Opinion: What the ‘Imminent’ Failure of Traditional TV will Mean for Canada


by T, Columnist, National Post     February 5, 2015 

For politicians, the challenge thus becomes how to connect with voters who can more easily tune them out.

For politicians, the challenge thus becomes how to connect with voters who can more easily tune them out.
Traditional television is taking its last breaths. According to the venerable Nielsen ratings firm, U.S. TV viewership dropped by 12% in January, compared to the same month a year earlier. That’s the eighth consecutive double-digit decline and certainly not the last.

At the same time, Canadian ratings agency Numeris reports that TV viewership of NHLgames plummeted this year, as Canadians turn to new media platforms to follow their favourite teams. A survey from Solutions Research Group found that the percentage of Canadians watching the NHL on TV fell from 50% to 44% over the course of 2014, while those who followed the NHL on a digital, social or mobile platforms grew from 23% to 26%.

And while the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recently voiced its support for “over the air” (OTA) — a.k.a. “free” — television, chairman Jean Pierre Blais conceded that, “The future of television lies more toward viewer-centric, on-demand models than the scheduled broadcasts such as those provided by OTA.” Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Apple TV are the future — making the CRTC itself a creature of the past.

Changing viewer behaviour has huge implications, not just for sitcoms and sports, but for politics, as well. As the next generation of viewers turns away from 24-hour news channels and towards streaming video, will they consume more entertainment and less information? Sure, you can stream some news channels over the Internet, and others offer clips of their various news programs, but if you’ve cut the cable, you’re likely not looking for live news. You’re downloading the latest episodes of Downton Abbey, or catching up on past seasons of Breaking Bad. My teenage stepdaughter is currently plowing through all 11 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, which first aired when she started grade two. (Talk about feeling old … but that’s another column entirely.)

On demand programming also means the death of another TV habit that led viewers to political news: channel surfing. No longer will viewers pause the remote on that shocking story about a political scandal as it flashes on their screen. No more hopping back and forth between networks on election night, or during huge breaking news stories. If viewers do want news, more and more of them are turning to Twitter for the headlines, cherry-picking stories as they pop up on their feed. They can also turn to apps like CNNgo, or get video on the CP24 or CBC News Network websites. And for the hardcore politico, Question Period is streamed live on CPAC.ca. But if you’re not following these feeds, you can arguably live a more politics-free life than ever before.

For politicians, the challenge thus becomes how to connect with voters who can more easily tune them out. Some have their own YouTube channels and produce their own shows. The Prime Minister’s online show, 24 Seven, the Canadian ripoff of White House Week, is a prime example of this: An Internet “series” about the latest goings-on in the Prime Minister’s world. It’s been online for a year now, with dismal ratings. In one of the better-viewed episodes, 10,000 tuned in to watch the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen Harper, talk about her favourite colour and other important matters. But a recent episode from the middle of January, which features the Harpers attending their son’s volleyball tournament, among other things, has fewer than 2,000 views to date.

In addition to attracting very few eyeballs, this kind of feel-good propaganda adds nothing of value to the political discourse. It only fuels the cynicism many voters feel about the packaging of political messages.  It dovetails with the plethora of “attack ads” that pepper the airwaves — but which also can be easily tuned out by cutting that cable cord. Networks may be mandated to carry political ads during election campaigns, but if viewers aren’t watching network TV, they won’t be watching those commercials, either.

It is highly ironic that in places where people desperately fight for freedom — such as Egypt, Hong Kong, or Ukraine — new media provides a means of effecting, or at least trying to effect, political change. Conversely, in established democracies, it provides a means of escape from political reality. As more of us embrace the luxury of choice in our television viewing, we should make the conscious effort to tune in to political news. Like vitamins, we need a daily dose of that reality, to keep our politicians accountable and our democracy strong.




  1. I’m so damn happy that I cut my cable connection with Shaw, that I feel liberated as a consumer.

    Like a slave finally free from huge monthly bills, long telephone lineups, and other nonsense from a manipulative, greedy company that is evil in every sense of the word.

    So, if politicians can’t reach me and thousands of others who have also gassed their cable connection, who the fuck cares !

    It’s one more nail in the coffin of the Harper regime. Meanwhile those Conservative attack ads, attacking Justin Trudeau and previous Liberal leaders like Micheal Ignatieff, Stephane Dion and Paul Martin were insidious, negative and were paid for on OUR DIME (the taxpayers).

    These ads are the most irritating and immoral acts of government of all time and it’s time that they bloody stopped running them !

  2. Silly ranting aside, lots to consider here. This writer says TV is dying, but all the new platforms and devices she mentions feature network shows! If she is watching Grey’s, Breaking Bad, HNIC and Downton, she is watching traditional network TV. ( Like newspapers are dead, but I’m reading her column on the internet.) Is this a generational thing, accepting a tiny picture because you can take it anywhere, like great home stereos have been replaced (for some) by horrible sounding music players? Who buys all those big screen TVs if no one is basically watching TV? And to many of us, internet shows will always be unaccountable propaganda, lighthearted in nature or not. I certainly don’t believe much of anything I read on the ‘net!
    I’m not thrilled about paying my present cable bill, but I fear going “a la carte” will force me to pay a lot more for the channels I do want. Right now I get a whole mess of channels that I don’t regularly tune in to, but have you noticed how the media companies spread their content around now? Never thought I’d be watching the NHL on FX Canada! Interesting times…


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