Think it is hard getting your clients on TV today? Imagine what would happen if 15,000 broadcasters, show runners and other television professionals were out of a job and the companies they worked for out of business. That’s the scenario painted by first-of-its-kind study, Canadian Television 2020: Technological and Regulatory Impacts, conducted by research firm Nordicity. The study focused on new regulations passed by the former Conservative government after it applied pressure to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission–which is an independent body—to make changes to how consumers purchase broadcast products.
Under the new policies, which will go into effect in March 2016, Canadian broadcasters like Bell and Rogers will be forced to unbundle their television packages allowing consumers to pick which stations they want and which ones they don’t. While this is set to reduce costs and empower consumers, the cost to the job market shouldn’t be overlooked. In 2015 cord cutting or digital steaming, has been partly blamed for losses of 400 jobs at Bell Canada and the bankruptcy filing of CHCH News.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, one of the commissioners of the study, emphasizes that these changes will negatively impact the ability of Canadian broadcasters and news providers, to create content.
“It is a matter of Canadian identity, Canadian democracy and the amount of information Canadians have [access to],” said spokesperson Ian Morrison.
Here’s how jobs will be lost: the current Canadian Broadcasting Act states that a certain percentage of Canadian broadcast media is mandatory for broadcasters to share over the airwaves, a measure that employs thousands of media professionals who create television programming to fit this need. Under the new policy around unbundled television channels, broadcasters are only required to make Canadian channels available. However if no one opts into a given channel, there is no way to requirement on the creation of broadcast content.
The result? Reduced ad revenue and less staff needed to create the content. In addition to job losses, the impact to the Canadian economy’s GDP is estimated to be a loss of $1.5 billion, according to the study.
While it also points out that some job losses and revenue shrinkage is caused by inevitable technological disruption from services like Netflix, the policy change will massively accelerate this effect. Each year the industry will lose $400 million and thousands of jobs.
Increased reliance on foreign news outlets predicted.
“News operates in a pool of broadcasting genres, like variety and drama,” said Morrison. “So what affects broadcasters will affect news-based programming as well.”
News and sports are unique as their value to the audience decays quickly. After all, there is little value in watching old-news or a game after you know the score. From Morrison’s perspective this could reduce the quality of reporting, the quantity of Canadian stories produced, and would increase our reliance on foreign sources for information in times of crisis.
Nothing set in stone.
Recommendations from the study include rolling back some aspects of these unbundling requirements to reduce the negative impact the industry faces by as much as 75 percent.
“All it would take is a letter from the new government to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission [which enforces the Canadian Broadcasting Act] asking to review the policy,” said Morrison.
Before the government passed the regulation, representatives sat down with the CRTC for a consultation called Let’s Talk TV in 2013 to collect ideas from the public to generate the new policies. The government conducted no formal study on the impact these changes would have on jobs or the economy.
For communications professionals losing airtime and eyeballs could impact our ability to fulfill client mandates and affect change. In this future a brand or agency’s ability to create superb digital content will be ever-more valuable.