Two weeks ago, I wrote about the impending TV review by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). I've said it before but I'll say it again because it's such a good line: The broadcasters are using their favourite F-word -- but it's Canadian consumers and the cultural community who will bend over. When the TV guys talk flexibility you know they aren't about to screw themselves.
The federal broadcast watchdog has all but decided to conduct a TV policy review that will consider, among other things, the redundant cost of over-the-air transmission in a digital environment, cable and satellite distributors' time-shifting packages for which broadcasters receive no fees and, last but not least, the networks' claims they need to be on a level playing field with specialty channels which get subscription fees and ad revenues.
What that means: TV viewers will pay more. More to see TV that is currently free with rabbit ears or is part of basic cable. More for digital signals that give them access to east and west coast feeds of network programs. More. More. More.
Now Greg O'Brien of the online newsletter CARTT (sub. req'd.) has a couple of goodies.
First he cites giant cable guy Jim Shaw saying that, if the networks end up getting fees for carriage, the costs will just get passed on down the line. In his discussion, Shaw also takes a swipe at CanWest Global chief Leonard Asper
"It's not our problem that if someone's in TV and then they buy newspapers so now they don't make any money," said Shaw Communications CEO Jim Shaw, responding to a question on the potential for retransmission fees being paid to Canadian broadcasters by MSOs.
Then, says Shaw
"I would hope the TV review will allow a broader range of stations that could come in from the U.S. or Europe or anywhere. You can get them on the Internet so why can't the cable company carry them?"
Good question. And before you faithful readers go off on how you all get The Sopranos on your BlackBerrys, please remember that most people still watch ordinary TV and have VCRs with 12:00! 12:00! 12:00! flashing.
O'Brien also has an interview with CRTC chair Charles Dalfen who says the Conservative government wants to get involved in how the review unfolds.
"I think that there is certainly a mood on the part of the government, which is a positive thing, to do policy making. It may be a perception that policy has been left to agencies to make but now there are issues that they would like to take a top down view of. I think both our acts (Telecom and Broadcast) allow for policy direction and… I think it would be a good thing on some issues if (the government) did take hold," says Dalfen.
The government is going have one very, very hot political potato frying in its hand if broadcasters get fees for carriage and people have to start paying for what they have essentially received for free.