If you’re keeping score, we now have had four decisions from the Talk TV hearing. The first one was issued November 6, 2014 and prohibited 30 day notice periods for cancelling television, telephone and internet services. Not a big decision but one that gave hints that consumer choice was going to continue to be a theme of Talk TV. Now we have three more small but significant decisions, announced January 29, 2015 by the Chair of the CRTC, Jean-Pierre Blais, in London, Ontario.
The first decision today was a warning that if broadcasters shut down their over the air (“OTA”) transmitters, they would lose the regulatory privileges that were originally granted with the licensing of their OTA services. The two big privileges that no broadcaster is going to want to lose is mandatory carriage on basic and simultaneous substitution (‘simsub’). Both of these two privileges are fundamental to the conventional broadcasters’ business model.
During TalkTV broadcasters expressed a desire to get rid of their OTA transmitters as a way to reduce costs. The CRTC has quoted stats from Numeris that 9.1% of Canadians access broadcasting over the air. That’s actually higher than I thought and is a significant portion of the population. They were a particularly vocal portion of the population during the online consultation part of TalkTV. Today’s decision goes further than just supporting that population though. At times in his speech Blais sounded like a commercial for OTA antennas, advocating it as a high quality, low cost solution to those nasty BDUs:
“The next few years could yield renewed interest for OTA broadcasting, especially in urban areas where eye-popping image quality, channel selection and, of course, the absence of cost, could convince more consumers that they need not be enslaved to cable and satellite service providers if they want to enjoy high-quality television programming.” – Jean-Pierre Blais
The second decision is the one getting the headlines – no more Superbowl simsub from 2017 on. Consumers complained bitterly about missing out on the Superbowl ads and it is year after year the biggest source of complaints to the CRTC. Bell Media has bought the rights to broadcast the Superbowl but we don’t know for how many years. Either way, it will have a significant financial impact on this one broadcast group. The decision also refers to enforcement to improve simsub performance – no more sleeping at the switch and having the feed cut off improperly.
Frankly, I’m surprised at the Superbowl decision. Sure, the CRTC is fed up with the cranky complaints and having to explain themselves every year but does it justify the lost revenue?
Finally, the third decision may seem the most esoteric but probably is the most important for the future. Bell and Vidéotron were directed to stop excluding their mobile broadcasting services from their customers’ monthly data caps. They were basically promoting their own services by giving them a fast lane. The CRTC has been a leader in the world in creating rules and practices for Net Neutrality and they continue to with this decision. Vertically integrated media businesses will not be allowed to favour their own services.
Blais has promised the rest of the decisions in the coming weeks and months. In his speech he compared the decisions to repairing old bridges while building new ones. Repeatedly. According to the infographic that was published with the decision, we’re only ¼ of the way there so lots more construction analogies to come. Ultimately, we will have to look at these decisions as a whole, see the whole bridge, before we understand the real impact. And will we like what we see when we get to the other side? That’s a question for another day.