Dear Minister Guilbeault,
May 15, 2010 marked the first post to this blog. At the time, I was primarily concerned about how Canada’s approach to its 700 MHz spectrum auction and transition to digital over-the-air (OTA) television might affect household access to OTA Canadian television. 10 years on and I’m still concerned about household access to OTA Canadian television, although this time it’s related to Canada’s auctioning and repack of the 600 MHz band.
While the past decade has seen the slow decline in cable and satellite TV subscriptions in Canada and rise of internet television streaming (thanks in large part to the launch of Netflix Canada at the end of 2010), OTA television viewing has held its own in Canada. While Media Technology Monitor reported 8% of Anglophone and 9% of Francophone Canadian households watched OTA television 10 years ago, by February 2020 7% of Anglophone and 8% of Francophone Canadian households were viewing OTA television. In addition, by 2020 MTM was also reporting that 76% of Anglo OTA TV viewers and 60% of Franco OTA TV viewers were supplementing their antenna television viewing with over-the-top (OTT) internet television viewing.
If Canadian OTA TV viewing has remained relatively steady over the past decade, why have Canadian television broadcasters such as CTV (Bell Media) and Global Television (Corus) requested (and received) permission from the CRTC to shutdown dozens of OTA television transmitters rather than moving them out of the 600 MHz band? The answer is that OTA television advertising revenue in Canada continues to decline. It’s important to remember then that while OTA television viewership has remained steady in Canada, the parent companies that own most of Canada’s OTA television stations aren’t making as much money via OTA as they used to and that’s why they’re reducing their number of transmitters following the 600 MHz repack.
That OTA television is no longer bringing in the sort of revenue that for-profit ownership groups (and their shareholders) expect from their Canadian media properties highlights the importance of public and educational television broadcasters such at CBC/Radio-Canada, Télé-Québec and TVO continuing to operate their OTA television transmitters. Public and educational television broadcasting serves the viewing public, not ownership groups.
After decimating its network of more than 600 OTA television transmitters down to just 27 following Canada’s 700 MHz transition, CBC/Radio-Canada has seemingly come to embrace the notion that the continued operation of its (or rather, Canada’s) OTA television transmitters serves the public interest. While CBC/Radio-Canada has yet to announce any plans to commence OTA multiplexing or ATSC 3.0 testing, the public broadcaster did note in its 2020 licence renewal request to the CRTC that it has no plans to shut down any of its television (or radio) transmitters during its next licence period. When asked to expand on this shift in attitude toward OTA, CBC/Radio-Canada’s Directeur, Ingénierie de la Transmission Charles Rousseau noted the following via email last week:
Over the air television is 100% free whereas internet and bandwidth cost money to people, we believe we better fulfil our role keeping those transmitter in the biggest
market in Canada and have the CBC/Radio-Canada signal available for everyone. With what happen internationally with COVID19 brings live news each day, it is a very good example on how linear TV is still relevant. Cord cutting is also happening in Canada, I
(personal opinion here) believe that people will not throw their tv set away but will simply connect a small antenna to it. All that said, I’m sure you have also observe that we are already full speed ahead in all digital platform.