CRTC Releases Updated Regulatory Plan To Modernize Canada's Broadcasting Framework

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On May 6, 2024, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) published an updated version of its Regulatory plan to modernize Canada's...
Canada Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment
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On May 6, 2024, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) published an updated version of its Regulatory plan to modernize Canada's broadcasting framework (Updated Plan).

The CRTC set out its implementation plan shortly after the government passed significant amendments to the Broadcasting Act in April 2023, which expanded the scope of the CRTC's powers to regulate online broadcasting undertakings. Since that time, the CRTC has initiated four public consultations and issued three decisions bringing online streaming into the broadcasting regulatory framework. These decisions impose registration obligations and conditions of service on certain online undertakings and require them to contribute to the CRTC's operating costs.

The Updated Plan summarizes these developments and outlines the next phases of the CRTC's policy work; however, it departs significantly from the CRTC's previous plan by modifying the scope of planned consultations, introducing additional consultations, and extending the timeline for implementing the new regime into late 2025.

Key Updates

  1. Approach to Contribution Framework. The Updated Plan contemplates a decision in the summer of 2024 on an initial base contribution by online streaming services. This decision is the culmination of a lengthy consultation process, where diverse stakeholders made submissions about which online streaming services should contribute, how much they should contribute, and how those contributions should be allocated. The decision will impose the first contribution requirements on online streaming services to support Canadian and Indigenous content.

    The Updated Plan now states that there "may be additional consultations resulting from that decision, as needed." This framing differs from the CRTC's previous approach, which stated more definitively that further consultations would consider the broader objectives of the contribution framework related to support for Canadian and Indigenous artists and the discoverability of Canadian content. It will be important to follow how these concepts are integrated into future CRTC consultations, as they will significantly impact many broadcasting undertakings operating in Canada.
  2. Other Supports for Canadian Content. The Updated Plan indicates the CRTC will consider support for audio content in the spring of 2025, through a consultation on support for Canadian music, the definition of audio content, and appropriate regulatory obligations. The Updated Plan does not specify whether a consultation process will be undertaken to address support for audiovisual content. Previously, the CRTC had planned for consultation on programming and support for video content by winter 2023–2024.
  3. Canadian Content Definitions. The CRTC's planned consultation on the definition of Canadian content has also been pushed from the winter 2023–2024 timeline it had initially suggested to spring 2025. The Updated Plan indicates that following CRTC engagement in the spring of 2024 on the approach to defining Canadian content with a limited group of stakeholders, a "What we heard" report will be released in the summer of 2024, ahead of the consultation. In contrast to the CRTC's previous approach, it appears that the consultation on the definition of Canadian content may now be restricted to audiovisual content. It is unclear which proceeding will address the definition of Canadian audio content.
  4. Indigenous Content Consultations. The CRTC has initiated a public consultation on the development of an Indigenous Broadcasting Policy that aims to promote Indigenous content and support Indigenous artists. The CRTC is seeking input from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous broadcasters by July 22, 2024. The Updated Plan notes that this process will determine the definitions of Indigenous content, impacting both traditional broadcasters and online undertakings operating in Canada.
  5. New Consultations: The Updated Plan introduces a new consultation on the relationship between small, medium and large players in traditional broadcasting and online streaming, that likely replaces the consultations on market access and competition and protecting Canadian consumers that were described in earlier versions. The CRTC will also initiate separate proceedings focused on support for news content and inclusion and diversity in the broadcasting system.

Next Steps

The Updated Plan targets late 2025 for the implementation of the new regulatory framework and schedules consultations into 2026. This timeline does not align with the Governor-in-Council's November 2023 Policy Directions to the CRTC, which directed the CRTC to make all changes necessary to implement that order within two years. Furthermore, the Updated Plan does not address key outstanding issues that the CRTC has flagged in recent decisions, including the appropriate scope of regulation of social media services and user-generated content and undue preference regulations. As such, broadcasting undertakings should be attentive to future changes in the CRTC's approach to implementing the new broadcasting regime.

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© 2020 Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

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