Bell Warns Canadian Broadcasting on Brink as U.S. Streamers Dominate

Bell issued a stark warning to the Canadian government, stating that the Canadian broadcasting system is at risk of collapse unless measures are taken to ensure access to popular foreign TV content.

The telecom giant’s concerns made to the federal government in March come as U.S. companies increasingly offer streaming services directly to Canadian consumers, bypassing traditional Canadian broadcasters.

In the past, popular U.S. shows distributed by cable TV providers in Canada would be monetized by the latter, known as simultaneous substitution (or “sim sub”). Bell still uses this model for the NFL’s Super Bowl (it owns the Canadian distribution rights), which is why Canadians don’t get to see the glitzy U.S. commercials during the game, but instead tamer national ads.

But dedicated U.S. streaming services in Canada allow Hollywood content to bypass this old-school Canadian business model.

In a letter to Canadian Heritage, Bell urged the government to amend its policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on the implementation of the Online Streaming Act, reports The National Post. Bell argues that the act must include provisions to ensure that foreign content remains available to Canadian broadcasters and streamers.

The letter, obtained through access-to-information requests, was accompanied by a presentation that emphasized the Canadian broadcasting system’s heavy reliance on regulation. Bell stated that the traditional regulatory mechanisms are failing and that the impact of streaming services has been “massively disruptive.”

The CRTC is currently working on implementing the Online Streaming Act, aimed at bringing streaming companies under its regulatory purview and requiring them to contribute to Canadian content. However, Bell’s suggested amendments, which call for reasonable commercial terms for non-Canadian programming and incentives for foreign services to partner with Canadian ones, were not included in the government’s draft policy.

A spokesperson for Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge stated that the final policy direction would be released “soon,” but did not confirm if Bell’s suggestions would be considered.

Kevin Desjardins, president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, echoed Bell’s concerns, stating that the new reality of global media companies bypassing the domestic system needs to be reflected in upcoming changes to the broadcasting regulatory framework.

The urgency of the situation is underscored by a CRTC-commissioned report, which noted that Canada’s $16-billion broadcasting sector is now in direct competition with global streaming platforms whose revenues are more than five times higher.

Examples provided included Disney+ and Paramount+ landing in Canada over the past few years. The report warned that if left unchecked, the current trend could effectively disable the Canadian broadcasting system in a matter of years. Sounds so scary, right? Right?

U.S. streaming services allow viewers to choose what they want to watch, and not have content forced upon them like in the past with traditional cable TV. Do we really need the government to bend to Canadian broadcasters who want to force their content on viewers?

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