TV set loses dominance, programmers vow to compete

By Laurel Hyatt

Ottawa, - Television's dominance in the home is diminishing and Canadian signal distributors and programmers will have to find ways to compete with the Internet, video games, and other forms of entertainment quickly taking hold among consumers, especially youth, the Canadian Cable Television Association says.

Nearly four in 10 Canadians say that TV is no longer their main source of entertainment and information in their household, according to a survey of consumer attitudes released by the CCTA during a National Press Club Newsmaker Breakfast in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Some 38% of respondents have Internet access at home, and they're embracing the Web so much that one-third of those polled said it was more important to them than television (that figure was a whopping 56% among teenagers aged 15 to 19, and even 25% of those aged 50 and over). Nearly one in four people (23%) said they have used a personal computer to watch a video.

"Some may say the sky is falling," said CCTA president and CEO Janet Yale, "but I don't believe that. What this survey tells us is we have to change."

How distributors and programmers will have to change is to offer consumers more choice and more ways to personalize their viewing, such as through video on demand or personal video recorders, Yale says. More than three-quarters (77%) of those surveyed felt new technologies can give them control over how they access entertainment and information, and nearly two-thirds (64%) said these technologies provide a greater convenience.

An even greater convenience - and an illegal one - is to copy material for viewing on a computer. The survey found that 11% of respondents admitted to burning video from the Internet onto a DVD or CD, an equal percentage has copied video games from the Internet to their hard drives, and 8% have ripped video from a DVD onto their hard drive. All of this activity, of course, does not add one cent to revenues for Canadian distributors or programmers.

And the industry's battle on another important front - black market American satellites - is far from over, with 54% of respondents saying they thought it was appropriate to use such services, a finding echoed in a recent Maclean's article that was to coincide with the CCTA's annual Cable Summit in Toronto, which was moved to September due to the SARS outbreak.

"People are willing to bypass the system if the services they want aren't offered to them or aren't offered in packages they don't find attractive," Yale told after the newsmaker breakfast. "We know we can't compete with free. But how far do we go in responding to that desire to more personalized choice when it comes to packaging Canadian services?"

Besides combating an image problem that there's nothing wrong with stealing U.S. satellite signals, and pushing for technology that prevents copying programs, Canadian distributors and broadcasters need to sweeten the pot to make Canadian services more attractive, Yale said. "The technology has to get tougher in terms of preventing illegal downloading and enhancing copy protection, but on the other hand, we also have to make sure that we give consumers what they want through the legal Canadian alternatives."

But what distributors cannot give consumers is more foreign programming unless the CRTC changes the linkage rules. Viewers are not happy: some 64% of survey respondents said there should not be restrictions on access to non-Canadian channels. And 65% felt that having more competition from foreign channels would improve the quality of Canadian programming.

Perhaps surprisingly, many of the 1,500 people aged 15 and over polled by The Strategic Counsel waved the maple leaf when it came to TV viewing. When ranking the top 10 most important types of programming, Canadian ones filled the first five, lead by Canadian national news broadcasts (ranked important by 85% of respondents), private broadcasters such as CTV and Global (84%), the CBC (80%), local programming (66%), and Canadian sports programming (58%).

And that at least bodes well for the Canadian broadcasting system.

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