84% say it’s unfair to lose
free TV signals
in smaller cities
First survey to explore Canadians’ views
on over-the-air TV
Media Guild | CWA Canada
An overwhelming majority – 84 per
cent – of residents in one of the Canadian cities that
risks losing over-the-air television after 2011, says it
is unfair that they will be deprived of access to free TV
signals. The poll was conducted in Kamloops, B.C., a city
that is representative of the hundreds of communities across
Canada that are excluded from a recent CRTC ruling requiring
broadcasters to provide over-the-air signals in only 29 major
cities after the transition to digital TV.
That ruling from the CRTC stands to take
away the option of watching TV for free, over the air, from
11 million Canadians – about 30 per cent of the population – who
live outside the biggest cities.
“This poll confirms that people don’t think
the two-tier approach to television service is fair,” says
Lise Lareau, national president of the Canadian Media Guild. “How
can we simply accept a plan that hands free TV service to
big-city Canadians and cuts off everyone else?”
The poll also shows that people reject
the alternative being proposed by the industry – to force viewers who rely
on free, over-the-air TV in those communities to start paying
for cable or satellite. None of those who currently watch
the three available free channels in Kamloops exclusively
using rabbit ears or an antenna say they would pay for cable
or satellite if those free signals disappear in 2011. Nearly
half of this group say they would simply live without TV
while 42 per cent say they’d watch TV shows on the
Right now, six per cent of people in Kamloops watch TV over
the air. The poll revealed that these viewers are committed
to free TV viewing. In addition, there is significant interest
among those who subscribe to cable and satellite for a modestly
improved menu of free TV channels.
In fact, one-third of Kamloops residents
say they would rather watch six free TV stations than pay
for cable or satellite if the stations included the three
that are currently available – CFJC
(a local affiliate of the E! network), Global BC and French-language
CBC – as well as CBC (English), CTV and the Knowledge
Network. Younger people are even more interested in the free
TV option, with 42 per cent of people aged 18 to 34 saying
they would rather watch six free stations than pay for cable
Vector Research + Development conducted the poll in mid-July.
The CMG, which represents employees at Canadian broadcasters,
including CBC, TVOntario and APTN, commissioned the poll
because it is concerned about the number of Canadians being
left out of the transition to digital TV and believes too
little attention is being paid to what will happen to those
people after the switch in 2011.
More than three-quarters of people in Kamloops know only
a little (50 per cent) or nothing (26 per cent) about the
transition to digital TV scheduled for 2011.
“The shut-down of free, over-the-air TV in hundreds
of communities is being treated like a state secret,” Lareau
points out. “Very few people in the industry want to
talk about over-the-air TV and the government has been silent.”
Over-the-air viewers are more faithful to Canadian TV programs,
the poll indicates. Of the Kamloops residents who watch TV
exclusively over the air, 62 per cent say they watch Canadian
programs most often. That compares with only 27 per cent
of cable viewers and 23 per cent of satellite viewers.
“Given the crisis in Canadian TV, does it really make
sense to cut off the viewers that watch Canadian programs
the most?” Lareau adds.
Digital broadcasting offers the ability for broadcasters
to carry more than one channel on a single transmitter. The
process, called multiplexing, is already used in the U.S.,
Europe and other countries around the world. Research has
shown that broadcasters could use it in Canada as an affordable
way to bring free digital TV to communities like Kamloops.
Broadcasters could share a single transmitter, and the associated
costs, to provide up to six free channels.
“Canadians need to know there is a viable way to save,
and even improve, free TV and no one is telling them about
it,” Lareau says. “The CRTC and the government
should rethink the way they are handling the transition to
Slightly more than one-fifth of Kamloops residents say they
would pay up to $80 for a converter box that would allow
them to watch free digital channels over the air on their
analogue TV set, assuming they had access to those signals.
However, only one per cent of residents say they would pay
$500 for a satellite receiver to pick up five or six channels
on a satellite service with no monthly fee.
Vector Research + Development conducted the telephone poll
of 502 residents of Kamloops between July 13 and 15. There
is a 95 per cent certainty that the survey results do not
vary by more than 4.4 per cent in either direction from results
that would have been obtained by interviewing all adults
in the city.