Less than a week after taking the job, the new head of Canada’s broadcast regulator is facing pressure from networks to rewrite the rules in their favour.
Ottawa must rework its policies on issues including over-the-top (OTT) services, genre exclusivity and piracy so that more traditional networks can remain competitive, according to the top execs of those networks.
And they’re looking at Jean-Pierre Blais, the newly appointed chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to do it.
“We need harder regulation,” said Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, which owns the fledgling Citytv network, at last week’s Banff World Media Festival, referring to OTTs. “Apple, Google and Netflix are a threat to our business and if they’re to be unregulated the legacy platforms like linear TV need more flexible rules.”
Canadian networks have been up in arms about Netflix in particular since the CRTC, under Blais’s predecessor, gave OTTs a free pass – allowing them to operate without the restrictions that govern traditional broadcasters.
These broadcasters complain that the former CRTC administration was inconsistent and hope for more “symmetry” from Blais.
Some have also started talking tough about their terms of trade agreement with local producers, which came to be with help from the CRTC.
“We understand the need for oversight of the industry. But we need predictability,” said Kevin Crull, president of Bell Media, which owns market leader CTV and CTV2. He favours a more free-market approach.
“We seem to be trying to manipulate the market by writing extensive sets of rules,” he said. “I’d rather see post-facto intervention when things go wrong.”
Blais was not available for comment though a colleague later spoke out in favour of OTTs. Former acting chairman Leonard Katz said at Banff that Netflix and the like are, in his opinion, “complementary” to traditional broadcasting and no threat to Canadian content or cabsat subscriptions.
The networks also repeated their calls for tighter laws against piracy – a wish they are likely to get as Canada’s latest attempt at copyright reform nears completion. This week a bill that aims to bring Canuck law in line with anti-piracy measures in the US cleared parliament and is expected to become law within the year following review by the senate.