Let’s go 2014

What good is a personal log if you don’t use it? In looking back through the posts on this blog I can see that it has one through a few iterations in content topics. We here goes another new topic: starting up a new project in Olds – a community TV station.

January 1, 2014 is the official stat date of the station and through this blog I plan to keep track of the progress of the start-up.  My morning coffee time is usually spent trying to wake up, consuming local news TV, reading news on my iPad and drinking lots of coffee. From here on in I’ll add or substitute blog writing into my morning routine. There will be some rants but mostly it will be a journal of the activities and thoughts as the project progresses.

So… in keeping with the new topic theme: While writing this I’m watching Global TV News out of Calgary. Olds Community TV has no interest in duplicating what already has been done. We are after a new look and format. Watching the mainstream news I see a few things that strike me as identifying elements (good or bad). Essentially the mainstream news at this level curates the stories with the hosts being the link between the segments. What strikes me odd is that the segments are local, regional, national and international.  Not bad and certainly not the political influenced news that we get to see on other channels such as CNN or SUN. Not what we want to do but it’s okay. On second thought maybe not okay. There is a lot of news going on every minute of everyday and this type of reporting is just too narrow for me. Time for more coffee.

5 observations for 2011

A new year and time for my annual predictions slash wish list…

1. Net Neutrality takes a beating…

In 2010 we saw actions on the part of large internet service providers that set the stage to put limits on a free and open access internet. In 2011 expect to see more aggressive moves on the part of internet service providers to set caps on usage and even limit access to particular sites. Some of this will be prompted in Canada by the vertical integration of media companies that we saw in 2010. The move to actually censor internet content will come from federal governments in the interest of national security and safety of its citizens. The FCC in the US and the CRTC in Canada will declare the internet as a ‘broadcast’ medium thus bringing what is currently an unregulated platform under some form of regulation and subject to legislation. By 2012 you will need a government issued license to have a website.

2. Web video becomes mainstream…

Video viewing on the internet will increase but delivering long form premium content such as news and entertainment programming designed for the web will become more popular.  The adoption by a non-geek audience is the major influencing factor. Along with mainstream content being delivered in bundled packages similar to cable television, unique offerings from independent content creators will increase, giving rise to a whole new segment of the production industry. In particular there will be a focus on local and hyper-local news coverage.

3. Apple iPad will maintain it’s momentum…

Not a genius prediction but 2011 will see little in the way of non-Apple iPad tablets penetrating the market. The iPad is almost perfect for the tasks it’s designed for and the market of users it’s aimed at. So far Windows tablets just don’t get it. Android or even Chrome based tablets might make a small dent but maybe not until 2012 since Apple has too much of a head start on the competition in this area.

4. Facebook will continue to dominate…

Another no brainer but even though it’s reaching a saturation point, Facebook will continue to grow in subscribers. More to the point though is in how subscribers will use what has become the number one social networking site. More time spent on Facebook by subscribers can be expected with limits on who they friend and how much personal information they share out. BTW: MySpace will teeter on the verge of non-existence but will be bought up by some outfit like Google or Microsoft or even Apple thus breathing new life into a social network that has fallen behind thanks to poor management.

5. Internet access declared a utility by some communities…

Smaller communities will realize that the need to be connected to the internet is important to retaining business and citizens. Since large internet service providers don’t see the profit margin in providing services to smaller communities when compared to population dense urban centres they will be reluctant to provide high-speed services to these smaller communities thus creating a digital divide. In 2010 there were some towns in North America and the UK who have taken on the task of providing their citizens with high-speed internet as a utility along with power, water and other essential services. Expect to see more municipalities taking on the role of internet service provider with the outcome being a head-to-head competitive battle with the major providers over residence and business subscribers.

When local TV isn’t local

The local TV station in Red Deer, Alberta shut down in August 2009 after their parent company Canwest-Global failed to find a buyer for the specialty network they were part of. At its peak as a local TV station, RDTV (aka CHCA-TV) employed over one-hundred people. In less than two years, Canwest-Global had reduced staffing to less than ten. Where did these people go and what was the negative economic impact to the region as a result?

Local TV stations have been facing cutbacks and outright elimination at an accelerating rate during the past five years. This not only limits access to local news and events but has a strong negative effect on the local economy. It’s simple: stations close and people lose their jobs. Their contribution to the health of the local economy is reduced and the small businesses in the area suffer. Add to that, the loss of tax revenue for the local town or city.

There is a local TV model being promoted by Corus Audio & Advertising Services Ltd (owned by Shaw Communications) which delivers local content from a central location to a network of targeted communities and offers up advertising for local and regional businesses. Where it stops being local is in the actual production process. The Corus model makes use of production facilities somewhere in British Columbia with the broadcast signal branded and promoted as being local to the communities which receive the signal. This provides no new jobs in the communities and the dollars paid out by local advertisers leave the area. A similar model is being used by the Weather Network in providing local forecasts on cable and satellite TV along with national programing. Mostly national and not much local. They currently have an application submission into the CRTC for review.

This model appears to be an attempt to bring local TV back to life and fill the gap created by the large broadcast networks moving to non-local content but it isn’t truly local or reflective of the communities we call home. The only true local TV is content produced locally by the people of the community. The MyLocal1/Corus channel and similar models can be called local but they aren’t.

What we need is a true community access TV channel

Paul Harris, a local business owner and sustainability advocate,  is running for a seat on The City of Red Deer council. In the true spirit of social media Paul is making use of Facebook to seek input from the community. Here’s what I posted on the Paul Harris (For Red Deer City Council) discussion page on local arts and culture:

While at the recent Fiestaval, I was reminded of how diverse Red Deer’s culture is. A yearly event is a great way to share but what we really could benefit from is a community access TV channel which would give all the citizens an opportunity to showcase their activities on a regular basis.

What does the City have to do with a TV station? By using the web and new media technology it wouldn’t be that hard to do and the Public Library would be a likely venue for a true community access TV channel. One way to feature the unique and special qualities of Red Deer is to show the people of the community to the entire world through the magic of the internet.

Don’t forget, Red Deer is the third largest city in Alberta (behind Calgary and Edmonton) but we do not have a broadcast TV station. And with the current trend in Canadian broadcast media moving towards bigger is better, we probably never will.

With new media delivered via the web growing in popularity it only makes sense that we start taking some steps toward supporting local news on a locally owned community TV internet channel. This is being done in other locales, why not here?

(Disclosure: I have some involvement with RDTV.ca, a web based commercial venture through freelance video reporting but feel that a true community access TV channel would not have advertising or professional journalists reporting on events and producing program content.)

Freedom of speech even includes a Fox News North

There is a lot of chatter going on within the broadcast industry regarding Quebecor Media’s announcement of the SunTV News network. Quebecor is asking the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission for a three-year specialty channel cable license to replace the current over-the-air Sun TV station in Toronto with a national channel. SunTV News network is affiliated with the Sun Newspaper chain, also owned by Quebecor. They intend to broadcast a straight talk and news format which some have called a Fox News North.

Fox News in the US is well known for it’s right-wing, ultra conservative commentary on the news. The same right-wing approach is expected from the fledgling SunTV network given that Kory Teneycke, Quebecor’s Media vice-president and promoter of the new operation, is a former communications director to Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper. There are many speaking out against the channel based on Teneycke’s relationship with Harper who is the leader of Canada’s Conservative party. There is speculation that SunTV will become a mouthpiece and P.R. platform for Harper’s Torys. Does Canada need a right-wing conservative broadcast TV channel? Why not? In a land that values freedom of speech it’s only fair that the conservatives have their opportunity to stand on a soapbox and preach their message. Freedom of speech is very important, whether you agree with the message or not. But below the surface there is another story that has a totally different take on freedom of speech.

SunTV News network has asked the CRTC to grant it special consideration by fast tracking the approval process to make the network a mandatory channel on cable and satellite feeds. Why the rapid move to bypass the lineup all other channels must undergo? The executives of SunTV claim that they can only survive financially if given special treatment. If they don’t have immediate access to a large market they can’t attract the advertising dollars required to pay the bills. Some critics claim that expecting special treatment is unrealistic and if the channel can not survive the normal market pressures of being in broadcasting then they don’t deserve to be in the business. Other critics even go so far as to charge Prime Minister Harper of exerting political influence on the CRTC to give SunTV News network the free lunch they are asking for.

There are reports that pressure has been put on CRTC Commission Chair Konrad von Finckenstein to resign before his term ends in 2012. While at the same time Michel Arpin, former CRTC Vice-Chairman Broadcasting, had his request to renew his term denied. The name at the top of the list to succeed Arpin is Luc Lavoie, former spokesperson for Brian Mulroney and former executive vice-president at Quebecor. Currently the position is still vacant and it is expected that it will remain that way even with a critical ruling coming up regarding Shaw taking over Canwest-Global. Don’t forget this is all about freedom of speech. But how free and open will our speech be if the the media industry is controlled by the government and owned by companies who maintain a monopoly on the creation and distribution of news.

Dean

Deferral accounts – telco’s rainy day nest egg to pay for rural broadband

In January of this year, the CRTC announced plans for an increase in rural broadband internet service and the telco’s reply was ‘rural broadband is nice but who’s going to pay for it?’. Well it looks like the CRTC has found a way to fund a broadband internet roll-out to non-urban customers by using subscriber fees that the phone companies were counting on for their own benefit. The CRTC has approved a plan for the deployment of broadband Internet service to 287 rural and remote communities using funds from ‘deferral accounts‘ which will also be used to provide a rebate to urban phone customers.

What are ‘deferral accounts’? In 2002, the CRTC allowed phone companies to charge above their normally regulated price caps so that new competitors entering the market for home phones — primarily cable companies such as Rogers and Vidéotron — could undercut them. The extra charges went into deferral accounts, which over the years amounted to $1.6 billion. Phone companies were allowed to draw on these accounts to lower the wholesale rates they charged competitors such as Primus and Yak to access their networks.

According to this article in Broadcaster Magazine, “The large telephone companies will use funds that have accumulated in their deferral accounts to pay for these initiatives. . . Telus Communications Company will connect 159 communities in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.”. The telco’s have responded to the order with extreme unhappiness and maybe even a little surprise. Along with the CRTC allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars from the deferral fund, the federal regulator is setting the technical standard for rural broadband as well.

This isn’t sitting well with companies like Bell who would prefer to use  their wireless HSPA+ technology versus the DSL system mandated by the CRTC. HSPA+ is the preferred choice of carriers such as Bell because it is an easy and low-cost enhancement to their existing 3G networks and although in some tests it offers a higher speed when compared to DSL and even WiMax it falls short in two critical areas. Since it shares the same network infrastructure as heavily populated 3G networks, HSPA+ suffers from slow and inconsistent speeds in actual use. In order to manage this traffic, carriers making use of HSPA+ must implement 5Gb data limits per user. These usage caps are not required for WiMax or DSL which have proven to be successful in rural as well as urban use.

Rogers, CTV and the golden age of Hollywood

There was a tweet that came across my feed the other day that asked the question:

What would people think of #Rogers buying #CTV? #crtc

My immediate response was:

Don’t let this bad thing happen! RT  What would people think of #Rogers buying #CTV? #crtc

Here’s a richer description of why it’s a bad thing.

Back in the early days of motion pictures, in what is referred to as the golden age of Hollywood, there where eight studios who essentially owned the movie industry in the US. These studios created the films with writers, directors, producers and actors who they employed as staff. They owned the film processing and laboratories. They created the prints and distributed them through the theaters that they also owned. In a nutshell, they managed the entire process of movie making from beginning to end: design, creation, manufacturing and distribution.

It was good for the studios and their financial position but was it good for the industry? Independent film makers and non-studio owned theaters where at a severe disadvantage and struggled to bring their stories to the public. The creative talent within this studio managed system of production often voiced their dissatisfaction with the repressive regime they toiled under.  The US Department of Justice also thought there was something wrong with a studio controlled oligopoly and sued the major Hollywood studios with unfair trade practices in 1938 and won a decree in 1940 which set out the changes the studios were required to implement. By 1943 it was determined that the studios had not met the conditions set out in the decree and the top eight studios where sued again by the US DOJ. By 1948 as a result of the lawsuit, there was a major change in how the studios conducted business including their relinquishing ownership of theaters across the country. The stranglehold of the Hollywood studios on the North American film industry ended and a new era of independent and alternative film making emerged.

There is no denying that some great movies were made during the golden age of Hollywood. Classics that still impress to this day. Incredible actors, writers and technology which many still view with awe. The flaw with the studio system was in the absolute total control a few people exercised over an entire industry. Decisions were made with their benefit in mind and at a detriment to any who opposed them. In pursuit of profit illegal activities merged with standard operational practice and the business of making movies became a dictatorship which stifled creativity and freedom of thought.

There were specific business practices which formed the basis of the charges against the studios which wouldn’t apply if Rogers owned CTV but the overall vertical integration and total control and ownership of the process would exist. If Rogers added the national broadcaster to their assets they would effectively be in total control of media from beginning to end: content creation, production and distribution. That would be good for Rogers but bad for the rest of the industry, specifically the independent content creators and us, the consumers of media. Many people bash the CRTC but it would be the only organization in a position to keep Rogers from taking control of our media.

Note: Rogers owning CTV may or may not be purely hypothetical but a reality we can’t overlook is Shaw owning Canwest-Global. It may be measured on a smaller scale but it maps out with the same end-to-end ownership of the media and the entertainment business in Canada.

Dean

Community access TV programming to increase but not until 2014: CRTC

Today the CRTC released their latest policy on community access TV following the hearings last spring when the people involved with this valuable resource, including CACTUS, community groups and cable companies, presented their opinions on the existing practices along with proposals for change. One of the quantifiable items at stake in this often divisive battle is the $120 million dollars a year which is collected from subscribers and given back to cable companies to fund community access to studios, equipment, technical expertise and air time.

In recent years the cable-co’s across Canada have been eliminating community access and putting in its place, professional journalists. This replaces local TV coverage with a regional network which is being funded by a redirection of the $120 million dollars worth of subscriber fees intended for community TV initiatives.

The CRTC announced in this latest policy paper that cable companies will be required to improve reporting of community access activities by 2012 and provide 50% of air time on the cable channel to community developed programming by 2014.  Although this is an increase from 30% in the current policy most cable-co’s provide less but no one knows for certain since the existing reporting obligations aren’t being met and the definition of community access programming is subject to various interpretations.

Here in Central Alberta cable has a low penetration rate with satellite TV service taking the lead as the provider of choice in over 55% of the homes in the region so community access via cable has a limited reach anyway. What the CRTC should do is give the money collected in the levy, estimated to be $120 million this year alone,  to community groups as outlined in the CACTUS model and mandate that the programming be included in the basic packages offered by cable, satellite and IPTV. Building out a web based video service should also be included in this plan.

Sidebar: Given the current political wind blowing through the CRTC hallways, they might not even be around in 2014. Then what?

Dean

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Links:

CPAC coverage of the CRTC hearings on community access TV. The dates to watch are April 27 through to May 7.

CACTUS (Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) which proposes a detailed model for community TV making use of the reallocated $120 million dollar levy.

OpenMedia “To advance and support a media communications system in Canada that adheres to the principles of access, choice, diversity, innovation and openness.” Here’s their take on the latest CRTC policy.

CRTC’s policy framework for community television 2002

Shopping local and finding doughnut nirvana

On Saturday last week I was in our local Penhold grocery store picking up a few items and stumbled across a jackpot. We believe in shopping local whenever we can and you should too. Take my word for it, shopping local pays off – big time! Not only do you support the local economy but you will find treasures not found elsewhere.

Tim Horton’s is a Canadian institution and I wouldn’t dare argue with anyone on that point. I am a big fan of their coffee but occasionally stray off the path in pursuit of a better doughnut. Krispy-Kreme lured me with their golden glazed charms but I always felt guilty and went back to Timmie’s. After all, I am a proud patriot and eating some other country’s deep fried dough just didn’t seem right.

Years ago in Red Deer we had an alternative to Timmie’s – Robin’s Doughnuts. Robin’s coffee was not near as potent as Tim’s but on the other hand Robin’s doughnuts were the best. Baked on site and always fresh and huge. One night I got to watch them pump chocolate sauce  into chocolate doughnuts. They were so full of chocolaty goodness they almost burst. I bought two of those works of art right then and there. And I ate them right then and there. Savoring every bite till I almost burst. The other guy’s doughnuts fell into second place and then a horrible thing happened. Robin’s Doughnuts went into receivership and closed it’s doors forever. Oh well, back to Timmie’s.

Then another bad news doughnut story came my way. Timmie’s was pulling the bakeries out of their stores in favour of shipping in frozen lumps of dough from who knows where. Outsourced doughnuts!  Red Deer looked like it was fast becoming a doughnut wasteland. Cinnamon buns from Glen’s on Gasoline alley were the height of sweet and gooey but they just weren’t doughnuts. We still went to Timmie’s for the coffee but I had to eat two doughnuts at each visit in a weak attempt to fill the void Robin’s closing created. Then I discovered the perfect doughnut in my small-town grocery store, 1st Choice Foods.

I knew these folks did baking in their Red Deer store and brought the goods out to Penhold every day but this was the first time I saw these beauties. Bavarian creme doughnuts so round and firm, the package could barely contain them. Six in a pack – a good round number. The bottom of the package showed puddles of dried chocolate icing, a good sign. Creme was oozing from the golden dough, another clue to their doughnuty excellence.  I picked them up muttering, “Come on boys, you’re coming home with me.”. Did they taste every bit as good as they looked? Yes! Doughnut nirvana at long last.

The next time I go to Timmie’s, it’s coffee to go from the drive through and then we’ll sit in the Jeep and enjoy the co-mingling of coffee and doughnut perfection. It pays to shop local!

Dean

I can’t see what the 3D TV fuss is all about*

Although 3D is the latest next-big-thing in TV and movie technology it isn’t new and it will fail just like it did the last time it came around and for the same reasons. The real future for the television set  is built-in internet connections to access web based video but it looks like the entertainment industry will be missing the mark and lead us astray with 3D.

Why is 3D TV a #FAIL? Here are the big three reasons:

  1. 3D media is expensive to produce and out of reach for most content creators;
  2. wide variety of incompatible equipment standards used to view the 3D movies in theaters and on home TVs make it difficult and expensive to use;
  3. it has been estimated that 20-30% of the audience can’t watch 3D due to vision limitations (lack of stereoscopic vision) or health reasons (seizures or headaches).

So with all of these negatives why is the entertainment and technology industry promoting 3D movies, games and TV? It’s simple – control. The big push for 3D video lets the big entertainment companies such as Sony retain ownership of the process from beginning to end. They make the movies, they distribute the movies and they sell you the technology used to consume their movies.

As consumers, most of us want a wide variety of content to choose from and that is one of the reasons why an internet connected TV with a fully functional web browser should be the next big home entertainment technology. If the entertainment industry has their say , it won’t be because it gives choices to the consumer and takes control away from the traditional broadcast media companies. An alternative is something that is not difficult or expensive to set-up and is quite popular among the geeks out there: connecting a computer to a TV set.

A simple solution is to pick-up a low cost computer (tower or portable, MAC or Windows), hook it up to your flat panel TV (VGA or HDMI along with audio), sit back with a wireless keyboard/mouse combo unit and watch web based video. To help you avoid wasting time shifting through the bits’n’pieces on sites like YouTube, the next big thing on the web are ‘channels’ with niche content which organize your choices making it easier to locate and watch video content.

If you’re looking to purchase a new TV, compare the price of a 3D TV (plus glasses for the whole family plus a new 3D enabled BlueRay disc player plus the cost and limited selection of 3D movies) with the cost of a good 2D TV with a new computer to connect to it. It won’t take you long to see the questionable value in 3D TV and hopefully motivate you to make the move to web-based video.

Dean

* Since I’m one of the 30% of the audience mentioned above with vision limitations, I really “can’t” see 3D TV. Although I have two eyes they don’t form a stereoscopic image. It’s referred to as monocular vision, similar to what a person with only one eye experiences. My depth perception is poor but my peripheral vision is wider than normal – so don’t try sneaking up on me, I won’t know exactly how close you are but I will see you coming!