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A scene from Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.
A scene from Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.

john doyle

Why the CRTC is dead to me and deaf to you Add to ...

Oh, whine, whine, whine. Complain, complain, complain.

Canadians are champion complainers. It’s intuitive. An instinctive reaction to occasional feelings about the utter futility of existence in a bloody cold country.

Listen, if complaining were a winter Olympic sport, we’d own the podium in Sochi. And, once at the podium, what would a Canadian start complaining about? Television, cable, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. That’s what.

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It’s true that Canadians have a lot to complain about in this area. It’s the job of the CRTC to listen and do something. And it isn’t. It’s faking it.

The CRTC, bless its soul, started a “review” last year, to grapple with the future of television in Canada. It invited comments. This is a cunning ruse to feign deep engagement with the (large) complaining community in Canada. Last week it presented a summary of the comments. There isn’t a single surprise in the summary. Not a jot of amazement. A number of predictable points arise. Let’s deal with them.

The CRTC said many Canadians expect to watch more TV online, and use on-demand and personalized programming.

D’ya think? Hold the front page! This might be news to the CRTC, but not to the rest of us. But here’s a scoop: While it’s true that people are watching more online, the traditional TV set is not being abandoned. The quality of picture and sound keep getting better. And here’s another tip: Buying a big ol’ TV set is a signifier of being a grown-up. Twentysomethings getting their first home or condo buy a TV set. The entire population will not be watching TV on their laptops in the future. So there.

“A majority of participants say that channels should be made available on a pick-and-pay basis. Many consider that this approach would reduce overall costs for subscribers. However, some note that, under a pick-and-pay approach, costs for individual services may increase.”

Again, hardly news. But it is important to note that Canadian cable bundling practices are not unique. Try getting a cable package in the United States and you’ll find that if you get one channel, you have to take another one. The CRTC could make this clear while pushing for greater flexibility in Canada. One of the real issues is not just Canadians getting channels they don’t want. It’s also about access to a channel they do want. FX Canada, owned by Rogers, and purveyors of such excellent fare as American Horror Story and The Bridge, is not available to consumers who have Bell services. Now that’s an outrage.

“Some suggest that channels such as History and Discovery are no longer delivering the programming that they were licensed to broadcast. They think that these and other channels have changed their format or, in some instances, their brand altogether, with little to no notice, in order to replicate the programming that can be found on other channels.”

Also file under “D’ya think?” And, fact is, the CRTC has allowed an extraordinary avalanche of cheaply made reality-TV series to cover the schedules of channels such as History. It’s not as if the CRTC hasn’t heard complaints from consumers and various guilds and bodies in Canada on this matter.

The CRTC also reports that many people cited Netflix as an affordable, on-demand and valuable alternative to traditional TV.

Right, well as much as Netflix is handy, it is essentially a library of existing TV programs. The revolution represented by Netflix is overstated. It airs a lot of old and existing TV series, for which the original broadcaster or studio is paid, creating another revenue stream for old-fashioned TV. And the importance of Netflix’s original programming is also overstated. House of Cards was so-so. Orange Is the New Black was better. That’s two, count ’em, two shows. How many times are you going to rewatch Orange Is the New Black?

Some people have called for the abolition of the CRTC itself.

This is nonsense. Broadcasting is regulated in every country. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission can be very heavy-handed in ordering what consumers see. It tells corporations to create channels to reflect changing demographics and diversity. It’s not news that there exists in Canada a ridiculous belief among some people that the CRTC is a “Liberal idea” to control what Canadians can hear or see, and that it is some sort of curiously Canadian form of censorship.

However, that said, you can see why some think the CRTC is useless. This exercise in regurgitating known views and opinions is an example of the CRTC spinning its wheels, and spinning the idea that it listens to Canadians. It doesn’t. The CRTC is dead to me and deaf to you.

For some years now, the CRTC has allowed Canadian broadcasting to coalesce into a small handful of giant companies, thereby limiting the choices for Canadians and allowing the arrogance of broadcasters to deepen. The CRTC is part of the problem, not the solution. Hence the great complaining.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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