Communications for Business
Communications for Business

Canada’s Media Monopoly Mess

by David J. Ward

Canada has a media monopoly problem.  Since the early 2000s media ownership concentration has increased dramatically.  With constant digital disruption, the country’s media industry has suffered from foreign streaming services, such as Disney and Netflix, dominating online media viewers and diverting traditional Canadian cable TV subscribers.  The news broadcasting industry has shrunk dramatically and has faced even more challenges than the overall broadcasting industry.  In an attempt to address these challenges and modernize the Canadian Broadcasting Act, the government has passed two laws: The Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) and The Online News Act (Bill C-18).  This major research paper illustrates how these two pieces of legislation fail to adequately address the root causes of the problems the broadcast and news industries face.  Further, the legislation favors the prerogatives of Canada’s big media companies over public interest, which will help to maintain, and even increase their oligopoly over the country’s media industry. Critical analysis is used to illustrate a history of approved media mergers that favour big media companies over the public interest.  Discourse analysis is used to show the contradictions in what the government and Canada’s big media companies say the bills will achieve, versus the likely outcomes of the legislation.  Also, document analysis is used to demonstrate the vagueness in the language of this legislation, and how that vagueness serves the interest of Canada’s big media companies over public interest.

Bill C-11 (The Online Streaming Act) and Bill C-18 (The Online News Act) are examples of an ongoing Canadian broadcasting policy history where laws are passed that favor telecommunications corporations over public interest.  In this essay, I argue that this legislation does not adequately address problems in Canada’s media and news industries, rather it favours Canada’s big media companies by propping up outdated business model structures.  By focusing on the needs of Canada’s big media companies over digital first producers, these laws limit competition and further entrench Canada’s media oligopoly.  These two pieces of legislation allow Canada’s big media companies to harness the power (money) of foreign streamers and online platforms for their own interest, not public interest.  

In an attempt to help/save Canada’s media industry, the government is trying to regulate online streaming and publishing.  By attempting to siphon money from foreign online giants to Canada’s big media companies and their affiliates, the legislation overlooks digital first creators, individual publishers, and alternative business models.  By continually passing legislation which favours big media companies and entrusts them to be the stewards of Canada’s media industry, the government has allowed them to continually merge and consolidate, as the only solution to economic challenges.  Canada has one of the most consolidated media oligopolies in the world and this legislation further entrenches big media companies at the expense of public interest.

Before I make my argument, in the literature review, I chose to explain four related topics that I think offer context and an important background.  First, I explain that Canada has a monopoly economy where many of its industries are dominated by a small number of companies.  Although there may be legitimate reasons for Canada’s government to allow monopolies in certain industries, the continuous support and facilitation of monopolies within Canada’s media industry, in recent decades, has not adequately addressed industry challenges, rather it has made them worse.  

Second, I have provided evidence to show that Canada has a media oligopoly.  In the last few decades, since the digital era accelerated in the 1990s, Canada’s media companies have consolidated on a bigger scale, and more often.  I think this is really important to include as  context for my argument because despite this new legislation, Canada’s big media companies continue to merge and consolidate today, and several more mergers are expected in the coming months.

Third, I have included some information about how the economics of Canada’s media industry works.  In this section of the literature review I explain how the money flows in Canada’s media industry.  This section explains who needs to pay into the Canadian media fund, and what the Canadian content requirements are for various broadcasters.  In this section, I also explain how media economics relate to Canadian culture and democracy.  This is important because these are the main reasons and motivations for having the Canadian Media Fund in the first place; to support Canadian culture, news and democracy, and the media industry itself.  This section of the literature review aims to support my argument that there is a long history of favoring Canada’s big media companies in the name of protecting our broadcasting industry, and in some cases even in the name of protecting our democracy.

In the fourth, and final section of my literature review, I convey that since the 90s there has been an ongoing digital transformation in all communications industries.  This digital disruption has led to frequent mergers between Canadian media companies.  Bill C-11 and C-18 raise important issues related to digital disruption, which are challenges in many other countries too, but in Canada these new challenges amplify pre-existing unaddressed problems within Canada’s media industry.  In this section I also present the positions of those who support these two pieces of legislation, and those who think the laws are problematic. 

I chose to refer to Canada’s telecommunications corporations as “Canada’s big media companies”.  Although the main focus of my argument relates to Canada’s broadcasting industry, which is technically only one part of their corporate operations, the domination of several sectors, including wireless, mobile, and broadcasting, is one of the core reasons why Canada’s media companies continue to merge and consolidate, against the best interest of the media industry and the public.  Even though Canada’s big media companies have made much more profits through wireless and internet services than they have through broadcasting, these digital services and infrastructures are related and dependent on each other.  For this reason, it does a disservice to separate the corporations’ different entities, while making my argument that this legislation further entrenches Canada’s media oligopoly.  For consistency, and because I don’t want to exclude the other relevant sectors that these corporations operate in, I choose to refer to them as “Canada’s big media companies”.

Finally, I think it is important to recognize that I have chosen to make an argument that involves two different, but related pieces of legislation.  The bills are different in that Bill C-11, which deals mostly with entertainment content and streaming, aims to regulate a part of the media industry that is thriving and expanding, whereas Bill C-18 relates to the news and journalism industry, which is in decline and is not thriving.  In Canada, one common thread between these two pieces of legislation is that they favor Canada’s big media companies over digital first creators and public interest.  In the case of Bill C-11, I think foreign streamers should have to support the Canadian media industry if they are benefiting from it.  Billions of dollars are being made through entertainment and OTT streaming services.  With more exploration into new digital business models, it’s likely that new policies can be worked out to suit a new internet age where customers want to stream their content online.  

Unlike the exploding streaming entertainment industry, the news business model has lost money for years.  In the case of Bill C-18 and the news industry, there is no obvious pool of money; the news business model itself is broken.  I have attempted to avoid generalizations between these two pieces of legislation by specifically pointing out which bill I am referring to in conjunction with my individual arguments.  Although these laws pertain to different challenges and implications for the media industry, I chose to make my argument about them together because they are inseparably related, especially when you look at how, in combination, they empower Canada’s big media companies.

Canada has always had monopolies.  The railway industry, banking industry, airline industry, and even groceries, are run and owned by a small number of corporations (Rieger, 2023).  Canada is one of the largest countries in the world geographically, however its population and its dispersion of population is very different than its neighbor to the south.  The United States economy differs in that it has ten times the population and many more large cities, which are spread out throughout the country.  The Canadian federal government still controls interest in more than 40 Crown corporations.  The provinces and territories own at least 150 more firms (Baldwin, Winter, & Keay, 2022).  The term “monopoly economy” refers to the overall economy, consisting of monopolies spread across several industries.  Among these industry monopolies are Canada’s media and telecommunications industries, which have seen increased ownership convergence in recent decades.

Canada’s Monopoly Economy

The reasoning for policies supporting these monopolies is that Canada has a small population and therefore companies in larger industries need a larger market share to be able to get big enough to afford the undertaking of work or services.  In some of these industries it’s important to be large enough to compete with foreign competitors.  Although some may see this as necessary, it can also lead to monopolies (p. 3).  In Canada, some of these federally and provincial owned companies and services include municipal water, pipelines, power generation, electricity, telecommunications and transport networks.  Economists often refer to these industries as “natural monopolies” because in Canada they occur in industries that are prone to the formation of monopolies. (p. 7).  

In the past four decades several industries in Canada have become more concentrated.  Several corporations have become more dominant on the Toronto Stock Exchange, while the overall number of publicly traded companies has dropped.  Many of these larger companies have seen higher profit margins as their share of the market increases.  Also, horizontal deals, where large companies acquire other companies in the same industry or other related industries, have increased (Bawania & Larkin, 2019).  Mergers and consolidation in Canada are widespread and have increased over the last few decades, with a third of the country’s industries experiencing growth in market ownership concentration (Bednar & Shaban, 2021).

There was a marked change in Canadian regulatory policy in the early 1980s.  The Canadian government wanted to move away from micromanagement and more towards free market policies.  As a result, many competition protections were relaxed, and deregulation was implemented in stages throughout many industries (Anderson et al. 1998).  Industries that saw deregulation include brokerage fees in the stock exchange, grain freight, oil and domestic natural gas prices, city bus fares, financial firms, insurance, airline industry, transporter trucking, telecommunications, and banks.  In some industries, deregulation was more dramatic than others, like in the airline and telecommunication industries.  In the telecommunications industry, big changes, previously inhibited by competition regulation, were allowed, such as permitting telephone companies to enter the cable TV and satellite TV markets (pp. 202-204).  

Compared to the United States, Canada has a very small population, and only a couple of heavily populated nodes such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.  Percentages of people living in city centers compared to rural is increasing, with much of the country’s population gravitating to a handful of industrial centers.  In the Canadian economy, it is very hard to achieve

economics of scale because there are simply not enough customers to help the company grow (Levine, 2019).  As a result, and as the global economy has changed and grown over the last few decades, competition restrictions have been loosened, and large company mergers have been allowed in Canada.  Some of the most notable mergers have occurred in Canada’s media and telecommunications industries.

The efficiencies defense has been used many times for the justification and approval of company mergers.  Imported from pro free-market policy ideas that developed in The Chicago School of Law and Economics in the late 1960s, which were popular in the United States and Canada, the efficiency defense meant if a merger created cost savings it was legal under Canadian law, even if it hurt consumers or led to worker layoffs (Shaban, 2021).  This free market approach allows companies to merge even if it harms competition, as long as the economic efficiencies are considered to be greater than the harm caused by the decreased competition (Shaban, 2021).  Supporters of the efficiency defense argue that allowing companies to merge helps innovation and productivity, which are achieved through economics of scale.  Innovation, in fewer, but larger companies, reduces multiple firms doing the same research and spending which is more efficient for the economy overall (CAMP, 2023).  Robert H. Bork (2011 as cited in Bednar & Shaban, 2021) argued that in the United States antitrust laws are not necessarily there to promote egalitarian economies, rather the purpose of antitrust laws is to promote economic efficiency (p. 9).

Consumer advocates, academics, and policy experts have said the Canadian government needs to make more efforts to break monopolies in Canada (Rajagopal, 2022).  There have been very few challenges to mergers in Canada since the introduction of the Competition Act in 1986.  Of the thousands of mergers that have happened since 1986, the bureau has reviewed roughly 8% of cases (Bester, 2022).  Since the 1990s, despite GDP growth, some of which is related to these business mergers, the economic gains achieved by Canadian corporations did not trickle down to the average citizen.  The economic gains favored the top earners and wealth distributors and did not translate into higher standards of living for the average Canadian (Shaban and Kaiser, 2023).

The argument of efficiency favors economic gain for large corporations, their investors, and executive employees.  Blonigen & Pierce (2016, as cited in Bester, 2022) argue that mergers do not necessarily lead to productivity or efficiency gains, rather the market domination allows for lower production costs which profit the owners (p. 9).  Many of these mergers have not translated into improvements in worker wages and Canadian standards of living.  The top 1% of Canadian earners enjoyed 37% of the total income growth between 1975 and 2007.  Ontario saw almost no growth in wages from 1997 to 2016.  Approximately 1 in 3 workers in the province have multiple jobs or precarious work.  Non-permanent or precarious work accounts for 60% of employment growth since the mid 1990s (Johal & Yalnizyan, 2018). 

Canada’s media monopolies in print, radio, and television have changed at different times over the last 100 years.  In broadcasting, the CBC first dominated the industry until privatization in the early 1960s.  From the 1960s to the early 1990s, broadcast ownership expanded, later reversing, with increased consolidation in the 1990s and 2000s (Winseck, 2012).

Canada’s Media Oligopoly

In 1932, the first Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act was passed, also resulting in the formation of the Canadian Broadcast Commission, which became CBC Radio-Canada in 1936 (Claus, 2017).  The Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act gave the CBC full regulation control while licensing authority went to the Department of Transport (Armstrong, 2016).  In 1951, The Massey Commission on Arts and Culture designated the CBC as the sole regulator of Canadian broadcasting, which included television.  The CBC was given the added power to issue licenses (Ali, 2012). 

The Fowler Commission (1957), recognizing a conflict of interest because the CBC was a regulator and a broadcaster, called for the formation of a new regulatory body known as the Board of Broadcast Governors (Armstrong, 2016).  The resulting Canadian Broadcasting Act of 1958 permitted the first private television stations to operate.  The act also required all television and radio stations to broadcast a specific percentage of nationally themed content (Claus, 2017).  In 1959 the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG) announced it would hold competitive application hearings for second television stations, and subsequently granted licenses in 8 major Canadian cities (Raboy, 1990, p. 145).  In 1961, CTV formed the first privately owned television network in Canada (Ali, 2012). 

The Broadcasting Act of 1968 established a more defined broadcasting system, and a new entity to oversee it.  Licensing and regulation would be overseen by the new Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), replacing BBG.  In the 1970s, telephone lines, microwave towers, computers, and satellites facilitated the possibility of building a vast broadcasting network.  (p. 46).  In the early 1980s, Canada’s major cable providers included National Cablevision, Telecable and Videotron in Quebec, Canadian Cable Systems and Maclean Hunter in Ontario, Premier Cable Systems in B.C., and Cable Systems Alberta (Lavers, 2011). 

Broadcasting ownership changed a lot during the 1990s, and eventually consolidation increased, and a few larger companies emerged.  By the late 1990s, there had been significant consolidation in Canadian television distribution (Theckadath & Thomas, 2012).  Throughout the 1990s, Shaw Cable Systems, acquired TV stations and cable providers in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Western International Communications (WIC) acquired stations in Kelowona, Calgary, Lethbridge, Edmonton, Red Deer and then later sold their portfolio to Shaw Communications and CanWest Global in 1994.  Baton Broadcasting began buying CTV affiliate stations in 1985 and had full control of CTV by 1997 before changing its name to CTV Inc. in 1998.  In 1994, Rogers Communications acquired Maclean Hunter Limited, which had radio and TV assets in over 35 Ontario markets (Anthony, 2022).  

Following a relatively stable few decades for television revenues in Canada, beginning in the 1980s and through the 1990s, pay channels and satellite offerings from the United States were affecting Canadian viewership trends (Lavers, 2011).  Following significant change in the broadcast industry since the 1968 Broadcasting Act, the 1991 Broadcasting Act aimed to clarify what the new different types of broadcasters (undertakings) were, how much Canadian content was required, what constitutes Canadian programing, conditions for network ownership, carriage regulations for foreign programming, and advertising rules (pp.  82-82).  In 1996, Canada’s first national DTH satellite distribution services were green-lighted with Bell ExpressVu, and Shaw’s Homestar(Fraser, Chandler, & Buchanan, 2022).  In 1998, Bell Canada purchased Telesat from the Canadian government (Canadian Communications Foundation, 2015).  In 2006, Shaw purchased Cancom and renamed it Shaw Satellite Service (Mediacatser, 2006).           

The digitization that occurred during the 1990s fragmented audiences between traditional cable package channels, pay channels, and satellite channels (Fraser & Grant, n.d).  Canadian cable/satellite TV providers, also referred to as broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDU’s), were losing subscribers and there was a desire to defend Canadian broadcasting revenues and programming against encroaching American satellite/digital channel offerings.  At the same time, the CRTC saw the internet and new digital development as an opportunity for the Canadian broadcasting industry.  The CRTC responded by restricting foreign-owned direct access to Canadian customers and by relaxing domestic regulations which allowed Canadian broadcasters to pursue multi-licenses within the same region, which facilitated the success of their Canadian-based specialty channels (Dewing, 2011).  Armstrong (2016) explains that following a decline in the growth of Canadian TV cable subscriptions, newly relaxed regulations enabled Canadian cable operators to bounce back by acquiring more subscribers through digital cable services and bundle packaging.  This allowed Canada’s big media companies to better compete with foreign content providers for Canadian customers (p. 61).  

During the 80s and 90s, satellite and internet programming transformed and oriented broadcasting toward a more globally competitive industry.  Although the Broadcasting Act of 1991 acknowledged new digital environments and laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Cable Production Fund in 1993, it also led to relaxed licensing regulations (Claus, 2017).  The BDUs (broadcasting distribution undertakings) such as Bell, Shaw, and Rogers were benefiting from a reduction in contribution costs because of the ability to meet their Canadian content obligations by repeatedly broadcasting the same Canadian content through multiple specialty channels.  During this time, conventional television stations’ profitability declined as digital, pay-per-view, and video-on-demand services expanded (Armstrong, 2016).

During the early 2000’s there was major a transition in the Canadian media industry.  The vertical integration of ownership, where different communications sectors merged, increased. (Dewing, 2011).  From 1880 to 2000, Bell Canada, now owned by BCE, was in the business of telephone and satellite services.  In 2000, BCE purchased CTV, a significant vertical integration, which meant the content creators and broadcasters were also the distributors and providers of the telecommunications delivery services (Canadian Broadcasting History, 2021a).  In the early 1960s, Rogers was in the business of radio, and then television in 1967.  By 1977, after acquiring dozens of radio and television stations, and purchasing Canadian Cable Systems Ltd., Rogers became the largest cable company in Canada (Canadian Broadcasting History, 2021b).  Although to varying degrees, in 2023, BCE and Rogers Inc. provide a variety of telephone, radio, television, media content, and internet services.

In late 1990s and early 2000s, smaller or independent radio stations, tv stations, and service providers struggled, as customers were accessing media and communications services from many different available digital sources.  After big financial loses for conventional Canadian TV stations in the early 2000s, major ownership groups suggested “closing some or all” of their smaller regional channels in favour of BDU packaged options and programming, delivered via the internet (Armstrong, 2016, p. 72). 

In the early 2000s and 2010s, significant broadcasting transformation occurred through TV and radio station closures, mergers, and an increased concentration of ownership (Canada, 2009; Ofcom, 2009a; Waldman, 2011, as cited in Ali, 2015).  In the radio industry, as digital stations competed on a national and global stage (the internet), traditional radio stations suffered, especially AM stations.  The influx of new “away from home” listening devices, in combination with internet radio options, greatly challenged radio revenue structures.  “Radio owners tried to reduce loses by seeking economics of scale through networking and takeovers” (Armstrong, 2016, p. 69).  This resulted in many radio-station closures and buyouts, which further contributed to media ownership concentration in Canada.

The newspaper and print industry had already been through a hugely disruptive period that saw the industry change dramatically in North America as a result of lost subscriptions and lost ad revenue, due to readers getting information from online sources, (Saba, 2009).  In the United States, daily newspaper subscriptions shrunk by nearly two-thirds from 1990 to 2020 (Adgate 2021).  Similarly, Canadian newspaper subscriptions have shrunk over the last few decades.  Between 2000 and 2015 circulation of Canada’s major daily newspapers dropped by roughly 50% across major cities including Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal  (Eisler, 2016).  Despite finding new customers through digital subscriptions and paywalls, Canadian newspaper revenues have continued to shrink, decreasing to $2.1 billion in 2020, down 21.9% from 2018.  Advertising sales in 2018, dropped from $1.5 billion in 2018 to $934.3 million in 2020 (Statistics Canada, 2021).

The Canadian newspaper industry saw increased ownership consolidation in the 1990’s (Chandra & Collard-Wexler, 2009).  After years of aggressive takeovers, in 1998, Hollinger Inc. and Quebecor controlled 66.2 per cent of Canada’s newspaper circulation, and Torstar and Thomson held another 21.3per cent.  The total owned by the four companies was 87.4 per cent (Wilson & Smith, 1998, as cited in  Gorman, 2015).  In 2022, 37 out of 77 (48%) Canadian daily newspapers were owned by Post Media Network Inc., with Torstar in second place at 7, down 12 from 2018 (Watson, 2022).

Pressure on the television business model continued in the 2010s, as OTT services such as Netflix emerged.  An over-the-top (OTT) media service is a television service offered directly to the customer via the internet, bypassing cable and satellite (Gannon-Hall, 2010).  By 2015, 41% of Canadians were Netflix subscribers (CRTC, 2016, as cited in Claus, 2017).  For big media companies in Canada, OTT services represented unfair competition as they were not regulated by the CRTC (Claus, 2015).  This meant OTT services from companies like Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime were not subject to Canadian content and media fund payment rules.  Following the “Let’s Talk” public hearings in 2013, when Canada’s big media companies argued for regulation of foreign OTT services, in 2014 the CRTC abandoned the issue and in 2015, Stephen Harper’s government decided not to regulate OTT services in Canada (Claus, 2017).  Canada’s big media companies were successful in getting the CRTC to relax some restrictions such as reducing Canadian content quotas, broadening the definition of Canadian content, facilitating video-on-demand content exclusivity licenses, and allowing BDUs to offer smaller and more affordable TV packages (Claus, 2017). 

In 2020, there were 23 million OTT service subscribers in Canada (Stoll, 2021).  As television viewing options diversified, and internet usage and advertising increased, traditional TV advertising spending growth slowed globally.  Television advertising continued to grow, but not as fast as in previous years, and not as fast as the growth seen in internet advertising (Guttmann, 2021).  Advertisers increasingly shifted portions of their budgets to online advertising (IAB, 2019).  In 2014, Bell, Shaw, and Rogers joined the OTT market launching their own over-the-top television streaming services; Crave and SHOMI (CBC, 2014).  Over 200,000 Canadians cancelled their cable subscriptions in 2015, while OTT services revenue in Canada grew 35% in 2016 (CBC, 2017).  In 2022, overall Canadian BDU subscriptions and revenues continued to decrease as new digital media offerings increased market competition (CRTC, 2023).

Despite foreign competition, Canada’s BDU’s still have an oligopoly in the domestic broadcast industry.  Following several major media mergers in the 2000s and 2010s, Canada’s broadcast ownership concentration has increased significantly.  BCE acquired CTV and The Globe and Mail for $2.3 billion in 2000, Quebecor acquired Sun newspapers in 1999, Videotron in 2000, and TVA in 2001, for a total or $6.4 billion.  Rogers acquired Microcell for $1.4 billion in 2004, Astral Media bought Standard Broadcasting for $1.1 billion in 2007, CanWest acquired Alliance Atlantis for $2.4 billion in 2007, BCE re-acquired CTV for $3.2 billion in 2011, and BCE acquired Astral Media for $3.4 billion in 2013 (CMCRP, 2022. p. 19). 

BCE (Bell) is the largest overall communications, internet, and content company in Canada.  With $24.9 billion in revenue, Bell made up 28% of the $91.3 billion Canadian network media economy in 2020 (Winseck, 2021).  In 2021, for phone, internet, radio, television, and wireless services, the big 5 media companies controlled 89% of the market, with Bell at 32%, Rogers 19%, Telus 25%, Shaw 8%, and Videotron at 5% (CMCRP, 2022).  As revenue challenges and digital disruption persist in the Canadian broadcasting industry, media ownership continues to consolidate.  Canada’s ‘big 5’ became the ‘big 4,’ in April of 2023, when the CRTC approved the Rogers Communications Inc. purchase of Shaw Communications Inc; a transaction worth $26 billion (The Canadian Press, 2023). 

Broadcasting is connected to several important and overlapping elements of Canadian society: culture, economics, and democracy.  Often seen as an essential agent in nurturing culture and democracy, the industry is also subject to forces of national and international economics.  All Canadian broadcast policies and decisions have in some way been related to culture, economics, and democracy. 

Culture, Democracy, and the Economics of Canadian Broadcasting

Media, culture, and democracy are interconnected in complicated ways.  There is a pluralism where democratic societies and media “don’t just co-exist in a parallel but rely on each other in a complex relation of interdependency” (Rappel et al.,2011, as cited in Raeijmaekers & Maeseele, 2015).  Even though the broadcast industry is often referred to as being a part of cultural industries, broadcasting, or communications is closely tied to politics, and democracy, as well as arts and culture.  Whether it is entertainment, commentary, information, or news, broadcasting serves as an “agent for circulating images and discourse about society” (Murdock & Golding, 2005, as cited in Raeijmaekers & Maeseele, 2015 p.1048).  

In the early days of CBC Radio, the medium was often seen to represent democracy itself.  Through regional programming and topical discussions, radio was seen to present diverse opinions and open discussion (Kufert, 2016).  In many modern democracies, the principal role of the media is seen as acting as a check on the state.  In liberal theory, the media has the important task of monitoring the government’s activities and exposing abuse and corruption (Curran, 2002).  Curran (2002) explains that in traditional liberal theory the watchdog role of the media should override the importance of all other functions of the media (p.217).  The media can maintain independence from government by placing the industry within the free market, separate from government funding.  

Media and new media forms can also be bad for society.  It has been well documented that political regimes can exploit technologies to gain power and oppress populations.  In the early years of broadcasting there are examples of Britain, the United States, and Nazi Germany using broadcasting technology in ways that could be seen as undemocratic (Jenkins & Thorburn, 2003).  Public broadcasting sort of dances between the two extremes of state-controlled broadcasting and citizen-controlled broadcasting.  In some countries such as France, Turkey, and India, public television has a negative reputation as being too closely connected with the state, whereas in countries like the United States, public broadcasting has little to no funding or directives coming from government (Curran, 2002).  However, public broadcasting in the United States has declined due to lost audiences and lack of funding (p. 191).  Balancing broadcasting with democracy is a tricky task; too much government involvement is seen as anti-democratic, but no government involvement often results in a lack of funding and failed business models, especially for citizen-controlled community television.

Canada has a mixed broadcasting system, which includes government funded public broadcasting (CBC) and privately-owned networks such as CTV, Shaw, and Rogers.  The country also has minimum domestic content requirements that are designed to support Canadian culture, and the funding needs of the broadcast industry.  Since the introduction of Canadian content rules in the early 1960s, the Canadian government and the CRTC have adjusted and updated Canadian content requirements for channels, networks, and distributors (BDUs) (Fraser, Chandler, & Buchanan, 2022).  In 1970, the CRTC amended Canadian content rules, mandating all major television stations must have 50% Canadian content, 50% during prime time (Fraser, Chandler, & Buchanan, 2022).  

In 1976 the CRTC gained regulatory power over the telecommunications industry and was renamed the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission.  This gave the CRTC jurisdiction over new satellite and digital technologies that were emerging in the television industry.  During the late 70s and early 80s, The CRTC aimed to bring over 350 different cable television providers under one licensed department.  While trying to amalgamate the various different cable providers (BDUs), and also consider new ways to compete with American pay and satellite channels, the CRTC negotiated different Canadian content requirements for each individual new license.  For example Much Music was required to provide 10% Canadian content in the first year and 30% by the fifth year, and TSN was required to spend 72% of its programming budget on Canadian programming (Lavers, 2011).  In the 1980s, the CRTC issued some general licenses where 30% of the content was required to be Canadian.  The CRTC also began to require certain percentages of gross revenues from total programming budgets to be spent on Canadian content productions (para 8).  

The CRTC has also mandated various different Canadian content requirements, specifically for news content.  In 2017, broadcast stations in metropolitan markets were required to broadcast 14 hours per week of Canadian content, with 6 hours being dedicated to news, while broadcasters in smaller markets were required to broadcast 7 hours per week of Canadian content, 3 of those hours being news.  Stations were also required to spend a percentage of the previous year’s revenue on local news production (Maloney & Reid, 2017).  The CRTC also required broadcasters to financially support Canadian producers and domestic productions. 

In the earlier years of broadcasting, the majority of media was funded by the government through the public broadcaster CBC.  Following the granting of private broadcast licenses in the 1960s, the economics of the Canadian broadcast industry changed.  In 1975, the CRTC suggested that private cable operators should give a certain percentage of their revenues to help maintain Canadian production and programming.  In 1983 the Canadian Broadcast Program Development Fund was created to support Canadian content production (Fraser, Chandler, & Buchanan, 2022).  In 2016, BDU revenues represented 54% of the Canadian broadcast industry at $8.7 billion (CMPA, 2018).  The CRTC requires the BDUs to support Canadian content production and broadcasting through either direct production funding or payments made to the Canadian Media Fund (CMF).  BDUs are required to contribute 5% of their annual revenues, less any Canadian production funding, to the CMF.  The Canadian BDUs are also required to contribute .3% of their revenue to the Independent Local News Fund (ILNF) (CRTC, 2016). 

The funds used to support the television industry and new media have adopted, amalgamated and changed over the years.  The 1983 Canadian Broadcast Program Development Fund became the Cable Production Fund in 1995, the Canadian Television and Cable Production Fund in 1996, the Canadian Television Fund in 1998, the Canadian New Media Fund in 2001, and eventually the Canada Media Fund in 2009 (CTV, 2009) (CMF, 2020

In the late 1980s and 1990’s the world saw increased global economic integration.  A wave of globalization occurred during this time period.  Economic, and political changes were either facilitated through technological advancements, or were actually the result of technological and communications advancements.  The global economy changed significantly since the break-up of the USSR in 1989.  Some of the changes that contributed to economic globalization included Chinese economic reform, establishment of a single European currency, a sustained increase in India’s GDP since 1992, and the Dot-com tech explosion in America (Rhode & Toniolo, 2006).  This new economic international order was seen to have great opportunities among those who championed the idea that “private competitive markets are the most effective mechanism for improving the material welfare of people in developed metropolitan nations, as well as in Africa, Asia, and Latin America” (Weaver, 2011, p.93).  Supporters of free market economics, which were many in the Unites States and Canada, believed that market forces could address most competition problems in the long run (Shaban , 2021).  For this reason, in the 1990s, deregulation was often connected to globalization and seen as an important part of having a healthy economy.  (Rhode & Toniolo, 2006).  

Like many other industries, the broadcast industry was greatly affected by this economic and technological globalization.  This disruption in the Canadian broadcast market, as a result of American content being available through new digital technologies, was seen as a threat to the industry, both culturally and financially (Claus, 2017).  At the same time, satellite and digital technologies had evolved to a point where long-distance communication was more affordable and efficient (Rhode & Toniolo, 2006).  There were many in the broadcast industry who saw Canadian content regulations as limiting, arguing deregulation would be good for the Canadian media economy because it would better allow broadcasters to deliver Canadians the exact content they wanted, whether Canadian in nature or not, which would support economic growth in the industry.  Quebecor CEO, Pierre Carl Peladeau argued that “market forces should determine what broadcasters can offer” and that “competition promotes quality and helps the broadcasting horizon in Canada” (CBC, 2008).  With the emergence of satellite technologies and eventually the internet, economic globalization and digital disruption put additional strains the Canadian media economy.  Following increased cable Tv subscribers in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, subscription growth declined between 1998 and 2003 in Canada (Armstrong, 2016).

The Applebaum/Hebert Committee was established by the liberal government in 1980 to review federal cultural policy and found that the country had been opening its borders to foreign cultural products and was not promoting its own culture enough (Collins, 1990).  At the time, Canada had one of the most advanced satellite, interactive cable, and teletext systems in the world, however Canadian viewers were spending 80% of their time watching foreign programs on television (p. 87).  In 1985, the federal government set up the Caplan/Sauvageau Task Force Committee to collect information about new technologies and broadcasting for the purpose of updating the Broadcasting Act (Armstrong, 2016).  The main recommendations of the committee where to strengthen the CBC, make broadcasting regulation stricter, and to have CBC enter the pay and specialty channel markets (Collins, 1990).

Canadian Broadcasting and Digital Disruption

Many of these recommendations were adopted in the 1991 Broadcasting Act.  The 1991 Broadcasting Act was seen as an important step in modernizing the Canadian broadcasting system, so it was compatible with new emerging technologies.  The 1991 act further clarified Canadian content requirements, added more detail about cultural and local programming requirements, provided more direction for the CBCs Can-Con obligations, and raised fine penalties for breaching of regulations (Fraser, Chandler, & Buchanan, 2022).  The 1991 Broadcasting Act also clarified three categories of broadcasting undertakings: 1) programming undertakings such as radio and television stations, 2) distribution undertakings (BDUs) such as broadcast cable and direct to home satellite providers, and 3) networks such as CTV (Armstrong, 2016).

In 1996, the CRTC approved new licenses for 24 specialty and pay channels, and in 1999 Bell ExpressVu marked the beginning of a national satellite TV offering.  In 1999, the CRTC decided it would not regulate the internet, citing that it consisted mostly of alphanumeric text and therefore would not fall under the scope of the Broadcasting Act (Fraser, Chandler, & Buchanan, 2022).  In 2005, after tabling the Our Cultural Sovereignty report, The House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage decided that the language in the 1991 Broadcasting Act allowed for the continued response to a changing industry, was sound, and needed few changes (Dewing, 2011).

On April 27th, 2023, the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) became law requiring foreign owned services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Disney to pay into Canadian broadcast system and promote and recommend Canadian programming.  The bill aims to level the playing field by imposing the same content regulations on online media platforms as are in place for Canadian broadcasters (Raycraft, 2023).  Those who support the legislation argue that online platforms have been unfairly earning revenue from Canadians without reinvesting back into the system like the Canadian broadcasters have to (Edge, 2022).  Bill C-11 will require online media platforms to pay into the Canadian Media Fund, make Canadian content discoverable, and support Canadian producers and domestic productions (The Online Streaming Act, 2023).  Rogers Media Inc. argued that without regulatory change Canadian broadcasters will continue to operate at a significant disadvantage to their larger and better-funded global competitors (Dinsmore & Wheeler, 2021).  BCE (Bell) argued that foreign OTT platforms, such as Disney+ and HBO, were driving up programming costs, and in some cases deciding not to license content through Canadian providers, rather going directly to Canadian customers, cutting Canadian media companies out completely (Parliament of Canada, 2022).

Canada’s BDUs, (Bell, Rogers, Telus, Quebecor), smaller broadcasters, and other media organizations such as the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) argue that the unregulated platform giants such as Google and Facebook continue to dominate Canada’s online media economy.  In 2021, 80% of all digital ads in Canada were on Google and Facebook, with Amazon hosting 10%.  Making things worse, all other advertising spending in the country has dropped from $10 billion in 2008 down to $5.3 billion in 2020 (Edge, 2022).  CMPA CEO, Reynolds Mastin, said Bill C-11 is important because it sends “a clear signal that the core purpose of The Broadcasting Act is to ensure a strong domestic production sector, where independent producers remain central to the future of Canadian programming” (Ahearn 2023). 

Bill C-11 also requires online platforms such as Google, Tiktok, and Facebook, to promote and recommend Canadian programming on their platforms.  Digital first creators consider this a threat to their potential earnings and business models because their content may or may not be shown to viewers on these platforms, depending on whether it’s deemed Canadian content or not (Levinson-King, 2023).  Digital first creators, who earn a significant portion of their revenue through online advertising platforms such as Google Ads worry that if their content is presented to somebody based on location, rather than interest, it may not actually be the content the user is looking for and they will ignore it.  The interaction tells the digital algorithm that the content is not relevant to the user and therefore downgrades the visibility of that content (Goldberg, 2022).  Canadian online influencer J.J. McCullough says this type of legislation, if copied by other countries, will create an atmosphere where some artists may get more exposure domestically, but others will lose considerable access to international audiences.  McCullough gives the example of how Regina-born Tiktok sensation Tesher, who gained popularity outside of Canada with Hindi and Punjabi speakers before gaining notoriety with Canadian audiences.  Tesher would not have not found any success if foreign countries had downgraded his content (Goldberg, 2022).

Jeanette Patell, a spokesperson for the YouTube, said the bill would mean people see content suggestions based on what the government decides is Canadian, and not based on their personal preferences or what is relevant to them.  The YouTube representative also expressed the company’s concern that these rules would harm new and emerging online creators (Patell, 2021).  Ramneet Bhullar (2022) argues that most digital first producers or content creators are not publishing content with “the purpose of it being Canadian”.  The discoverability of these publishers’ content will be downgraded if not deemed “Canadian enough”.  The Canadian Minister of Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez, has repeatedly argued that “Bill C-11 will not control what you can or cannot see online, it’s about regulating platforms, not users” (CPAC, 2022).  Rodriguez has also said the aim of the bill is not to regulate social media user content, rather those who earn commercial revenue from content, including the platforms who host that content (Government of Canada, 2023).  Before the bill was passed, Rodriguez rejected amendments put forth aimed at protecting user-generated content saying they would limit the government’s ability to “publicly consult on, and issue, a policy direction to the CRTC to appropriately scope the regulation of social media services” (Aiello, 2023).

The Online News Act (Bill C-18) was approved by the House and Senate becoming law on June 22, 2023 (The Canadian Ministry of Heritage, 2023).  The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez has said that media companies in Canada are disappearing and the bill will make sure “newsrooms can survive because democracy is getting weaker” (Government of Canada, 2023).  The Minister further argues that with most of the revenue going to multi-nationals like Facebook and Google, they are using our news system to make money but not paying back into it (CBC, 2022).  In 2022, 77% of Canadians were getting their news online and 55% from social media.  Canadian news publishers are losing advertising dollars to digital platforms Like Facebook, where links to Canadian news content can be shared, and Google who earned significant revenue through news link traffic and aggregated news pages consisting of Canadian-produced news.  In 2020, Google and Facebook dominated 80% of Canada’s online advertising revenues (Government of Canada, 2023).  

Bill C-18 will require companies like Google and Facebook to pay Canadian news publishers when their content, or links to their content, are published on their platforms (Gardner, 2022).  If the online platforms and Canadian publishers cannot agree on specifics, the CRTC will arbitrate the outcome (Government of Canada, 2023).  The Canadian Association of Broadcasters said although the act will not “save” journalism, it will help start to address problems caused by lost ad revenue in the news business (Parliament of Canada, 2023).  

Between 2008 and 2022, 468 news outlets in Canada closed, while only 204 opened.  The Minister of Canadian Heritage says the Online News Act is not only about making sure Canadian publishers are fairly compensated, it’s also an important part in upholding democracy, which requires an independent and thriving press (Government of Canada, 2023).  BCE (Bell) says private television has been losing money every year since 2013, and the local television sector, which often focusses on local news, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 5 years, bringing many smaller stations to the brink of closing (Parliament of Canada, 2023).  

Those who oppose the legislation in its current form, argue Bill C-18 will harm smaller and independent and digital first news producers.  Similar to what already happened in Australia, online media platforms could end up making news content deals with Canada’s large legacy media companies, with less focus on supporting the variety of smaller, independent, niche, and news producers in the industry (Gardner, 2022).  Sabrina Geremia, Vice President and Country Managing director for Google Canada, said the company is committed to assisting the strengthening of Canadian journalism and that the they are already working with over 150 Canadian publishers through its Google News Showcase program.  Geremia said, “when you put a price on linking to certain information you no longer have a free and open web,” and asking for payment for links encourages clickbait behavior, “not quality journalism” (Gerema, 2023).  Richard Gingras, Vice President of News at Google, argued, “the extreme level of business uncertainty and uncapped financial liability that Google is being asked to accept, merely for providing free links to the news sources Canadians are searching for, and which news publishers benefit from, is unreasonable and threatens to create a situation where everybody loses” (Gingras, 2023).

Facebook has repeatedly said they are moving away from news, as their research suggests it’s not that important or lucrative for the company (Wilson, 2023).  Nick Clegg, President of Global Affairs for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, argued the company does not benefit unfairly from people sharing links to news content on Facebook.  Clegg explains that less than 3% of content in Canadians’ Facebook feeds is news.  The Meta spokesperson said the company would likely not show any news content on the platform should the “flawed legislation pass” (Meta, 2023).  Canadaland, an Ontario based independent online news provider, says the Online News Act needs to be more transparent and include innovators, even if they are smaller players in the media industry (Canadaland, 2022).  Village Media Inc. CEO, Jeff Elgie, says that the news industry certainly is in crisis and policy needs to support new innovative business models to help sustain local journalism in the country, “but the tabled legislation ensures none of that” (LinkedIn @JeffElgie, 2022). 

Legislation Favours Canada’s Big Media Companies

Bills C-11 and C-18 are examples of an ongoing Canadian broadcast policy history where laws are passed that favor telecommunications corporations over public interest.  The laws favor Canada’s big media companies over public interest because 1) the legislation does not adequately address root causes of media industry problems in Canada, rather it props up declining business models that help maintain or increase media monopolies, 2) the bills will limit media industry competition and innovation, further entrenching Canada’s media oligopoly, and 3) the legislation enables Canada’s big media companies to harness the power of America’s giant content providers and online platforms for their own interests, not public interest.

Propping Up Declining Business Models Strengthens Canada’s Media Oligopoly      

Bills C-11 and C-18 do not adequately address the root causes of media industry problems in Canada, rather the legislation props up declining business models that help maintain or increase media monopolies.  The legislation helps to maintain Canada’s media oligopoly, at the expense of public interest because: 1) most of the new foreign subsidies will go to Canada’s big media companies and affiliated independent producers and not to digital first producers; 2) it supports the bundled media services subscription business model, which is the cornerstone of Canada’s media monopolies; 3) it overlooks significant changes in the nature and extent to which traditional commercial advertising plays a role in broadcasting, which limits alternative business models; 4) it affirms Canadas big media companies’ tendency to conflate different issues related to challenges in entertainment revenues and news revenues to serve their own interests; and 5) It enables them to maintain control of large portions of the entertainment and news industries at the expense of digital first producers and the public.

When I use the term “business models,” I am referring to the different ways that media companies or corporations generate revenue through broadcasting and media services.  Some of these media business models include traditional cable television, where broadcasters earn revenue through subscriptions and ads, OTT streaming, where broadcasters earn revenue through monthly subscriptions, and free streaming content, which is supported by ads.  Another slightly different, but related, business model or revenue stream that Canada’s big media companies rely on is bundle subscriptions, which include wireless, television, and internet.  For online broadcasters and publishers, smaller news producers, and individual content creators, revenues are earned through hosting digital ads, usually through Google.  Online business models, or revenue streams, also include sponsorships and influencer advertising structures where individuals with large social media followings are paid to provide exposure for companies and products on their channels.

Although news broadcasting is a part of traditional cable subscription business models, I consider it to have a slightly different revenue model than entertainment productions because news production is much more expensive, as it involves a large staff of professionals to produce daily content that is shot in multiple locations (Gardner, 2022).  On a macro level, looking at the Canadian broadcasting system as a whole, mandatory content and monetary contributions to the Canadian Media Fund, and the redistribution of that money to producers, can be seen as a business model or an industry model structure.  I will also make reference to Canada’s media system, involving Cancon requirements and CMF contributions, as a business model.  Within the Canadian media system, there are also several different types of business models.  Some of the media companies, particularly the big ones, employ several of these business or revenue stream models, while others focus specifically on one business model to earn revenue.  The reason I want to decipher between some of these different business models is because Canada’s big media companies have argued that they should be subsidized through foreign contributions, via the CMF, to maintain some of these struggling business structures such as local television and news, which are a part of the cable tv subscription or bundle package business model (Dinsmore & Wheeler, 2021) (Parliament of Canada, 2022).

The broadcasting landscape is complicated and has many different competing companies, in many locations, and modes of media delivery.  Although there have been clear revenue declines using older media revenue structures, such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines, the media industry itself, including online media, has grown significantly over the last 15 years in Canada.  Although there is no doubt much of that revenue has gone to foreign companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Netflix, revenues for Canada’s telecom giants/big media companies have continued to grow exponentially since 2000 (Winseck, 2021).  

There has been a long history where Canadian broadcasters have lobbied the government to relax monopoly/competition restrictions so their business models can survive against the threat of foreign competition (Armstrong, 2016).  Just like when broadcasters petitioned for multiple licenses in the same market to compete against American pay channels and satellite services in the 70s and 80s, Bill C-11 and C-18 represent a continuance of Canadian broadcast policy where competition laws are relaxed in favor of Canada’s big media companies.  Canada’s big media companies claim they suffer from an unfair disadvantage because they are required to pay into and support the Canadian system while their competitors (foreign/online) do not (Rogers, 2021).  This legislation allows Canada’s big media companies to maintain profits, and compete with foreign content providers, without having to significantly change their business model. 

Although having foreign content providers subsidize the Canadian news and media industries could bring in significant revenue, Bills C-11 and C-18 do not address the root causes of problems with media business models and revenue structures.  There’s no question that many of Canada’s independent TV producers will benefit from a huge influx of available production grants should companies like Google and Facebook start paying into the Canadian Media Fund The majority of these Canadian independent productions are broadcasted and distributed through Canada’s big media companies or BDU’s such as Rogers, Quebecor, and Bell.  The Canadian media fund is supported by contributions from Canada’s BDUs and the Ministry of Heritage, which amounts to roughly $360 million of available production funds per year.  The majority of Canada’s traditional media industry, including organizations such as The Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), are in full support of Bill C-11 because it has the potential to generate significant funds for their future productions (CMF, 2022).

Although Bill C-11 and C-18 have the potential to generate millions of dollars that will assist Canada’s independent producers and their distributors to better meet their Canadian content requirements, the legislation does little to assist “digital first” content creators such as independent content streamers who are not affiliated with Canada’s BDUs, online based news outlets, and individual online content creators.  Many of these digital first content creators have different business models than independent producers and big media companies.  Individual online streamers and publishers rely heavily on online discoverability and the resulting revenue from hosting digital ads.  These companies have found ways to generate revenue without subscriptions, and in most cases without any subsidies from the Canadian Media Fund.  This legislation favors an older or more traditional business model in that it aims to support the subsidized structure that props up Canada’s big media companies and their affiliated independent producers.

Favoring traditional and legacy media broadcasting business model structures over digital first business models further entrenches Canada’s big media companies’ media oligopoly.  This huge influx of money, which will lead to more independent productions that are aired and distributed through Canada’s big media companies (BDUs), will give those groups and unfair advantage over digital first creators who likely won’t receive any of the money for their productions.  

Over the last few decades, companies like Rogers and Bell have put significant focus on bundle packages which include a combined subscription fee for wireless, internet, and television. Although these companies have certainly branched out to use newer business models such as OTT subscription offerings, and in some cases, individual channel subscriptions, they are still mandated to provide cable/satellite television offerings.  Although  cable and satellite television subscriptions earn less revenue than internet and wireless, it is still an important part of a business model that entices customers to buy their media products in one bundle.  This of course is one of the main reasons Canada has a media oligopoly; the big media companies own multiple tiers of the media industry such as the physical network infrastructure, internet services, the broadcast stations/licenses, and much of the content (Winseck, 2021).  Pumping millions of dollars into this business model or infrastructure aims to strengthen the production and distribution system that Canada’s big media company’s control, but it doesn’t do much for digital first producers or content creators that are not affiliated with companies like Bell, Corus, Quebecor, and Rogers.  Media service bundles may be here to stay, but they certainly are not the only way that Canadians want to consume their media. 

Canadians also consume media on social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.  Many Canadians have multiple OTT subscriptions such as Netflix, Disney, and Amazon, but also pay for cable, internet, wireless services through companies such as Bell and Rogers (Rody, 2017) (Stoll, 2021).  With a vast array of media viewing options, it’s not entirely obvious that the average Canadian citizen is disappointed with the choice and fees they pay to consume their streaming content.  Many Canadians are ok with paying the cost to have a wide variety of media access.  This legislation aims to reaffirm media service packages as the dominant form of revenue for these companies, with cable and satellite television being the more obvious subsidized facet of that business model.  The legislation is aimed at leveling the playing field between Canada’s big media companies and foreign content providers and platforms through money transfers and mutual Cancon obligations.  This strategy focuses more on Canada’s big media companies and the existing cable/satellite tv business models they use, over digital first companies and their different business models. 

For decades, advertising revenue, in the form of commercials, has been at the center of all broadcasting business models.  Although advertising revenue is still very much a part of most broadcasting business models, advertisers now have many more channel types advertise through.  Similarly, broadcasters are using several different revenue stream models.  There are millions of people who pay subscriptions to stream content through ad free OTT devices.  There are also many free TV and movie streaming OTT offerings such as Roku and Tubi that earn revenue through ads.  OTT offerings such as Netflix and Disney disrupted the television industry because customers could stream the content on demand and without commercials.  Now we are seeing an evolution where completely free OTT offerings are available as long as viewers watch the inserted digital commercials.  This new business model is referred to as advertising video on demand (AVOD) (Malcolm & Perry, 2023).  The cable and satellite TV portion of Canada’s big media company’s business model seems outdated because they are earning revenue from both, collecting subscription fees and from airing commercials (Sherman & Rizzo, 2023).  Since OTT offerings first disrupted the broadcast industry, new relationships between broadcasters and customers have evolved where customers may expect free content if they have to view commercials, and if they pay subscription fees, they may expect to see no commercials. 

When foreign companies are asked to pay money into the Canadian broadcasting system, and where that money is in support of outdated broadcasting revenue models such as cable television subscriptions, it’s hard not to see the situation as mandating a foreign company to subsidize a problematic business model.  Canada’s telecoms argue for foreign subsidies, using the failure of one business model (cable TV) as a reason to regulate and “level the playing field” of a different broadcast delivery business model such as OTT television (Netflix, Amazon, Crave).  Although it’s important that foreign internet giants pay back into the Canadian broadcast system if they are benefiting from it, having American companies pay money that ends up subsidizing what Canada’s big media companies have already said are problematic business models (cable tv, and news is particular), doesn’t address root causes of Canada’s struggling media industry.  Continuously subsidizing older broadcasting revenue models allows Canada’s big media companies to maintain their monopolies in the broadcast industry, as there is no repercussion for failing business models.  If a company continues to be successful, regardless of the shortcomings of its revenue structures, there is no naturally created space for new ideas and competitors.

Although it may be true that Canada’s big media companies are having a hard time competing for content licensing against platform giants such as Amazon and Disney, using failing traditional cable television revenue models to argue for foreign OTT regulation confuses the issue (Dinsmore & Wheeler, 2021) (Parliament of Canada, 2022).  A discussion about fair prices for Hollywood content streamed in Canada is entirely reasonable, however it does the public a disservice by convoluting and clouding the subject with premises that are not logically connected.  This falsely implies that the main reason for the demise of traditional television revenues in Canada are a result of customers flocking to foreign streamers.  Although OTT streaming certainly disrupted the cable tv subscription business model in Canada, it shouldn’t be seen has ending it; rather OTT and cable tv exist together as two different products in an expanding market.  Besides, Canada’s big media companies are also in the OTT market with platforms such as Crave.

There are many that believe the legacy cable TV business model is dying.  This true for many countries around the world; it is not a uniquely Canadian problem.  In a recent series of interviews by CNBC, where they asked some of the United States’ top television executives what the future of cable television looks like, and the majority of them said legacy television is either “dying,” “dead,” or “in decline”.  Many of the American executives did say that cable television would always be around, featuring sports events and other high-profile programming, but would most certainly continue to decline and give way to online streaming as the preferred viewing method (Sherman & Rizzo, 2023).  Canada’s government and big media companies are asking foreign companies to bail them out from cable television losses that other businesses in other countries are also dealing with.  Although giant American companies may be siphoning huge amounts of money from Canada’s media economy, the fact that cable TV business models are declining in other places suggests that the model is dying, or at least shrinking in size.  It may be more productive to search for new ways to adapt, as opposed to trying to grow, or even maintain the size of the Canadian cable/satellite TV market.

Canada’s film and television industry has seen steady growth for the last 15 years, with increases in wages, investment, and overall profit (Statistics Canada, 2021).  On the other hand, local television stations, and in particular news programming, have dramatically decreased over the last 15 years (Government of Canada, 2023).  Despite all the doom and gloom, it’s important to recognize that media consumption, certainly in the form of entertainment, has exponentially exploded over the last 15 years.  On the other hand, journalism and news production appear to be in crisis (Winseck, 2021).  Also, recognizing that Canada’s big media companies operate in both traditional cable television markets and online OTT markets, is important because one of the business models, OTT television, is thriving around the world, and the other, traditional cable TV, is declining.  Canada’s media companies need to be able to compete in the OTT market, but it should be discussed and debated separately from the challenges of cable television and journalism revenue models.  The issues may be related but they also need to be analyzed separately, according to their business model or revenue model structure.  Conflating these ideas and challenges, leads to blanket remedies that don’t address each issue specifically, which props-up, and benefits the continuance of Canada’s media monopolies.

With journalism business models and revenues clearly suffering more than those in general production and entertainment, it’s important to consider the nature of the news industry and how generating revenue is more difficult than in the greater media and entertainment industry.  Not only does journalism hold a different type of importance for society than entertainment and cultural programming, its production costs and revenue models are also considerably different from other forms of media.  There are a couple things that make news different from other forms of media: 1) it holds a unique importance in supporting democracies, and 2) news is really expensive to produce (Gardner, 2022).  Producing news is not a small undertaking, involving skilled staff in production, marketing, and editorial roles.  Producing news involves traveling to various locations to capture or broadcast content with the expectation of delivering a labor-intensive show daily.  Canada’s big media companies have repeatedly said that news is a losing battle, with financial losses accumulating significantly over the last 15 years or so (Parliament of Canada, 2023).

Some would argue that news is more important than entertainment for democracy, yet it is the segment of media that has suffered the most.  Bill C-18 would require online platforms such as Google and Facebook to make Canadian news links discoverable and to pay Canadian news publishers when that news is consumed online (Parliament of Canada, 2023).  Having large internet platforms pay Canadian news publishers does not address the root cause of the problem.  There’s no clear sign that additional funds received by Canadian news publishers will result in more news, better quality news, more news stations, or more news jobs.  Canada’s BDUs, as well as individual stations, are required to contribute small percentages of overall revenue to support news production (CRTC, 2016).  Technically, there would be more money available to Canada’s entertainment and news producers as a result of Bill C-11 and C-18, but no specific mandate to spend more money and resources specifically on news (Maloney & Reid, 2017).  Theoretically, the increase in overall revenue for Canada’s big media companies would translate to higher amounts (a percentage of their overall revenue) donated to the news production, but it is not clear how or where that money would be spent.  

Talking about lost revenues through cable subscriptions and television news while also having conversations about foreign OTT streaming, internet discoverability, and online copyright infringement, clouds the issue immensely with way too many topics.  Canada’s big media companies conflate all of these issues together, saying that they are struggling and losing money, when there are certain parts of their revenue streams that are suffering, but others that are thriving.  By propping up some of these older business model structures through foreign and government subsidies, Canada’s big media companies are able to maintain dominance in a fragmenting broadcasting environment. 

Bills C-11 and C-18 will deliver bad economic policy because the majority of the newly generated funds will subsidize Canada’s big media broadcasters. These appropriated funds will further tilt the playing field towards Canada’s legacy media companies while making it more difficult for digital first and news websites to flourish (Meta, 2023) (Gardiner, 2022).  As profit-driven enterprises, Canada’s big media companies “always serve their own private interests first and foremost, leaving large swaths of society to fend for themselves when their communication needs don’t add to the bottom line” (Winseck, 2021).   

Payment for links would lead to clickbait journalism, where publishers would post more content to get paid more.  This type of business model encourages quantity over quality and favors big media over the public interest.  In the case of Bill C-18, this type of clickbait Journalism also has the potential to further erode public trust in news publishers (Gardiner, 2022) (Geremia, 2023).  Subsidizing Canada’s news industry with money made from paid news links on foreign digital platforms would do little to change the quality of news that Canadians view, or the way in which they access it.  In the case of Bill C-11, we will see a transfer of money from streaming platforms that Canadians generally enjoy, to legacy broadcast services that Canadians increasingly do not enjoy (Bhullar, 2022).

Although the Ministry of Heritage and Canada’s big media companies have said that Bill C-11 and C-18 will strengthen the broadcast industry, and therefore serve the public interest, the bills take power away from viewers and puts it in the hands of corporations and government bureaucrats (Levinson-King, 2023).  It reaffirms Canada’s big media companies’ oligopoly by requiring foreign broadcasters to go through them, at least partly, if they want to reach Canadian audiences online. 

Over the last few decades, as the Canadian government and big media companies have adjusted regulation, there is little evidence of how it has served the public interest.  Over 14,000 newsroom jobs were lost between 2008 and 2016 in Canada.  There were 13,470 reporters in Canada in 1991, and in 2021 it was down to 10,555 (Cheung, 2022).  As the CRTC continuously approves giant Canadian media mergers, in the name of protecting a threatened industry, the focus remains on supporting the economic strategies of these companies.  It’s not just journalism jobs that are lost through big media mergers.  In 2008, making it to the list of one of the biggest layoffs in Canadian history, shortly after merging with CTV, Bell laid off 2,500 employees, saving the company $300 million annually (Brearton, 2015).  Following the recent $26 billion merger between Rogers and Shaw in 2023, executives promised new growth and investment, but critics say the massive financial undertaking will likely come with job cuts (Dobby, 2021).  

Granted, traditional media revenue models have been disrupted in the United States, and other parts of the world (Palmeri, 2022), but there is evidence to show that the Canadian government’s response to these financial challenges has primarily supported the country’s large media companies, and not public interest.  For example, a national discussion needs to be had about why journalism is different from other forms of media because of its close connection to democracy, and that maybe profit-driven business models are not the most important factor for its success (Geist, 2021, as cited in Gardner, 2022).  On top of continuous layoffs in the media industry, Canada remains one of the most expensive countries in the world for digital services.  Despite years of debate and promises of reasonable rates, and although mobile rates have come down a little bit in the last few years, Canada still has some of the highest internet and wireless services fees in the world (Lamont, 2019). 

Canadian telecom researcher Ben Klass (as cited in Pedersen et al., 2023) says “there is underlining economics that justify somewhat higher prices in Canada, but companies in Canada go too far” (para. 5).  Using the economics of scale argument, Canada’s big media companies have argued that high operating costs, in combination with a small and dispersed Canadian population, makes it hard to deliver services at a lower cost.  This explanation however doesn’t account for lower wireless prices in other countries with low population density.  Canada’s cost per gigabyte is seven times higher than Australia, 25 times higher than Ireland and France and 1,000 times more expensive than Finland.  On top of this, Canada’s wireless and internet industries profitability margin is higher than these countries (Pedersen et al., 2023).  Although there are obvious profits to be made from wireless services, the situation is different for broadcasting revenues, with losses in the Canadian industry mounting.  In February 2023, Quebecor Media announced it was cutting 240 jobs as a result of losing money across all sectors.  A recent joint application filed by Canada’s big TV providers, Bell, Cojeco, Bragg, and SaskTel proposed to raise the maximum basic TV package price from $25 a month to $28 a month (Broadcast Dialogue, 2023).  Although new revenues may offset losses in broadcasting revenue for Canada’s big media companies, Bills C-11 and C-18 don’t address the root causes of why profits from certain services such as cable tv and news will continue to decline. 

Continuously subsidizing broadcast revenue models, that have been proven to be unprofitable, maintains the status quo, and the oligopoly that Canada’s big media companies benefit from.  These policies have proven to minimize competition in Canada and make it more difficult for smaller media companies and digital first producers, with different business models, to thrive (Winseck, 2021).  By reducing the possibility for these smaller companies and individuals to thrive, innovation and new media revenue models are limited, lack support, and  are underexplored.  

Limiting Media Competition and Innovation

Bills C-11 and C-18 will limit media industry competition and innovation, and further entrench Canada’s media oligopoly.  First, I argue that the legislation overlooks or bypasses smaller media companies and producers, focusing more on Canada’s big media companies’ relationship with foreign platforms and content providers.  This makes it harder for smaller players to find success in the media industry and it stifles innovation because alternative business models are unsupported and/or underexplored.  Second, new rules about the discoverability of Canadian content online have the potential to marginalize the visibility of smaller media outlets and independent producers.  Third, the vague language in this legislation creates uncertainty for smaller media businesses, while granting broad interpretive powers to the government and the CRTC.  The legislation will harm smaller media companies and digital first producers because the CRTC’s interpretations of the bills’ language favor Canada’s big media companies.
            In the case of Bill C-18, there is the possibility that online platforms such as Google and Facebook would make deals for shared content with Canada’s legacy news publishers before working with smaller digital first publishers.  In 2021, after a similar law was passed in Australia, an estimated 90% of the revenues negotiated went to Australia’s three largest media companies (Gardner, 2022).  If the big online platforms do deals with Canada’s big media companies first, it will increase the visibility and viewership of legacy media content online over the content of independent and smaller publishers.  Also, there is no specific mandate that requires companies like Google and Facebook to do deals with all types and sizes of media outlets.

Bill C-18 could result in less Google support for Canada’s smaller news producers.  Google already supports over 150 smaller publications, that would otherwise be hidden behind paywalls, through curated and freely shared news articles (Gerema, 2023).  Rather than considering new funding models that may help independent and smaller news outlets, Bill C-18 calls for a pay-per-click model that primarily favors Canada’s big media companies because they can produce and publish the most volume online.  “Recent amendments glossed over serious issues, exacerbated others, and produced a range of new inconsistencies” (Gingras, 2023).   

Mandating foreign news platforms to pay for Canadian news links could have the opposite effect than intended.  Companies like Facebook and Google can choose not to share Canadian news at all on their platforms.  Wilson (2023) argues that the bill backers often cite that the big online platforms went along with the Australian model, but they fail to mention that they did drop news links in Spain years earlier, which further damaged an already struggling Spanish journalism industry (para. 3).  Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has already said it will stop sharing news links on their platform altogether, following the passing of Bill C-18 (Meta, 2023)( Samrhitha, 2023).  Google has also said that the legislation unfairly requires them to pay for an indefinite amount of news links, and that Canada could see support for news publishers slow down or completely stop on the platform as they look for new ways to comply with the legislation (Gingras, 2023).  An outcome like this could create a situation where everybody loses, and in particular, smaller and independent producers whose business models rely solely on internet discoverability.

Although journalism has a different importance to the nation’s democracy than entertainment content, and although it is important for the government to intervene to support good journalism, it does not make sense to try to revive a dying business model.  “If the market won’t support journalism then we need to find a new way to do it” (Gardner, 2022).  We have to keep trying different media models.  Some will fail and some will develop, but experimentation is the key (Shirky 2008).  

Smaller independent digital first news players such as The Resolve, The Narwhal, Canada’s National Observer, Village Media, New Canadian Media, and Canadaland are examples of news publishers seeking out alternative business models to those of Canada’s big media companies.  Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media, a company that provides online news to smaller underserved communities through a local business advertising focus, said that 100 news companies have launched in Canada in the past 5 years.  Elgie continues, saying, although the media industry is in crisis, new companies like his are finding a way through innovation.  Elgie points out that the Trudeau government announced plans to support Canada’s news industry, help sustain local journalism, support diversity, and support innovation, but the legislation does none of that (Elgie, 2022).  

Elgie, and others in the news business, argue that if online platforms have to pay for news links, it could decrease their visibility online, which is the basis for their entire revenue structure.  Increased payments to large media companies from online platforms will grow their market monopolies, which will further marginalize smaller news producers.  Bill C-18 overlooks the smaller companies and their new innovative business structures while focussing primarily on the relationship between Canada’s big media companies and foreign-owned online platforms.  Bills C-11 and C-18 do not adequately address the important connection between open internet discoverability and the success of smaller media business models.

Bill C-11 requires online content providers such as Netflix and Disney, and online platforms such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube, to make Canadian content available, visible, and discoverable (Bill C-11, 2023).  Independent content producers, whose business models often rely on digital advertising revenue and influencer marketing revenue, say that the legislation puts their business models at risk because it would limit their discoverability online if their content is not deemed to be Canadian enough.  For example, independent online content producers often rely on international audiences and the resulting revenue generated from foreign online traffic (Goldberg, 2022).  The majority of this content is not Canadian in nature.  Bill C-11 would penalize independent media producers for finding success through their online business models, many of which target specific demographic bases through multiple online channels and have little to do with Canadian content (Bhullar, 2022).  

User-generated sites reward creators with higher visibility based on positive engagement (Pugh, 2023).  Online platforms such as Google and Facebook, use algorithms based on presenting the content that is relevant to the viewers interests or keywords they have searched. (Mosseri, 2018) (Shenoy et al., 2006).  With the way these algorithms work, even for those digital first producers who do make Canadian content, presenting their content to Canadians based on location, and not the viewers interests, will lead to lower engagement and subsequently the content will be downgraded and shown to less people (Levinson-King, 2023) (Mohan, 2021).

Another problem with mandating smaller businesses and digital first producers to make Canadian content is that many of their business models specifically rely on providing niche news information and entertainment to their online audiences.  These niche markets or topics are what allow many online producers to build their business models (Simons, 2023).  Having specific and niche content to present, that larger media companies do not, gives them the opportunity to be a part of the media industry, however small their business model may be.  Online audiences continually enjoy and seek out niche information and news that suits their particular needs, and is relevant to them (Gardner, 2022).  If smaller media companies and independent producers have to change their content to accommodate Canadian content regulations, they risk losing their audiences.  Marginalizing the discoverability of such niche content contributes to the homogenization of Canadian entertainment and news content online.  This goes against current internet trends that see users wanting to discover more niche, personalized, and relevant information (para. 6).

The government has continuously said that Bill C-11 is not aimed at regulating social media users and will exclude user-generated content (CPAC, 2022).  Bill C-11 also says that  requiring online platforms to alter their algorithms should be limited when possible (Government of Canada, 2023).  Since the law has already been passed, digital first creators are left hoping that the government and the CRTC will keep its promise not to regulate user-generated content (Raycroft, 2023).  It is hard to see how regulators can mandate Canadian content discoverability without affecting platform algorithms.  It’s very simple; if online platforms have to make Canadian content visible and discoverable on their platforms then they will have to alter their algorithms, which are currently based on relevance, keywords, and not specifically based on location or cultural content quotas.  If online discoverability algorithms are altered to accommodate Canadian content rules, it will undoubtedly reduce visibility for digital first creators (Open Media, 2023).  

If digital first producers have to produce Canadian content to achieve more discoverability, they are at a significant disadvantage because their budgets and ability to produce a variety of specifically Canadian-themed content is very limited compared to the big media companies who have already been doing it for years (Patell, 2021).  This is another reason that the internet has fostered digital first and small individual content creators’ discoverability.  Producing content and finding an audience online is often much more affordable than doing so within the traditional legacy structure of broadcasting.  Making digital first producers play by the same rules as the large media companies, threatens their core business model and puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

Even though the internet, in general, and digital platforms have allowed smaller media outlets and digital first producers to find success, the websites of legacy media companies still have a huge advantage when it comes to online discoverability and traffic.  Relevancy and discoverability often have a snowball effect online, where traffic exposure leads to more traffic and exposure, because algorithms tend to reward engagement by showing the content more, while penalizing content visibility when engagement is low, or the interactions are negative.  It is very rare for websites to enter or leave the top 10 (Rogers, B., 2018).  Because legacy media companies have bigger budgets, more content, and much more online traffic, they already enjoy a significant online discoverability advantage over smaller producers and digital first producers. 

Although the government has said the aim of Bills C-11 and C-18 is not to regulate online content creators and smaller media outlets, the vague language used in the legislation leaves that possibility open.  This vague language does little to specifically address concerns of digital first producers.  The vague language also awards broad power to the CRTC, who often make policy decisions that favor Canada’s big media companies (Dobby, 2021) (Geist, 2023) (CTV, 2008) (The Canadian Press, 2023) (Gardner, 2022).  

The legislation will harm smaller media companies and independent producers because the language referring to online discoverability and algorithms is vague.  Also, definitions of what constitutes Canadian content are not clear to online publishers.  The vagueness in these policies leave the power in the hands of online platforms to interpret how the language can be put into practice (Pugh, 2023).    

One of the key concerns for digital first content creators is that altered algorithms based on Cancon requirements will decrease their discoverability (Djuric, 2023).  Section 9.1(8) of Bill C-11 says “the commission shall not make or order under paragraph (1)(e) that would require the use of a specific computer algorithm or source code” (Bill C-11, 2023).  Confusingly, on June 10, 2023, The Minister of Heritage, in its first directive since the passing of the bill, advised the CRTC to “minimize the need to alter algorithms of broadcasting undertakings” (Government of Canada, 2023).  “Minimizing the need to alter algorithms” means that the government is aware that algorithms will need to be altered if online platforms are to comply with the legislation. 

Bill C-11 does not specifically define what counts as Canadian content on the internet.  It also fails to define how much Canadian content foreign streaming services and platforms must make available.  The legislation says that foreign online broadcasters must make “the greatest predictable use” of Canadians when contributing to Canadian programming and productions.  Directions are also vague for Canadian online content producers, where the bill says Canadian broadcasters must make “in no case less than predominant use” of Canadians as in the presentation and production of Canadian programming (Pugh, 2023).  The lack of clarity regarding obligations for online platforms and digital first creators presents a situation where online platforms will not be sure if certain content meets the Canadian content requirements, which may result in them not sharing the material. 

On June 17th, 2023, Disney+ announced it is pausing developing any new Canadian productions until the end of the year.  Although it may be related to larger cuts the company has had to make, some have argued that the lack of clear broadcaster obligations, and ambiguity surrounding potential exemptions and tax cuts has caused the company to pause its investments in Canada’s media industry (Ravindran, 2023).  This shows how pushing forward legislation that is not properly thought out, and contains vague language, will not be effective in achieving the goal its supporters claim the new laws will achieve.  This illustrates a few problems with this legislation: 1) because companies are unclear of how it will affect them because the language in the bill is so vague, they may pause or cease producing and streaming Canadian content, and 2) placing dependence on foreign companies to subsidize the Canadian media industry takes the control away from Canadians and leads to unpredictable and uncontrollable situations.

There were many that expressed concerns, before Bill C-11 was passed, that there were not enough protections for online influencers and digital first producers.  Although these concerns were heard, The Minister of Heritage rejected the amendments citing that interpretive issues could limit the CRTC’s ability to enforce Canadian content rules online (Aiello, 2023).  The language was purposely left vague so that the government and the CRTC could maintain power over how the new law will be interpreted.  In the June 10th, 2023 Ministry of Heritage directive regarding Bill C-11 to the CRTC, the recommendations contain specific provisions to exempt all social media users from regulation so they are not negatively affected (Government of Canada, 2023), but the language remains unclear as to how these online users would be protected.  Despite the Minister of Heritage’s assurances, in section 4.1 of Bill C-11 it says the Act applies to uploaded material that “directly or indirectly generates revenues” and/or that “has been assigned a unique identifier” (Bill C-11, 2023).  Most audio-visual content online would fall under these broad parameters (Bhullar, 2022).  Certainly, the parameters of the bill would apply to online content creators who earn revenue through influencer fees and digital ad platforms such as Google Ads. 

Bill C-18 also contains vague language such as the exemption order 11(i), which states that online platforms “must provide for fair compensation to the news businesses for the news content that is made available by the intermediary” and that they “must contribute to the sustainability of the Canadian news marketplace” (Bill C-18, 2023).  Platforms such as Google are expected to pay for an undefined and limitless amount of published Canadian news links.  Google has stated that the open-ended financial commitment doesn’t make sense, doesn’t address the root causes of news issues in Canada, and that the company would have to reconsider how they make news available in Canada if the law is passed (Gingras, 2023).

Canadian corporate interests dominate most aspects of the media economy (Winseck, 2021, as cited in Edge, 2022).  Although foreign online platforms may have some control in how legislation plays out, through negotiating with Canada’s big media companies, digital first producers have little control of how the legislation will affect their discoverability (Gardner, 2022).  The vague language in Bills C-11 and C-18 grant tremendous power to the CRTC to interpret how to enact the legislation.  Those who oppose the legislation say the language in the bill is not specific enough (Open Media, 2023) (Bhullar, 2022), expressing concern that the CRTC’s interpretations will favor Canada’s big media companies and “subsidize big broadcasters at the expense of independent publishers” (Meta, 2022).

Harnessing the Power of Foreign Content Providers & Online Platforms for Their Own Interests

Bills C-11 and C-18 enable Canada’s big media companies to harness the power of America’s giant content providers and online platforms for their own interests, not public interest. Supporters of this legislation have used the age-old Canadian broadcasting argument of invoking fear of foreign cultural and economic take over, arguing for the urgency and expediency in passing these new media laws because Canada’s industry, in particular news, faces existential challenges (Government of Canada, 2023) (Parliament of Canada, 2022).  Although some of these claims are true, particularly references to a struggling news industry, Canada’s big media companies benefit greatly from online platforms such as Google and Facebook (Geremia, 2023) (Gardner, 2022).  This legislation allows these companies to cherry pick what works for them, while overlooking the concerns of the online platforms, digital first producers, and the general public.  Foreign broadcasters and online platforms having to transfer payments into the CMF, and for news links, allows Canada’s big media companies to continue to enjoy the discoverability they benefit from online, while also receiving payments on top of that.  This will increase the industry market share of companies like Bell and Rogers, which will further entrench their oligopoly (Bhullar, 2022) (Meta, 2023) (Gardiner, 2022) (Geist, 2023). 

Furthermore, expecting foreign broadcasters to have the same obligations to the Canadian public as Canadian media companies and broadcasters is unrealistic, contradictory, and hypocritical.  Arguing to protect Canadians against the encroachment of these companies, but then asking them to equally participate in our economic and cultural development, is contradictory and does little to motivate these foreign entities to engage with Canada’s economy in a sustainable way (Aiello, 2023).  The rushing of these bills, and the lack of exploration, favors maintaining an old top-down structure where the government and Canada’s big media companies have most of the control; only this time they are trying to bring foreign online multinationals under the umbrella of Canada’s media economy.

Both the government and big media companies have expressed the need to pass these laws quickly because the growing threat of foreign domination puts the media industry in serious peril (Government of Canada, 2023) (Dinsmore & Wheeler, 2021) (Parliament of Canada, 2022).  This argument is reminiscent of the early days of broadcasting when the government wanted to protect our national culture and broadcast industry from the encroachment of American influence (Fraser, Chandler, & Buchanan, 2022) (Raboy, 1990).  It is also similar to concerns expressed by big media companies from the 1970s, into the 90s and 2000s, as foreign digital services disrupted the Canadian media industry (Armstrong, 2016).  It is important to remember that although there have been losses in the television and radio industries, telecom companies in Canada continue to get richer and more powerful while media monopolies and consolidation continues (Winseck, 2022).  The truth is, telecom companies have way more power in the media economy than foreign content streamers and online platforms (Winseck, 2022).  This legislation allows Canada’s big media companies to re-assert their authority over foreign companies who have disrupted their media revenue structure, which reinforces their oligopoly over Canada’s media industry.

Bill’s C-11 and C-18 reinforce Canada’s big media companies’ position as the stewards of Canadian broadcast content and communications.  In a contradictory fashion, Canada’s big media companies argue they will protect the public from these foreign media invaders but would also like to be given licensing preference so that they can carry and distribute hugely popular and lucrative American programming (Parliament of Canada, 2022).  It seems true that they often oversimplify and polarize the discourse around media revenue problems to suit their own needs.  They argue we need to protect the industry and the nation against multinationals and internet giants because they are a threat, but at the same time want to benefit from that same foreign power and wealth.  They want to harness the power of foreign content producers and online platforms but want to decide what is allowed and what is not allowed in their favour.  Therein lies a contradiction; Canada’s big media companies fully understand that they rely on and benefit from foreign content producers and online platforms, yet their discourse, and this legislation, insinuate these foreign companies are the enemy.  It’s not convincing to read in a CTV News article, online platform giants and social media platforms are a threat to Canadian democracy and that we should trust giant Canadian telecom companies to be the gatekeepers and protect the public interest (Otis, 2023).  

There is no question that Canada’s big media companies benefit from foreign content producers and online platforms.  They have even argued for deregulation that would allow them to stream more foreign content, and less Canadian content, so they could then siphon more of that money into the struggling news industry (Parliament of Canada, 2022).  However, there remains very little connection between revenues earned through foreign entertainment and money invested in Canada’s journalism industry.  In the case of Bill C-18, where online platforms would have to pay Canadian news publishers for shared links, rather than approaching the issue through copyright infringement laws, Canada’s big media companies likely choose this route because they know they benefit from, and need companies like Google and Facebook to maintain their revenue models.  This legislation allows them to continue to benefit from these platforms’ discoverability capabilities, plus earn direct revenue, on an increasing scale, as that content is increasingly discovered online (Gingras, 2023).  Canada’s big media companies likely already benefit from significant increased website traffic as a result of news links on online platforms.  Also, on Facebook, 90% of published news links are posted by the publishers themselves (Meta, 2023).  This suggest that the Canadian news publishers could post news like printing money, and foreign platforms would have to continuously pay for those links.

After reading Bell Canada’s June 2023 announcement about 1,300 more employee layoffs (Samrhitha, A., & Soni, A.), it is hard not to wonder how these new funds will benefit Canada’s journalism industry.  Will these employees be hired back when Google and Facebook start writing cheques to Bell and Rogers?  History has shown these jobs will likely not be recovered in the future (Johal & Yalnizyan, 2018) (Cheung, 2022).  On top of increased control and revenue for Canada’s big media companies, it is unrealistic for companies like Facebook and Google to write an open-ended cheque to Canada’s big media companies in the first place (Gingras, 2023).  

Also what seems a little bit contradictory, is the fact that Facebook has repeatedly said they are not interested in showing news on their platform cause it’s not overly important for their revenue (Meta, 2023), but Canadian content discoverability laws, in combination with news linking laws, attempts to force Facebook to make available content they don’t want to publish and then pay Canadian publishers for doing so.  Whether or not you like Facebook, it’s hard not to see this as a straight up cash grab (Gardner, 2023).  The rushed legislation addresses concerns of Canada’s big media companies while overlooking the concerns of foreign companies.  Again, this relationship between Canada’s big media companies and online platforms seems to take precedence over Big Media’s relationship with the Canadian public. 

At a minimum, Canada’s big media companies have argued that foreign content producers and platforms should have the same obligations to Canadian audiences as they do (Pugh, 2023) (Rogers, 2021) (Parliament of Canada, 2022).  The Minister of Heritage has said multinationals must contribute to the democratic system in Canada (CBC, 2023).  Although it is true that these foreign companies have generated billions of dollars from our media economy, there is little effort to incentivize them to participate in a new sustainable media economy in Canada.  Also, repeatedly regulating them to pay into a subsidized system that is proven to have structural problems does little to address the root causes.  With Bill C-11, forcing foreign companies to contribute money towards productions, and then requiring those foreign companies to air that media through Canadian content requirements takes considerable power away from the public interest because the industry would be further subsidized by foreign money.  In the case of news and Bill C-18, it would further damage trust in news if Canadians find Hollywood and Silicon Valley funding Canada’s news industry (Gardiner, 2022)

During the second reading of Bill C-18 in the Senate on February 10, 2023, Senator Paula Simmons asked if it was sensible to demand that foreign platforms “underwrite Canadian newspapers papers, magazines, broadcasters, and news sites” and “how independent can the Canadian news media be if they are so deeply beholden to the goodwill and the future economic success of two foreign corporations” (Simmons, 2023).  It seems contradictory that the government and big media companies argue for the protection of the Canadian media industry, and the public interest, while pushing legislation that will put more power and control of the industry in foreign hands.  What if these companies change their business model in the future? What happens if the platforms don’t want to publish any news or Canadian content?  Will there be another huge loss in revenues for a Canadian industry that will rely on those funds? 

In a brief provided by Bell to the Senate in 2022, the company argued that “ensuring popular foreign content, which has been the foundation of the Canadian broadcast system; ensuring that we do not have a two-tiered regulatory system; bringing online BDUs under the commission’s regulation just as traditional BDUs are, was necessary and fair. (Parliament of Canada, 2023).  Similar to how Rogers has argued, by referring to domestic broadcasters’ relationship with foreign broadcasters as an unfair two-tiered system, shows the significant assumption that foreign broadcasters have equal responsibilities to the Canadian public.  The statement also contains a major contradiction in the reasoning for regulating foreign broadcasters, where it says that popular foreign content is the foundation of the Canadian broadcasting system.  Although this may sound like an obvious statement, it goes against all of the arguments about protecting and supporting Canadian culture, democracy, and the media industry from foreign threats because it says that the Canadian industry is heavily dependent on foreign media companies, particularly those in the United States.  This legislation would strengthen that dependency, not distance it.

Not only is it questionable whether foreign multinationals should have the same obligations to the Canadian public as Canadian media companies do, suggesting so, fails to address the root causes of problems in Canada’s media industry and broadcasting system.  The desired outcomes from this legislation seem contradictory, at least in part, because big media companies are arguing that foreign digital platforms are monopolizing our media economy, while the laws will increase their media monopolies domestically.  

While arguing that foreign online multinationals harm their business model, Canada’s big media companies also say they benefit from, and depend on these foreign companies to survive.  Instead of exploring ways to solve these challenges, other than foreign subsidies to Canada’s big media companies, this legislation allows Canadas big media companies to choose what works for them, while overlooking the concerns of the online platforms, digital first producers, and the general public.  The rushing of these bills, and the lack of exploration, favors maintaining an old top-down structure where the government and Canada’s big media companies have most of the control in the Canadian media economy. 


Bills C-11 and C-18 are examples of a continuing Canadian broadcast policy history where laws are passed that favor telecommunications corporations over public interest.  Bills C-11 and C-18 favor Canada’s big media companies over public interest because 1) the legislation does not adequately address root causes of media industry problems in Canada, rather it props up declining business models that help maintain or increase media monopolies, 2) the bills will limit media industry competition and innovation, and further entrench Canada’s media oligopoly, and 3) the legislation enables Canada’s big media companies to harness the power of foreign content providers and online platforms for their own interests, not public interest.

Supporters of the bill have argued that we need to pass the laws quickly to avoid major damage to our media industry from online content providers and platforms who are scooping revenues from Canadian publishers.  Because Canada’s big media companies are aware that they benefit from, and depend on foreign content producers and online platforms, they want to discriminately choose certain beneficial aspects to their relationship while regulating or limiting other aspects.  Not only does the one-sided approach disincentivize these foreign multinationals to contribute to a sustainable Canadian media industry, it is also contradictory because it argues for protecting Canadians against these foreign threats while aiming to harness the content and wealth of these companies.  Confusing arguments have been made that say Canadians need, and depend on these foreign companies, but they are a threat to our country and have caused significant damage to the media industry and democracy.  

Another contradiction with this legislation exists where Canada is trying to protect its culture and economy from foreign encroachment, while at the same time aiming to have these companies underwrite our media and news industries, which would place more power and influence in foreign hands.  There is no question that the legislation aims to address some very pressing and important issues in relation to the media economy, online streaming, news, and even disinformation, but the legislation, unfortunately, is a continuation of an ongoing Canadian broadcast policy history where laws are passed that favor telecommunications corporations over public interest.  

Bill C-11 and C-18 raise a range of issues related to Canada’s cultural industries and economy, as well as journalism and its importance for democratic societies.  It raises important issues about how the internet is affecting culture, economies, and societies all around the world.  Part of the problem is that this legislation dives into these incredibly complicated topics in an oversimplified and biased manner.  Although supporters of these bills are right in that addressing the challenges in Canada’s communications and media industries is urgent, the laws fail to address the root causes in an innovative or sustainable way.  

Even years before the Online Streaming Act and the Online News Act were tabled, the discourse between the Canadian Government, the CRTC, and the big media companies has been confusing and convoluted.  Part of the reason for this, is that Canada has a hybrid system where there is a mixture of publicly funded media (CBC) and privately-owned media.  The complexity of a rapidly changing digital, broadcasting, and communications technologies also complicates the conversations about these topics and policies.  The internet and online streaming have sort of amplified problems with Canada’s media industry that were always there.  It forces the issue as to whether Canada’s subsidized, top down, band-aid type of approach to media and broadcasting is sustainable.  Because these problems and challenges have always been complicated and complex, the Canadian government has opted to entrust private companies such as Bell, Telus, and Rogers to manage and shape the country’s response to foreign cultural and economic threats, and a rapidly changing communications industry, for decades.  The problem with this is that it has led to Canada having one of the highest media ownership concentrations in the world.  This consolidation continues in 2023 and will likely continue into the future until the challenges the country’s media and broadcasting industries face are addressed.  These challenges need to be addressed by looking at root causes, as opposed to focussing only on subsidies for large media companies and their affiliated independent producers.

It is clear that the Canadian government’s approach to helping Canada’s media industry is failing, and some might even say it is backfiring.  In the weeks after the passing of Bill C-11 there have been layoffs at Bell and Corus, and Nordstar and Post Media began talks to merge (Willis, 2023) (Geist, 2023).  Just days after Bill C-18 passed, Bell filed an application with the CRTC to reduce Canadian content requirements and eliminate local news requirements (Kolm, 2023).  If Canada’s big media companies truly wanted to help news and local programming, then why did they wait until two days after Bill C-18 was passed, which sees them get direct money transfers from foreign online companies, to file a petition to end their local news obligations?  This shows they want to collect on online news publishing, but they don’t want to use that money to support local news.  These events not only prove that the legislation is ineffective in solving problems in the media and news industries, it also illustrates that Bills C-11 and C-18 serve the interests of Canada’s big media companies over the public by allowing for continued deregulation, media mergers, and further media concentration. 

Some hybrid form of media system, where publicly owned media is subsidized and privately-owned media compete with each other, is likely the best course for the country.  The general structure of Canada’s media industry, which includes media subsidies, is completely realistic, acceptable, and potentially economically sustainable.  The problem Canada has is that its big media companies have gotten so big and concentrated that smaller players cannot compete.  Every time a major challenge arises related to the Broadcasting Act, the government turns to the big media companies and the monopoly ball keeps rolling and expanding.  They are right to say that it’s time to modernize internet and media industry laws, but this legislation does not do that; rather it’s a continuation of Canadian broadcast policy history that favors the big telecommunication companies over public interest.

 Canada’s media oligopoly, ineffective broadcast policy decisions, and the convoluted discourse surrounding these topics, will likely continue until the public gets more involved by better understanding the issues and pressuring politicians to seek out more sustainable ways to strengthen Canada’s media industry.  There needs to be much more focus on supporting small media outlets, digital first creators, and local broadcasters.  These may be incredibly complicated and difficult goals to reach, however continuing with the same broadcast policy approach will not address any of these problems, rather Canada’s media ownership will continue to concentrate until there’s one or two companies left.  Rather than only focusing on subsidies and foreign levies, and by forcing Canadian content regulations on foreigners, the Canadian government could be addressing some of these challenges in other ways, that don’t harm digital first creators, such as updating competition and copyright laws.

There’s no question that Canada, and other countries around the world, need to address economic, political, and cultural problems related to the presence and influence of online platforms that dominate the internet, but this legislation is short-sighted and misguided, and won’t do much to help the situation.  The real change to remedy this problem, requires a different economic approach from those who embrace things such as the efficiency defense, which allows giant media mergers to occur, time after time, under the false premise that more efficient production costs outweigh negative effects such as less industry competition and job losses.  These economic policies are flawed and are a big reason Canada has a media oligopoly problem.  

One example of a more sustainable approach can be seen where digital media and news worker unions are forming in Canada, and other countries; some within borders, and others with cross-border international solidarity (Cohen, S. & de Peuter, G., 2020).  These developments have the potential to slow down the continued convergence of Canadian news media ownership by putting some industry decision power back into the hands of journalists and public interest.  Creating economic and sustainable integrity within Canada’s media economy will require a grass roots, bottom-up approach that focuses on decentralizing industry power, supporting local-specific content, digital first creators, smaller community businesses, and of course, ceasing to make policy decisions that favor and increase Canada’s media oligopoly.


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