Taking a coffee break on the afternoon of April 1, I noticed a benign looking little notice in the newspaper. It was a tiny box at the bottom of the page requesting comments on a CRTC Public Proceeding labelled “2010-141”. What peaked my interest was that it was an application from Canwest appearing barely a week after the Commission had opened the door for that network and others to apply for “Value for Service” fees.
The Broadcasters had spent a week crowing over their victory and the financial windfall to come while the rest of the industry combed through the entrails of the “Decision” to figure out what it really meant for the future of Canadian TV programming and the ability of Creatives to earn a living within it.
Lawyers and executives for the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association, Writers Guild of Canada, ACTRA and the Directors Guild of Canada reached a consensus that while the 5% decline in Canadian content was a loss, a requirement that 30% of network gross income must be spent on Canadian programming (5% on Programs of National Interest --- ie: drama) might stall any further decline in local production and could --- if the networks didn’t play games --- even incrementally increase work opportunities.
So, we should cautiously go along with this. And hopefully, once the nets and cable-co’s found a price point amenable to the Public, a bright new day might dawn. After all, the network campaign for fees had made it clear that they really wanted to “Save Local TV”.
And then I read “2010-141”.
The basic intent of the application is to provide Canwest specialty channels HGTV, Showcase, TVtropolis, MysteryTV, Discovery Health, Food Network, Life Network and The History Channel with “additional programming flexibility consistent with the Commission's policy set out in Regulatory frameworks for broadcasting distribution undertakings and discretionary programming services – Regulatory policy, Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-100, 30 October 2008”.
Well here’s what “Additional Programming” you’d be getting on just one of them…
The lists are almost identical for each of the other 7 Specialty channels. And that lower box explains the trade, one two hour movie for 72 hours of programming that may have nothing whatever to do with the Genre or program schedule with which you associate the Channel or why you subscribed to it in the first place.
Ready for Religion, Sports and Kids programming on Mystery?
What do you think of having more Religion, Sports and Music videos on Discovery Health?
Maybe pro sports and music videos on History?
How about dance on Food?
Stand-up comedy and renovation game shows on HGTV?
Of course that additional 72 hours of something else also means you’ll be getting a whole lot less of what you used to tune in that channel to find.
Looks like the plan is to take whatever is spent on one genre channel and then program it on as many of the others as possible. Because basically, it will make all of those specialty channels look almost identical to the free one which now calls itself Global.
This is how Canwest is planning to get around the new rules. And it was submitted to the CRTC weeks prior to the end of March “decision” on Value for Service.
And the Commission, in its wisdom, chose not to reject it out of hand for going against the spirit of any number of terms of licence and scheduled a hearing.
They also published their notice seeking interventions 2 weeks before the receiving window closes and in the middle of almost everybody Public and industry still trying to figure out what their last “Decision” really meant -- if it ever becomes policy.
Given the revelations that have come out in the last few days about how much the CRTC ignores its own studies and reports while both Broadcasters and Cable Companies play fast and loose with rules that were intended to protect the consumer and support a domestic film industry, there can be no other conclusion but that this group of Commissioners has completely abrogated their mandated responsibilities.
For its part, Canwest made it clear in their last shareholders meeting that they intended to repeat programming across as many of its platforms as possible. Their thinking is not designed to provide value for service, but to make you pay 3, 4 or 5 times to receive the same programming. And often that will be programming you are currently watching for free in return for submitting to a few commercials.
The broken business model is going to be utterly shattered in the hope that’ll get it working again.
Nobody seems to have paused to consider that when you can see the same thing on eight different channels, maybe you don’t need seven of them anymore.
Maybe with the internet, you don’t need any of them --- or a game playing Cable provider to boot!