The CRTC recently launched a survey about the future of Canadian television (open until March 14), and by golly this one is sure to create a whole new media environment! Real change is going to happen with our national regulator this time, and now is your chance to blah blah blah blah, yeah I know. You’re sick of this, right? These same talking points that you’ve heard from me, and probably others, dozens of times? Far too many times. Don’t get me wrong, the fetishization of bureaucracy and regulation is a proud Canadian tradition, and one that I certainly hope we don’t lose anytime soon, but this stuff wears thin after a while. The new survey does raise some problems and solutions that I’ve been harping on about for a while, which I’m glad to see. What’s going to be more interesting to most of you is that it includes some questionable attempts to gather public support for regulating Netflix. If you still have faith in the system, by all means join me after the jump for some of my thoughts. If not… well, hang in there. I’ll be posting about cartoons again soon, I promise.
If you’ve been paying attention over the past few years, Netflix’s key to the hearts and minds of Canadians of all ages has been its complete immunity from regulation. As of right now, the CRTC has been entirely hands-off on its operation, and people are all the happier for it. The questions presented in this survey seem a bit underhanded, pointing out things like the lack of closed captioning on many (but not all) Netflix programs. It’s pretty fair to assume the actual motivation behind this is to get a regulatory foot in the door and hinder over-the-top services in Canada. It may start with the deceptively altruistic promise of more extensive closed captioning, but that precedent will only make it easier to impose more regulations on the service. You probably don’t want that, so take the survey and let them know.
That said, it also touches on a few very interesting things about traditional broadcasting. When it comes to appealing to the broader public, I will give the CRTC this: this is the first time that they have so much as entertained the idea of allowing access to American Super Bowl ads on cable and satellite broadcasts of the game. Considering that Super Bowl ads are the sole reason that a majority of people in this country even know that the CRTC exists, you can’t deny that they mean business this time. I mean, if they cash in that claim to fame, there’s just no way that they’ll still be able to stand out amidst the vast array of bureaucratic acronyms! I doubt it would surprise any of you that my personal interest in American football is pretty much non-existent. Really, the same could be said for any sport outside of Kosho. But the particular issue of Super Bowl ads intersects with something that I feel quite strongly about: signal substitution! And wouldn’t you know, on their survey, the Commission has actually outlined the possibility of the very thing I’ve been advocating for years: removing the US networks from basic packages and putting them instead into premium packages! This includes local affiliates for FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, and I’ll be generous and include The CW.
I mean think about it: why should people in Canada feel entitled to those American broadcasters when it makes no difference on the actual content they watch? Their presence certainly doesn’t enable Canadian networks to be competitive or create anything worthwhile, just imitate US scheduling and leech advertising dollars off of those US broadcasts. Obviously Canadians will riot if the networks are taken away, but if they’re removed from basic packages then our own local broadcasters will at least be able to create unique schedules and differentiate the way they market their content. If they had done this fifteen years ago it might have even created the possibility for better, more competitive Canadian productions. But hey, better late than never.
The only downside to this change is that it might hurt the availability of free over-the-air (antenna) TV. The current regulation requires Canadian broadcasters to keep their OTA towers running if they want to use signal substitution to keep that sweet, sweet advertising revenue. I made sure to make a note of this, because as I’ve mentioned before, we can’t afford to lose OTA broadcasters in Canada. I don’t know what kind of incentive they can put in place of signal substitution to keep local broadcasters owned by cable and satellite providers to keep their towers up, but there has to be some solution. And you know, ending those silly regulations that prohibit apartment, condo, and hotel owners from setting up antennas that their tenants and guests can access without undergoing the nigh impossible task of actively blocking out American signals probably wouldn’t hurt either. These rules do nothing but guarantee monopolies to television service providers and perpetuate the misconception in Canada that local television is not accessible for free.
When it comes to Canadian TV, promises of big change always seem like they’re just around the corner. It’s wearing thin. I feel just as fatigued writing this as you probably do reading it, but if you only act once, I say do it now. There’s definitely more at stake this time , so I do sincerely recommend that you all take a few minutes to give them your input. It will be opened until March 14, 2014.