Tag Archives: Broadcasting Participation Fund

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.

 

New Broadcasting Participation Fund

Last Spring, as part of the CRTC’s approval of the Bell-CTV transaction in 2011, the CRTC approved Bell’s proposal to create a Canadian Broadcasting Participation Fund. The goal of the Fund is to help public interest and consumer groups participate more often and more effectively in CRTC broadcasting proceedings. The Fund will reimburse internal and external costs of lawyers, expert witnesses and consultants necessary to draft submissions and attend at hearings. There is a grid for approved costs for the lawyers, expert witnesses and consultants but also for reimbursement of travel, accommodation and meals.

The guidelines are modeled on the guidelines that support reimbursement of costs in telecommunications proceedings. Unfortunately those guidelines are drafted in a way that assumes that the reader has also read the various decisions that support the process of reimbursing costs of participation in telecommunications proceedings. So they’re not that clear. For example, an Applicant is defined as someone who applies. The goal is to support nonprofit public interest and consumer groups and individuals (though the forms are drafted as applicants are only groups and not individuals). I did confirm with the Fund that individuals could apply. Public interest is not defined but there is the suggestion that it includes ‘advocacy and service groups’. The Fund confirmed that two of the key determining factors in eligibility are that the applicant’s intervention is relevant to the proceeding and that they are non-commercial (i.e. no broadcasters).

Bell allocated $3 million of their mandatory benefits to the Fund. They have also proposed allocating another $2 million to the Fund from the upcoming Bell-Astral2 acquisition, so if approved the total Fund will be $5 million. The Fund was  launched last Friday and it is now accepting applications for reimbursement. As the Fund was initially approved March 26, 2012, it will reimburse costs from participation as of that date.

Participation in broadcasting proceedings can be expensive. A submission can be more effective when at least reviewed if not drafted by someone with experience with the rules and regulations of the CRTC, including the details of the Broadcasting Act. Hearings are fairly formal proceedings where commissioners will challenge intervenors on their position to better understand them and get information on the record. There are a number of organizations that have to pick and choose which proceedings they will participate in because they just can’t afford to weigh in on all the ones that affect them or their membership. Few individuals and small organizations attend, particularly if they are located outside Ottawa. It is hoped that this Fund can address those concerns and help the CRTC hear from more than the usual suspects.

[Yes, this post could possibly sound self-serving but honestly, I’m interested in sharing widely the availability of this Fund because I think it will increase the quality of discussion even if intervenors were to use it just to cover travel costs. My heart goes out to those passionate individuals and small groups who find the issues important enough to spend their own money to attend. I’d like to see more of them, more of the Marjorie’s, and I would like them to be able to get some help.]