Monthly Archives: April 2014

Let’s Talk TV – Let’s Talk About It ALL!

Well, it’s ambitious. I’ll say that for the Let’s Talk TV consultation. It can even said to be HUGE!

To recap, yesterday the CRTC released both the Notice of Consultation on the third stage in the Talk TV consultations (the first stage being the online discussion board and the second stage being the Choicebook) and as well released its response to the government’s s. 15 order to report on the feasibility of pick and pay. These two releases need to be read together.

First, to reiterate, the s.15 request  was for the CRTC to provide the government with a report on the impact of any pick and pay measures for pay and specialty services and how any such measures would still ensure that the majority of services received were Canadian and that BDUs continue to give priority to Canadian services. The report is only the next stage of the process and not the final stage. The CRTC’s proposal for pick and pay options will be discussed as part of the Talk TV consultation and after receiving evidence from various stakeholders (deadline June 25, 2014) and discussing it at the hearing (starting September 8, 2014), the CRTC will then make a decision.  It could easily be a decision to not implement any pick and pay because of the expectation of harm to the system (I doubt that but it’s possible).  What it will not be is a decision to implement full pick and pay because of the social policy goals of the Broadcasting Act.   I’m saying this because the gap between public perception and the reality of the process annoys me.

So, what is the CRTC’s proposal? The CRTC proposes that BDUs offer:

–       A small, all-Canadian basic service that includes only the local Canadian conventional stations, the mandatory carriage services, the provincial edunets and in some cases community channels and provincial legislatures services.

–       Promote the availability of the small Canadian basic

–       Allow pick and pay on pay and specialty services

–       Allow consumers to create their own packages for pay and specialty services

This proposal gives Canadians the option to stick with their packages or if they really really don’t want all of those channels go to a skinny basic and pay for individual pay and specialty services. The hearing will review specific issues with this proposal such as the impact on more niche specialty services, the impact on BDUs and the impact on program producers from such a proposal. It will be interesting to see how the consumer groups respond. I hope they all try and conduct some studies or economic modeling to put some evidence behind their responses but practically there are limits to what evidence can be provided. We just don’t know how consumers will behave if offered this proposal. How many would reduce their packages and buy just a few services, especially if those services by necessity have to be more expensive when sold on their own? I like tv and a choice of services so I’m not likely to do it. I know sports fans who might. How many are in each camp – does anyone have a clue?

This topic on its own could fill a hearing with each sector of the industry weighing in because of the potential impact of any pick and pay system. It isn’t the only topic. On the assumption that you have not read the Public Notice I’ll skim over the issues.

–       Increased access to non-Canadian services

–       Remove Simultaneous Substitution completely (which allows broadcasters to replace the US ads on the US programs they buy with Canadian ads they have sold – I honestly did not think removing it would ever be discussed in my lifetime) or replace it with Non-Simultaneous Substitution (which allows them to replace the ads whenever the Canadian broadcaster airs the US program)

–       The importance, or not, of local programming

–       How will programs be delivered in the future and do we need to change the funding model for support of Canadian programming to keep up?

–       Does the CRTC need to continue to require exhibition of Canadian programs or is funding enough? Should there be regulation of promotion?

–       Support of underserved audiences such as OLMCs, Aboriginal audiences, third language communities and persons with disabilities.

–       Is support for independent programming and distribution services required (i.e. VI Code).

–       Enhanced measurement of audiences using set-top boxes and the privacy issues that are triggered by that discussion.

–       Maintain, or not, the Genre Exclusivity Policy (i.e. should History be allowed to morph into Discovery and Showcase to morph into Space)

–       Simplified licensing of services

–       Better communication of changes to consumers by services and BDUs

–       Improved parental controls

–       Competition within the BDU market

–       Dispute resolution between BDUs and subscribers

Each one of these topics could be a hearing on its own. They do relate to each other and impact each other so I understand why they are bundled together but this is going to be a difficult hearing for most stakeholders. I’ve participated in these ‘all you can eat buffet’ style hearings and they are hard. You just don’t have the time or resources to address every issue so you pick your top issues and hope that other stakeholders address the ones that you can’t get to. Reading all of the other submissions alone is time-consuming but necessary. The Commission did remind smaller groups that they can apply to the Broadcasting Participation Fund for financial assistance (and I remind you as well) but it is still going to be a costly year for stakeholders.

On the upside – I’m definitely looking forward to some interesting discussions during the September hearing.

 

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Is Primetime Still Important – You Betcha!

The Canada Media Fund (CMF) has asked me to write the occasional blog post of television issues and my first one was released today. I just want to give a little more context to why I thought it was a necessary topic – space and tone were limited there (I had to sound more pro and less convo as I do here).

If you were listening to the Rogers licence renewal hearing last week you would have heard a reminder as to why a discussion about the continued importance of prime time is important. Or if you read Andrew Coyne today, you would get another reminder. Everyone seems to think that prime time is out the door or has one foot in the doorway. The stats say otherwise.

In the Rogers licence renewal hearing, Rogers argued that they did not need to broadcast ethnic news in prime time because their audience is going digital and can pick up all their news online. They would rather air reruns of US programming in that time slot and make more money. In a unscientific but illustrative poll, Commissioner Raj Shoan asked many of the intervenors if they or their stakeholders watched Omni and particularly the ethnic news online. Very few admitted to watching online and in fact most were adamant that they and their stakeholders wanted to watch their news on broadcast and in the evening. This was what they were used to. I’m sure that this was no surprise to Rogers. Though BBM data is notoriously difficult when it comes to capturing ethnic audiences (not large enough sample sizes) they must know from feedback from their audience that the broadcast schedule is important to them. Rogers still tried to make the argument that we are in an on demand world as a way of trying to reduce regulation and increase revenues. It sounded to me like the CRTC wasn’t buying it but we’ll see.

Today’s piece by Andrew Coyne puts the on demand world a little further out at ‘a few years, maybe two’ as part of his argument that we no longer need the CBC, CanCon, the CRTC and the Broadcasting Act. His argument ignores the facts, such as those quoted in my CMF blog post, which demonstrate that tv viewing is not actually dropping. The growth of on demand, currently at least, means that we are watching more video entertainment in total given the opportunities of digital platforms. So yes, for the foreseeable future we do still need the CBC, CanCon, the CRTC and the Broadcasting Act.  And regulation that ensures that there is the choice of Canadian programming in primetime when most Canadians are watching.

Content is Missing from Digital Canada 150

First, let’s have a quick refresher course on our long wait for a National Digital Strategy. In the summer of 2010, then Minister of Industry Tony Clement launched a public consultation (together with the Ministers of Heritage and Human Resources) on what should be included in a National Digital Strategy though the government called it a Digital Economy Strategy and put a clear emphasis on infrastructure and economy.  [Note – I would link to the consultation but as of writing all those public documents are offline. I will update when I can.]. We were promised a strategy document in the fall, then spring of 2011 and then pretty much annually we’d be told that it would be coming ‘soon’. There were those of us who thought there would never be a National Digital Strategy.

Why do we need one? Other countries such as Australia, the UK, the European Union, and even the US, have created National Digital Strategies to set a plan and measurable goals. What are we going to do to move into the future, make sure that every citizen has the tools that they need, has the protections and can fully enjoy the benefits of the new digital world? How will Canada make sure that it is competitive internationally? How are we going to measure our progress? Where will we put our emphasis – economy, skills training, infrastructure, privacy, content?

Today the government released Digital Canada 150. It’s an odd document. It has five pillars: Connecting Canadians, Protecting Canadians, Economic Opportunities, Open Government and Canadian Content. [Note that Skills Training or anything else to do with the Department of Human Resources, one of the sponsors of the original consultation, is absent.] In each pillar it sets out a few items that are forward thinking and celebrates the government’s past achievements. I think we were hoping for a more forward thinking document. I was. As with a lot of the government’s activities these days, it seems to have been written with an eye on the next election. How else do you explain unbundling of TV channels as a Digital Canada topic? It’s a nice sound bite aimed at getting votes when the reality is that providing Canadians with more choice while still living up to the goals of the Broadcasting Act is a very complex exercise and is unlikely to result in both more choice and less cost for consumers.

There is a goal to extend broadband coverage to 98% of the population by providing $305 million to extend 5mbps to rural areas. This is a reasonable target speed (though some jurisdictions have set faster speeds as their goal) but is only about coverage. Universal broadband as a concept is about coverage and affordable access. Citizenship in today’s digital world means that every Canadian should have affordable access to broadband. This goal does nothing to achieve that. But the rural voters probably will love it.

Back to content though. What does the Digital Canada 150 promise us as tools to give Canadians ‘easy access to Canadian content that will allow us to celebrate our history, arts and culture’ (Digital Canada 150 pg. 21)? Two Heritage Minutes per year every year until 2017. The Canada Book Fund and the Canada Music Fund will become permanent funds. There will be continued support of the Virtual Museum, the Memory Project (veterans stories), digitization by Library and Archives Canada and the NFB. Nice, but we asked for a lot more fundamental changes to be able to provide Canadians with access to Canadian content in the digital age and beyond.

What is missing? Canada Media Fund, Canada Book Fund, Canada Music Fund and more have all had digital content or distribution tacked on to their existing mandates, generally with no increase to their funding. Consumers are no longer accessing or engaging with content through silos. For example, magazines and books are read on iPads with hyperlinks to video. There needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of the funding mechanisms for Canadian content to ensure that they meet the social policy goals of the Department of Canadian Heritage and are structured appropriately.

The government did make the Canada Media Fund permanent and that was a great thing. But it did not increase the CMF’s funding when it extended its mandate to digital media. As Canadians shift to digital platforms and cut or reduce their cable packages, the CMF’s revenue from the BDUs is starting to shrink. Additional revenue sources need to be found if Canadians are going to continue to have access to the excellent Canadian programming choices that they have now. This could be additional funding from the government or a contribution from the ISPs or the OTT services, both of which are benefitting from the consumer shift to digital platforms.

The Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act should be merged into a Communications Act. New technologies and distribution models have frequently left the CRTC unsure as to which Act applies or whether either does, leaving it to the Courts to determine. Vertically integrated companies like Shaw, Rogers, and Bell are governed by both Acts at different times. These companies are able to shift revenues to divisions, such as the ISP divisions, with no or less regulation. A Communications Act would ensure that the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications system was, where necessary, Canadian-owned and regardless of platform made the appropriate contribution to the production and exhibition of Canadian programming on that system.

The CBC has always had a mandate to provide information and entertainment to all Canadian across the country in both languages. Digital platforms make it easier for it to meet that mandate but at the same time repeated budget cuts have made it harder for the CBC to fulfill that mandate. There should be a review of the CBC’s mandate in light of the opportunities of digital platforms and a clear provision of sufficient funds so that the CBC can meet that mandate.

Another ask was for more support for original digital media through labour-based tax credits. Extending the film and video tax credit to web series and creating an interactive media tax credit would help develop a labour market of skilled talent in these newer digital content areas.

The government reformed the Copyright Act recently but it is up for review as of 2017. At that time, the Copyright Act should be amended to ensure that creators and owners are appropriately compensated when their works are exploited on digital platforms. The last amendment did not appropriately address that issue.

Skills training is a subject that was completely left out of Digital Canada 150, which is odd considering that it was a prominent aspect of the consultation. The content sector has called for improvements in training both at university and for mid-career training so that creators can take full advantage of innovations in digital content creation and distribution. There are gaps in the labour market that need to be filled if the sector is going to be internationally competitive.

Despite a full pillar titled Canadian Content, there isn’t much in Digital Canada 150 for the film, television and interactive digital media sectors.