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CRTC Crashes While Looking Through the Rearview Window

“”… Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

This particular post started out as a rant.  It evolved.  In the process I realized that, as a media consumer, I’m a temperamental 2-year old with ADD.  I have no patience.  I want my content the way I want it, and I want it now.

No for Canadians

At Christmas I received some iTunes gift cards.  I figured I’d be an honest consumer and go buy some content. After surfing the Canadian Apple Store site, I felt discouraged… Where were the commercial-free “Prison Break” episodes that I’d gone looking for?  And why were they readily available on the American Apple Store site, where I couldn’t get them, alongside countless hours of other commercial-free entertainment.

A quick Google search brought up numerous ways to get those same episodes, but I was feeling lazy and wasn’t in the mood to forge my mailing address or buy a fresh US-based gift card on eBay. I simply wanted to redeem my existing Canadian-bought gift cards and be entertained.

Around the same time, I found that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was surprisingly relevant in how it brings new content to market. On the Canadian Apple Store site, I could buy and download “Hockey Night in Canada” games and episodes of “MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives”.

I could also watch streaming episodes of the Canadian “Dragon’s Den” on for the price of watching one or two quick Rogers commercials.  Seemed fair. 

However, I didn’t want to pay to download any commercial-free CBC content since the publicly funded broadcaster already gets my tax dollars to send me its signal and its programs for ‘free’. 

Besides, where were my “Prison Break” episodes?  I had money (the gift cards); I wanted to buy.  Another quick Google search reveals how to shield your I.P. to watch those same episodes but I wanted to stay away from the grey-market of 21st century media consumption.  Why was it so hard? 

Everyone in this industry – content producers, distributors, advertisers, and consumers – is searching for a new world order.  Canada’s commercial broadcast stations are in crisis (according to recent CRTC hearings), losing money and rapidly losing touch with the consumer.  It is a daunting position for them to be in, especially when advertisers go looking for ways to connect with viewers.

Advertisements are heat-seeking missiles – they go where they find audiences.  Ultimately, they are channel and media agnostic.  Even in a recession.  The recent downturn in ad revenue is as much to do with audience fragmentation as with anything else.  For many, it simply seems harder to find today’s consumers.

The majority of 21st century audiences, target markets and consumers will pay for either downloads (without ads) or they will watch ads in return for ‘free’ content (streaming online video). Apple pioneered the online subscription-based download model for music although they may have a harder time dominating online video without the benefits of first mover advantage. 

The CBC gets all of this, but CTV and GlobalTV seem to only support the online streaming version of things – most akin to the traditional broadcast model. And since Peer-to-Peer sharing isn’t popular with the Canadian ISPs, these are the only aboveboard models.  

Even so, the real challenge facing the industry is not whether or not Canadian content makes it out to the world (or at least, to other Canadians) or whether commercial broadcasters and cable companies continue to make buckets of cash… rather, the real challenge is whether consumers will continue to exist.

The world is full of users now, not consumers. We use the media and we create content too. User-Generated-Content splits our attention (already short, as it is) away from consumer-focused content, adverts, and general entertainment alike.

Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal and a member of the board recently commented: “Advertisers have made it clear that they want a safe environment, unpolluted by videos of cats on skateboards”.  It was a blatant and defensive knock at YouTube and all UGC, neither of which inherently support traditional advertising but both of which steal mind-share from and NBC Universal’s mass-produced content.

Meanwhile the Canadian government, in the form of the CRTC, is still attempting to make mass media serve various mandated, national goals. Mary Vipond noted in her historical research of “The Mass Media in Canada”, that too much foreign content threatens Canadians’ identity, filling our minds with foreign attitudes and images while crowding out our attempts to speak to each other. 

That old Can-Con issue seems quite dated now as more and more Canadians are indeed “speaking to each other” through social media and UGC. Doesn’t that count for something?

Were the CRTC to turn its gaze from the rearview window toward the road ahead, it would be preparing for a future of even more user-generated content and on-demand consumption.  The CBC could show them the way.

(NB: My skateboard-riding cat charges ACTRA rates). 

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