Geist on Broadcasting Foreign Investment

Blog, Disruption, Les Routledge

The evolving usage based billing issue has led to calls to drop foreign investment restrictions in the telecom sector as a means to stimulate more intense competition in that market.

The problem is that telecom and Cable operators also own broadcasting operations and opening them up to foreign control raises a number of touchy cultural policy issues.  In a recent post, Michael Geist takes  a look at how other countries approach foreign ownership of broadcast asset.

In my opinion, the entire approach to promoting production, dissemination and consumption of Canadian cultural products needs to be rethought in the digital age.  For example, what is the sense of requiring Canadian Content quotas on radio stations when young consumers have largely switched to digital services such as iTunes or Internet based programming services?  Will it be long before television habits have evolved in a comparable direction?

The predominant Canadian model for promoting the Canadian cultural media sector is to establish artificial quotas for exhibition of the materials.  In an era characterized by limited selection and consumer choice, that model worked to a degree.  However, as new entrants like Netflix or Amazon introduce services that allow consumers to request and receive individual programs instead of programming services, what is merit of content quota?  What is the meaning of a quota if consumers not chose to request the Canadian programming?

Sticking with Canadian content quotas and Canadian ownership restrictions of broadcasting licenses in analogous to requiring retailers to set aside a quota of shelf space for Canadian music 8 track tapes after most consumers have switched to MP3’s and iTunes.  It is a backward thinking policy from the 1970’s that deserves to be set aside like we did with 8 track tapes and vinyl records.