So as I’ve said before, this TalkTV consultation is HUGE. My big concern has been that there would be very little air time for programming issues as the Commission and the media focused on pick and pay and simulcast. Mainstream media has certainly gone in that direction already (with the notable exception of Cartt.ca, which has had a series of articles on almost every topic raised in the hearing.).
The Commission is now trying to draw a box around what will be discussed at the hearing by throwing out some proposals and asking for a focused discussion on those proposals. Stakeholders are free to talk about anything they want and in particular to float alternative proposals but this is a starting point.
The Commission has also re-opened the online public discussion forum and asked the public for their thoughts on the proposals now and over the course of the hearing. So instead of yelling at your computer screen at some of the things said at the hearing, you could post to the discussion forum.
Back to the proposals. They are extensive but they do limit the discussion from the 80 different questions in the original Public Notice. There are now 29 issues, though some of them have an Option A and an Option B. I find some more interesting than others, particularly those focused on Canadian programming. Here are a few to listen for in the oral public hearing (and note – @CRTCeng confirmed that the hearing will be available by audio and video feed so we’ll be able to see faces).
Simultaneous substitution: There are two options, either no more simsub or remove simsub from live events such as the Superbowl or Oscars. This is interesting because while a few stakeholders expressed concern over the impact of simsub on programming schedules, few came right out and asked for simsub to be rescinded. There was a general recognition that while it might not be perfect, simsub revenues are hugely important to the health of conventional broadcasters and by extension to their level of expenditure on Canadian programming. Apparently there aren’t even that many complaints about not being able to watch US commercials during the Superbowl. Seriously – if you really want to watch them, they’re almost immediately available online.
Redefining Broadcasting Revenues: The proposal is to include revenue from programs offered online in the base for calculating CPE. Broadcasters would then also be able to count expenditures from programming created for online platforms as part of their CPE. The CRTC sees this as a way to encourage made for digital content but it is also a huge potential first step towards looking at the broadcasting system as a whole and not its regulated and unregulated parts. Given that no proposal included a reference to extending regulation to OTT, this could be the CRTC’s first step towards platform agnostic regulation. Or it could be an attempt to close a loophole as its been widely speculated that since broadcasters have the ability to allocate revenues and expenses between regulated and unregulated platforms they are doing so to their advantage. I expect a lot of ‘oh no, you can’t make us do that’ and ‘oh no, we just can’t identify our revenues/expenses that way’ and of course ‘but we don’t make any money from online platforms and we are incapable of proving that’ and other such arguments heard before.
Programs of National Interest: First there is the positive statement that PNI will be maintained (sad that this had to be said). Then, that children’s programming will be included. There has been a decline in commissioning original children’s programming and this is the CRTC’s response. Expect to see discussion about whether this will be effective or whether there also needs to be CPE sub-quotas for children’s programming (as well as feature films and long form documentaries). Just because you CAN include children’s programming in your CPE does not mean that you will, particularly if you are a corporate group without any children’s services and have been allowed to walk away from children’s programming on your conventional services (*cough* Shaw *cough* Rogers *cough*).
Programming requirements: An interesting proposal is to eliminate exhibition requirements during the day but maintain them for prime time. This will mean no incentive for Canadian daytime talk shows, particularly on conventional stations that can also simulcast US daytime talk shows or soaps. Do people care? This is one where I’d be interested to see if there are any responses on the online discussion forum. How much do people want their “The Social” and “The Marilyn Dennis Show” or can they live with “The View”. From a policy perspective, it’s saying that the Broadcasting Act can fulfill its goal of providing a diverse range of programming to Canadians through prime time programming alone. I’m not sure that’s what was intended. I’m also not crazy about getting rid of any exhibition requirements while scheduled programming is still important to Canadian audiences. We are not yet in an on demand world.
Another programming requirement proposal is to extend CPE requirements to all licensed services. Currently they are limited to conventional services, Cat As and Cat Bs with subscribers of 1 million or more. CPEs would be set at licence renewal and it is assumed that those Cat Bs with low subscriber bases or niche audiences would have lower obligations than the other services. They would also be part of the corporate group, if they are owned by one of the large companies, and could help to amortize costs. This could mean more money for CPE generated by services that air little Canadian programming because of their conditions of licence. If this extends to independent Cat Bs (and it’s not clear from the wording), I can see them having more of a problem than the Cat Bs in corporate groups.
Genre protection: The proposal is to eliminate genre protection and nature of service definitions. If this goes through then the Commission will overturn its recent decision on OLN and you’ll get your Whisker Wars back because services will be able to morph into anything that they want, whenever they want. I find this an odd proposal given that they just came down hard on OLN and before that issued warnings to G4TechTV and OWN and others. There are a number of reasons to advocate for at least enforced nature of service definitions both for diversity of programming (i.e. to avoid all services chasing the same audiences) and clear branding in a pick and pay environment.
Local programming: There were a lot of submissions which identified the need to re-examine the funding mechanisms for local programming and in particular to bring back some form of LPIF. The Commission apparently doesn’t want to go down that road (it is always very reluctant to reverse decisions) so instead they are suggesting that the expense burden on local services should be lightened by removing their obligation to maintain transmitters. Given how many stakeholders advocated a more direct funding regime, it could still be a topic at the hearing.
Finally, the Commission proposes that all of these rules would come into place December 15, 2015.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Commission’s attempt to draw a box around what it wants to talk about will actually limit topics or just add new ones to all the things that stakeholders want to talk about. This could be the last big hearing for some time so everyone wants to get their kick at the can (using a very old analogy, which seems quite wrong in this context). There’s also the fact that some of the decisions about programming and in particular tweaks to the Group Licence Policy have to be made now in order to implement them in the 2016 licence renewal process.
This is going to be a long hearing.