MAC CRTC Submissions



December 11 speech given at CRTC impact hearings by Beverley Milligan

An Impact and Opportunities Analysis using MEDIAC INC.'s ACCESSIBILITY LENS

11 December 2009

  1. Good morning Mr. Chairman, Commissioners and Commission staff, and as this is the last day of this hearing, allow me to wish all of you the best for the coming holidays
  2. Thank you for inviting MEDIAC INC. to speak today on the impact and opportunities of CRTC recommendations for implementing a compensation regime for the value of local television signals
  3. First, a bit about MEDIAC INC.
  4. MEDIAC specializes in policy analysis, standards and best practices, marketing and research in the area of all broadband activities related to the creation and delivery of accessible content. By 'accessible' I am referring to broadcast content that can be understood by Canadian consumers with hearing or visual impairments, as well as by those learning English and French as a second language.
  5. As the President and CEO of MEDIAC, I have 25 years of working first as an accessibility advocate, then as the head of an on-air captioning sales and brokerage firm, as the creator and owner of the existing captioning standard from which the cab currently works - and finally now as a business-to-business consulting firm with a broadcast expertise in accessibility which is needed by one fifth, or 20% of the North American population.
  6. My main purpose in wanting to appear before you is to emphasize the importance of continuity of enforcement by the CRTC in its regulatory approach to broadcasting.
  7. More than thirty years ago, in mid-July 1971, the Commission concluded that "broadcasting cannot survive by technology alone", and that "the most perfect electromagnetic signal into every Canadian home is without value unless it bears a message." And based on this conclusion you set the priority carriage requirements for cable systems 'basic service'.
  8. In particular, you said that "while cable television operators may argue they are really only selling an antenna service, sophisticated as it is, the subscribers are buying not antennas but programs" and that cable systems should pay program suppliers because one should pay for what one uses in one's business.
  9. But in the 1970s the CRTC did not enforce its user-pay policy, because TV stations earned more than three times as much as cable companies. But with the precedents of pass-through and non-pass-through fees in more recent years, and the financial strength of our BDU sector, you are well-placed to re-evaluate this decision.
  10. To MEDIAC, the issue is not whether BDUs should pay TV broadcasters, but whether you should enforce your own previous decisions, while ensuring that the rates subscribers pay are fair and reasonable.
  11. In the coming years our broadcasting systems needs regulation that is not just based in public policy serving the public interest, but that is also actually enforced. Regulation that is not enforced, or that is enforced to the benefit of one sector alone, will weaken our broadcasting system.
  12. As matters now stand, in 2009, the tables have turned between BDUs and TV stations. BDU revenues are more than twice as large as the country's TV stations' revenues, and the stations' inability to access a revenue source you promised almost forty years ago is now affecting their very existence.
  13. Imagine then, how this will affect the industries who feed into these larger TV companies, whose existence is threatened.
  14. We begin our impact analysis with some facts about accessibility in the context of existing CRTC policy, and then move on to opportunities.
  15. First, to state the obvious, you have recognized that without accessibility mandated through conditions of licence and decisions like 2009-430, Canada's broadcasting industries did not voluntarily provide accessible content to its consumers.
  16. Without regulation we had negligible levels of descriptive video on SAP, poor quality of accessible content and just to drive home this point, currently, the lack of accessible content functionality on the web sites of broadcasters and BDUs for programs previously broadcast with accessible content.
  17. The wonders of broadband and wireless technology have inevitably created disruptive innovation, where industries, associations and business models either collapse or change significantly to address the rapidly shifting economies.
  18. We should also acknowledge that approximately 95% of all accountability for accessible content rests with the Canadian broadcaster directly or through the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.
  19. Unfortunately, consolidated media ownership is changing the priorities of industry associations like the CAB, the Canadian Satellite Users Association and others. As these organizations change, their ability and mandate to address accessibility will also change.
  20. Similarly, your decision to deregulate advertising time has devalued commercial airtime, including the value of accessible content sponsorship airtime like "closed captioning brought to you by..." While allowing broadcasters to sell more advertising time probably seemed like a good way to grow their share of the advertising pie, the counterintuitive effect was to reduce the value placed on each advertising minute.
  21. And while organizations such as the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association will pick up some of the work previously done by the CAB and others, these organizations have little experience in broadcasters' approach to accessibility issues.
  22. Without thoughtful regulation founded on our past achievements, Canadian consumers risk losing many of the gains that took so much effort to achieve. We therefore ask that your recommendations to the government ensure that visually- or hearing-impaired consumers' access to their own broadcasting system is improved, rather than diminished.
  23. Opportunities do exist for the CRTC to ensure accessible content continues to be solidly grounded in coming years.
  24. The CRTC can invite the government to direct that if any sector of the broadcasting system obtains access to new revenues, whether through advertising or a compensation for value regime, a small percentage of these revenues be allocated to a trust or fund,
    • which would create, monitor and report on the implementation of best practices standards for accessible content,
    • which would act on complaints and work with consumer accessibility organizations; and
    • which would support the growth of an accessible content production industry through certification, workshops dialogue and referrals.
  25. By adopting this recommendation, the government could maintain and improve accessibility of content to the one in five Canadians with visual or auditory challengers. Times like these offer the best opportunities for change to benefit all Canadians, and all industry sectors.
  26. MEDIAC therefore invites the CRTC to use this proceeding to report and recommend to the government the fundamental necessity of policies, standards, compliance methodologies, liaison and support that consumers and producers of accessible content require.
  27. Supporting our no-cost proposal for funding an accessibility monitor will help the CRTC and the government ensure that all Canadians - not just those with excellent hearing and vision - can access our broadcasting system.
  28. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would be happy to respond to your questions.