Thursday, June 07, 2012

How Canadians Get Their TV

Michael sent me this comment about a month ago and I thought the topic was interesting enough to coax an article out of. It concerns the mechanics of how TV is delivered in Canada.

I am curious about how the Canadians get their TV. Cable, satellite, downloading (such as NetFlix, iTunes, and Amazon) or DVDs.

How many channels are available to view? How much of the country's area is reached by TV in any form? What percentage of Canadians watch TV? Is it based on the free commercial model, the pay-tv model (cable for example), or license fees of the British?

To answer part of the last question first, Television in Canada is largely based on the free commercial model, although certain premium stations – HBO Canada, Sportsnet World, The Movie Network (in Ontario and east), Movie Central (Manitoba and west), and Superchannel – are commercial free but operate on a pay-TV model by charging significantly higher subscription prices than other channels. Apparently there was, in the early 1950s, a short-lived attempt to intrdoduce a licensing system such as the British use to help fund the CBC but that effort apparently died because Canada and the United States use the same technical standards and equipment and it was nearly impossible to stop people from buying (unlicensed) sets in the US and bringing them into Canada.

According to the CRTC, virtually all Canadians have access to over the air broadcast (OTA) signals but about 92% Canadians get their TV with cable and satellite. There are two major cable companies (Rogers and Shaw), three smaller regional companies (EastLink, Cogeco and Videotron) and a number of small independent companies, some of them community or cooperatively owned. There are two satellite companies Bell ExpressVu and Shaw Direct. Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) offered by several of the telephone companies including Telus in BC and Alberta, Sasktel Max in Saskatchewan, MTS in Manitoba, BellTV in Ontario and Quebec, and Aliant in Atlantic Canada has a far smaller penetration in Canada than in the United States. Shaw, which is the primary cable TV provider in Western Canada and Northern Ontario is both the largest service provider in Canada and the largest Digital Cable provider. Part of this is because of their ownership of the Shaw Direct Satellite service which is significantly smaller than the Bell ExpressVu service.

Downloading is an available option although penetration is relatively low. According to a 2010 CRTC report in a typical week less than 25% of Anglophones and 20% of Francophones watched TV programming – defined as including “a TV program, newscast or clip from a TV program available on the Internet” – as opposed to over 40% of Anglophones and 35% of Francophones who watched amateur videos online. Sources appear to be somewhat restricted. Hulu is not legally available in Canada although there are people who try to avoid these restrictions. Apple has a Canadian service that appears (to a non-user like me) to be fairly extensive. In most cases you order from Canadian service providers such as CBC, CTV, Global, and CityTV and the cable service providers. NetFlix introduced a Canadian service in 2010. Again I’m not a subscriber so I can’t speak to the selection. Amazon Instant Video isn’t available in Canada. A potentially major problem for downloading may be the ownership issue. Shaw, Bell, and Rogers are among the largest Internet service providers in the country and the principal suppliers of broadband Internet services as well as the major cable/satellite Television providers. They also own the four largest broadcast stations – CTV (Bell), Global (Shaw), CityTV and Omni (Rogers) – as well as a high percentage of the Canadian cable channels. There is a benefit to them in restricting the penetration of downloading commercially made videos online.

The number of stations available to Canadians gets very complicated. Let’s start with broadcast. There are three English language networks – CBC, CTV, and Global – and two major English language systems – CTV Two, and CityTV. Systems are defined by the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission as groups of stations that don’t have outlets throughout the country. There are two French Language networks – Radio Canada (which has stations in all provinces) and TVA (stations in Quebec, cable deals in the rest of the country) – and one French language system – V (formerly TQS or Quatre Saisson). There is one multilingual network – APTN or Aboriginal Peoples Television Network with broadcast stations in all three territories and cable coverage in the rest of Canada which broadcasts in English French and several Aboriginal languages – and one multilingual system – Omni, which has five stations and broadcasts in no less than twenty different languages including Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Portuguese and Italian. People in border regions can also receive broadcast stations from nearby American cities.

Turning to cable/satellite, most Canadians have access to at least five American network stations as part of the most basic cable package, with others available depending on what sort of cable package they subscribe to. Four US “superstations” (WSBK, WGN, Peachtree and KTLA) are available depending on service provider – some require a subscription to premium movie services to get these stations. Canadians also have access to 110 Canadian owned English language, 33 French language, and 54 multilingual analogue and digital services. There are 67 English language, 26 French language and five multilingual High Definition services but most of these duplicate existing analogue, and to a lesser extent digital TV services. This is in addition to a number of American and Foreign broadcast and cable stations carried in Canada. Most Canadian cable subscribers also have access to more American and international specialty channels than I choose to count. Needless to say, no cable or satellite system carries everything, either because of limited bandwidth or because of rivalries between the various cable companies which are also cable channel owners.

I hope this gives you some answers about Canadian TV. It’s not the whole story – I haven’t even touched on simsubs and why Canadian stations schedule shows the way they do – but it’s a start.


Roger Owen Green said...

thanks. useful

Todd Mason said...

Why no mention of TV Ontario? (I'm an advocate!) Given that SCN is a part of City these days, I guess I can see not breaking it out...and, of course, there are all the US border stations...I work with a number of those, notably PBS stations in Spokane, WA and Buffalo, NY, as well...

Amy said...

Thanks for this post! Now anytime one of my American friends wants me to explain Canadian television to them, I can just send them this link! :)