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Let’s Talk TV Day 2

Day 2 of the Let’s Talk TV hearing began with Irene Berkowitz, a PhD Candidate and instructor at Ryerson University, who has been researching the changes in media landscape and specifically how to future-proof Canadian broadcasting.

Ms. Berkowitz provided a unique perspective on the content issue, stating that Canada has never had a lack of talent for content creation, but rather the lack of risk taking and the focus on domestic promotion of Canadian content has held back the Canadian system as a whole. The issue can be summed up in her statement that “content is not king, hit content is king.” In order for Canada to successfully harness the changes in media consumption and production, Canada must look to taking greater risks with new content, invest in the production of hit Canadian content, and make this content available a global audience.

The Commission drew a parallel of these comments to the music industry, where Canadian content regulations spurred the development of an industry that only now is getting consistent international recognition; decades after the regulations were created. They seemed concerned that the Canadian content industry could not afford the same amount of time to pivot to new realities, and proposed several ideas to address the issue, which Ms. Berkowitz mentioned were interesting avenues for further research.

Québecor Média Inc, representing itself, Vidéotron and Groupe TVA (QMI) took up the majority of the next part of the morning. QMI’s submission to the Commission was straight-forward: regulations must be loosened if traditional broadcasters have any chance at competing with Over-The-Top services such as Netflix in the coming years. To that end, QMI wholly opposed the majority of the Commission’s proposed options (such as a skinny basic TV package, or pick-and-pay channels), stating that they were the first traditional broadcaster to offer a basic-type package with the option to add channels on top.

What followed was a fueled back-and-forth between QMI Chief Executive Officer Pierre Dion and Vice-Chair of Broadcasting Tom Pentefountas over the true impact of Netflix on QMI’s services. Commissioner Pentefountas focused on QMI’s own Over-The-Top service Illico, and questioned whether QMI’s claim of a Netflix takeover of the broadcasting industry is inevitable, since a traditional broadcaster has advantages Netflix would not. QMI and the Commission had a frank discussion of the challenges of scale, the money involved for acquiring content rights, and the scope of changes needed to address these concerns.

Private citizen Robert Dilworth, a former head of television audience research for a major broadcaster, spoke on the issue of simultaneous substitution, recommending its elimination due to the constraints it places on traditional broadcasters.

On Screen Manitoba spoke first after the lunch break, emphasizing the concerns of smaller producers of Canadian content that could be disproportionately affected by regulatory changes such as mandated pick-and-pay, or the continued exemption of Over-The-Top services from Canadian content requirements. As yesterday, the Commission was aware and concerned of the effect of regulatory changes on content producers, especially for content that served minority language communities. The commission asked several questions that probed for appropriate definitions to deal with these issues.

The Groups for the Public Interest (composed of: the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Consumers’ Association of Canada, the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of British Columbia, the National Pensioners Federation, Option consommateurs and the Canadian Ethnocultural Council) spoke next, focusing on critical issues that thus far have not seen as much discussion, including the need for more competition and choice in Canada’s highly concentrated and vertically integrated broadcasting industry. The Groups focused their oral remarks on: a mandated skinny basic television package plus channel pick-and-pay option; the importance of local programming serving local communities and minority groups; opposing the elimination of over-the-air (OTA) transmission of television; and privacy concerns related to proposed information collection through next-generation set-top boxes. A copy of the Groups’ oral remarks can be found here [pdf file: 0.51mb] , and their full submission to the CRTC here

The Groups noted that the proposed mandated skinny basic with channel pick-and-pay option suggested by the Commission was the most important issue, clarifying that broadcasters would still have the option to provide a “larger basic” package similar to current offerings if there was consumer demand for it. The Commission appeared to agree with the Groups’ overall position, instead focusing their questions on specific details. The Commission questioned how the industry could transition to a world with both packaging models in a way that minimizes consumer confusion, suggesting it may require broadcasters to provide enough information to consumers to make an informed decision.

The Commission and the Groups also had an important discussion on the role of OTA television in the broadcasting system, with the Groups stating it can be an alternative to cable, IPTV or satellite offerings, and therefore OTA represents value to a broad range of Canadians. The Commission noted OTA does not currently serve all Canadians due to issues of topography or the availability of funding from local stations, but the Groups emphasized the system could be expanded and the suggestion to shut down OTA has received significant opposition from the public through the Commission’s online comment system.
The Groups were also asked to explain the public interest represented on their panel, which includes consumer groups, senior citizens, ethno-cultural communities, and Quebec consumers.

L’Union des consommateurs was the last intervener to of the day, focusing on many of the same issues addressed by the Groups, such as the importance of a skinny basic television package, OTA and increased power in the hands of consumers when dealing with broadcasters. The Commission probed the details of the submission, including asking whether basic television service is becoming as important to Canadians as a public utility.

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