The CRTC got it (mostly) right

Why, it’s almost as if I wrote the decision myself

I am writing this with trembling hands, willing my fingers to type the words I never thought to see under my name: The CRTC Made The Right Decision.

You can imagine my surprise. Certainly it must have come as a shock to the parties in the longrunning fee-for-carriage dispute. Both sides were demanding, and expecting, that the CRTC would guarantee them a living, as it had always done in the past. The cable (and satellite) companies expected the CRTC to continue to force the broadcasters to provide them with content for free. The broadcasters expected the CRTC to force the carriers to pay them for their signals. And if it had just been one or the other pressing their case, I’m sure the CRTC would have happily obliged.

But it couldn’t satisfy both of them, and rather than split the difference the CRTC has chosen to get out of the game altogether. Rather than forbid the broadcasters from charging for their signals, the CRTC will now allow it. Only rather than force the cable companies to carry the signal at whatever fee the broadcasters would like to charge, the cablecos will have the right to drop them, if they find the price too high — no more “must-carry.” (As, for their part, the broadcasters will be able to withdraw their signal — and “black out” programs on other networks for which they hold the Canadian rights — if the price is too low. Or they can just stick with the current system.)

In other words, rather than bind the hands of one side or the other, or worse, set the fee itself at some arbitrary level, the CRTC is leaving the two sides, buyers and sellers, to negotiate the fee between them. You know, like in any other business. Why, it’s almost as if I wrote the decision myself.

Oh sure, the rest of it is the usual bilge: Canadian content quotas, both in terms of airtime (but down from 60 per cent to 55!), and spending (30% of gross revenues overall, 5% of it on “programs of national interest”), though broadcasters will have greater flexibility to shuffle all this unwanted Cancon about the dial. But why let all that spoil a good day? Here at Andrew Coyne’s Blog, we’re all about the love. The CRTC got at least one decision right.

Well, almost right. Two corollaries are needed before I start breaking out the party hats. One, if cable companies are no longer to be obliged to carry signals, consumers should no longer be obliged to pay for them. The cablecos may decide they can live with the fees the broadcasters are charging, but consumers may think otherwise. As long as the cablecos can just pass the fee along to consumers, via the forced bundling of channels, they will have little incentive to drive a hard bargain with the broadcasters. So pick-and-pay is the logical, and long-delayed, next step, allowing consumers to choose precisely which channels they will and will not pay for.

The other bit of unfinished business is the CBC. The Corpse is mightily put out that the commission did not give it the same green light to charge for its signal, and I can’t say I blame it. So let the CBC charge a fee if it likes — but cut its public subsidy by the same amount. Over time, the idea should be to move the CBC all or nearly all the way on to pay. It would still be a public broadcaster, so far as that was thought desirable. It just wouldn’t be a subsidized broadcaster.

But that’s for another day. For today, let’s just all hug and say the words together: the CRTC got one right. The CRTC got one right…




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The CRTC got it (mostly) right

  1. I don't know the answer to this: Are the cableco's forced to bundle channels? Or do they simply force the consumers to take the bundle?

    • They are forced to carry a basic tier of Canadian services — CBC, CTV, Canwest, Newsworld, etc. How they carry the remaining channels is up to them, both in terms of what they negotiate with the channel owners, and what they want to market to consumers. There is an overarching rule, though: at the end of the day, 50%+1 of whatever channels a subscriber ends up with have to be Canadian. (Will that mean a bunch of channels that eagerly ask cablecos to hand them for free to subscribers as Canadian stocking-stuffers, in the hope of building larger audiences to sell ads to? One wonders.)

      • Wrong Serge. Yes, they have to carry a basic tier of channels, but they are also subject to "distribution and linkage rules" that dictate how many channels of certain types must be bundled with how many channels of other types, etc.

    • I don't need cable to get my local channel, I just shut the cable down and use my hand control to switch the TV to the local channel, so why should I pay for something thats free anyway. The cable companies should drop the local channels, the channels can continue to broadcast all they want, just earn their money with their advertizing and live within their means, rather than sending reporters all over the world, they should create a pool netwrok. thats were all theri money is going, cut costs and don't charge me for your channel. Besides how do they determine if I'm watching their channel, because the cable companies have been directed to carry a package by the CRTC?

  2. "So let the CBC charge a fee if it likes — but cut its public subsidy by the same amount. Over time, the idea should be to move the CBC all or nearly all the way on to pay. It would still be a public broadcaster, if that was thought desirable. It just wouldn't be a subsidized broadcaster."

    How generous of Andrew Coyne to be so fair-minded in his diktat with respect to what the CBC should do and become.

    When can the CBC choose to stop shoving his smug mug in my face so regularly? When he says so, that's when!

    • Do you reply the same way to every time a columnist makes any sort of policy proposal? Because I hope you at least have that on AutoText if so.

      • "Because I hope you at least have that on AutoText if so."

        It's even more sophisticated than that. It's a script I've written to respond to the AutoText Coyne uses when he talks about the CBC.. I wasn't even on the computer when that comment was generated. I was surfing across 300 channels of private broadcaster crapola looking for something to watch.

        • "Crapola" is too kind a word for it.

    • If you don't want the CBC in your mug the answer is simple, turn your F*&^%ing TV off. Believe me you won't miss the garbage.

  3. Don't get too enthused while you dance trippingly through sunlit fields of daisies here Coyne – I'm sure the CRTC will move back to their usual standard of getting everything wrong in short order.

  4. enough is enough. We pay way to much already. Where does it stop. We are taxed to death and now our cable will be taxed to death. We need to tell governments and large companies that we do not make a living so that they can take it away from us in charges (taxes). As I heard someone say today I can get an attenna for $100 whatch 6 chanels or not and be very happy doing so. We watch to much TV and the programs that we are watching are below grade. Let me see The Biggest Loser or go for a walk. I will go for a walk and save $10.00

    • The cablecos were referring to the fee as "a tax" to piss us off. They knew we'd go crazy if fee for carriage (or "value for service" as it's now called) was refered to as "a tax". But anyone with cable is already paying the cableco for the conventional channels. The cablecos aren't paying the conventional channels for the signal. It's kind of like Macleans selling you their magazine, but not paying Coyne to write his column. Anyway, I think that the CRTC has refused to impose a fee so that the bickering is out of their face, it becomes a negotiated fee based on market forces (as it should have been in the beginning) and the cablecos can no longer hoax subscribers by calling it "a tax", because if it's not imposed by the government then it isn't "a tax". So what have we learned from all this? The CRTC is kind of lazy, serves very little purpose and costs us …. I dunno …. say a couple of million bucks a year (?). And a whole bunch of people are mad at each other. And there's a possibility that we will, indeed, be getting our news from FOX in future.

      Sigh

  5. Cablecos really need some kind of reality jolt. We receive over 50 channels & watch no more than 10. They try to raise fees one more time for their mediocre & pricey content & we'll terminate. Online information, programs & movie availability has come a long way & in fact is probably a better entertainment & information service! Maybe this is what Mr. Harper wanted! Less media & more YouTube journalism.

    • We receive over 50 channels & watch no more than 10

      I'll bet that's the case with most people. It would be so nice to try out a channel for a while, to pick and choose channels. So nice.

    • watch your tv shows online for free
      ctv.ca and globaltv.com good places to start
      also mtv.ca showcase.ca thecomedynetwork.ca and even CBC.ca

  6. 1. goto utorrent.com, download, install
    2. goto eztv.it download .torrent files, open, download media
    3. fat new terabyte, $80 (hold programming for a year)
    4. Disconnect all cable services (save $58+/mth)
    -For the daring and lean… disconnect phone services and sign up to skype,com (trade $40+/mth for $13/mth — long distance charges vs. unlimited global talk + phone number for other networks to access you)
    So you have phone, tv content now..
    Total = (-$58)+(-$40)+($13)+($80/12mths)
    = -$77.33 per MONTH

    That is a lot of hootch… will pay for the extravagance of having a cell phone or up your internet connection speed and still be pocketing huge monthly savings.

    The real problem is not the CRTC, it is Canadian's unwillingness to explore the already available opportunities and find their own solution; I am young but somewhat wise… and YES it is common knowledge that sheep are routinely fleeced.

    oh, and to the counter-commenter, who says this is too hard.. I say follow the step-by0step… and to the other who would comment that this will be filtered, outlawed banned etc… I say to you… You are correct.. but then let me tell you what I have seen happen many many times in the past (it will happen again too)…the old system takes a hit, goes down… at most 3 months and where the dead service lay, 3 new versatile, modern tech powered alternatives pop up in its place… and rogers will never be able to compete with true innovation and cutting edge thinking (As they are devoid of it).

    In the end if they win THIS battle, then the internet will have just been globally shit on and reduced to an earth sized sheep being fleeced…

    At that point, I am going dark, and hitting the off-grid life… see you suckers and sheep later.

  7. Absolutely!

  8. The CRTC is a disgrace. The have been allowing these guys to rip of f Canadians for as long as I can remember. I not sure but aren't these in charge of telphones as well? Well, I still remember wnen a long distance call was a dollar a minute. I'll tell you something else, I just got rid of "Rogers Bundle". $200 plus a month. They were charging me 6.99 a month to rent a piece of cable with a two way splitter attached to one end. They called it an "extra outlet". Believe me, I got it on the bill. How about $5 a gigabyte. What, do they have to relay the fibre optic cable every other month?

    How about the most expensive cell phone service in the world?

    These companies should be forced to pay back every penny, with interest, they ever stole from Canadians. I don't know, mabye put it into health care or education or something like that.

    • Nobody is forcing you to pay for those services. Television isn't a life-critical service like electricity or water. If you don't like the price they are charging, then don't pay it. Why should a government regulation dictate how cheap your cable television is?

      • gee thanks that's why I built an antenna out of a few pieces of copper I got of one of the electricians at work. I paid aout 2bucks for a uhf-vhf, thingamabob I now get 19 channels, 6 in HD. If I want to watch a movie, I go to one of the free sites. I just watched repo-men today. Watched dawn of the dead lastnght

  9. If it goes ahead with 10.00 a month. everyone cancel at the same time. I will. That will give these weasel, greedy, corporate idiots a strong messaage

  10. Attention Maclean's blogging community.

    Effective immediatly I hereby retire from commenting at this site.

    No dramatic reason or dispute. I just have less time for it, and perhaps…ahem…my points have been made here.

    So long all.

    (cross posted from Wherry's thread above)

    • didn't you say that already, I'll miss your comments.

  11. I'm sure Andrew Coyne would love to get all the "unwanted Cancon" out of his identity.

    • Nonsense. I'm just pro-choice. Every show a wanted show!

  12. The CRTC, the CBC and the CHRC should all be terminated.

    Rotten leftovers of Trudeau's communist regime.

  13. how about regulating the CRTC to give us a credit for the minutes that was unused on our cell phones.We paid for it . If we go over the minutes alloted to our plan then they charge us for every extra minute
    The same goes for our internet usage

  14. Thank God those annoying commercials will be gone.

    Anyway, I'm shocked and pleased at the decision. Coyne is right, this is good.

    • Ah….but wait – now you'll pay for TV and have to suffer through commercials. Sounds like double dipping!

  15. "In its infinite wisdom, the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has decided that Canadians can afford to pay more for their TV, thus giving in to the demands of the broadcast TV networks for cable carriage fees."

    Because lower-income families are dying from lack of cable television.

    Television is, virtually by definition, a luxury good. So yeah we can afford to pay more for our television, if that's what the market will bear! It's called capitalism and it's pretty awesome.

    • It's people like you, with comments like this one, that make me want to give up on all conservatives.

    • No, it's not a luxury good. People need it to be informed, e.g., in emergency situations. Sadly, most stations simply don't come in on cable-less TV-sets, especially in urban areas, because the signals are weak and steel-concrete structures kill them as they fly to your home.

      • First off, I'm hardly a conservative. Maybe I'll leap into an abortion or a same-sex marriage thread to balance accounts.

        Second off, people need cable television to be informed about emergency situations? Not only cable television but the specific local channel packages affected by this decision? Over-the-air CBC, CTV, etc. don't count, those urban areas where antenna signals are weakest also being areas where there are lots of people who say things like "so, you hear there's a tsunami coming"? Radio doesn't count? Newspapers in stands on the street don't count? Without counting other things that you might have to pay for like the Internet?

        Man, what did people do before about 1950 or so when there was an emergency? I guess they just died like ants under a lawnmower.

        • Sorry about calling you a conservative; you're just a regular obnoxious a-hole….. my mistake.

          • You're goddamned right I am. Apology accepted.

  16. sorry, Coyne et all aside.

    • Well, I can't get all my news from FoxNews<//i>, like you do.

  17. The CRTC "decided" that we can afford to pay for any increase since the Cablecos told the CRTC that most subscribers pay for packages beyond basic cable already. Duh! That is ridiculous logic as basic cable is pathetic–of course people get the better packages.

    Coyne, you are wrong…the cable companies are just milking this issue because they are exponentially greedy. They should pay for every signal they carry, and they should absorb this cost…not the end-user. I am tired of paying more and more for the same crap…there is only so much content out there, and local tv is more valuable.

    • Geezes, where do you live? Do you ever see a company absorb costs? Of course it will be passed to the consumers – everything always does!

      Perhaps the TV companies should be paying the cable companies for the cost of transmission…then they could pass the savings to us.

  18. I will just put an aerial / antenna back on my roof and get CTV, Global, CBC *for free* (as in ad-ware) like it has been for decades if the cable co. starts to charge me for these channels. It will be an investment that quickly earns itself back.

  19. Thank you! I can't believe it has come to this. Cable or satellite TV should be one cheap flat rate to cover the costs of providing the pipe or satellite. Then, all the TV channels use ad revenue to survive. It boggles my mind that where local TV stations once had to put up transmitters they now expect someone to pay them for having their signal transmitted.

  20. CRTC is like ALL governing bodies – it passes the buck.

    If my cable bill increases, I will most certainly be cancelling some of it – I pay enough already.

  21. Have not had a "TV" or "cable" for ten years. Pity to you all, maybe you should unplug for a while and realize that the natural world is "reality at it's best". Get outside, take the dog for a walk, and leave your cellphone at home too. Might just do you some good!

  22. I find the CBC train of thought interesting, given if they did what you proposed, your most high profile gig would disappear. You think "At Issue" is a big money maker for CBC?

    On principle, you should refuse to appear on a gov't subsidized show, because that's exactly what it is, when you get to bottomline time. You think Lloyd Robertson has 20 minutes to chat?

    Just sayin.

    You should applaud the latitude that public subsidy allows the CBC, your platform is actually a prime example on the "enrichment" front. This is a case where ideology clouds.

    • On principle, you should refuse to appear on a gov't subsidized show, because that's exactly what it is,

      Yeah, Coyne and his principles. He's most certainly against the millions of dollars MacLean's gets in publications assistance funding, although I haven't seem him lobby to have this magazine decline them.

      • Yes, you have. I've said so many times, in this space and elsewhere.

    • Gosh, Steve, so what you're saying is that I'm arguing against my own financial self-interest. I'm biting the hand that feeds me. What a fool I've been! I guess what I should do is argue for more subsidy for the CBC, while appearing on it, because that way I'd be … consistent.

      Or rather I should refuse to appear on it, because it's subsidized, even if I use the time on air to argue against subsidies for the CBC. I dunno though: I don't think public transit should be subsidized. Does that mean I can't take the bus?

      • Gosh is right. You're stuck in an inherent contradiction, and neither of these analogies grazes the fundamental point.

        Anyways…

      • You could also make a compelling case that the CRTC is effectively subsidizing private broadcasters, with an indirect tax on subscribers. The cable companies will simply pass along the hike to the consumer, which means Canadians will artificially prop up private enterprise. Last time I checked, private companies rely on ad revenue, if they can't make it fly in this way, then they represent a flawed corporate model. By your free enterprise definition, these entities should rightfully fail, and the fact they need more of my money to survivie, suggests just that.

        What about CPAC, wherein providers face "mandatory" inclusion. It isn't based on viewership, but the CRTC mandating that all Canadians must see it, in both languages. Is that acceptable under your definition?

        I'll buy you a beer, and you can chastize me :)

    • Coyne should be admired for being prepared to bite two hands that feed him.

  23. Re: "The other bit of unfinished business is the CBC. The Corpse is mightily put out that the commission did not give it the same green light to charge for its signal, and I can't say I blame it. So let the CBC charge a fee if it likes — but cut its public subsidy by the same amount. Over time, the idea should be to move the CBC all or nearly all the way on to pay. It would still be a public broadcaster, so far as that was thought desirable. It just wouldn't be a subsidized broadcaster."

    So I assume Mr. Coyne will gladly put his money where his mouth is? In other words, he from now could agree to reduce his retainer (for appearing on CBC programs) by the equivalent percentage that the Mother Corp. receives in public subsidies for its' overall funding. Are you willing to do that Coyne, since you are so adamantly against those nefarious public subsidies?

    • they want him,they should pay for him. That's why they haven't called you.

      • Talking heads like Coyne are a dime a dozen. I would argue the saturation of the CBC/CTV/Global news programs with vaunted experts from our incestuous punditocracy is now an old, stale model. Give me a long-form, detailed interview of an expert on the subject at hand any day, over a smattering of glib, simplistic opinions from generalist pundits.

        I suspect CBC hasn't called me because I am not a purported pundit (some would say "mediahound") like Mr. Coyne.

  24. With high definition signals now the standard on air ways you can now get TV signals from most of the big networks and not pay a dime to the cable companies. If you have just basic cable you are just wasting your money. Basic cable isn't worth the 20 bucks or so a month you pay because all you get are the big TV stations and a few community channels. Whats more you wouldn't need much more then a couple of rabit ears to do it. I made an antenna out of a couple of welding rods a cardboard box and a wire once. Thats how simple it is.

    • It won't be that simple much longer. Next year the TV stations in all major markets must upgrade to DTV and that's going to cost a fortune. Without conversion they won't get their licences. If they don't have off air broadcasting they don't get to be on a cable line-up. See where this is going? I think a lot of stations, especially in the smaller markets, are just going to go away. That will be a sad day for all of us as we'll lose our local broadcasting and then the only thing left will be the US "reality" crap and the Canadian "insufferable documentary" crap.

  25. I think Over the Air High Definition signals is the way to go. Whatever else you are missing can be downloaded for free. I have not paid for cable or satellite for over 10 years. What do I care what the CRTC is doing?

    • Nice to live in a place like Toronto or Vancouver where this is available, eh. The rest of us are out of luck. Not that you care, mind you.

  26. I want to point out that Andrew Coyne would not be so well known but for his weekly spot on the CBC National News. It’s ugly to hear to hear someone deride their employer. I note that he doesn’t slag his magazine or The National Post and so his low-blow digs at the CBC feel almost like bullying. Eww…

  27. I have been unemployed for almost a year. I have been considering cancelling my cable TV since I do not watch $64 of television to justify the expense. I have a computer that I can use to watch movies and the like. If the cable companies raise their rates again, I am cancelling. In addition, something must be done to allow consumers choice as to who their cable carrier can be. I live in Toronto and my carrier is Rogers, period. I can do nothing to get Shaw or Cogeco. I am not permitted to put a dish on my patio (my landlord doesnt permit them) so I am held captive by Rogers and their over priced, low quality service. We should have choice for cable carriers just like we do for phone carriers. This entire system is so antiquated and needs a major overhaul. The CRTC needs to get into the 21st century or needs to be disbanded.

  28. I agree with Coyne, but he "next logical step" of letting consumers pick only channels they want to will never happen. The commision would have to let half the specialty channels fail. The cablecos should also be able to charge the networks for carrying their commercials, and eliminate simulcasting. For once, I'd like to see the US broadcast of the Superbowl without the Canadian ads.

  29. And now another tax grab, I have had it!….screw the Liberals, screw the HST, screw the e-Health/Lotto/everything-else-the-Liberals-have-touched charades, screw the TTC, screw the unions, et al!

    When Ontario and Canada gets a reality check….call me….I am moving to upstate NY!

  30. You missed the point of CTV & Global simulcasting US programming. Current CRTC rules allow or even encourage the much hated practice of Canadian commercial substitution.

  31. One thing not mentioned here is the catch-22 the CBC is in. The government says, less money for you, commercialize. Run like a business. The CRTC says, you're publically financed, you can't go black (removing their only power to negotiate). So no, they can't run like a business, because they ARE public. Personally, I'd hate to be in CBC management.

  32. I'll back again for sure, thanks for great article :D

  33. "It would still be a public broadcaster, so far as that was thought desirable. It just wouldn't be a subsidized broadcaster." Not very clear – When a broadcaster is not subsidized, why would it be called public? Because it provides quality Canadian content and is admired internationally, ties the country together and addresses Canadian issues? The public interest is not served by giving the lowest common denominator consumer the biggest bang for his lowbrow buck. Coyne wants to see the CBC privitized because, like other Cons, he does not understand its value.

  34. I been in Canada for 2 years and in truth the televsion networks are rubbish. In UK just before I left we introduced digital TV using the normal antenna, just pay for the box and watch the free channels. it's not differcult It's called Freeview even digital radio DAB.
    Canada is so far beind it make me laugh. No wonder we turn to the like of torrents.
    Taxing Canadians is stupid all of your networks advertise between programs unlike the BBC. how can they have any good reason for hiting the public via a TV tax.

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