CRTC hearing for future of Canadian TV system

canadaThe Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has launched the third phase of Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians. This phase will feature a public hearing on the future of the television system starting on September 8th 2014, in the National Capital Region.

The CRTC intends to explore a number of changes to the television system to meet the current and future needs of Canadians as citizens, creators and consumers. In establishing a new approach for the television system, the CRTC will seek to ensure that the television system:

– fosters choice and flexibility in selecting programs
– encourages the creation of compelling and diverse content made by Canadians, and
– empowers Canadians to make informed choices.

Fostering choice and flexibility

To ensure the television system fosters choice and flexibility, the CRTC is proposing that the basic television package that all subscribers receive be slimmed down and get back to basic. The new, slimmed-down package would consist of Canadian local television stations, channels of public interest that must currently be distributed to all subscribers (such as the Cable Public Affairs Channel and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network), provincial educational channels, community channels and the services operated by provincial legislatures.

For all other services, Canadians would have three options: (1) they could choose channels on an individual basis (also known as pick-and-pay); (2) build their own packages of pay and specialty channels (also known as build-your-own-package); or (3) choose from packages that are pre-determined by cable and satellite companies.

This proposed approach to foster more choice and flexibility is at the centre of the CRTC’s report to the government of Canada, which was also released today. In November 2013, knowing that the CRTC was reviewing its framework for television, the government asked for a report on the steps the CRTC intends to take to maximise the ability to subscribe on a service-by-service basis, and on the impact this could potentially have on the objectives set out in the Broadcasting Act.

Promoting Canadian-made content

To ensure the television system encourages the creation of compelling and diverse Canadian programs, the CRTC will explore new ways to ensure local television stations remain sustainable. The CRTC will also study various measures to support programs made by Canadians.

The CRTC will examine whether it should eliminate simultaneous substitution, which is the practice of replacing the signal of an American channel with that of a Canadian channel that is broadcasting the same program at the same time. In recent years, the CRTC has received numerous complaints from Canadians due to substitution errors, particularly during live sports events such as the Super Bowl.

If simultaneous substitution were no longer permitted, Canadian broadcasters may have more flexibility to schedule and promote Canadian shows, especially in prime time, rather than having their schedules tied to those of the American broadcasters.

Furthermore, the CRTC will explore whether an audience-measurement system that would draw information from cable set-top boxes should be created. Such a system could assist the Canadian television industry in responding more effectively to the changing needs and interests of viewers, while protecting their privacy.

Empowering Canadians

Canada’s television system should empower Canadians to make informed choices and provide recourse in the case of disputes with their service providers. To this end, the CRTC will consider whether guidelines to promote greater clarity in contracts, as well as the terms regarding the cancellation of a subscription, are needed.

The CRTC will also discuss whether it should introduce a code of conduct for cable and satellite companies and whether an ombudsman should be made available to Canadians to help resolve disputes.

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