The public hearings of the Online Streaming Act at the CRTC are under way. Bell was apparently quick to demand more money.
The public hearings at the CRTC are under way. Front and center is the Online Streaming Act. One of the players that spoke at the hearing was Bell Media.
Bell, of course, has had quite the streak of bad publicity over the last several months. There was efforts by the company to defund local journalism, the scandal of journalists working for the company to avoid negative press of the head company, the axing of 1,300 jobs after getting Bill C-18 and, of course, being a part of the notorious beer photo with a former CRTC Chair.
One of the arguments for the Online Streaming Act was that it was about “telling Canadian stories”. The claim was that without the Online Streaming Act, then Canadian talent would drown and disappear overnight because of a crush of American programming. This was obviously never a threat as thanks to the rise of platforms like TikTok, Twitch, and YouTube, Canadian talent has never been more prominent. It was a completely made up moral panic story to try and sell a bill that was set to completely upend all of that progress by independent Canadian stars and rework the system so that only the legacy players benefit from the system.
To compound the hypocrisy of such claims, Bell last year demanded that they should be able to more cheaply rebroadcast American programming… in a bid to tell Canadian stories. No, that doesn’t make any sense, but at least they were more naked about what they really want. Essentially, American broadcasters are gradually moving their offerings online to try and move with where audiences were going. Companies like Bell don’t like that because they no longer have the ability to play gatekeeper with what content Canadians can or cannot consume. Ultimately, they want to more or less bar internet content unless it is through their services.
At the same time, online streaming services offered by the same companies are not doing well. They do have offerings, but comparatively speaking, the content that is offered is generally stuff people don’t want to watch as much. User generated content generally offers content that people are more likely to watch through platforms like YouTube and TikTok. So, it’s sort of a double-whammy for traditional Canadian producers that often only have low quality content on offer. They want to set up a system where they regain that captive audience and that people can only consume their content because nothing else is available (good luck with that!).
So, in that light, the position of a company like Bell makes much more sense. Their content can’t really compete in a fair market, so rather than produce higher quality content, they are trying to create a system that makes it impossible for superior content to even get a foothold in – whether it was produced in Canada or not.
Now that the CRTC hearings are under way, we’re getting quite the direct demands from Bell where they more or less said that the role of the CRTC is to give them lots of free money and to eliminate as much competition as humanly possible from the Canadian market. Anything outside of that means, to them, that the CRTC has their priorities “backwards”. From CityNews:
Bell Media-owner BCE Inc. wants the federal broadcasting regulator to create a news fund that would provide money to broadcasters and require foreign streamers to contribute to the subsidy through their Canadian content spending.
Bell representatives told a CRTC panel Tuesday that the commission should simultaneously exempt Canadian streaming platforms such as Crave from those new obligations until traditional broadcasters receive regulatory relief.
The hearing, which began Monday and is set to last three weeks, is part of the regulator’s public consultations in response to Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act.
Bell’s presentation took issue with the regulator’s direction amid what the company described as a “crisis” for Canadian broadcasters.
“Your priorities are backwards,” Jonathan Daniels, Bell Canada vice-president of regulatory law, said in his remarks to commission panellists.
“Traditional broadcasters, the linchpin of the Canadian broadcasting system, need relief and we need it now.”
First off, the demand that the Online Streaming Act pay for news content is way out of line. Platforms like YouTube are worlds apart from broadcasters to broadcast news content. Digital first creators have tremendously helped platforms succeed and gain the massive audiences that they have. Traditional news broadcasters have contributed little to this ecosystem. In fact, many of those traditional broadcasters have regularly demonized the platforms, accusing them from pretty much every societal ill imaginable. Whether it is creating moral panics about trends that actually don’t exist or blaming platforms for people acting stupid, it’s been a relatively constant barrage of negative publicity directed at these platforms.
So, ironically, those same traditional broadcasters are now demanding that those same platforms that they have derided for well over a decade should be forced to give those broadcasters all of their money all because those traditional broadcasters are entitled to that money because reasons. Really? It’s just a completely shameless shakedown if anything else.
On a different angle, though, this might be a bit of a slip by Bell. Why make these specific demands for news content when they have the Online News Act that was supposed to do that in the first place? The only answer that makes sense is that Bell knows that the Online News Act is on the verge of being a complete failure. With that shakedown effort resulting in a shrinking audience and reducing revenue, companies like Bell are cooking up a new scheme to try and steal money from the platforms. The Online Streaming Act, for them, is their backup plan when their main scheme through the Online News Act predictably went down in flames.
What’s more, accusing the CRTC of having backwards priorities for not bending and serving Bell’s every whim is asinine. These are the companies that are getting everything they wanted as it is. They got their Online Streaming Act. They got their Online News Act. Innovative online news services are about to get absolutely crushed by the Online News Act and digital first creators are about to lose their audiences through the Online Streaming Act. Companies like Bell have no right to complain that things are really really unfair for them and that they should get more. As far as I’m concerned, companies and organizations like Bell have caused enough damage in Canada as it is, so hopefully, the CRTC ignores Bell’s whining here.