Bram Abramson to the Radiodays North America conference
June 9, 2023
Bram Abramson, Commissioner for Ontario
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Thanks so much for your warm welcome. It’s an honour to be here with you, and a privilege to do it here on traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, Anishinaabeg, Chippewa, Haudenosaunee and Wendat nations who are long connected to this place. I pay respect to their Elders. I hope our work with, and for, the Indigenous radio and audio sectors will help honour those relationships.
That work is threaded through a very busy set of activities underway at the CRTC to accompany the commercial radio sector as you face what are your latest challenges and opportunities in a very long history.
Commercial radio harks back to the origins of Canadian broadcasting. You bring music and new music to the new audiences. You create local news, often where no one else does. You’ve been integrating into a world of streaming and music apps and podcasts. You’ve dealt with a pandemic that swallowed the daily commute and has barely spit it back out again. Now you’re taking a breath to award salespeople, trailblazers, a young broadcaster of the year, a new Hall of Famer—so you’ve invited the regulator to come address you. I’m from the government, as the saying goes, and I’m here to help.
In all seriousness, you are in the midst of big changes. So are we. There are three main pieces to our work to ensure a level playing field that meets the policy goals assigned to us:
- First, we issued a new commercial radio policy under the old Broadcasting Act.
- Second, we are working with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit stakeholders to co-develop a new Indigenous broadcasting policy.
- Third, we’re building out a framework for fair competition and fair contributions under Broadcasting Act amendments that recognize online is a major part of the audio and audiovisual media sectors.
I’m going to use the next few minutes to peel back the cover on these three pieces, talk about what you can expect, and suggest ways your organizations can help make best use of us.
Commercial radio policy
So, first, the revised commercial radio policy. The last one came out in 2006. We’d been making updates all along. But last year we issued the first major update and restatement in 16 years.
We know you want to bring audiences new sounds and help break new musicians. We want to make sure Canadian content (CanCon) rules are aligned with that. So, alongside long-standing CanCon requirements, we formalized a new 5% expectation on songs from emerging Canadian artists, and added one around Indigenous music.
At the same time, we simplified the definition and broadened the scope of music that may be eligible. Many of you are familiar with our “MAPL” rules for determining CanCon, which stands for music, artist, performance and lyrics. Now it will be “MLA”, for music, lyrics, artist.
We’ve also changed our ownership policy. Under certain conditions, you will be allowed to operate an additional FM station in the same market.
Now, there are some moving pieces there, some of which interlock with what we’re doing on Indigenous broadcasting policy and on online audio markets. We’re going to be consulting the public, including your regulatory teams, on simplifying our approach to music support funds and initiatives, and on supporting Indigenous artists and music.
In the meantime, we’re developing an open music database that will provide a reliable, publicly accessible catalog of Canadian music. This will facilitate digital reporting by radio broadcasters, making life easier for everyone.
Indigenous broadcasting policy
The second major piece is our Indigenous broadcasting policy. As you know, there is a long history of Indigenous radio and television which play a vital role in their communities. We’ve been engaged with Indigenous broadcasters, content creators, artists, and leaders on what’s working well and what issues and opportunities lie ahead.
Those include the importance of hearing Indigenous persons, languages, and music on-air. Earlier I mentioned a new expectation that you include Indigenous music in playlists and report on how you’re doing. But what is Indigenous music? What should on-air goals for Indigenous music look like?
Many answers are possible. Our work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit broadcasters, content creators and audiences will help put concrete approaches on the table. As usual, we won’t adopt rules without consulting everyone first, including you. But in the meantime, we know many of you recognize your own responsibility to make places for Indigenous persons, languages, and music. We look forward to hearing how you make out, and how that informs the approaches you suggest to us.
Online Streaming Act
The third piece is the one you’ve probably heard most about, the Broadcasting Act, which was amended in late April. Our job is to apply the updated public policy objectives that require us to look at the whole audio and audiovisual media environment, including online.
Now, every technology platform is different. Analog over-the-air, digital satellite broadcasting, and online are all different animals. They’re each diverse internally. A range of forms and styles co-exist within every technology platform, and they are continuously evolving.
As the regulator, we have to ensure any rules we put in place don’t pick and choose business models, or programming styles, or make it hard to be creative or innovate. At the same time, we must ensure competitive markets, limit barriers to entry and steward public goods, like artist support and accessible local news. To that end, we foster continued contributions to the creation, production, and distribution of Canadian and Indigenous voices, stories, and sovereignties.
Last month, we published a regulatory plan that starts off with three immediate consultations on:
- how to get there from here, in terms of existing orders that exempt online services, including many of yours;
- simple registration of online services, which we’ve proposed should apply only to groups that meet a Canadian broadcasting services revenue threshold; and
- how online broadcasting services should support and contribute going forward.
On contributions, we’ve proposed a three-part system. First, a base contribution, common to everyone, that could be directed to funds. Second, a flexible component to accommodate different kinds of programming investment. Finally, an intangible component: this speaks to everything from CanCon to initiatives to, for example, help make Canadian content easier to find online.
Now, that’s the first phase of our activity around the amended Broadcasting Act. Down the line we’ll consult on definitions of Canadian content, tools to support Canadian music and other audio content, and so on. In late 2024, we’ll then focus on implementation and concrete regulations. As usual, we’ll adjust our plans as needed as these phases unfold.
So we’ve now discussed the 2022 commercial radio policy, the co-developed Indigenous broadcasting policy to come, and our work to pick up the Online Streaming Act amendments to the Broadcasting Act. These are the three tentpoles around our activity in your sector these days.
One of our headline phrases has been modernizing Canada’s broadcasting system. Our work focuses on ensuring that, whatever your business models, programming strategies, or platform characteristics going forward, we can have competitive, permeable markets, and fair contributions that support public goods.
But we’re very aware that modernizing the system isn’t something the regulator does. It’s what emerges from how stakeholders like you act and interact. You are busy tackling short and medium-term challenges. At the same time, you’re having to envision a long-term future you’re building towards, and where you fit in. What does radio look like as the world goes from AM to FM, from FM to digital, to online, and beyond?
You are experts at supporting and presenting local programming, music, digging out and presenting local news, being voices for the communities you serve. What does that look like as online swallows up adjacent media platforms? How will you stream music to listeners? How will you catalyze and host events? How will your news stories go from broadcast, to online, to becoming spreadable content?
The commercial radio sector is filled with bright, energetic, enthusiastic, and brilliant professionals, some of whom you honour today. As we modernize our framework to support Canada’s policy goals and your place in ensuring they’re met, formal input from your regulatory teams, industry associations, unions, listeners, and others will be fundamental, for a very simple reason. As Commissioners, we vote on what rules and frameworks we adopt. But we can’t pitch ideas from scratch. We can only vote for concrete ideas put on the table and in the formal record filed with us.
That’s why the input we receive is so important. It establishes the parameters of what we can and cannot do—with you and for you.
The radio sector excels at connecting people and building community. I know radio entrepreneurs will seize every opportunity to continue to do that as the playing field evolves, much like those you are recognizing today have done over the course of their careers.
Thank you for making us part of that conversation. I look forward to working with you as we work to evolve the ground rules for the new audio and audiovisual media environments you are part of creating.
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