CBC’s idea of a ‘level playing field’ — subsidies for us, taxes for others

Andrew Coyne
Andrew Coyne

Now that people who want to watch Cancon can pay for it, it’s not clear why they shouldn’t, still less why those who don’t should have to pay in their place

Good news! The CBC has discovered the internet. With an eye to the tens of thousands of “cord-cutters” who have been abandoning cable and satellite providers for online video, the corporation has begun streaming all of its live television services via an upgraded mobile and Apple TV app. More remarkably, it will offer a paid “premium” version: for $4.99 a month, subscribers will receive all of the regular app’s content ad-free, plus the CBC News Network feed in the bargain.

Bad news! While its online boffins may have embraced the open, unregulated, consumer-driven world of the internet, the CBC’s management is still wedded to the same old closed, regulatory, subsidy-driven model as before. In a submission to the CRTC, which is embarked on its latest attempt to divine the future of TV, the corporation calls for a tax on other streaming video services (hello, Netflix) and more subsidies for itself — in the name of a “level playing field.” (Oh, and new regulations that would somehow force providers to give greater prominence to Canadian content. Net neutrality? What’s that?)

The contrast between the two visions could not be more stark. On the one hand, the CBC’s new app is a recognition that the world has changed: not just for the public broadcaster, but for broadcasters of all kinds. If advertisers are deserting them, as they are deserting us, it is also true that advertising is no longer so vital a revenue source: where once it was not possible to charge viewers directly for programming, now it is — has been for decades, actually. Similarly, while the internet makes regulation largely obsolete, it also makes it unnecessary. There aren’t five channels any more, but five hundred, or five million: as many, theoretically, as there are points in cyberspace. “Spectrum scarcity” has been abolished.

On the other hand, the corporation’s CRTC submission is firmly rooted in another, older world. In that world, it is true, the familiar biases of advertising — to the largest possible audiences, and to the safe, middle-of-the-road programs that attract them — combined with the limited number of channels available in television’s early years added up to a kind of market failure: government intervention, whether in the form of public funding or regulation, was justified, precisely in order to recreate the diversity of offerings normally available in most markets.

full story at http://nationalpost.com/opinion/andrew-coyne-cbcs-idea-of-a-level-playing-field-subsidies-for-us-taxes-for-others

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