Stephen B. Simpson to the annual conference of the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters

Speech

Kelowna, British Columbia
May 16, 2018

Stephen B. Simpson, Regional Commissioner for British Columbia and the Yukon
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Thank you for your warm welcome.

I acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional territory of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation. I thank them and pay respect to their Elders.

We are meeting during particularly challenging times—perhaps more so than at any other period in the history of broadcasting.

We have seen global financial instability unlike anything since the 1930s. Few countries or industries are left untouched by the global financial instability we have witnessed, and that includes the broadcasting sector.

We live in a world that has become more fast-paced and more connected and with so many options, we have to make choices in order to consume the content that appeals to us the most. Canadians have shown a preference for sources that offer local content – and the appetite for this kind of content is growing. Particularly in radio.

And as for conventional television broadcasters, it’s no secret that the times we are in have had a much more pronounced effect on them. Digital online offerings have made them particularly vulnerable to a soft advertising market.

Wait a minute… this is the speech I gave to the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters (BCAB) in 2009.

My speech to you then was reflecting on a world in the midst of financial turmoil, to be sure, and that in parallel the broadcasting world was on the cusp of major change. Change driven by new technologies, greater variety of content offerings on an ever expanding number of platforms, all resulting in changing consumer habits and behaviours.

In 2009, I was attending the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters (BCAB) conference for the first time as your Commissioner for British Columbia and the Yukon. And here we are, almost a decade later, still reflecting on the changes in the broadcasting world… and the really good news is that you’re still here—adapting to change and getting stronger for it.

However, these are my last days at the CRTC and it seems fitting to make my last speech right where I made my first. Here at the BCAB.

More on that later. So enough about me, let’s talk about you.

As is our customary habit, I will first refer back to the CRTC’s latest Communications Monitoring Report. But instead of focusing on the revenues let’s look at what else it is telling us.

From the portent of change I talked about in my first speech to you a decade ago, we are now getting a better grasp on where things are going.

We see that content is still king in the media world.

The report shows that, in 2016, broadcasters invested more than $3.5 billion to create Canadian-made TV, musical and spoken-word content.

That’s great news, but production is only half of this story. We are seeing clearly that the changing landscape of distribution platforms for content is the real story to be followed.

We are seeing that Canadians want to access that content in the ways that suit them best.

The Communications Monitoring Report shows us that weekly viewing of traditional television—especially among those aged 34 and younger—declined in 2016. At the same time, weekly viewing of Internet television became more popular.

Radio listening is following a similar path. Traditional radio listening is also on the decline—again, chiefly among young people—while more than half of Canadians said they streamed audio content online.

These trends are telling and are in part what triggered a request from Minister Joly for the CRTC to prepare a report on the future of audio and video programming in Canada.

Specifically, we were asked to examine:

  • the distribution model or models of programming that are likely to exist in the future
  • how and through whom Canadians will access that programming, and
  • the extent to which these models will ensure a vibrant domestic market that is capable of supporting the continued creation, production and distribution of Canadian programming, in both official languages, including original entertainment and information programming.

To inform this report, and so that we may develop as fulsome a public record as possible on the matter, we opened a two-phase consultation.

During phase one, which concluded last fall, we asked Canadians to tell us their views on how they access programming, what they think are the hallmarks of a vibrant domestic content-creation and distribution market, and what policy measures are needed to support that market.

During the second phase of our consultation, we also undertook extensive public-opinion research to even better inform our future-looking report.

This report is to be delivered to the government by June 1 and will be simultaneously released to all Canadian as a completely digital product.

No trees to be killed. Only pixels.

Designed to be interactive, it will be made available online. I encourage you to look for it soon as it will be a major plank in our understanding of where things are headed in delivery platforms for content in the immediate future.

I can say that it is obvious Canadians want to use applications and services on the devices of their choice.

As change has become a constant in your world, it has in ours as well. In fact, our organization has had a long tradition of being at the forefront of regulatory change.

This year the CRTC turns 50, and over the past five decades we have grappled with several significant technological changes from the birth of cable network television, satellite communications and cellphones to digital broadcasting and now broadband.

Since 1968, the many people who have served as Chairs and Commissioners have adopted thoughtful, creative and made-in-Canada approaches to deal with a vast array of complex regulatory challenges.

The CRTC has responded in stride to transformative developments in the past half-century.

With the advent of cable, then satellite, and the Internet, the CRTC has had to strike a balance between giving Canadians access to a diversity of programming and ensuring that Canadian-made content, which reflects our realities, has a pride of place in the Canadian broadcasting system.

As companies like yours continue to innovate in your programming to Canadians, whether by conventional or new means, the CRTC intends to continue to ensure that Canada’s Internet neutrality provisions are respected.

In a speech last fall our new Chair, Ian Scott, drew the example of how the transport commission before us “kept the railway lines open for any and all users.”

Our Chair took his audience back to 1976 when the CRTC assumed responsibility for regulating telecommunications carriers. Prior to that, the responsibility belonged in the hands of the Canadian Transport Commission—the entity responsible for regulating Canada’s air, sea and land transportation systems.

If that surprises you, consider that the thinking in those days was that the same principles of carrier neutrality that applied to the railway lines ought to apply to the country’s telephone and telegraph networks. Owners and operators of each system were forbidden from discriminating against cargo based on its owner or destination.

He closed his remarks by observing that 40 years later, the CRTC addressed the same question of carrier neutrality when we issued our framework for Internet neutrality.

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Looking ahead past our 50 year milestone, we will be drawing on innovative tools and adopting best practices from other jurisdictions to maintain our status of being a leading communications regulator—one that always serves the public interest, and ensures that Canadians have access to a world-class communications system.

So, to starting wrapping things up, I thought I would also take a look back on my own ten-year tour from 2008 to today, and highlight at some of the milestones I witnessed during my term.

As you know, we make decisions at the CRTC. Radio and TV licences, telecom rates, wholesale access to networks, that kind of stuff. Every one of these decisions is the result of a process, prepared with the unfailing effort of the brilliant and hard-working Commission staff and ultimately decided upon by Commissioners.

In my first year, we put out 369 decisions in broadcasting and 122 in telecom.

Then companies and individuals went on a buying and merging spree and our decision load went from around 500 in a year to over 800 in 2009.

The decision volume has levelled off in the past few years, but with the changes ahead who knows which way it’s going to go.

As for the big events that came across our bow, we saw the bankruptcy of Canwest in 2009 and the acquisition of CTV by Bell in 2010. The following year saw the launch of the Sun News Network, and in 2013 Bell was back with a merger with Astral.

In 2015, the sun set on the Sun News Network, and in 2016 Corus came forward with a plan to buy Shaw Media.

And as companies like Corus, Bell and Newcap grew westward, broadcasters and telecoms from the West like Telus, Pattison and Golden West pushed east.

It was a grand time and it sure kept us busy.

While I was there, we also made some news of our own with decisions to support a National Public Alerting System, the creation of a Wireless Code, a TV Service Provider Code, and administering the do-not-call legislation and CASL, the Canadian anti-spam legislation.

We mandated broadband as a basic service. Called for the modernization and improvement of telecommunications in Canada’s North. Set a framework for next-generation 9-1-1 services.

The creation of a video relay service for Canadians with hearing disabilities was another important milestone.

And in our consultation on the future television system, we reached out to Canadians from across the country through social media, flash conferences, online town halls and surveys to encourage them to participate in our proceeding—a practice we will keep up as we make our processes ever more transparent.

And who can forget the Local Programming Improvement Fund and, later on, the Independent Local News Fund, which gives independent stations access to approximately $23 million to produce high-quality news programming.

And now, almost in a testament to the future of broadcasting, there is more activity ahead with the proposed acquisition of Newcap by Stingray.

I have to say that being asked to be a CRTC Commissioner was a great honour. Being your Regional Commissioner was both an honour and a privilege.

I want to sign-off with a quote from my favourite scene from the original movie Blade Runner, where a mortally wounded Rutger Hauer says his goodbye.

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. It’s time to… golf"

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