TV Times: Canadian Broadcast Reform
On August 21, the CRTC issued 28 proposals for broadcast reform that would give consumers greater control over the TV channels they pay for, including a pricing cap on basic cable packages and new pay-per-channel offerings. This month the CRTC, broadcast distributors, labour unions and other interested parties are meeting in Gatineau, Quebec to take part in “Let’s Talk TV,” a two-week series of meetings, organized by the CRTC to discuss its proposals for television reform.
At the centre of these discussions will be the CRTC’s proposal for a basic cable package that would offer limited local Canadian channels, local news, educational programming and legislative broadcasts at a capped price of $20 to $30. After purchasing a basic package, consumers will then have the freedom to choose additional channels on a pay-per-channel basis. Distributers warn that the introduction of pay-per-channel TV would likely lead to shrinking in the number of base subscribers making channels more expensive. Even CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais admits that, “he never promised pick-and-pay would be cheaper.” Broadcast distributors all warn that a fall in subscription revenue as a result of the pay-per-channel model, could lead to the closure of some smaller networks, job losses and less money being spent on original programming.
Despite these concerns, the big service providers aren’t exactly suffering. According to the most recent report from the CRTC, the number of households subscribing to the big broadcast distributors including Bell, Shaw and Rogers rose from 11-million to 12-million between 2008 and 2012, which generated an increase in revenue from $6.9-billion to $8.7-billion.
The pay-per-channel model isn’t the only threat facing distributors today. Online streaming services like Netflix and Apple TV offer consumers more control for less cost. According to the CRTC, the percentage of English-speaking Canadians with Netflix subscriptions rose to 29 per cent in 2013 from 21 per cent in 2012. During one of last week’s Let’s Talk TV” discussion, the Ontario government demanded that the CRTC start regulating and taxing online streaming services, with revenues going towards Ontario-based production.
In response to public backlash over rising subscription costs and the growing popularity of online services, the big broadcasters have recently made some changes in how they offer their services. Telus now offers customers the option to choose from among more than 100 channels once a basic subscription is purchased, and Rogers and Shaw have recently announced the launch of a new streaming service, shomi, which will broadcast American TV shows not currently offered in Canada, at the same time they air in U.S.
While reform is inevitable, it will be interesting to see just how much change the CRTC is able to introduce and the impact it will have on how Canadians watch television. The CRTC is expected to introduce its new regulations by December 2015.