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CRTC's TV Rules Review: HuffPost Readers Want Fundamental Changes

07/05/2013 09:46 EDT | Updated 11/13/2013 08:21 EST
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End channel bundling. End CanCon rules. End the CRTC … and maybe even end the CBC.

Those sentiments were hardly unanimous, but they were among the most popular comments made when HuffPost Canada reached out to readers a few weeks back, asking them (you) to tell us what to change about Canada’s television industry.

It all stemmed from a recent announcement by Jean-Pierre Blais, head of the CRTC, Canada’s telecom regulator, that he is planning a public consultation for the fall in advance of what appears to be a major overhaul of Canada’s TV regulatory environment.

Just about every aspect of TV regulation appears to be open for reform, from Canadian content regulations and channel bundling to “mandatory carriage” of channels and even whether Netflix should be required to abide by CRTC regulations.

Unfortunately for Blais, one of the most upvoted sentiments was the notion that it’s time to get rid of the CRTC itself.

“Once 'broadband delivery' issues become a thing of the past, TV as we know it is dead. The CRTC and mandatory coverage and Canadian content as concepts will be rendered obsolete,” wrote commenter Warren Yuill, reflecting a commonly held attitude among our readers.

That attitude would have been unthinkable (impossible, really) a generation ago, when Canadians appeared to be more concerned with the cultural-protection aspects of the CRTC’s mandate, such as ensuring Canadian voices don’t get drowned out in an ocean of U.S. TV programs.

But in the age of Netflix, YouTube and Apple TV, entertainment knows no national boundaries, and that reality is beginning to sink in with consumers.

At the very least, the digital entertainment multiverse has made consumers more accustomed to getting “a la carte” entertainment — what you want, when you want it, with no programming schedules dictating what to watch and when.

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How HuffPost Readers Would Change TV

So it makes sense that getting rid of channel bundling — the practice of cable providers forcing you to buy a set of specialty cable channels even when you may want just one or two — was the single most popular idea among HuffPost readers.

But it’s also one of the ideas the CRTC is least likely to embrace, for the simple reason that channel bundles are a major source of revenue not just for the cable companies, but for the broadcasters running the channels themselves. Bundling channels makes many of the less popular stations economically viable. Without bundles, some specialty channels wouldn’t survive.

And, as HuffPost reader “baldymountain” points out, “if the cable companies are forced to give up bundling then the per channel price will go sky high. ... They don't give up revenue, they just shift the means of collecting it.”

That seems like a pretty decent assumption.

CanCon proved almost as controversial among HuffPost readers as channel bundling, with many calling for an end to the practice, arguing that market forces should determine how much Canadian TV we see.

“I would abolish CanCon rules in their entirety. They're responsible for the mediocrity of Canadian televsion. And I say this as a Canadian television writer,” wrote a commenter identifying himself as Just For Laughs writer Pat Dussault.

Not everyone agreed. “I guess you don't understand our industry very well, surprising given you're a television writer,” commenter Brian Katugampola wrote in response.

Others suggested CanCon should move online.

“Invest in more Canadian content for Internet and forget TV,” commenter “yer” wrote. “Make our own shows and show them online. CBC and TVO interestingly have been able to gravitate into online content providers and this should be expanded....”

And even though it’s not part of the CRTC’s review (and is in fact entirely outside of its power), some readers suggested it may be time to put an end to the CBC as a public broadcaster.

“How about abolishing the CBC, and saving a billion bucks a year?” asked commenter “Reg_Dunlap.”

“Turkeylurky” disagreed. “As long as 1 of the 500 channels I get is the $1 Billion subsidized CBC, I'm a happy camper. Dunno what I'd do without the CBC.”

That topic is almost certainly not going to come up during the CRTC’s TV review this fall, but almost everything else could be on the table, including “mandatory carriage,” the practice of requiring certain channels to be broadcast on all cable and satellite TV services because they are deemed to provide a public benefit of some sort.

Reader “westcoastview” spoke for a number of readers by suggesting the CRTC “let the market decide who survives.”

And reader “RDX” echoed the sentiment of a number of others that the CRTC is becoming obsolete in the digital world.

“The CRTC has no jurisdiction over the internet. … They have done nothing but oversee the slow takeover of our media by corporate giants. Weren't they supposed to guard against that?”

Yet for all the frustration expressed at the industry among readers, market research shows that, overall, Canadians aren’t as unhappy with their telecom services as the public debate about them would suggest.

A survey of telecom customer satisfaction from J.D. Power & Associates, released last week, found customers who have all their services bundled -- phone, wireless, cable and internet -- are overall the most satisfied with their telecom provider.

The survey found 83 per cent of customers bundle their TV service with their internet service, with only 17 per cent buying them individually.

All of which suggests that, while Canadians may be open to a debate about the state of broadcasting and telecom regulation in the country, many would rather just be watching TV.