Deregulation was the constant refrain repeated by Quebecor executives on Tuesday morning, as they appeared before the CRTC panel considering changes to Canada's television broadcasting industry.
"It's time to deregulate the broadcasting system," Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau told the federal regulator's panel meeting in Gatineau, Que.
"Competition promotes quality and helps the broadcasting horizon in Canada."
Quebecor is among the industry players arguing for the Canadian industry to be permitted to open its doors to more foreign services, such as popular U.S. networks like HBO, ESPN or Nickelodeon, so as to be able to offer Canadians more variety.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission should simply allow market forces to determine what broadcasters can offer, Péladeau said.
"More programming will always be a benefit to Canadian and Québécois viewers," he said.
Company executives added that if no changes are made, Canadian viewers will simply seek TV content elsewhere, whether on the internet, on cellphones and other mobile technology, or via grey-market satellite distributors.
Like some of the other groups that have appeared since the hearings began April 8, Quebecor is advocating a reduced, minimal basic TV service of between eight and 12 core Canadian channels that should be provided by all distributors.
However, everything above that should be open and unfettered by genre restrictions, its executives said, arguing that the current system has allowed a handful of specialty channels to have a detrimental monopoly over Canadian TV.
"If the commission thinks that certain services must absolutely be broadcast to everyone, the commission can determine they are 'must carry' services and be part of the basic [offering]," said Édouard Trépanier, vice-president of regulatory affairs at Quebecor's cable subsidiary Vidéotron.
"With the exception of these basic services, the rest could be based on market forces and consumer needs."
In favour of deregulating ad rules
Quebecor argued that conventional broadcasters as well as specialty channels should receive carriage fees, but attacked Radio-Canada — CBC's French-language service — for asking for a share of carriage fees despite the public broadcaster's other revenue streams, including its parliamentary appropriation, ad revenues and a large share of programming money from the Canadian Television Fund.
"As a public service, the CBC cannot contend it is part of the same free market as private broadcasters," Péladeau said.
Quebecor is also in favour of deregulating advertising rules, saying that a free market would prevent channels from unleashing a flood of too many ads.
"If there is too much advertising, [a distributor or broadcaster] would lose its viewership," Péladeau argued.
Last week, a presentation from Rogers Communications kicked off the hearings, with the CBC and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters among the others that appeared before CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein and other commissioners.
The hearings are scheduled to continue through April 28, with presentations still to come from private broadcasters CanWest and CTV, unions like ACTRA, the Directors Guild and Writers Guild of Canada, and cable firm Shaw Communications.