Fed unbundling plans may face opposition from U.S. broadcasters

American suppliers of programming, like AMC, may withhold their TV shows altogether rather than agree to the Canadian government’s “pick and pay” plan, say some experts.

American suppliers of programming, like AMC, may withhold their TV shows altogether rather than agree to the Canadian government’s “pick and pay” plan, say some experts.

The conversation around the Canadian government’s expected decision to mandate “pick and pay” services has been mostly limited to within our own borders, but U.S. broadcasters may end up dictating the actual terms, say some.

The unbundling debate has heated up after it was made a part of a consumer-focused throne speech last Wednesday.

It may be facing threats from all sides, but regular old television is still important here in the Great White North. If you’re an average Canadian, you watch 28.2 hours of TV per week. You spend $185 a month on communications services, $52 of which is for television. You spend 20.1 hours per week online (unless you’re a francophone, in which case it’s just 13). And you listen to 17.5 hours of radio each and every week.

Many viewers would like to see television change faster than it is likely to. One-third of Canadians watch TV online on a regular basis. And the second-screen phenomenon is changing the nature of how people engage with television, introducing smartphones, tablets and social media to the mix.

The Conservative government has placed a bet on leveraging the public’s indignation for political purposes, counting on the idea that their fury over paying for shows they don’t watch will pay off somehow. But there is an under reported aspect to the story: pushback from American suppliers of programming, who may withhold their TV shows altogether rather than agree to the Canadian government’s plan.

“U.S. specialty channels are more than likely to say no way to cable carriers in agreeing to pick-and-pay because they are set against any precedents that might spill over into the U.S. markets,” Canadian Media Production Association Michael Hennessy told The Hollywood Reporter recently.

Still, unbundling is already working in Quebec, where, Bell and Videotron have been offering a la carte choices for several years, and the majority of their customers in that province are already subscribing to such services.

These issues will without doubt be front and centre on Thursday, when CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais will be speaking at Laval University in Quebec City to commence a campaign called “Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians”. The event will be livecast over the internet, starting at 9:00 with a statement by Mr. Blais, followed by an audience Q&A from 9:25 to 10:15, and topped off with a media scrum from 10:15 to 10:30.

At 6:00 p.m. on the 24th, Blais will be in Toronto delivering the same address at the Ryerson School of Media Management in Toronto.

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