Monthly Archives: August 2014

More Talk TV – Drawing a Box Around It

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expressed concern over the impact of simsub on programming schedules, few came right out and asked for simsub to be rescinded.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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rogers Licence Renewal

When the Rogers Licence Renewal decision came out last week (July 31, 2014) it didn’t create much fuss. That’s partly because it is the middle of summer and partly because it is a short term licence renewal – many of the issues will be addressed again and perhaps in more depth at the Group Licence Renewal in 2016.

As a reminder, Rogers had an earlier licence renewal because at the time of the Group Licence Policy and the group licence renewals, Rogers was still a group of not yet national conventional stations and a few specialties but had already started buying up what they needed to become a third diversified group (Corus is part of the group licensing framework but with almost no conventionals so is a different beast altogether). Rogers wasn’t a group in 2010 but they are now.

Being an official group (they were sort of a group before in the way that they were licensed but not fully) puts Rogers on the same footing as Bell, Rogers and Corus going into the Group Licence Renewals. That’s important.

There are a lot of picky little details in the licence renewal but I would like to highlight a few things that caught my attention.

There were a lot of concerns about Sportsnet 360 being included in the group. It is not a Category C (news and mainstream sports) service but a Category B so there is no regulatory reason to exclude it. There were concerns expressed at the hearing that Sportsnet 360 combined with CITY broadcasts of NHL games would allow Rogers to spend all of their non-PNI CPE on sports and specifically NHL hockey. The Commission in the decision advised that they shared stakeholders concerns but they didn’t think much could be done to change programming plans during the coming two years so rather than impose regulatory safeguards they would instead require detailed reporting and monitor the situation. So the message is ‘don’t do what we’re all afraid you’re going to do or we will regulate’.

The level of reporting required is also interesting in a wonky way. Rogers has a multiplatform deal for the NHL rights and that means an ability to deliver programming across multiple platforms but also an ability to allocate revenues and expenses across those platforms. There is huge opportunity to game the system here and the Commission knows it. They have asked not only for detailed reporting of NHL revenue and expenses across regulated and unregulated platforms but also details on how the allocation formulas were arrived at.   The reporting requirement is an enforceable condition of licence and not one of those ‘expectations’ that can be ignored.

Rogers had asked for a lot of concessions on their ethnic programming on OMNI which basically would allow them to air a lot less Canadian and ethnic programming on the basis that the business model was broken. You may remember in the public hearing when Commissioner Shoan repeatedly asked intervenors if they watched third language news online because that was Rogers’ argument for asking for a reduction in prime time commitments. The answer was universally no. So Rogers didn’t get most of the concessions requested. Their Canadian exhibition requirements were slightly reduced but only to bring them in line with the exhibition requirements under the Group Licensing Policy. There are a few other reductions but in the interest of harmonizing the requirements across the OMNI stations. They were once individual services and as a result each had different conditions of licence.

Then there is my favourite part. For the third time Rogers tried to expand the interpretation of OLN’s nature of service to allow it to broadcast programs that have nothing to do with outdoor adventure. You may remember the first time when they tried to argue that “Lost” was outdoor adventure and they should be allowed to use OLN to air more US prime time dramas like “Lost” in second run. In the second attempt some of us cut and paste our arguments from the first intervention for the second intervention because so little had changed. This time the argument was that “Baggage Battles”, “Operation Repo” and yes, “Whisker Wars” (really – it’s a show about competitive beard growing – I kid you not), should all be part of a more vaguely interpreted outdoor adventure nature of service.  Not only did the Commission disagree strongly but they gave Rogers till January 31, 2015 to fix their schedule. This short time frame came in the same decision where the Commission said they understand how long it takes to change programming schedules so they didn’t think Rogers would fill its schedule in 2015 with hockey.   Finally, the requirement to report by January 31, 2015 to demonstrate how they have fixed their schedule is an enforceable condition of licence.

This nature of service decision is also interesting because it suggests that at the Talk TV hearing in September, the Commission is not likely to drop nature of service definitions as requested by some broadcaster intervenors.  Arguments have been made that enforced nature of service definitions are essential to diversity of programming and it could be that the Commission is open to this argument.  We will see.

Why am I excited about the enforceable conditions of licence in this decision? In the past these sorts of provisions would be ‘shoulds’ and were often ignored or half-fulfilled.  As a broadly written ‘must’ if the broadcaster fails to perform the required activity they can be called to a show cause hearing to give it the chance to explain why they didn’t do it and why the CRTC should not issue a mandatory order (enforceable by Federal Court) or any number of other harsher penalties such as refusing to reissue a licence. As Rogers is up for renewal in only two years they are not going to want a show cause hearing with licence renewal in question. I am hopeful that we won’t have a ‘History replaces CSI: New York with NCIS’ situation based on how the decision has been worded. We may not have a NMBU reporting situation with the NHL reporting – though I have to admit that I’m less hopeful with that one. Broadcasters do have a long history of fighting detailed reporting requirements.