Telus, Shaw tell CRTC no need for national, multi-ethnic TV service

As a third day of CRTC hearings continued Wednesday on a national multi-ethnic television service and who might operate it, the commission heard from cable operators who say viewership of the existing OMNI Regional is low.

Telus submitted data indicating that viewer engagement of OMNI Regional for more than an hour per month was at just 1.7 per cent. Without providing specific numbers, Shaw VP of regulatory affairs Dean Sheikh, said their data also indicates that OMNI is one of its lowest-ranked services among ethnic and third-language viewers.

Ann Mainville-Neeson, vice-president, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Telus, opened cautioning that “consumers in today’s environment want to pay for only those programming services they choose to subscribe to…Adding to the already numerous programming services that Canadians are required to receive before they can exercise their freedom to choose may lead to increasing dissatisfaction with the regulated system. It is for this reason that Telus submits that the commission should not grant any mandatory distribution order as part of this proceeding.” 

Telus said market conditions that led to the single-service model no longer exist with its Optik TV service currently carrying over 80 third-language services, in 16 unique languages.

“We have looked at the viewership data for third-language services offered on our Optik TV service. Our customers are not watching the OMNI service. However, they are watching the discretionary third-language services to which they have chosen to subscribe. This tells us that the needs of multicultural communities in Canada have evolved and are being met by dedicated third-language services,” said Lecia Simpson, director Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Telus. The broadcasting system is already at a breaking point.  Consumers are leaving the system or are not electing to subscribe to it in the first place.”

“In an environment where 20 per cent of Canadians say they are either somewhat likely or very likely to ‘cut the cord,’ according to the Commission’s own 2017 Communications Monitoring Report, it is increasingly difficult to market a basic package comprised of services consumers haven’t chosen. Telus is concerned that the addition of another service in the basic package will only add to the perceived lack of choice in the system, which in turn will accelerate subscriber loss, and ultimately further harm the overall health of the broadcasting system.”

Shaw went further saying it has serious concerns that mandatory distribution of any of the proposed services will fail to serve Canada’s third-language and ethnic communities, while undermining choice and affordability. It also urged the commission to “prevent attempts to exploit 9(1)(h) status as a for-profit business based on inflated wholesale rates or commitments that are entirely subsidized by BDUs and our customers.”

“In this regard, Shaw is highly opposed to the applicants’ excessive requested wholesale rates – ranging from 19 to 40 cents. In particular, Shaw finds it problematic to grant 9(1)(h) status and a regulated wholesale rate to either Rogers or Bell – two of the largest and most diversified media companies in Canada. OMNI Regional was awarded a licence based on the argument that 12 cents would provide a reasonably reliable revenue stream for the purpose of meeting meaningful programming obligations. Granting any increase from OMNI Regional’s current rate cannot be justified in light of the negative impact on customers.”

Last year, Rogers was granted an interim three-year renewal to operate OMNI Regional.   

In his opening remarks Monday, CRTC chair Ian Scott indicated that it is possible the regulator could decide not to grant the privilege of mandatory carriage to any of the eight applicants, which in addition to Rogers and Bell, include Ethnic Channels Group, Amber Broadcasting, Independent Community Television Montreal (ICTV), Corriere Canadese, Telelatino Network and Asian Television Network, plus another group seeking a broadcasting licence to operate a national, multi-ethnic, multicultural discretionary pay audio service to be known as Multicultural Described Video Guide.

The hearings continue Thursday with the panel set to hear from supporting interveners and replies from the applicants.

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