Tag Archives: Talk TV

My 15 Minutes of Fame

So apparently there aren’t a lot of independent policy types out there willing to talk to media about their opinions.  I’ve never done TV before (well, one little CHCH lunch time news interview back when I was producing a youth research website – barely counts) but I had two appearances this past week to talk about the CRTC and Talk TV.  I was on TVO’s The Agenda with John Doyle (yes, our difference of opinion about the Golden Age of TV in Canada came up but we also agreed on a few other things such as how much a shame it was that CBC had cancelled “Strange Empire”) and then interviewed for a piece on The National on the evolution of the CRTC.   I got to explain the DMEO in the National piece – without using acronyms!

My fingers are crossed that somehow these appearances lead to paying work but either way it was more fun than I thought it would be.

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Talk TV – Pick and Pay

I know, you’re saying ‘what, another post on pick and pay’?  I just want to direct you to my post on the topic over at TV, Eh? where I outline the many variables that I believe will have to play out before we really know the impact of the CRTC’s pick and pay decision.

I also have one other point that didn’t fit into the post but has been bothering me ever since.   In the CRTC’s decision on pick and pay it confirms that the current process for authorizing non-Canadian services will be maintained.  In other words, non-Canadian services will only be authorized if they do not compete with a Canadian pay or specialty service.  Remember – the previous week the Talk TV decision on content got rid of genre protection and nature of service descriptions.  So how exactly will it be determined if a service is competing when the Canadian service has no set definition?  What happens if the Canadian service decides to morph into something else? And then back again?

So, if the History Channel decides to completely abandon history programming and focus on pawn shops and outlaw bikers does that mean the U.S. History channel will be able to be authorized in Canada?  But what if History changes its mind and decides to go back to history programming?  This is my confusion.  It would be great if at some point the CRTC could explain how exactly this is going to work.

Talk TV – Content Decision

In case you missed it, I wrote three blog posts about last week’s Talk TV decision over on TV, Eh?.  The first is an overview of issues while the second drilled down into the new Hybrid VOD licence and the third focused on the potential impact on the independent production sector.  There have been quite a few other good overviews of the decision.  I recommend the Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor, Cartt (subscription) and Carleton Professor Dwayne Winseck.

With the pick and pay part of Talk TV expected Thursday March 19th, you can expect more blogging and a lot more chatter on the twitterverse.

Netflix and Google – What are the Stakes at the CRTC?

There’s been a lot said in the past few days about the fireworks between the CRTC and Netflix last Friday on the last day of the TalkTV public hearing. I’m going to add my two wonky cents from a content creator’s perspective. What’s at stake here for you?

First the backstory (you can find the relevant notices here). In 1999 the CRTC had a consultation on new media and as a result issued the New Media Exemption Order. In that order they stated that they had jurisdiction over new media broadcasting, they defined it, and they exempted it from regulation on the basis that exemption would foster growth and that would contribute to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. This was 15 years ago so I think we can give them that one.

The Internet world moved quickly and there were repeated calls for the CRTC to revisit that order over the years but they did not until 2009. At that time the definition of new media broadcasting was expanded to include mobile, an undue preference provision was included and the CRTC included a provision that new media broadcasting undertakings would provide information on its activities as requested by the CRTC to allow it to monitor the development of new media broadcasting. In 2010 the CRTC decided that it would start by requiring regular reporting of new media broadcasting undertakings affiliated with licensed broadcasters. Don’t get me started on the Working Group that was struck but was completely ineffectual because of the broadcasters’ reluctance to provide meaningful reporting – yeah, I was on that one.

Then in 2012, after the 2011 fact-finding exercise on OTT services, the CRTC finally acknowledged that new media was in fact no longer new and changed the name of the order to the Exemption Order for Digital Media Broadcasting Undertakings (more commonly known as the Digital Media Exemption Order) and amended the order with four new sections: exclusivity, anti-competitive head start, obligation during dispute and dispute resolution. This was a recognition that digital media broadcasting had become real businesses with real business issues that needed to be regulated. For example, the exclusivity clause means that CTV GO cannot be offered only to Bell customers and Rogers Anyplace TV has to offer CTV as well as City channels.

So while the general public was ranting about how the CRTC had to be prevented from ‘regulating the Internet’, it very publicly was already regulating broadcasting services being offered over the Internet and mobile. The affiliated OTT services pushed back on reporting and dragged their feet on negotiations (e.g. Shaw customers had access to Global Go long before other BDU customers) but the regulation had no impact on foreign OTT such as Netflix and YouTube. [Note – they do benefit from CRTC net neutrality regulation but that’s a post for another day.]

Until this hearing. The CRTC invited Google and Netflix to appear and asked both of them for evidence to back up their statements that there was plenty of Canadian programming on YouTube and Netflix so therefore there was no need to regulate (or rather extend regulation). As newcomers to the CRTC they can be forgiven for not knowing that Blais is a stickler for backing up your big statements with facts but Netflix had the two week advantage and still came to the hearing with unsubstantiated statements. The Commission, and Blais in particular, got very angry due to the repeated refusal of Netflix to agree to deliver requested data without a ‘guarantee’ of confidentiality.

The Twitterverse went wild with accusations that Netflix was being disrespected but primarily by those who are not regular CRTC observers and do not understand the process. Netflix in fact was disrespecting the administrative tribunal that is the CRTC and its confidentiality process. I can’t do a better job than Dwayne Winseck did in his blog post so I refer you there for an explanation of the process and why Netflix was wrong.

It appears to me that as the past 15 years of CRTC regulation of OTT had no impact on Google and Netflix they ignored it. So now the CRTC is exercising its jurisdiction by requesting data and Google and Netflix have to decide whether to acknowledge the jurisdiction or fight it. Yes, the CRTC will likely grant confidentiality (they certainly have in less sensitive situations) so that really is not the issue. Google and Netflix do not want the next step of regulation. Netflix may already be dealing with this in Europe where they have to pay a Culture Ministry tax in France (an actual tax) if their annual earnings are more than 10 million Euros and the French government has either recommended or required (Commissioner Pentefountas requested clarification from Netflix) that the Netflix recommendation engine favoured French and European content. Netherlands has similar laws about favouring domestic content.

Canada is a huge market and an easy market for Google and Netflix. They have to weigh the potential aggravation and cost of complying with CRTC regulation to the revenue that they make from the Canadian market. As of publishing this post nothing has been posted publicly but CRTC staff may be reviewing it – I will update. I doubt that they will just walk away. If they do not, we could see Canadian television shows and features showing up in the recommendation engine and not relegated to the “Canadian” category that consumers have to go hunt for. And maybe, one day, we could see foreign OTT making a financial contribution to the Canadian broadcasting system that they are participating in.

[Kudos by the way to Denis McGrath for trying to explain all this to ‘free Internet’ folks one tweet at a time. Check out his feed at @heywriterboy for an impressive attempt.]

Update 6:10pm – Financial Post reporter Claire Brownell has tweeted:

 
The ball is now in the CRTC’s court.

Corus Acquisition of Teletoon, Historia and Séries+

The Corus hearing for these transactions, and the licence renewal of the services, was November 5-6, 2013.  There wasn’t a lot of traffic on social media so it looks like few people were paying attention (I did the buik of the tweeting when I wasn’t restarting my computer and downloading plugins – the CRTC doesn’t like Macs and I’d lost the plugins that worked when I updated to Mavericks – argh!), but there were a few issues raised that are worthy of mention.

As a reminder, Corus is buying these services because the Commission told Bell Media that they needed to divest of them in order to prevent dominance in the marketplace.  English creator stakeholders (CMPA, DGC, WGC, On Screen Manitoba) expressed concern that the resulting company will dominate the children’s market because Corus already has YTV and Treehouse.  Conflicting stats were submitted to show Corus dominated the children’s market (CMPA’s stats as also used by DGC and WGC) or did not (Corus’ stats).  Methodology wasn’t clear – was CMPA talking about percentage of programming or audience?  If audience, is it a percentage of all viewing by children or just of viewing on children’s services.  Corus kept saying that they had not included children’s viewing of Netflix.  While Netflix Kids is definitely competition it is exempt from the regulated system so clearly does not apply.  But what is the right measurement?  I hope that the CRTC addresses this in their decision as it can come up again when dealing with market dominance in a genre.

Fear of market dominance also led some stakeholders to recommend safeguards against programming being spread across all Corus stations to the detriment of each service.  The Commission pointed out that there were nature of service definitions that should prevent that as well as existing overlap limits between YTV and Treehouse but stakeholders looked for more.  In its reply phase Corus agreed to a limit of 10% overlap between Teletoon and YTV, the two services with the greatest potential of overlap given their respective natures of service.

An allocation of the benefits package to an Export Initiative was quite controversial.  It got a lot of air time at the hearing because both Corus and the CRTC seemed genuinely puzzled that the creative community in both languages was not interested in the program.  On the surface the objection was that as described (funding things like attendance at markets in order to solicit foreign sales) the program would not directly fund new production.  Stakeholders were repeatedly asked how they would amend the program so that it would be an onscreen benefit but they refused to respond.  They wanted the money allocated to production (or in the case of the WGC – development) instead.  Discussion got a little heated between the Chair and Michael Hennessy of the CMPA on this topic.  Hennessy kept saying that promotion was a broadcaster’s job and benefits should go to production so that there is something to promote.  That’s a fine argument except right now there are a lot of benefits monies in the system so it’s a bit harder to argue need (let’s revisit this in 2017 when benefits have been spent and BDU contributions to the CMF have plummeted due to OTT).  It also fails to take into account that the producer (and often the talent) share responsibility with the broadcaster to promote the show.  This isn’t service work where you just produce it and walk away.  Remember that Blais has said that under his watch the Commission would not be protectionist but ‘promotionist’ so this kind of a program that would promote Canadian programs outside the country and leverage foreign financing for domestic production is the sort of thing that he is looking to do.

Commissioner Raj Shoan asked Corus if they would consider tweaking the Export  fund so that it would finance presales or subsequent season sales to directly link to production (and be more clearly an onscreen benefit) and Corus was fine with that.  We’ll see where this one goes.

Part of the transaction involves Corus buying Shaw’s half of Historia and Séries+ along with Astral’s half.  Corus does not want to pay benefits on the Shaw half because they are related companies and Corus says no control is being transferred.  There was a fair bit of discussion of this as this transaction could be nothing more than a litmus test to see if the argument flies before Shaw purchases Corus and consolidates operations.  It prompted a reference to St. Augustine from JP Blais and I have to say that’s the first time I’ve heard such a reference at the CRTC and definitely the first time that I’ve ever heard Shaw-Corus compared to the Holy Trinity.  It’s a tricky issue indeed though as Shaw and Corus want to be treated as the same company for some purposes but not for others.  I’m looking forward to the decision on this one.

After Corus submitted their application for these transactions, and before the hearing, the CRTC released its proposal for a new benefits policy for comment.  It is open for comment till December 5, 2013.  Part of the proposed new benefits policy is that 80% of benefits would be allocated to third party funds (80% to CMF and 20% to the independent funds).  While the proposed benefits do not comply with this proposal they do not have to as there is no policy yet.  The Commission clearly telegraphed its interest in going down that route though so Corus advised that if the Export Initiative does not comply as an onscreen benefit, rather than wrap it in with self-administered programming benefits, it would transfer them to Telefilm or CMF and it would be up to one of those parties to figure out how to arrange a program that supported export and was still an onscreen benefit.

There were other issues but these are my favourite.  There is one other point to mention though.  In his opening speech, Blais reminded everyone of the Commission’s Talk TV public consultation and specifically encouraged content creators to participate.  Many of us think of public consultations as something that our non-industry friends and neighbours participate in but Blais is specifically asking us industry types to get involved too so that the CRTC has “access to the broadest diversity of views possible”.  [which can be read as ‘we don’t want to hear from just the trolls’ – reading the online forum can be painful!] So go to the online forum, join a Flash! Conference, send in your views.  Start by checking out my previous blog post.  If you are member of an organization, ask if they will be running a Flash! Conference.  [The Academy of Canadian CInema and Television is running one November 21, 2013].  This is your chance.

Update:  The CRTC’s twitter account has informed me that the stream for their next hearing will be Mac-friendly.  Yay!!!