The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has just renewed the broadcasting licence for most radio and TV services run by CBC/Radio-Canada, for five years starting Sept. 1 (which means these provisions take effect then). It’s a long decision, and even the press release explaining it is kind of long. So here’s what the CRTC has decided and how it’ll affect what you watch and hear:
(For a Montreal-specific look, see this story I wrote for The Gazette)
- Ads on Radio Two/Espace Musique: The most controversial proposal has been accepted. The CRTC will allow advertising on the music radio network, but with some restrictions: They can broadcast no more than four minutes of advertising an hour, in no more than two ad blocks, and no local advertising is allowed. This allowance is also limited to three years. If the CBC wants to continue after that, it must re-apply to the CRTC for permission.
- Minimum playlist size: As part of a way to ensure Radio Two and Espace Musique are different from commercial radio, the CRTC is requiring that they air a large number of different musical selections, 2,800 a month for Radio Two and 3,000 for Espace Musique. That means about 100 songs a day that haven’t been played yet that month.
- More specific radio CanCon minimums: Currently, half of popular music and 20% of special interest music must be Canadian for all four radio networks. The CRTC has added, with CBC’s blessing, conditions that require that 25% of concert music and 20% of jazz/blues music also be Canadian.
- More flexibility in French music: On Radio-Canada radio networks, 85% of music played must be French. That requirement remains. But the rest is no longer restricted. Before only 5% could be in English and all of it had to be Canadian. Now that 15% can be in any language, including English, and half of non-French music has to be Canadian.
- More French local programming in Windsor: CBC’s cuts to local programming at CBEF Windsor caused controversy, leading to complaints that included the official languages commissioner. The CRTC has decided to impose a minimum of 15 hours per week of local programming at the radio station, above what the CBC had proposed and consistent with other stations in minority communities.
- No more Long Range Radio Plan: The CBC says, due to its budget, it has no plans to increase its radio coverage area (including plans to make Espace Musique available to more people) and wants to discontinue the Long Range Radio Plan. This plan includes hundreds of allocations for radio transmitters that don’t exist yet. Shutting this down would save a lot of headaches for private broadcasters, whose proposals for new or improved radio stations would have to take these imaginary stations into account.
- Public alerting system: The CBC is required to install a public emergency alerting system on all radio stations by Dec. 31, 2014. The CBC said it would issue alerts at the station level, not at the transmitter level. The CRTC said it was concerned this might lead to alerts being issued too widely instead of just to the communities affected. Similar alerting is being encouraged, but not required, on television.
- More local TV programming: Following CBC’s recommendation, the CRTC has harmonized requirements for local programming between CBC/Radio-Canada and private television stations.
- English stations in metropolitan markets (which includes Montreal) will have to produce 14 hours a week of local programming, and stations in smaller markets seven hours a week. In most cases, this is an increase over current levels (Montreal produces just under 11 hours a week of local programming), so we’ll need to see longer or more frequent local newscasts.
- All French stations must produce five hours of local programming a week, including those in English markets, who must have some local programming seven days a week (except holidays).
- CBC North (CFYK-TV Yellowknife) will have five hours minimum as a condition of licence, though the CBC says it will be more than this.
- Non-news local TV programming: Following a suggestion from the CRTC at the hearing, the CBC agreed to require at least one of the 14 hours of local TV programming in major markets be devoted to non-news programming. The CBC hasn’t said what this would be, exactly. They said they’re starting to look at this now that they have a decision.
- No blanket exemptions for local programming: The CBC had requested that it be allowed to calculate local programming on a yearly basis instead of a weekly one, because events like the NHL playoffs or Olympics pre-empt local programming. The CRTC decided against this (except for French stations in English markets), mainly for practical reasons (it would have to review a whole year’s worth of tapes to determine if it was meeting its licence requirements). The CBC then suggested that it be allowed an exemption of up to 16 weeks a year. The CRTC decided against that too, preferring a case-by-case approach and referring to a decision that allowed CTV and V to be relieved of their local programming minimums during the 2012 Olympics, saying that should be the model for future events.
- Higher Canadian TV programming requirement: CBC and Radio-Canada television is now required to devote 75% of their broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 80% of primetime (7pm-11pm) to Canadian programs. They already do this now (they boast of having a 100% Canadian primetime), but it’s higher than their previous official requirements.
- Regional television in French: Radio-Canada television is now required to devote at least five hours per week to programming produced outside Montreal. In addition, 6% of its budget for Canadian programs must go to independent producers outside Montreal.
- More English-language television from Quebec: The CRTC is requiring CBC television to devote 6% of its budget for English-language Canadian programs to independent producers in Quebec, averaged over the licence term (until 2018). In addition, it must spend 10% of its development budget on Quebec, to give a boost to English-language producers here by having them produce more new programming.
- No interference in The National/Le Téléjournal: The corporation’s national newscasts have been accused of being too focused on the regions they originate from (Toronto and Montreal, respectively). But the CRTC won’t interfere, saying it would threaten journalistic integrity. It will, however, ask for regular reporting on how official language minority communities feel about how well CBC and Radio-Canada’s programming reflects them, and has imposed this purposefully vague condition of licence: “national news and information programming shall reflect the country’s regions and official language minority communities, and promote respect and understanding between them.”
- Canadian films on CBC: Following CBC’s proposal, the CRTC has imposed a requirement that CBC television air one Canadian theatrical film every month. The CBC is being given the flexibility to schedule it, which means it could air on a weekend afternoon, but it will air. The CBC is being held to its commitment to air Canadian movies on Saturday nights during 10 weeks in the summer.
- Children’s programming: Judging that a commitment to children’s programming is more important as other conventional television networks move those shows to specialty channels, the CRTC continues to require a commitment to programming for children under 12. CBC and Radio-Canada must broadcast 15 hours per week of under-12 programming. Of that, one hour a week (CBC) or 100 hours a year (Radio-Canada) of original children’s programming (programs that air on other channels can be counted for this if CBC contributed to its financing). And three-quarters of these hours must be independently produced.
- No requirements for new over-the-air transmitters: Despite demands for the CBC to reverse its decision to shut down hundreds of analog television transmitters across the country, and to limit digital transmitters to markets with local programming, the CRTC says it will not impose requirements on the CBC due to its financial situation. Instead, it suggests people who can’t get CBC or Radio-Canada over the air to look to Shaw’s free basic satellite offer, which expires in November. It also suggests broadcasters look to solutions like multiplexing (multiple channels on one transmitter) to offset the expense of digital transmitters.
- Renewal of mandatory distribution: The CRTC will maintain orders requiring digital cable and satellite providers to distribute CBC News Network in French-language markets and RDI in English-language markets, for $0.15 and $0.10 per month respectively. This is to ensure access to news programming for official language minority communities.
- ARTV will be required to make 50% of its programming schedule devoted to programs from independent producers, replacing a condition that it spend all its profits on independent production. (Since ARTV’s profits are modest at best, this will be a net benefit, the CRTC argues.) ARTV will also have to devote 20% of its programming budget to programs produced outside Quebec, half of that to independent producers.
- Ombudsmen: The corporation’s two ombudsmen (one for CBC, one for Radio-Canada) are now required by a condition of licence, which establishes how they are hired, and says they must report directly to the CBC president twice a year.
- Digital media: The CRTC hasn’t set specific conditions as far as digital media, though it has encouraged the CBC to be more accessible (more closed captioning online, for example).
- Terms of trade: The CBC is being ordered to come to agreements with the Canadian Media Production Association and Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec within a year.
- Consultations with minority language communities: The CBC must hold formal consultations at least once every two years with minority language communities, including the English community in Quebec. It must also report annually on such consultations.
UPDATE: The Quebec Community Groups Network praises the CRTC’s decision and the increased English-language Quebec production that will come out of it.
” It also suggests broadcasters look to solutions like multiplexing (multiple channels on one transmitter) to offset the expense of digital transmitters.”
See, we can have sub-channels.
Two 720p streams are common on some US stations. The CBC and SRC can all fit on one digital channel, with a variable bit rate in order to move more data around when one of the two is running fast action such as sports.
Also, some markets that have neither but happen to be CTV, Global, or even City stations can now, I guess, add a CBC sub-channel to their stream.
To me it was incredibly mind numbing that this concept didn’t come up during the initial digital changeover, especially in relation to markets that are not currently served in one or the other official language by the CBC. 2 720P channels would be effectively better bit rate than many cable and sat companies offer. There is also provision for one 1080 and one 720 signal. That arrangement would be perfect for offering CBC’s services across Canada.
Imagine that the main channel in most of Canada would be english, with a sub-channel of the french Radcan. In areas where French would predominate, they could reverse it, offering up the french channel at the higher bit rate. Again, the 720p at 8mb would still be better OTA than most cable systems will give you.
What that would mean is that CBC could cut it’s transmitter requirement down somewhat, while actually expanding OTA services in Canada.
Now, the reality is this: OTA services are pretty much going to be a goner over the next decade or so. They are an antiquated concept when it comes to TV. 90% of Canadians already get their TV signals through cable or sat, and that number will only grow. OTA is perhaps only a valid model in areas where running a cable isn’t valid, or a sat system might not be available. That is a very, very small part of the Canadian market. About the only reason there is much OTA is to fulfill the requirements to get simsub on US programming on cable (another antiquated idea).
What you are more likely to see a decade or so out is the local “affiliate” stations reduced to being local news rooms, with the news “inserted” into the cable or sat stream to match the location of the subscriber. So rather than a dozen CTV “affiliate” stations (they are all owned by Bell anyway) you would have one main network signal, with only the local programming subbed in to cover key periods of the day. Since they have already centralized much of what goes OTA already, it’s not really a big jump for that to happen.
The trigger for that moment will be an agreement between the networks and the CRTC to allow them to have sim-sub without a broadcast requirement, provided that 95% of the local market can obtain basic cable or sat tv, perhaps with a requirement to provide some support funding for such services for the elderly. At that point, the remaining needs for OTA disappears or gets diminished to the point of being just network relays, possibly having all of the current OTA broadcasters share a single digital channel, with letterboxed 480i signals on a single transmitter. They can put anywhere from 3 to 10 on there depending on quality desired, and letter boxing would resolve the issue of using what is effectively an SD resolution to broadcast. So instead of a half a dozen TV channels with a half a dozen transmitters (and all the interference it causes) Montreal could be served by pretty much a single digital transmitter as a sort of vestigial service for the few who cannot or will not move to cable.
Both CBC and SRC are at 720p. No need even to discuss 1080i.
Each DT channel can send 19.4 mbits/sec.
Divide that by two, and it comes out to 9.7 mbits/sec for each.
Also, stations in small markets such as Medicine Hat, AB have only one OTA station. CHAT-TV is a City affiliate.
With the sub-channel solution, it can bring the CBC into the market by having .1 City, .2 CBC
Plenty of small markets would benefit. And the local stations can benefit by having Hockey Night in Canada on their local stations.
You are correct, but let’s take the example one step further:
In smaller communities that might currently have only one OTA station, you could up that to 4 SD channels (in DVD quality!), without any real additional expense. That could mean a lot in some places. At bare minimum, everywhere there is a digital OTA CBC in either english or french, the other language could be added at a significantly lower cost, giving us nearly a true national coverage.
Again though, all of that goes with the reality that OTA is doomed. Moves in the US with companies like Aereo (offering OTA antenna farms so people can stream local channels to their mobiles – without paying any fees to the broadcasters) means that the US networks are looking much more seriously at their business models and seeing how they would work better over able, IP TV, or similar. OTA is perhaps very close to being a dinosaur.
Somewhat unrelated, but do you know whatever happened to Channel Zero’s application to buy/launch TV stations?
Nothing, as far as I know. The CRTC hasn’t published an application. That means it either hasn’t received it yet or is still processing it. The initial processing stage can take months, especially if the application is incomplete.
The micro-regulation of CBC is mind-boggling. “20% of jazz/blues music played must be Canadian”… Christ, who cares what country jazz/blues music comes from? There’s nothing unique about Canadian jazz/blues, this is just a job protection scheme disguised as cultural regulation. Sure, the regulation sends a few bucks to some Canadians blues musicians in the form of royalty fees, but it ties CBC’s hands so much that it is unable to tailor its programming content to something that might attract viewers and listeners, and so loses its relevance year after year. Thriving culture depends on originality and inventiveness, the very thing that is stifled by having to sit with an accountant to figure out how many Canadian jazz/blues songs need to be played on the last day of the month to make the quota.
Has anyone at CBC Radio One ever air-checked that station? i have never heard so much absolute nothing as I do on that station. Aside from a decent morning show, everything else is SNL-laughably terrible. I have heard shows about flowers and wind-chimes, poetry and the inner most feelings of some one-time fringe play actor. For God’s sakes! Look at the state of this city and province! I do not want to continue paying for this garbage. CBC should focus on news. Real. Actual. News. Somebody somewhere, other than me, needs to address the situation and fast. Not one more day of nothing should be allowed on the air, at our expense.
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