Big Changes Coming for Television Broadcasting

Two developments this week are sure to change the way Canadians watch television for years to come.

Canadians are spending more time online than in front of their television sets, the first time Internet usage has jumped ahead of TV.

Two developments this week are sure to change the way Canadians watch television for years to come. Monday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CTRC) ruled that private TV networks can negotiate compensation fees from cable and satellite companies for the right to carry broadcast signals. If the Federal Court approves the CRTC ruling, networks could even withhold their signals from a cable company if negotiations failed.

Canadian network broadcasters had argued that without these new fees, needed to offset declines in audiences and advertising to specialty channels and the Internet, local programming will be further endangered, and more TV stations will be forced to close. Cable and satellite companies had warned that any additional fees imposed by the CRTC would be passed on to consumers.

Monday’s ruling also included changes to Canadian content rules. Broadcasters now must spend at least 30% of annual gross revenues on homegrown content, and 5% on "programs of national interest.” Can-con requirements have been lowered from 60% to 55%. Half of the programming between 6 p.m. and midnight will have to be Canadian. And broadcasters will have more flexibility in shifting Canadian shows between their conventional stations, specialty and pay channels, and web-only platforms.

Also this week, a new survey by Ipsos Reid showed that Canadians are spending more time online than in front of their television sets, the first time Internet usage has jumped ahead of TV. Many people are still watching TV, but on their computers, as more shows move online.

"We're not necessarily watching less television, we're watching television in a different form in a different medium," said Mark Laver, Associate VP of Ipsos Reid. TV is still considered important, Laver added, but "we're getting very close" to the point where the computer will take over.

Canadians are now spending more than 18 hours a week online, compared with 16.9 hours watching television, says the Reid report. Internet usage is up from 14.9 hours last year, while the number of hours watching television also rose in the last year, from 15.8 hours in 2009.

Television does have the high-definition format in its favour, and television remains the more dominant medium for advertisers. But the computer is becoming increasingly important as an entertainment hub, especially for younger demographics. And the rising cost of cable and satellite TV has many turning to the Internet to watch their favourite shows online for free.

So, what do these latest developments mean for the average Canadian television viewer? However you choose to consume TV, in its traditional format or on a laptop, your cable and Internet bills are only going to rise, and you will still be subjected to junk like The Jersey Shore.

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