The following is an edited version of an original CRTC transcript, provided for research and criticism, that includes only testimony related to the National Broadcast Reading Service (NBRS) and its application for a so-called Accessible Channel. (See my intervention in that proceeding.)
Only very light copy-editing and conversion to HTML has been carried out. Numerous errors in the original transcript are retained.
THE SECRETARY: We will now proceed with Item 3 on the agenda, which is an application by The National Broadcast Reading Service, on behalf of a corporation to be incorporated, for a licence to operate a national digital programming undertaking to be known as “The Accessible Channel.”
The proposed service will provide 100 percent of its programming in described video format. This programming will consist of news, information, drama, entertainment, and other television programming targeted to blind and vision impaired Canadians.
Appearing for the Applicant is Gerald Weseen, who will introduce his colleagues.
Mr. Weseen, you will have 20 minutes to make your presentation.
MR. WESEEN: Good afternoon, Madam Chair, Vice-Chairs, Commissioners and Commission Staff. My name is Gerald Weseen. In my day job, I am General Manager of Communications and Public Affairs at Nova Scotia Power Inc., but today I am here in my capacity as Vice-Chair of the National Broadcast Reading Service.
NBRS is a not-for-profit registered charitable organization. Our mandate is to enhance media access for blind and vision impaired Canadians, so that they may enjoy the same level and quality of information and entertainment as the general population.
I am pleased to be part of the team that has designed, and will today present, a completely described open format television service, the Accessible Channel – to our knowledge, a worldwide first.
The Accessible Channel is an immediate means by which we can achieve one of the key objectives of the Broadcasting Act, by making television and Canadian television programming truly accessible to Canada’s vision impaired population.
The Accessible Channel will, for the first time ever, provide blind and vision impaired Canadians with access to the same type of high-quality, original and acquired programming, on one channel, that sighted Canadians have access to every day on hundreds of channels.
I would like to start by introducing our team.
Seated immediately to my right is Betty Nobel. Betty is Department Head of the Program for the Visually Impaired at Vancouver Community College. She is also a colleague on the NBRS Board, who serves as Chair of the NBRS National Program Committee.
Seated next to Betty is Vanessa Carlisle, Assistant Managing Director of AudioVision Canada, or AVC. AVC is a division of NBRS and is the Canadian pioneer of description.
Next to Vanessa is Valerie Hochschild, Creative Director for AVC. Val is an expert on the creation of described video.
To my left is Stuart Robertson, of O’Donnell, Robertson and Sanfillipo, corporate counsel for NBRS and one of the first to be appointed to the board of the Accessible Channel.
To his left is Kelly MacDonald, coordinator of the Voiceprint Local Broadcast Centre in Toronto. Kelly has been with NBRS for six years, starting originally as a studio producer.
Next to Kelly is Deborah Graffmann, a broadcast consultant who helped us source programming for the Accessible Channel.
Beside Deborah is John Stubbs of Stubbs Consulting, a broadcasting operations expert with over 35 years of experience. John examined the pass-through of described programs and designed the technical aspects of our proposed service.
In the second row, starting from my left, is Debra McLaughlin of Strategic Inc.
Next to Debra is Duncan McKie, Senior Vice-Chair of Pollara Inc., which was responsible for our consumer survey and recruitment of the focus groups.
Beside Duncan is Rob Malcolmson, of Goodmans, our regulatory counsel.
Finally, next to Rob is Rick Brace, President of CTV.
I would ask Betty Nobel to begin.
MS NOBEL: Thank you. Good afternoon et bonjour.
The number of people who would benefit from described video to enjoy television and movies is, sadly, growing. According to a 2004 study released by the Canadian Association of Ophthalmologists, age-related macular degeneration has accounted for vision loss and blindness in 2.1 million persons. Of course, that isn’t the only cause of blindness and visual impairment.
Our estimate, based on what we know today, is that the market for described video, including family members of the vision impaired, is between 3.2 and 3.8 million people.
With a potential market of this size, it is shocking to find that even the limited amount of description that is being aired is a low or non-priority for the majority of the cable and satellite companies. Whatever they may say to the contrary, the fact remains that many of the cable companies, and certainly Star Choice, make little or no effort to pass through described video.
This was confirmed by direct testing of the pass-through on programs that have description in several markets across Canada last summer.
MR. STUBBS: Described programming is typically delivered on the Secondary Audio Program, or SAP SAP allows broadcasters to deliver the described soundtrack of a program on a secondary audio channel. In order for the SAP soundtrack to reach the audience, however, the cable or satellite distributor must pass it through.
Based on comments from blind and vision impaired Canadians, we investigated the availability of described programming in Canada, and what we found was of great concern. Within the systems we looked at, less than 26 percent of the described programming made available by Canadian broadcasters was passed through to audiences.
Furthermore, the survey clearly indicated that information about where to find described programming is scarce, and often inaccurate.
Compounding the problem is that the hardware needed to access described video, including set-top boxes and television sets themselves, requires assistance from a sighted person to activate the SAP
MR. MacDONALD: For those who think that activating SAP for a vision impaired person is not an issue, let us demonstrate the strong visual component involved in operating this option.
— Video presentation/Présentation vidéo
MR. MacDONALD: It really isn’t as easy as one might think when you can’t see the menu.
The Accessible Channel will offer 100 percent of its schedule in an open described format. That means, if mandatory carriage is granted, a vision impaired person like myself could access description any day, any time or anywhere they might be in Canada. This would be a first for me and many of my friends.
With a commitment to 168 hours of description, the Accessible Channel will introduce over 8,000 hours of described programming per year.
Putting this in context, approximately 3 percent of conventional stations, like Global’s CHCH, is currently described. Compare this to the Accessible Channel, where 100 percent of our weekly program schedule will be described.
Clearly, one of the most appealing aspects of the service is the fact that all description will be open. Every single program will be available in a format that can be received and enjoyed by the vision impaired – no special equipment, no SAP, no on-screen menus, no need for assistance.
MS NOBEL: Accessible means readily obtained and available for use. While NBRS applauds the efforts that have been made to date, it is clear that current described programming and delivery isn’t sufficient.
The Accessible Channel will increase the amount of described programming available immediately, without the need to alter existing licences. It will provide access to programming not currently considered available for description. It will increase description on many services through the reciprocal provision of described versions of programming. This will give the community expanded options in not only what they watch, but where they watch. It will provide new funding to the CTF to hopefully be used to increase the production of described programming. It will resolve a technical impediment – the difficulty in accessing SAP
MS HOCHSCHILD: More than mere words, more than mere narrative, description is a very specialized enhancement of the soundtrack. Through our unique approach to description, AVC produces a narrative description of a program’s key visual elements that allows the audience to form a picture in their mind’s eye of what sighted viewers see on screen.
The process for creating description can be broken into four components. With my team of writers and producers engaged solely in the production of description, we write the script, voice the description, place the description to the video, and, finally, mix and master the sound.
When each of these elements is done well, the result is a seamless production where original soundtrack and narrative are blended into one.
Our talented describers and sophisticated sound mixing techniques make it so that the description doesn’t detract from the original dialogue and sound effects. This way, we ensure that non-sighted persons and their sighted friends and families can watch the same program together, without any loss of enjoyment for either.
While description may appear to be a relatively straightforward exercise, the positive impact of this enhancement for the vision impaired cannot be easily measured. So, rather than attempt to explain it, we thought it might be helpful for you to have us provide a short demonstration.
The following clip presents a crucial scene from CTV’s mini-series “Lives of the Saints,” showing, first, what you and I enjoy; then, secondly, what a vision impaired person experiences; and, finally, how dramatically the addition of description can alter one’s enjoyment of a program.
— Video Presentation/Présentation vidéo
MS HOCHSCHILD: Extrapolate this small example to your favourite movie or must-see television show and imagine how limited and frustrating your experience of this entertainment would be.
With the exception of the four hours provided by major broadcasters per week, and the two hours provided by some analog specialty services, the first part of the video we played is what the majority of the current TV landscape is like for the average blind or vision impaired Canadian. Without the benefit of description, it is a confusing and marginalizing medium.
MS GRAFFMANN: will be a branded specialty service that will provide new and quality described content to our audience 24 hours a day. As Kelly stated earlier, the Accessible Channel will introduce thousands of additional hours of described programming a year into the Canadian broadcasting system.
Through programming agreements with Canadian broadcasters and foreign rights holders, the Accessible Channel will be able to provide access to the most popular television programming in a range of genres.
We will provide something of interest to all members of the community. Most importantly, we want to provide the vision impaired community with access to the same popular programming that is available to the average Canadian and provokes those morning-after water cooler conversations. We want to invite the vision impaired into this day-after discussion.
We will broadcast a broad range of entertainment programming, including the most popular categories, such as weekly dramas, comedies, documentaries and movies – all in an open described format.
Where simulcast is possible, the Accessible Channel will pass through the entire program, complete with the commercials that the mainstream audience sees, protecting the financial investment in rights made by the Canadian broadcasters providing the service.
And, for the first time, Canadian advertisers can be assured that described commercial content will be passed through. This will give our audience something they have long wanted, insight into the information that commercials provide.
In addition, in order to provide reflection of the community in our on-air content, we will eventually commission the creation of new Canadian programming. This programming will be created by independent Canadian producers and will feature themes and material which vision impaired audiences have indicated they would like to access.
MS CARLISLE: Over the course of the past two years, Pollara surveyed the Canadian public three times to ascertain the level of support for this service. Once in 2005, and on two separate occasions in 2006, Canadians affirmed their support and stated that they would willingly pay to ensure unencumbered access to television for vision impaired Canadians.
Two things are particularly compelling about these findings. First, the level of willingness to pay is consistently high across all studies. Secondly, the overwhelming majority of respondents supported a separate service, even though they were made aware that this would be on top of current broadcaster commitments to provide description.
When asked if they would be willing to pay to support the service, over 75 percent, in all three studies, stated that they would pay 25 cents per month.
Focus groups were conducted with vision impaired respondents to help define the service and identify any issues or concerns they might have. The findings indicate that there is unanimous support for increased description, open format, access to top foreign programs, and for basic carriage.
This support was again confirmed in the intervention phase, where NBRS received over 100 calls of support and over 800 letters and signatories on petitions sent to our offices.
In fact, this number does not include the many interventions from the community that continue to be sent to us as news of this application spreads.
This is a huge show of support from a community that often feels they have no voice.
MR. WESEEN: The proposal we have put before you today is a partnership. To make it work, the Accessible Channel will require the cooperation of producers, input from the blind and vision impaired community, and the goodwill of broadcasters.
We have, in fact, established that all three requirements are not only possible, they are assured.
I would ask Rick Brace to say a few words.
MR. BRACE: Thanks very much, Gerald.
CTV was approached by NBRS about whether we would participate with the Accessible Channel to provide our programming to be broadcast in described format.
As we learned more about this truly innovative and worthwhile proposal, and the potential it has to make Canadian television accessible, we agreed to participate.
But it should be made clear that CTV’s program supply arrangement with the Accessible Channel is in no way an exclusive deal. In fact, we encourage other broadcasters to participate in this worthy initiative.
In fact, the channel, at its option, can elect to take no programming whatsoever from CTV, if it so chooses.
I should also state that our role on the Board is intended to be purely advisory. If the Commission has any concerns whatsoever with CTV having Board representation, we are willing to waive our right to Board seats.
It is our hope that, with the participation of Canada’s broadcasters, the Accessible Channel will soon provide the vision impaired community with access to the same popular entertainment programming available to all Canadian audiences.
MR. WESEEN: The only thing needed to advance the integration of the vision impaired community into the culturally pervasive medium of television is the permission to broadcast, which we are seeking from you today.
We hope that you will consider not only the needs and rights of this group, but our collective obligation as Canadians to ensure improved accessibility for people in the blind and vision impaired community.
We trust that, upon examination, you will also agree that the concept of the Accessible Channel makes good business sense.
NBRS is neither new to the discussion of making described video available nor in advocating that all of the elements of the broadcast system fulfil their obligation to make television accessible.
We have a long history, both with the Commission and with the community, of presenting and pressing the need for this format and in examining solutions.
The concept for the Accessible Channel has developed over a long period of time, and we believe it is the next logical step in the ongoing evolution of service to the vision impaired community.
We do not propose the Accessible Channel as a substitute for current or even anticipated increases in the described video obligations of broadcasters; rather, the Accessible Channel will offer programming in addition to that already required.
No one element of the Canadian broadcasting system bears the cost and social obligation to provide access to television alone. We all share in this.
The Accessible Channel will assist the efforts of the Commission, broadcasters and BDUs in improving the accessibility of the Canadian broadcasting system by making significantly more described programming available, helping to overcome the barriers to accessibility, and heightening awareness of access issues.
Section 9(1)(h) services are required to be of exceptional importance to the achievement of the objectives of the Act. The provision of programming accessible by the disabled is a plainly stated statutory objective. In our view, the Accessible Channel is the most efficient and effective means by which this important objective can be fulfilled.
In closing, I think that the final words in our presentation should come from a member of the community we seek to serve.
MS NOBEL: Ladies and gentlemen, licensing the Accessible Channel will be an opportunity for the Commission to take a leadership role in providing more meaningful access to television to the vision impaired community. With your support, the Accessible Channel will finally rectify the barriers to access constantly experienced by the vision impaired to much of the programming readily available to sighted Canadians.
We thank you very much for the opportunity of presenting this to you, and for your attention, and we would be pleased to answer any of your questions. Merci.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
I would ask Commissioner del Val to ask the questions.
For the benefit of the blind and vision impaired members of your panel, Commissioner del Val is seated to your far right.
Commissioner del Val.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you for your oral presentation, which I found to be very helpful. It will actually shorten the question period.
These are the areas that I would like to cover. First, I would ask if you could help me set the scene of what programming the vision impaired have today on TV. Then we will move on to how, actually, video description is done. Then we will move on to costs, which will be followed by programming, and then the role within the system of the Accessible Channel.
Lastly, I would like to discuss the wholesale rate and your business case.
First, Mr. Stubbs, your research concludes that only 26 percent of the video described programming currently is being passed through.
MR. STUBBS: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I have noted your replies to the interventions. Did you ever calculate that if everyone were compliant, and 100 percent was passed through, how many hours of video described programming there would be in the system right now?
MR. STUBBS: I didn’t do that calculation, but for a conventional broadcaster, it is 3 percent of their schedule.
If you took the regular over-the-air broadcasters, that would be the case.
Then, for specialty, they only have two hours, so it is 1.5 percent of their schedule that would be available and described.
The numbers are extremely low for each individual broadcaster.
I didn’t tally every station that must carry description and put that into hours, but, on an individual basis, it’s not many.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: What you have also found is, of that number, which you have described as “not many,” only 26 percent is being passed through.
MR. STUBBS: Right.
I will give you an example. I monitored TVTropolis a couple of days ago, and they list “Due South” as being played, and I checked on Rogers in the Toronto area, and I couldn’t pick it up. I checked on Bell ExpressVu, which had it listed as part of its listings that it would carry, and it was not available.
So where that lay, I am not sure.
Even as a fully sighted person trying to uncover how to get at the programming, and where the issues are, has been very, very difficult.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I will move on to the technology.
In paragraph 48 of its supplementary brief, NBRS said:
Described video versions of CTV’s programming not currently available through the distributor or production will be produced by the Accessible Channel. This means that highly popular U.S. prime programming that is not typically available anywhere in the world in described format will be available to both CTV and through the Accessible Channel. Because of the late production dates, top U.S. prime programming often arrives the afternoon of the date of broadcast. In the typical production cycle of described programming, this would automatically rule out the creation of a described soundtrack. However, through advancements of software and production techniques, AVC...
– which is AudioVision Canada:
...has developed a means by which same day description and mixing can be accomplished, addressing the increasing need to meet tight deadlines.
It makes it sound like there is now a new technology available, and I can see in your reply that it has been about 10 years in the making.
Without the use of this technology, what is happening now? How do you do video description now?
Could you walk me through an example, step-by-step, of exactly what happens today when a program which has not been video described is received until it is ready for broadcast in a video described format?
What happens now, without the new technology?
MR. WESEEN: I will ask Valerie to speak to that, but a point I would make is that the requirements in the United States for description, which were present a number of years ago, are actually no longer in place, so that has increased the challenge of receiving content from the U.S. that actually arrives described, because of that requirement.
Maybe, Val, you could address the process.
MS HOCHSCHILD: Again, to clarify, you are asking about the process as it stands right now?
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes, as it stands right now, and I would like you to walk me through it step-by-step. Who does what and –
I would really appreciate that.
MS HOCHSCHILD: Sure. We discuss with the provider, be it the production company or the broadcaster, when is the earliest instance that we can get the program, and they are able to tell us.
If things look like they are going to be especially tight, we will ask: Is there an offline version? Is there a preliminary version?
Maybe not a final mix, but something like that, which we could have to start writing, and they may provide us with that. That gives us a little bit of a headstart, which one would not normally have.
As for the actual process once we get the material, whatever it may be, we get it to a writer, and that is where the hard, subjective, human-type work happens.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: “We” is AudioVision Canada?
MS HOCHSCHILD: I am speaking in terms of AudioVision. The facilities and the technology that I would ever be discussing here are open to all other companies, as well.
In terms of us, AudioVision, we give that material to a writer, making sure that it has time codes, because that’s what we hang everything on.
The writer makes the big choices of what to write, and where to put it, consistent with our philosophy of helping to tell the story, and to make sure that the experience among those who are vision impaired and those who aren’t is as synchronized as possible.
With all of that in mind, a person writes a description for a show.
Once that is completed, we get the script back in our studios, we bring in a voice person, we record it, and it is all ingested, in this case, in Pro Tools – pretty much your gold standard for video and audio production.
We have a producer then place the description to video, which means placing it where it actually is going to happen in the video, toward that synchronistic experience.
Then it is mixed and it is mastered. What that usually means is that it is recorded onto the tape that is going to go to the broadcaster.
That is usually the way the process goes right at this moment. A broadcaster or a production company may have other demands, for example, that it be on another format or something, and we would go with that, but that is pretty much the average.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: How long does it take right now?
MS HOCHSCHILD: Right now, an hour of description, from the very beginning to the very end, is approximately, at fastest, four hours.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: This is a little bit of a tangent. Does it make any difference whether you are inserting the video description for an open format, as in the Accessible Channel, or for SAP?
MS HOCHSCHILD: No, it’s all in the transmission.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: With the new technology that you have described, can you walk me through the steps again?
Once you receive the material that is not described, to the time it is ready for broadcast described, what happens?
Are the steps different from what you described earlier?
MS HOCHSCHILD: Are you speaking in terms of what you mentioned earlier, in terms of the brief, of the same day kind of scenario?
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes, I am, and then the rolling description.
MS HOCHSCHILD: The steps for what we call short turnaround, same day, would be the same, but consolidated and portable.
The technology of which we speak – there are various technologies being tested. What I believe we are referring to is CapScribe, a software that we have been testing for a while now.
What would this entail?
The process, as I earlier described it, would be consolidated onto one workstation, done by one person.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: So from the writer to the producer, and the mixing and mastering, all of those steps would be consolidated into one?
MS HOCHSCHILD: Yes, up to mixing, depending on what the broadcaster or production company wanted to finish or put through.
But, yes, the capability is there for every step in this one place.
In fact, because of those time demands, it would be on a laptop and could go on-site to the broadcaster as soon as it is received.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: All right. In the present-day scenario, which is the four-hour process that you described – and I will call this the new technology –
Shall I just call it the CapScribe technology?
MS HOCHSCHILD: Sure, for simplicity.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: In the present-day scenario, you have the people involved – you have the writer, the producer –
MS HOCHSCHILD: Yes.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Do you have a separate person for mixing and mastering?
MS HOCHSCHILD: Usually the person who does the placing also does the mixing and mastering.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: So there are three people involved?
MS HOCHSCHILD: At the least, yes.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: With CapScribe, do you have only one person?
MS HOCHSCHILD: Correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Where has CapScribe been used before?
Is it a tested technology?
MR. STUBBS: If I may, I think I may be best to answer that question.
MS HOCHSCHILD: I was about to say that, yes.
MR. STUBBS: It has been developed as a universal tool for access.
I have been involved in its development, right from its inception, and it has been part of making things accessible with universities – The University of Toronto, Ryerson – and I have actually trained high school students to do their student videos and describe them and make them available on the internet.
So this process has been going on for several years, and it is being used. I have used it to do productions for CHUM, and have quite extensive experience with it.
And I de-bugged the system, so I was very instrumental in –
COMMISSIONER del VAL: So you have used it for commercial purposes.
MR. STUBBS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Using CapScribe, by how much have you cut down the time?
MR. STUBBS: In the very beginning, when description started, it started out to be about 20 hours of work that it would take to produce one hour of described product.
It is down now. I have actually produced an hour and a half in about two hours.
It is because the process is all on one platform. You are not using a VCR to skip around, it’s all digital. So you are much faster at getting to the place to describe, and identifying those areas that are best used for description. It has advanced the whole world of description incredibly.
MS HOCHSCHILD: Yes, John is a little further along in it than me, but, as soon as I got my hands on it and put it on my laptop, it was pretty obvious that this could really speed things up considerably.
Yes, the time he was mentioning that it would take to do something that was an hour and a half, that is perfectly feasible. I can see how that would be so.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Who else uses CapScribe?
Do you know?
MR. STUBBS: Commercially, it is only AudioVision that has taken advantage of it. It is freely open. You could go on the website and download it yourself.
It was developed as part of an overall program that was funded by Heritage, so it is an open source program that is freely available for people to download.
It was demonstrated at the Open Forum for Broadcasters, called Innoversity, in Toronto in November. We demonstrated it there for any interested parties that would like to take advantage of it.
It is all about making things accessible, and increasing the amount of material that is accessible, and making it much easier to develop that.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: How easy is it to train to use this software?
MR. STUBBS: I trained a set of high school students in a morning class. By the end, they were describing their own little videos that they had done.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: To use CapScribe to video describe, say, a one-hour show, how much do you think it would cost?
What is the cost of it?
MS McLAUGHLIN: It is about, market price, $1,500.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Without CapScribe, when you were using the present-day system, where the steps were not integrated, how much did it cost?
MS McLAUGHLIN: The pricing for description started at about $4,000 when the Commission originally made it a condition of licence, and it has come down gradually.
I think the market now, because there is a lot of competition – I believe there are 14 companies operating, and under competitive pressure, I believe it is sitting at around $1,500 to $1,800.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I don’t know whether what we were talking about is also what you have described as “rolling description.”
Is CapScribe what you would use to implement rolling description?
MS HOCHSCHILD: I don’t believe so. This would be in what is closest to a live scenario.
I believe that the Accessible Channel is planning to have people for that themselves, but I know about the technique, so I could explain that.
It would involve two people.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I’m sorry, this is rolling description that we are talking about.
MR. STUBBS: What we would call “real-time description.”
COMMISSIONER del VAL: All right.
MS HOCHSCHILD: To use an example of a live program, such as Canada A.M. on CTV –
I think through the technique the term “rolling” will make some sense.
It is also on-site with the broadcaster. It would be done by two people – on the condition, as explained in the application, of a delay of several to about 15 minutes.
The first person would be watching the initial broadcast and describing, essentially, on the fly, and then that description would be handed off to the other person, who would voice that description and do any further production, while the writer was continuing to write what was coming next – so rolling from one to another.
Once the voice person finished any additional production, it would go straight to the broadcaster to do whatever comes next.
So, when it’s over, it’s over.
MR. WESEEN: Commissioner, our experience would be that, while the technology has made this infinitely easier – and I think the example just provided is a good example – there is a particular expertise, and there is a nuance subjectivity that sort of goes into being able to capture this and describe it in a way that doesn’t detract from the experience, which is a critical thing that we hear from the broadcasters. They want to make sure that if a blind or vision impaired person is enjoying a program, they are enjoying it to the same degree that a sighted person would.
So there is a quality level there that, while technology has made it easier, it is a particular expertise.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: This real-time describing, are you thinking of using that only for news?
What kind of programming could you use it for?
MS McLAUGHLIN: We are only anticipating, in the case of the Accessible Channel, that it would be “Canada AM.” All other programs lend themselves to a more labour intensive description.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Has this been tried before?
Has the real-time description been tried before?
MS HOCHSCHILD: Yes, it has.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: By whom?
MS HOCHSCHILD: I believe that Mr. Stubbs has done some work on that.
MR. STUBBS: I have done it, but not on a live broadcast.
I did a lot of research as part of the programs with the universities on developing live description techniques and what kind of programs are appropriate for doing live description, and it’s really – when you can follow a script, and there are no surprises that you have to anticipate –
As soon as you have to anticipate, “Is somebody going to come through that door? No? Okay” –
When you have to anticipate, you can’t really live describe it, because you have no prior knowledge of what is going to happen.
But, in a news, talk-type format, you are pretty well assured of what is going to happen next.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: This real-time rolling description technique has not been deployed commercially before?
MR. STUBBS: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Only programs that are scripted, programs like “Canada AM,” are mainly news programs, which currently, I believe, are not required to be video described because they are inherently informative, or audio intensive.
What value do you see being added to video describing these types of programs?
MR. WESEEN: I might get Betty to answer that, as a consumer.
MS NOBEL: As part of our research, we asked people from the blind and vision impaired community, “What programs would you like to see?” and while they receive a lot of news and information by radio and listening to television programming – regular television news that is quite audio intensive, they particularly mentioned “Canada AM,” and we felt that this would be a good pilot, and it was something that people really wanted to access more fully.
Generally speaking, of course, we have the VoicePrint service, which provides news and information, and people can listen to the radio.
Television news is quite audio, although you certainly do encounter situations where you hear this “tick, tick, tick” and they show people the stock market, or a telephone number flashes across the screen that isn’t voiced.
While it isn’t perfect, it is, I would say, far more described than, for example, the clip that you saw earlier as part of our presentation, which was basically music and lots of breathing and funny sounds, and you don’t know what is happening.
MR. MacDONALD: I would like to add two more examples, one being the weather – “Let’s check the temperature in your location” – and something as easy as, “We will be back with more after these commercials,” and some of the information that went before which has been posted on the screen.
There is that music bridge, where things are scrolled through, and numbers and other information comes up, which, right now, the vision impaired community is not able to access.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you.
I actually watched Canada A.M. after I – I actually went over to a friend’s, who has ExpressVu, to watch their video described channel, and one of the programs was “Canada AM,” but in a program like that, the anchor person is speaking, and behind them would be an image.
On the one hand, I was thinking, “Okay, I would never be able to see that,” but, on the other hand, it would be very difficult to describe over the voice of the anchor.
So I don’t know whether – this rolling description or real-time, is it an experiment?
Would it be just to describe the portions of the program that can be described?
MR. STUBBS: Even before we anticipated bringing this up as an option, I did go through the process of describing that program, and it was successful. There are elements.
It is not intense description that is involved, but it is enough to keep you informed and keep you apprised of what is going on.
MR. WESEEN: An information program, I think, where you have an interview where there are some visuals, or where someone might be off on-site – because television is, at its best, a visual medium with an audio component, and if you are using TV correctly, if I could put it that way, or in the most optimal way, you are going to see a lot of things, and the audio will contribute to that – or the words that you hear will contribute to that.
In an interview environment, especially if your are off-site, or if you have some interaction going on that’s not just words, that does add to the experience.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: How much does the rolling description cost?
MS McLAUGHLIN: We haven’t costed it out as rolling description versus short turnaround or regular description, because, for this particular function, we have built into the business plan contract describers who would do this on a regular basis.
So it’s part of the actual cost of our overall production.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: The contract describers, are they contracted to AVC or are they contracted to the licensee?
MS McLAUGHLIN: The licensee.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Going back to the same paragraph 48 of the supplementary brief – and I think that Mr. Brace may have answered some of the questions already – it says:
This means that highly popular U.S. prime programming that is not typically available anywhere in the world...will be available to both CTV and through the Accessible Channel.
Could you describe that a bit?
I believe Mr. Brace said that CTV is not intending this to be an exclusive arrangement, and from what you have described, CapScribe is downloadable anywhere.
Is there any intention to use this technique, and also to have the rolling description only available on the Accessible Channel and nowhere else?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I will answer that.
One of the things that we discovered when we went out to do our focus groups was, in fact, that there was a concern that we would be presenting programming on one channel.
If we are getting the rights to broadcast a program that CTV, for example, currently owns, we are not buying the rights for “Canada,” they own it. All we are doing is covering the incremental cost to either get the described version or, in the case where we describe it, to produce that programming.
So once we have it described at the Accessible Channel, it is our intention to send it back to CTV, in time for them to broadcast it.
In that case, because our primary concern is to make this a reasonable proposition for all broadcasters, we will try to do a simulcast wherever possible.
So they sell that program to their advertisers, they realize the value, but we make it available on the Accessible Channel, where there is no need for SAP or any of the other problems that regularly occur for the vision impaired.
And we do this with all broadcasters, not just CTV, obviously. But that is why the programming would exponentially increase, in terms of availability, because it is just not on the Accessible Channel, it is returned to the host broadcaster.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: The arrangement that you would have with CTV, in terms of doing the video description at your cost and returning it to CTV, you are willing to make that arrangement with any broadcaster.
Is that correct?
MS McLAUGHLIN: That is absolutely correct.
In fact, to meet the needs of the vision impaired community, we have to do it with as many broadcasters as will participate.
MR. WESEEN: As well, to be clear, we have had preliminary discussions with CTV, and we have a commitment for conversations going forward, but we don’t have a signed agreement yet. We have a memorandum of understanding and an intent to move forward with that, as opposed to something that is already locked in.
MR. BRACE: Perhaps I should re-emphasize that, from a CTV perspective, we are not making any obligation – demanding any obligation that we deliver a certain amount of programming. It is totally at the decision of the channel.
MS NOBEL: I would also like to add that it won’t be only AVC that will be describing these programs. We will be obtaining, hopefully, the rights to programs that have already been described by other companies.
So there will be business for other companies that do description, as well as AVC.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Great.
You are anticipating my questions, aren’t you?
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I am behind you a little bit, so I need to take you back to paragraph 48, where it says:
The Accessible Channel will license this technology to ensure that there is a significant increase in the availability of U.S. prime time programming in an open described format.
The Accessible Channel will license it from whom?
MS McLAUGHLIN: The software is actually, as John described, the production of several publicly funded entities, or funding from several entities, and when we wrote this application we anticipated a fee. Subsequently, we have confirmed that there is no fee associated and it is available.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Great. Thank you.
This is an area about simultaneous substitution. I have read your reply to CanWest’s intervention, and I found that that helped to clarify things in my mind a lot, but I want to make sure that I understand it.
The Accessible Channel is not intending to carry out simultaneous substitution, is it?
MR. STUBBS: If I may, it may be a confusion of terms.
We will simulcast broadcast, we will not substitute.
Say that CTV carries Corner Gas in described format. If we had permission to carry that, we would carry the described version, at the same time, and we would just be picking up their SAP feed of that transmission, and we would pass it through our console, and that’s how it would be broadcast.
MR. WESEEN: It would be available in an open format, versus having the SAP
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes.
Would you be effecting simultaneous substitution – let’s say, if the CTV feed came to you with the commercial not described, then would you describe the commercial and insert that signal?
MS McLAUGHLIN: No, we would not.
We are taking the feed absolutely, as it comes from the broadcaster.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: All right. Thank you.
MR. WESEEN: As a result of some of the initial conversations we have had with broadcasters, we have also had conversations with the Association of Canadian Advertisers, and elicited some real interest in increasing the description of commercials, as well.
So we hope that there will be an opportunity with the Accessible Channel to increase the availability, or the interest, or the regularity of described commercial content, as well.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: You might have touched on this before, but can you give me an idea of how much it costs to video describe an episode like Corner Gas?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Currently, it is probably between $750 and $900 an episode.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: What about a movie like “The Sound of Music”?
MS McLAUGHLIN: It’s based on an hourly fee.
As I said, it ranges now from about $1,500 or $1,600 to $1,800.
It depends. As with any business, if someone is going to commit to 26 episodes or 13 episodes of description, there is a bit of an economy there, because you can assign one single writer, and there is no learning curve.
A two-hour movie requires someone to learn about the characters and understand the entire movie.
With a series, of course, there is a series bible, so to speak, and the writers would have that.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Using CapScribe, does it cost more or less?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Right now it is costing, I would say, slightly less, because of the labour intensiveness of the other.
But these are more highly trained people, because we are combining several functions.
Writers like to write. There are voice people. They are all paid separately, and that goes into the $1,500 to $1,800.
We are talking about an entirely different breed of skilled people.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: The equipment, or the facilities that are needed to have CapScribe video description, who would own that equipment?
MR. STUBBS: It really is done on a Mac computer.
It was designed for common use, so that you could use a very base Mac. It is designed, and it doesn’t function in Windows, but –
MS HOCHSCHILD: I have a very base Mac, so I can attest to that.
MR. STUBBS: It is quite simple, the equipment necessary to actually get the job done.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I want to move on to programming.
I know that you have the agreement with CTV right now for a third of your programming. Are there other suppliers with whom you have program acquisition rights?
MR. WESEEN: I will ask Debra to answer that, but we have a memorandum of understanding with CTV, and we have had some initial discussions with other broadcasters. We have looked at other programming sources, specialty channels, networks in the U.S. and the U.K., specifically with content that we think will be of interest to our audience.
And we have tried to take a look – and I think that Betty referred to this – at the focus groups and research we have done with the blind and vision impaired community to ascertain what types of programs they would be interested in, to put that in a bit of a suite of preferred programs that we would like to look at, if you will, as a basis for discussions.
That informed our approach to putting together the application.
So I think it would be fair to say, Debra, that we are still in the early stages.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes. We began our discussions with CTV, because this is a consumer-driven service, and when we looked at the top-rated programs, at least the top 20, CTV certainly had, at that time, the majority of them. They were frequently mentioned at the focus groups, so that seemed a logical place to begin.
But we did talk to broadcasters. We did have preliminary meetings with others, and asked about availability.
If we just look at the math of it, considering the four major broadcast groups, as they sit today, that 16 hours that you have regulated to be available on those services, if I look at CHUM, CTV, CHCH and Global’s main network, that is 50 percent of our Canadian content – actually more of it – right there.
But we went further afield. We talked to people in the U.S. We talked to distributors about the likelihood of described programming being available on an ongoing basis on current programming.
We looked at historical programming. When I say historical, I mean something from last season or before.
There is a service in the U.S. called the Narrative Network, and they broadcast half a day in open description. They have been very good at getting rights for that broadcast. We spent some time with them discussing if, by extension, we could get those rights for broadcast.
There are the PBS stations. We have had discussions with them. We have had discussions with the BBC.
In fact, post-filing and prior to this hearing, the discussions have continued, because there is enthusiasm for it, and we have letters confirming their interest in providing us this programming. If you would like, we would be happy to file them with you.
MR. WESEEN: We have also had some discussions with independent producers about the potential for original programming, which is proposed in the middle to latter part of the proposed licence period.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Ms McLaughlin, I would like you, please, to file those letters evidencing interest in providing programs to the Accessible Channel.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Certainly.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Are there any negotiations besides CTV that have progressed beyond the stage of true interest?
MS McLAUGHLIN: In terms of memorandums of understanding?
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes.
MS McLAUGHLIN: No.
We felt, at that time, that it would be premature to do that.
What we did was, we took these discussions to the level of costing, turnaround time, their delivery schedule, when the Accessible Channel produces the soundtrack – the described soundtrack – who owns that soundtrack at the end of it, and how can that be maximized for distribution.
Because there are an awful lot of details – as the saying goes, the devil is in the details – we didn’t spend the time to formalize these agreements, because, as we got into it, we realized that we were, at that time, negotiating without a licence to broadcast. So we backed ourselves out of those discussions and simply settled for letters confirming our discussions and their willingness to provide.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Backing up, for those programming services that have video description obligations, did you have negotiations with them to see if you could air what they air through SAP on your Accessible Channel?
MS McLAUGHLIN: We didn’t have negotiations with everyone. We did find that, post-filing, a couple of broadcasters approached us, concerned that they might be left out of the process because they hadn’t been named.
We had discussions prior to filing with them, and what we determined was, and the way we looked at this – the big challenge was to see if rights were available, if the broadcaster could transfer rights. Could we possibly produce the programming in a timely manner? Could we return it to them, and could we maintain the value of their investment?
We determined, through our talks with CTV, that a conventional broadcaster’s rights could be protected in this process.
We determined, through preliminary conversations with CBC, what their issues might be.
We talked to BBC, which, of course, supplies programming to two digital services.
We talked to APTN, and talked about their rights issues, their delivery.
Really, how we approached this was that, instead of an exhaustive set of negotiations to see who would provide, we looked at all of the particular scenarios, in terms of people’s rights and how they buy them, and how that would work out.
I guess our presumption was, with a second window for broadcasting, with the audience being transferred back to the broadcaster, rights and timing and delivery schedules were the primary concerns. It wasn’t an issue, necessarily, of whether they would want to do it, because, from a business plan perspective, at least from our perspective on their business, it made a lot sense.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Right now we know that you have one-third of your programmingon which you have an agreement that you can deliver.
How confident are you of obtaining sufficient programming to fill your broadcast day?
MS McLAUGHLIN: If there is something more than extremely confident, then that’s where we sit.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you.
In your typical arrangement, if there is a typical arrangement, how do you share the revenues with the provider of the program and your channel?
MS McLAUGHLIN: If I could clarify, the revenues from –
Our total revenues?
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes.
MS McLAUGHLIN: What we have done is, we have costed out programming, really, in three ways. The first is programming that a host broadcaster in Canada holds the rights to.
Again, based on the discussions we had, we will cover the incremental cost that they would incur to purchase the described soundtrack from – whether it is U.S. or wherever they purchase.
So that pricing has been done.
The second price structure is on programming that they hold the rights to, which we actually would have to create the description for.
Then, the third is programming that we purchase the rights for, simply to air with the description intact, whether that is from the Narrative Network or BBC, or whomever.
In actual fact, we priced it just as any network or any broadcasting entity would. This is a price per hour of programming, and we just, uniquely, I guess, have three different kinds of structures.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: You were giving the breakdown of buying programs that are already described, ones that you will describe, et cetera.
Can you give a breakdown in terms of, say, 100 percent of your programming, what percentage would you expect would come to you already described, and what percentage would you have to describe?
MS McLAUGHLIN: That is a really tough question, which we have really toyed with. Again, it depends on several parts of the system.
If I am just looking at our prime time, for example, to give you a concrete set of numbers –
If we consider prime time 7:00 to 11:00 – so there are 28 hours, if my math is working – there are currently 16 hours that are, by conditions of licence, described in the Canadian system, and we will just say on the major networks.
I think that works out to about 57 percent of the 28 hours.
The remainder of that – we would hope we would be able to access U.S. programming, which, for the large part, isn’t described.
So, using prime time, I would say it’s about 60:40.
It changes in the daytime, because that’s where you would see a majority of it being purchased in a described format, simply because we don’t anticipate simulcast, and there aren’t conditions of licence.
Unless a program is being re-purposed from its original first run into a daytime schedule, they typically don’t come through described. So we have treated the remainder of that schedule as that which we would have to acquire, either in a described format or that we would have to describe ourselves.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I always have to keep straight in my mind the difference between what you call new programming, referring to newly video described programming, and original programming.
I just want to clarify that they are not the same thing.
Newly described programming could be a re-run. It could have been shown on TV before, but not video described.
But original programming is something that you would produce?
MS McLAUGHLIN: That is absolutely correct.
In the newly described, it could be the U.S. primes, which, typically, are not described. They don’t come in because the FCC regulations on description have been turned back. They are no longer an obligation.
Or, they could, in fact, be programs that the Narrative Network is airing. For example, the entire Law & Order series has been described.
In terms of the Canadian system, that would be new description, and certainly new description to the community.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I want to go to your promise to commission five hours of original series programming.
That is in paragraph 52 of your supplementary brief.
Is that per week?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Is this programming that is going to be commissioned specifically for the Accessible Channel, or will it also be available in non-described format for, say, other channels?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Our anticipation is that the themes of this programming would make it uniquely attractive to our audience. So we didn’t anticipate that someone else might want to pick it up, but, certainly, I would imagine that that would be an option.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Of this five hours, what proportion do you think will be produced in-house and what will be by independent producers?
MS McLAUGHLIN: The only plans we have for producing in-house are for the Described Program Guide. Everything else has been priced on independent production.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: On the Described Viewing Guide, I see that that is through Years 1 to 3.
MS McLAUGHLIN: It is actually Years 1 through 7.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: All right. Great.
When you referred to the five hours of commissioned original series programming, that is only for Years 4 to 7.
MS McLAUGHLIN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: For Years 1 to 7 I have the Described Viewing Guide, and then, for Years 4 to 7, in addition to the Viewing Guide, I will only have five original hours ofprogramming.
MR. WESEEN: That’s correct. The Viewing Guide would not only be a guide for people in the blind and vision impaired community to access information about what is on the Accessible Channel, it would be a viewing guide for everything that is available on the Canadian broadcasting system – that is available and in described format.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I see.
Is that what you meant when you said in paragraph 53 that the Described Video Guide would also show its highlights, along with highlights from other services?
MR. WESEEN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Are you anticipating carrying any advertising on the Described Video Guide?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I would think that that would be one of the things that would be most attractive to be sponsored, frankly.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes.
MS McLAUGHLIN: As opposed to an advertisement within the Guide, it would be brought to you by the title ofthe sponsorship.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Along with highlights from other services, do you anticipate receiving a fee from other services when you highlight them in your Described Video Guide?
MS McLAUGHLIN: No. The purpose of the Guide is just to let everyoneknow –
And it would be something like: “Coming up in the next hour is Law & Order. It’s available on the following channels.”
It just gives options.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: At paragraph 63 of your supplementary brief you talk about the French service, and it sounds to me like what you are asking for is the authority to offer up to four hours per week of French-language described programming, but without any intention to provide that.
Could you elaborate on that?
MS McLAUGHLIN: What we were concerned about – and I guess this stems partially from doing focus groups in Ottawa – was that there was an opportunity for the community to hear some of the other official language – or both official languages, to be correct.
We are intending – and we have it in our schedule, and have sourced programming for four hours a week.
If there is some regulatory nuance that I have missed, I apologize. We simply just had it in the schedule to make sure that we provided as many options as possible.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Will you be producing four hours of French video described programming?
MS McLAUGHLIN: We hope to acquire it, but we have money set aside for description, and it is non-specific in terms of language. So if it happens to be that the four hours of French programming, for whatever week, is not available in described format, then the money would be spent to develop that.
But our anticipation is that 52 weeks a year there would be four hours of French-language programming available.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: And you would accept that as a condition of licence?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Then, on your general programming: Providing 500 new hours of fully described programming per year.
Are you willing to accept that as a condition of licence?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes, understanding that that is the minimum, because that is the first year.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes.
Going back to the five original hours per year, are you willing to accept that as a condition of licence?
Bear in mind that, in Years 1 to 3, you are only producing the Described Video Guide.
MS McLAUGHLIN: I want to clarify something. In Years 4 through 7, the five hours does include the Programming Guide.
So it is actually 4 and a half hours, in addition to the Programming Guide.
So, if the condition of licence could be worded in that manner, that would be excellent.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: All right. Then, in Years 1 to 3 you would not be able to accept a condition of licence –
MS McLAUGHLIN: For five hours.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: – for five hours.
MS McLAUGHLIN: No, we would not.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Going to 500 new hours of fully described.
We have talked about the sources that they are coming from.
When I looked at the Programming Guide which you filed with your application, you have a legend that says, “‘New’ indicates new episodes of the show, and is shown simultaneously with convention network broadcast,” and I count only 5 and a half hours per week of new shows.
I see Corner Gas and CSI Miami on Monday, Law & Order on Tuesday, Criminal Minds on Wednesday, CSI and E.R. on Thursday, and that totals only 5 and a half hours.
Those programs are newly described and newly seen, I guess. They have never been seen on TV before.
Is that correct?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I am confused by the terminology we are using here.
I can tell you that Corner Gas, for example, is a CTV program that is currently available in a described format, in the system today.
In reference to the 500 hours, that is commissioning new description into the system. So that could be description on a brand new U.S. program, like “Criminal Minds,” that currently isn’t available.
It could, however, be taking a series that ran – The O.C., for example, is now out of production, so we could take The O.C. and describe it and put that hour in.
The legend – I am not quite sure if it was meant to depict what you are hoping it does.
I think that the legend was put together for my purposes, just in understanding where we are going to get it –
COMMISSIONER del VAL: No, I am not hoping to find anything, I just want to understand how better to read the program schedule, and to find out the facts about the programming that we will see on television.
MR. WESEEN: On this program schedule, “New” indicates a new episode of the show that we would be showing simultaneously, as opposed to “newly described.”
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes. Okay.
Re-runs that have already been shown on other channels, could you estimate how many hours there would be in a week; and, then, what percentage of total programming that would be?
Re-runs that have already been shown on other channels.
MS McLAUGHLIN: I would have to do a very fast calculation here.
If I could beg your indulgence, we could file that by reply.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes. Could you, please, do this?
If you look at the Program Guide that you filed, I would ask you to identify which ones are new, using your own definition – your own legend.
Then, the next category that I would need you to identify is which ones are newly described – so they could be re-runs.
Then, of the next categories, which ones are original programming that you will have commissioned.
Then, I also need to get a sense of what type of general interest station this will be. So could you assign to each of your shows the category that you have identified in section 7.1 of the application?
That is, which is a 1, which is news; which is a 7(a), which is an ongoing dramatic series, et cetera?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes, we could do that.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I know that Ms Dionne would make me ask this. How long do you think you will need to do that?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Reply is tomorrow morning. Do you need it by the end of this process?
Could we get it to you by the end of the hearing?
MS DIONNE: If that’s possible, yes.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Turning now to the MOU with CTV – and this is what Ms Nobel referred to earlier when I was saying that you anticipated my question.
Clause 8 of the MOU talks about using AudioVision to produce video description of CTV’s programs, and it obligates the licensee to use best efforts to use AudioVision.
I also go back to your answer, Ms Nobel, that competitors of AudioVision will also have an opportunity to video describe, but, in the commercial sense, when the licensee is obligated to use best efforts, that limits, legally and practically, tremendously the opportunity left to competitors of AudioVision.
So I am not sure whether you were aware of this obligation to make best efforts to use AudioVision.
MS NOBEL: Yes, I was, actually.
Perhaps Debra is the best person to explain that.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Not that I normally do this, but I am going to let Mr. Malcolmson address this issue.
MR. MALCOLMSON: I would make two points.
First of all, it is a best efforts obligation only, so it is not a hard contractual requirement.
If, for some reason, another description company, for example, is able to describe a CTV program at a higher quality, then, presumably, they would go to the best provider of the service.
Secondly, it is only in respect of the programming provided by CTV that that obligation exists, and it’s important to remember that it is NBRS, the licensee, that determines how much programming it takes at any given time from CTV.
So it is not CTV saying, “Here is 33 percent of our schedule, go and describe it for us,” it is determined by the licensee.
MS McLAUGHLIN: If I could add a point of clarification, that is only with respect to the new description that we would be getting.
For example, Corner Gas, which appears on our schedule, currently comes in a described format from CTV, so there would be no expectation whatsoever for existing description obligations that they have.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: We know that CTV is not looking for an exclusive arrangement, and I take that to mean that you would be willing to duplicate the same agreement with any other broadcaster.
So, if every broadcaster who enters into such an agreement with you obligates you to use best efforts to use AudioVision, then it is tied up.
MS McLAUGHLIN: In actual fact, the memorandum of understanding that you have was our best effort to work out a good deal for NBRS. I don’t believe that CTV would like to be held to that, and it hasn’t –
It is a non-binding clause.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Then, as a safeguard that there not be any undue preference for descriptive video companies – all producers would be given the same chance – would you be willing to not enforce your rights under Clause 8 of the MOU, or in the final agreement to eliminate that clause?
MR. WESEEN: Yes.
Rick, would you like to comment?
MR. BRACE: Yes, absolutely. Our only concern is that the quality of the descriptive video be top-notch.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you.
The contribution to the Canadian Television Fund – can you tell me what is the mechanism for paying into the fund, and exactly how the funds will flow?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I’m sorry, the fund for the –
COMMISSIONER del VAL: It is Clause 14 of your MOU, and also paragraph 47 of your supplementary brief.
You are talking about, during the initial term of the arrangement with CTV, all programming fees payable to CTV will be directed to the Canadian Television Fund.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Our interpretation is that the money that would be negotiated for the differential cost for the programming that they are going to provide us in the new described format, instead of us paying that to CTV, we would pay it directly to the CTF, and give them an accounting of those payments as we go through –
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Give CTV an accounting of the payments.
MS McLAUGHLIN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you.
Now I will move on to the role of the Accessible Channel in the Canadian broadcasting system.
One technical point to clarify before that is, at paragraph 28 of your supplementary brief – and you also talked about this in your opening statement – how the sighted and the vision impaired can have a shared experience of watching TV, because of the programming – or how the Accessible Channel would provide its service.
Why can’t a sighted person watch the video described program through SAP along with the vision impaired person?
MS NOBEL: Perhaps I could start the answer to this question.
Basically, because it is very rarely carried. Only 26 percent of the programming that has been mandated by the Commission is going through the SAP
What happens is, I go to watch something that I understand is going to be described, and I activate the SAP, and it’s not there, because the BDU is not carrying the feed.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Okay. Thank you.
What is the difference between what the Accessible Channel will be showing on-screen versus what ExpressVu shows on the screen of their – and I’m sorry for the lack of a better term – omnibus described video channel?
MS NOBEL: ExpressVu has been one of the very excellent BDUs that does carry a lot of described programming. They would show what is currently available, but, with the Accessible Channel, there would be much more available that would be shown than what is currently available on ExpressVu.
Unfortunately, even as dependable as Bell ExpressVu tends to be, they are still sometimes not carrying things that they are expected to carry, or things that are in their schedule.
So it is still very much hit-and-miss, whereas – the hope is that when you turn on the Accessible Channel, and you have an audio schedule of what is going to be described, it is going to be there for everyone to enjoy.
MR. MacDONALD: You are also looking at it being available to so many people who, right now, obviously, don’t or cannot get it.
And knowing that it’s there, the one-stop shopping, if you want to say that, to have that available, it gives people the choice to say, “I want to watch it here,” or, “I want to go over to Global and watch their feed by using my SAP control,” if they so choose.
But this makes it so that nobody has to worry about that menu or any other potential problem.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: What do you think of the idea of having the other BDUs do what ExpressVu is doing, which is dedicating one channel that the vision impaired can access without SAP?
MR. STUBBS: If I may, Bell ExpressVu doesn’t dedicate a channel to description. They have 50 that are –
You have to navigate through there to find out which ones describe and which ones don’t. Some don’t carry program audio if there isn’t description. Some carry the regular program if description is unavailable.
So it is very much hit-and-miss, depending on which channel you get to, and you have to navigate through 50 channels.
MR. MacDONALD: If I may, a lot of programming, if you were to ask a vision restricted person in any capacity what shows are described in audio and what shows are closed captioned for the hearing impaired, they will be able to name off many shows, I am sure, that they know of due to the fact that the show is sponsored by tags that you get.
If you have ever noticed, the signifier for audio description is a small, little banner that appears before the show, which, again, doesn’t really allow the vision impaired audience to have any clue that even said show is described.
MR. STUBBS: We showed it in the video, and there is still an issue with the cable broadcasters on that set-top box and the navigating that you must go through with the remote. It gets pretty extreme.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: That actually leads me to the next question.
I note all of the backlash arguments that have been raised by intervenors, and your replies to them. One of them is that maybe the resources, say, into this channel would be better spent on improving the existing services.
For example, why not improve SAP?
I can’t remember whether it was Strategic Inc. or whether it was the Stubbs study that identified the three main problems, and the one that came up as the number one problem was having to access this programming through SAP
MR. STUBBS: Correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: That is a problem.
Another problem identified was not passing through.
What would you say to the argument: Why don’t we use resources to enforce better the existing obligations of those who should provide and pass through, or improve the technology of accessing?
MR. STUBBS: That would be absolutely fantastic, if that were possible –
MS NOBEL: No, John, it wouldn’t, because –
MS NOBEL: What would happen is, then we would have an improvement in the existing service, but we wouldn’t have all of the additional described programming that we need.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: So, Ms Nobel, your answer is, that still would not increase the amount of described video programming overall.
MS NOBEL: That’s correct.
MR. WESEEN: I think our position would be that this provides the solution. It fixes the problem, and we don’t have to go to alternates, so why not just go directly to the end result, which is, on one channel, 100 percent described programming, all the time, 24/7.
MR. MacDONALD: I am going to add my two cents.
This also allows a viewing of how many people are going to be introduced to audio description, who, unless they are in certain centres, right now may not even know that it’s there.
This also allows those people who are vision impaired later in life, who have been working all their life, who just want to enjoy their TV, to have their television there.
This also allows the evidence that people are watching it. Now, the SAP isn’t measurable. Therefore, when you go to these manufacturers and say, “We need you to find a way to make it accessible” – “Why?” “The vision impaired would like to use the SAP” “Prove it.”
Again, also, something that we want to see is this audio description “sponsored by.” If that’s what the broadcasters need to help them sell it, that’s great, but the fact is, they are not going to do it unless there is tremendous evidence, or unless you were to say “Do it 100 percent, and make the SAP fully accessible,” and it would take a long time for that to ever happen.
That’s why something like this is a starting point, and all of those who are very against having one-stop shopping need to say: Okay. Let’s utilize this. Let’s go forward and take that evidence to show –
If that’s what they insist. The option is still there for people to use SAP That’s fine. But at least now they will have the evidence that there are people watching. There are people demanding this to be done, and this programming.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you.
That was more than two cents.
MR. MacDONALD: That’s a whole dollar for you.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Another backlash argument is, what would you say if the BDUs came in now, or ExpressVu, and said: We have this accessible channel. Can we roll out later? Can we roll out a little bit less? Can you give us a break on our obligations?
What do you say to that argument, that it could actually lower the expectation of the system for those who have obligations right now to provide DV?
MR. WESEEN: I am not sure why they should regress on obligations they already have.
Part of the reason that there is a need for the Accessible Channel is because those obligations are, on a regular basis, not being met.
The blind and vision impaired community, with whom NBRS has a very close connection and hears from all the time, is extraordinarily frustrated by the fact that they can’t access programming, and this is a solution to that, but it doesn’t take away from the obligations to meet requirements that are already in place, and, potentially, to increase them.
This does provide a solution, and it is one-stop shopping, as Kelly referred to it, but I don’t think it should result in the regression of any obligations that already exist.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians intervened against this application, and I understand that they are a significant organization in the vision impaired community.
What should I make of the fact that they intervened?
MS NOBEL: I would like to comment on that, and I know that that organization will be making a presentation, as well.
I believe we had about 150 submissions from blind and vision impaired Canadians, the overwhelming number of which were in support of this.
The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, I believe, has 228 members in Canada, and I understand that the Canadian Council of the Blind intervened in support, and they have more members than that.
But I don’t think this is a numbers game. I think what you have to understand is that, generally speaking, the blind community is a relatively passive community.
Some years ago I sent out a Braille survey to 902 people between the ages of 18 and 30 to get some information, and I only got 22 responses, which was very disappointing.
This got over at least 150 responses from people who are blind, so I think that very strongly speaks to support for this channel.
And while I would agree that 100 percent accessibility is the ideal, I believe that we have to take steps in that direction. We have to prove to the community at large that description is something that is very valuable, which advertisers will receive revenue from, and that it is a good thing to do. Hopefully, broadcasters will get more on board, and as technology improves, and perhaps description becomes easier, it may become more cost-effective.
But, for now, as a person who enjoys watching television, and who is very frustrated by not being able to enjoy the programs to the same extent that my family members do, the increased description that this channel would provide is what really matters. I think that the interventions from the blind community in support of this far outweigh any that are against.
MR. MacDONALD: If I may, you are also discussing, really, a social issue. Going to work and being able to talk to people about what they saw on television, because it is such a social thing, is so important; to not get those little surprises, “Well, I particularly liked when he was in the parking garage and that – “
“What are you talking about? I just remember that break of music for four minutes, and I didn’t know what was going on.”
The vision impaired community, for some people – and advocacy is great – you try something for a while, and if it doesn’t work, you want to try something else.
The vision impaired community has a lot of concerns – and, again, for some people it’s that worry of being ghettoized, or that worry that people are going to see them differently.
The only problem with that is, generally, it is a very small number of the community that obsesses and worries due to personal experience or issues.
We are in a modern time. We all realize that the women’s movement, and so many other movements in the past, didn’t go in leaps and bounds. You try something, and if it doesn’t work, you try a different approach.
We are offering an immediate solution to a problem – or a start. This is wonderful. This is great, and it has to be, because the one thing that always sticks in my craw is: What about those people who aren’t speaking up, as Betty mentioned, who would like to go home at night and enjoy their television, or who are stuck in their home all day, wanting to enjoy their television, who have not been able to?
There are people who may have worked in a factory all their life and don’t understand the issues of ghettoizing, and so on – the big concerns that a small majority of the vision impaired have, and that small amount of people just happen to be fairly vocal.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you.
Turning to the focus group study, were the participants asked specifically if they would rather a segregated channel like this, or if they would prefer, say, to have SAP improved?
MS McLAUGHLIN: The focus group followed a typical design, and that was to identify the elements of the service to see what they were interested in, and, finally, to test the service.
As part of that, it was very clear that the ideal situation would be that the Commission impose some sort of commitment – an enforceable commitment – on all BDUs to pass through all description; that every broadcaster in Canada be compelled to produce a second shadow channel, as it were, with 100 percent open description.
That is the ideal scenario.
From that, we tested our concept, which was, obviously, not close to the ideal, but it was certainly enthusiastically received.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: We are going to have to ask you to come back. We are going to take a 10-minute break, and we will resume at 4:15 p.m. Thank you.
— Upon recessing at 1604/Suspension à 1604
— Upon resuming at 1615/Reprise à 1615
THE CHAIRPERSON: Order, please.
Commissioner del Val.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I will go on to your business case now, and your wholesale rate of 20 cents.
I note that in section 8 of your Governance Agreement –
NBRS is a non-profit organization, and the licensee will be non-profit. But, then, under section 8 of the Governance Agreement, it is contemplated that a charitable foundation or trust fund will be established to receive the revenues of the licensee in excess of its requirements, and such funds will be used to advance the cause of providing increased access to media for persons with perceptual disabilities.
Is that correct?
MR. WESEEN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: And the access to media is not limited to television or broadcasting media.
MR. WESEEN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I note, and some of the intervenors have noted that, according to your financial statements, this organization will be profitable throughout the term.
Is that correct?
MR. WESEEN: I think the projected surplus will be less than 5 percent of operating, and we thought that was a fair cushion, given some of the unknowns we had on some of the programming issues.
I guess the comment I would make is that surplus is an issue that will be determined by the Board of the Accessible Channel, given that they would have a fiduciary responsibility to that entity.
But, in crafting this, the NBRS Board was fairly insistent that the Accessible Channel not be a drain on NBRS and its current obligation to make sure that VoicePrint is a viable option.
So, in bringing this forward, the Board wanted to make sure that the Accessible Channel had sufficient funds in order to make sure that, if there was an overage, and it was a small one, there would be a mechanism to make sure that it stayed with media access issues.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: There is also a trust deed that, like most standard trust deeds, gives the trustees virtually absolute discretion on how to invest and use the income derived from the trust fund, and under this trust agreement, the trust is settled by the licensee, and the first trustee is NBRS, and then the subsequent ones will be –
There will be four trustees, three of whom will have no direct relationship with NBRS, but it is NBRS who will be part of the decision-making of who these trustees are.
MR. WESEEN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: And the beneficiary of the trust is to be any firm or company, including NBRS, that provides services and products designed to enable the greatest possible access to media commonly available to all Canadians for persons with perceptual difficulties.
But then you go on to another section of the trust deed, where it says:
The trustees shall hold the trust funds in trust for the beneficiaries and, in their absolute discretion, may either pay the whole or such of the net income derived from the trust fund, first to NBRS, and then to, or for such other beneficiaries as the trustees, in their absolute discretion, may determine.
My question is: It sounds like, from the fees – from the revenues that you make – they can be directed – although it may be a small amount to start with – to any registered charity that has as its cause providing increased access to media, and NBRS has a say in who those organizations will be.
Then I coupled that with all of the other sections, and also with the fact that the licensee will be profitable from day one.
If I were the subscriber paying, I would say: Is this the lowest possible rate that I could be paying?
That’s my first question.
The second, broader, question is: Should the social obligation of making media more accessible to the vision impaired be borne by television subscribers?
MR. WESEEN: The intent of the Accessible Channel is to make programming more accessible.
To the extent that there would be a surplus – and we didn’t see it being a large one – the trust is intended to ensure that the purpose for which the Accessible Channel was established is maintained and that any surplus funds would be used for media access issues.
That was the intent of having the trust there, to make sure that if there was any surplus, it would be used for the same purpose.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: When your focus groups and studies were done, were those who were surveyed told –
When they made the decision, “I will pay somewhere between 50 cents and 75 cents,” were they told that any excess revenue would actually go to a charitable organization?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I can address the question from the focus group perspective.
In fact, the idea for the trust came out of the focus groups. One of the concerns was about any group, any organization, having a large profit based on a service that they believe should be mandatory and throughout the system.
There was concern about low cost.
The question came up: When you are putting together a budget, you make your best efforts, but you have to build in a contingency. What should we do with that contingency?
So, from the community itself, the issue was born that, if that money went into a trust that dealt with media access issues, then they would feel that they were being really well served by the organization and this proposal, in its entirety.
I would ask Duncan McKie to speak about the measurement with the general population.
MR. McKIE: I would only add that, although we didn’t address the issue of “What would you do with an overage, if this non-profit corporation saw a surplus at the end of the year,” which, I think, would go far beyond any poll, we did make it clear to these folks that they were being asked to underwrite the operations of a channel that they would normally, themselves, not use, and I think they were very forthcoming in their support. I doubt very much that they would have any concerns about how that money would be spent, given the intent.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Would you be willing, if licensed, to do away with the trust fund?
The licensee is a non-charitable organization, so, if you don’t have that trust fund organization, and if you have a surplus, I assume that it would go back to programming, or to reducing the subscriber rate.
Would you agree to a restructure like that to eliminate the trust fund?
MR. WESEEN: I guess the comment I would make is that the proposed structure doesn’t allow NBRS to receive funds directly from the Accessible Channel.
We would probably have to look at the consequences for NBRS on a business case basis, because the trust was set up to help NBRS understand that we weren’t going to have to bear the cost of running the Accessible Channel in addition to the existing obligations of VoicePrint.
We would be prepared to get back to you at the reply stage with a comment on that, if that is acceptable.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Okay. Or, if you could suggest some safeguards, so that, the licensee being a non-profit organization, any excess funds would be put back into the channel to improve its programming or reduce subscriber fees.
MR. WESEEN: Or perhaps limit it to broadcast media.
You are talking about something a little broader, I guess, than just narrowing the focus of where the moneys would be spent, in terms of media access issues.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes, I –
MR. WESEEN: I understand.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I would like it to stay in the channel, because that is what the subscribers would be paying for.
MR. WESEEN: We will address that.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: This was also a point raised in the interventions, and it is a conclusion that we also arrived at.
Your subscriber projections seem to be quite optimistic. They assume that in the fourth year there would be almost full rollout of digital services, projecting a take-up rate to 90 percent of the subscriber base.
On what basis are you making that projection?
MS McLAUGHLIN: We reviewed industry literature and publications on the anticipated rollout.
What we are talking about is a licensing term that anticipates perhaps 2008. So we are talking about, by 2011, there being 90 percent of the population accessible – or receiving their signals on cable by digital.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Right now we have calculated that your Canadian program expenditure requirement, CPE, accounts for about 43 percent of the total revenues over the seven-year licence term.
Would you be prepared to accept that as a condition of licence?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes, we would.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: You would accept that even if your subscription projection were too high, and it turned out to be lower?
MS McLAUGHLIN: As a percent of revenues?
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes, absolutely.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: What efforts would you make to increase the advertising portion of your revenues?
I also note that, in paragraph 72 of your supplementary brief, you are saying: “Selling advertising in the non-simulcast portion of the schedule.”
Firstly, I am not clear on what that means, “Selling advertising in the non-simulcast portion of the schedule.”
I don’t know what that means.
Secondly, what are your efforts to increase advertising revenue?
MS McLAUGHLIN: To go back to how we are going to be carrying a portion, and hopefully a large portion of prime time, we will be taking programs that are currently available in a described format on other broadcasters, and, as I mentioned earlier, just a rough calculation says that is 16 hours out of 28 hours of prime time. And we will take them in their entirety, an unaltered signal, which includes the commercials being passed through.
For the remainder, which we will be actually describing, we will be doing the same thing, inasmuch as we are going to provide the broadcaster with a described version of it. They will insert their commercials and they will send it back to us.
Only in the programming that we purchase from sources like the Narrative Network and other U.S. sources and Canadian sources, which maybe are older, will we be inserting any commercial time.
In terms of the second part of the question, what efforts will we be making, the real value to having a commercial on the schedule is that it, too, is described.
Not to pick on any particular advertiser, but a TELUS commercial that is broadcast with their wonderful graphics and animals, which is a very distinctive brand to all of us, means absolutely nothing to the vision impaired community.
So we don’t anticipate, unless there is an increase in the description of those ads, that there is any value to an advertiser to place that commercial.
Would they pay for it? I don’t think so, not initially.
Mr. Weseen mentioned that we had talked to the ACA, and we have, and they are on record in the Commercial Television Policy Hearing of making a commitment to have their members spend more time and invest more in the closed captioning of commercials.
In a similar manner, I was assured that they would be looking at description, but it is a ramp-up, it is not something they are considering, so it wouldn’t be immediate.
Our view of what the advertising would be initially, and for the first few years, is that it would be more along the lines of sponsorship, the Television Guide, the audible Television Guide, and “This program brought to you by” – and the event.
But, again, if we could possibly compel advertisers, in some way, to describe their commercials, then we would hope that we could do more. But to budget on that would be, perhaps, dangerous.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: I want to go back to the wholesale rate of 20 cents.
After we eliminate the portion that would be for charitable donation, I am wondering if you could lower your wholesale rate by 5 percent.
Could you re-work your numbers to see if the wholesale rate could be lowered?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Could we get back to you on that in reply?
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Yes, of course.
MS McLAUGHLIN: That would be great. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Your answers to some of our deficiency questions were very clear, in that you needed both mandatory basic status and a regulated pass-through fee to have the business case. Is that still true?
MR. WESEEN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: So a Category 1 or a Category 2 licence would be meaningless. It is not something that you would accept.
MR. WESEEN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER del VAL: Thank you very much for your time.
Those are my questions, Madam Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
Commissioner Cram – who is seated to your left.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: I am over here.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: Number one, with Mr. LaRose on your Board, you are not going to have a problem getting programming from APTN, I am assuming.
MS McLAUGHLIN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: I wanted to try and figure out what I would see in prime time. Would I pretty well assume that it would be the popular Canadian and American shows?
MS McLAUGHLIN: That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: If I were a broadcaster – and I think that Mr. Brace is very smart – I would see this as a great idea, because I would simply not order what I thought to be my popular shows described, and you guys would do it for free for him, and he would then have partially met his requirements that we make him do in terms of described video.
So, in a perverse way, it seems to me that we are not moving the system ahead in terms of the goal, which is more described video.
MS McLAUGHLIN: I will start to answer that, and then I will throw it to Mr. Brace.
If Mr. Brace, or any of the Canadian broadcasters at this point in time, had an option to buy the U.S. programs in a described format, then perhaps what you are saying would be a way to look at it; not perhaps “the” way.
But, in reality, because the obligations on U.S. producers and broadcasters have been removed, the production at source – and I am calling the U.S. source here – of described programming has declined. It is practically not available.
One of the original exercises that we went through in investigating the possibility for this service was to really ascertain how much of the programming Canadian broadcasters were putting on that was being developed in the U.S., which was actually available in a described format and not being picked up, and the answer was, practically, zero.
There isn’t an obligation, and while there is, we believe, a compelling business case, and other broadcasters, like the BBC, believe there is a secondary market for distribution for this type of programming, in reality, it is not being tapped.
We would be increasing description of what is arguably the highest demand programming in the system, and if there is another way, we certainly haven’t been able to find it.
MR. BRACE: I think the other thing, Commissioner Cram, is that we will still have a good portion of our schedule that is not carried on the Accessible Channel, and this, in no way, relieves us of the obligation, in our view – and that is our position – from carrying on with not only the obligations we have now, but any that may be deemed appropriate as we move forward into licence renewal.
Although it may be the case for programming carried there, it seems to me that it is additive. So we would get a benefit, undoubtedly, and hopefully other broadcasters would, too, but in no way should it relieve us of the obligations that we have currently and in the future.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: So, then, you will be considering for your renewal suggesting that we wouldn’t count the described video that you receive from this service, if it is licensed.
MR. BRACE: I would suggest that, because 100 percent of our schedule will not be carried on this service, we will still have the obligation, so I think we are saying the same thing.
Indeed, you may, in your wisdom, elect to actually increase that.
To me, it is an elegant way of dealing with a problem that we have currently, because technology is an impediment, and I think that, going forward, it is an elegant way of actually being incremental and being additive and getting even further down the road than we would be, even if we say that by 2010 the SAP must be made available, and so on and so forth.
It seems that we have been spinning our tires. We are describing several shows at this point in time, and it is disappointing that they are not making it to the people who would enjoy them.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: You are going to, I think, Ms McLaughlin – well, the panel – it was said that you were going to put all of these extra hours in described video.
But, again in a perverse way, it is going to be American programming.
If you are talking about the top 10 programs in Canada, except for last week, they are normally all American programs.
MS NOBEL: There isn’t any specification, at least in our minds, in terms of what will formulate that top programming.
Our concern here is to represent in the schedule what consumers in this community want. If that happens to be Canadian programming, then that will be there.
Obviously, we will be following audience measurement, and we will be seeing what those programs are. There is an opportunity for any program to appear.
There have been times, as you well know, that Canadian programming breaks into the top 20. It is not something we could predict.
We expect that we will be following the interests and the desires of the community.
I might add that all of the description we are doing is 100 percent Cancon. I would presume, as it is a creative process, that it is eligible. So, in that sense, we are actually adding Cancon to the system.
MR. WESEEN: Commissioner, if I could add, when I joined the Board at NBRS, someone who was on the Board at the time, Geoff Eden, was trying to describe to me why access was important, and he talked about water cooler conversations. I think that Kelly referred to that earlier, where, the morning after a show airs, people are talking about it, whether it is a Canadian show, or whether it is a U.S.-produced show, because it’s popular.
And there is an exclusionary piece because the blind and vision impaired community can’t enjoy it to the same extent.
Geoff’s comment was: I want to be part of the water cooler conversations, without exclusion, and that’s why description is important.
That’s one of the reasons, I think, you have heard NBRS talk about description on a consistent basis for quite a period of time. We do need to improve access to this, and it is important.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: I hear you, I just think that the benefits of something that is being paid for by Canadian subscribers should go to Canadian programming.
I have difficulty seeing us aiding foreign programmers, who make no contribution to this system, when it is the Canadian subscriber that would be paying for your existence, if you were licensed.
So I am going to ask you to come up with a percentage of that 500, or however many hours you are going to do in video description, of Canadian programs.
MS NOBEL: Commissioner Cram, I would like to comment on that. For over 25 years I have been a cable subscriber, and I have been paying the same rates as anyone else pays for cable, and yet I have not been able to enjoy television programming, whether it’s American or Canadian, to the same extent that all of the other cable subscribers have, and I have had no reduction in cost.
As part of my own intervention and as part of many interventions that I read, it was very clear that people in Canada would be willing to support a monthly fee of 20 cents so that I could enjoy television in the same way that they already do, regardless of the content.
MR. MacDONALD: I would like to add a comment, if I may, too.
If there is a supply, and the demand is obviously asking for certain things in the community, which is already limited to choice, to where we can go and what we can see and enjoy in audio description, and if Britain happens to be more ahead of us, we should be very cautious in saying, “Well, it’s not Canadian.”
Yes, that may be true, and I am all for it, I enjoy some great Canadian programs myself, but, if it is a case of you are not cutting it or not bothering, then what happens?
The choices are already far too limited for us.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: We already tell people how much Cancon they have to have, and we do it with everybody.
What about prime time? How much Cancon are you going to have?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I believe that in our application it is 50 percent.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: But that is 6:00 p.m. to midnight.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Right.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: You are just going to have 50 percent in prime time?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: It sounds to me, Mr. Weseen, that your whole idea is to build up described video programming, and build the inventory essentially, build the taste, but at the end of the day, visually impaired people want to be able to watch the same channels as people with vision, and have all of the programming described.
Have I got it right?
MR. WESEEN: That’s part of the philosophy, yes.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: What about a one-term licence, and then you go out of business?
Because you would have built up the inventory and the taste.
MR. WESEEN: Could we find a complete solution to the problems we have described in one term?
I guess that would be the question, and I don’t know that.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: You see, we are doing a balancing act here. There is the taste of Canadians that they want a very small basic, and if we license you, we will be essentially taxing subscribers to promote a social purpose, which we have promoted before.
But the question then is: Is this a forever deal, or, once we get the kickstart, what is the use of the continuation of the channel?
MR. WESEEN: I think that, probably, my response would be that that would be something we would have to judge in Years 5 through 7, to see where we were at, and the Commission could deal with that on renewal.
MR. MacDONALD: If I may, that would also depend – I feel that your judgment would be best made by what the vision impaired community does with it as it comes on and the demand.
And if the advocacy groups go forward demanding more access, more programming, that is the only time that that kind of thing could be decided.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: Ms Nobel, did you have something to say?
MS NOBEL: I was just going to say that, if we could be guaranteed 100 percent description, and accessibility to those channels through the SAP, which is currently not accessible, and if we could be guaranteed that the BDUs would carry it, then, if this channel were to go out of business in 7 years or 14 years, that would be fine, because we would have achieved our goal.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: Thank you.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
MS DIONNE: I only have three questions.
Earlier in your discussions with Commissioner del Val, it was agreed that you would file letters of interest from additional suppliers of programming than the CTV.
When would you be prepared to file those letters?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I have to make sure that we have every single one of them here, so we will hopefully file them by reply, but, if not, by the end of the process.
If that is okay, we will have them brought from Toronto.
MS DIONNE: By the end of the hearing?
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MS DIONNE: I would like to confirm that you agree to having a condition of licence to implement your Canadian content requirements of 50 percent from 6:00 p.m. to midnight, and 60 percent through the broadcast day.
MS McLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MS DIONNE: Could you give a minimum amount of description that would be created by other described video providers than AudioVision Canada?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I think we have agreed to provide that for reply, or, at least, by the end of the process.
MS DIONNE: At reply, or at the end of the process?
MS McLAUGHLIN: I think we could do that at reply.
MS DIONNE: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Weseen, thank you very much to you and your panel.
I will give you an opportunity now to summarize your application, and to give us your pitch for why we should license this service.
MR. WESEEN: Thank you very much.
In closing, Madam Chair and Members of the Commission, our application is for one channel among the hundreds currently available to sighted Canadians.
Members of the vision impaired community now pay for cable or satellite, but receive little in return.
The Accessible Channel will provide them with a user-friendly means of experiencing television – one channel in a 500-channel universe that vision impaired Canadians can call their own, and the price for that is 20 cents per month.
The Commission has asked Applicants to provide evidence that their service is of exceptional importance to the achievement of Broadcasting Act objectives. We believe that the Accessible Channel meets this high standard.
Despite efforts to date, there is little described video programming available. What is available is plagued by serious accessibility problems. Either it is not being passed through by the BDUs, or the means of accessing what is available is simply not user friendly for blind and vision impaired Canadians.
Research clearly indicates that the majority of Canadians see the value in paying much more than what we have proposed for the greater good of allowing the vision impaired community to experience television on an equal footing with, and at the same time as their families and friends.
We have a partnership with CTV through which we will fully explore bringing quality content to this channel, and we fully expect that this will be a beacon for discussions with other broadcasters.
Madam Chair and Commissioners, NBRS is proposing what the Broadcasting Act has established as a key principle: to make programming available to persons with disabilities, as resources become available for that purpose.
NBRS has a track record of successfully initiating and operating services of this nature. We have the will to bring this network to blind and vision impaired Canadians, and we have identified a reasonable and prudent method for ensuring that funds are available to support the Accessible Channel. We believe that we have presented the Commission with a reasoned, realistic and well researched business plan.
The Accessible Channel will act as a nexus for described programming, not only providing open description every hour of the day, but also directing audiences to all described programming that is available anywhere in the Canadian broadcasting system.
In this way, the statutory obligation that we all share, that is, to make television programming accessible to vision impaired Canadians, will remain just that, a shared obligation.
This is about improving access, this is not about lessening the obligations that have already been mandated by the Commission. Broadcasters and BDUs, alike, must be required to continue their efforts to provide and pass through significantly more described programming.
It took the system 12 years to reach a mandated level of 90 percent closed captioning. The vision impaired community, a community that has been woefully underserved and consistently excluded, should not have to wait for that level of description. This is a key part of the solution.
We respectfully submit that what we need is the regulatory vision to permit this channel to be launched and to succeed. Accordingly, we would seek the Commission’s approval of our application, and the requested mandatory distribution order.
We thank you for your time and for the opportunity to present to you today.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Weseen, and the rest of your panel, thank you very much for your participation this afternoon.
We will take five minutes, to allow for the change of panels, but, Madam Secretary, I would like you to call the next presenter, please.
THE SECRETARY: We will start with Mr. Gord Hope. You have 10 minutes for your presentation. Thank you.
MR. HOPE: Greetings to you, Madam Chair; to you, vice-chairs; Madam Secretary; Commissioners; fellow intervenors and all who are gathered here.
Allow me to express my appreciation. I do appreciate the opportunity to intervene at this hearing. It’s an exciting time in Canadian television and telecommunications.
My name is Gord Hope and I reside with my wife and three daughters in Brantford, Ontario. Currently, I’m employed by the Canadian Counsel of the Blind, CCB.
I’m not really presenting on behalf of the Canadian Counsel of the Blind. I haven’t consulted or been directed by its National Board or Staff. But, I believe that my intervention is reflective of the views of many CCB members, of which I am one, having seen a number of the emails that were shared back and forth among members of CCB.
CCB is the largest consumer organization for Canada for blind and vision impaired persons. It is known as the voice of the blind and vision impaired in Canada. And, it is recognized by the Federal Government as having over sixteen hundred full members, and hundreds of thousands of associate members across the country.
Of the over one hundred and fifty interventions submitted in writing by blind and vision impaired persons in support of NBRS’s application, many were submitted by members of the CCB.
I am a subscriber, a voice print. Though not an extremely heavy user of the service, I appreciate its availability.
Just want to present, if I might, some biographical information. And it’s presented in greater detail then I’ll go into here on the second page of my intervention.
But I would say here that, and inform you that, I lost my sight before the age of two years.
I’ve been active among blind and vision impaired folks since the ages of six years, when I began my education at the, well, Ontario School for the Blind, now the W. Ross Macdonald School.
I’ve been active among them through my education, employment, volunteer and sports involvements, and some of my significant friendships as well.
It is relevant to this presentation to say that I have been a client of CNIB for some fifty years. I present a significant portion – during a significant portion of my life, I’ve spent, sorry, a significant portion of my life being educated to a level of PhD in social psychology from Carlton University in 1989 and including a post-doctoral diploma in clinical psychology from the University of Ottawa in 1990.
Now, I’ve also represented Canada at the Paralympics in 1976 and 1984, and was active in blind sports as an athlete, an administrator and an organizer of events for some twenty-five years.
Besides being a client of CNIB, the agency was, at one time, my employer for about two years. And my employment history also includes two and a half years in my current position, employed by the Canadian Counsel of the Blind.
My diverse volunteer involvements include with consumer organizations for the blind and vision impaired persons, including the Blind Organization of Ontario self help tactics, Boost, where I was an executive member. I was CCB, where I was instrumental in the development of the two dollar coin and the inauguration of the Brantford Chapter.
With CCB – sorry. Now, my primary purpose for presenting this biographical information is not to draw attention to Gord Hope’s good fortune and accomplishments. Folks who in fact know me would, I’m sure, attest that such a presentation is not my usual style. Rather, my hope is that it will help you commissioners to be comfortable with attributing credibility to the points I’m about to make and to the time and effort I’ve put in in preparing them for your consideration.
Unlike some who have prepared today, who have presented, I have not been here seven or eight or ten times. This is my first time. We’re strangers. In and through all of my background, I have, by necessity, developed a capacity and reputation for independent thinking and action, even if I might say to the point of causing consternation among my educational, research employment, and volunteer colleagues and supervisors on route to attaining the successes I have achieved.
And so, are the points of my intervention. And they are these.
I’m here to contest some of principles and thinking underlying some of the concerns raised by those intervening against the application by NBRS. And in doing so, I’m hoping to impress the point that they’re application is a suitable and worthy one, and that NBRS is a suitable operator for the service for which they are applying.
I wanted to contest, specifically, concerns raised as to the appropriateness of licensing a so-called specialty descriptive video channel when regulation of the broadcast system calls for TV broadcasters to reach quotas with auditory description of their programming.
I also want to pose a question about whether a comparison between the history of the development of closed captioning services among TV broadcasters is a fair one with the application and the service proposed by NBRS.
And I want to discuss whether the principles of universal design, which have been put forward by some intervening against the application, have been accurately represented and the principles, and the application of those principles and guidelines, whether they’ve been fully discussed.
Have we been given appropriate comparisons too, between the effect of CNIB’s employment and library services on the one hand, and those of NBRSs proposed service as anticipated by some on the other.
In those contexts, I will close by discussing the role of the regulator and relations between the regulator and consumer organizations.
So let me discuss comparisons with the emergence and development of closed captioning services.
To summarize the concern raised, a specialty channel, it is pointed out, was not required to make closed captioning of TV network programming widely available for deaf and hard of hearing viewers, albeit, it did take some time to reach the level it has.
The reality is, though, that the community of deaf and hard of hearing persons is four to fives times larger in numbers than that of blind and vision impaired persons and would exceed the number of those who would have interest – would far exceed the number of those who would have interest in a descriptive video channel.
And, I believe, the editing of, and human resource involvement required for closed captioning is less cumbersome and somewhat less expensive that what is required for descriptive video. The larger market and reduced costs will have made closed captioning easier for the broadcasters to find commercial sponsors.
Move on now to the principle and guidelines of Universal Design. And this is, perhaps, a more complicated argument, but not a difficult one.
As far as it is taken, the principles of Universal Design have been correctly enough conveyed in written submissions to the commission. That is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
The design of products and environments, sorry – now what is understated in interventions that I have seen is the, to the greatest extent possible, aspect of the principle of Universal Design. Of course, it is not to the greatest extent convenient and that’s understood, thank goodness.
But it does not provide – it does provide flexibility regarding how the principles and guidelines are applied.
I submit that this can be applied both in terms of access ability of physical access and otherwise. But it can also apply to how these – it can also be spoke of with respect to how – or applied the services in so-called mainstream parameters.
For example, if the principles and guidelines of Universal Design were only to be applied within mainstream parameters, there would have been a very strong human cry by the proponents of UD against the development of computer access technology by specialized developers, and in support of waiting for those developments to take place in the mainstream platforms, such as Microsoft Windows.
Interestingly, the Macintosh platform has, until recently, outstripped Microsoft considerably with respect to its accessibility design.
But most blind and vision impaired computer users have chosen to go with the access products of specialized developers while we waited for Microsoft to catch up, which it now has, to a great degree, with its Windows Vista product. This has taken place some twelve years after Windows 95 was launched, and some thirty years or more after the advent of computer access technology for blind and vision impaired users.
So, if someone were to defy me to find within Universal Design documentation, specific reference to this sort of flexibility, rather than seeking – rather than searching through the documentation, I would simply point to this precedent as demonstrating the flexibility of the principles – of the application of the principles and outlines of Universal Design as they apply to whether or not all services for accessibly should be sought in mainstream parameters.
It might also be argued, on the other hand, that the development of access technology, although by specialized developers, has taken place within the mainstream of the computer slash information technology industry. To the same extent, though, it can also, I would argue in return, that the accessibility channel concept, though to be run by a specialized service operator, would be done – would be operated within the mainstream of the Canadian broadcast industry.
I might turn attention now to comparisons between the employment library services of CNIB with the specialty channel.
Now, the above points that I made regarding Universal Design bears additional importance because, I submit, the case of the application for special accessible channel with NBRS as operator more closely paralyzed the development of access technology by specialized developers than it does the provision of employment and library services by CNIB. And this is where my fifty years of client hood and a couple of years of employment comes to my aid.
As a long time client and former employee, I confidently concur that the agency was seen by many citizens, businesses and service providers and being the be all and solution and sole service provider for blind and vision impaired Canadians, providing cradle to grave service including in the areas of employment and library services. But for the greater part of the life of those services, they were provided in a different time and context where the importance of partnerships was less stressed. Because of this, it is true that other providers of those services to blind and vision impaired folks, unfortunately, therefore, would not believe that would have to take on the role of being service providers to those living with vision loss.
However, of at least equal importance as a reason for the decisions to not provide those services to our population segment was the total lack of call or effort to seek our partnerships. It is important to note that once CNIB was able to move its library service online, it began seeking partnerships with local public libraries so that as well as accessing the service from a home based computer, it –
THE SECRETARY: Excuse me. Mr. Hope. Excuse me. Your time has expired. Can you conclude, please.
MR. HOPE: Yes, I sure can.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you.
MR. HOPE: So, in conclusion, it is reasonable to say that the application by NBRS and the service it would operate, more paralyzed, when characterized by partnerships and collegial working – and, to that extent, I think it’s time now for consumer and advocacy organizations to turn our attention in partnership with this regulator to demanding and ensuring that Canadian broadcasters increase their provision of descriptive video services in their programming. I don’t think that that’s a goal that NBRS would find in opposition to its efforts. And, on that note, I thank you, Madame Chair and the commission for this opportunity.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you. Now, Mr. Geoff Eden. You have ten minutes to make your presentation. Thank you.
MR. EDEN: Good evening. My name is Geoff Eden. I’m delighted to return to the commission. It’s a return visit in support, generally speaking, of described video on the television system in Canada.
A little bit of my history. I commenced employment with the CNIB in 1972 and stayed there for twenty years, concluding my time with them as a technical aid’s coordinator. During that time, incidentally, I was a manager of Employment Services and I think what my predecessor has just reported, it’s a rather accurate and there have been some rather strange comparisons to that particular service and to the library service provided by the CNIB, which I’ll try and return to in a moment.
I concluded my career with the CNIB and moved to the city of Toronto where I was delighted to be appointed to the city’s Planning Department and became the city of Toronto’s Accessibility Planner.
In that occupation, I had a marvelous opportunity to grow and discover what accessibility meant in many ways. I had an opportunity to contribute to the development of guidelines, several guidelines that are utilized in serving people with disabilities in the built environment and the retail environment.
And currently, I have now been appointed by the Ontario government to serve on a committee that will be looking at a communications standard for the province of Ontario. So that profession has given me an opportunity to be exposed to a range of disabilities.
And I think the other thing I have often said to people is that when it comes to a disability, usually the person with the disability has a deeper expertise about that disability than others. And that, I say, in wanting to dispose of people without a disability wishing to make what they believe to be salient comments on the needs in the lives of peoples with disabilities.
Thinking of myself as the water cooler fellow alluded to earlier, I can’t stress enough to you that in daily conversations with friends and family, how often television topics come up and how often the topic is, ‘did you see what he did last night?’
‘No, I didn’t.’
But that sort of thing, if you can’t join in that conversation, the possibility for you to keep friendships up and keep floating is definitely somewhat diminished.
I’ve often said about my profession with the city of Toronto, I’m with the CNIB, there’s one thing I learned that – a person and your ideals are not measured by your ideals. You’re measured by the quality of your compromises. So, in this life we have many compromises to make.
I’m sorry. I’m using my audio prompter here.
The motives that the National Broadcast Reading Service have been brought into question and I think that comes from a long time consumer concern with a single agency that provided service to people with vision impairment. And, there was an awful lot of concern because there was nowhere else to go and that monolithic service rightly or wrongly was accused of being too controlling and not easily criticized.
So there was a long history of angst built up in the community and that spilled over, I believe, to the NBRS proposal. And it could be interpreted as a single organization being given an opportunity to govern the kind of delivery.
I suspect that the reality is a great deal different, given people being who they are and the organization being what it is, having served on its board for nearly a dozen years, that there is a lot of room for input from all kinds of people, from employees and from the audience.
Like any organization in the communication business, if you don’t do what your audience wants, you’re not going to be there very long.
We’ve been looking at this issue of described video since, in my view, 1994 when City TV first broadcast Casablanca in open description. It was an experiment, a wonderful experiment. I cannot tell you how enriching, having seen Casablanca with description was, as opposed to sitting there at guessing what was going on, not knowing.
For example, the famous scene of the spotlight swinging around and going past the windows of Mike’s Bar and other things that were happening in the movie where it was all guesswork.
Leaving on the airplane. At that point you’re not sure what exactly was happening, unless you’ve had it described that people were leaving on the airplane and leaving the hero in Casablanca.
One of the other issues that has come out of this is that there’s an awful lot of people with vision impairment who’ve never had the chance to listen to or see, in relative terms, what described video is. So they don’t know what they’re missing. You know? If you can’t read the menu, you certainly can’t make selections.
In fact, it comes to that other proposition that I’ve often used in the lives of people with any kind of communication deficit, is you don’t know what you don’t know. So often you need a taste of something and a way to get at it easily, before you can really understand what it is and know that you want it.
And this is another issue. Hunting for it and trying to use the SAP. As you saw already in an earlier presentation, how difficult the SAP is.
In my household, my wife won’t let me get near the menus. Or, if the TV quits, there’s nobody around to put it back to right and get it back on the air. And that would be a family disaster of proportions I dare not describe.
MR. EDEN: Whatever reasons there may have been, foreign description hasn’t made it onto the television. There has been technical issues and I think that the providers have, perhaps, not given the attention they might have.
I occasionally indulge in all kinds of things that maybe aren’t truly Canadian. You know, I eat McDonald’s hamburgers and I drink Coco-Cola and I also like to watch a little bit of junk television.
So, CSI and Law and Order are wonderful programs. I’ve had the splendid opportunity to stumble upon a couple of the series on the internet described. And again, I can’t begin to tell you the difference between trying to figure it out when it’s on the TV and when it’s delivered.
So, having something come over the border, I hope, doesn’t create as much concern as it would in the minds of some. Diversity, after all, it is necessary to enjoy life and I think that having American pop series come in for us to enjoy are every bit as important, especially if we’re going to enjoy that water cooler conversation. That’s just reality. We can’t get away from it.
I think it’s worth pointing out that with the ever enlarging group of seniors who’ve lost, commonly lost, sight because of advanced illnesses. They are still paying for their television and still not getting any value for their money. And partly because they don’t know what value they could get, as I’ve iterated.
Also, in my experience working for the CNBI, I have the opportunity to probably visit a thousand homes of people who had just lost their sight. That was a very difficult part of my career. And one of the observations that was pointed and left me somewhat bruised for life is the fact that people would sit there and try to listen to their television and guess what was going on, hoping that in their declining years that at least they could enjoy their television and pass the long, long days.
And often, you know, you can turn to books from the library, but not everybody likes that. Not every family works that way. So, it was often my unhappiness to see people frustrated by the fact that the television was no longer the entertainer they’d hoped it would be when entertainment was something they needed most.
Now one point that hasn’t be raised at all in any of the material that I’ve discovered, and I’d like you to pay particular attention to it. As a person who is audio dependent, and I believe that I can speak confidently on this point, that we enjoy audio that’s not just minoral and of high fidelity. The higher the fidelity and the better the multi-point audio, and particular the better stereo, the better it is.
And one of the disappointments of current SAP delivery is that it’s a fairly narrow audio band pass and that it’s not multi-directional. It’s not stereo. And that can detract from many adventure movies, and other movies, when the efforts have been made to make the sound effects stereo, when the efforts have been made to make the music in the movie stereo.
So when you’re listening to a movie on SAP, it’s certainly better than no description, but again, it’s plain, flat, monaural, and if there were a specialty channel through which the real stereo image with high quality sound and description could be delivered, that would be spectacular. The route for that at the moment is to borrow tapes from the CNIB library with description on them. And there are some places on the internet where there are some presentations that can be downloaded with description items that are not enclosed by copyright.
THE SECRETARY: I’m sorry, Mr. Eden. Can you conclude, please?
MR. EDEN: Yes, I will. Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you.
MR. EDEN: In conclusion, I hope I’ve been able to illuminate a couple of points that maybe hadn’t been made as clear to you as possible.
I do believe that there are large numbers of vision impaired people who are not part of the politically sensitive community who really don’t care how the delivery happens. They certainly will care once they’ve had a taste of it. And it’s almost going to the old story that perhaps we’ll discover there’s an audience out there that here to for, we’ve never anticipated.
And my thoughts are, it’s like the old tune, you know, how can you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris. If we give them a chance to experience Paris, I think we’ll all be delighted.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you. Mr. Macdonald.
MR. MACDONALD: Okay. Thank you very much. My name is Charlie Macdonald. I’m from Halifax, Nova Scotia. And, I’m very pleased to come here and speak in support of the application.
I saw my first descriptive video, it was in the mid nineties when I was down at getting a Seeing Eye dog. And I was just blown out of the water. Wow.
I saw a movie that me and my wife saw, together, in the late eighties. And you know, I never did find out how that movie ended. It was so scary she had to leave.
MR. MACDONALD: I think it was called Dressed to Kill and I was just blown away by that. And I thought, ‘wow. This is something.’
And I came back to Halifax and started talking about this descriptive video. It’s amazing.
I’ve worked in the disability movement in Nova Scotia for most of my adult life. I started off as an engineer, but because of my vision loss got involved in the community.
My main career had been as Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission, but I tend to be very involved in my community and the not-for-profit sector.
I’m chair of the Tetra Society of Halifax. I’m involved with the Independent Living Resource Centre. I’m involved with Team Work Co-operative and I’m very pleased to say that, after hearing this presentation today that blew me out of the water on accessible TV, that I’m going to be joining the board of the National Broadcast Reading Service.
And I thought the presentation today – I just can’t contain my excitement over accessible TV, to tell you the truth. It was just wonderful.
I thought I’d address my comments to three points.
One, around why accessible TV, I guess, from a personal perspective. Is this the solution? And is the charitable model the way to deliver it? And I guess I’ll try to focus on those three points.
Why accessible TV? And under that category I’d want to talk, I guess, in terms of being included in my family to start with. Being and included in my community to broaden it a bit, my local community. But also being included as a Canadian.
And I was really pleased to hear the question about Canadian content.
First of all, being included in your family. That’s very important to me. We do a lot of things as a family. I have a fifteen year old daughter and a fourteen year old son. We enjoy doing things together. We enjoy watching TV together.
And I think it’s important to note they’re all sighted and not one of them is comfortable at describing what’s going on in the screen as we’re watching the TV to me.
Whether I’m watching alone with my wife, I mean it was fine, the first few dates. This is great, she can whisper in my ear. This is what’s going on.
MR. MACDONALD: But soon that tires. My fifteen year old daughter, God bless her, I lover her to death, but, ‘Dad, leave me alone.’
And you know, growing up – as my children grew up, many instances when I would have a child on my knee, be watching TV with them together, and want to participate a little bit more, providing a little bit of context to what’s going on in the program and being unable to do it because the child cannot explain it to me and, therefore, I cannot explain it to the child.
I was really pleased to hear about, hey, accessible ads. This would be wonderful. Not that I’m particularly fond of ads, but sometimes many ads today are very non-descriptive.
I was sitting with my son. He was about ten years old at the time. We were watching TV. And a commercial came on. It was someone singing and dancing. Singing wonderful song and it ended.
I said, ‘Patrick, what were they advertising?’
He said, ‘I don’t know dad. It’s Vi-ag-ra.’
MR. MACDONALD: And I lost that learning moment. It took me by surprise. It’s like, ‘oh my God.’
And he says, ‘what’s that, dad?’
MR. MACDONALD: And because it took me by such surprise, it was like I blew it, right. This was my chance to have that father and son conversation.
MR. MACDONALD: But that’s, I mean, not to bring too much humor to it, but that’s the kind of situations you run into of feeling excluded as a family member participating in family activities.
So that’s why, number one.
Why, number two, being a member of our community. Being included. And I would ask you to think back at times when you felt excluded, perhaps, of not being involved and engaged and informed. And how that made you felt.
It might have been once instance. But think of it in terms of daily. Think of it in terms of, and Geoff brings the water fountain analogy. But losing that very important context on very important material that engages you in your community, and how important that it. So, I think that’s one critical aspect that we don’t want to lose sight of.
The third piece of being an engaged and included Canadian. Canadian and access to Canadian heritage – I’m a really history television buff. I love to watch the documentaries in Canada’s role in war, Canada’s role in peace, Canada’s history in the world. I want full access to that.
I’m a blind Canadian, but I’m a subscriber to cable TV. I pay taxes federally, provincially, municipally. I’m an engaged member of my community. I want to know fully about Canada.
And there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a documentary on Canada. For example, Canada’s war in one of the Great Wars and the camera will break off to a person, maybe, explaining the situation from the German point of view, for example. And then it’s captions, right. So, you lose ten minutes of it.
It’s like, ‘well, what did he say?’
And that does occur, as well, when French is used. Get know, and I’m ashamed to say that I’m not well versed in the French language. But, without description, I lose total focus of what’s happening in the program.
So, those are just three quick examples of why accessible television is important, important to me, and I believe it’s important to the blind community and the vision impaired community.
I got a rude awakening coming up on the plane today. And it’s not specific to this, but it’s like Geoff and Gord were speaking of Universal Design. Flying in one of the new Air Canada Embraer planes and the steward comes and says, ‘would you like an ear phone, listen to some music, watch some TV?’
‘Oh, thank you. I’d love that.’
‘Well, here’s your earphone. Oh, by the way, it’s a touch screen. So, when I’m finished with the coffee, if there’s something you’d like to see, I’ll come back and push the button for you.’
And I mean that, in this day and age with the technology we have, is just not acceptable.
My second point is around is this the way to deliver the service? I mean will this be the ultimate answer? And, my answer, and I think the answer of most persons, would be no. Not until the day –
And I love the whether channel. When I first heard of the whether channel, I said, ‘that’ll never go.’
What does my mother watch twenty-four seven? The weather channel. But do you know how inaccessible it is to blind Canadians? When that channel is accessible, I’ll say we’re there. And I’m very much a supporter of the weather channel, by the way.
The SAP system is very inaccessible. I’m an engineer by training. I’m very tech savvy. I have yet to indecently access described video in my home.
We have two rules in my home. They’re unwritten rules and they’re rules on me. If I see a paper, a newspaper, a magazine, or a piece of paper on the floor I don’t throw it out. And when I’m in the TV room, all I do is turn the TV on and off and switch channels. I’m not allowed to touch anything else, just like Geoff. It’s a very complicated system for individuals and it just doesn’t work. And I can’t reiterate that enough.
People I know in Nova Scotia are very, very, frustrated with the level of access. A show will be advertised as being – and even if you get the SAP system, it’s not there. And if I touch the TV, all we get is ghosts and it just doesn’t work.
I sometimes think we live in the best of times, but we live in the worst of times, to quote a famous opening of a famous book. We have all this technology. We have screen reading devices. We have scanning equipment. I can put a machine on my back, a hand held machine using satellite imagery, satellite systems and get a descriptive walk through the city of Halifax, what corner I’m at, what store I’m beside.
We have all this wonderful technology that is just out of the reach of individuals who are blind. It’s too expensive. They can’t learn how to use it. It’s just not applicable in their life. But there it is, and I would submit that that’s the case with descriptive video. It’s just out of reach.
This is a pragmatic, reasonable approach to get this in the homes of persons who are blind and visually impaired, and I fully support it.
The charitable organization point. You know, on the continuum of not-for-profit organizations, there’s a broad range of philosophies and values of organizations.
I was very pleased to see the presentation of the National Broadcasting Reading Service. I didn’t see a hint of paternalism in this presentation. I didn’t see a hint of the charitable approach.
I’m involved in many, many organizations and the values and the principles that an organization follow, can be seen in the activities of the individuals that represent that organization.
This is a business model. It’s cross-subsidization. It’s user-pay. It treats people as adults who can make decisions, who can watch what they want to and I can’t reiterate that enough.
I chair an organization called the Tetris Society of Metro Halifax. Someone may call that a charitable organization. What it is, is professional engineers who bring skills to a community, who because there are no accessible thermostats, no accessible toys for children, no accessible medicine pumps for individuals with quadriplegia that put volunteer hours into designing that equipment to support those individuals. That’s not a charitable model. That’s a community development model. That’s a model that brings the capacities of communities together to solve solutions.
Is it universal design? No. It’s a pragmatic and effective way to address individuals’ needs. And I see this as well. this is bringing capacity of an organization that has the where withal, the knowledge, the values, and the willingness to take this bold move. And I think now is the time. So, thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Commissioner Del Val.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you very much, gentlemen. I admire your accomplishments, your sense of community and your sprit of volunteerism. I had some questions on Universal Design, which you have all addressed very well. That arisen out of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.
So, I only have one question remaining, and that’s from, I believe it’s yours, Mr. Eden’s written intervention where you were saying, ‘personally, I had to hunt for and purchase an obsolete VCR that has talking menus in order to be able to select a SAP signal.’
And then you said later that then you received a SAP receiver from NBRS, ‘which gives me instant one button access.’
So, did there used to be SAP equipment out there, which was made the programming more accessible? That’s the question. And, right now, is NBRS giving out these SAP receivers that makes it a little bit better? Or it’s still not workable?
MR. EDEN: Well, I think we had high hopes. I better use the microphone. Excuse me.
I think there were high hopes that SAP might be a solution to a problem of chasing the National Broadcasting Reading Service voice print all over the dial. Different areas have voice print on different dials.
So the history is that SAP was the fall back position and then it was necessary to find a way to help vision impaired and blind people try SAP.
I found this VCR. I had to spend an awful lot more money than I needed to to find it. It had already gone off he market.
So there was a time when there was a talking VCR made by Zenith. Blind people will still fight over them if they can find them because it does mean you can use it for other SAP uses.
And there was an attempt to make a one button SAP receiver. A few of them were made. The problem is, again, if you don’t know where to find it, you don’t know what it is, and you don’t know what it’ll do for you, you can’t be bothered with it. There was no way to send that message to people, we have a SAP receiver, because you needed a SAP receiver to hear that you could get a SAP receiver. That was the dog-on problem.
MR. EDEN: So, we’re just completely defeated by the process. And you know, even today, just to round that out for you, the CNIB is not sure how to communicate with its vision impaired clients. Do you send it in print? Do you send it in large print? That doesn’t work for some. Send it in brail? Yeah, there’s a few brail readers. Do you send it, maybe, as an audio disc? And they’re going to try experimenting with that. But there are even people who don’t have CD players.
So, how in the world do you communicate with those who’ve not got a remaining easily used modality of communication? Does that help?
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Yes. Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Dr. Hope, Mr. Eden and Mr. Macdonald, thank you very much for your contribution here this afternoon and to these proceedings. We have no further questions for you.
And for the benefit of all intervenors, we will be taking a break now for ten minutes. But we will be completing Phase II of these proceedings this evening.
So, we will now take a break and we will resume at seven thirty-five. Thank you.
— Upon recessing at 1923/Suspension à 1923
— Upon resuming at 1933/Reprise à 1933
THE CHAIRPERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, order, please.
Before we hear the next intervenor, I would just like to put on the record that in a previous exchange, the whole sale fee for NBRS was quoted at forty per cent. And it is, in fact, twenty per cent, as it is in their application – what did I say? Huh. It’s late.
THE CHAIRPERSON: In an exchange, in a previous exchange, the quoted whole sale fee for NBRS was forty cents per subscriber. It is, in fact, twenty cents. Madame Secretary.
THE SECRETARY: And now we will be hearing Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. Please present yourself for the record. And you have ten minutes for your presentation. Thank you.
MR. RAE: Thank you, Madame Chair and members of the CRTC.
My name is John Rae. I’m National President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. That is a volunteer position, one of the several that I hold now that I have the good fortune to have retired from a thirty year career with the Ontario government.
During my life, I have been blind for most of my fifty-eight years and have been a long time human rights and disability rights advocate.
I provide those pieces of biographical information only because I intend to connect them during this presentation.
Madame Chair, members of the commission, I come here today to make three or four fundamental points. However, as the day has gone on, so has my list of points.
I’m like most people. I want my carrot cake and the opportunity to eat it, too.
In fact, I hope there will still be some left in my kitchen when I get home later tonight.
What I mean is I want more BBS, as much as anyone else does. I love it, want more of it, believe in it.
Today’s debate is not about more BBS. I want to be clear on that point. It is not about that.
It is about how it should be delivered, by who, and by what we believe is the appropriate of the regulator, namely the CRTC. That’s what today’s debate is about.
You’re being presented, Madame Chair, with two fundamentally different views of the world. One that believes in special. And one that does not.
Now, I’m a bit of a history nut. Of my reading of history, I’ve read a lot about this notion of special but equal. And what my reading of history tells me is that in most cases, if not all cases, special, yes. Equal not very often, maybe never.
Let’s give you a prime example that goes on in this city and across Canada and across North America. I refer to parallel transit.
If you or I, after this evening’s proceedings conclude, want to go out for dinner, we can hop on a bus and go.
If we subsequently decide later on we want to go and see a movie if we can still make the nine o’clock or nine thirty showing, we can do that.
If we want to go out and have coffee with our friend afterwards, we can do that.
If I were a wheelchair user, I might have to book my ride at least two days in advance.
And so, the notion of so-called parallel, that word to me strikes me as being equal or equivalent. It sure isn’t equal. And just ask any wheelchair user who has to book their ride two days in advance and hope it shows up. They’ll tell you the same. It’s not equal. It just is not.
Now, in a practical sense, in any community there is a finite range of expertise, energy and resources, even if this issue is given twenty cents more per month per cable subscriber. And choices get made.
And let’s face it. It’s hard for anyone to argue that when you spend ten thousand dollars towards a specialty service, that’s ten thousand dollars that isn’t available to help the regular broadcasting system do what it should do and that is increase the range of described programming it offers to us.
This is a fundamental choice, Madame Chair. And, you can’t have it both ways. It doesn’t work. Doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry. It doesn’t work.
And it’s – we are not being suggested for a year or two. Once a structure, an infrastructure of this magnitude gets put into place, it will be this difficult to dismantle it.
And yes, I do believe that the presence of such a delivery mechanism will be used by the regular system to further drag its feet.
And we have heard, already today, several instances whereby regular broadcasters, who were mandated by you, the regulators of the television industry in this country, are not following through on the commitments they made to you in hearings before you. Shame. Shame.
So we call upon you to enforce the agreements that you have made with the broadcasting sector.
To go beyond that, perhaps, our community did not call upon you as strongly as the deaf community did. Because the deaf community, of course, did get their captioning without a special system. And, if you were to ever suggest to the deaf community that they should have started out with a separate system, I know the reaction you would have gotten. You may not, but I sure do.
Right now the deaf community in Ontario has a human rights complaint against the movie industry in an effort to make all movies theatres provided with rear captioning. I don’t know what the outcome of that case will be. We’ll see.
Perhaps we should have asked more and expected more of you. Perhaps we should have. I guess we should have.
In terms of the water cooler idea. Yeah. That’s important. I agree with that. It’s one of the points that have been made to you today in support of the application that, I think, is equally usable by those who are here in opposition.
The water cooler argument only works if the applicant can guarantee that Little Mosque on the Prairie will be aired in a described version on the specialty channel the same night that it is aired on CBC. Otherwise, the discussion at the water cooler tomorrow morning will not be – will not include me. It won’t help. I may hear about it two or three – I may see it two or three days later, but the discussion at the water cooler is going to take place tomorrow morning, not two or three days down the road.
So, without that guarantee, that doesn’t help. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t help.
And so, it’s not good enough just to come before you and suggest that you not do this. That’s not good enough. I know that. There are better ways to deal with this.
What should have happened is this –is the energy and expertise that has gone into this application on both sides, should have come together and worked hard to help make the existing system accessible and usable by us.
Surely in 2006, no one is going to suggest to me that it isn’t technically possible to manufacture a television remote that we can’t use. Come on. No one is going to tell me that. Come on. I reject it out of hand.
The fact that it may not be readily available, which I acknowledge, is another example of how it has been very easy for the regular system and the regular community to ignore our needs. Sometimes because they don’t know, sometimes because they don’t see us as a serious market, and sometimes for far more pejorative reasons than those.
But, I’m not interested in talking about motives. I’m interested in talking about results. And as a said earlier, the amount of money that’s being proposed for this service, twenty cents per subscriber per month – and I ask you, how many television shows would that make it possible to audio describe?
And Madame Chair, we’re not talking about twenty cents per subscriber this year, just this year. When you – if you establish this group, we’re talking about twenty cents in the second or third year and eventually, inevitably, it will become thirty cents or forty cents.
This is money that should be better spent by – if it’s going to cost twenty cents per subscriber to help make the regular system fully accessible to us, that’s fine to me. But use those resources, use that energy, use that expertise in the direction of Universal Design, of making our lives integrative, rather than special.
Writing for the Supreme Court, just on Friday, Madam Justice Rosalie Abella writing in the case of Counsel of Canadians with Disabilities versus Via Rail, indicated that the principles of human rights must be taken account of in decision by the CTA.
Well, if it must be taken account of by the CTA, clearly, it must be taken account by other regulatory bodies including the CRTC.
And so, in my view, human rights require integration, require helping our community to get what we all want in an integrative setting.
Now, let me finish, I think, with a short story because some of you, as commissioners, may be dying to ask me a question something like this:
‘Well, John, if it’s going to take – I hear what you say, that it’s gonna take a few extra years for this to be done the way you want it done. Are you prepared to wait a little longer?’
That’s not an easy – that’s mot a pleasant question. And if you were to ask it of me, Madame Chair, I would have to tell you that’s not the first time. I’ve been there before. I’ve had that similar predicament back in 1979 when we were fighting in Ontario for the first Human Rights Protection for Persons with Disabilities in our province.
And we as a coalition had to deal with that very same question.
THE SECRETARY: I’m sorry. Can you conclude, please.
MR. RAE: I’m about to.
THE SECRETARY: Your time has expired. Thank you.
MR. RAE: And we came to the conclusion after deliberations, if it’s going to take a few more years to do it properly, to do it right, to do it in an integrative way, we would prefer not to have to wait, but if that’s what it’s going to take, that’s how it has to be and we made the decision to do it that way. And the result was a much better human rights code a couple of years later.
And so, we urge rejection of this application and a willingness on the part of the CRTC to work with our community to help make the television viewing experience accessible as it should be, as we deserve it to be, as human rights demand it ought to be.
Thank you, Madame Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Rae, thank you very much. It’s obvious that both your written submission and your oral presentation here today are quite complete and informative and we have no questions for you.
MR. RAE: No, they are complete.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
MR. RAE: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Madame Secretary.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you. Now I would ask Penny Leclair to maker her presentation. You have ten minutes. Thank you.
MS LECLAIR: Hello. I’m on, am I?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, we can hear you.
MS LECLAIR: Now that I’m here, I hope I can speak.
I’d like to thank the panel and the commission in total for the opportunity.
I’m here because the commission took responsibility to pay for my access. I go to school. And I go to school because the college takes responsibility and provides the access.
And I am making this personal intervention because I believe that every broadcaster has the responsibility to do more so that every single citizen that sits in front of the TV and tunes into their program can see it, can hear it, or have some kind of a way to understand it.
And that responsibility lies with the people who produce it. Not with my pocket book to increase it for a special channel. I want to be proud of Canada, where businesses work together and care.
But you know what? They don’t care. Everything that we achieve as blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind people have always come from increased regulation. It’s not a very nice fact and it doesn’t feel very nice to be on the receiving end. When every gain has to come from government to tell people, ‘you must allow a guide dog in a taxi.’
You must do this, you must do that. But without regulations, we get nowhere because people in this country and in Canada are too busy making the buck. And that’s our reality and I’m asking this commission to please understand that if you decide to increase a number – another channel and charge everybody for it, you’re going to be sending out a message that other people don’t have to really spend an awful lot of time and effort to make things accessible. That is the message you will send out, even if you don’t intend to. What other message do you think people would think?
And then if other channels can get some of their DVS through the NBRS, well that’s a sweet deal. That’s nice. But that’s not the way it should happen. And certainly not by increasing the cost to each subscriber.
I’m here not because I belong to one organization or another. I’m here because many millions of blind people don’t belong to organizations. We don’t have to be. We’re tax payers. And we like to be treated equally by every business.
When I want to go and have something to eat, am I expected to go to a special service to provide a menu in brail? No. No, sir.
I will advocate, and I have advocated. I was part of the person who got Red Lobster right here in Vancouver, in Ottawa, to give us some kind of access. And now, they have a brail menu and they did it. And hooray for them and more businesses would get that message if we decided to do it right.
Deaf people worked hard and they achieved slowly. They didn’t wait for twelve years. They got a little bit and a little bit and a little bit more and they got it from the people who were producing it. They didn’t ask for any special consideration.
I’m very proud of the fact that they did it right and that’s why I’m here because I want to be proud of the fact that I did something today. That I spent my time, my effort, my energy and whatever mental capacity that I have to do something so we can do it right and continue to do it right.
You know, the Federal Government has just given businesses the opportunity to right crossed over two years. If we take that opportunity before another government takes it away, we can regulate that more people do something for DVS. And spend some money and get it written off over two years. So we’ve gotten federal incentive without even really having specifically to do with us. But it can be applied.
We’ve got all the ingredients for everybody to have more. So do it right. Do it right and do it so that everybody has that responsibility.
And in conclusion, I just want to say that it’s never easy going against big organizations who claim to speak for blind people. CNIB, CCB and they’ve got their thousands of members. It’s never easy because you’re not expected to do that kind of thing.
But I think that in today, more people are speaking out. But unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t get what can be done.
But the system, when it doesn’t pass through the signals so that the SAP can be picked up, when the system makes that difficult to access, the system’s broken.
Let’s define the problem, not fix it with some band-aid solution. That’s hardly fair to society and it’s hardly fair to say that’s the way the commission would choose to fix it. Let’s fix the problem. Let’s talk about what we can do about it. Surely to God, there’s got to be a way. But to give an organization a special license and call it a fix is short changing people who have vision loss.
And to say that one channel can provide twenty-four hours and twenty-four hours I can go and watch an accessible program. Well, do you know what? It’s probably not going to be doing anything in my interest at the time I want to watch it. So what the heck good is it going to be?
Twenty-four hours of what? And in the best, it’s in the interests – gonna provide programming that’s of interest to the blind community. What’s that mean?
I got news for you. The blind community exists. And it is representative of all kinds of people. People lose their vision. You don’t have to have a set of different interests to lose your vision. Anybody can lose their vision. Anybody can have an interest that should be accessible on a channel that’s producing it, not by an accessible channel that isn’t really accessible to everybody. It’s just going to be accessible to the blind.
And to even suggest that they can do programming that’s of special interest to blind people is very disturbing to me because it leaves a very awful impression that such a thing could be done. It can’t be done. It will provide some programming for some people. And you can ask another set of blind people and we’ll get a different set of interests because we represent the population.
So blindness isn’t something you catch because you have an interest set. It can happen to anyone. It’s unfortunate, but it’s real. And that’s why every single broadcaster has to have the responsibility to do something about it. And it has to be regulated.
So please, use your authority because you are the only ones who can make it happen. Right now, three or four per cent, when it’s on a system that’s broken, no wonder we’re down to so little. And money’s being wasted to produce it and it’s not being passed off, and that’s pretty sickening, too.
So I’d like to thank you listening to me. I’d like to thank you for all the work you’ve done today in listening to all this because you’ve become educated into something you didn’t know before.
But I hope to God that every single person looks beyond the band-aid solution to a solution that will take us long – in the long term longer. But it’s a solution Canada can be proud of. Every person, not just blind people, every person. That we stood up and we had more people doing more and we worked together as a society.
So it’s your opportunity to send a message and I’m looking forward to the message and I hope it’s the right one. Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Ms Leclair for your contribution and your participation in these hearings this evening. Your position is quite clear in both your oral submission and your written intervention. And we have no further questions for you. Thank you very, very much. Madame Secretary.
THE SECRETARY: I would now ask Rogers to come forward.
THE SECRETARY: Please introduce yourself and you have ten minutes for your presentation. Thank you.
MR. LIND: Thank you. Good evening. My name is Phil Lind and I am vice chairman of Rogers Communications Inc.
And with me today are Ken Engelhart, vice president of Regulatory Affairs. Pam Dunsmore, vice president Regulatory Broad Band and Video, on my right.
I’m also joined by Michael Allen from our Programming Department, Rogers Cable.
And on my left, Suzanne Blackwell, president of Giganomics and Lorie Assheton-Smith of Lorie D. Assheton-Smith Professional Corporation.
Madame Chair, like a number of other intervenors, we are perplexed and troubled by this proceeding.
At a time when Canadians are turning to unregulated platforms, it is hard to believe that we are talking about introducing new restrictions on consumer choice.
It is also hard to believe that we’re talking about using section 9(1)(h) to protect popular services that have had twenty years to build a national audience.
It’s equally baffling that we’re talking about using section 9(1)(h) to bolster the business case of applicants for digital service with no broad consumer appeal.
And finally, it is surprising to us that we are still talking about asymmetrical policies and regulations that limit the ability of cable distributors to compete fairly.
With all due respect, we think it is time for a reality check.
Let me start with the issue of regulatory symmetry. We understand that the commission is not revisiting the digital migration framework policy here. However, in order to understand the Rogers position on these applications, we must explain the significant and possible unintended implications of this policy.
As a result of the mirroring applications set out in the migration framework, cable operators will have much less packaging flexibility than their competitors for years to come.
Cable subscribers will have to pay for a big basic service that includes the existing dual status services. Satellite and Telco providers, on the other hand, will be free to offer their subscribers a much smaller basic package. This, frankly, is unacceptable in a competitive market.
We agree with the commission that the dual status designations have served their purpose and are no longer appropriate or necessary. But this cannot be the case only for satellite and Telco BDUs. It has to be the case for all of us.
So let me turn now to the issue of digital basic coverage and the use of section 9(1)(h).
This proceeding is based on the premise the basic service should reflect a broad and comprehensive range of policy objectives. However, the Broadcasting Act makes no reference to the concept of basic service, either analog or digital.
As a result, we believe that the premise underlying this proceeding is flawed. A satellite basic service has satisfied the objectives of the Act over the past ten years. Why would a similar basic service on cable not do the same?
Given this flawed premise, you will not be surprised to hear that we also think that the 9(1)(h) criteria are difficult, in fact, problematic.
In fact, we think that most of the criteria are so subjective as to be almost meaningless. The only relevant criteria for 9(1)(h) status, in our view, is that of exceptional importance. By definition, services will rarely meet this threshold.
Would the objectives of the Act be at risk in the absence of a mandatory basic coverage for any of the applicants in this proceeding? We don’t think so.
The dual status services certainly do not need 9(1)(h) status. They’ve had the benefit of universal carriage on analog for twenty years. That’s a long time by any measure. They have strong, well known brands and loyal audiences. And they have two streams of revenue, stable revenue. These services are the regulatory jackpot winners. They need no further protection.
In a competitive video market, distributors must respond to consumers’ demand. That’s what the market place is all about. If the majority of viewers want the weather network or News World, CBC News world on basic, distributors will find a way to meet that demand.
So you might ask, if cable companies are going to carry these services on basic anyway, why the opposition to mandatory 9(1)(h) carriage?
Well, Mr. Chairman – Madame Chairman, this kind of thinking is out of step with the direction most regulatory authorities are taking. The default should always be to rely on market forces.
As for the other applicants, we do not think it is appropriate to ask Canadians to pay millions of dollars to subsidize these services. We say this for two reasons.
First, they have narrow target audiences.
Second, they’re programming is not unique. Much of it is already available somewhere else in the system.
Not surprisingly, a recent survey by strategic counsel commission by us confirmed that a substantial majority of Canadians have posed a mandatory inclusion of these services on basic. And (indiscernible) services, they have posed mandatory.
And this leads me to my last point. Customers want and expect more control over their TV programming. You have heard this over and over again. We hear this daily from our customers. They are growing weary of regulations that require them to take and pay for services they do not want.
Indeed, eight of ten respondents to the Strategic Counsel Survey said that basic cable subscription should only include only a very limited group of channels with broad appeal. Other channels should be available to customers who want them and are prepared to pay for them.
Granting 9(1)(h) status to any of these applicants, we’d send a sobering message to Canadian TV viewers. It would tell them that despite the flexibility of digital technology, they will still be force fed services they do not want because it is good for them.
In short, it would tell them that digital is just like analog, at least if they are a cable subscriber.
Customers don’t want more rules. Consumers don’t want more rules. They want more choice. Satellite and digital consumers with mandatory service on digital basic does not provide that choice.
We urge the commission to step back and consider the larger picture. The real threat to the system is not the failure to mandate digital basic carriage for everyone. It’s the failure to recognize and respond to the changing tastes and expectations of Canadian consumers.
It makes no sense to use last century’s regulatory tools to address this century’s policy challenges.
Thank you, Madame Chair, and we would be pleased to answer, or attempt to answer, any questions that you may have.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Commissioner Cram.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: Do I understand it – panel, thank you for coming, by the way. Do I understand it that Rogers does pass through the SAP on described video?
MS DUNSMORE: Yes, we do pass through the SAP on analog for conventional television stations. So are we talking analog or digital, or both?
COMMISIONER CRAM: Okay. And, digital you do not?
MS DUNSMORE: Digital we do. Digital we do it for all of our – all the services that currently have DVS. So, in the vast majority of our systems, we are passing through the SAP.
We’ve filed that report with the CRTC on February, 19 and it’s all there in gory detail. But we are doing a very good job on passing the SAP through – the DVS through.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: So, if we did a 9(1)(h) order in relation to the accessibility channel and it would only apply to BDUs, which did not pass through the SAP on digital, which did not have a single button on their remote for SAP, and which did not have ninety per cent accuracy as to the provisioning of described video in their guides, you wouldn’t have a problem? You want them again?
MS DUNSMORE: If you could give them to me one more time. Yup.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: It would be 9(1)(h) would apply to all BDUs that did not pass through their SAP on digital, that did not have a single button on their remote for SAP, and that did not have ninety per cent accuracy as to the provisioning of described video in their guides, because a lot of people are saying, they said it was going to be described and it wasn’t.
MS DUNSMORE: I’ll just pass over to Michael for a moment.
MR. ALLEN: I’m sort of here to speak to business points.
As Pam mentioned, we do pass through the SAP. Beyond that, we have a very high penetration of digital households, and now exceeding fifty per cent and continuing to grow at a significant rate, albeit slowing somewhat.
With respect to the button on the remote, you heard described this morning to you, a button on a remote, on a VCR, that basically operated the SAP on an analog system. The SAP process on the digital boxes is slightly different in that you can select from more than one language. So you can’t just simply push SAP. You press SAP and select the language. And this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
There are two principle manufactures of set top boxes: Scientific Atlanta and Motorola. The majorities of ours our Scientific Atlanta and we use, pardon me, we use Motorola in Atlantic Canada.
We do not control what these manufacturers manufacture. They are large American manufacturers and the U.S. cable industry, which is larger than the Canadian one, tends to have more interaction with them to set standards, although we clearly attempt to, because we have special needs in this market.
There are, however, a number of manufacturers of remotes. In other words, we can attain remotes from sources other than those two manufacturers that will operate. We are, for example, at the moment looking into big button remotes and other features on the remotes that will assist users.
I can’t answer you, sitting here, as to whether or not there is remote out there that will function on a one button SAP. I suspect not because there are multiple languages. But, we will be shortly visiting with the equipment manufacturers and we’ll inquire as to whether or not it’s possible to get a single SAP button, single button SAP.
With respect to the accuracy of DVS and the guide, again, we do not manufacture the guides. We do source the content for the guides from a Canadian supplier, but the guide is restricted by the number of fields available for data to be input in it.
I can’t give you an answer right now, sitting here. But, we can undertake to get that for you as to whether there is room in the guide to put in the amount of accuracy with respect to DVS you’re looking for.
But understand that the guide, also, is not something that’s under our control. It comes from a third party.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: So, you wouldn’t have a problem with a 9(1)(h) that would only be applicable to BDUs, which do not pass through the SAP on described video.
MR. ALLEN: I’ll let Pam answer that.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: In digital, by the way.
MS DUNSMORE: I don’t think that would be a problem for us.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: Thank you. Madame Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Del Val.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. I’ve read your intervention. I want to know why you think, specifically, NBRS would not meet the 9(1)(h) test. And I don’t need to hear you on the issue of revenues at the whole sale rate and that. It’s just why don’t they meet the exceptional importance test and the financial criteria, specifically?
MR. ENGELHART: I guess the way that we look at 9(1)(h), it’s a service that the broadcasting system, the broadcasting distribution system, really relies on. That’s what we think the purpose of 9(1)(h) should be.
So, we don’t think the NBRS service would qualify using that criteria. Obviously, the, you know, one has a lot of sympathy for their request, and one would like to see a way that it would be carried, certainly. But, I don’t think you could say that the broadcasting system requires the NBRS service to be mandatory.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Not even in light of section 31P of the objectives for – regarding – for disabled?
MR. ENGELHART: You know, in the time when the Act was written, there was kind of capacity constraints. There was a limited number of analog channels and the Act reflected the fact that in an environment of limited spectrum, the regulator has to make sure that some things that the market might not require get on.
Now we have hundreds and hundreds of channels. There’s room for a lot of discretionary services. So, you know, the section you quoted provides – requires that we provide programming for the disabled as resources become available. We’ve got lots of room for all the niche services, and they should be carried.
The question is whether they should be subsidized by other subscribers. That’s really what 9(1)(h) is all about. And, can you really say that the system requires it? I’m not sure you can.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Okay. So you think that they should be carried, but not as a 9(1)(h), so they should negotiate their own fee? Their own wholesale fee?
MR. ENGELHART: Yes. I think that would be the place to start. If problems develop, the commission might have to step in, but I would think that’s the place to start.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Okay. And then resort to 9(1)(h) to resolve that dispute? Is that the –
MR. ENGELHART: You know, there’s been, in the past anyway, people have used benefits, money, to help groups like that out. So there might be other ways of getting a subsidy to them, other than a subsidy from the general body of subscribers.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Just generally – I should describe to you this experience. I live in North Van in Shaw territory, so I’m not – so I don’t get video description.
So when I was preparing for this application I thought, I really need to know more about how to access it and all.
So first, then, I have to find, this was during our BC spring break, I had to find a friend who had Express View.
Then I had to find a friend who was in town that week so that I could go by, make an appointment to go watch the – watch TV.
So, I did go over, found a friend, had a two hour window. And then, we navigated. There were a number of channels that said it was a channel with DV following it. But – so we thought, okay, that’s described video. But no.
You have to find them within those channels, the program which has DV in front of it. That would be a program that’s described video.
So, I found one program. It was Prime Time on Sunday night, 6:45, 7:00, and it was an animation. That was one program. Do you think that’s good enough?
MR. ENGELHART: No, I think the service that they describe, you know, it sounds – it sounds pretty good in the sense that you’d be able to turn to one channel and there would be the – or the described video right there without hitting any extra buttons. It would be sort of open all the time and they would make sure that the attractive shows were on there.
So, it does sound like a good idea to me. Do I think that a very niche service like that to an obviously deserving group is a 9(1)(h) service? No, I don’t. But I do think it should be on the dial.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: If NBRS were given 9(1)(h) status and it was all, you know, all BDUs had to carry it, would you come to the commission to ask for lowering of expectations of your existing descriptive video obligations?
MR. ENGELHART: I mean, our attitude with these things is, we’re a cable company. We should pass through all the signals. The signals are there, and it’s our job to pass them through. That’s always been our philosophy, and we will pass through the entire signal and all its components and sub-components.
COMMISSIONE DEL VAL: So, to the Ms Penny Leclair’s and those others who fear the backlash that it would be used as an excuse to lower the existing expectations, what would you tell them?
MS DUNSMORE: We would tell them that at Rogers, we’re going to continue to serve our visually impaired customers as best we can.
I think that it’s fair to say that described video is a relatively new development. It’s technologically complicated and it’s taken some time to sort out exactly how it works with respect to SA boxes, Motorola boxes, whether or not you yourself are putting in the DVS, or whether it’s being handed to you by one of the SRDUs. All of these things have an impact on the accessibility of DVS to our customer base.
So, we are actively working through these issues because we have a vested interest in serving our customers as best we can.
So, I can’t imagine that at Rogers we would do anything less but continue down that path in order to serve our visually impaired customer base.
So, I don’t think that then argues to have necessarily the additional service on a 9(1)(h) basis, but certainly on an optional basis we’d support that.
MR. LIND: And, Commissioner, we have generally – over the years we have been ahead of the curve on this subject. And we have generally, over the years we have been ahead of the curve on this subject and we were using benefits money. Earlier we developed a lot of this NBRS service. So, it – I think, for two or three years we paid for it, one of our benefits. So, we’ve been with this service a long time.
MR. ALLEN: Specifically, what Phil is referring to, is we initially funded the Ontario Closed Captioning Consumer Association and assisted in developing out-caption decoder technology as part of public benefits.
And the very specific issue that Phil was describing with the NBRS, in the course of the acquisition we claim hunter. At that time, the NBRS was without funds. They had had a grant that expired, that was not being renewed. The entity was going to cease operations.
However, we committed to keep it funded for five years, which we did. And then, of course, in the in term they obtained the basic subscriber rate.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. Those are my questions. Thank you, Madame Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Vice Chairman Arpin.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Mr. Lind or Mr. Engelhart, I understand that you’re the BDU representative around the table this evening. But, you are an integrated company with components and broadcasting.
And we heard Mr. Rae today saying that the commission should take into consideration the Supreme Court decision that was issued last Thursday or Friday regarding Via Rail and he was arguing that it has a bearing on the decisions that the commission will have to make over the coming years. Do you have any comments to make on that?
MR. LIND: Well, I was very interested in the decision. It affected, I think, a hundred and forty rail cars were bought in Europe by Via, and they weren’t at all accessible or acceptable to handicapped people.
So, when you go out of your way to – when you buy something that you know is going to be a problem, then you should be – and I think the court’s right on this, I mean they say that, no, you can’t do that. You want to get services that everyone can use and access.
So, I think generally speaking, I think the court was right on this. I don’t specifically know that that has any implications for us. We haven’t – we don’t go out of our way to not make things available to other parties. But uh – yeah.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, Mr. Lind and your colleagues, thank you very much for your participation. We have no further questions for you. Madame Secretary.
MR. LIND: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I would now ask Shaw Communications to come to the table, please.
THE SECRETARY: Please introduce yourself, and you have ten minutes for your presentation. Thank you.
MR. STEIN: Good afternoon, Madame Chair and Commissioners.
My name is Ken Stein, Senior Vice President, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs of Shaw Communications Inc.
With me today is Michael Ferras, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for Shaw Communications Inc. as well.
Shaw is Canada’s largest video provider, serving over 3.1 million Canadian customers through our Shaw Cable and Star Choice services.
We operate cable systems throughout Western Canada and Ontario, serving our major urban centers and many smaller communities.
Star Choice offers its services right across Canada, with major operation centers in Calgary, Mississauga, and Montreal.
Shaw strongly opposes granting mandatory carriage to any existing or future digital service.
Digital delivery is all about increasing choice by creating more options and delivering more services for our customers. It is not about limiting choice or imposing mandatory packaging requirements.
The policies for digital television are designed to allow BDUs to maximize the investment in digital technology, and to respond to the unprecedented competitive challenges facing the broadcasting system.
The idea of granting mandatory digital basic distribution rights totally ignores the new digital and competitive reality. It imposes the limitations of the analog world on digital, and takes us exactly in the wrong direction. In fact, it undermines a whole rationale for digital in the first place.
What is needed now is not retro regulation, but a fundamental view of the BDU regulatory framework to ensure that the Canadian Broadcasting System is able to deliver the services and programs that Canadians demand.
To prepare for the new digital reality, Shaw has consistently advocated that deregulation and a free market focus are the route to follow for all of the services we offer. We have responded to the competitive environment with measures that are very much focused on our customers to meet their demands for improved quality and service.
And as an aside, given today’s announcement regarding forbearance in Fort McMurray, you would have to agree we have in large part succeeded.
Over the past five years, we have invested nearly four and a half billion dollars in our cable and satellite businesses to expand capacity, roll out digital technology, and to launch new services.
We have also made tremendous investments in customer service, hiring hundreds of new staff, expanding and building call centers, conducting extensive training, all to roll out new services and to support our seven, twenty-four, three hundred and sixty-five commitment to customer service. This is what we are obliged to do to remain competitive in face of unprecedented competitive challenges from both licensed and unlicensed providers of video and audio services. Mike.
MR. FERRAS: Digital technology is all about choice and innovation in content and in packaging, how the content is delivered. It is an opportunity to deliver even better service to our customers, while also providing us a tremendous tool to compete with new delivery services.
Forcing regulated BDUs to distribute additional services on digital basic will not help the broadcasting system, but exactly the opposite. It will harm it. It will not strengthen the system. It will weaken it.
We are not opposed to the CRTC licensing or authorizing any new digital service. What we’re opposed to, is any action that would require the mandatory carriage of such services, or that would limit the commission’s ability to conduct a full review of all aspects of the BDU regulations in the near future.
The existing distribution and packaging rules are a maze that consumers really do not accept or understand. Further restraints will only serve to drive consumers outside of the system.
The time for excessive regulatory protections and guarantees must end if the broadcasting system is to remain strong and competitive.
Shaw submits that all of the applications for mandatory distribution rights on a digital basic, should be denied based on the following.
First, granting 9(1)(h) mandatory carriage is inconstant with the CRTC’s own determination in the migration policy to cease the dual status designations. And it is also inconsistent with the benefits and stated CRTC policy goals for digital.
Second, the existing dual status services have benefited enormously from their analog basic carriage rights, and have significant competitive benefits over other digital services. The dual status services must accept the risks that are inherent in the digital environment.
Third, the existing dual status services will continue to benefit from the continued analog carriage by cable, and from the grandfathering and mirroring obligations established by the commission in the migration policy. It will ensure that the existing tiers will be duplicated on digital until at least the year 2010 and most likely to the year 2013.
In the end, the CRTC has given these services almost a decade to adjust their business plans.
Finally, none of the new applicants have provided evidence demonstrating their exceptional importance that would justify forcing Canadian BDUs to subsidize these services, pay more for digital basic, and accept more packaging limitations.
MR. STEN: In conclusion, Madame Chair, the Canadian Broadcasting System is facing enormous challenges from new technology and the demands of Canadians. At Shaw, we continue to roll our new service concepts everyday, whether by cable, satellite, or the internet.
To meet the challenges of a fiercely competitive and virtually borderless digital world, the last thing the system needs is new layers of regulation, or new limitations on the ability of distributors to respond to customer demands for greater choice.
What we need now, is less regulation and more flexibility. We need to build on the investments we have made in digital technology and offer the most innovative, affordable, and attractive digital services to our customers.
Over fourteen years ago in the structural proceeding, the CRTC saw a digital future that would require that Canadian Broadcasting System to offer greater choice and addressability to meet new competition and satisfy consumer demand. That future is here now.
Thank you for your time. We would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Vice Chairperson Arpin.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Thank you, Ms Chair.
Mr. Stein, you were in the room when Mrs. Del Val described her experience to get some DVS in North Vancouver, and she said she was a Shaw subscriber. She had to find somebody who had an Express View terminal to have an experience. Is Shaw offering DVS in Vancouver, North Vancouver?
MR. FERRAS: In all of our systems, we’re offering a mix of DVS on the analog service and on the digital service. And admittedly, it’s not where we would like it to be, and that is because of the historical legacy nature of our networks and of cable networks.
What I’m saying, is that the receivers that we have in Shaw’s head end for analog don’t accept the SAP stream, number one.
And number two, in order to ensure a very high quality delivery of the local broadcast signal, we have a hard wire feed from the broadcaster’s studio directly to our head end. All of that has to be undone. And what we’re doing, is as we build out and replace the analog equipment, we’re installing that new equipment.
And on the digital side, it’s a lot easier to do. It’s – DVS stream is actually multi-plexed right into the stream that’s coming from the programming service and we are shortly to implement, I think it’s in July of this year, a software fix that will be coming from TV Guide and Motorola that will allow the pass through on the digital side.
So, it’s not where it needs to be, but that’s the situation.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: And that applies to your system in North Vancouver?
MR. FERRAS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: And is it the same situation all across Alberta and BC, or is it limited to some areas?
MR. FERRAS: I think that’s an area that across all of our systems. And there’s some exceptions, like Edmonton, where every channel is being passed through right now.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: In your oral presentation, and it’s you, Mr. Ferras, that read the – on page four and five, that you were saying that we shall be denying these for the following reasons. If the service was to be free, will you have the same argument? Will you make the same argument?
MR. STEIN: If it was free?
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Yes. Obviously, all those that we’ve heard today are on the agenda of this public hearing. All have a subscriber fee. But if there were no subscriber fee, will your position be the same that there be no 9(1)(h)?
MR. STEIN: Yes. Our position would be that there be no 9(1)(h) because we don’t think that 9(1)(h) is appropriate in those kinds of circumstances.
If the service was free, there are still costs in distributing that service. And so, we would have to look at what the demand for that service would be. That kind of a service would be akin to a broadcast signal, for example, which are available free.
So, we have to – even with broadcast services, we have to be very conscious of the kind of capacity we have and the way in which we offer them. And we would not agree with 9(1)(h) being used for free services, or for broadcast services.
But, of course, you have in place your own rules in terms of priority carriage. We think that’s the proper way to deal with it.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Okay. Fine. Well, those were my questions.
THE CHAIPERSON: Commissioner Del Val.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. You were here when Rogers replied to my question of why, specifically, doesn’t NBRS meet the 9(1)(h) test.
Do you have, aside from what Rogers has said, do you have any more to add to it, or, to any of the arguments that were made by the intervenors on why, specifically, NBRS does not meet the 9(1)(h) test?
MR. STEIN: Yes. First I should say I’ve been listening all day. One of the wonders of the web. Although, I couldn’t see you.
We’re very sensitive to the whole NBRS question and, you know, Shaw was one of the original supporters of NBRS through benefits and other means. So – and Mr. Fowler, my predecessor, was, back when – he may still be on the board – Mr. Fowler and I got into a big debate about rates.
But I think that in terms of 9(1)(h), I would think that our preference would be to not to use 9(1)(h) in this circumstance. Our preference would be to work out solutions.
I understand the frustrations that blind people and other people with disabilities have with sometimes the slow pace it takes to meet their concerns and issues. I know that that personally.
My father was blind and I remember our great fun was listening, watching to ball games together. And I remember one of his great highlights of his life was that Phil Lind got us tickets to a Rogers Blue Jays game. And I appreciated for the first time that somebody could actually enjoy a baseball game without seeing it, just by being there.
So, I understand the atmospherics. I understand the points that they were making about being, you know, with family and being a Canadian and those kinds of things.
I think it would be much better to have a dialogue that doesn’t put us into a situation where we’re forced to do it, but more in a situation where we work together to come to common solutions.
My concern is, I don’t know whether their proposal is the right proposal or not. My view on this would be to work very closely with the representatives for blind people and try to deal with their issues and concerns on a cooperative basis. That would be the approach that we would prefer to take. And we’re quite willing to do that.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: If I keep this in perspective, really, in history, we’ve only created four 9(1)(h) services. Only four times has the CRTC made 9(1)(h) –
MR. STEIN: All mistakes.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Okay. I guess that might answer the – can you distinguish any of those four decisions say from NBRS situation, other than to say that, well, this too will be a mistake?
MR. STEIN: Well, I think so. I think that because, you know, I don’t want to get into the individual cases, TVA, CPAC. I’m the chairman of CPAC. It has 9(1)(h) status. We didn’t ask for it. I don’t think we need it, quite frankly, but Phil Lyn might disagree with me – sorry, I may have to retract that statement.
But I think that my preference, our preference, always is to ensure that we work out a situation and move it on forward on that basis. I think that’s the better way to deal with it.
So, we think that 9(1)(h) was put in place at a time – remember, 9(1)(h) was really discussed as a resulted reaction in the late eighties, early nineties to the fact that we had cable – you know, cable was a monopoly. And, so it really was the effective gateway control. But now, with Star Choice and Bell and telephone companies et cetera, you know, the number of alternatives are out there.
A lot of the discussion at that time was also based on ethnic services. And ethnic services have done, by the commissions own numbers, have done extremely well over the last, you know, four years.
So, we think it’s much better to work it out than to have mandatory orders.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: But now that we have a precedent set by the four cases, and the test of exceptional and the financial case, now that we have that precedent set by the four cases, can you distinguish the NBRS case from those four precedents set?
MR. STEIN: Yes. The four cases were in an analog world.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Pardon me?
MR. STEIN: They were in an analog world, and we’re now dealing with a digital world. And I think that the more that we have a situation in digital world where we actually remove the 9(1)(h)s and their protections and move to a more consumer friendly approach, and one that does take into account the needs of people as per the Broadcasting Act and as resources are available to meet those requirements, we much prefer that approach.
So, we don’t – we take the 9(1)(h) as precedence, yes, in an analog world, but we do not see that applying in a digital world.
COMMISIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. Then the last question, I think you’ve heard some intervenors fear the backlash of the commission or the community or the BDUs wanting to lower their obligations on providing described video as a result of licensing a channel, like the accessible channel.
Should it be licensed, would Shaw use that channel as an opportunity to ask for leniency in the application of the described video, you know, pass through obligation to Shaw?
MR. STEIN: No. Our preference is to work out a DVS solution. I think that’s the better route to go.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. Thank you. Those are my questions. Madame Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Cram.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: No, I’m not going to ask if we should impose a 9(1)(h) on you because you’re not carrying DVS.
I do want to know when, on your cable, DVS is going to be delivered? Well, Mr. Ferras was talking about the old technological issues. As we build out, we’re getting capacity to carry. So, when will all of Shaw Cable’s customers be able to get DVS?
MR. FERRAS: On the digital side, it’s a much rosier picture because it’s easier to do, as I was saying, because the DVS stream is imbedded right into the digital stream.
And, come this July – and this isn’t just for Shaw. This would be for any cable system that uses the Motorola platform. Motorola and TV Guide have to make this software fix. And that has been sometime coming, but it looks like it’s actually going to happen this summer.
So, that fix will be downloaded into all of the digital customer terminals. And that would mean that any programming service that we receive that has the DVS stream in it, will be there. And once the customer goes into the box once and sets it up for the descriptive video, it’s there for all time.
On the analog side, it’s a little bit more difficult to answer. The way we’ve been going at it is to – we favor the digital solution and I think we’ve been communicating that to the commission because we see it as the more practical, least expensive and faster way to get descriptive video out there.
On the analog side, we’ve been – as we’ve been rebuilding head ends and when equipment fails, we go in and we replace it so that it’s DVS ready, if you will.
That process is ongoing, and as we go through that, that’s how we’ll be addressing the analog descriptive video.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: What about Star Choice?
MR. STEIN: Thank you. See, one of the situations we dealt with was because we went with for security reasons to protect ourselves against the black market and we’re the only provider that uses the kind of boxes, the Motorola boxes, although, I understand, there is some legacy systems that have them.
But it’s a hard wired box and it means that the software development is primarily us. It’s just Shaw and Star Choice, and so it’s not always easy to get people to move for one client, but we’re a big client so we just push them hard.
And, you know, as we described in our meeting with Mr. Arpin, that we’ve explained to Motorola that the Commission is pushing hard on us, on this, and has set out certain obligations for us to meet.
And so, we finally, just last month, finally got a commitment from Motorola in writing that they will do this software fix and that we will get it rolled out. And we started, in fact, to implement certain preliminary steps to make sure that that starts to operate, both for Star Choice and in our digital systems at Shaw starting in the summer.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: You know, it just – the whole accuracy, or lack of accuracy, of the inability to ascertain if there is described video programming – what would be wrong if NBRS developed a half hour program everyday saying where the described video is, verbally? What would be wrong with you putting that on your TV guide channel say at, 7:30 in the morning when everybody’s planning their evenings or at 6:30 at night when everybody’s planning their evenings?
MR. STEIN: I’ll discuss it with Mr. Park. I think, you know, it’s a useful suggestion and I think, you know, there are – you know, I mean to be able to inform people of the kinds of alternatives they have out there for programming is a huge challenge. But, I think in this case we just try to determine how to do that.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: So, you wouldn’t have a problem, though, if NBRS even provided you with that?
MR. STEIN: Probably we would, yes.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: Oh, okay. You would do it yourselves?
MR. STEIN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER CRAM: Okay. Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Stein, Mr. Ferras, thank you very much. We don’t have any other questions for you this evening. Madame Secretary.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you. I would now ask Canadian Cable System Alliance to come to presentation table.
THE SECRETARY: Please present yourself and you have ten minutes for you presentation.
MR. EDWARDS: Good evening. I’m Chris – Madame Chairwoman, Commissioners, I’m Chris Edwards, Vice President of Canadian Cable Systems Alliance, Regulatory Capacity.
I have with me, Mr. Harris Boyd of Solaricom(ph), who is appearing in his capacity as a Regulatory Consultant to CCSA. The name of his new company is a testament to a man’s love for his car.
The CCSA comprises more than ninety independent cable operators that serve approximately 850,000 Canadian analog television subscribers, and over 150,000 digital subscribers.
Our submissions today relate to the applications of items 17 through 18 of MPHCRTC 2007-1.
Those items are applications by a number of programming services for mandatory distribution on the digital basic service.
CCSA opposes each of those applications. Our opposition rests on the ground that it is neither necessary, nor consistent with the objectives of the commission’s digital licensing and digital migration frameworks, to expand the mandatory offering on the digital basic service.
CCSAs written intervention set out our key reasons for holding this view. I’ll summarize those briefly.
First, it has not been demonstrated hat any of the applicant’s services are of such exceptional importance to the achievement of the objectives of the Act as to warrant mandatory distribution on the digital basic service.
Really, there’s nothing in the applications, in our view, that distinguishes any of these services from the many existing analog specialties or digital category one services.
Second, mandatory distribution of these services on digital basic is more likely to impair the transition to digital than it is to meet the stated objectives of the commission’s digital migration policy to encourage the transition to digital and, eventually, high definition distribution.
Third, those mature services do not require the protection of mandatory distribution.
And forth, mandatory distribution of these services on digital basic runs counter to the objectives set out in the commission’s 2001 licensing framework for the new digital services. That is because such distribution rights would give both the existing dual status services and new digital applicants a preferred position over licensed category one and two services.
In our written intervention, we submitted that the existing priority carriage and mandatory carriage services, all of which will retain their carriage status in their digital environment, substantially satisfy the cultural objectives set out in section three of the Broadcasting Act.
We concluded that it’s highly unlikely that any of the applicant’s programming services, none of which has previously merited a mandatory distribution order, can be of extraordinary important to the achievement of the Act’s objectives.
I’ll turn now to a consideration of Canada’s digital agenda and the place of these applications within that agenda.
Transition to digital technology has occupied a central position in Canada’s competitive strategy for many years. Digitization of our broadcasting system is a key part of that transition, a premise that is reflected in the object of section five of the Act.
Since the time of the 1993 Structural Public Hearing, the commission has recognized that addressable digital technology will provide greater choice and customization of services to Canadians who are changing from the captive subscriber to the discriminating consumer.
The 2001 digital licensing framework and the 2006 digital migration framework are the products of the commission’s continuing efforts to guide the digitization of the Canadian Broadcasting System.
However, here we are in 2007 with digital penetrations among the 1100 systems that CCSA serves, averaging less than 25% of the analog subscriber base.
A number of smallest systems have yet to offer digital television service to their customers. Why is that? Well, to begin with, transition to digital is an extremely expensive proposition for small, privately held, and finance cable company. Small systems who wish to convert, generally face a choice between a system rebuild and use of their existing capacity to offer as robust a digital line up as they can manage.
To achieve meaningful digital penetrations, those systems need to remove barriers to digital take-up and, they need to create incentives for customers to buy into the new digital technology.
With the advent of relatively low priced digital only set top boxes, subsidization of the consumer equipment cost, recently, has become a manageable risk for the small systems. Such subsidies, at least partially, eliminate the primary barrier to digital take-up, which is the cost of the box to consumer.
Even so, the cable company may not be able to absorb the full cost of the receivers or the cost of multiple receivers in their customers’ home.
The other side of the equation is the creation of incentives that will entice the customer to take the digital offer. In standard definition, picture and sound quality improvements have limited impact on consumers. HDTV and Video on Demand are attractive offerings, but they tend to address more of the desires of the higher end discretionary purchasers.
The problem remains, how do these systems attract entry level customers to their basic digital offerings?
There are two answers: choice and price.
The discriminating consumer is here today and that consumer has choices. However, those choices are less and less about which channels to pick from the cable company’s offering and more and more about which competitor, be that DTH and all terrestrial BDU, like the Telco’s, or a completely unregulated alternative offers the best value.
Currently among the growing number of options available to customers, the all analog and hybrid cable systems are the least able to offer customers choice at the entry level to the digital service.
DTH already has a smaller basic requirement than cable and, as the dual status rules phase out, the all digital terrestrial BDUs will have lighter regulatory demands on formation of their basic services.
Granting these applications will exacerbate that difference. Small cable will be disadvantaged even further throughout the transition to a fully digital service.
The existing priority carriage and mandatory services have distribution rights on cable’s digital basic service. The entry level package, in our view, is already robust. If existing dual status services and new digital licenses are allowed to clamber into permanent seats on the digital basic bus, there will be little difference between the analog and digital basic offerings.
For the entry level customer, the promise of enhanced choice will be further diminished. The customer will be less attracted to cable’s digital offering as a place where she can get more of what she wants and less of what she does not want.
The second answer was price. Rural and small town customers tend to be more price sensitive than the urban customers. To the extent that the price of the entry level digital service increases, the interest of price sensitive consumers in take-up of digital service decreases. It’s that simple.
Granting any of these applications will impair the digital transition, especially in the market served by small cable systems.
Mandatory inclusion of these services in the digital basic offering will expand digital basic, in terms of both size and cost. To the extent that occurs, the ability of small cable systems to reduce barriers and offer incentives to digital take-up will be diminished.
As the commission has acknowledged, the dual status role has substantially served its purpose and these services are now among the healthiest in the system.
Even without mandatory carriage on digital basic, under the existing digital migration framework, the dual statuses will continue to enjoy protection for years to come.
For instance, under the framework, they’ll already be under the digital basic service of class one and two cable BDUs until 2010 at the very least. They’ll be entitled forever to treatment as category one services and they’ll continue to benefit from the five to one and one to one linkage rules.
Despite the exemption of many small systems, to whom distribution and linkage rules no longer apply, few of those who have offered these services on that analog basic service have chosen to move them. Some may choose not to include all of these services in the digital basic. However, BDUs are increasingly conditioned by the competitive pressures they feel, and nobody wants to give the customer a reason to leave.
It is open to these programming services to structure their rate cards so as to promote carriage on the basic service and ensure satisfactory returns from carriage on the discretionary levels of service. That is an approach that reconciles their needs with those of the cable systems to design flexible, responsive offers for their customers.
There’s nothing, in our view, inherent in the nature of these services that warrants special protections in digital. More particularly, they should not be given privileges simply because they happen to be fortunate in the timing of their original licenses. To do so is unfair to the many other analog specialties and the category one and two digit nuts, with whom they will compete in the digital space.
Like those other services, they should negotiate the terms of their digital carriage on the basis of their ability to offer attractive combinations of carriage terms, price, and above all, content quality.
Granting any of these applications is unnecessary in terms of meeting the objectives of the Act and, in our view, would be wrong as a matter of policy.
Such action would run counter to the over-arching policy considerations, such as the digital transition objective and movement to increased reliance on market forces to regulate the industry.
To be clear, issuance of any of the requested orders would not simply maintain the status quo for small systems. With respect to existing dual status services, they would impose new carriage requirements on independent class two systems that already have been relieved of the dual status obligations.
With respect to the two existing non-dual status services and the three applicants for new licenses, they would impose new carriage conditions on independent class one and two systems.
We are concerned, as well, with the possibility that, as in the past, such new distribute rights might flow into the small systems exemption order, thereby imposing an additional burden on exempt class two and former part three systems.
The small system exemption order was intended to lighten the regulatory burden on small systems in recognition of the special economic circumstances they face.
We’ve understood that the commission intended to assist small systems with the transition to digital, not to make that transition more difficult than it already is.
At bottom, we do not believe that any of the applicants has met the test of demonstrating that mandated carriage of its service is of exceptional importance to the achievement at the objectives of the Act. Rather, expansion of the mandatory digital basic service would directly undermine the technological objectives of the Act and the digital transition policies established by the commission since 1993.
It would harm small cable systems to the detriments of the Canadians they serve in Canada’s smaller centers, rural areas, and remote regions. Above all, it would make it more, more difficult for small systems to cross the bridge to fully digital distribution.
For those reasons, we submit all of the applications should be denied.
Thank you for your time and for staying with us for so long this evening. We’ll answer any questions.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Vice Chairman Arpin.
MR. ARPIN: Thank you very much, Ms Chair.
My third question will deal with descriptive video. And to your knowledge, I know that, obviously, you are a service organization, but to your knowledge, do your members pass through the descriptive video that already exists?
MR. BOYD: Frankly, the performance of our members and the passing through described video is sporadic, currently. In our larger centers, and keep in mind what larger centers mean in our context, our largest member is Persona. Their largest system is Sudbury. So we’re not talking Vancouver. But in our larger centers, we do pass through descriptive video in analog.
In none of our systems do we pass through descriptive video in digital. You’ve heard our two previous panels talk a little bit about that. We are one hundred per cent dependent on Motorola equipment. Rogers mentioned that they don’t have much impact on manufacturers in North American Market. We have none. We do well often to get the boxes delivered at all.
Shaw is the largest Motorola customer and I was pleased to hear that they said there would be a software fix for TV Guide and the Motorola boxes in July. Motorola has told us September, so I guess probably that means that they’re going to roll it out to us afterward.
But that is very good news because the technology is complex, to say the least, and if we could pass through the DVS that we receive, because those services come from Shaw broadcast services they do pass through the descriptors, if we could then pass them through via our boxes to our customers, that would be a tremendous step forward.
The other thing, I think, that is worth pointing out despite our fairly low penetration of digital in most of our markets currently, we expect our members will probably be the first to go one hundred per cent digital because they won’t want to rebuild their systems.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Have you had the chance to read the intervention submitted by Quebec Corp?
MR. BOYD: No, I have not because –
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: You have members that are operating in the Quebec market. Quebec Corp has – they develop a series of six criteria which answer yes or no, depending on the niche of the criteria. But when they assess the weather network, they’re saying yes six times. So they are coming to the conclusion that 9(1)(h) provision applies to the weather channel.
MR. BOYD: In the Quebec market I should point out –
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: No. Obviously, the criteria are not set for the Quebec market. They are broad enough to be applied all across the land. So that’s why I’m asking you if your comments, if you have any, regarding the, specifically, the weather channel.
MR. BOYD: We have tried not to comment on specific services in our interventions. Certainly the weather channel is a very important channel to our member companies and to our customers. We carry it almost universally. Obviously not necessarily in all the small systems, and we would expect to carry it, obviously, in addition to the rules and the digital migration framework, we expect to carry it in a very large manner forever.
I mean, the 9(1)(h) is essentially not about whether the service will be available to everyone. It’s about whether everyone will pay for it. We certainly will make it available to everyone. It will be a category one service.
Our issue is, we don’t feel all of our customers should have to pay for it if they don’t want it.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Thank you. Those were my questions. Ms Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Del Val.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: For those of your members who do have passed through obligations, I guess most of them do, would they – if the accessible channel were licensed, would they see that as giving them an excuse to have their obligations to pass through lowered?
MR. BOYD: I don’t think so. I mean, the NBRS proposal is, from my point of view, and I’m speaking somewhat personally, quite attractive. I’ve been involved in voice print over the years. I think it’s a very good compliment to the DVS technology.
Let’s face it. The end of the day, despite our best efforts, it’s still going to be complicated in most households to access DVS, particularly where there’s not a sighted person there. That’s always going to be difficult. So it you can have some one stop shopping in addition to that, I think that would be very good service to have on the network.
That does not mean that I’m saying, though, that it should be a 9(1)(h) service. We think it should be a digital service available to those that want it.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. Those are my questions. Madame Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Edwards, Mr. Boyd, thank you very much. We have no further questions for you. Madame Secretary.
THE SECRETARY: The last appearing intervention will be presented by Bell Video Group.
THE SECRETARY: Please present yourself and you have ten minutes for your presentation.
MR. FRANK: Thank you very much.
Thank you, and good evening, Chairperson Cugini and Commissioners.
My name is Chris Frank and I’m Vice President of Programming at the Bell Video Group.
With me is David Elder, Vice President of Regulatory Law for Bell Canada, and our Regulatory Counsel.
Our comments today will focus on the intended use of the commission’s authority granted under 9(1)(h) of the Broadcasting Act and on the impact 9(1)(h) approvals have on BDUs.
As well, we’ll respond to a number of individual applications.
Bell opposes the approval of these applications on the basis of the application of 9(1)(h).
In the interest of time, not unlike our last appearance in Calgary, we’ll try and sum this up as quickly as possible to get everybody out of here and also give you some chances to ask questions.
Our position on 9(1)(h) is not different from the BDUs who’ve just appeared in front of you. We think it’s a rather dull, regulatory tool that has a degree of permanency, which I don’t think fits – we don’t, excuse me, think fits the digital environment.
As far as the existing dual status services are concerned, these applications, whose services currently enjoy dual status on terrestrial cable systems, have never been afforded such must carry on DTH service, although, not for trying.
Both CBC and Pelmorex have intervened and passed Express view licensing processes in order to obtain compulsory basic carriage on our system. But to date, the commission has rejected our arguments.
The same is true of Vision TV, both in our original license decision in ‘95, and again in 2004 in our renewal, the commission did not require Bell Express View to distribute such services on basic.
The commission has already determined that discontinuation of dual and modified dual status is a good idea and has explained why. Bell agrees.
Indeed, the programming content offered by these dual status services is hardly unique. Pelmorex’s weather and weather related information is freely available from a multiplicity of sources, both inside and outside the broadcasting industry.
As for news content, News World and Air DE operate in a highly competitive programming category with at least nine English and one French language alternative, licensed or authorized alternative.
In today’s competitive market, increased risk is simply a fact of life. Companies should not expect to be guaranteed a cash flow and profitability to finance their products. Therefore, to us, it makes no sense to now recreate dual status for some service under the guise of 9(1)(h).
With respect, the efforts of the applicants for you today to secure distribution and digital basic package would be more appropriately focused on negotiating with BDUs, as some have successfully done with the DTH service providers. In this regard, Bell Express View’s basic service line up speaks for itself.
In respect of the other services, the Métis network, diversity, NBRS – excuse me. I have a few detailed comments about NBRS. Canal Savoir and APB, we think Category 2 treatment is the appropriate way to go, not 9(1)(h) must carry.
Now, in respect of – cuz these – the NBRS services have attracted a lot of questioning, a lot of attention in the last few minutes. This is what I can say. Bell has recently confirmed, Bell Express View has recently confirmed the commission its delivery of almost a hundred per cent of the described video on forty channels that are provided to us by Canadian broadcasters. I think the actual number is somewhere between 90 and 96 per cent and we expect to go to 100 per cent within 60 days.
This is being accomplished relatively easy and at a fraction of the cost proposed by NBRS. Bell is prepared to expand its distribution of described video as broadcasters, Canadian broadcasters, make more available.
It is important to note that any missed scheduling of described video is usually caused by the hand off from broadcaster to Express View. We will undertake to resolve such occurrences with each broadcast group to the extent possible.
Further, we would welcome dialogue with NBRS or any other association which speaks for the visually impaired as to how to improve accessibility, reliability, and notification.
NBRS’s proposed service would add cost to BDU subscribers. The accessible channel would be an incremental twenty-four seven video feed that would require scare and valuable satellite band width that is already heavily canvassed by broadcasters seeking to convert their signals to high definition and by new service providers that offer innovative, new, Canadian programming.
One wonders, in our context, how a single video channel could do more than the multiple channels Bell Express currently offers on its electronic programming Guide from channels 49 to 89 inclusive. And that also includes a barker channel with voice input.
It’s important to note that under the current regime, each license programming undertaking is responsible for exhibiting a fixed number of hours of described video programming per month at its cost. BDUs are expected to distribute described programming and to do so in a manner that is both easy of the viewer and cost effective.
As Bell understands the NBRS proposal, the applicant would remove the cost burden from the originating programming licensee, and transfer it to BDUs and their customers. Such a transfer of financial obligations, in our respectful opinion, is not in the public interest. Thus, our opposition to the NBRS application.
In short, we think we can do it better. We think we’re currently doing it better. And is there room for improvement? Probably, and we’re more than happy to consult and attempt to make those improvements.
Those are my comments and we’d be entirely pleased to answer any questions you may have.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Vice Chairman Arpin.
COMMISSIONER Arpin: Only a theoretical question. You’ve said, Mr. Frank, in your presentation that 9(1)(h) doesn’t apply to the digital world. But, the end of the day, everything happens on the television screen. Why digital is so different to analog? For the viewer – from the viewer’s standpoint.
MR. FRANK: I think Mr. Stein captured the essence of it when he said that, or implied, that customers are pretty savvy folks. They understand that digital is a hundred per cent addressable. They understand the possibility of greater granularity in programming choice, and in some cases, pick and pay.
They also understand, now, increasingly, they have choice from where they get their programming, whether on an aggregated basis like we experience now in the BDU sector from licensed and authorized programmers, and in a disaggregated sense, with over the top – through over the top video.
So, it is a very competitive market. Customers know what they want and I think it was Mr. Boyd who said, just previous to us, not opposed to carrying these services, but don’t think it’s appropriate that all of our customers pay, especially when there’s customers out there who don’t particularly want or benefit from that service. I think that’s basically the theoretical answer.
COMMISSIONER Arpin: You heard me also asking the CCSA question regarding based on the submission made by Quebec Corp Media in this proceeding where they have breakdown the issues into six different criteria. I don’t know if you had a chance to see that table. It’s independent to their submission. And, the conclusions that arrive from reading their table is that the weather channel meets the criteria for 9(1)(h) attribution. Do you have any comments regarding their conclusion?
MR. FRANK: Let me make a general comment and then pass it over to David if he has some specifics he’d like to add. And I would note that, in passing, it wouldn’t be the first time that Bell and Quebec Corp disagree on something.
MR. FRANK: We could attempt humor late in the evening.
I think it really comes down to an interpretation of what 9(1)(h) is. And in our mind, it – there is a very high test for 9(1)(h). It has to be almost an exceptional service and distribution of which to a hundred per cent of your customers would not allow your service and the industry to meet the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. We’re of the opinion that none of the services that have applied for 9(1)(h) meet that task. David.
MR. ELDER: I just – I guess I just I emphasize what Chris said about this being exceptional and the hurdle has to be very high. And I think if you look through the criteria that the commission identified in its decision for the digital migration framework, I mean working through a lot of these – I mean a huge number of services would potentially qualify.
And so I don’t think the test for 9(1)(h) is just you meet the objectives of the Act because I hope that all of our licensed programming services meet one or more of the objectives of the Act in some way.
I think the nicer question is, is it so important, so exceptional, that failure to require mandatory carriage would really compromise the attainment of the objectives of the Act? And I’m not sure – or rather I’d say that none of the services that we have before us today, I think fall into that category.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Well, that’s the first criteria of the Quebec Corp table and their answer is yes. And their answer is yes not only for that one, but for Vision TV, for CBC News World, for RDI.
Now, the other – the service I just named fail in other criteria. But in the case of the weather channel throughout, I have yes throughout.
MR. FRANK: I guess that’s the beauty of competition.
COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Okay. Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Del Val.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. Just referring to paragraph 20 of your statement, channels about the electronic program guide, channels 49 to 89 inclusive. So those are the channels that are supposed to carry – are supposed to be video described? Is that –
MR. FRANK: That’s – that is – that’s the case. I can tell you that those channels to do carry, each and every one of those channels, do carry that programming when it’s available to us.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Yes. Okay. Because when I checked, there was only one – I did notice forty channels having the DV symbol. But, of the ones I noticed, there was only program that was actually described video at the time.
So, now, what would – in your view, would the accessible channel on DTH make – become redundant on the Express View service, or –
MR. Frank: Well, it’s quite possible it would be redundant when you combine the fact that within sixty days we’ll be carrying all of the programming that’s made described programs available to us. And our commitment subject only to band width availability, and these services don’t require a lot of band width, so that shouldn’t be an issue. But in the satellite business, you always get – caveat such things subject to available capacity.
Plus our barker channel, which provides people with very large lettered announcements on upcoming digital video – digital described programming. Plus, a background voice saying the same thing at the same time.
So, we think we’ve got a very good guide. Now, can it be improved? As I said before, likely it can, and we’re more than willing to talk to qualified and interested people in how we make it better. But, we think we’re meeting both the letter and the spirit of your expectations of us and we plan to continue to do that subject to the existing rules.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Okay. So what you’re saying, that in sixty days if the world unfold as it should, then something like an accessible channel could be redundant on the Express View Service?
MR. FRANK: Yes. If I understand your question completely and understand their service completely, yes. I think the combination of a hundred per cent of the available programming, plus a useful barker directing people to the channel, plus, of course, the original electronic programming guide is, I think, a very good start to the service.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: So then, if the accessible channel were licensed, would you look to lowering your obligations in terms of providing the described video programming?
MR. FRANK: Not necessarily, no. It would really depend on what the environment looked like. The goal – the goal is to get as much described programming to visually challenged people as possible. And, if there was a value ad there, I don’t think we would reduce any commitments. In fact, I think we’re looking to increase them as more programming becomes available.
COMMISSIONER DEL VAL: Thank you. Those are my questions. Thank you. Madame Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Mr. Elder and Mr. Frank.
MR. FRANK: Could I just make one last comment?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Please.
MR. FRANK: Because there was a question relating to SAP and a condition of license requiring us to use the SAP. Our technology does not work that way. We actually light up individual channels. Our commitment would be to carry all of the – I think, commitment we want to make is to carry all of the programs that’s made available to us by Canadian and foreign broadcasters.
THE CHAIRPERSON: So that COL wouldn’t work for Bell Express Views –
MR. FRANK: That’s correct.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, thank you very much. Thank you for that additional comment. We have no more further – we don’t have any further questions for you this evening. Madame Secretary.
THE SECRETARY: This completes the list of appearing intervenors, therefore, Phase II. Thank you. Madame Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. That concludes the hearing for this evening.
And in view of the late hour, we will begin tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. instead of the pre-announced 8:30 a.m. with Phase III. Thank you for your patience and have a good evening.
Phase III tomorrow. Thank you for your patience and have a good evening.
— Whereupon the hearing adjourned at 2122, to resume on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 0900/L’audience est ajournée à 2122, pour reprendre le mercredi mars 2007 à 0900