CAB withdraws from policy and regulatory debates, focuses on copyright

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has changed its plans to disband the organization entirely, instead deciding it will no longer advocate on regulatory policy. It will narrow its focus to copyright, reports The Wire Report.

“[The CAB] is going to stay out of policy and regulatory debates. That’s very telling that they’ve really realized as an industry that they don’t share the common ground that they used to. For 80 years the CAB was a collective voice specifically for regulatory and policy debates and that’s not going to be a part of this structure,” Ian Morrison, spokesman for watchdog group the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said in an interview with The Wire Report.

The organization announced in February that it was disbanding, but has opted to reorganize and restructure its mandate. It will “continue to represent Canada’s private broadcasters in areas of common concern, and these have been found to be copyright advocacy, administrative issues and accessibility … The activity that we no longer pursue is advocacy on the regulatory policy side,” Sylvie Courtemanche, the new CAB chair, said in a Wire Report interview.

CAB has reduced membership dues, and says it has maintained the majority of its pre-reorganization members. Courtemanche told Wire Report that CAB’s “number one issue” is trying to pass Bill C-32 (Canada’s copyright reform bill).

The restructuring follows structural changes in the private broadcasting industry, Morrison told Wire Report:

“The television side, which dominates in size, is now heavily controlled by the distributors. The radio industry is now dominated by very few players, some of whom are linked to the distributors as well. A decade ago the CAB was a forum where the broadcast industry brought together its key players. They had divergent interests, they were competing with each other and it sought accommodation and a common position. [The CAB] would be a voice for that industry at the CRTC and with the government.”

CAB’s basic functions have been increasingly replaced by government relations departments run by its major members, Morrison adds.

The three-year-old Independent Broadcasters Group (IBG) will replace CAB as a representative for independent broadcasters’ regulatory concerns: it currently represents ZoomerMedia, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, TV5 Québec Canada, Channel Zero, Fairchild TV, Ethnic Channels Group and Stornoway Communications, The Wire Report notes.

In addition to CAB’s mandate change, the Radio Marketing Bureau shut down in August, leaving independent radio broadcasters to search for a new lobby group, one that does both sales and marketing as well as legislative and regulatory activism. They may find an answer in Elmer Hildebrand, CAB board member and former chair, whom The Wire Report says is leading development of the new Canadian Association of Radio Broadcasters. The organization will have a special focus on how the government divvies up the radio spectrum.

“The CARB’s purpose is to assume the national role for radio that the CAB and RMB had shared in the past; acting as a unified voice for the country’ 400-odd stations and promoting the medium to advertisers,” Hildebrand told Radio World International in September. “It is critically important for our industry to have such a voice. If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t be putting my own money into it.”

Radio World quotes analyst David Bray, of Hennessy and Bray Communications, who says that “the void left by the CAB and RMB comes at an inopportune time for the medium. “Radio stands at a crossroads as it attempts to find a foothold in the future of an increasingly fragmented media universe. Without someone to speak up, radio’s voice could be lost in the cacophony of competition.” Even worse, he says, is that “without a voice, radio could face the very real prospect of a future in which it will cease to be heard.”