Irene S. Berkowitz is an MBA instructor in Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management and a PhD candidate in the Ryerson/York joint program in communication and culture.
Never mind the golden age of television. This is the age of the golden rule: Consumers have the gold and they make the rules.
From a consumer viewpoint, there were remarkable moments in the keynote address by Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke at the Canadian Telecom Summit last week. Accusing Canadians who access U.S. Netflix as "stealing" was the one that got most of the attention, but she also observed that TV viewers "demand simplicity" and "will not tolerate national borders."
Exactly. Bell Media may "dread" Netflix Inc., but it's an icon of simplicity. It's been built, along with Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. (a.k.a. GAFA), from the thin air of ideas. Combined, these innovators have just about completed a global techno-disruption of all media and many formerly non-media practices – in less than two decades.
While Ms. Turcke spoke in Toronto, I was addressing a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission outreach panel in Ottawa, moderated by chairman and CEO Jean-Pierre Blais, at the Canadian Communications Association conference.
The reason for the panel was a search for fresh perspectives on Canadian TV in the era of online global delivery, which everyone knows is reality (or so I thought). The CRTC is so serious about the need for innovative ideas that it's established a Prize for Excellence in Policy Research, an initiative that reconfirms my sense, held over from Let's Talk TV, that our regulator seems ahead of the industry.
This year, 2015, appears to be the tipping point when TV, the original electronic screen medium, is finally sucked online. Half the customers for HBO-GO (not available in Canada) are predicted to cut their cable. On average, 25 per cent of the MBA students I ask have cable. Wasn't it just more like 90 per cent?
In the 20th century, the music business learned that trying to fight consumer preference was a futile strategy. Attention quickly turned to innovative business models for the distribution of digital content, such as iTunes.
Newspapers' slog to digital distribution is yet unfolding. Paywalls were an epic fail. I'm thrilled to see The New York Times partnering with Facebook, a free Times app on my Twitter feed and an article co-published by the Times and the Huffington Post, a digital native "paper."
The global reorganization of the TV business, however, lags behind. Here's a lesson for Ms. Turcke from print media: Good luck goading customers toward revenue streams from outdated distribution models. I wonder if fear might explain her remark about "stealing" Netflix? Watching its U.S. version (which MBA students freely admit to) seems like a business-to-business game, in which TV consumers have no skin.
One of my Ottawa co-panelists, Nina Duque, is about to publish a study suggesting that young Canadians don't even really know what broadcast channels are. They watch TV online.
The assumption that viewers are already online also seemed implicit in keynotes from the Telecom Summit. Nitin Kawale, president of Rogers Communications Inc.'s business enterprises, pointed out that Canadian consumers live in the digital era, but Canadian industry – not so much. He cited Canada's poor rating in innovation, 13 of 16 peer countries.
Mark Henderson, president of Ericsson Canada Inc., described how 5G, the next generation of mobile data, will operationalize machine-to-machine communication and the Internet of Things. Ms. Turcke, who has engineering, science and business degrees, knows all this.
Yet Canada's online TV offerings, Shomi (Rogers and Shaw Communications Inc.) and Crave (Bell), are puzzling. What's the customer-value proposition? While Shomi has announced that a standalone app is coming, neither is proposed as global. Are they Netflix competitors?
What about global rights to Canadian content and 5 per cent of world markets – shouldn't this be an area where Canadian companies innovate? What's the point of an online venture, if not to go global? Making and exploiting winning content may be the only TV business model left.
In Ottawa, I suggested that we must think innovatively, and do so urgently. Our system has been well built for national profits on global content.
This might be backward for the new TV era. Perhaps we should think global profits on national content.
To follow the golden rule, namely the money, perhaps it makes sense to reflect on, rather than hate on, the TV choices of your teenage consumer.