BUSINESS

U.S. Broadcasters May Leave Canadian Airwaves, And Some Say That's Fine

10/08/2014 02:16 EDT | Updated 10/08/2014 03:50 EDT
CP

U.S. broadcasters are so concerned by the possibility Canada will switch to a pick-and-pay system for cable TV channels that several of them have threatened to pull themselves off Canadian airwaves altogether.

But some new-media experts say that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Allowing consumers to purchase individual TV channels instead of buying them in bundles would set off “a consumer welfare destroying death spiral” in TV, Viacom told Canada’s telecom watchdog in a submission last week, as quoted by CBC.

The media company, which in Canada licences brands such as MTV, BET and Spike, told the CRTC it may shift its content to an online streaming service, such as Netflix.

Many broadcasters have told the CRTC channel bundles are crucial to the existence of many less-watched specialty cable channels. These channels could simply fold if they don't have the revenue from bundles, broadcasters say.

Cable network A&E told the regulator it would either have to black out certain content in Canada if it becomes too expensive to licence, or remove itself from the Canadian TV dial altogether, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

AMC, the network that broadcasts “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” suggested something similar.

"Non-Canadian programming may have no choice but to migrate to unregulated domains," a Toronto lawyer representing AMC told the CRTC.

"The disruption to the broadcasting system if AMC, and others, migrate to [streaming services] is a clear and present danger."

Not everyone sees that change as a “clear and present danger.” Tech journalist Peter Nowak argued in a blog post Wednesday that what the U.S. broadcasters are threatening would actually speed up the arrival of the new digital-first world of TV.

“This might be the best news Canadian consumers have heard for a long time,” Nowak writes. “Who wouldn’t like the option of getting AMC shows online, rather than through an expensive cable package full of other stuff they don’t want?”

The CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” hearings, taking place this fall, are part of the telecom regulator’s plan to overhaul Canadian TV regulations for the digital age.

Though the regulator hasn’t taken any sides on the issues, it put out a series of proposals for discussion this summer, including a proposal to unbundle channels on cable and satellite.

Other proposals include dropping the simultaneous substitution of Canadian commercials on U.S. channels, which would allow Canadians to watch U.S. Super Bowl ads; and a new “skinny basic” cable package that would offer viewers a selection of local and public service channels.

Much of the debate has recently focused on Netflix and the future of Canadian TV in the age of streaming content. CBC, the province of Ontario and the Canadian media lobby are urging the CRTC to regulate Netflix and have it pay towards the creation of Canadian content, but Google, Netflix and others argue online content should remain unregulated.

The CRTC recently told Netflix and Google their submissions to the TV hearings would be ignored, because the companies would not hand over subscriber data the regulator requested, despite assurances the data would be kept confidential.

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