Mobile TV in Canada - CRTC's Light Touch

I don't know about you, but I'm getting a headache trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing in Canadian telecom the past few weeks.

First we get the Telecom Review Panel's forward thinking report, recommending that market forces should prevail and a scaled back role for the regulators. Then we get the CRTC's Forbearance Decision last week, showing that the rule-makers still rule, and that telecom apartheid regs are still the way to go.

And now this - the CRTC's latest position on mobile TV. Interesting how when it comes to voice over IP, it's all about nuturing competition, and a different set of rules for the ILECs. But with video over IP, it's a whole new ball game, and now we're seeing the "light touch", much like the FCC advocated under Michael Powell. I'm not really sure why it has to be that way. They're both over IP, and they're both bits and packets. Isn't a bit a bit a bit? In Canada, telecom and broadcast are regulated under different regimes, but clearly with the lines rapidly blurring, this can't continue.

That said, things continue to move quickly in the "broadcast 2.0" world, which I think is going to be THE story of 2006. Following the recent news about Disney offering prime, live TV programming over the Internet, today's CRTC news is another step along the road of making broadcast an any where/any time/any device medium.

The Canadian mobile TV story is a small step in this journey, but each step raises new issues - and opportunities. For example, Mark Goldberg rightly notes on his blog that mobile TV is a threat to satellite radio, which is just taking root in Canada. Surely, if the mobile carriers can figure how to provide TV that people will actually pay to watch on their mobile devices, how hard can it be to offer subscription-based radio programming?

Another issue this topic raises is about ensuring Canadian content. In an unregulated environment, there is no obligation for Canadian quotas, so mobile TV could become yet another channel for foreign content to dominate the cultural landscape. This may not sound like a big deal to Americans, but living in the U.S.'s shadow, it's a concern in Canada. Broadcasters will tend to only offer channels that have decent demand, and if nobody is asking for Canadian programming, we're not likely to get much of it.

For many people, this is just another step along the path of our Americanization. At this point, mobile TV is so nascent, I don't see that being much of a threat, but when you allow a new technology or content delivery platform to enter the market unregulated from the beginning, there will be little incentive early on to give it some homegrown character. VoIP certainly didn't get a green light like this. Is mobile TV really so different?

On the plus side, of course, I think mobile TV opens up new markets for custom content, developed around the needs/wants/habits of "mobile viewers". I have no doubt this will give rise to new forms of programming, content, advertising and bundling. Rogers and Bell Mobility are the largest mobile carriers, and their parent companies both own lots of content properties, so it will be interesting to see if they come up with new synergies, or if they go straight to using popular American programming. Telus is the other major mobile carrier, but they don't have much content, and will likely end up making new partnerships - or even investing in some original content to help differentiate themselves. Personally, I'd love to see them - and the others - focus on the latter.