Magic Items


Analogue OTA TV transmitter towers and the Celica Supra last summer in Powassan, Ontario. All three are still operational.

Dear Minister Glover,

There were a series of important TV announcements in London, Ontario this morning.

Of particular note to this here blog was mention of the future status of OTA TV in Canada.

CRTC Chairman Blais can take it from here (the magic items he’s describing to the crowd are OTA TV antennas):

“I have with me today some special items. You could call them magic items. After all, they can make television service bills disappear into thin air.

What’s more, when you install them in your home or on your roof here in downtown London, they can give you access to eight Canadian television signals with a picture quality superior to anything delivered by a satellite or cable provider. Channels that show all the best local and national information, American entertainment and educational programming – for the low monthly rate of zero dollars.

Across Canada, 76% of the population has access to at least five channels thanks to these items, and in some cities that number rises to 15 or more.

What are these ingenious devices?

Digital television antennas such as these bring OTA television signals into our homes at a cost that beats even the best packages offered by the major service providers. But let me say that our decision is not about just affordability. It is about the importance of local and regional news and information programming.

It’s natural in an era of such fundamental change that old-style technologies get left behind. As we increasingly look to new television delivery models, we must be mindful not to forget about the essential public service provided by over-the-air television, the critical connection it forges with audiences. We should also keep in mind that 97% of Canadians live within range of a transmitter.

During our consultations, we had proposed that local stations be allowed to shut down their transmitters. Canadians reacted and told us that the time had not yet come. Ninety-five percent of participants told us that access to OTA stations is of great importance. This is not surprising when you consider that over 40% of viewing between 7 and 11 p.m. in the English-language market and over 50% in the French-language market is to local television stations.

What’s more, news programming aired by local stations boasts a 40% viewing share. And the vast majority of Canadians that responded to our public opinion survey considered local news to be important. While these statistics do not make a distinction between content watched over-the-air or through a cable or satellite company, they show us that Canadians rely on the television stations in their communities.

Holding a licence to operate a local television station comes with certain privileges. For example, cable and satellite companies must include the station in their basic package of channels and stations can request simultaneous substitution. Our decision sends a strong message to anyone thinking of shutting down their transmitters that, in doing so, they would be forfeiting these privileges. Canadians don’t want to start paying for free TV. And we heard you.

One might argue that OTA is a relic. Certainly, it harkens back to the early 1950s when rabbit ears stood atop unwieldy floor-model televisions. Yet much has changed about OTA as a broadcasting medium, including a wholesale transition three years ago to digital service. The next few years could yield renewed interest for OTA broadcasting, especially in urban areas where eye-popping image quality, channel selection and, of course, the absence of cost, could convince more consumers that they need not be enslaved to cable and satellite service providers if they want to enjoy high-quality television programming.

Long term, however, the format must change. The future of television lies more toward viewer-centric, on-demand models than the scheduled broadcasts such as those provided by OTA.”

– London, Ontario
January 29, 2015

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery


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