Media pundits weigh in on CRTC ruling

It has been called a “watery half decision that will satisfy no one and resolve little,” a “typical Canadian compromise,” and a move that “justifies the CRTC’ existence,” –whatever it is, the CRTC‘s recent ruling on the long-fought fee-for-carriage battle will change how Canada’s broadcast industry operates.  Just how much it will change remains to be seen.

The Globe and Mail’s Jacquie McNish predicts that the “four-year blood feud” between TV networks and cable and satellite providers is far from over. For one, the ruling awaits approval by the Supreme Court. And further muddying waters is the warning from cable and satellite companies that those additional costs–estimated to be tens of millions of dollars–will be passed onto consumers. In the end, the ruling can be overturned by Heritage Minister James Moore if the government decides to step in (it has already expressed displeasure with the idea of taxing Canadians).

In a blog post titled “Code Beige At CRTC“, Howard Bernstein wonders if the CRTC has become fearful of their decision making ability. “Maybe they are afraid of a government that stomped on their last mobile telephone decision.”

Bernstein doesn’t think networks should charge for their signals.

“They accepted a license that provides for free access to their signals. For years they made fortunes. Broadcasting was called a license to print money and the network owners took great advantage of that license. Ivan Fecan and the Aspers are not living in tenements in Toronto and Winnipeg. Every time CTV and Global were given the opportunity to protect Canadian TV they chose the U.S. option. Global was behind the CRTC decision that did more to kill local TV than any other single cause: Global won the right to use anything produced by any local station on any other station in Canada and call it local. Thus a show produced in Toronto could now be deemed local content in Calgary or Halifax.”

CBC, which hasn’t been granted the same negotiation rights as the private broadcasters, sent out an angry press release that suggests the private broadcaster has been left out to dry.

Globe columnist John Doyle points out that the fee-for-carriage issue permeates the U.S. industry as well:

“If you were in New York on Oscar night and the TV signal you watched came courtesy of Cablevision, then you missed the pre-Oscar red carpet social and the first 20 minutes of the Academy awards on ABC. ABC pulled its signal from Cablevision on the night of the Oscars in a high-stakes fight over how much cable distributors should pay for the right to carry its signal. Right now, in an uncanny echo of the Canadian situation, the FCC (their CRTC) has launched a review of how broadcasters ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and cable companies negotiate retransmission deals.

“What’s happening in the U.S. is not an exact replica of the Canadian predicament, but it should serve as a warning: sometimes regulation is vital.”

Bill Brious on allowing the industry to sort out the fee issue themselves in a TV Feeds my Family blog post titled CRTC:
Save Local TV, Start the TV Tax

Apparently, once the cable company hands the station a cheque, they can bounce said channel way the hell up the dial. Good thing there’s no animosity between those two businesses!”;

Bill Brious on Canadian content:

“The Act also calls for 50% CanCon in what it calls prime time–6 p.m. to midnight. So on the old broadcast channels, that means more news, followed by red carpet crapolla, followed by import, import, import.

Howard Bernstein, former news and current affairs producer at CBC, CTV, Global & TVO, on the the impact to Canadian broadcasting:

Oh, and what about local television? Wasn’t the point of the exercise to save local TV? Isn&’t that what CTV and Global told us? I didn’t see any part of the CRTC ruling that changed local content rules. I didn’t see a call for more local content. In fact the word local doesn’t appear in the decision. I guess the networks and the commission are betting on the short memories of a disengaged populace.”

He continues:

“The numbers that have come out recently speak to the CRTC and the networks being out of touch with the Canadian reality. Canadians are sitting in front of their computers more than they are watching TV. CTV and Global raised their spending on U.S. content, dropped spending on Canadian shows and they lost even more money in the process.”

“Bad decisions all around. The CRTC, CTV, Global, welcome to the 21st century. Ten years later and they have barely noticed.”

Former CBC News manager Jeffrey Dvorkin (now visiting professor at Ryerson University), calls himself a “foolish optimist” about the ruling.

Read more about the fee-for-carriage debate here and here.