The CRTC wants Canadians to hold "flash conferences" with friends and colleagues to discuss the future of television and then report their findings back as part of the broadcast regulator's broader examination of the country's broadcast system.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission officially launched its "Let's Talk TV" campaign Thursday, hoping to engage Canadians over the next month in a conversation about how they watch television.
Everything is on the table, and likely hot topics will include the introduction of so-called pick-and-pay television services in which subscribers have greater choice over their television packages and whether traditional broadcasters should be regulated online when they launch services to compete with companies such as Netflix Inc.
"Canadians are entitled to an open, diverse and affordable television system that is responsive and forward-looking, a system that provides us with the best of what Canada has to offer alongside the very best international content," the CRTC said in its release. "Is Canada's television system providing you with the programming you want? On the devices you choose? Are you well served in the way you receive programming? Are you getting the information you need to make informed choices?"
Besides providing Canadians with instructions on how to host "flash conferences," the CRTC hopes viewers will write letters or leave phone messages with the commission before Nov. 22 outlining their thoughts and frustrations ahead of a formal review planned for September.
The review was announced before the federal government's recent Speech from the Throne, which made unbundling television services a priority. It comes as traditional television providers struggle to reinvent themselves to compete with online rivals by offering more of their content online to subscribers and targeting the mobile market with programming offers.
They aren't actually losing subscribers yet. An annual report released this month by the Canadian Radio-television Communications Commission said the number of Canadian households with a television subscription increased by 1 per cent in 2012 to about 12 million.
But the rate of growth appears to be slowing considerably. A report by Convergence Consulting Group found about 42,000 new subscriptions were set up in 2012. In the past, the industry could count on adding about 220,000 new subscribers each year.
Analysts expect the industry to soon start shedding subscribers.
"I can point to at least four or five firms in the U.S. and Canada including our own whose analyses are showing some level of cord cutting or increased shaving," said Kaan Yigit, president of Toronto-based Solutions Research Group. "No one has said it's huge numbers but everyone agrees growth has stopped."
There are signs some cutting is starting to take: a summer report by Boon Dog said Canada's publicly traded television providers lost 19,624 subscribers.
Retaining those subscribers is key for the Canadian television industry, which is funded largely by the broadcasters who are required to spend a portion of their revenue on Canadian content. The CRTC said its "marching orders" required it to ensure Canadians have access to a wide range of content that reflects their interests and support Canadian content creators but that it may need to change the rules it enforces given the onslaught of new services.
"In order to meet these important objectives, the CRTC has required the broadcasting industry to follow certain rules," it stated. "Now we are asking if these rules are still the best way to achieve our goals or if the changing television environment calls for a fresh approach."