Artist’s rendering of pentup demand for 22 more mandatory TV channels
Update (Apr 11). In citing Michael Geist’s post below, I neglected to point out the suggestion he makes to replace must-carry in the service of viewer interests. A must-offer policy would require “broadcast distributors to offer all licensed channels to their subscribers in a pick-and-pay format.” That idea seems sensible, although it’s difficult to see how it could be implemented across the board without a) confronting capacity and delivery issues, especially for smaller BDUs; and b) having the Commission set demand thresholds for very marginal broadcast services. What happens if 50 people request a service on a system with 5,000 subscribers? Whatever the merits, the big distributors are not exactly enthusiastic about pick-and-pay, if only because of the money they would have to leave on the table. But these are all yesterday’s battles and they demonstrate clearly what’s wrong with Canada’s broadcasting system: it’s 20 years out of date, based on outmoded assumptions about infrastructure scarcity, the need to “protect” our sovereignty and the passive role of the TV audience. If only we had a technology that offered a more economic, personal and interactive way to communicate. Wait. We do. It’s called the Internet.
In my previous post, I concentrated on channel-bundling in the US and how the market has been reacting to the pros and cons. Today I want to talk about the CRTC’s must-carry proceeding, an event that has triggered a lot of debate (see Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2013-19).
Right after it was announced in January, Michael Geist tore into the CRTC, referring to the announcement as bad news for Canadians frustrated by ever-increasing cable and satellite bills (CRTC Should Put Consumers First and Drop ‘Must Carry’ Requirements):
Rather than convincing millions of Canadian consumers that their services are worth buying, the broadcasters need only convince a handful of CRTC commissioners that their service meets criteria such as making “an exceptional contribution to Canadian expression.” That is supposedly a high bar, yet it is surely far easier than convincing millions of people to pay for your service each month. Continue reading
Highlights The CRTC is moving ahead with its must-carry decisions for 22 niche TV channels on the basis of whether they are of “exceptional” importance to Canadian culture (public hearing begins April 23). Canadian TV subscribers will be forced to pay for all of the services that succeed, without any regard for their viewing preferences. This approach suits the old media guard perfectly, because it guarantees a revenue stream even for channels few people are watching. While American consumers are being subjected to the same abuse, their TV world is being revolutionized from two directions.
First, OVD upstarts like Netflix are demolishing the idea that broadcasters should control viewing. Netflix is enhancing viewer choice by e.g. posting an entire season’s episodes all at once, in some cases of shows it has financed. Second, a backlash is under way in the US against the market power that limits choice and picks consumers’ pockets. Even US pay-TV distributors are fighting program providers that bundle their popular fare with channels nobody wants. Meanwhile, Canada is clinging to an outmoded cultural ideology that will bring about exactly the opposite of the intended effect, by chasing viewers out of the regulated broadcasting system and into the waiting arms of Netflix, YouTube and the Pirate Bay.
The absurdity of force-fed bundling: follow the money
Before I get to the CRTC’s must-carry proceeding, I want to touch on the debate raging in the US over whether TV subscribers have a right to “à la carte” service – the ability to choose only the channels they want from their service provider, as opposed to being obliged to take bundles of channels they don’t want but have to pay for anyway. Channel bundling is the subject of an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in late February, entitled “New Attack on TV Bundles” (here, pay wall). Continue reading
[Was supposed to continue from Oct 15 post on Ms Motzney...]
What you’ll find in this post instead:
- The Bell/Astral decision is (virtually) unprecedented
- “Public” benefits now refers to “we the public” – not just dudes who make TV shows
- Cabinet won’t intervene
- Consumer-loving Bell shocked and outraged
CRTC watchers eat crow. Don’t you hate it when the world changes faster than you can write about it? Thursday’s triumph over Bell is wonderful for consumers; for the thesis I was developing here, not so much. The comments I’ve read – Geist (This Is Not Your Parent’s CRTC); Cartt (CRTC says “Non!”); the Globe (Ottawa says it can’t intervene in CRTC’s BCE-Astral decision); etc – all indicate the Astral decision shows Chairman Blais really does intend to build a consumer-oriented CRTC. I trust he will understand why industry watchers, present company included, had been pretty much unanimous in predicting he’d never, ever turn down Bell on this acquisition. Continue reading
Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2012-574 – aka Bell tries to acquire Astral, arguing that’s the only way it can compete on the international stage. And Chairman Blais calls bullshit – congratulations to him and all involved in this decision, which may be a historic turning point for Canadian media consumers.
Among other things, this bold stroke lends tremendous credibility to the new-look CRTC, and especially to the new Chief Consumer Officer, Barbara Motzney.
Watch this space for more on the CCO and Chairman Blais’ vision for a consumer-oriented regulator. We’ll need time to absorb this decision, which begins thusly:
The Commission denies the application by BCE Inc. (BCE), on behalf of Astral Media inc. (Astral), for authority to change the effective control of Astral’s broadcasting undertakings. The Commission is not convinced that the transaction would provide significant and unequivocal benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system and to Canadians sufficient to outweigh the concerns related to competition, ownership concentration in television and radio, vertical integration and the exercise of market power.
In addition, BCE filed applications for authority to effect corporate reorganizations and to convert CKGM Montréal from an English- to a French-language radio station. The applicant indicated that the related applications were all contingent on approval of the proposed change of effective control of Astral’s broadcasting undertakings. In light of the Commission’s decision to deny the change of effective control, the Commission also denies the related applications.
For once I’m going to start by saying congratulations. In this case to the CRTC’s new Chief Consumer Officer, Barbara Motzney. And add a hallelujah – our regulator now has a consumer advocate.
In much more recent news, still all about the consumer, the CRTC announced last week it’s launching a proceeding “to establish a mandatory code for mobile wireless services” (see Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2012-557). In a post the next day, intrepid CRTC critic Pete Nowak celebrated by characterizing the announcement as being ”about bloody time.” Despite himself, Pete then came up with a very useful list of potential initiatives that could make our wireless life much happier.
I’m taking a different approach. I’m going to look at the Canadian media consumer and her problems in broad brushstrokes; and I’m going to do so by examining how we got here. The goal is to find some lessons in the backstory that will point the way to a brighter future. Continue reading
Over 20 years ago, Ted Rogers was using flag-waving and “threats” from big foreign firms to make galloping media concentration look unavoidable.
“Canada should not have to wait any longer to deploy a viable, national multi-platform solution, backed by a company with the resources to compete against well-funded global competitors.” – George Cope, Bell CEO, as quoted in the Financial Post (Sept 14).
“If you coddle companies at home by allowing them to exploit Canadian consumers in order to be big on the world stage, you have done your own people a disservice … If that’s the way that a deal comes in, wrapping itself in the flag, I’m skeptical about the real efficiencies that are pushing the deal.” — Melanie Aitken, outgoing head of the Competition Bureau, as quoted in the Globe and Mail (Sept 21).
“[T]he media economy in Canada is actually the eighth largest in the world. In 1998, it accounted for 2.6 percent of the global media economy; it accounted for over three percent in 2010, all of which casts doubt on the notion that Canada’s ‘small media market’ requires ‘big media’ to compete.” — Dwayne Winseck, communications prof, Carleton University; principle investigator, Canadian Media Concentration Research Project (CMCRP).
In this 4th and final part of our discussion with Dwayne, we concentrate on the state of TV. TV turns out to have played a long-standing role in helping the conglomerates push their concentration agenda – starting back in the early 1990s, when Ted Rogers warned of the dire consequences of allowing American “death star” (aka direct-to-home) TV satellites to swamp Canadian viewers with un-Canadian programming. Plus ça change…
And he’s back. Our favorite media-myth-buster picks up the next segment of our recent conversation – which is now likely to turn into a 4-part mini-series.
Maybe “industry context” is better than backstory – including the long, sad history of how we got into this mess. Too bad learning the lessons of history isn’t high on Canada’s regulatory agenda. Here comes your next 17 minutes…
Say bye-bye to when phones stuck to the kitchen wall,
and Bell couldn’t screw with your messages
Say hi to producer Barri Cohen, who’s not amused…
I’ve long taken a harsh line on the way the cultural community has played into a broken system for subsidizing broadcast Cancon. That’s in part because of the dangerous idea that the public Internet should be “regulated” in ways that would cripple it as an open platform for self-expression and innovation (see my Aug 27 post and, for lots more gory details, the June 2011 post entitled Get yer grimy paws off my Netflix: Ottawa’s big OTT scam). Continue reading