Speech by Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

At the Banff World Media Festival

Banff, Alberta
June 12, 2013

Check against delivery

 

Thank you for your warm welcome.

I’ve been on the job as the CRTC Chairman for a year now. I have had a chance to reflect on how the Commission can contribute to a dynamic communications marketplace that advances the public interest.

About how best to translate the needs of Canadians—as citizens, consumers and creators—into outcomes.

And about how to regulate. When to step back, and when to step up.

I’ve concluded that, to get it right, we need to start by asking the right questions.

Are we doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reasons, in the right circumstances?

To get the right answers, we need to turn to the right people: Canadians. The people directly affected by our decisions.

Engaging Canadians

And that’s what I’ve spent a lot of my time doing over the past 12 months.

I have engaged with, and listened carefully to, Canadians at every opportunity.

For example, I’ve met with members of Canada’s creative community on several occasions. This includes the Canadian Media Production Association and the Association québécoise de la production médiatique at their annual meetings this spring. I was out here in Banff just last week to meet the members of the Western Association of Broadcasters.

With my colleagues commissioners, I have sat through 226 hours of testimony during six hearings—on everything from the need for a new wireless code to the renewal of the CBC’s radio and television licences, from ownership transactions to licensing hearings.

I have reviewed 177,641 submissions and interventions from individuals and interest groups. They have come from business and consumer groups as well as citizen-focused organizations and disability associations.

My fellow Commissioners and I have held over 400 decisional meetings, which is an indication of the complexity of the issues we are dealing with. We have indeed overachieved the six meetings the 1968 CRTC Act requires us to have annually.

I’ve also read hundreds of handwritten notes from individuals who wanted to make their opinions known on any number of issues. Following the publication of one of our decisions, I received a letter from Beth Anne who wrote:

"We appreciate your time in bringing our concerns to the table and thank you for the respect that you have shown; something that underscores a democratic Canadian right to be heard that we cherish across this vast and great nation."

Jennifer, for her part, wrote:

"…I feared that this was going to be another example of a detached government making a decision for its citizens based on what appears to be "logical" or perhaps easier in lieu of legislation or accessibility from a government agency point of view. However, you have truly rekindled my hope in the leadership of this country… I felt you were on ‘our side’."

And I also criss-crossed this country numerous times. I’ve travelled to 13 different communities, both large and small—from Halifax in the East, to Vancouver in the West and Iqaluit in the North.

I’ve listened to Canadians around board room tables and kitchen tables, alike. Quite literally. One day during my travels, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table in Edmonton of a volunteer member of the Consumer Association of Alberta.

Lessons learned

I have taken away a number of lessons from this experience.

The first big "AHA!" for me has been the astuteness of Canadians. And how quickly as technocrats and bureaucrats we lose sight of the wisdom of a conversation around a kitchen table having coffee with "ordinary" Canadians, as the saying goes in Ottawa, who are by their insights so "extraordinary".

Whether online or in-person, I have been repeatedly struck by the moderation and insightfulness of Canadians regarding matters those of us in the regulatory field tend to view through the lens of detailed rules and processes.

The second important lesson is Canadians’ understanding that regulation is not a four-letter word.

There is a time and place for regulation. Just as there are times when the best course of action is to simply get out of the way and let market forces unfold.

There is an inspiring quote I keep close at hand since my appointment as chairman of the CRTC. It is a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte—a man not often quoted in public speeches, I grant you. Especially by persons of my height. A man often remembered for devastating wars in Europe. This is to the detriment of his other lasting accomplishments as a regulator who codified civil law and standardized weights and measures through the metric system, to the betterment of commerce and social interaction; and this, not only in France but across the world.

In 1806, he wrote to his elder brother, the recently anointed King of Naples, and said: "The art of sometimes being very audacious and sometimes very prudent is the art of succeeding."

What those words inspire in me, and hopefully, in all of you, is that what matters is having the audacity to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons in the right circumstances.

Sometimes that means we, at the CRTC, have to step back. Boldly dare to let creative or market forces take over.

But it can also mean stepping up—by regulating, over the offended protests of licensees, when necessary, to advance the public interest.

It also means being audacious in how we do things. It’s about giving ourselves permission to experiment in our proceedings. We will not always be successful, but that won’t stop us from trying.

Regulating for the right reasons

Wireless code

The new wireless code we announced last week illustrates this philosophy in action.

To date, the wireless market has been allowed to develop with very little regulatory interference. For many years, this served Canadians well. But, in the last few years, it became evident that the status quo was no longer satisfactory.

Last fall, we initiated a proceeding to establish a mandatory code for wireless contracts. We consulted widely with Canadians who told us, in no uncertain terms, that they are frustrated with the length of wireless contracts, cancellation fees and roaming charges, among other industry practices.

The wireless industry also told us of their concerns and how they were already working to address consumer frustrations. They outlined how some proposed changes would be too onerous and may have unintended outcomes.

As a result of these consultations, we have established new standards for wireless contracts that strike a fair balance between the needs of consumers and the business realities of wireless service providers.

In particular, service providers will have to clarify the contractual terms they are offering their customers, who will then be able to make informed choices, thus fostering a more dynamic marketplace.

CBC licence renewal

The CBC licence renewal hearing is another example of our philosophy.

It illustrates our willingness to do things differently—even if they don’t always work. As part of the hearings, we planned to hold evening sessions to make it easier for Canadians who work 9-to-5 jobs to appear before us. Turns out, no one took us up on our offer and the evening sessions were cancelled. That was a disappointment, not a discouragement.

Sometimes, experiments fail. But that doesn’t mean we will stop looking for new ways to do business. As it is for you, the fact that a TV pilot doesn’t get picked up doesn’t mean you stop pitching ideas and making new pilots.

Neither does it mean that Canadians did not have other opportunities to tell us what their national public broadcaster means to them. As we heard, it matters a lot.

We considered more than 8,000 interventions from Canadians—over and above the thousands of comments received through our online consultation.

In response to Canadians’ input, we have instituted certain conditions as part of the CBC’s recent licence renewal. These conditions fully acknowledge the specificity of Canada’s English and French linguistic markets. They also acknowledge the specific needs of Canadians living in official language minority communities.

We established floors for the types of programming that are central to the Corporation’s legislative mission: dramas, comedies, documentaries, musical and variety programming, and award shows.

We’ve set seven hours per week on Société Radio Canada (SRC) and nine hours a week on CBC for these programs of national interest.

We also established a floor for children’s programming of 15 hours per week, as well as local and regional news shows.

These conditions will ensure the Corporation strengthens its leadership as a pan-Canadian service that reflects and serves the needs of all Canadians—in both official languages—regardless of where they live. Whether they live "là" or "ici"!

They will help to make sure the CBC continues to be a significant contributor to the cultural life of Canada through the promotion of Canadian music and Canadian programs, from coast to coast to coast.

The conditions of their license renewal will also ensure they play a greater role in the lives of Canada’s youngest citizens through Canadian programming for children.

Collectively, these conditions mean that Canadians will continue to receive a wide and diverse range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains.

Some of you may have wanted us to do more. Some may have wanted us to do less. These are all valid views. But I hope that all of you respect the voice of the many Canadians who came to talk to us about their communication system.

BCE/Astral

With these same considerations in mind, we are applying a more rigorous public interest test for ownership transactions.

That was clear from our response to the initial application made by BCE to acquire control of almost all of Astral’s holdings. Our decision last fall sent a clear signal that the public interest is paramount. It is the lens that Parliament has entrusted to us, under legislation, and we fully intend to carry out that public trust.

These examples demonstrate that sometimes being audacious—stepping up and applying appropriate intervention—is good, and necessary.

You may think, from the examples I’ve highlighted, that our natural tendency is always to step up. That is not the impression I want to leave you with.

There are a number of instances where we have prudently decided that the best thing to do was not to intervene. There are also cases where we have removed regulations that were no longer necessary to achieve the desired outcomes.

For instance, we have exempted new Category B specialty television services serving fewer than 200,000 subscribers from our licensing requirements. We also intend to expand exemptions for radio and streamline the tangible benefits policy.

Whether we step up or step back, we won’t apologize for audacity. For doing the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, in the right circumstances.

All Canadians—regardless of their postal code, employment status or level of ability—need to be able to participate in today’s digital world. Income, education or just having broadband access should not be a barrier. We need to make sure no citizen is left behind.

That’s what putting Canadians at the heart of their communication system is all about.

Consultation on "television"

So, what does this mean for folks like you in the Canadian creative industries?

What is television today? A service? A platform? A piece of furniture? A screen?

The term "audiovisual content" doesn’t mean what it once did when content can now be accessed on a notebook, tablet or smartphone. When personal video recorders let viewers determine when and how many episodes of their favourite shows they watch at a sitting. And when television sets can be connected directly to the Internet.

It’s like calling your mobile device just a phone, when it is so much more. A phone is now a gateway to the world and to all human knowledge.

Clearly, the days when the television set was, almost literally, the hearth around which our families sat and shared common experiences are long gone. TV as we knew it doesn’t have a monopoly on information and entertainment anymore.

Canadians today have access to a whole new set of broadband-based technologies that inform and entertain us, connecting us to each other and to the world. They are a window to their neighbourhood and the world. These technologies transport us where news and fantasy coexist, where truth and dreams collide.

They are the gateway to our private and public lives—our homes and our businesses, our work and our leisure. We depend on them to do our jobs, buy and sell products, monitor breaking news, share the latest photos of friends and family, play games or find directions. And watch TV shows, documentaries and movies.

Canada’s regulatory framework for audiovisual content has evolved over the years—mostly in response to changes in the communication environment, to fulfill the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. That evolving framework exists to ensure Canadians are the beneficiaries of the trust placed in those of you that make use of that shared public space.

For decades, that meant issuing licenses to networks and cable and satellite service providers, with certain conditions attached. While the intentions have always been good and appropriate for the times, the result is a complex framework. It’s become gears in and of itself. It’s become about the rules.

So it’s time to ask: do the assumptions that lie beneath our current regulatory policies still hold true?

Broadcasting, as we once knew it, is no longer—and will never again be—the same.

Stepping back

In the same way, regulatory fiat is becoming an obsolete concept in a borderless world.

There’s nothing to be gained by regulating for regulations’ sake.

I am already on the record as saying we need to move from protect to promote.

Let me propose a few other ideas in the form of "from/tos". We need to shift our focus ...

From rules to outcomes.

From conformity to experimentation.

From imitation to creativity.

From constraint to choice.

From scheduled to on-demand.

From meeting quotas to embracing new potentials.

From television that Canadians watch from the outside to television where Canadians see themselves.

From domestic to global.

From great Canadian works to great works that happen to be Canadian.

This is what I think.

But we need to hear from Canadians whether those preliminary ideas are correct. It is time to take stock of the reality of "television" from their perspective. It is, after all, "their" broadcasting system.

If you have reviewed our Three-Year Plan, for the period 2013-2016, you will know that we intend to have a conversation with Canadians. What do they think of this country’s "television" system? Do they feel that the public interest is being served? I speak of "television" for lack of a better word, because technology has outpaced language.

We want to take the pulse of the population before undertaking any future regulatory proceedings. We need to hear directly from Canadians to make sure we do the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, in the right circumstances. The public interest does not only mean what interests the public, or the ever-so-popular potential consumers of goods and services between the ages of 18 and 49. It’s about ensuring that our television system serves the interests of all Canadians, not only those of the majority. There must be a range of choices and a diversity of content that reflects Canadians in all their circumstances.

For example, we need to bear in mind that Canadians watch an average of 28.5 hours of television each week, compared to 2.8 hours of Internet television per week. For many people, television is still their only source of news, information and entertainment programming. Those of us here today who are relatively well off, well educated and digital ready must never lose sight that we may not be the most representative sample of Canadian society in all its diversity.

As we consult Canadians, we will apply the lessons learned from the proceeding on the wireless code. We will make certain that no one is stuck on the outside looking in because they cannot access an online consultation or participate in an online discussion forum. We will use an array of approaches to engage Canadians, in both their Anglophone and Francophone realities, whether that linguistic reality is in majority or minority communities, to make sure everyone who wants to can have their say.

So our conversation with Canadians will begin this fall. I invite you to relax a little this summer and start your own reflection. First, we will engage with those extraordinary Canadians I mentioned earlier, who will bring balanced wisdom and insight about the future of their television system. Then we will engage those of you in the industry: broadcasters and distributors, station owners and network operators, producers and actors, advertisers and creators, news gatherers and the others who have built what, to date, has been a successful model, but which is now in need of reinvention.

Unprecedented opportunity

The picture I’ve just painted opens up a whole new world of opportunity for people like you. There are extraordinary possibilities for creative industries in this dynamic environment.

We are living through a period of unprecedented funding for Canadian productions. Investments by Canadian broadcasters surpassed $3 billion in 2012-13, for the first time. This money enables content creators to produce high-quality films, TV programs and other screen-based content for distribution on multiple platforms.

There are all kinds of new and exciting digital platforms to showcase your creative content, opening doors to niche markets unimaginable even a decade ago.

And audiences in a globally connected world are on the lookout for new and exciting content. In 2011-2012, the Canada Media Fund backed 25 programs that attracted average audiences of over 1 million in Canada. Canadian-made productions also appeal to viewers in the US, Europe and hundreds of other countries.

It all adds up to outstanding opportunities to put Canada on the world map as a producer of quality content. The time has come to define ourselves in terms of who we are—in all our diversity—with self-confidence and audacity.

Conclusion

Even though Canada’s creative industries have never been better positioned to seize these opportunities, unlocking this potential comes down to each of you.

Well, perhaps that is not entirely true.

Ultimately, your long-term success will require being part of the national conversation the Commission will be convening. You need to be at the table with us. It is vital that you have your voices heard and views considered.

Equally important, you need to be part of the ongoing dialogue with Canadians—as citizens, consumers and creators—about what kind of communication system they want.

Your future success rests, in large part, on listening—and responding—to what Canadians have to say. Translating their expectations and aspirations into positive outcomes will keep your sector productive and prosperous in the years ahead. Contributing to a vigorous creative economy. Creating jobs and growth. Investing in dreams and aspirations.

I don’t doubt, for a moment that Canada’s creative community is up to the challenge.

As we embark on this forward-looking process, the Commission will apply Napoleon’s advice. Sometimes we will step up. Sometimes we will step back. Our goal is to foster a healthy and sustainably competitive broadcasting system that serves the interests of its primary beneficiaries: the Canadian public. They are the ones who own this public space called broadcasting and we are all—regulators and creators alike—accountable to them.

I have full confidence that, together, we can and will create the future we all want.

Ladies and gentlemen, many of you will be leaving Banff later this week. In your luggage, I invite you to bring with you memories of those majestic mountain peaks that surround us here today. I call upon you to unpack those memories wherever your travels bring you in Canada or the world. Let them shine upon that inward eye. Let those summits inspire you to excellence. Let them remind you of the prudence of the climb. But mostly, let them carry you to the audacity of success!

Thank you.

 

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