Is anyone else fatigued by the political battle between the corporate media and the side representing the cable and satellite owners (called BDUs)? Crouched as a call to save local TV, the media owners simply wish to have a chunk of the BDU pie. The BDUs are fighting this from happening, but if it does they will seek to pass the cost along to the subscriber (read you and me) in the form of an added fee.
The media companies are comprised of CTVglobemedia, Canwest Global and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. On the BDU side the campaign is spearheaded by Bell, Shaw and Rogers. Notably absent from this cast of characters is Quebecor which has interests in both ends.
The argument goes that the BDU have been airing the broadcaster signals for years without paying for them or contributing to local programming. The BDUs counter by saying they are regulated to provide those signals and perform "simultaneous substitution", whereby the Canadian channel overrides an American signal when they are running the same program. The Canadian broadcaster benefits by having their ads on two or more channels at once. The BDUs also pay a fee to copyright holders for retransmission of content. In addition the BDUs are mandated to either supply a community channel and/or contribute to a Canadian production fund, which local productions can tap into.
Yes, advertising is clearly down on conventional television but overall the system does make money. Specialty cable channels, and all of the above players run some, are very profitable with a mix of subscriber revenue (negotiated & collected by the BDUs) and advertising.
People in communities such as Red Deer, Brandon and Wingham have all been sacrificed as pawns in this high-stakes game. Local voices have been muted from the television airwaves by CTVglobemedia and Canwest Global, while viewers in western Manitoba make do with a CBC signal brought in from Winnipeg.
Part of the problem for the small local stations is that the BDUs are not making space on their systems for those channels, preferring to import more more foreign signals and charging premium prices for them. For dispersed areas like western Manitoba that applies to the satellite distribution system. So you have the case of Bell, with a satellite BDU and ownership stake in CTVglobemedia, refusing to carry a CTVglobemedia station, namely the departed CKX-TV.
The broadcasters have fought several times before the CRTC to get fee-for-carriage and have not gotten it. The closest they have gotten is in the last round when the CRTC said the two side should negotiate over the issue. If they have talk, it has likely been to say they have nothing to discuss with each other.
It gets more complicated when you learn that conventional broadcasters are to switch to digital transmission very soon. They don't see that there is money to be made there when just 8% of their audience gets the signal over-the-air (which shows how big a grasp the BDUs have). Clearly a better signal, range and reduced power consumption are not seen as offsetting the cost of conversion. Shutting operations down are viewed as most profitable than service improvements.
So, that leaves you and me in the crossfire between two armies spending gobs of cash on PR and lobbying. This is a political war with MPs being lined up in rural areas, writing almost identical letters, seeking support of "local TV". No matter how this is decided, an appeal to the federal cabinet is practically guaranteed.
The advertising campaigns will show the old adage to be correct: truth is the first casualty in war.
All we can to is to see how much collateral damage we suffer.