As published in the Toronto Star November 21, 2023
We’ve come this far. After many years of legislative back-and-forth and decades of operating within an outdated regulatory framework, Canadian broadcasters will be looking for follow-through on promises of equitable treatment and rebalancing the obligations imposed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The three-week long public hearing on the Online Streaming Act, which began Monday, aims to chart the “path forward” toward a modernized regulatory framework given rapid changes within the industry and the impact of unregulated foreign online giants in our broadcasting system. The hearing intends to establish the platforms to which the newly passed law applies, how much each will contribute to the system, and where those supports will flow.
As the national voice of Canada’s private broadcasters large and small, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) supports the CRTC’s goals going into this hearing and appreciates the emphasis on urgency that the Government reflected in its final policy direction to the Commission. News from the past year in particular has shown us that broadcasters, especially our news businesses, are struggling in the current environment.
Canadian broadcasters face a heavy burden of rules and obligations imposed on them while our global competitors have none.
Foreign streamers benefit from billions in revenues from subscribers and advertisers, funnelling those Canadian dollars out of our economy. Meanwhile, Canadian broadcasters currently bear the entire burden of supporting our domestic media ecosystem. If they are to continue to underwrite cultural policy objectives, such as the creation of Canadian content and, importantly, the production of news, Canada’s broadcasters need expeditious change.
Throughout this process, the CAB’s members, which include the majority of Canadian privately owned and controlled radio, TV and discretionary broadcasters of all sizes, have stressed the need for urgent change. Media consumption habits have radically evolved, but unfortunately our regulatory frameworks have not.
Today, with abundant competition from unregulated foreign players for audiences’ attention and subscriber dollars, the landscape is vastly different from when the Broadcasting Act was last amended in 1991. We’re talking about a time of “appointment TV,” Blockbuster Video and the Sony Walkman, when most Canadian households did not have a personal computer, let alone internet access.
With the proliferation of streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, broadcasters can no longer be expected to be the sole providers of cultural supports as set out in the previous Broadcasting Act. The Online Streaming Act is the way forward, with contributions to the Canadian broadcasting system shared reasonably among those who operate within and benefit from their presence in our media ecosystem.
As a foundation of a revitalized Canadian broadcasting system, broadcasters must have fairness. They must have the conditions in place to operate viable businesses that are able to adapt to the profound structural challenges they face, with a lighter regulatory touch than has been imposed until now given the already significant contributions they make. They also need flexibility to be able to adjust quickly to changing media consumption patterns, market shifts, and new technologies.
Our proposal to the Commission, which we will be highlighting at the hearing on December 7, underscores the importance of Canada’s private broadcasters to the cultural and economic fabric of this country. We need urgent remedies to the broadcasting system so they can continue to be the vital Canadian storytellers, news leaders and community builders that we rely on them to be.