Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two-tier TV service is an unpopular idea

There is evidence out of Kamloops that the CRTC's ruling to mandate free TV signals in only 29 Canadian cities, and leave Canadians in the rest of the country pay for cable or satellite after the transition to digital, is not popular. In fact, 84% of residents say it's not fair.

The CMG commissioned the mid-July poll in Kamloops - a BC town of nearly 100,000 people and one of the hundreds of communities that will be deprived of free TV signals if the broadcasters and the CRTC stick to the current plan for the 2011 transition. Some 11 million Canadians will no longer have the option of watching TV for free, over the air.

What appears to be fairly popular, especially for the under-35 crowd, is the idea of having six free channels in Kamloops ... up from the 3 that are available right now. If people could get six channels - the local Pattison affiliate CFJC (soon to be affiliated with Rogers), Global BC, CBC, French-language CBC, CTV and the Knowledge Network - one-third of residents would chose rabbit ears or antennas over paying for cable or satellite, up from the 6% in Kamloops who currently watch over the air. And 42% of people under 35 say they would choose the free option if the six channels were available.

The thing is, it's quite feasible to make that happen if the broadcasters get on board. The six could share a single digital transmitter, which our research shows would cost around $90,000. Shared six ways, that's a mere $15,000 each. The move would probably boost viewership since those stations would become the channels of choice for more viewers, assuming some people do drop the cable in favour of the free TV, as they seem to be doing in other parts of the country where there's a decent choice of free channels.

The CRTC "encourages broadcasters to ... take advantage of multiplexing opportunities - multiple broadcasters sharing one digital transmitter to deliver programming services - as a means of reducing or delaying the infrastructure investments related to the digital transition." So there's no reason the broadcasters couldn't do it, from a regulatory point of view.

All viewers would need is a converter box, if they have an analogue TV (which costs $60 to $80) or a relatively new TV with a digital tuner, as well as rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna.

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