Change in the air for Canadian broadcasters

New technologies affecting network strategies

TORONTO — With teens favoring iPods, mobile phones and computers over traditional television, Canada’s broadcasters have at most seven years to drastically revise their modus operandi or it may be “too late,” said a report from Canada’s broadcast regulator on the future of broadcasting that was released late last week.

Canadians still take in most programming through traditional licensed broadcasters. Even with of all the hype, the negative impact of new technologies has been “marginal,” said the 181-page report, called “The Future Environment Facing the Canadian Broadcasting System.”

The average Canadian watches 25.1 hours of TV per week. At present, the greatest threat to terrestrial broadcasters is not new gadgetry, but pay TV. Terrestrial TV’s market share has slipped 1% since 2002-2003 to 27%.

The U.S. terrestrial broadcasters along the U.S.-Canada border might want to look over their shoulders, too, as their share of Canadian viewing fell from 9.4% in 2003 to 7.7% in 2005.

The market share of Canadian pay TV has grown to 29% in 2004-05, up from 26% in 2002-2003.

But the battleground itself is undergoing rapid change.

Launched by Heritage Minister Bev Oda in June to give the Canadian broadcasting system and the bodies that regulate it a leg up in the digital age, the report found that because young Canadians favor gadgets over traditional broadcast medium, both terrestrial and pay broadcasters need to adapt their strategies, building in new platforms and rights management if they are to thrive.

The report will presumably provide some pointers for upcoming license renewal hearings for a number of broadcasters.

The CRTC is reviewing its regulation of radio, TV and broadcast distribution over the next two years with an eye to cutting red tape.

“This report is an important step in providing policymakers with the information needed to make decisions that will ensure the ongoing health, contribution and relevance of the Canadian broadcasting system,” said Charles Dalfen, chair of the CRTC. “The CRTC concludes that public policy action will need to be taken within the next three to seven years if it is to have the desired effect, otherwise it may well come too late.”