On local television and conspiracy theories

 Alright. I’m SOoooo fucking sick of these commercials, and I’ve tweeted about this a bunch of times but needed to get this down clearly.

In case you’ve been under a rock lately, there’s been a huge battle royal in the media lately about Local Television and funding thereof.  Here’s how I understand things to have gone so far.  I probably have a handful of facts wrong so please correct me to the extent that I do:

  • A bunch of local TV stations (primarily owned by major networks) got together a while ago to complain about the fact that cable stations get paid a fee from Cable and Satellite providers for providing their feeds, while local television stations don’t.  Because these organizations are so absurdly intertwined, we’ll call the local TV stations "LTV" and the Cable and Satellite Providers "CSP"
  • LTV had a bit of a win and CRTC decided that CSP needed to pay them something. I don’t know exactly what the details were, but CSP are now paying a small fee to LTV for their feed.
  • CSP decided to be mean and passed these costs on to the consumer.  My monthly BellTV bill now includes a line item for "Contribution to CRTC’s LPIF" (which stands for Local Programming Improvement Fund) — the amount is only 59 cents per month but is apparently higher depending on what market you’re in and who your provider is.
  • LTV then got mad that this looked bad on them, and also decided they still weren’t receiving enough money and launched some PR campaigns as well as appealing to the CRTC again.  CSP fought back in kind.
  • The CRTC is supposedly making some rulings in the next couple weeks.

The argument that LTV is making is that they can’t afford to run without subsidies like this, but that the cost shouldn’t be passed on to the consumer.  SaveLocal.CTV.ca summarizes most of this (CTV spearheaded all of these campaigns).  CSP’s side of the matter is summarized in its campaign’s URL "StopTheTVTax.ca" – they don’t want to have to pay and are claiming you shouldn’t have to either… even though they’re making the consumer pay for it on the claim that somehow charging the LPIF (and any new charges) to the customer isn’t in violation of its regulated prices.

My opinion? This is a big scheme.

The LTV campaign is supported by: CTV, A [Channel], CBC, Global, CHEK News, V, and (late addition) NTV.
The CSP campaign is supported by: Bell, BellAliant, Cogeco, EastLink, Rogers, and Telus.

Both campaigns are being led by the first company on each list.

Let me make some pairings.

BCE Enterprises Inc is the ultimate parent company of CTV, A [Channel], Bell, BellAliant and a major content provider to NTV (which is independently owned).

And just in case it seemed like Global and CHEK TV were totally independent, they’re basically the same company (for now – Canwest is trying to sell CHEK, if that says anything about how committed they truly are to local TV).

Impressively, Rogers has stuck to only one side of this debate – its subsidiaries City TV and OMNI have stayed out of things, though the fact that it’s campaigning to prevent funding to go towards its own companies is a little muddled at best.

But I digress — the main point is that the leaders of BOTH of these campaigns have overwhelmingly been subsidiaries of BCE – CTVGlobeMedia through CTV and A, and Bell through BellTV and BellAliant TV.  

Why, you might say, would such a company engage in battle with itself? And incur significant legal costs as well as ABSURD amounts of advertising dollars?  Not to mention risking complete alienation of all its consumers by running two simultaneous ad campaigns trashing… itself… by making the same argument that local TV matters but you shouldn’t have to pay for it (but you’re going to anyway)?  It baffles me, quite frankly — especially given that the money spent on all these ridiculous campaigns could easily have been invested back into local TV stations to prevent them from shutting down (like so many many stations have in the last year or so — see the LTV propaganda website for a list).  

My best guess? And my favourite conspiracy theory on this topic?  It’s a massive PR campaign.  LTV complains to CRTC and gets some funding in the form of payments into a fund made by CSP.  CSP then passes it on to the consumer, effectively increases rates when rates are already at their regulated maximum — LTV is better off, CSP is indifferent.  LTV can blame CSP, CSP can blame LTV, the consumer is confused beyond belief, and everybody but the consumer wins.  Next round, both sides launch a huge campaign, asking for even more money that no one is willing to pay for.  My guess? CRTC will grant an increase, LTV will get more cash, CSP will pass it on again and we’ll pay even more.

What happens for BCE as a whole? Well — CTV and A now have more cash ("to pay for Local TV!"), BellTV is basically in the same place it was before (still charging its old rates but not passing on a dime more to anyone other than its shareholders), and the consumer is out anywhere between $1/month and $10/ month.  If they hadn’t done this — what would have happened? As I understand it, television providers are regulated to a certain degree as to how much they can charge for certain services (much of this argument falls apart if that’s not true so I will, admittedly, not look it up… especially since CRTC regulations are virtually impossible to figure out — but even if they’re not regulated, there are still fixed contracts in place preventing Bell from increasing its rates to consumers)… so Bell TV would be at its max revenues, CTV and A would just be breaking even, and there’d be no room for either to grow.  It’s clever, I think.  Congrats BCE group of companies, on totally fucking over the consumers.

Reason #1 why I’m cancelling my BellTV subscription as soon as the 2-year contract is up (this spring!)… Reason #2 of course being that it’s cheaper to buy the individual shows online than it is to pay for the subscription.

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