Bricks and mortar with window, Spitalfields, London E1, August 2013
How can the CRTC do a better job?
As I argued in the previous two posts, the CMR doesn’t have a life of its own; it reflects the CRTC’s larger priorities. The big one here is research and evidence-based policymaking. A close second is the Commission’s still awkward fashion of trying to reach out to the little people – i.e. anybody besides the inner circle. Here are my suggestions for how it can do what it apparently wants to do, only better:
1 – Stop wasting money on online consultations. Redeploy it for real consumer research. Online consultations aren’t just a waste of money; they can also be highly misleading. One reason for their being unrepresentative is that online “surveys” of the public can’t reach Canadians who aren’t online to begin with. Unfortunately, the Commission isn’t going to find any new money for research, not as long as it sticks to the current Expenditure Profile. As shown in the graph below, the Commission’s spending is pretty much flat from 2009 to 2016, especially if these figures were converted to constant dollars…
Last time, I described some of the ways in which the CMR has fallen short. I added that the current incarnation of this document marks a sharp departure by reflecting a greater concern for end-user behaviors and consumer welfare. I’ve been looking at the CMR less as a source of information about particular trends, and more as a window through which to gauge how the Commission is allocating priorities (the CMR page is here).
I grouped the details into four areas, and covered 1 and 2 in the previous post:
1- The emphasis on industry vs consumer welfare. That emphasis has changed quite dramatically in the 2013 edition, which stems from the pro-consumer tilt the Commission has taken under the current Chair.
2 – The reluctance to report bad news. This entrenched timidity is still holding back critical discussion. That’s one great advantage the FCC’s structure has: open and sometimes quite vocifeous partisanship, since appointees must include a balance of Democrats and Republicans.
“What do [Canadians] think of this country’s ‘television’ system? Do they feel that the public interest is being served? I speak of ‘television’ for lack of a better word, because technology has outpaced language.” –JP Blais on pending CRTC review of TV policy
In his speech at the Banff Festival on June 12, Chairman Blais indicated the CRTC plans to undertake a top-to-bottom review of how to manage “television” in the digital age. The Chairman brings a tremendous amount of credibility to this exercise, which he’s earned in his first year at the CRTC helm (a Globe editorial called his speech “very promising” and “visionary”). But even this well-placed friend of the consumer is going to have a difficult time rescuing Canadian broadcasting from its current state of arrested development.
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).
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 →
As I’ve noted before (e.g. here and here), the CRTC’s handling of the over-the-top review is a travesty of due process. It’s based on a fact-finding proceeding that wasn’t a proceeding, and more secret meetings to continue where they left off in March. Denis Carmel’s expression (above) of “gratitude” to the participants for dropping by to grind their own axes, without the bother of rebuttal or outside scrutiny, is a less than comforting way to honor the principle of ex parte meetings. FCC rules require that private meetings with 3rd parties be disclosed, and that the content of discussions be summarized in public minutes. As Free Press noted last July: “The ex parte process may seem obscure to most people, but these meetings have a significant impact on FCC decisionmaking.” (That article was a commentary on the FCC’s proposal to strengthen its ex parte rules.) Continue reading →
The folks at Pew Internet (aka the Pew Internet & American Life Project) produce terrific research on what Americans do online. They have a visitor-friendly website teeming with information about Teens, Broadband, Health, Social Networking, Mobile, Technology User Types and the Digital Divide – and those are just the popular topics. Their work is a boon to my students, who have no source anything like Pew for Canadian data (with the partial exception of Statistics Canada and its Canadian Internet Users Survey, which is still very limited in its scope). Continue reading →
On campuses from sea to shining sea, it’s that time again. Your children are in a classroom somewhere, staring intently into the iPad you bought to improve their minds. You fondly imagine them looking up course terminology in Wikipedia while they listen to lectures, take notes and flip through coursekits. My kid, the multitasker, one step closer to law school thanks to Steve Jobs.
Dream on, sucker. Your kid’s on Facebook, not Wikipedia… or whatever messaging platform they prefer for keeping in touch with all their friends, all the time, no matter what.
LT, shown here using the Skyward grip, keeps the gf's happy with her lightning response times
The inappropriate use of mobile phones and other digital devices is gaining attention. Last week FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski counselled a back-to-school gathering of students to be “moderate with digital media.” He cited research according to which the average teenager consumes 11 hours of media content a day, and sends a text every 10 minutes he or she is awake (reported by NYT; pdf of speech here). Genachowski mentioned the dangers of texting while driving, as well as less lethal practices associated with academic performance: “How many of you use the Internet to do things like check your Facebook page or play video games, which keep you from doing your school work?”
200 million: the number of text messsages Canadian mobile phone users send every day(source: CWTA)
That’s the first mistake made by well-meaning authority figures: assuming kids believe their “distractions” are actually distracting them from anything, schoolwork included. This is, after all, the age of multitasking and nobody has embraced that lifestyle choice more than teens and young adults. What they don’t know or won’t acknowledge is good research has shown convincingly that our brains don’t like multitasking. Chronic multitaskers who think they can message, compute, listen, socialize and watch TV all at once are living in a fool’s paradise, and we’ve got the brain scans to prove it. Continue reading →