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[Photo © Michael Sun]

As the television broadcast industry continues to decline, Canada’s telecom regulator will soon produce a report looking at possible distribution models for Canadian programming.

According to Statistics Canada, conventional television broadcasters have seen significant declines in revenues, profits and the number of employees between 2006 and 2016.

Carl Neustaedter, director of communications at the Public Policy Forum, in his boardroom. [Photo © Michael Sun]

Carl Neustaedter is the director of communications at the Public Policy Forum, which published the Shattered Mirror Report – a critical examination of concentrated media ownership and content fragmentation in the digital age.

Neustaedter wrote in an email that he can only guess that, soon enough, broadcasters will be where newspapers are now.

“‘Broadcast’ journalism faces the same brick wall as any other news outlet on digital platforms – there’s no business model that’s emerged yet,” wrote Neustaedter. “Like newspapers, broadcasters must balance so-called legacy platforms (traditional broadcast TV) while trying to build a feasible platform Online.

“While they’re not in as dire straits as newspapers, the decline is evident.”

Being a broadcaster

Kimothy Walker is a managing partner at Ottawa Media Group who has spent 25-years in the field of broadcast journalism.

“Do I think a TV anchor, like I used to be, will read information out loud to me from a box in my living room? No I don’t,” wrote Walker via Facebook messenger as she was boarding a flight to Vietnam. “I believe my grandchildren will one day not understand what my job was for 25 years.”

Walker wrote that she believes the era of ‘fake news’ will catalyze a desire for quality journalism: “The pendulum will swing back and people will want good information from skilled fact checkers and excellent writers. I think people will get tired of just not knowing what is accurate and want a few excellent sources instead of hundreds of posts and tweets that aren’t reliable.”

“I fundamentally believe that we need to invest in local journalism,” wrote Walker. “Not only from a government perspective but with individual Canadians understanding that its a service worth paying for … like their water or heat. […] Informed Canadians are crucial to our democracy and we need to all invest in that.”

A bit of background

Dwayne Winseck is a recognized authority on Canadian media ownership, a contributor at the Globe and Mail and professor at Carleton University. He said Canada’s broadcast landscape is deteriorating, primarily due to centralized media ownership by the likes of “giant vertically-integrated companies that have their fingers in too many pots.”

“Broadcasters, in this country, are owned by large media ownership groups that have very substantial stakes in pay-television services, and they’re also telephone companies,” said Winseck. “Canada’s one of the only countries in the world that has a situation where all the major commercial television services, including the broadcast television services, are owned by telephone companies.”

Winseck added that most of these providers are too focused on selling broadband Internet access and mobile phone plans to tend to the production of quality broadcast journalism. He also noted that many of these providers, such as Bell, Shaw, Rogers and Quebecor, offer pay-television services, and they would prefer not to have broadcast networks compete.

“We don’t have a really strong public service media outlet in this country,” said Winseck, elaborating on what he believes must change to elevate the broadcast sector. “The CBC is woefully underfunded relative to the standards of most public service broadcasters except for those in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.”

A recent study conducted for the BBC by the U.K.’s Inflection Point research group explored various broadcast data from 14 countries. The study shows a strong correlation between the health of a public service broadcaster and the health of that country’s private-sector broadcasters. Countries with stronger, well-funded public broadcasters see increased competition, and correspondingly increased profits, from their various broadcasters, which often even manage to rival pay-television services.

Brainstorming for a breakthrough

Neustaedter said that smaller, local markets were hit first. Many TV stations have already closed their doors. For instance, last summer, Shaw cut roughly 70 jobs by closing down stations in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

“The CRTC recognized this last year by increasing dollars to broadcasters for news, while decreasing it to non-profit community stations, interestingly,” said Neustaedter. “So the midterm prospects don’t seem great. You’re seeing moves like Global just made by laying off broadcast staff and promising to hire more digital staff.”

The CRTC recently held a survey to figure out how Canadians consume content as well as the reasoning behind their choices. They wanted to know why many Canadians continue to watch traditional TV and listen to traditional radio. The CRTC was also wondering how important Canadian content is to Canadians.

Patricia Valladao, media relations manager at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said “the CRTC has been asked by the Government to submit a report on future distribution models for Canadian programming by no later than June 1 [of] this year.”

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