CRTC Sets Deadline for Streaming Services to Register: November 29

The Online Streaming Act is moving ahead at the CRTC and a regulatory deadline has been set. That date is November 29.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a development on the Bill C-11 (Online Streaming Act) file. With the fiasco that is the Online News Act, it may cause some confusion of what these developments mean. So, a quick and dirty explanation of what both are is this: The Online News Act is the terrible law that allows the government to meddle in the algorithms and promote government approved “Canadian content” while demoting everyone else, potentially destroying the lives of a number of creators out there. The Online News Act is the terrible law that demands payments for linking to news sites on large platforms. I know, it is still hard to keep track of which way the Canadian government is trying to destroy the internet at times, but lucky for you, you have someone like me to keep the record straight (even if the large media companies can’t be bothered).

When it comes to these internet destroying laws, the Canadian government has been employing the tactics of fake transparency and pretending to accept public feedback on their laws. This while basically maintaining their approach regardless of the public feedback. The legislative processes of Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 are fantastic examples of this where the public responded quite forcefully against these laws and the government blatantly ignoring that feedback.

Well, that pig headedness is continuing with the Online Streaming Act CRTC “consultations”. In January, newly minted CRTC Chair, Vicky Eatrides, said that she would invite public feedback through consultation as the CRTC moves forward with implementing the disaster that is the Online Streaming Act. In May, the consultations moved forward, but there was a catch. A number of these consultation processes moved forward at the same time and it set a comically tight deadline of Monday to have feedback come in. This while burring the public with reams and reams of documents to pour through just to participate.

Organizations from both sides of the debate asked for extensions because they had no hope in offering meaningful feedback on such short notice. The CRTC responded by largely denying those requests, maintaining the absurdly short deadline. We here and Freezenet pretty much used every ounce of our skills to cut through the BS and managed to make not one, but two of those consultation deadlines. I’m not going to lie, producing those results was ridiculously hard, given the circumstances, but at least we filed interventions in this process anyway.

The CRTC, however, got the results they were seeking by doing this. The submissions were suppressed and many of the other organizations simply requested verbal hearings because they just didn’t have enough time to produce meaningful responses. Numerous other submissions were only a couple of sentences, desperately begging the CRTC to not follow through in meddling with the algorithms (submissions that are likely going to wind up being ignored).

Ironically, though, it’s the CRTC itself that gave itself lots of time, clearing the schedule for a whopping two years so it could work on implementing this policy disaster.

Today, we learned that the CRTC has announced that it is, among other things, setting a deadline of November 29th to see any streaming services register with the CRTC:

On May 12, 2023, the CRTC launched its first public consultations. After thoroughly examining all the evidence on the public record, including over 200 interventions, the CRTC is issuing its first two decisions.

First, the CRTC is setting out which online streaming services need to provide information about their activities in Canada. Online streaming services that operate in Canada, offer broadcasting content, and earn $10 million or more in annual revenues will need to complete a registration form by November 28, 2023. Registration collects basic information, is only required once and can be completed in just a few steps.

Second, the CRTC is setting conditions for online streaming services to operate in Canada. These conditions take effect today and require certain online streaming services to provide the CRTC with information related to their content and subscribership. The decision also requires those services to make content available in a way that is not tied to a specific mobile or Internet service.

Indeed, we took a look at the forms and it is largely basic information about the service in question and contact information. It just asks for things like the name of the service, a phone number, website information and e-mail addresses, the type of services that is being offered, and how it generates revenue. The deadline might prove to be a point where streaming companies decide whether or not they want to stay. We’re talking companies like Britbox or Crunchyroll that may not have the library for so-called “Canadian content” or “Cancon” to keep their services viable in Canada. We’ll, of course, see for sure on that.

What is a bit odd is seeing the second part where parts of the Online Streaming Act will start being enforced where information about the users is going to be collected as well. There’s no real documentation or references to what that information might be that is immediately available to the public that we can see.

The last sentence in the last paragraph is a little obscure, though, but we do have a theory as to what that is referencing. There are provisions in the Online Streaming Act that says that streaming services can’t discriminate or overly promote certain kinds of content related to an internet service provider. So, for instance, let’s say Bell Media approaches YouTube and says that they have all this content (however crummy it may be) and they know that Youtube is required to promote “Cancon” content. So, Bell Media would say that in exchange for promoting their content on YouTube, YouTube would fulfill their Cancon requirements and content made by others, like Rogers, would get demoted in favour of Bell Media – essentially creating a monopoly for access to content. That theoretical scenario wouldn’t be allowed under the Online Streaming Act.

That requirement, however, is a bit ironic because the Online Streaming Act also requires government certified “Cancon” to be front and centre on the algorithm. So, if you have so-called “professional” content produced by a large Canadian media company, and that Canadian media company made that content available on YouTube, YouTube would they be required to promote that content over regular producers content such as LinusTechTips or OrdinaryGamers. This is because the YouTubers, even though they are Canadian and produce content made in Canada, they are not officially recognized as “Cancon”.

A platform like YouTube would be required to manipulate their algorithms to produce results that is satisfactory for the government, overriding what ordinary users actually want to watch. So, let’s say you follow a number of cooking channels on YouTube. You basically told YouTube that you like watching cooking content. However, in response to regulations by the Canadian government, YouTube might be required to push things like the dumpster fire that is Family Feud Canada instead (assuming the CBC decides to offer that through YouTube of course). It’s absolutely not relevant to what you want to watch, but the government is demanding that YouTube ram that kind of content down your throat anyway because, otherwise, there isn’t very many “Cancon” video’s related to your taste in video’s.

This is the contradiction of what is largely being asked here. It’s not surprising that the thinking behind this is so screwed up because the whole idea behind the Online Streaming Act is that the internet is just another cable TV channel that should be regulated like every other cable TV channel. The internet does not, and never has, operated like cable TV and pushing TV regulations onto the internet is the equivalent of shoving a regulatory square peg through a technological round hole. It doesn’t work and will only cause a lot of damage in the process.

What damage would that be? There are a number of angles to look at this, but one angle is from the perspective of creators. They could go through the headaches of navigating the regulatory minefield that is the Cancon system (a minefield most have no hope in making it through, mind you). Once through to the other side, then their content would theoretically get pushed which sounds like a good thing at first. The problem is that the pool of content is going to inherently be much smaller, so their video’s are going to pop up to people that see that content not relevant to what they want to watch. As a result, their video’s will get down votes and flags as not being relevant. The major problem with that is that the algorithm is global and it will view all of that and conclude that the content in question is not good. In response, it will suppress that content to the global audience, costing that video potential reach and views in the process.

What a lot of content creators are likely looking at is just shunning the Canadian audience altogether and going after the much larger international audience pie. It all depends on what the creators goals are and who they hope to reach, of course, but the choice is ultimately between the much smaller Canadian audience or the much smaller international pool of audience. Most will likely, after developing their career for years with a global audience in mind, will probably opt for the international audience and just not consider themselves “Cancon” in response. Canadian users, as a result, will simply suffer from a poor user experience after. It’s ultimately damaging for everyone involved.

At any rate, things are moving ahead with the Online Streaming Act at the CRTC. A reasonable expectation is that the CRTC will generally ignore public feedback and continue on with what they feel like in the first place, so a miracle last minute turnaround on saving the internet is pretty unlikely at this stage. While this announcement may seem pretty tame for now, things will only get worse as things move ahead.

(Via @MGeist)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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