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Canadians frustrated with TV content choices, some want CRTC ‘abolished’ by Simon Houpt

Jan 29, 2014

Source: Globe and Mail

Canadians are giving their national broadcast regulator an earful, complaining they are forced to pay for TV channels they never watch, and support Canadian content quotas they say are increasingly outdated. In a flurry of comments submitted to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last fall as part of an ongoing consultation process, some even called for the outright abolition of the regulator itself.

The CRTC released a summary of the comments Wednesday which were received during Phase One of Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation With Canadians, the year-long process it began last October to engage the public about the future of TV. The regulator said that of the 1,320 comments that had been sent in, most expressed frustration with either programming choices or a lack of flexibility in how viewers could access TV shows.

The commission wrote: “Some believe that the CRTC is primarily responsible for this situation, and actively suggested that the body be abolished, suggesting that its regulations have created an impediment to consumer choice.”

The report noted deep resentment toward such hot-button issues as Canadian content or mandatory carriage, by which a handful of channels are automatically given a spot on the basic tier of every TV subscription package. The CRTC concluded a contentious round of mandatory carriage licensing last summer, refusing the applications of all but a few channels.

Many viewers also resent the common practice of channel bundling. “Bundling is really a form of bullying to make me take what they want,” wrote one respondent.

Another said: “Imagine the next time you go to the grocery store and all you want is a jar of pasta sauce but when you get to the checkout they say sorry you also have to buy a grapefruit, a large package of diapers, containers full of ice cream, loaf of garlic bread and a bottle of prune juice. Sounds ludicrous but that is what Canadian television consumers are forced to put up with.”

While some TV providers offer channels on a pick-and-pay basis, it is not a common practice. Most cable, IPTV, and satellite providers say that bundling helps keep costs down, and that consumers would balk at paying the full price for each channel they watch.

Canadian content regulations are another passion point for many viewers. Some said that, while financial and regulatory support for Canadian programming may once have been necessary, that is no longer the case. “If our Canadian TV shows were as good as our Canadian Olympians, then more people would want to watch, follow the series and cheer on the characters,” wrote one commenter. Another noted: “The concept of ‘forced’ Canadian content is the reason Canadian produced shows are by and large, inferior.”

Another respondent rejected the idea that American TV shows were not culturally relevant. “The Big Bang Theory is reflective of me even if it’s ‘American.’ It is also part of our/my demographic diversity.”

One commenter wrote: “Canadian content has become better in some aspects i.e. ‘Showcase original programming’ and worse in others i.e. ‘CBC original programming and CTV original programming.’”

News programming is a touchy subject, especially in the wake of cuts to many local stations. “Some, particularly those from rural Quebec, see a need for more locally relevant news,” the commission wrote. “They believe that the quality of local news should also be addressed, with some expressing concern over sensationalist journalism or a lack of in-depth reporting on local issues.”

The report added: “Other participants who self-identify as consumers of third-language programming talk about the need for more third-language programming that contains local news and information. They note that while there are many ethnic and third-language channels in Canada, many of these channels rebroadcast content obtained from non-Canadian sources with little time or concern given to local news and information.”

The CRTC consultation continues next month.

© Globe and Mail