Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Bold New TV World - Nov. 26, 2005



A bold new TV world

Some day, American networks might just sell all shows directly to Canadian viewers. So,what will happen to Canadian broadcasters?

By Eric Kohanik

Canadian TV broadcasters are in big trouble.

This realization struck me the other day, after a couple of significant announcements by a trio of big TV networks in the United States.

First, ABC revealed that it will now be“podcasting” episodes of Lost on its website. Podcasts, of course, owe their existence to Apple iPods. Originally marketed simply as music players, these devices soon became vessels for downloading radio broadcasts that can be listened to later.

The next logical step in this iPod craze is video. Once it really catches on, everyone will have tiny portable TVs that let you import shows and watch them whenever – or wherever – you want.

Shortly after ABC’s announcement, CBS and NBC unveiled deals with American cable and satellite services to make CSI: Crime SceneInvestigation and the Law & Order spinoffs available via video-on-demand, for 99 cents US per episode.

VOD basically turns your cable or satellite box into a video player, letting you watch stuff at your convenience.

There’s also the news that TV programming will now be available on cellphones. And, at the other end of the TV spectrum, American networks are moving aggressively toward digital and high-definition television.

Add all of this to the fact that many showsare available on DVD or can be downloaded from the Internet, and you suddenly realize that TV is in the midst of a huge transition. And the new age of television will have newpools of money for American broadcasters.

So, why are the Canadian ones in trouble?

They’ve been lazy. Many have lagged behind technologically, not even embracing stereo television, let alone HDTV.

The far bigger problem, though, is content. Rather than creating a healthy appetite and marketplace for homegrown shows, government regulation and television welfare funds have led to shows that – with a few notable exceptions – are mostly just filler.

This isn’t about Canadian culture; it’s about economics. Canadian networks have become addicted to American shows because they’re cheaper to air and they can simply sit back and rake in the advertising bucks.

But Canadian channels don’t own the American shows they air. And so, the emerging revenue streams will flow elsewhere.

Some day, the TV broadcasts we see now will really be advertisements encouraging people to buy the DVD or download an entire season of uncut episodes. Eventually, the revenue from all of that could be strong enough that American studios and networks might simply see more profit in selling their shows directly to Canadian consumers, rather than through the lazy “middle men” that Canadian broadcasters tend to be.

When that happens, what will Canadian networks, which have become so reliant on American programming, be left with?