Canadian watchdog reviews role of new media

Canada’s broadcast watchdog, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), wants to hear from Canadians about what it how it should deal with the Internet.

At issue is whether the CRTC should extend its mandate to the Internet, a medium that is free from regulatory oversight.

The chairman of the CRTC, Konrad von Finckenstein, outlined the watchdog’s approach:

“New digital technologies and platforms are creating opportunities for the broadcast of professionally-produced Canadian content that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. Our intention is not to regulate new media, but rather to gain a better understanding of this environment and, if necessary, to propose measures that would support the continued achievement of the Broadcasting Act’s objectives.”

As part of its public consultation, the CRTC released a 75-page report (PDF) on research and attitudes to the Internet that provides some insight into how the media landscape is changing in Canada.

The report frames the debate in terms of preserving and promoting “Canadian content in a global new media broadcasting environment”. The CRTC is approaching the Internet as a broadcast medium, much like television or radio. This reveals a fundamental misconception of the net, as it is not less of a one-to-many and more of a many-to-many medium. But the public consultation is framed within the notion of the net as another form of broadcast.

In a sense, this reflects the reality of existing Canadian content online. The CRTC report found that Canadian content produced initially for the Internet is rare:

“Professionally produced new media broadcasting content available online is, for the most part, re-purposed from a form intended to be as exhibited on television and radio platforms. Traditionalbroadcasters use new media to promote their programs, allowing viewers to“catch-up” on missed episodes and providing additional information about the
programs.”

This can be partly explained by the lack of government subsidies for new media content. While there are subsidy programs for the development of Canadian content primarily in film and TV, money for new media content is minimal.

However, Canadian media organizations would do well to take notice of how audiences are changing. The CRTC report found that high-speed residential Internet access is now available to 93% of households across the country and has been adopted by more than 60% of Canadian households.

It will come as no surprise that youngsters lead the way. According to the CRTC report:

  • In 2006, 91% of Canadians aged 18 to 34 accessed the Internet, compared to only 69% of Canadians aged 55 or older.
  • In December 2006, approximately 30% of Canadian adults online connected for more than 10 hours per week. This compares to 52% for young Canadian adults aged 18 to 24.
  • Canadians under 18 now spend roughly the same amount of time online as they do watch TV – between 15 and 17 hours.

Clearly a shift in taking place in media consumption, so a debate on Canada’s approach to new media is timely. People have until July 11 to file comments, and the CRTC plans to hold public hearings in early 2009.

Post Author: Neil Black