Have you watched Canadian television broadcasts in the past month or so?
If you have, then chances are you’ve seen the advertisements from the dueling TV camps.
There’s this one – for example – from the group representing CTV, CanWest Global, and the CBC (to a lesser extent):
Or this one, sponsored by the cable television providers in Canada (not the most popular ad at the moment, but representative):
The problem with this battle for your TV dollar is that both side are right… which is presenting a massive headache for the CRTC (the federal agency responsible for policing Canada’s airwaves).
What to do?
Canada’s cable and satellite television providers both pay cross-border carriage fees for American broadcast channels which allow you to watch network content from stations operated by ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX affiliates.
Cable and satellite companies also obviously pay money to carry programming from American and Canadian premium content providers such as HBO, Super Channel, The Movie Network/Movie Central.
They also pay fees to carry mid-level content from well-known providers like Discovery Channel, Bravo, National Geographic Channel, Showcase, and others – which are all operated by either CTVGlobemedia (owned by Bell Canada) or the former Alliance television division that is now owned by CanWest Global.
These fees paid by the cable and satellite companies goes toward content broadcast by the individual providers and is completely understandable since you can’t create programming for free.
At a glance, it wouldn’t seem so bad that Canadian broadcast channels want some extra money – especially considering the cable companies essentially are charging Canadians money for something that is free by its very nature.
However, this argument is flawed.
Do you buy bottled water?
Water is free! Hell, it’s one of the most abundant substances on the face of the planet!
What’s that? You can’t find any clean water where you are?
Ah… now that’s the rub, ain’t it?
The same principle applies to broadcast-via-airwaves television signals: some people can’t tune into a pure TV signal from all the broadcasters – whether it be due to geographical location or too much electromagnetic clutter in their area.
Rabbit ears only can do so much in Canada’s analogue television landscape – which is precisely why people pay for television service from companies like Rogers or Shaw Direct (formerly Starchoice)
However, there is a mitigating factor in this battle and its name is Advertising.
Canada’s big three traditional broadcasters – namely CTV, Global, and CBC – support their on-air programming through selling advertising time to large corporations like Coca-Cola, General Motors, Telus, or the Bank Of Nova Scotia.
In turn, these companies pay X-number of dollars per minute of air time – sometimes in the range of millions of dollars per minute during the most watched programs – thus ensuring that their products are seen by the maximum number of eyeballs that their money can achieve.
The money broadcasters take in via selling advertising is then turned around and spent on on-air programming that you and I watch – whether it be the local news, or the latest episode of C.S.I.
The problem for the broadcasters in this day and age – meaning the current economic recession – is that the companies that need to advertise have less money and therefore are less willing to part with those dollars, and that drives down the amount of money Canadian broadcasters are taking in.
This leaves them in a bit of a bind: spend money on expensive American programs which guarantees people watching their station and it’s paid advertising, or spend money on homegrown content like local news.
Canadian broadcasters are also left with smaller operating budgets necessary for operating their networks across the country.
Some of you out there might have already noticed smaller stations going off the air coast to coast – stations that just weren’t bringing in enough revenue to their owners via advertising market share through no real fault of their own other than being in a city with 800,000 citizens versus one with 3 million.
The biggest bug in the ointment – and what this whole debate centers on – is the fact that the Canadian broadcasters essentially want to tax the viewers for their own failing business practices, which is completely unacceptable!
Yet… the cable companies are making money on things they have paid zero dollars to create.
So, as I said at the top, both parties are right – and both parties are wrong.
What is the answer to this problem?
I personally think that it’s a bit of COLUMN A and a bit of COLUMN B.
Canadian broadcasters should invest in Canadian-made content that people actually want to watch – shows that don’t completely suck a plate of dog bollocks – which will inherently be cheaper than foreign-originating programs and be much better for their operating capital.
To a degree, CTV and CBC have occasionally done this, but their successful programs are very far in between.
Seriously… what was the last Canadian drama or comedy program that you watched as much as you do an American alternative?
Also, the cable and satellite companies need to kick in a few bucks WITHOUT passing on the costs to their subscribers because that’s very much dishonest.
My cable bill from Cogeco is already $90 for a mid-level digital package that has all the basic tier programming, channels like Discovery, 10 a-la-carte stations, and a time-shifting package that has channels from the east and west coast – and does not include anything like a digital video recorder or any of the other fancy ad-ons like VoIP phone service or internet.
The suggested carriage fee of $10 per subscriber would bring my bill to $100!
Is television worth $100 to you?
Come on now.