giant vertically integrated media companies because artificial restrictions on ownership of TV and radio stations in Canada which has driven a massive consolidation to a handful of players. By keeping every external player off the field, the CRTC has created an artificial walled garden, with little desire by the players to make it better. They just want large margins and low competition, and that is exactly what CRTC and the ownership rules they enforce do to the Canadian industry. Yes, the industry is Canadian, but it’s a pig in a poke. We don’t have a natural, self-sustaining industry, we have one which is entirely propped up by artificial means, silly structures, and bizarre constructs to keep it functioning. The bill of course goes directly to the consumer, who pays a high price for lower quality content.

    Producing “content” these days isn’t location based. It’s whatever, wherever, however. The technology is available, the people with the abilities can be hired, and so on. On a purely technical level, you can produce great content anywhere now. It’s just that simple. You don’t have to be in Hollywood, you don’t have to be in a specific music studio in London, you don’t have to be a New Yorker to have style. The stuff can be created by anyone, any time, and at a fraction of the costs. Canadian content is often lower quality not because of the technical, but because of quality of the underlying product. For every “Corner Gas” we have been subject to a 100 variations of Snow Job and Littlest Hobo. We have hundreds of channels which each repeat each others content, packaged with different station IDs and bumps, but the same content. The content is poor enough that people are willing to pay for access to better stuff, even if it’s against the law. from Grey and even black market US sat dishes to the current trend of streaming, downloading, and piracy… the consumer is constantly trying to move away from the “yeah Canada” product trying to be jammed down their throats.

    “The Amazing Race Canada was the most popular program of the summer”

    Yup, and guess what: It’s an American show redone with Canadian players, no different from “Wipeout Canada”. There isn’t a lot of imagination or innovation in taking a show from another country and just duplicating it – and you can bet that much of the income from the show ends up going to the US creators for the rights.

    Canadian TV sucks because (a) yes, there is less money in the game, and (b) because much of the content is created to meet up to a numerical requirement by the CRTC regulations and license requirements. That means that “any shit that fills the time” is good enough, and plenty of companies have made a living creating exactly that sort of stuff. When they actually try, Canadian companies can produce the same quality content as the US, same quality content as the UK, and so on. But in a game of numbers and meeting mandates rather than consumer demand, the content suffers greatly.

    Here’s something to consider. If the Canadian networks disappeared tomorrow, and the US networks could take control of local broadcasting in Canada, what would the result be? Well, one thing for sure is that local content at least on a news level would be back and front and center. US network affiliates generally run news anywhere between 1 to 3 hours over the supper hour, plus often noon and late news. Moreover, they are competitive about it. That means that even in smaller markets, there is a drive for better coverage, better quality product, and a desire to be first with a story.

    The interesting there in play here is that there is great potential that more money would actually stay in the Canadian stations because there would be a desire to make them a success. While the current simsub situation has the Canadian networks turning over a lot ad dollars, most of that money is going to pay for the programming – and they big against each other to push that price up all the time. The net money isn’t that impressive (broadcast doesn’t make money, remember?), they money is being made only in distribution and specialty channels. Bell would make money money NET if tomorrow they closed all of their OTA channels and the networks, and stuck to only providing cable channels. Where else can they get such big margins?

    The idea of the CRTC as a big protector of Canadian interests is appealing mostly to those who benefit from a system that takes the consumers money and hands it to the big companies with little or no actual competition. True competitors are kept out of the market place, and just like “local content matters”, the Canadian content issue is just the hot air they use to inflate their balloons. Once they got their way, local content didn’t matter, more and more stations run without local news, and the OTA networks continue to ship the vast majority of their income out of the country.

    The CRTC once was useful. Buggy whips and ice boxes were once useful too. Most of us have neither of those, and have little use for the CRTC.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      much of the content is created to meet up to a numerical requirement by the CRTC regulations and license requirements. That means that “any shit that fills the time” is good enough, and plenty of companies have made a living creating exactly that sort of stuff.

      This is why the CRTC has moved more toward quotas based on cost and less based on airtime. Tell broadcasters they have to create programming for X dollars, and they’ll try to get the best quality for that price.

      If the Canadian networks disappeared tomorrow, and the US networks could take control of local broadcasting in Canada, what would the result be?

      It’s a hard question to answer because of the very different regulatory environments in Canada and the U.S. when it comes to local stations. In the U.S., there are limits on the number of affiliates that can be owned by the network. The U.S. also has a fee-for-carriage scheme, out-of-market blackouts and other regulatory measures that affect local stations. If those were also imported into Canada, we might have a U.S.-like system for local stations.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        I think that it is telling that the main guiding rule of US broadcasting has been “networks cannot own more than a small number of affiliate stations”. In Canada, it’s completely the opposite, the vast majority of OTA broadcast channels (as well as cable channels) are owned directly or indirectly by the small handful of players.

        Canada on the other hand has regulations which encourage monopolies and duopolies (and octopolies). We have rules which significantly limit competition, that do not let the market (ie, the consumers) decide, rather our system is one of father knows best, just by quiet and eat your gruel and have a nice day.

        Data, information, and yes, “content” doesn’t stop at the border anymore waiting to get a visa. If you want it, you can have it, and no regulation in the world will change that. Trying to act like there is some way to create a Berlin wall around Canadian broadcasting thinking it will keep all the evil nasty competition out is just a lost cause.

        Reply
    2. Cut The Cord

      Totally agree with you Dilbert.

      “Ending simultaneous substitution would make Canadian content better because it would force it to compete better”

      I’m so sick of this argument. The Canadian media companies have gotten a free ride with simultaneous substitution and one of the things that is never talked about is how much simultaneous substitution actually hurts the Canadian consumer. Look at the facts, Canadian media companies go and spend millions of dollars in so called “Canadian distribution rights” for US content. They then take this content and distribute it via OTA, their cable TV channels and through digital methods like online, tablets and mobile.

      Unfortunately they do a piss poor job of all of this. The same show that is on NBC with Canadian commercials but then CITY TV broadcasts the exact same show with Canadian commercials. I then go to NBC.com who actually owns said show and I can binge watch entire seasons…maybe. Maybe I get hit with a geo block. So I go over to CityTV’s website to try and do the same, instead only maybe two episodes are there.

      At the same time these Canadian networks complain they aren’t making enough revenue. So here’s a tip, if you want more revenue then have more content available. Then you can sell more ads.
      But the don’t do this, because they refuse to innovate and they refuse to keep up with progress.

      So as Canadians we are left behind because of the contracts Rogers and Bell sign.
      If you don’t believe this then why don’t any of the Canadian media companies offer any of their ‘original’ content in every possible medium out there.

      “Rogers has done little with the Biography Channel lately (though probably will soon).”
      This is the perfect example of slow progress. Rogers has sat on channels it’s owned and done shit all with them and meanwhile the US version of this channel is unavailable in Canada. So we’re left out in the cold.

      CTV, Global, CityTV have all just become news channels that mostly run 80% US content.
      And buying that content is expensive for the Canadian channels and you know who ends up paying for it? The Canadian consumer.

      It’s time that these Canadian networks go away, if all you want is news than you can tune into the news specialty channels each network owns and operates.

      Hulu+, HBO Go, Netflix and soon to be CBS, Showtime etc are the future.
      Canadians are already using these services and will continue to do so.

      Reply
      1. Fagstein Post author

        why don’t any of the Canadian media companies offer any of their ‘original’ content in every possible medium out there.

        Which media are they missing? I can’t think of an original Canadian series that isn’t at least offered online, through tablet apps and on video-on-demand services.

        Keep in mind much of this original content isn’t actually owned by the networks, but rather independent production companies. So if you’re wondering why they’re not on DVD or Blu-ray, it’s because of the production company that owns the rights, not Bell or Rogers.

        Rogers has sat on channels it’s owned and done shit all with them and meanwhile the US version of this channel is unavailable in Canada. So we’re left out in the cold.

        The U.S. Biography Channel no longer exists. It was rebranded FYI this summer.

        It’s time that these Canadian networks go away, if all you want is news than you can tune into the news specialty channels each network owns and operates.

        The business case for all-news networks evaporates if you take away the supporting networks of local stations. CTV News Channel wouldn’t work without the CTV network unless it greatly increased its subscription fee, which would cause subscriptions to plummet.

        Reply
  2. Brian

    Forced Canadian content is abhorrent.
    I watch as much good stuff that appeals to me personally as I can, no matter its source.
    There are excellent shows from many countries. Let Canada compete in the market place.
    Australia has less population than Canada and produces some excellent series. I watch some of them because they are well done, not because politicians and civil servants dictate content. Many excellent shows are in fact low budget no matter where they are produced. If quality of acting and writing is there the bucks will follow. Forced Canadian content makes me cringe because it frequently results in garbage.
    Canadian News is usually copied from American channels even down to the exact words used by American commentators….right or wrong. Canadian hockey was picked up and is now controlled by Americans because it was popular….despite Don Cherry.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Australia has less population than Canada and produces some excellent series.

      It also finances and regulates its TV production in a way very similar to Canada. It has direct and indirect government support for television production, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a public broadcaster, and everything is regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which imposes the Australian Content Standard.

      Reply
  3. ClearChannel

    As for points 7 and 8, I have made my thoughts plain about this subject before companies like Rogers and Bell should get out of Television Broadcasting they don’t belong there. Over the years the general public has been brainwashed into thinking that they need to pay to watch TV. They had forgotten about antennas. The Source which is owned by Bell and shouldn’t be tried to sell me on Bell Fibe one day. The salesman there knew nothing about antennas especially the outdoor type yet they are sold online. People need an economical way to watch TV and those that neither have the time nor the interest to watch hundreds of channels many of them useless, a TV antenna serves that purpose for $0 dollars per month. Also, people that are retired like myself and on reduced income can ill afford the luxury or stupidity of Pay TV depending on one’s point of view. Many people are no doubt having to take medications and even with government Insurance typically of about 80%, these medications are expensive every month. Will Pay TV volunteer to pay for these medications ? I don’t think so.

    The system has been set-up in favor of Pay TV for example, a person living in an apartment building or condo cannot usually erect an outdoor TV antenna to get the local channels and depending on his or her location a few of the U.S. border stations. Their hands are tied in this regard making them ” Pay TV Prisioners”. There used to be many apartment buildings in the past before anyone heard the word Condo that had their own rooftop TV antennas serving the building. There are still a few that have them. They could start them up again. As for Condos their regulations would need to be changed.

    Over-The-Air Television is the best it’s ever been since going digital but you wouldn’t know about it just by reading the Gazette. Information is passed along on the Internet and by word-of-mouth. When was the last time anyone saw an outdoor TV antenna on display at a store selling TV sets ? Certainly not at the Source and only at those same locations when they were called Radio Shack. In Montreal there are about 20 to 30 OTA channels (over-the-air ) depending on where you live. In Toronto that number jumps to about 40 and in Windsor 53. These higher numbers are due mainly to the American’s use of sub-channels. The technology is identical to ours but it’s not being fully utilized here, interference from Pay TV as they don’t like competiton and a fully functioning Over-The-Air TV system would provide just that but since they OWN OTA or FREE TV, they are in a CONFLICT OF INTEREST !

    Some areas in the United States report having dozens of channels available, some areas like Baltimore, Washington and Los Angeles report 100+ channels available free over-the-air. The American model is one that we should adopt here as it would provide consumers with real choice and free them from the shackles of Pay TV.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Over-The-Air Television is the best it’s ever been since going digital

      I’m not sure what this means.

      The American model is one that we should adopt here as it would provide consumers with real choice and free them from the shackles of Pay TV.

      Which aspects of the U.S. model would you like to adopt here? Setting limits on the number of affiliates owned and operated by the major networks? Allowing stations to charge fees to cable companies for distribution?

      Reply
  4. ClearChannel

    Picture quality is now digital that is superior to cable and satellite and there are more channels available now. People can choose the paid services or go the free route. Shutting down transmitters here eliminates people’s right to choose.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Shutting down transmitters here eliminates people’s right to choose.

      There’s no plan to force the shutdown of transmitters, simply to move them around so they use spectrum more efficiently.

      Reply
  5. Craig

    If there were limits on ownership, most likely US or other foreign companies would have to get access to the Canadian market at the same time, since Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Quebecor have bought pretty much all the Canadian competition.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If there were limits on ownership, most likely US or other foreign companies would have to get access to the Canadian market at the same time,

      And this would be better because…

      Reply
  6. ClearChannel

    You forget the CRTC hearings this past September, shutting down transmitters was an option. The CRTC and Industry Canada sleep in the same bed along with Pay TV.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      You forget the CRTC hearings this past September, shutting down transmitters was an option.

      No one has suggested forcing TV stations off the air, merely giving them the option to operate without over-the-air transmitters. The CRTC hasn’t decided whether to accept that idea yet. (And if it doesn’t, I assume your opinion about this conspiracy will remain unchanged.)

      Reply
  7. ClearChannel

    No, I will not change my opinion about a conspiracy or at the very least gross incompetence by government departments. I had a convenience store for two years with an antenna on the roof and a Sony Bravia 1080P. Customers were regularly blown away at the picture quality and often assumed it was illegal because there was no monthly cost. Who is responsible for putting that idea in the public’s mind ? Certainly not me , I tried to educate people every chance I got. They certainly wouldn’t get their information at The/Le Source !

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The Source is owned by Bell and not forthcoming on information on OTA.

      No argument there. But you’re alleging a government conspiracy. Where does the government fit in here?

      Reply
  8. ClearChannel

    The government controls the band, they put CBC Montreal on channel 21 knowing full well that channel 22 was already occupied by CBS and in so doing deliberately set out to cause adjacent channel interference ( ACI ). They could have made life easier for people by putting the CBC on 19.2 but Canada has yet to enter the 21st Century as it seems they have never heard of sub-channels or procedures are bogged down in red tape.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The government controls the band, they put CBC Montreal on channel 21 knowing full well that channel 22 was already occupied by CBS and in so doing deliberately set out to cause adjacent channel interference

      Industry Canada is under no obligation to protect distant stations from local adjacent-channel interference. If it was, not only could stations in Montreal, Ottawa, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke and upstate New York and Vermont not be permitted on the same channel, but they wouldn’t be allowed on adjacent channels either. That’s a bit excessive, no?

      Canada has yet to enter the 21st Century as it seems they have never heard of sub-channels or procedures are bogged down in red tape.

      The CBC decided not to use digital subchannels. That’s on them. But it’s hardly evidence of some conspiracy by the government to ban free TV in order to screw the public and increase profits to cable TV companies.

      Reply
  9. ClearChannel

    Making certain channels difficult to receive with an antenna benefits whom then ? I can think of only one beneficiary, Pay TV. Why is it that some channels are hard to get in Montreal despite begin designated “Green Zone” by wwww.tvfool.com yet these same channels are easily distributed by Videotron?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Making certain channels difficult to receive with an antenna benefits whom then ?

      Do you have evidence that anything was done to deliberately make some channels difficult to receive? If so, why some and not all? And if the government wanted to force people to use pay TV, why not just force all over-the-air TV to shut down? Or put Montreal stations and the U.S. ones on the same channels instead of adjacent ones?

      Reply
  10. ClearChannel

    The CBC didn’t move to 21 on it’s own , some government department had to sanction it. Further, the takeover of Broadcast Television by the Pay TV Industry was sanctioned by government. Who owned CTV before a telephone company bought it ? Who owned CTV back in the 70’s long before satellite came along? It seems to me that back then Pay TV notably cable and channel 12 CTV were separate entities.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The CBC didn’t move to 21 on it’s own , some government department had to sanction it.

      That would be Industry Canada and the CRTC. Neither of whom have any obligation to protect foreign television stations from adjacent-channel transmitters outside of their coverage area.

      Further, the takeover of Broadcast Television by the Pay TV Industry was sanctioned by government.

      Indeed, though “telecom industry” might be more accurate than “pay TV” industry. Acquisitions were approved by the CRTC, which instituted various measures to prevent abuse of power by vertically integrated companies.

      Who owned CTV before a telephone company bought it ?

      CTVglobemedia, which was its own company. Before that it was owned by … Bell.

      Who owned CTV back in the 70’s long before satellite came along?

      Nobody, really. It was a network of individual stations.

      It seems to me that back then Pay TV notably cable and channel 12 CTV were separate entities.

      Pay TV didn’t really exist in the 1970s.

      Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Pay TV did exist back in the 70’s. it was called Cablevision with offices on Beaubien near Park Avenue.

      So they’re the ones who came up with the conspiracy?

      Reply
  11. ClearChannel

    The government allowed the purchase of networks by companies like Bell, how will they ensure that people with no desire for cable or satellite receive adequate television service ? With Pay TV controlling everything it’s in their interest to decrease services and entice people away from broadcast and onto the paid services. Where is the government in ensuring the public of continued service ? Shutting down broadcast was an option being discussed in the CRTC hearings in September. If that happened everyone would have to either pay or give up TV. Where is the government protection then ? The idea of the government going along with a shutdown is a conspiracy in itself.

    Broadcast TV has been here since 1952 and was intended to be a free and open service available to anyone with an antenna and within range. Cross-border reception should continue without hindrance and without interference from adjacent channels on either side of the border so citizens have a free choice. If not then who is the government helping ?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The government allowed the purchase of networks by companies like Bell, how will they ensure that people with no desire for cable or satellite receive adequate television service ?

      It begs the question: What’s adequate television service? Would CBC television be sufficient? What qualifies as a minimum television service, and how do we fund it?

      Cross-border reception should continue without hindrance and without interference from adjacent channels on either side of the border so citizens have a free choice.

      I suppose shutting down Canadian transmitters would accomplish that as well. But if we instituted that rule, then the number of available TV channels, even under a 50-channel system, would decrease dramatically. Each market would only be able to use every fourth or fifth channel. (And how far do we push it? Does Edmonton also have a right to receive U.S. stations?)

      Reply
  12. ClearChannel

    I don’t know about Edmonton but in markets like Toronto where there are many American channels available Canadian citizens should have no hindrance in receiving those stations if they so desire. That creates healthy competition for Pay TV.

    Everyone should have a right to erect an antenna to capture those signals. People living in apartments and condos do not have any such right, they are Pay TV Prisoners. What is the government doing about this situation ? Someone has to take the responsibility of informing the public and guaranteeing free choice.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      People living in apartments and condos do not have any such right, they are Pay TV Prisoners.

      That’s up to the people who own the apartments and condos, of course. And that restriction applies just as much to satellite dishes as TV antennas.

      Reply
  13. ClearChannel

    Yes, you will find some satellite dishes but that is more evidence of people being “Pay TV Prisoners” unless of course some of those dishes are the illegal ones. The lack of terrestrial antennas is evidence of ignorance of the general public that the original form of television is still around, perfectly legal and with picture quality superior to anything else. What was old is now new again. As for people being able to erect antennas on apartments and condos, perhaps there is someone better informed on the legalities on this issue.

    Reply
  14. Michael Hawk

    3. Enforcing pick and pay would mean some channels go bankrupt, and that would be a bad idea

    I’m still not sure why you think this is a bad idea.

    Pick and pay would cause many of these channels to die, would send more consumer subscription dollars toward the channels that they do like, and most importantly would encourage TV services to offer programming that people want to watch.

    This is what I would like to see happen. This happens in the business world all the time. If I have a product/service that people want, I make money. If there is no one who wants my product/service then guess what happens.

    I’m about to drop my basic cable subscription because for the price I pay I don’t feel I’m get my money’s worth. I dropped from a $100/month package down to basic because I felt like I was being robbed.

    The industry has been about greed, more so within the last 7-10 years. Channels like A&E used to have really good content. Now they just have marathons of a single show. I am literally disgusted with TV networks. On the 70th Anniversary of D-Day the History Channel had a Pawn Stars marathon https://www.facebook.com/History/posts/10151363747181184

    It seems the industry have forgotten who pays the bills.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’m still not sure why you think this is a bad idea.

      I don’t.

      On the 70th Anniversary of D-Day the History Channel had a Pawn Stars marathon https://www.facebook.com/History/posts/10151363747181184

      It seems the industry have forgotten who pays the bills.

      Setting aside that the CRTC doesn’t regulate A&E or the U.S. History channel, they’re very well aware of who pays the bills, and those people watch Pawn Stars.

      Reply

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