Talk TV – Building and Repairing Bridges

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.



3 thoughts on “Talk TV – Building and Repairing Bridges”

  1. With US Networks determined to air hit shows past the hours (i.e. 9:01) or half half (8:31), just once I would like to actually see the end of an episode of something that I am watching . Rogers is the worst offender in switching to the Canadian station for simulcasting. If a network can’t survive without simulcasting then it shouldn’t exist.

  2. By 2017, I expect simulcasting will almost be a non-issue. With services like Netflix, Crave TV, Shomi, Hulu, Amazon, etc., and DVR usage, the amount of people in the coveted 18-54 age demo, will not be watching a lot of commercials because most of their shows will either be via DVR or through streaming. The only exception to this is sports unless the various broadcasters produce better streaming services for their games. Oh, and there’s also the issue of internet access as many in the country do not have access to high-speed internet where they live–satellite internet is very expensive to install and requires long-term contracts. I was lucky enough to move into a house where it was already installed so I could just take over the owner’s contract. There are also no cable services in the town where I live so it’s either Bell or Shaw satellite which is also very expensive or there’s the free-to-air dishes people get that give you maybe 20 channels.

  3. I think it is the CRTC’s strategy to make minor fixes to simulcast and wait it out. When we go to an all demand or near all demand world it will be obsolete. Hopefully, the broadcasters will have the necessary time to figure out a new business model in the meantime.

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