In response to bcgirl's questions about what is going on with CTV and the point of the November CRTC hearing, here is a bit of the recent history, as I know it, and what it means for digital OTA TV:
I have been following the CRTC hearings since 2006, when broadcasters first indicated their plans for the digital transition during the "TV Policy" hearing.
All of the broadcasters except CBC were vague in that 2006 hearing, saying they wanted to do as little as possible for the transition. CBC said it planned to reduce its current crop of 700+ analogue transmitters and repeaters to 44 digital transmitters for originating stations only.
At that time (actually in its 2007 decision
on that hearing), the CRTC set the August 2011 deadline for the digital transition and ruled that it would not require broadcasters to update their existing transmitters - and repeaters - to digital but would only provide simsub and priority carriage after the switchover to those stations with digital transmitters. Apparently, the CRTC thought - despite the obvious reluctance of the broadcasters - that the digital transition would actually involve an investment in OTA.
During last spring's hearing that ended in the short-term licence renewals, the CRTC asked the private broadcasters for their "detailed plans" for the transition. Only Rogers - with among the smallest crop of transmitters - provided a truly detailed plan; Rogers will update all of its OMNI and Citytv transmitters by 2011.
Again, the CRTC heard the complaints from broadcasters about their financial situation and most of the hearing was taken up with discussions about the Local Program Improvement Fund (which is not to be spent on transmitters, as far as I know, but on news programming), fee for carriage and Canadian content. The part of the hearing on the digital transition was a footnote, at best.
Meanwhile, the deadline for the transition was about 2 years away and it was clear that none of the broadcasters had really begun to look at it very seriously.
After the spring hearing, the CRTC decided
to *require* digital transmitters in communities that fall under the following categories:
1) More than 300,000 in population
2) More than one originating station
3) Provincial or territorial capital.
The CRTC listed 29 communities it thought fell under these criteria.
Earlier, CTV had applied for permission to do "direct feeds" of its digital signal to cable and satellite providers in nine communities on a temporary basis, arguing it didn't want to put up transmitters because the Industry Canada frequency allotment hadn't been finalized. The CRTC said ok
so now it has simsub and priority carriage, on an interim basis, for its digital feed in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa (two stations), Pembroke, Barrie, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Victoria. All but Pembroke are on that 29-city list mentioned above ... so presumably the arrangement in those other places will indeed by temporary.
At last spring's hearing, CTV notified the CRTC that it was turning off a series of analolgue repeaters in smaller areas and, as far as I know, those repeaters have been/are being shut down.
CTV told CRTC it wasn't renewing the Windsor, Wingham and Brandon stations at that time, but later changed its mind on Windsor and Wingham (after the LPIF money was increased) and sold the Brandon station to Bluepoint.
The CBC confirmed its transition plans publicly at last week's "Annual General Meeting" (webcast): Right now, CBC and Radio-Canada have a total of 8 digital transmitters (combo of English and French). They plan to do a total of 32 digital transmitters (down from the 44 they talked about back in 2006) and only if they find the money will they finish the job. This will, indeed, involve shutting down hundreds of analogue repeaters across Canada. From their own estimates, 300,000 existing OTA viewers will be cut off.
Now for the November hearing
- first off, it is likely to be completely dominated by the "fee-for-carriage" debate. However, the CRTC wanted comments on what I believe are two key aspects of the digital transition:
1) Is the list of 29 cities mandated for the transition appropriate? (Ie. should the list be larger or smaller?)
2) Should broadcasters who don't put up digital transmitters still get the simsub and priority carriage benefits?
If you care about availability of free digital TV outside of the big centres - CTV or otherwise - the obvious answers to the questions is NO (the list is way too short) and NO!
By the way, the November hearing is likely to be delayed or changed in some way because of the government's order to allow more time for "consumers" to comment on the "fee-for-carriage" issue. (Unfortunately, no apparent concern to make sure "consumers" know about what's likely to happen to free TV and to give them time to comment on THAT.)
After all I've seen and heard in the last few years, I cannot be very optimistic that the broadcasters will do more than they tell the CRTC they will do on the digital front. Having talked to some of them, I can tell you their hearts are really not in it.
The best solution would probably be something I've seen mentioned on other threads: a new organization to launch something like Freeview in Canada.