The CRTC got real busy last week making some big announcements/decisions/suggestions about television broadcasting regulations. Many of them are boring, minor or technical, but here are a few that aren’t:
Over-the-air carriage fees
The big one for broadcasting companies like Canwest/Global, CTV, TQS and Quebecor is the decision to reject the suggestion that “broadcast distribution units” (i.e. cable and satellite companies) should be required to pay fees to TV broadcasters who broadcast over the air freely.
This idea came out of the whole TQS saga, when the network’s owners decided that it needed the ability to somehow blackmail cable companies into giving them money. Since cable specialty channels get per-subscriber fees in exchange for their content, shouldn’t broadcast networks – whose budgets are supposedly higher because they need to produce local news – get money too?
The flip side of the coin is that these network broadcasters are broadcasting freely, using public airwaves. Cable and satellite companies are required by law to carry local broadcast channels on their basic packages. Subscribers don’t get any added value from getting over-the-air stations on cable (except, perhaps, not having to deal with rabbit ears), so why should they have to pay for them?
The CRTC’s decision was tough (emphasis mine):
CTVgm and Canwest proposed that any FFC only be made available if broadcasters meet monthly local programming requirements. However, they did not commit that the FFC, or any portion of it, would result in incremental spending on Canadian programming.
While OTA broadcasters have shown a recent decline in profitability, they, as other enterprises, might first look to their own business plans before making a request for increased revenue from the Commission. In the Proceeding, no business plans suggesting new sources of revenue were provided to the Commission. Neither the rationale for strategic initiatives by OTA broadcasters, such as recent major acquisitions, nor the basis for financing those initiatives or the impact of those initiatives on profitability were explained to the Commission at the public hearing.
The CRTC did cave on one point though: It said that so-called “distant signals” (e.g. CTV Vancouver for us Montrealers) should be able to “negotiate” carriage, in order to offset the trouble that this time-shifting business has caused. What that effectively means is that broadcasters can set rates for out-of-market broadcast stations and simply not allow their channels to be carried on other regions’ cable networks unless they pay their fees.
Broadcasters are happy with the parts of the decision that give them money, and unhappy with the ones that don’t. They’re for less regulation in the broadcasting industry, but they want corporate socialism for the “ailing” over-the-air broadcasting sector.