The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) claims on their website that they represent “Communications in the Public Interest” . They haven’t really been that in a long time. Their job now is more about dividing up the cash pie between broadcasters. They have been, for years, watering down Canadian content requirements, news and public affairs requirements, advertising restrictions and generally selling out the public interest to large media companies who, although they make use of the public airwaves, find acting in the public interest inconvenient and not profitable enough. The reality though is that the CRTC is trying desperately and in vain to make friends because it is on the verge of being irrelevant.

The CRTC has decided, repeatedly, since 1999 that it won’t regulate the internet or the content on the internet. This is largely, I think, because it can’t regulate the internet. The only country to make a serious attempt at internet regulation is China and despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the effort, ‘the Great Firewall of China’ is failing. Trying to regulate or control the flow of information over the internet is about as easily accomplished as trying to bail out the Atlantic ocean with a spoon.

In 10 years, give or take, whether you live in Beijing, or Saskatoon there will essentially be no difference between your television, your radio, your phone and your computer – any device that performs any of these functions will be able to perform all of them. What’s more, any programming (or content) produced anywhere in the world will be available to everyone 24/7. There won’t be any more TV schedules – your computer, or personal video recorder or other such device will simply find and save the things you like, then when you have time to watch or listen you will have the programming you like a click away.

For artists and content creators, the bad news is that, although Canadian content can still be subsidized, it cannot be protected, even within Canada. The good news is that Canadian artists and content creators will have easy access to the entire world.

From a broadcast perspective it is a whole new ball game. The CBC, Global, CTV etc., will only get any substantial revenue from content they produce themselves. Even if you can ‘download’ Lost from CTV, why would ABC allow CTV any substantial revenue? You could just as easily download it from ABC. ABC might pay CTV a few cents per download, but CTV would essentially be acting as, what we call on the web a mirror site. It is also unlikely that ABC would allow a mirror site to sell any advertising on the show, which means if Canadian business’ want to advertise, they will have to buy time from the American networks, or buy ad time on shows produced in Canada.

Another distinct possibility, that any of the companies that actually produce Lost (Touchstone Television, Bad Robot Productions and Grass Skirt Productions) may decide to handle things themselves – either allowing add free downloads for a dollar or so, or selling the advertising and doing the marketing/promotion themselves – thus turning ABC into a mirror site.

Now, back to the original point – if they won’t (and can’t) regulate the internet and the internet becomes inseparable from all other forms of broadcasting – what role is there for the CRTC? None at all really. The CRTC has admitted that it won’t (can’t) regulate that which they were created to regulate. It would be like Canada Post stating that they no longer have any ability to deliver mail – the only thing left to do would be to pack up the office.

If Canadian content is going to survive, it will largely be up to Canadians. Some subsidies will doubtless still be needed, and Canadian voters and taxpayers will have to support those subsidies – beyond that it will be up to the audience. Canadian artists and content creators will simply have to find an audience in Canada and/or abroad.

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