Speech by Raj Shoan, Regional Commissioner for Ontario, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
To the Blue Ant Media Board Dinner
December 11, 2013
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Thank you very much.
We all face complex issues in today’s broadcasting environment. I’m glad to see that Blue Ant’s Board has a lot of experience in media, technology and finance to help it manage these issues: venture capitalists, broadcasters, designer/manufacturers, publishers, producers…entertainment companies of all stripes. It's a great mix of people from varied backgrounds, with different perspectives. It’s no wonder that Blue Ant Media has been able to carve a distinctive path in a diverse media landscape.
These are very challenging times for the industry given the many competing interests in play. They're challenging for you as independent broadcasters. They're challenging for us as the regulator. But I’m not here to sound the alarm about our respective challenges; I want to trumpet the horn of opportunity.
As you well know, Canadians are drawn more and more to the Internet and mobile devices. Online programming services give them the ability to watch high-quality television programs – not only when they want, but also on their computers, laptops, tablets and cellphones. It’s no surprise that many Canadians would like to have similar choice from their cable and satellite companies.
So we are listening to them. We're in the midst of "Let's Talk TV" -- our conversation with Canadians on the future of television. Next year, we will conduct a review of our policy framework for TV.
Today, I'd like to give you a quick overview of our plans for this process.
I know that you, like the Commission, have a strong interest in the issue of consumer choice, so let’s talk about that.
But first, I have a message of thanks for you from the Commission. As part of "Let's Talk TV", we've invited Canadians to organize their own "Flash!" conferences. We're delighted that Blue Ant Media partnered with OCAD University to host one of these events last week. I’m told there was a lively discussion on the future of the TV system and I look forward to seeing your report.
We're now completing the first phase of sounding out Canadians through our online discussion forums and other methods. We are asking the organizers of "Flash!" conferences to submit their reports to us by January 10.
At the moment, we're reviewing the input provided to date, and we're creating an interactive questionnaire based on the ideas we've received. Canadians will be invited to consider some of the tough choices that may have to be made. This is Phase 2 of the process, and it will begin early in the new year. We hope to learn precisely what Canadians are willing to pay for television programming amidst all of their other entertainment options. Whatever that may be, we will strive to create a system that empowers them to make their own choices.
The formal review of our regulatory framework for TV will be launched in the spring and it will lead to a public hearing in September. This will be a comprehensive consultation.
Meanwhile, we will be working on the report that has been requested by the government on the subject of consumer choice. They have asked us to deliver it by April 30.
Under Section 15 of the Broadcasting Act, the government may request a report from us on any matter within our jurisdiction. They were aware of our consultation with Canadians on the future of television. They want to know what can be done to maximize the ability of Canadians to choose their pay and specialty TV channels on a stand-alone basis. Many Canadians have raised this point with us during the first phase of our conversation on television. In fact, limited flexibility of choice has been a concern with many subscribers for quite some time.
I think it's important to look at the full text of the government's request. They are well aware that it's a complex issue that goes beyond consumer preference. It has implications for TV services such as those offered by Blue Ant, for television distributors and for the independent production sector. Any change must be consistent with the objectives of the Broadcasting Act, including the priority given to Canadian productions, and the requirement for programming that reflects the linguistic, cultural and ethnic diversity of Canada. The Act, of course, is an expression of the will of Parliament.
I should also say that this request for a report is not a policy directive obliging us to make this or that change. This request fits in with our own plan to explore the future directions of television in this country. We will not take any regulatory action on this file without the fullest consultation with Canadians and with all players in the industry.
So you will have ample opportunity to present your views and make your case to us as we move towards the public hearings in September. Independent broadcasters, like Blue Ant, help provide a diversity of views at hearings as much as in the marketplace, and I hope you will make the most of this opportunity. It is up to you to define your value to Canadians.
I'd also like to reiterate where we stand on the importance of independent broadcasters and their role in the Canadian broadcasting system. The Commission believes that independent broadcasters play an important role in the Canadian broadcasting system. The consolidation we've seen in recent years has created a marketplace that is dominated by a few very large vertically-integrated companies.
So we need the independents more than ever. You make your living by identifying audiences that want different programming, something the big operators may not be giving them. You're contributing to the variety and diversity of programming that is available to Canadians. That's a key objective of the Broadcasting Act, and so, it's a key priority for us as the regulator.
We want to ensure that independent broadcasters are able to compete successfully. For example, we imposed a number of licence conditions on BCE when we approved its acquisition of the Astral assets earlier this year. BCE must adhere to sections of our code of conduct for commercial arrangements that limit potential anti-competitive behaviour and ensure fair treatment for independent programming services.
We also require that they file with us the affiliation agreements they enter into with programming services. And they must enter into a dispute-resolution process supervised by us if they fail to come to terms within a specified period to extend an existing agreement.
The code of conduct was set out in the vertical integration framework that we established two years ago. It reflects our continuing concern that consolidation may lead to anti-competitive practices to the disadvantage of independent services like yours. We want you to do well and to keep on providing Canadians with the choices that they want.
A few minutes ago, I said that these are challenging times. I don’t think anyone will argue with that. However, the technological developments we are seeing in the communication system are also creating a number of opportunities. Opportunities to promote your content. Opportunities to build new audiences on different platforms. And opportunities to reach beyond our borders and show the world how great our content is.
We know, as you do, that new ideas are needed to make the most of the new digital environment. What changes are needed so that all broadcasters can build and promote their content and their brands? Let us know what your ideas are. You are ideally placed to provide meaningful input on the future of television broadcasting, in whatever form, both now and into the future.
Given the impressive individuals in this room, I have little doubt that your submissions will reflect not only what is best for Blue Ant but for all Canadians, whether they act as consumers, citizens or creators.
Thank you very much.
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