Speech by Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

To launch “Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians” at Université Laval

Quebec City, Quebec
October 24, 2013

Check against delivery

 

Thank you, Professor Sauvageau [Florian, Associate Professor Emeritus, Université Laval] for your introduction.

It is not by accident that you are associated with this event. As the Co-Chair of the Task Force on Broadcasting Policy in the mid-1980s, you are one of the people who helped forge the Canadian broadcasting system.

I am here this morning to launch a conversation with Canadians about the future of TV. It is also not by accident that I find myself here, at Université Laval, in front of students who are interested in the communication sector.

You are the people who will inherit the Canadian television system. You are also the next generation of journalists, producers and programmers who will create what Canadians will see on television over the coming decade.

So I want to talk about the future of television in Canada: where will we be in 10 years and what will our television system look like?

Now, I realize that a horizon of 5 or 10 years may not seem that far away. But to imagine what the next decade will bring, think of what the last decade has brought in terms of change.

Think back to what we were watching on network television in 2003. Chances are, it was either the first season of Star Académie or Bunker: le cirque.

In 2003, slightly less than half (48%) of children had their own TV set. About a third (35%) had a VCR. Only a quarter (26%) had a computer with an Internet connection for their personal use and just 22% of Grade 10 students had their own cellphone. And those phones were mostly used to talk, not text or send emails.

Of course, we weren’t watching TV on the Internet or our cellphones back then. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter didn’t yet exist. Neither did smartphones. We watched television…on a television set!

If you were really on the cutting edge, you might have used a service like Netflix, but that involved getting DVDs through the mail. The hot gadget of the day was a “personal digital assistant” called the PalmPilot. Today, they mostly exist in museums.

I think you get my point: when you see how much—and how fast—things changed over the past 10 years, it’s hard to imagine how much more dramatically they are likely to change in the coming decade, let alone the remainder of the 21st century.

How do you even define TV in today’s environment? Is it a piece of furniture? A screen? A platform? A room? An experience? Any kind of audiovisual content?

More to the point, what is it likely to look like even a few years down the road?

Marshall McLuhan has noted our human habit of looking at the future with the eyes of the past. He said, "When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavour of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future."

So we are going to take his warning to heart. We are going to do our best to march forward with our eyes looking straight ahead.

This is precisely why we need to have a conversation—a Conversation with Canadians—about the future of TV in Canada. Because it is evolving at an incredibly rapid rate—and Canada’s regulatory system needs to change with it.

Not just to keep up with the tech gadgets that will come out on the market in six months’ time. Our regulatory framework needs to be nimble enough to continually adapt to relentless change so we can seize emerging opportunities. It cannot be static in a world of perpetual change.

We will only be successful if the regulatory framework that emerges is dynamic, adaptive and sustainable over time.

Today’s CRTC has a unique opportunity to redefine its approach to television. However, this isn’t something we can do by ourselves. We are turning to Canadians—from all age groups, all regions and all walks of life, including students like you—to help us decide what tomorrow’s TV should be, to make sure we get it right.

Broadcasting Act

When Parliament wrote the Broadcasting Act in 1991, our elected officials agreed that our broadcasting system should “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.”

They called upon that system to reflect values we share as Canadians. The belief that “the circumstances and aspirations, of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and the special place of aboriginal peoples” should be mirrored in the programming that is available to Canadian audiences.

The Broadcasting Act is about ensuring the broadcasting system informs, enlightens and entertains Canadians. And it’s about making sure not only the needs and interests of the majority are met, but that minorities are not left behind. It’s designed to ensure a diversity of programming that serves us all—including urban, rural and remote communities, the many cultural groups, anglophone and francophone communities, as well as official language minority communities.

Over time, we spawned a thriving broadcasting industry that employs almost 60,000 people—creating jobs for everyone from writers and actors to technical producers and the trades people that build sets.

We nurtured the creation of thousands of hours of television programs, over 700 television services, offered in multiple languages and in a wide array of fields—from drama, music and sports, to news and documentaries.

French-language programming in Quebec is extraordinarily successful. The most popular shows are often produced right here. This success can be attributed to the unique conditions of the Quebec market – its star system is particularly dynamic and supports actors as well as their productions. The result is evident: Quebecers identify with their television programming.

We ensured that all this great TV is accessible to Canadians—whether they live in downtown Toronto, the remote hamlets of Nunavik or in St. Boniface, Manitoba.

We clearly have much to be proud of.

Current system

But here’s our challenge. We are still operating under a regulatory system designed by the CRTC for “broad” casting—the monolithic, mass appeal approach of the good old days when content was distributed to a vast, dispersed audience. Mom and dad, and the kids had a common experience watching TV side by side on the couch.

We adapted our regulatory framework in the 1990s, to respond to the rise of narrowcasting— programming aimed at specific segments of the public defined by demographic characteristics or common interests. The explosion of specialty channels catering to every imaginable taste is testament to that. While this programming did not appeal to everyone, it was watched on the traditional TV set and delivered through cable and satellite TV providers.

Over the past decade, each generation of technological innovation further narrowed the programming experience. Thanks to video-on-demand, content is increasingly all about “me,” the viewer. The “me-viewer” decides what he or she wants to watch and when he or she wants to watch it. This phenomenon has been dubbed “me-casting.”

It’s easy to see how “me-casting” is very different from the previous model of broadcasting and narrowcasting. We are in an age of mass media marked by individual experiences.

Public dissatisfaction

Has the CRTC’s regulatory approach sufficiently kept pace with this sea change?

Canadians are expressing a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. That’s clear from the trends we are seeing and the complaints we are hearing from Canadians. Believe me, we get an earful when it comes to TV.

In 2012, we received 11,507 complaints. People were annoyed about everything from sound levels…to being unable to see U.S. Super Bowl ads…to wanting greater choice in their television packages…to contract conditions, billing disputes and rate increases from their cable or satellite providers.

Of course, some of these complaints are not as prevalent in Quebec. Television viewers in Quebec are in an advantageous position since certain television service providers already offer you more choice with their packaging models.

The fact remains, however, that Canadian households spend an average of $52 a month on television services—before factoring telephone, Internet and wireless services. That adds up to $185 a month or over $2,200 annually. That’s the sixth largest expense for most families.

In 2012, the price of cable and satellite TV services increased by 5%, when inflation rose by just 1.5%. Since 2005, the average annual increase in the price of television distribution was 5.1%. So Canadians have good reason to complain if they are not satisfied with what they’re getting.

Challenges of regulatory renewal

But our legislative mandate—and the conversation we are launching today—is not only about consumers. It’s also about citizens and creators.

Yes, we are going to be talking about how much people pay for their television services and the choices they have in the marketplace. These are very important issues.

However, we have to recognize that the marketplace will not always address the needs of all citizens. So we have to consider the needs of those who require closed captioning or described video for television programming. And ensure that French-language communities have access to programming in their tongue.

This will be especially important in an environment where television is shifting from network-scheduled programming to an on-demand world that is “me” centered. The mere fact that some people don’t watch shows like 1, 2, 3 Géant does not mean that we do not consider that children’s programming is not important.

That’s why we need to have a country-wide “we” conversation; not just a “me” conversation.

So, how do we juggle social and cultural objectives as we shift from traditional broadcasting to narrowcasting to me-casting?

Just as important, how do we capitalize on new technologies and empower Canadians to use them in new and creative ways—inventing new platforms and finding more exciting ways to celebrate our identities?

A new approach

I don’t think there is much debate that a new approach is clearly needed. This may mean new regulations, less regulation or no regulation at all. But it can also just mean doing things differently.

That said, some things will not change. The CRTC’s decision-making will be principles-based. And our decisions will continue to be evidence driven.

The evidence may indicate we have to remove or adapt some of our existing regulations. So be it. We are not interested in satisfying anybody’s sense of entitlement, based on the way things used to be. There may well be trade-offs—because we cannot be all things to all people.

What matters is that our regulations address Canadians’ needs from one coast to the other, while respecting our uniqueness. Whether we regulate, rely on competition or a combination of both, our activities must be centred on the public interest.

Equally crucial, our regulatory framework must be flexible and responsive to a constantly-changing environment. This holds true for our interpretation of “television,” recognizing that it’s no longer just a piece of furniture in the living room—and hasn’t been for some time!

Ultimately, our approach will need to be predictable for those who create and distribute the programs we watch. Regulators have a duty to be predictable as they have an impact on the marketplace.

But the bottom line is, we need to think beyond today, next week or next month. We have to set a course that can carry us long into the future.

A course that shifts our focus…

From regulations to outcomes.

From conformity to experimentation.

From imitation to creativity.

From constraint to choice.

From scheduled to on-demand.

But that’s what we think. What do you think?

Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation With Canadians

The national conversation we are launching today is the first of its kind on the state—and future —of the nation’s TV. And it requires your input.

We want to hear your opinions, stories, and experiences. What TV shows are you and your friends watching? When the topic of TV comes up, what are you discussing? Do you even watch TV anymore? If not, why not?

The conversation will revolve around three key themes that will help answer these questions:

At a more fundamental level, we are looking to Canadians for guidance on how to reconcile the interests of citizens, creators and consumers as TV evolves, while respecting the objectives of the Broadcasting Act.

We are open to any suggestion, question or idea you want to bring forward. As long as it falls within the boundaries of our legislative mandate, just about everything is on the table. If you care about television, we need to hear from you.

We trust Canadians to provide thoughtful, constructive input and fully expect to learn from it.

How to participate

What’s so different about this national conversation is that we want to talk to Canadians first, before making a single change to the regulations. In a world of “me-casting,” this cannot be a top-down approach.

This is the complete opposite of what happened in the 1980s when the Caplan Savaugeau Task Force on Broadcasting Policy last took the pulse of the nation. That was a decidedly top-down exercise. This time, we want to build from the bottom up.

And the conversation can be as formal or informal as people want it to be. Because a conversation can take place in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places.

To get it started, earlier today, we launched a discussion forum at www.crtc.gc.ca/talktv. Everyone is invited to visit the website and join the conversation.

But we understand that many people feel more comfortable offering their opinion in more conventional ways. We want everyone to know they’re included. Canadians can submit their comments through a 1-800 number or by email. And there is still traditional mail, as well as fax, for those who prefer these methods.

We are inviting broadcasters and television distributors to help us bring Canadians into our conversation. Television channels could air public service announcements or local television stations could host panel discussions. And cable companies could use their community channels to engage viewers.

We are also trying something completely different—something we are calling “Flash!” conferences. The concept is crowd-sourcing, so we’ll leave it to creative people like you to come up with innovative ways to make it happen. Again, in a world of “me-casting,” this renewal of the television system cannot occur solely in a hearing room in Gatineau.

Our idea is to enable community groups, educational institutions and any other public interest groups to host their own event. It could be anything from a few of you getting together in your classroom to a campus-wide conversation. Families or social groups talking it over in their community centre or in a church basement.

Whatever form it takes, we’ve put together a “Flash!” conference kit to get the dialogue started.

What’s next?

At a later phase in this process, early in the new year, we will offer Canadians the chance to consider the various ideas raised during the initial conversation and to weigh in on some of the tough choices that may need to be made. This will help us validate what we heard.

Our formal regulatory process will kick off next spring, leading to a public hearing in September 2014. This will not mark the end of our conversation with Canadians. Far from it, you will have an opportunity to participate at every step of the process. We will keep everyone informed as it unfolds.

Conclusion

Everyone has an interest in this issue. And everyone has a responsibility to play their part. We need fresh perspectives and new ideas. Go ahead. Tell us what you think. It is your television system, after all.

Who better than up and coming TV producers and programmers in this room to help define the future of television? You have the rare chance to put your personal stamp on the broadcasting system you will soon inherit.

I spoke earlier of the success of our current television system. It is the envy of many foreign jurisdictions. And we managed to build it together, notwithstanding the challenges of geography and the size of our markets. We did this through public and private investments, through creativity and determination, through an eye focused on the desired outcomes for all Canadians.

But here is a new challenge for your generation.

So I encourage you to look beyond the past and the present to the future you want. Fully exploit this exceptional opportunity to help shape it.

Personally, I am counting on all Canadians to step forward and let us know what they think about the future of TV in Canada. I can hardly wait to hear what they have to say.

Welcome to your conversation.

Thank you.

 

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