Thursday, June 16, 2005

CRTC Fallout

Or, What A Canadian "Culture War" Looks Like.

(This may possibly be the most boring post I've written in a while, unless of course you like cultural regulation issues.)

So XM and Sirius want to bring Satellite Radio to Canada. Great, says we. But not so fast - current broadcasters have to meet content requirements mandating certain minimums for Canadian artists. This has been a fantastically successful policy, despite occasionally peeving certain artists - Bryan Adams, we're looking at you. Of course, these American satellite operators don't particularly want to have to produce lots of Canadian content, when they can use their US stuff and beam it to us cheap. So their original applications essentially promised 5% Canadian content - far less than the minimum of 35% for current radio.

The CRTC released it's decision today, and I judge it to be a good one based on the concern it's causing the satellite operators - they're already talking about "reevaluating their business plans." (In fact, it looks like they can live with the CRTC's increased standards.) That may sound snarky, but these companies were effectively trying to get around longstanding rules that would have allowed them to dominate a new emerging market without supporting local voices. In specific, the CRTC mandated that each satellite provider provide a minimum of 8 Canadian channels, and no less than 10% of the channels they offer must be Canadian. To qualify as a Canadian channel, 85% (!) of the content must be Canadian (presumably, the same rules will apply for what does and does not qualify as Canadian music.) Interestingly then, "Canadian" satellite radio channels will actually have a much, much higher percentage of cancon then the current terrestrial Canadian broadcasters.

One lobby group is already musing about the end of Canadian radio with these two - gasp! - American companies being allowed to play a role in our broadcasting, and I'm not unsympathetic to that fear, but I think these culture rules go a long way towards easing my mind.

A more interesting concern is why these two American companies are Canada's only option for satellite radio. Despite our long history of relying on satellites in this country (Canada was right after the US in launching a communications satellite, making us #3) these two US firms will provide services for us because, according to the CRTC:
  • Canada has no satellite facility capable of distributing digital satellite radio broadcasting and is unlikely to have such a facility in the future.
  • Canada has not secured with the International Telecommunications Union the required spectrum resources at the S-band to develop its own specialized satellites.
So we lack either the legal/administrative or the technical means to deliver a truly indigenous satellite radio service. I'm not exactly weeping at this - we'll still have satellite radio, after all - but it makes me wonder what the hell we have the CBC and CRTC for, if not ensuring that Canadians can have innovative new telecom services.

Finally, CHUM radio has also been given a license for a digital, subscription-based radio service. Except that this will not be satellite based. It will, however, be the only truly "Canadian" service, and will offer a number of different English, French and multicultural Canadian channels. Yay us! I don't know how well they'll be able to compete against US heavies, but here's hoping.

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