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June 14, 2024 10:29 am  #1

Is Canadian Radio Over-Regulated?

SOWNY member and production legend Doug Thompson covered the Radiodays North America conference held in Toronto for Billboard Canada. There's a lot in his article, but the part that intrigues me most comes right at the end.

He writes about CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides being present at the radio industry event, an unusual occurrence, and how that led to the subject of many radio people complaining that the regulators are too intrusive, not allowing the industry that knows the business best, to be able to decide its own fate. 

To quote from his final paragraph:

"Several panelists stated that Canadian radio is too regulated, particularly in the current tough economic times, and several suggested that when the Commission adds new regulations, they should remove others. Or use incentives for stations rather than hard and fast rules. Stingray’s Steve Jones came out strongly in favour of loosening restrictions on the number of stations companies could own."

Do you think the CRTC has too many rules and regs.? I'm betting I know what the answer would be from most radio pundits. (Although I'm not sure that bit about letting giant companies own more stations is going to do anything but let the big guys get bigger and have more ultimate control, leading to more cookie cutter formats across the country, losing more of the originality that once made radio so compelling and ultimately leading to even more job cuts.)

Radiodays North America 2024 Projected The Future of Canadian Radio During a Tense Time


June 14, 2024 1:04 pm  #2

Re: Is Canadian Radio Over-Regulated?

Here I go kicking a dead horse...

CanCon regulations alone hurt the radio business. It's a completely arbitrary percentage imposed on a medium which has to be broad and play to the masses. If it's something the audience wants, stations will play it. That's their business to figure out. CanCon has resulted in a sham industry of mostly crap music that gets spun to death because Canada exports less than 10% of the global English popular music, yet stations here are forced to play 35% of it, if not more. Instead of the CRTC asking Canadians if they "like" Canadian Music and think radio should maintain the same level of support (which everyone says "yes" to), they should've done their own music callout research to see just how badly most of it scores, then base the required percentage off of that research. Even if just CanCon regulations were revised (reduced %, the reporting structure simplified, and a centralized database of qualified songs created), it would almost instantly make the product more palatable to the masses and easier on the broadcasters to manage. Don't even get me started on the Emerging & Indigenous music targets they've set. 

The common ownership policy is outdated too, AM stations shouldn't even count towards the limit given how few years they have left (at least operating in the English language). I agree with Steve that there could be incentives for things like having a local news reporter, live/local hosts, etc. Sliding scale model. Explain to me why the feds are ok with foreign companies like Google and Amazon having massive market share in their respective industries (bordering on monopolies), yet aren't ok with a Canadian media company owning four FM radio stations in one city!?! Make it make sense. The reach is night and day. Radio/TV common ownership fears are not practical concerns in the year 2024, and the CRTC needs to make swift and bold action if they want to keep Canadian media afloat. 

With that said, I didn't know until now that members of the CRTC attended RadioDays, so that's quite something. Hopefully it's a sign that they're listening to the concerns of broadcasters. 


June 14, 2024 5:41 pm  #3

Re: Is Canadian Radio Over-Regulated?

So much to question in the above post I don't know where to start.
First off calling cancon "mostly crap music" is not the approach I would take with the CRTC.  Especially if you were trying to rationally propose a reduction or doing away with the reg.  That is the way to ensure the regulations don't change.  All you are telling the commission with statements like that is that you hate Canadian music and the artists. Also it appears like you are looking for a scapegoat for your company's financial problems.  

You say right at the beginning "cancon regulations alone hurt the radio business".  They will ask you to give specific examples over the past 50 years.  If you try using the situation that radio is in today, you will likely be asked, if the problem were cancon, why did this take over 50 years to happen?  Why have stations in other comparable countries like the US have similar issues but for much longer, even decades longer without being regulated to play any cancon?

They would likely point out to you that four of the five largest radio groups in the US have declared bankuptcy over the past 20 years.  Why didn't any Canadian radio groups declare bankruptcy during this time?  If someone like Corus were to do so next week, you actually think that cancon is the reason?  Good luck with that. 

What Canada exports as a percent of the global English popular music is irrelevent.  We are in the radio business and not a record company.  Regardless, they could point out that Canada is and has been for a long time the third largest source of English popular music in the world after the US, UK.  We may even be the highest for worldwide French popular music exports.  

You seem to be proposing that radio groups here be allowed to own even more stations provided they are FM.  Even when an executive of the largest radio group said that radio was no longer a viable business in this country and they are trying to rid themselves of 45 stations?
The US has gone this route with groups being allowed to own 8 stations in large markets, 5 FM and 3 AM.   How successful has this been?  And how does a station that is on out of market auto pilot, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week serve the local audience?.  It serves the owners obviously, but serves the local listener how?

I do agree that stations here do have too much regulation, but some is and always will be necessary.  Sure cancon could be lowered or modified, but to say it has harmed the radio business without any examples and it is mostly crap music is not the way to get any changes done.  


June 16, 2024 7:22 pm  #4

Re: Is Canadian Radio Over-Regulated?

The question was "Is Canadian Radio Over-Regulated?" and the answer is yes. I never said CanCon was to blame for the financial downfall of the industry, it's just one well-known example of over-regulation that prevents businesses from making decisions that help their bottom line. I don't expect you to understand that as someone clearly outside of the offices running this industry, but it's well-known as fact, and saying otherwise is a fantasy. Frankly it's too late anyways, CanCon could be 0% tomorrow but too many people already perceive the product as out-of-touch. Thus perhaps the biggest issue we face is how slow the CRTC has been to adapt to the drastic changes this industry has faced in recent years. 

And yes, most of the CanCon that gets airplay is objectively crap music, and every major radio station would have a decade (or more) worth of audience research to prove that 35% is far too high a target for what is both popular and qualifies as CanCon. You even agree with that in your last sentence. I never said scrap it, I never said it's the only fault, I simply said that aspect alone is over regulation. I'm a proud Canadian, and I like a lot of Canadian music, and I'd like to see it thrive, but 35% is completely unachievable (certainly under MAPL). What if Cineplex had to give up 1/3rd of their theatres to show Canadian films?

What we output as a nation is extremely relevant as there's only so many songs you can play in an hour/day, broadcasters want to play what their audience wants to hear, and ~90% of what Canadian radio listeners what to hear does not qualify as CanCon. I could absolutely provide years worth of data to prove it, however I suggested that the CRTC do it themselves to remove any bias. You also confuse ranking with percentage; i.e. even if we're 3rd place in English music output, it's completely irrelevant if we don't output more than 35% of the total popular English music output. For example, Coke and Pepsi are in 1st and 2nd place in their industry, and whomever is in 3rd place certainly does not have 35% market share. This says nothing for how complex the qualification and tracking system is for CanCon, emerging and indigenous music, which also adds costs & burdens to the broadcaster.

What happened in the US was that ownership groups racked up stations by racking up debt. Consolidation happens in every industry, even those that border monopolies, and yet heaven forbid a Canadian owned station group increase it's margin by operating an additional station or two in a profitable market. It's a no-brainer. As a reminder, the common ownership policy does not exist to prevent bankruptcies, so your point holds no ground anyways. As I said, I'd be a fan of a sliding scale model whereby you're rewarded for offering a solid public service in the form of relaxed regulations (be it ownership, CanCon, CCD, etc).


June 17, 2024 12:00 am  #5

Re: Is Canadian Radio Over-Regulated?

Thanks for your response torontostan, some interesting points.

A few things.  I think 90% of radio's problems have been brought on by broadcasters themselves, here and in other countries like the US.  Do most stations today really relate to their audiences, their local market, or their advertisers?  Many don't, and those that still do are successful. What many in the radio business think is important really isn't to the audience. That's a big reason why numbers for radio slide, and the business is not in good shape.
The regulations themselves while I agree can be overly complicated, and the CRTC moves too slow, really aren't the main problem.  Broadcasters and their attitude are much of the problem.  Many seem out of touch and are losing listeners, not attracting younger or new people to replace what has been lost.   Music alone will not attract new listeners. Trying to emulate Spotify or music streamers is a lost cause. Personality with relatable on air staff, being local and having some fun is more important than music. 

I still don't get your take with the amount of English music Canada exports should be the amount played on the radio or that they should somehow be related.  Couldn't disagree more.  Again radio and the music industry are two different animals, yes related somewhat but not similar.  The purpose of music oriented radio is not to sell records for Sony and Universal.  The purpose of the radio station is to serve the audience, advertisers ,and the market you are located.  Music is just part of this, not the reason for being. 

If your station and others have all of this audience research, has this been presented or discussed with the CRTC?  The CAB seems ineffective in advocating for private broadcasters with government authorities.  I remember when they put out a press release in 2020 stating that up to 200 radio stations could close by 2022.  We are half way through 2024 and how many have closed, 10-15?  And we have had new stations open during this time.   I don't agree with your statement that even if there was 0% cancon that it wouldn't make any difference since too many people perceive the product as out of touch.
Too many people?  Like the people that rate the music?  The same people that don't like half of Billy Joel or Bob Segers past hits and this is why we never hear them anymore? These people that don't like anything that they are unfamiliar with?  Or are these "too many people" actually industry individuals that don't like regulations or government guidelines and do the bare minimum?


June 17, 2024 7:12 am  #6

Re: Is Canadian Radio Over-Regulated?

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