Canada’s telecom regulator is preparing for a major review of how the TV broadcasting industry works, and a lot is up for grabs — from channel packages, to “mandatory carriage” of channels on cable, and even whether Netflix should be required to carry Canadian programming.
Jean-Pierre Blais, head of the CRTC, told an audience at the Banff World Media Festival last week that "it's time to ask, 'Do the assumptions that lie beneath our current regulatory policies still hold true?'"
He outlined plans for a public consultation this fall that would look at numerous aspects of how TV is delivered, with a focus on more flexible viewing options and how traditional TV networks can compete with new online options.
It would mark the first major overhaul of TV rules in Canada since 1993, when online broadcasting didn’t exist and the internet itself was just becoming mainstream.
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According to the Hollywood Reporter, the CRTC may revisit a controversial proposal to force Netflix to abide by Canadian content rules.
Among other things, the talks “will focus on how licensing restrictions, some drawn up in the early days of cable, can accommodate media streamed and shared over the Internet,” the Toronto Star reports.
It’s a move that Canada’s large broadcasters have been pushing, as Netflix and other streaming TV services begin to cut into the cable companies' revenue. But so far the traditional broadcasters have had little success: The CRTC has already twice rejected the idea.
All the same, the major broadcasters and TV distributors plan to bring it up again in this fall’s consultations, the Reporter stated. As an online service, Netflix has not had to abide by CanCon rules, because the CRTC didn't think it had enough impact on the broader TV market. But with Netflix Canada now boasting some two million subscribers, that's changing.
Regulating Netflix would be difficult, if not impossible. The company has no plans to create Canadian content, and has said it plans to focus on international content that will appeal to viewers worldwide. So Netflix may simply choose to leave Canada rather than increase its costs substantially by producing Canadian programming.
But adding more regulations to Canada’s TV scene doesn’t seem to be the direction in which Blais is headed.
“Regulatory fiat is becoming an obsolete concept in a borderless world,” he told the Banff World Media Festival audience, as quoted at the Reporter.
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Arguably the most buzzworthy Canadian commercial of the year, this Budweiser spot that aired on Canadian stations during SuperBowl XLVI featured two Toronto-area amateur league hockey teams who were told they were being filmed for a documentary. Instead, the filmmakers got a flash mob to show up to the game, dressed in team colours, to throw confetti and cheer on the local teams. The end result was an ad that convincingly looked like a highlight reel from an NHL game. The video went viral in the U.S. and around the world.
Made by Vancouver's Dare agency, this promo for the Whistler Film Festival looks like a genuine Pixar CGI cartoon, right up until the end, when the video takes a seriously gangsta turn....
Made for the 2012 Paralympic Games, this ad features a disabled runner making his way past wheelchairs, emergency vehicles and an accident scene, before breaking away into a fast run. It's an inspiring metaphor for people's ability to overcome challenges, and one of HuffPost's most totally favourite ads of the year.
Zellers is going out of business, but at least it's doing it with humour. In this ad, one of a series on the same theme, store mascot Zeddy is driven out into the woods and informed his services are no longer needed.
This ad for Shaw Cable's on-demand movie service has viewers strapped into the middle of high-octane action sequences. A silly but noticeable way to get the message across that your movie service puts the audience "in the heart of the action."
Is receiving CPR like becoming a zombie? We certainly hope not, but that's the amusing premise of this Heart & Stroke Foundation public service video, which shows a woman suffering a heart attack during a zombie invasion, only to be revived by the zombies ... and then attacked by them again. We'll overlook the conceptual confusion here and applaud the ad's eye-catching production values and the useful tidbits about carrying out CPR.
Candy maker Maynards produced a series of ads called "Mouth Chase" in which a man in a mouth costume chases people in various random situations. The ads combine intentionally low-quality amateurish video with a dramatic, cinematic soundtrack to produce a uniquely bizarre effect.
Astral Media wanted to show off its efforts to support the Canadian film and TV industry, so they made this mockumentary featuring a filmmaker who is suffering from an unfortunately flattened nose due to doors being repeatedly closed in his face. A subtle bit of humour, but it gets the point across.
This intense, at times disturbing ad made for the non-profit group War Child Canada shows a battle breaking out in some unidentified African civil war. As the battle rages, gun clips turn into crayons and bullets into bubbles. "Where childhood thrives, war does not," the ad concludes. Powerful stuff.
This promo video outlines how Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children managed to get child cancer patients to keep track of their treatment-related pain. The hospital built an app called "Pain Squad" that "recruits" kids into becoming part of "a special police force dedicated to hunting down pain." As far as promo videos go, it doesn't get much more touching than this.
McDonald's Canada deserves kudos for coming up with a unique approach to selling its product this year: Telling customers the truth about it. The fast food chain ran a series of online and TV ads this year, answering challenging questions from customers. In this video, McDonald's explains why their hamburgers look a lot better in ads than they do in real life.
The Canadian Tourism Commission issued a call-out to the public to send them their video footage of Canada. They took the submissions and boiled them down to these two minutes of awesomeness. Canada has never looked better, or more fun.
The Globe and Mail reports that a number of other contentious issues may also be addressed in this fall’s consultations. Among them are cable and satellite channel packaging, a practice to which many consumers object, saying they should only be charged for the channels they want to buy.
But according to the Toronto Star, media industry observers doubt the CRTC will take on the bundling packages, presumably because they are such a large generator of revenue for cable companies, satellite TV providers and broadcasters.
Yet media market observers also doubted the CRTC would do anything about wireless companies’ unpopular three-year contracts, and in its wireless code of conduct released earlier this month, the regulator gave Canadians the ability to opt out of these contracts after two years.
It’s a sign that the CRTC has moved in a more populist direction recently, under pressure from a growing number of consumers frustrated by the relatively high cost of TV and phone services in Canada.
Finally, the issue of “mandatory carriage” will likely come up as well. The practice of requiring cable and satellite companies to broadcast certain channels into every subscriber’s home has been the subject of controversy, especially in recent months as the controversial right-leaning Sun News has been campaigning to have itself listed as a mandatory channel.
While it’s unlikely that mandatory carriage will disappear altogether, Blais’ comments suggested he is open to reviewing how mandatory carriage works, and what the qualifications should be to attain such a licence.
So far, the CRTC’s plans are vague; Blais appears genuinely committed to hearing out Canadian consumers and business leaders before deciding on a path of action. But it appears clear the one course he won’t follow is the one the CRTC has been on for the past few decades.
“Broadcasting as we once knew it is no longer and will never again be the same,” he said.
— With files from The Canadian Press