When news broke this month about the idea of the CRTC considering regulation of the Internet to enforce CanCon-style rules, I was going to blog about it but quickly realized plenty of people would be doing that. Sure, enough, there was a blogger revolt at the idea and even a Facebook group for people to join.
The arguments against the idea are fairly straightforward:
- The entire issue was brought up by mainstream content producers and artists, but not new media artists who profit mainly off the Internet
- It’s impractical to try to control what people access on the Internet. The only countries that actually try to do that are backward, undemocratic regimes
- CanCon sucks
I agree, and this issue won’t go very far in the regulatory department because of it.
Unfortunately, those people who believe the Internet doesn’t have borders are going to find themselves disappointed by the fact that the Internet already commercially regulates what Canadians can see online, thanks to geographic IP mapping, which can tell a server what country you’re in based on your IP address.
This geographically-based content comes in three major forms:
- Helpful localization. Google has been doing this for quite a while, redirecting Google.com to Google.ca. There is localized content but all the features are intact. You can even switch to the U.S. version if you want.
- Unavoidable licensing restrictions. The reason I can’t listen to Pandora is because they don’t have a license to broadcast the music outside the U.S. They’re forced to prevent people from outside the country from connecting (leading hard-core international users to use proxies).
- Commercial exclusivity agreements. U.S.-based Comedy Central recently signed an agreement with Canada-based Comedy Network that, among other things, forces visitors to only use the Canadian site. Canadians who go to ComedyCentral.com get a message explaining they’ve been screwed over and are told everything is available at the Comedy Network site. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help if someone has linked directly to a Comedy Central video. You have to go to the Comedy Network website and search for that video from scratch. (The Comedy Network, by the way, was born out of CanCon and is basically a Comedy Central clone mixed in with reruns of CBC shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Just for Laughs). The fact that you can’t watch videos of U.S. network series on their websites is also because of this. You can’t watch Heroes on NBC.com, you have to go to Global’s website and watch it there.
This situation is only going to get worse from here. Now that servers can determine the origin of their visitors, it’s a short step to regulating what content goes where. And while media companies feel their way through the darkness trying to figure everything out, we’re going to find an increasing disconnect between what Canadians and Americans have access to online.
CanCon is bad for Canadian content
This debate over Internet CanCon has caused a debate over the old media version of the rules to resurface. Casey McKinnon, who was really peeved over this and hates CanCon, gave an interview with Intruders.tv (via) talking about how horrible it is that we lower our standards just for more flag-waving.
I have another argument to make in the anti-CanCon debate: It’s counterproductive, and actually hurts Canadian broadcasting (at least in TV).
The reason, for me, is two words: simultaneous substitution.
That’s the rule that requires Canadian cable providers to substitute U.S. networks’ signals with Canadian ones when both are showing the same show at the same time. That way, Canadian viewers are exposed to Canadian advertising and all the money stays up here.
It sounds great, but it has a side-effect: It makes it more profitable for Canadian networks to simulcast American programming. They don’t even have to rebroadcast at the same quality (Global, for example, is notoriously bad for rebroadcasting HD content in standard definition on its HD channel).
Without simultaneous substitution, Canadians would turn to American networks for American programming, and Canadian networks would either have to compete directly or begin to look elsewhere for content. That could mean licensing TV shows from Britain or Australia, or investing in their own, original programming.
Of course, I’m being far too optimistic here. Canadian TV networks have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward their production budgets to greenlight Canadian-made shows. And that lack of original quality programming is why people are turning to the Internet in droves.
But at least we can make it less profitable for Canadian networks to re-run American programming. Use the power of economic competition for good.
UPDATE (Nov. 25): The Star coincidentally mentions some of these issues in an article about what technology and web services Canadians can’t get.