CRTC Hearing: Corus Demands 64% of Streaming Loot Goes to Radio Stations

Corus, the next corporate player at the financial trough, is demanding that 64% of the streaming loot goes to radio stations.

The hearings at the CRTC are reaching a conclusion, but we are continuing to pour through the transcripts to learn what was said. We’ve already heard from a number of lobbyists representing the freeloading legacy corporations. One by one, they came forward demanding various chunks of free money while basically admitting that consumers won’t freely choose to consume their awful products.

Some of these freeloaders were quite naked about their demands as well. Bell, for their part, plainly argued that “a level playing field is not enough“, pushing for a system that largely, if not, exclusively favors them for no real reason. Rogers also joined in the constant drum beat of “GIMME!!!” by demanding 30% of streaming loot be redirected to legacy news operations – a number of which they happen to own and operate.

Google was much more reasonable. They said that a new system should support the digital ecosystem. It’s a reasonable argument because digital first creators are the ones that are producing content that consumers actually want to consume. It wouldn’t be fair that small creators that need the money the most would end up getting punished for their innovation with earnings getting redirected to large corporations who need it the least. The problem is that the CRTC is unlikely to listen to the smaller independent voices given their cozy, revolving door like relationship with legacy corporations.

Another corporate pig at the CRTC trough is Corus Entertainment. They argue that 64% of all the streaming funds be directed towards radio operations – operations that they just so happen to own and operate. The transcript can be read at the CRTC.

Throughout the Bill C-11 hearings, many corporations have argued that the legislation is all about “telling Canadian stories”. This under the nonsense argument that Canadian culture is disappearing and being choked out by online platforms (the opposite is actually true). However, as the debate went on, players began to drop the pretense and admit that they aren’t interested in contributing to Canadian culture and want to be free from the regulations requiring them to contribute.

Bell was much more blatant about this. Between calling for looser regulations so they can more cheaply rebroadcast American programming, slashing jobs after getting Bill C-18, and defunding local journalism and demanding Cancon quota cuts, Bell is leading the way in pushing to get out of having to contribute to Canadian culture as a whole.

Corus, for their part, actively showed that Bell is far from alone in trying to shirk corporate responsibility on this front. In part of their opening statement, they whined about how they have to contribute to Canadian culture:

5885 First, Corus recommends that large standalone online undertakings who are not affiliated with licensed broadcasters be required to contribute to eligible funds. Only undertakings exceeding $50 million in annual gross revenues should be subject to a base requirement at this initial stage.

5886 Some witnesses have argued that both standalone and affiliated online undertakings should be subject to these base requirements, but we strongly disagree. Licensed broadcasters like Corus already carry heavy, inequitable contribution requirements and we have done so, while awaiting legislative and regulatory reform, for quite some time. No new costs should be imposed upon us now until our existing obligations are revisited and recalibrated.

5887 Our company is currently undergoing an enterprise‑wide cost review, which has prompted some very difficult decisions. We simply cannot sustain additional regulatory burdens at this time.

5888 Canadian broadcasting undertakings, large and small, share our perspective on this, and the government’s recent policy direction reinforces this important point.

5889 To be clear, we accept that our largest online undertakings like STACKTV will attract regulatory obligations under the new framework, but they should not be brought in until the Commission is ready to revisit and recalibrate the requirements on traditional broadcasting undertakings.

The organization then went on to say that they want 64% of streaming loot going towards radio stations unless a quarter of the revenue also goes towards legacy news operations:

5891 As for where base contributions should go, we believe a significant proportion of them should support local news production. This proceeding allows the CRTC to shift greater emphasis onto a genre of programming that is newly highlighted in the Act. It’s highly valued by Canadians, hugely important to democracy, yet struggling to stay afloat.

5892 You’ve heard a lot about “gaps” in this hearing, and there is no gap more urgent than news funding. Current regulated funding tools like the Independent Local News Fund are failing to cover eligible news providers, including 15 local Global Television stations in eight provinces. There is a news funding crisis in this country and we urge that it should top your agenda for this proceeding.

5893 MR. THOMPSON: More specifically, we recommend that 25 percent of all initial base contributions be allocated to the Independent Local News Fund in its current form. If the Commission decides to expand that program to include vertically integrated local television stations, discretionary services and/or radio stations, then a higher proportion should be allocated.

5894 Funds that support non‑news Canadian content and creators, like the Canada Media Fund, Certified Independent Production Funds, FACTOR, Musicaction and the Radio Starmaker Fund, should receive 64 percent of these contributions or less if the Commission decides to expand the news fund.

Corus then took things a step further and argued that platforms should have no say on these debates:

5907 Large unregulated international players have rejected the Commission’s proposal and want to avoid making contributions as long as possible. We agree with them that equitable does not necessarily mean the same, but equitable also does not mean that you get to enter the regulated system on your own terms. International streamers enjoy significant structural competitive advantages and they have had the better part of a decade to prepare for Canadian regulations. They should not be allowed to delay any further.

The comments were quite shocking, but Corus then took thins a step further with this right after:

5908 For their part, creative sector guilds, unions and producers’ associations espouse a backward‑facing regulatory approach. They would have the Commission believe that news content does not warrant support and that Canadian broadcasters should be subject to the same rules that they always have been, despite the competitive changes. Both of these approaches would imperil the Canadian‑controlled broadcasting system and the many objectives in the Act it serves. Most notably, they would jeopardize news programming in communities across Canada.

It’s pretty ridiculous statement. I’m not aware of a single player ever saying that news does not warrant support of any kind. The problem here is that the legacy news producers, after watching the Online News Act fail to get them the loot that they so desired after the government folded under the pressure, are now attempting to hijack the Online Streaming Act debate and demand huge sums of cash be redirected to their operations.

One thing that plays over and over in my mind when seeing these freeloaders demand money from successful platforms is the fact that they had years to adapt their business model. Though they often talk a big game about how they have been innovative and adapted, the comments about how it’s oh-so impossible to compete in the online age pretty much defeats that argument.

It’s not as though these legacy corporations didn’t have the resources to become large players in the online sector. The problem is that they thumbed their collective noses at the future and decided that business as usual would be sufficient forever. As online businesses elsewhere evolved and shifted, finding better ways of serving the needs of online users, the legacy players were just content with doing little about the shifting media landscape.

So, it’s really hard for people like myself to have any sympathy for these legacy players. They sat on their laurels and made poor business decisions. As a result, they call the situation “unfair”. It’s a pathetic punchline to all of this. The sad thing in all of this is that the lobbyists for these legacy organizations will use their influence over the CRTC to anchor Canada in the past at the expense of the future. That is what makes this situation so outrageous in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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