Aside from a couple of problems, this is great news. Unfortunately the problems are A that it won’t work and B that we the consumers are going to have to pay for it. The cable companies are alreadymaking that second one perfectly clearby using phrases like “tax on consumers”. Thanks for looking out for us, CRTC. If ever you should decide to take your collective head out of your collective ass, I’ll be waiting for you to work around the not so trivial issue of how fee for carriage is going to work in cases where TV stations are owned by cable companies. Investing in…let’s say Rogers owned stations with this new fund we’re on the hook for seems a little sketchy, don’t you think? We already pay Rogers the cable company to get all of these stations in our cable packages. Eventually, they raise the rates we pay to cover the new funding. Then, with a sudden interest in making…let’s say Cityvt watchable again, Rogers the local station owner turns around and dips into that very same fund. Rogers the company as a whole gets to talk out of both sides of its mouth, standing up for the consumer while taking advantage of them at the same time…twice! We pay new fees to Rogers that Rogers can then turn around and put right back into itself. Somehow that hardly seems fair, which is why big media companies are a bad idea, which brings me to the other, arguably bigger problem.
The conventional TV business is broken, but it’s broken a lot more than a 0.5% increase in funding for local programming is going to be able to fix. It might sound crazy, but maybe the best thing that could happen is that some of the so-called local stations run by major corporations who have no concept of community or apparently how to make money (Canwest Global, I’m looking at you) could go belly up so that the entire way things are done could be rethought.
I know how these networks operate, and all you have to do is look at what passes for Canadian television programming these days to get a pretty good idea for yourself. Major networks like Global and CTV always seem to find the minimum standard and camp out there. How do you think we ended up with airwaves full of low rent Canadian knockoffs of American reality TV and Canadian produced entertainment magazine shows that cover American events and throw in some Canadian stuff here and there? It happened because instead of investing in truly Canadian shows, the networks would rather spend money on American TV and then fill their Canadian content requirements with whatever’s left over. And if you don’t think the same thing could happen under the new local rules, you’re crazy. If you’re looking to see solid local journalism or expanded coverage of local sports or anything like that, keep looking. As long as they can get away with it, broadcasters will continue to churn out cheap crap like Guelph’s Next Top Model or Deal Or No Deal Guelph or even Survivor Downtown Guelph On the Weekend When The Bars Close. Actually, that last one might be kind of fun, but you can see what I’m driving at.
What we need is a shift back to the days of smaller businesses with a truly local connection rather than what TV and radio and even newspapers have now, a soulless big business voice that favours the bottom line over everything else. The problem broadcasters have isn’t cable companies getting over the air signals for free and selling them to the consumer, the problem is that the world has changed. Today’s consumer has so many more entertainment options than they had even 10 years ago that providing the same old same old just won’t do anymore. To stay relevant and compete, TV and radio need to find the one thing that can’t be found all over the internet or on all those specialty stations they’re up against and deliver it to the best of their ability. and the one thing lacking on mainstream radio and TV is good, community based programming. Providing that is the best chance there is to get eyes and ears and advertisers to pay attention to you again.