In a detailed decision and accompanying press release, the CRTC rejected Sun News’ application for a mandate to be carried by all cable and satellite providers (“must-carry status”). Granting of such a status guarantees television networks a revenue stream as the cable companies pass on the costs of mandatory carriage onto monthly customer cable bills.
The CRTC did approve new channels that it found “meet a real and exceptional need”, such as providing French-language content or content for Canadians living with a visual impairment.
The CRTC, however, did not end Sun News hopes for must-carry status. The regulatory body has broad jurisdiction under 9(1)(h) of the Broadcasting Act to award the designation “on such terms and conditions as the Commission deems appropriate”. Consequent to some of Sun News’ arguments about the importance of access to Canadian news, the CRTC has decided to hold a review of its policy on the licensing of Canadian news channels. As said by the CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, “television news channels provide an important public service by ensuring that Canadians are exposed to different opinions and perspectives on matters that concern all citizens. We are concerned that, under the existing rules, Canadian news services are not being given a pride of place in our broadcasting system.”
- Distributors must offer all Canadian national news services (not necessarily on basic service).
- Distributors must place Canadian news services in close proximity in their channel lineup.
- National news services must be available in a package and on a stand-alone basis.
- National news services should be offered in the most appropriate packages according to their content.
The deadline for citizen feedback is fast approaching on September 9th, 2013.
Despite the fact it is operating in the red to the tune of $17M in losses in 2012, Sun News has decided it will continue to operate until the CRTC’s review is complete. It will also be making a submission to the commission.
Commentary and analysis
Since the CRTC’s inception, through to the 2006 Senate Report on Canadian News Media, and into today’s debate on must-carry for Sun TV, domestic news coverage remains a matter of Canadian public policy. Whether it is concerns about concentration or representation, what we watch on television reflects our social identity, norms and perceptions of the world around us.
But the burgeoning area of digital media has added a new layer to the debate during the last ten years. In my opinion, online television downloading and streaming is creating a tectonic shift in programming consumption that, if the CRTC isn’t careful, will nullify their reform efforts, and potentially one day, their existence.
I’m no fan of Sun News. In my opinion, it’s a country mile from providing any real and exceptional viewer need. But that’s beside the point. I think that generally, fighting for must-carry status on cable television is like trying to get a good deck chair on the Titanic. The time horizons for cable abandonment rates, however, are long enough out that there remains justifiable revenue to be made between now and the sinking for those granted must-carry status. Ironically, the gradual addition of must-carry designations and the ensuing rise in cable rates may hasten the demise.
I would like to see the CRTC and the Government of Canada get serious about a large-scale revamp of Canadian content regulation and protection in the digital media age. Yes, I think supporting domestic news coverage is sufficiently important to warrant framework updates, but I would like to see it within a larger plan to address how to bring the CRTC’s measurements and requirements to online programming.
Until there is a long-term strategic plan for incorporating digital content within the vision of the Broadcasting Act and its implementation by the CRTC, for any piecemeal revisions to must-carry, I will remain much wary.
Denise Brusndon is an IPilogue Editor and a JD/MBA Candidate at Western University.