Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Tipping Point

prairie wind

There’s a welcome breeze from the West today in the form of a brilliant post from Will “Chinook” Dixon.

Will parses the ongoing (make that endless) process of developing and instituting broadcast policy in this country from the point of view of how it’s devastating those who are supposed to be around to create content once the smarter folks in Ottawa figure out just what that content is going to be.

You can savor the Prairie Prince here.

To be honest, there have been moments lately when I’ve felt that the broadcaster endgame in all this is to starve us all out of the business so they can appear before the CRTC one day and ask for their Cancon to be reduced to zero because --- well, there doesn’t seem to be anybody making any!

And if what Uncle Willis has to say doesn’t make you want to sign up for Bartender school (Hey, at least the drinks are handy) then you might want to read this little tidbit from Broadcaster --- Canada’s Communications Magazine --- reporting a CRTC Audit proving that Cable companies have not even come close to living up to their Community Channel requirements.

The investigation (conducted from 2002 to 2005) discovered that all the systems weren’t meeting their 30% public access requirement while one didn’t have any of that content at all.

In addition, commercials were often double the allowable limit while there were so many Cable promos at times that one Rogers outlet was cited as providing programming "similar to an hour long promo of their services."

Not that we didn’t suspect the cable companies were bending the rules as much as the broadcasters they vilify. But what’s astonishing here is that this report was in the hands of the Commission well before all the recent back and forth over cable fees and local TV.

And not one of those high paid idiots brought it up.

They just sat silent while representatives of Rogers and Shaw made lengthy arguments about how much they contribute to their communities and even pitched the concept of local broadcast funding being open to their community stations.

That comes on the heels of the recent revelation further down this page that the Commission hadn’t read its own report indicating more and more Canadians are abandoning cable while claiming the public won’t have a problem paying higher subscription fees since they haven’t up to now.

It’s becoming clearer to anybody paying attention that the current Commissioners of the CRTC aren’t at all current with what’s going on in the industry that they regulate, nor have they been for some time.

And that means that unless they’re all replaced, we’re going to have to find some other way out of this mess.

The usual Canadian response in these circumstances is to run to Daddy (ie: the government) but no matter how many times we march on or send busloads of our leading lights up to Ottawa to meet MPs and bureaucrats, that doesn’t seem to work either.

It’s time we admitted that our elected representatives maybe aren’t as bright as we’d like or they’d like us to believe they are.

Every time one level or another of politicians votes themselves a raise, we hear the phrase “It’s necessary to attract intelligent people to the job!”. Let me ask you – how well does that appear to be working so far?

Although the following is an American example, I think it speaks to the kind of people who often attain elected office and why we can’t depend on them to figure out issues foreign to their experience or more complex than cutting a ribbon.

Meet Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA). That’s Democrat from Georgia not Director’s Guild of America. Although I sense if Hank was a director he’d be one of those who’s okay with the possessory credit.

Government and Government regulators are not going to save our industry. That’s going to be up to us. So head on over to Will’s place and read what he’s got to say. And then let’s start tossing around some ideas.


Anonymous said...

There are some very important points you make. Currently there are absolutely no criteria for appointing a Commissioner. The Government can name anyone they want. Of course, it is up to the government to act responsibly. But that's been a mixed bag -- and never so much as under the Harper administration, which has shown its cynicism and willingness to abuse the spirit of Parliamentary tradition, time and time again. There are some fine Commissioners up there. But there are also a handful of blowhard ideologues who seem as though they couldn't care less what staff's analysis says -- if they even bother to read it at all. The CRTC simply isn't set up to accommodate ideologues who, acting in the mould of the Harper govenment that named them, ignore the tradition of working closely with staff and thinking before you say something. Unlike the FCC, the CRTC doesn't have a dedicated staff for each individual Commissioner.

All this to say is that one of the concrete changes we need is an explicit set of criteria that must be applied by Government to the naming of CRTC Commissioners. They'd have to put it into law, so the government of the day couldn't skirt it. Oh, it wouldn't be any magic bullet. But it would sure be a start.

deborah Nathan said...

Since 1999, death by attrition. CBC announcement in today's paper - new cuts means cuts to scripted programming which could mean 3 half hours; 1.5 one hour dramas; or a bunch of documentaries. And no increase in monies for television production in the new CMF. Added monies is for "new" media - whatever that really means, but I interpret that to mean very, very cheap programming well below any semblence of a living wage. If each webisode is 7 minutes, you'll make an existing script fee per 8 episodes of a web series. So a "season" of a web series might mean you make the equivalent of 2.5 script fees. Doubtful on the production fee because the cost of the web series will be so under the minimum.

Quentin said...

If you want a prime example of the kind of disgusting devastation that has been caused to local broapdcasting in the five years or so since the CRTC did this study and then promptly chose to totally ignore it, just look to the coastal community of Campbell River in British Columbia where I have lived for the last 30+ years as a professional working print journalist who sometimes got together programs for the local association-owned cable station CRTV. Seeing a wonderful opportunity to make even more money, Shaw Communications started pursuing buying the organization. The community and its roughly 13,000 CRV Association members and subscribers successfully fought off the first attempt but then caved to a higher bid of some $45m (roughly $3300 per subscriber)after the CRTC caved to a promise that Shaw would put five-per-cent to maintaining local programming for five years. The details of that were not able to be negotiated of course and very quickly we found the huge majority of the very good and informaiton programs on some very complex and controversial issues affecting the area reduced almost entirely to three-15 minute segments out of the lcoal studio. There seems to be no advance program available to alert people so they can watch, and the paucity of the coverage is now such that I suspect the viewership is way down. That of course allows them to quietly get away with this travesty of justice, betrayal of trust, and failure to provide anything that could rightly be called a decent replacement service. And access to the study has been massively reduced/curtailed, where before it was a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to learn about running cameras, lights and sound equipment, including high-schoolers who might be thinking of going into broadcast journalism to help keep Canada's public informed. Now what do we discover? -- Two things: Shaw and others want to wriggle out of paying other service providers for their programs, when we know that the cost of that would simply be passed on to us the viewers as increased fees (which would I am sure be set high enough to put extra profits into the pockets of Shaw et al). The main reason for this stance by Shaw et al, I am sure, is because they want to drive these other "local" broadcasters out of business, in part becbause they don't want them to The Big Boys up! And second,we find out the CRTC knew all about this survey/audit and Shaw's failure to provide proper local programmng and access as required by the CRTC, when it tossed us Campbell Riverites into the money-grubbing hands of this huge conglomerate - which incidentally has grown much bigger and more profibale in the five years since the audit was done. Why, by the way, was the study never released/published before now??? I think it has to do with the deteriorating credibility of the CRTC over recent years. Finally, I firmly believe that in other circumstances, such as private industry these CRTC commission members would be fired for total incompetence and lack of due diligence (the hearing into whether Shaw should be allowed to proceed with the CRTelevision take-over lasted a massive 10 minuteas and was held of coruse Back East, and just simply not doing their jobs. Instead they continue to draw inordinate salaries for rubber-stamp decisions in favour always of The Big Boys. In doing so, they play ito the hands of mass-media telecommunicators in undermining Canadian freedom of speech. End of rant!