Local TV Matters vs. Stop The TV Tax

As you may know, there’s a battle going on between Canada’s broadcasters and its cable/satellite companies. The broadcasters, CTV, Canwest Global, CBC, and others, want the CRTC to impose a fee-for-carriage, alleging that their signals are being distributed without compensation. The cable and satellite companies, Rogers, Bell, Shaw, Telus, and others, view such a fee as a “tax” on their subscription fees. The CRTC will examine the issue again in policy hearings beginning November 16th.

Both sides have started to encourage supporters to get involved and to contact the CRTC directly. The cable and satellite companies have launched Stop The TV Tax, while the broadcasters have launched Local TV Matters. They’re both on Twitter too: @stopthetvtax and @LocalTVmatters. If you want to submit comments, you have until November 2nd to do so:

I like that the issue is getting Canadians involved. Here are my thoughts on the issue:

  • As I wrote back in May, I think it’s disingenuous of the broadcasters to position this as a “save local” issue.
  • If it was really about saving local programming, the broadcasters would have no problem guaranteeing that funds raised from the fee-for-carriage would go entirely toward local programming. They aren’t willing to do that.
  • Local TV doesn’t matter. Local content, reporting, and community service matter, but none of those things require a TV station.
  • Is it really a coincidence that the broadcasters only started complaining loudly about this when the economic crisis was in full swing?
  • The local stations are still available for free via antenna. If there’s a fee associated with accessing them via cable or satellite, I want the ability to opt-out (ideally they’d be opt-in).

The fee-for-carriage wouldn’t result in an incredibly large amount of money for the broadcasters, so it’s not going to solve all of their financial troubles. It’s more of a stop-gap solution. They’re still going to lose money and viewers. Isn’t it time to rethink the strategy? Focus energy on something constructive?

As I’ve said before, we need to allow sick businesses to die so that healthy, innovative ones can take their place.

No more bailouts please

As you’re probably aware, CTV has been running an aggressive “Save Local TV” campaign over the last couple weeks. Along with occasional ally Canwest, the two broadcasters are petitioning the CRTC to impose a fee-for-carriage on cable and satellite companies. In a recent guest post on Connect2Edmonton, CTV’s Lloyd Lewis wrote:

Local stations like CTV Edmonton do not receive any compensation from cable and satellite companies.  We believe the time has come that local television must share in this pool, just as all other channels on your cable and satellite systems do.

Shaw has been the most aggressive company on the opposite side of the issue. Here’s what Jim Shaw wrote in his message to Canadians:

Canadians should not have to pay to fix broadcasters’ problems. They’ve spent billions of dollars acquiring foreign programs, TV stations and newspapers and now they say they’re broke?

Essentially, I think the situation can be described as follows:

  • CTV and Canwest are losing money. This is partly because of a decline in advertising revenue, exacerbated by the economic downturn.
  • They have twice before asked the CRTC to impose a fee-for-carriage, and were denied both times. A fee-for-carriage would force cable and satellite companies to pay for the signals they rebroadcast.
  • If such a fee were imposed, Shaw and other cable/sat companies would likely pass the cost on to consumers.
  • Fee-for-carriage exists in other countries, but has never existed in Canada.

My gut reaction when I first started reading about all of this was that CTV and Canwest wanted a bailout, just like the auto manufacturers. Their business model is broken, and they’re looking for the quick fix. I firmly believe that we need to allow sick businesses to die, so that more efficient ones can take their place. I feel that way about all industries.

I decided to do some reading. Here’s what I have learned:

CTV argues that their local news programs are suffering because I can get CTV Toronto and CTV Edmonton on my cable/satellite package. That means I can watch a popular primetime show on the Toronto feed instead of my local one. Some questions on that:

  • Isn’t CTV receiving the same revenue either way?
  • Isn’t most advertising sold nationally anyway? Isn’t that the argument for a large conglomerate?
  • Why does the ad revenue for a primetime show affect my local news program as much as CTV seems to suggest it does?

The financials only tell one side of the story. It’s the other side of the story that really makes me frustrated. CTV has taken a page out of the newspaper playbook, and is claiming that they are vital to the local community.

Cities do not need newspapers to survive and flourish, nor do they need local TV stations.

In the article posted at C2E, CTV argues that local TV is important for the following reasons:

  1. Local content is more relevant than ever, despite more the web making global sources and more choice available.
  2. The accurate reporting of news is critical.
  3. Local stations provide a high level of community service.

None of those things require a TV station.

You might wonder where all the local content is on CTV or Global. Aside from the news programs (which themselves are not even close to 100% local content), what is there? Lots of American shows, that’s what (this post is a long but good read on the topic of local vs. foreign content on the networks). The six o’clock news is too late for most breaking news, but too soon for context and analysis, which is what the 384 years of experience CTV Edmonton is touting would be good for.

TV stations are not perfect, they make mistakes from time to time. The problem is that they can’t correct those mistakes until the late news or else the next day. How accurate is that? More importantly, TV is not required for the dissemination of accurate news. It just happens to be one of the vehicles for it today.

It’s true that local TV stations do a lot for the community. So do other organizations. I’m sure charity events could find other individuals to MC. Aside from donating free advertising, I’m not sure what specifically CTV brings to the table with regard to community service that other organizations do not.

Comments via Twitter

I decided to ask Twitter for some comments on this last night. There was an almost even split among the replies I received, with roughly half supporting CTV and half supporting Shaw. Here are some of the tweets:

  • wikkiwild1: I have to go with Cable, if CTV charges carriage fees they will be passed onto the cable subscribers. Why pay for local TV.
  • andrewmcintyre: CTV and Canwest are clearly not in the right. The CRTC’s role in this debate is very interesting.
  • chrislabossiere: if I had to pick one of two sides, I would say status quo and Shaw. They are at least fighting for a new way.
  • ZoomJer: I’m for fairness. If you buy a DVD you can’t show it and charge admission. Shaw is in the wrong. I want to see @ctvedmonton stay.
  • paulstrandlund: Shaw. CTV only has 1 local program – the news.
  • tachyondecay: Neither. They’re both in it for money. My local TV (which has nothing to do with CTV) offers little interesting except news.
  • thzatheist: Shaw. How has CTV fared so well this long? Advertising – let’s see them continue. (I only support media bailout if CBC is saved)

Final Thoughts

There’s really nothing “local” about CTV’s campaign. It’s disappointing propaganda, replicated across the network of CTV stations. It might have more of an impact if it actually came from a local perspective.

I don’t think Shaw and the other cable and satellite companies are completely in the clear here either. They are rebroadcasting CTV and Canwest signals without paying for them, and they seem awfully quick to suggest fees would be passed on directly to consumers.

Just because Canada hasn’t had a fee-for-carriage in the past doesn’t mean it shouldn’t in the future. I’m not completely opposed to a fee-for-carriage, but I am opposed to a mandatory fee-for-carriage. An optional one, on the other hand, could be good. I should be able to tell Shaw that I don’t want CTV Edmonton, saving us both the expense.

Of course, CTV and Canwest don’t want that, because then they’d see just how vital Canadians think they are. I think it’s unfortunate that CTV and Canwest are threatening more job cuts and station closures if they don’t get the fee-for-carriage revenue. What they should be doing is innovating, to reduce costs and to ensure they have multiple, steady revenue streams.

If they can’t do that, we should allow them to die. Healthy, innovative businesses will take their place.

Sadly, this whole argument may become irrelevant (or at least delayed) if the rumored $150 million bailout package for the broadcasters turns out to be real.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this issue. What do you think?

UPDATE: It’s worth pointing out that the CBC doesn’t seem particularly interested in joining CTV and Canwest on this issue, despite the fact that they may benefit.

Five new radio stations approved in Edmonton

mic Believe it or not, the CRTC has approved five applications for new FM radio stations in Edmonton. According to the official decision, that would bring the total number of commercial radio stations in the Edmonton Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) to 21, though Wikipedia already lists 25 stations (I suppose some are considered non-commercial). Here are a few other highlights from the document:

  • From 2003 to 2007, total revenues grew at a compound annual rate of 9.8% in the Edmonton radio market, compared to 9.9% for the province of Alberta and 6% for all of Canada over the same period.
  • In 2007, the Edmonton radio market recorded a profit before interest and tax (PBIT) of 26.7%, slightly above Alberta’s PBIT of 26.4% in 2007 and well above Canada’s 2007 PBIT of 20%.
  • An economic outlook for 2008 released by the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) in November 2007 predicts continued strong economic growth in the region.

Though it might seem crowded, the radio market in Edmonton appears to be doing quite well. It should be noted that 14 applications were submitted, so 9 of those were rejected by the CRTC. The approved stations include an Aboriginal language station covering all of Alberta, as well as Adult Contemporary, Adult Album Alternative, Essential Alternative and Young Music stations. I’m pretty sure that John Yerxa’s New 107 FM was the first of the new stations with a website.

It’s also worth taking a look at the Summer 2008 ratings book, by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. As usual, last link on the left has all of the details:

When they’re not spinning tunes or tales, most radio folk will say a summer book is a lightweight and not truly indicative of the market. However, total listenership was up, reaching 1,647,000 compared to 1,631,000 in the previous book, suggesting BBM diary-keeping was done in earnest.

The top radio station for the period was The Bear (100.3 FM), with 630 CHED taking second place and CISN Country (103.9 FM) in third. Corus’ new station, iNews 880, placed 16th. You can read the full report in PDF format. The Fall 2008 ratings book will be released on November 27th.

I don’t listen to much radio myself – CDs and my iPod work well for me. When I do listen, it’s to either 630 CHED or The Bounce (91.7 FM, which placed 4th in the Summer 2008 book). Very rarely do I “station surf” so I doubt I’ll hear much of the new stations first hand.

Canadian Do Not Call List goes into effect today

do not call Starting today, Canadians can add their numbers to a national Do Not Call list. Nearly four years have passed since the Government of Canada announced that they would introduce what eventually became Bill C-37, legislation which empowers the CRTC to setup and manage the Dot Not Call List and to dish out penalties to violators. You can learn more about the history of the list at Wikipedia.

To sign up for the list, visit the DNCL website or call 1-866-580-DNCL (or 1-888-DNCL-TTY). I just added my number online, and it was a quick and painless process. Two things caught my attention:

  • Your number doesn’t remain on the list permanently. My registration will expire on October 31st, 2011.
  • There are quite a few exemptions, including registered charities, political parties, newspapers, and businesses you are already doing business with.

According to CBC, so many people tried to add their numbers to the list today that the website went down and the phone line was constantly busy. Global TV reported tonight that over 1 million Canadians have already tried to register. The CRTC originally projected that 16 million numbers would be on the list within the first two years.

Michael Geist has been one of the DNCL’s most vocal critics, and setup iOptOut to help Canadians create and manage a personal DNCL. I don’t know how effective the list will be, but I figure it can’t hurt to get my number on there.

Canadian Mobile Data Access Sucks

Post ImageI readily admit I am simply echoing the chamber with this story, but it needs to be seen by as many people as possible. Mobile data service in Canada is horribly expensive. As Boris said, “this pricing structure is stifling mobile innovation in Canada.”

Here’s a graph that Thomas Purves made (click for the photo page):

Thomas explains:

The motto of the CRTC, Canada’s telcom regulator is “Communications in the Public Interest”. Right. If you live in Canada, write to your MP. The CRTC, as an institution, needs to be taken out and shot.

I would like to say that Canada is a 3rd world country when it comes to Mobile ICT, except you can clearly see from this chart that even *Rwanda* has orders of magnitude better Mobile Data service than Canada.

This is just sad. Certainly the CRTC is at fault, but the companies themselves deserve some of the blame as well. Write to your MP, but also write to your service provider.

Read: Thomas Purves

CBC Radio One coming to Edmonton FM

Post ImageLooks like Edmonton will be getting another FM station, this one run by CBC, according to radio-guru Tod Maffin:

The CRTC CRTC this morning approved CBC Radio CBC Radio’s request to add FM transmitters to serve listeners in Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg.

The AM transmitters in those cities will remain on to continue to serve outlying areas, but the Commission agreed with the CBC CBC that “urban growth, the construction of high-rise concrete and steel buildings, increased electrical noise from overhead wires, large and small appliances and portable radio transmitters have impeded the ability of its radio stations to deliver reliable high quality AM signals to listeners.”

I wonder if this will really have an impact on the number of listeners? I mean, I tune into 630 CHED when there is a program I want to hear (usually hockey), and that wouldn’t change if it were an FM station, its not like I’d randomly keep it on or anything.

Read: Tod Maffin