As a first step in acting on its Throne Speech promise that it would require television channels to be unbundled, the Canadian government has requested the CRTC to produce a report on how Canadians can be provided with the greatest ability to obtain television services on a “pick and pay” basis, while best meeting the objectives of the Broadcasting Act.

The report is to consider effects on both consumers and a range of industry groups.  With respect to consumers, the CRTC is to explore how Canadians can maintain affordable access to a variety of pay and specialty service, including niche programming, in a more à la carte distribution environment.  The report is also to consider the effect of increased “pick and pay” on broadcasters, distribution undertakings and independent producers, as well as on programming diversity, including with respect to a range of multicultural and linguistic interests.

As we noted in an earlier post, there are a number of material challenges to the implementation of a pick-and-pay regime in Canada, including reconciling such a pricing and packaging approach with Broadcasting Actrequirements for predominance of Canadian programming and services in the presentation of programming, and with existing CRTC rules requiring that foreign pay and specialty services must be packaged with Canadian services.

The more practical challenges include the dynamic effects of more à la carte offerings on service penetration, pricing and investments in the Canadian production sector.  The Throne Speech promise clearly indicated that the government would protect Canadian jobs while unbundling the offering of television channels.

In apparent recognition of the complexity of the issues, the government has indicated that before taking any action on its promise in the Throne Speech, it will await the results of the CRTC report, due by 30 April 2014.

The pick-and-pay is currently being discussed among participants to the month-long online public discussion imitated by the CRTC, entitled “Let’s Talk TV: A conversation with Canadians.”