Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No to broadcasters' blackmail and cab-sat greed

Enough is enough.
At last we know the real reason why the TV broadcasters want higher carriage fees: They want to block access to prime time US television by forcing cable and satellite companies to black out signals if the Canadian network that has rights to the program airs the same episode within seven days. This policy, best described as domestic exclusivity, goes way beyond the current annoyance of "simultaneous substitution" or "simsub," actually a reality on both sides of the border -- in fact, domex is a form of legalized censorship. It makes the blocking of US newscasts during controversial trials because of publication bans look like small potatoes.

The networks have also confirmed they are indeed completely pulling the plug on analogue signals in many smaller communities -- like Thunder Bay, Swift Current and Prince George, just to name a few so-called "minor" markets. This could leave tens of thousands in the dark. And they want to push back the switch to DTV where it does exist to 2013, which means a delay in access to new bandwidth and with increased competition lower prices for internet and mobile devices.
What makes it all the more peculiar is that they only want to stiff us with fee for carriage if we get cable or satellite. Those who get signals over the air -- for now -- don't have to pay at all. This is quite unlike most places in Europe where everyone is required to have a license (but in return, the number of channels available in digital for free, including all networks both state and commercial, is substantially higher than in North America; even a videotext newswire service with real time weather updates is available on screen in most places, not at all here.)
To be fair, cable and satellite companies are also full of crap. They make huge profits, in fact are guaranteed profits thanks to that little known hidden fee called the "pass through portion," and we don't get all that much in return. They can definitely contribute more into the production fund without impacting on profits; but the governments federal and provincial also need to increase the production tax credits.
I could support higher carriage fees if they actually went into Canadian programming, that we Canadians actually liked and wanted to watch. But at this price? No, thank you -- and the CRTC should see the threat to black out US signals for what it is: Blackmail. If I was Judge Konrad von Finkenstein, I'd tell the networks to F-off.

When was the last time there was a nightly newscast in Kenora or in Chibougamau, after all? Once a week summary, if lucky.
One other thing: Now that digital is widely available, we need to go to a pure a la carte system where we pay for what we want on a per episode basis. This eliminates channel surfing, lowers our bills and ensures a steady stream of revenue for everyone. And we should be able to choose if we want to watch it on a Canadian or US channel, especially for the Super Bowl with all the nifty commercials we are not permitted by law to see here.

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