(i) Introduction

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced a series of decisions, along with a distribution order and a call for applications on May 15, 2017 all of which are intended to ensure competitive equity among Canada’s largest television ownership groups while enhancing diversity within the Canadian broadcasting system. In all, the CRTC issued eleven licence renewal decisions,[1] a licensing decision and an order granting mandatory basic carriage to a new discretionary service called OMNI Regional[2] and a Notice of Consultation calling for applications to operate a national, multilingual multi-ethnic service offering news and information programming.[3]

(ii) Competitive Equity

Creating a level playing field for competing television services is a key aspect of the CRTC’s licence renewal decisions, particularly for the three large English-language television ownership groups, Rogers Media, Bell Media and Corus Entertainment. According to the CRTC, the standardization of many regulatory obligations will ensure that the television services operated by these groups are able to compete on an equal footing and are able to adapt in a more competitive marketplace.

Canadian programming expenditure (CPE) requirements, for example, have been set at 30% of annual revenues for each English-language television group and every service within those groups. Similarly, each English-language television group must spend 5% of its revenues annually on programs of national interest (PNI). The CPE and PNI requirements for the French-language television groups, which include services owned by Bell Media, Corus Entertainment, Groupe V Media and Quebecor Media, have not been standardized to the same extent, however, because of differences that exist within the French-language market and the relative sizes of the groups that operate in that market. Nevertheless there has been some standardization as between the French- and English-language ownership groups. Each group is required to ensure that 75% of its PNI funding is allocated to programs produced by independent production companies.

Exhibition and expenditure requirements for local programming and locally reflective news and information programs were similarly standardized for the three largest ownership groups operating in English-language markets. Each English-language television station owned by these groups has the same minimum exhibition requirements for local programming (14 hours in metropolitan markets and 7 hours in non-metropolitan markets) and locally reflective news and information (6 hours in metropolitan markets and 3 hours in non-metropolitan markets). In addition to these minimum exhibition requirements, each group has a locally reflective news expenditure requirement of 11% of the previous year’s revenues of each television station in the group. French-language groups do not have standardized exhibition requirements. These stations are, however, each required to spend a minimum of 5% of the previous year’s revenues on locally reflective news and information programs.

Clearly, for English-language television services operated by the three large ownership groups, the CRTC has standardized many of their key regulatory obligations. While the French-language services have fewer standardized rules, even for these ownership groups, the CRTC has begun the process of standardization as a means to create a more equitable competitive environment.

(iii) Diversity

Another core objective that is evident in many of the CRTC’s documents released on May 15 is ensuring that the programming broadcast by each large television ownership group and the Canadian broadcasting system as a whole better reflects the diversity that exists within Canadian society. To that end, the CRTC outlined a number of new measures and initiatives that focused on providing access to the television system for underrepresented groups.

First, in the various decisions renewing the licences held by Rogers Media, Bell Media, Corus Entertainment, Groupe V Media and Quebecor Media, the CRTC adopted new incentives designed to encourage the reflection of Indigenous peoples and official language minority communities (OLMCs) within the system and also announced new initiatives to help reduce barriers faced by women in the television industry. More specifically, in order ensure better access for these underrepresented groups in the Canadian broadcasting system, the CRTC announced the following:

  • to encourage reflection of Indigenous peoples, each ownership group will be able to receive a 50% credit against their CPE requirements for expenditures on Canadian programming produced by Indigenous producers;
  • to encourage reflection of OLMCs, the groups will receive a 25% credit against their CPE requirements for expenditures on Canadian programming produced by OLMC producers; and
  • the CRTC will host an event on women in production, with particular emphasis on increasing women’s access to key positions within the creative and production sectors, and it will monitor broadcasters’ efforts in this area by requiring the groups to provide information on a yearly basis regarding the employment of women in key leadership creative positions.

In addition to the above, the CRTC also took steps to ensure that the broadcasting system more fully reflects the needs and interests of Canada’s diverse ethnic and third-language communities. The first step was to approve an application by Rogers Media to launch a new national, multilingual and multi-ethnic discretionary service, called OMNI Regional, and to grant that service basic carriage on all licensed cable, IPTV and satellite distributors for a period of three years. OMNI Regional will, among other things, operate four regional feeds, target 20 distinct ethnic groups in 20 different languages and broadcast newscasts in Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi.

At the same time, the CRTC issued a call for new applications to operate a national, multilingual multi-ethnic television service offering news and information programming as well as other programming, which would receive mandatory distribution on the basic service. The call for applications was considered necessary due to the CRTC’s concern that OMNI Regional did not fully meet the Commission’s expectations for such an extraordinary service.

Based on the CRTC’s determinations, which includes licensing decisions, an order and a notice of consultation, it is clear that the CRTC has set a new higher bar for ensuring diversity is reflected within the Canadian broadcasting system.