Thoughts on CRTC hearings on Fee For Carriage

We are following the CRTC hearings via Twitter, online news, CPAC video (when it works) and even caught a few mainstream media segments regarding the big battle between broadcast networks and the distribution channels of cable and satellite.

Here are some of our thoughts on the situation . . .

The distributors of content are in control. Not the creators or the consumers. How long will it be before they apply the cable programming model to internet distribution? Be afraid – very afraid!

Canadian broadcast networks will die the same death as newspapers if they don’t change their model. Too much redundancy. The same list of  shows appear on US and Canadian networks. This model of redistribution is based on the old model of over the air signals beamed into geographic regions that had no other options. Cable and satellite and web have changed all that.

CRTC should legislate the cable and satellite distribution folks to carry only Canadian broadcast networks. Block the original US versions. This reduces the redundancy and gives the Canadian broadcasters the monopoly they need to survive. Oh, did I say monopoly? I meant competitive advantage.

Why don’t cable and satellite providers carry international channels? Back in the days of C-band satellite (remember those big six foot dishes?) we could get programming from all over the world. Now it’s just the same limited programming choices repeated across the various time zones.

When CEOs of the two big cable TV outfits agree to not compete in each others geographic market (Rogers in the east and Shaw in the west) and get away with it, where’s the CRTC to protect the Canadian citizens? Where’s the competition in that model?

Canwest’s Asper suggested that if they had just implemented fee for carriage and raised monthly subscription fees without telling the consumer they wouldn’t be going through all of this pain and agony. That’s the kind of executive leadership that has taken Canwest-Global into creditor protection and eventually into bankruptcy.

Canwest-Global closed Red Deer’s CHCA TV station because of lack of viewing audience. They claimed a 55% penetration of satellite delivery in the area made it impractical to continue over the air broadcast. Would weak programming from Global’s version of CHCA have had something to do with loss of audience numbers? Ya’ think? Why didn’t they get the channel onto satellite feeds to the area?

CRTC should legislate that satellite carry local and regional stations. Since they don’t pay for the signal anyway, what’s it going to cost them?

Local TV has differing definitions. For Canadian broadcasters it means content they produce – local = Canada. For viewers it means regional coverage and programming from our immediate geographic area – local = Red Deer. What if this same definition was applied to newspapers. No more local papers like the Red Deer Advocate. Just the Toronto Globe and Mail (Red Deer edition?). Too limited a choice? Well then just add the Toronto Star to your list of choices. Still too limited? Then here’s one more – Montreal’s Ce Soir. Lot’s of choice there. Two languages as well! What more do you want?

Cable and satellite companies should stick to distribution of TV like they do with the internet. They provide the pipe that delivers the content. Stay out of content creation and management. Might even be a conflict of interest.

A CRTC spokesperson asked visitors to turn off their phones and other devices being used to live-blog the hearings through channels such as Twitter because they were interfering with the sensitive and delicate communications systems in use at the hall. Ya’ right! Nice try. Sorry but you can’t choke freedom of speech in today’s web connected world. Note to CRTC – get with the times. This is how news is reported in the 21st Century! Underwood typewriters and telex machines aren’t used anymore.

The CRTC started all of this fee for carriage nonsense back in the ’70s when they asked broadcasters to fore-go fees in order that fledgling cable companies could gain a foothold. The CRTC has to deal with it now and not pass the buck. Oh wait – they have. Twice they have passed a ruling saying no to fee for carriage. Why don’t the broadcasters just let go and look for other models? Billions of dollars in revenue may be the reason.

At least the folks from Canwest-Global were honest and open when the CRTC panel asked them if they would apply the revenue from fee for carriage to support local TV stations. They said no!

Those are just some of my random thoughts on the hearings. Curious to know what you think . . . leave a comment below.

BTW: many of the tweets coming out from the hearings are re-tweets of someone else’s comment or opinions. A lot of noise? Not really. It’s easy to scroll through repetitive tweets that are only 140 characters long versus redundant newspaper articles which are 400 – 800 words long. The good thing about re-tweets is that the message jumps from one network of followers to the next. You tell two people. They each tell two people. And on and on it will go. That’s the magic of the new online communication culture.

Dean

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