Canadians are unwilling to pay more for online services such as Netflix to get CanCon. Or are they?
The CRTC last week released the results of its ongoing “Let’s Talk TV” consultation, which is soliciting opinions from Canadians in various ways on what the future of television – and its regulation – should be. The results so far show the exercise to be an intriguing experiment in gauging public opinion on a hot subject.
For one thing, the regulator declared its own online “Choicebook” poll – where voluntary participants answered a series of questions ranging from whether TV channels should be sold a-la-carte to whether services such as Netflix should be required to contribute to the production of Canadian content – as “not representative” of Canadian views in general:
Participants do not resemble the population and the tendency for certain types of people to provide feedback through the Choicebook process is reflected in the results. Notably, 70% of all participants are male. Participants are also somewhat younger and with higher levels of income.
A total of 6,727 people started the Choicebook, while 6,068 answered the last question. Why were so many participants young males? “We don’t have a definite answer as to why this happened,” says CRTC spokesman Denis Carmel. “This why the input of the panel – which is more representative of [Canadian] society – was important.”
Indeed, the second part of the consultation involved the same series of Choicebook questions being posed to a broader selection of the public through selected invitations sent by public relations and polling firm Hill & Knowlton. Through that effort, the CRTC garnered an additional 1,252 responses, some of which greatly differed from the general results found in the open poll. More on that in a minute.
I asked Kaan Yigit what he thought of the results. As the president of Toronto-based consumer trends tracking firm Solutions Research Group, he knows a thing or two about polls:
This whole online public consultation thing, in person or online, is subject to a ridiculous amount of self-selection and the resultant yahoo factor – a particular specialty of males I will say – not unlike comments section of blogs, online newspapers and such. So here we see the CRTC learn on the job and declare their own ‘consultation’ not representative. Think about that for a minute.
So what differences in opinion did the two methods elicit? Well, first let’s look at what the public and the panel agreed on. Both groups were generally in favour of:
- Having a more basic package of channels at a lower price point.
- Getting more direct access to U.S. channels.
- Signal substitution – as in the blocking of U.S. ads during events such as the Super Bowl – as a way of protecting programming rights.
- Not requiring online services such as Netflix to contribute to the creation of Canadian programming if it results in any price increases.
- Paying 50 cents more to “an online service to be able to choose more Canadian online programming” (more on this in a second as well).
- Not paying a flat fee to exempt certain online services from monthly data caps.
Areas in which there was disagreement:
- The public believes TV subscribers shouldn’t be forced to pay for news channels while the panel says such programming should be part of basic plans.
- The panel prefers the “pick a pack” approach to selecting channels while the public would rather have true “pick-and-play” selection of individual channels.
- The public would rather have sports fans pay extra for their programming, contrary to the panel.
- The public wants more direct access to non-U.S. international channels than the panel does and is willing to pay for it even if it means some Canadian jobs are lost.
- The panel wants online services such as Netflix to provide closed captioning and adhere to programming standards; the public less so.
As noted in the agreement section above, there appears to be a contradiction between the results of two questions. Neither the public nor the panel want to apply CanCon requirements to online services if it means a price increase of even “a penny” (which ironically no longer exists in Canada), yet they also agree to a 50-cent fee for the provision of more Canadian programming.
The discrepancy is likely the result of some poorly worded questions that were in some cases leading. It’s not surprising, for example, that both the public and the panel agreed that simultaneous substitution was the best option in the Super Bowl ad question, since the other choices given – blackouts or paying extra for U.S. stations – were non-starters.
Back in February, both University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist and I found the Choicebook questions to be lopsided and even alarming given their apparent origins in broadcasting industry viewpoints. Some of them even offended online advocacy group Open Media enough to spur an online campaign, which doubtlessly supplied some of those 6,000-plus public responses. Yigit summarizes it even more pointedly: “Why a non-Canadian owned global PR agency is doing public opinion research for the CRTC – and not very well in my opinion – beats me.”
With luck, some truer views will become known during the next part of the CRTC’s TV rethink, a public consultation slated to begin in September (interested individuals have until June 25 to apply to take part). In the meantime, it may be premature or even a mistake to write off the public poll results as unrepresentative or even the people behind them as “yahoos,” since it very well may be that men – even younger ones – simply care more about television than women do, and are perhaps the household members more likely to make subscription decisions. I haven’t been able to find any data proving that one way or the other, so these are questions worth asking.