OPINION: As TV changes dramatically, the CRTC invites Canadians’ input by Jean-Pierre Blais

Feb 25, 2014

Source: Montreal Gazette

Over the past two weeks, Canadians were glued to their television sets, smartphones and tablets watching the Winter Olympic Games and celebrating the achievements of our athletes. At the same time, many Canadians were binge-viewing the new season of House of Cards on Netflix. These two events reinforce the diversity of Canadians’ interests, and how dramatically TV has changed in recent years.

In the 1950s, Canadians gathered together in front of the television set in their living room to share common entertainment and information experiences. Today, television viewing is very much an individual experience. Canadians watch whatever programs they like, whenever they like, on whatever platform they choose.

TV is and will remain a mass medium. But individual choice, coupled with technological innovation, is rewriting the rules of the game. This will affect the price, variety and availability of content, as well as Canada’s production industry, which currently employs 60,000 Canadians.

In light of these new realities, does TV still meet the needs of Canadians? That’s what the CRTC set out to discover last October when we launched Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians.

In the first phase of the process, more than 3,100 people responded to our invitation, submitting written comments, joining our online discussion forum, responding to a telephone survey or participating in more than 25 Flash! conferences.

Much of the feedback revolved around today’s personalized, on-demand world. Many Canadians want greater choice and control over the programming they watch and pay for. Others noted barriers to accessing programming for people with disabilities, or the need to uphold the special place of aboriginal people, linguistic duality and multicultural programs — all of which are stipulated in the Broadcasting Act

Individual preferences, multiplied by the actions and choices of other Canadians, are not without consequences. Some of these will undoubtedly be positive for many Canadians. However, the demands of one group may also have a detrimental impact on the choices of others.

The goal of Phase II of Let’s Talk TV is to bring these conflicting considerations to Canadians’ attention. We are asking them to look beyond their individual interests to the bigger picture and what this means for their television system as a whole.

There may be hard choices ahead, given the very different needs of Canadians as citizens, creators and consumers. There could be trade-offs on everything from the basic television package and online programming, to the ability to pick and choose channels, or access international shows.

Canadians can now weigh in on these tough choices through Phase II of our national conversation — Let’s Talk TV: Choicebook. To fill out the questionnaire, go to www.crtc.gc.ca/talktv or call 1-877-249-2782 to request a paper version. The questionnaire encourages Canadians to think about the interests and priorities of others, and how those relate to their own.

All Canadians are invited to put their personal stamp on the future of their television system. Together, we have a unique opportunity to reinvent television in Canada for the years ahead.

© Montreal Gazette