Unifor encourages everyone to participate in the online debate on “the future of conventional television” hosted by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Our broadcasting sector employs over 40,000 Canadians, most of them good jobs held by members of Unifor and a host of other unions. The national, regional and local programming that our members produce is fundamental to a distinct Canadian voice and our democratic life.
Like many Canadian industries threatened by American domination, Canadian broadcasting is a regulated endeavor. Canadian media companies like Bell, Rogers, Shaw Global, and Québecor are sheltered from overwhelming competition or hostile take-overs from American media goliaths like Comcast. In exchange, these Canadian companies profit from Canadian rights to American shows and then are expected to sponsor Canadian content and local programming with a lower-profit margin. It’s a deal that works. The companies make money, consumers still get access to American and international programming they really can’t do without, and Canadian content gets created and broadcast.
Living in the shadow of the American broadcasting giant, the federal Broadcasting Act gives Canadian culture and politics a communication platform that would be wiped out without the regulatory framework of the Broadcasting Act. This is no exaggeration.
Of great concern is that CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has opened up a debate on the “future of conventional television” which may or may not deregulate broadcasting and open the floodgates to American programming. Appointed by the federal conservatives, and avowedly “consumerist” in the Harper mode, M.Blais certainly has an agenda in his own head. We just don’t know exactly how far it goes.
M.Blais has posted an online questionnaire for open participation. We encourage you to go online at http://letstalktv.hkstrategies.ca/ to participate and speak out for Canadian broadcasting.
The questionnaire asks a variety of questions about what you as a viewer are willing to pay for.
Unifor has the following recommendations for responding to the questionnaire. Feel free to print out this message as a guideline to your responses.
Question 1 – Supporting aboriginal, francophone and accessible programming on basic cable. Unifor agrees with Doreen, Jeaninne and Sierra / Comment – Broadcasters are not likely to spend money on accessible television unless it’s profitable or mandated. Without regulation these services would likely disappear.
Question 2 - Local news on basic cable. This is a crucial question affecting thousands of broadcasting jobs. Unifor agrees with Andrew & Mary / Comment – Local news & local programming is important to all of Canada’s unique communities. There are many options to access global programming, but there are few local programming options. It is important that the major broadcasters provide local news and local programming that reflect our communities and our culture.
Question 3 – Do you want “pick and play” only your favourite channels? Unifor recommends either “status quo” or “other packages w/ options” / Comments – “Pick and play” is a marketing illusion. Currently, broadcasters bundle packages so they can offer more programming and spread out their overhead costs. Take that away, and you may see a number of important Canadian specialty stations like TSN2 go off the air and lose the unique Canadian shows that come with it.
Question 4 – Major sporting events, free or pay? Unifor agrees with Ethan / Comments – Major Canadian sporting events should be made available on over the air television. Ratings for these events go up when more viewers have access to these programs. It’s a broadcasting strategy that works for everyone.
Question 5 – Next is a series of five questions about gaining access to a lot more American channels. Mario understands the economics of Canadian broadcasting. American programming is far more profitable because of the size of their market: they can undercut Canadian content at a loss just to grab market share north of the border.
So in response to the next five questions, Unifor recommends:
Do you want more direct access to American channels? – NO
Question 6 – Do you want more direct access to international channels (non-US)? – YES or NO
Question 7 – Would you want more American & international channels if it meant paying more? – Yes or No
Question 8 – Would you want more American & international channels if it meant some Canadian made shows and channels (and the associated jobs) may no longer be available? – NO . Comment – there is plenty of American television available already. The example of ESPN & TSN is right on; TSN may not exist if ESPN was allowed unfettered access to our country’s airwaves. When TSN lost the rights to hockey many years ago they focused their attention on the CFL. TSN made the CFL cool and viable in this country again. Allowing American networks in this country would lessen or eliminate Canadian programming, reduce or shared cultural experiences and radically alter our broadcasting job market, where many good broadcasting jobs would simply be lost.
Question 9 – If you could get direct access to International Channels, but only in a package with certain Canadian channels, would you be willing to pay for that? YES or NO
Question 10- Blocking American ads (“signal substitution”). Which of these approaches would provide a better balance between protecting programming rights and giving viewer’s choice? Unifor recommends Signal substitution (what we have now).
The next questions deal with the threat of Netflix and other unregulated American online broadcasters to Canadian programming.
Question 11 – Unifor agrees with Jenny.
Question 12 – Unifor recommends Yes we would be willing to pay an extra 50 cents per month
Question 13 – Unifor also recommends Yes - Online services should provide closed captioning. Comment - closed captioning is an important service for the hearing impaired. Without regulation to protect these services, they would be eliminated. Big business will not provide a service that is not financially supporting. Many bars or other television shows shown in public spaces show the closed captioning when audio cannot be played. This also benefits the general public. Closed captioning is a service that should be preserved.
Question 14 – Would you be willing to pay a few cents per month for online closed captioning? Unifor recommends Yes
Question 15 – Paying an extra $5 for streaming content on-line with no cap. Unifor recommends NO / Comment – It’s a qualified “no.” The $5 “unlimited streaming” plan is darn appealing and deserves discussion. Will the American media companies Netflix and Youtube foot the bill? If the Commission is thinking about making Canadian media companies pay a big part of your data plan (even for more Canadian content), this requires extremely careful consideration.
Additional Comments? – Without a strong broadcasting policy and strict regulations we will likely see the end of Canadian content, quality local programming and local news. With that loss most broadcast jobs will disappear and all that will be left will be American programming. With a thoughtful and cautious regulatory approach we can encourage, foster and develop a strong and vibrant Canadian television landscape that is accessible and relevant to all Canadians. This will definitely have a cost associated with it, but that cost should be invested back into Canadian broadcasting for the benefit of all Canadians.
Enter your email address and you are done. Thanks for helping save Canadian content and Canadian broadcast jobs.
Media Industry Chair
Media Industry Director
Download the document here.