Canada's Television Networks Get Desperate, Go Viral

Curator's Note

Here is "The Cable Song", the soundtrack for Canada's desperate television networks.  Humbled by declining advertising revenues and new competition from the Internet, the networks want to fix the system by changing how it is financed.  Instead of giving away their signal for free, the networks now want to charge cable and satellite companies to carry their local signal. Without "fee for carriage", the networks say they have little choice but to close local television stations across the country (in Canada, many local stations are owned by the networks). 

On two occasions Canada's broadcasting regualtor, the CRTC, said the issue was not worth considering.  However they have been forced by federal politicians to reopen the discussion. This was due to vigorous lobbying by the networks and an aggressive public relations campaign involving rallies and open houses at local television studios, items about the importance of local television on suppertime news broadcasts, and efforts like "The Cable Song", which appeared on air and online.  

The video features Dave Carroll (of "United Breaks Guitars" fame) singing about how cable company "cash cows" are stealing the networks "milk" and should now start paying for it.  Cable companies have shot back with their own campaign and website that characterizes the new fee as a "TV tax".   It bears noting that some cable companies also own television stations (and one company is on the verge of owning one of the networks), making this "war" a very odd thing indeed.

While the pastoral setting and nod to viral video represent attempts to give their campaign a grassroots feel, the networks' use of baseball imagery, the quintessential American game, is symbolic of the flows of Canadian prime-time network television which feature American programs with Canadian ads, a Canadian program added to the schedule to satisfy license requirements, followed by local news.  Wth its rudimentary imagery and fear mongering "The Cable Song" also reflects the simplistic ways that broadcasters have presented themselves to their audiences.  It is a result of decades of policies that have protected both distributors and broadcasters from competition and encouraged cross-media consolidation, all in the name of protecting Canada from cultural annexation from below. 

The CRTC will issue a ruling on the network/cable war in the coming weeks. In the spirit of compromise, it is likely that Canadians will end up paying more for effectively the same service. If that happens, all involved can look back and see the power of new media to effectively communicate the same tired messages that have dominated talk about television in Canada for nearly 60 years.

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