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Why is the CRTC obsessed with HDTV?

November 23, 2006

Source: University of Calgary

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is rushing to catch up with the American demand for high-definition television, even though Canadian consumers and broadcasters are lukewarm about the technology, according to two University of Calgary experts.

The CRTC will begin hearings in Gatineau, Quebec, on Monday, Nov. 27, and, among other things, will "examine options for the most effective means of delivering Canadian digital/HD television to Canadians," according to a CRTC notice. HDTV offers a crystal clear picture, but the monitors are pricey and there are still a limited number of channels and programs available.

"If you were to ask most Canadians what’s wrong with Canadian TV, they wouldn’t say, ‘image quality’," says Dr. Bart Beaty, co-author with Dr. Rebecca Sullivan of the newly published book, Canadian Television Today. "Sure, with HDTV you can see exactly how thick the makeup is at the Academy Awards, but is it worth the price?"

Traditional over-the-air television is transmitted in analog format, and HDTV in digital. The Americans have committed to phasing out analog delivery by 2009 whereas the CRTC hasn’t yet imposed a deadline for Canada. The cost to local stations to upgrade their infrastructure to broadcast HDTV is extremely high and will, the authors suggest, invariably be passed on to consumers.

"The television industry is already struggling with innovations that allow consumers to bypass advertisements, such as personal video recorders, TV on the internet, and TV programs on DVD," Sullivan says. "The big networks can absorb the costs to switch to HDTV, but for local outlets the costs are prohibitive."

The authors, both professors in the U of C’s Faculty of Communication and Culture, say that while HDTV is being pedaled under the guise of offering expanded choice, it’s almost exclusively American programming that is currently on the HDTV menu. Canada’s cultural sovereignty, meanwhile, takes a back seat.

"Given that the shift to HDTV does not generate revenue or boost profit margins, or excite audiences, the only incentive for [Canadian] broadcasters to make the transition is competition – or, more like cooperation or even collusion – with the United States," they write in their book.

Canadian Television Today, published by the University of Calgary Press, is available at the campus Bookstore and other retail outlets across Canada. To speak to Dr. Beaty, phone (403) 220-7246; Dr. Sullivan can be reached at 220-3397. For more information, contact Greg Harris, University of Calgary Media Relations, at 220-3506 or cell 540-7306, or Jennifer Myers, Faculty of Communication and Culture, at 220-4117.



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