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CRTC rulings roll the dice on the future of Canadian broadcasting

Mar 30, 2015

BRIEFING NOTE FOR SUPPORTERS

In its Let’s Talk TV hearings last September, the CRTC opened up the regulatory framework for Canadian television broadcasting for review, making it clear that it was contemplating major disruptive changes to Canadian content rules and cable bundling.

FRIENDS submitted a substantive brief to the CRTC in June 2014 (friends.ca/crtcbrief), followed by our presentation and question-and-answer session with the Commissioners in September (friends.ca/crtcpresentation). In our brief we cautioned the Commissioners to “do no harm — or when in doubt, do nothing,” as the CRTC has a responsibility to both viewers and listeners to “take the time to get it right” and to see them as citizens, not merely consumers.

The CRTC’s decisions on both Canadian content and unbundling have now been announced. It is clear that the Commissioners have turned a deaf ear to the concerns expressed by FRIENDS and many broadcast industry players.

FRIENDS is concerned that the CRTC is rolling the dice on the future of an industry that is crucial to Canada’s cultural sovereignty and generates more than $15 billion in revenue and 66,000 jobs. Every Canadian should be aware that CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais is kowtowing — in an unprecedented manner — to Stephen Harper, taking cues directly from the Prime Minister’s Office.

A major outcome of its decisions will be less of Canada on Canadian television.

The minimum Canadian programming that TV stations must broadcast during the day (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) has been cut from 55% to zero in one fell swoop. Eliminating Canadian content rules for daytime television will reduce local news — something Canadians care about more than any other kind of programming — and fill our airwaves with even more Hollywood fare, much of it cheap re-runs.

  • What impact will this have? In Halifax, for example, what will happen to CTV’s Canada AM and Atlantic at 5? They’re both considered to be part of the Canadian content requirement for daytime that is being cut to zero. CTV in Halifax currently broadcasts 7 hours of Canadian programming on weekdays to cover their 55% requirement. How many hours and which shows will remain on air when the rules change?
  • What will happen to Global TV’s Noon News Hour in Edmonton under the new rules? And what will happen to CityNews at 5 on Toronto’s City TV?
  • Canadians everywhere will be wondering what is going to disappear from their TV screens when Canadian content requirements for daytime TV go to zero.
  • Cutting daytime programming will have a spillover effect on our ability to produce Canadian shows for other time slots through loss of talent and studios.

FRIENDS believes that the financial impact of the CRTC’s move to unbundle cable channels and introduce a mandatory basic TV service constitutes a body blow to Canadian content on TV.

Even though the government made clear in its 2013 Speech from the Throne that cable/satellite-delivered channels would be unbundled “while protecting Canadian jobs,” CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais merely said “there may indeed be services that don’t survive and there will be job losses. That’s always sad.” Our estimate, based on research, is that there will be losses of between 2,233 and 10,674 jobs and between $250 million and $1 billion in GDP for the Canadian economy by 2020.

  • The Commission has removed the requirement that TV distributors ensure subscribers receive a preponderance of Canadian channels to merely offer a preponderance of Canadian options.
  • This will lead to less Canadian programming, less local news, less Canadian drama and documentaries — and, at the same time, will leave consumers who anticipate a price break disillusioned.
  • Particularly hard hit with all of these changes will be the independent television stations in smaller cities such as Kamloops and Fredericton which may be forced for financial reasons to surrender their licences and fade to black.

Since the CRTC’s creation in 1968, it has worked tirelessly to promote Canadian programming volume, diversity and expenditures. What Jean- Pierre Blais has done this year has reversed the Commission’s historic leadership on all three, and in the wrong direction.