When the CRTC wanted do something about satellite TV

Canadians had access to a galaxy of TV programming in 1982, and not much of it was homegrown content.

Signals from outside Canada presented problem when it came to ensuring Canadian content

The CRTC and satellite TV

3 years ago
Duration 4:30
With a new stream of programming reaching Canadians, the broadcast regulator confronts the problem of how to enforce homegrown content.

When the space shuttle Columbia released a "powerful" satellite into orbit in November 1982, it also launched a round of discussion about what it might mean for Canadian broadcast policy. 

According to CBC reporter Michael McIvor, the satellite was "powerful" enough to send out TV transmissions that could reach "a smaller station dish."

"With a dish comes the potential for receiving on your home TV a multitude of programs transmitted by satellite," said McIvor.

In 1982, as in 2022, the broadcast regulator was confronting the problem of how to deal with new ways that Canadians were consuming programming from inside and outside Canada. 

'New video age'

CRTC chairman John Meisel identified the questions that had to be resolved when confronting the threat of satellite TV. (The National/CBC Archives)

Such satellites were only going to get stronger, and dishes cheaper.

McIvor said both the Canadian government in Ottawa and the broadcast industry were already pondering the "fundamental issues" raised by "all these foreign TV signals."

Among those issues: could the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission continue to regulate programming content in Canada?

Two separate studies and an upcoming report and hearings by the CRTC itself sought to answer that.

"The essential purpose of all these studies and reports and hearings is to try and find some way to ensure the continuing survival of Canadian culture, identity and broadcasting in a new video age," said McIvor.

Competitive programming, maybe 

Under one suggestion, the CBC would stop producing programming like Wayne & Shuster in-house and buy shows from outside companies instead. (The National/CBC Archives)

CRTC chairman John Meisel described the "puzzle" the regulator was trying to solve in maintaining a strong Canadian presence on TV.

"Do you do it through regulation and law, do you do it through economic policies, fiscal inducements or other economical inducements?" he asked.

He said another route may have been to try to convince Canadian industry to "fashion a lot of Canadian programs that will truly be competitive."

Details of the two reports had already been leaked, and they both had ideas for how the CBC should operate and how to get more Canadian content on private networks. 

"The CBC ... provides broadcasting that the private side can't afford to provide," said Pierre Juneau, president of the CBC. (The National/CBC Archives)

"The countdown to the future of the CBC is already underway," noted McIvor, adding that one suggestion was its "only purpose" should be to "carry only Canadian programs."

A report from a committee appointed by the government went further, suggesting that only the news should be produced in-house. It recommended that other programming, "from variety to drama," should come from independent producers. 

"Other people question the CBC's relevance in the new video age," said McIvor.

CBC president Pierre Juneau suggested that there was still a place in Canada for public broadcasting.

"The CBC ... provides a form of broadcasting  that the private side cannot afford to provide," he said. 

For all their differences. McIvor said both reports acknowledged that a "new video age" had arrived and a strong Canadian TV production industry was "essential."

"Otherwise, they fear, our culture may be overwhelmed by foreign programming."

Communications Minister Francis Fox favoured a plan that would increase tax incentives for Canadian programming and impose a tax on cable and satellite TV subscribers to give to the CBC to buy independent Canadian programming. (The National/CBC Archives)

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