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Comments on CBC TV Proposal to Shut Down Off-Air Transmitters Canadian Media Research Inc.

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Comments on CBC TV Proposal to Shut Down Off-Air Transmitters

Canadian Media Research Inc.

November 2006

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Does the CBC Understand Its Audience? The CBC said in its submission to the CRTC: “Historically, smaller communities and rural areas lacking cable access depended heavily on OTA signals, far more so than larger urban areas. Today, however, smaller and rural communities rely heavily on DTH reception and have very little OTA reception. Since OTA reception in larger urban areas has been less affected by DTH, the result has been that OTA reception in major population centres – once considered quite low relative to rural areas – now reflects the most significant over-the-air reception in Canada.” This may be true in some areas and for some broadcasters but it is not true for all smaller and rural communities and not for all broadcasters, especially not for CBC.

In its September 1st submission to the CRTC the CAB quoted data which it had purchased from the CBC and drew this conclusion: “The digital transition is proceeding amongst consumers, but at a slower pace than is sometimes projected: 10% of anglophones receive only over-the-air television signals, while 17% of francophones report that they are over-the-air viewers. CBC seems to draw the opposite conclusion in its September 27th submission: “…off-air penetration in Canada has been in decline for years and is now among the lowest in the world: only 12 per cent of Canadians are receiving their television via over-the-air delivery. The speed at which this decline in over-the-air usage has occurred is quite surprising.

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How Many Canadians Still Rely on Off-air Reception? BBM diary surveys have been designed to the highest methodological standards possible and their extremely large samples make them a unique data source. BBM’s fall surveys are conducted among a sample of 75,000 or more respondents and BBM spring surveys are conducted among a sample of 50,000 or more respondents. A description of the BBM diary survey methodology can be found on BBM’s web site http://www.bbm.ca/en/reference.htmlAccording to BBM’s spring 2006 survey the combined penetration of cable and DTH was some 90.3%, that is, only about 1 in 10 Canadians now depend on over-the-air reception of TV. Over the past decade the percentage of people relying on OTA reception has shrunk from more than 20% to less than 10%, that is, the OTA segment has been reduced by half during this period.
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BBM: Trends in OTA Reception By ProvinceLevels of OTA reception differ somewhat by province, according to BBM surveys. While nationally some 9.7% of Canadians relied on OTA reception in spring 2006, this varied from a low of 3.2% in Newfoundland to a high of 14.3% in Quebec. A significant percentage of Quebec residents have opted not to access cable TV or DTH. The French-language TV industry, as is the case in much of Europe, is still dominated by traditional over-the-air broadcasters.
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BBM: Trends in OTA Reception By ProvinceNot everyone with cable TV or satellite has all TV sets in the household hooked up to cable or satellite. As noted earlier, some 9.7% of Canadians, according to BBM diary surveys rely exclusively on OTA reception. In addition, there are cable/DTH homes that have one or more TV sets that receive TV signals via an antenna or rabbit ears. Adding together those who have nothing but OTA reception and those cable/DTH subscribers with at least 1 set that receives signals over-the-air, BBM puts the percentage of all Canadians receiving TV over-the-air at 12.4% nationally (spring 2006). This ranged from a low of 3.8% in Newfoundland to 18.1% in Saskatchewan.
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Traditional Broadcasters’ OTA Audience (CBC/SRC)The net effect of fewer homes relying on rabbit ears or an antenna is that all over-the-air broadcasters have seen a decline in the OTA audience. The CBC is no exception: in this decade the percentage of the CBC English TV audience watching off-air has shrunk from 35.1% to 16.2%, according to Nielsen meter data. The shrinking off-air audience is a primary reason for CBC audience share losses in recent years. Instead of 1 in 5 people having access to only 3-4 channels off-air, which was the case a decade ago, today only 1 in 10 have limited choice. The same phenomenon has occurred in CBC French TV, although it is not as pronounced. Since the 2000-01 TV season, the percentage of Radio Canada’s audience watching off-air has shrunk from 36.4% to 20.9%. However, despite recent trends, both the CBC English and French TV services still depend on off-air reception for significant proportions of their audience and depend on off-air homes more than private broadcasters ( for comparisons see: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/radio/cmri.htm).
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Special Survey: Why People Don’t Subscribe to Cable/DTH

The CRTC commissioned a special telephone survey, which was conducted in early September 2006 by Comquest, a subsidiary of BBM. The survey was undertaken among a sample of 1,033 people, former respondents to BBM TV surveys, who indicated that they did not have cable or satellite. The objective of the survey was to shed light on why some Canadians do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV. With its sample of 1,000 or more respondents the statistical margin of error is +/3.0%, 19 times out of 20.As shown in the table, Anglophones and Francophones differ in their reasons for not subscribing. The largest single reason for Anglophones was affordability (22.5%), whereas the largest single reason for Francophones was not watching enough TV (37.1%). Combined, these two reasons accounted for almost one-half of respondents in each language group. A large number of Francophones (17.3%) also indicated that they could get the programs they wanted off-air and a fair number of both language groups indicated that cable was not available to them.

About 1 in 6 Francophones and 1 in 3 Anglophones indicated other reasons for not subscribing and these additional reasons are shown in the bottom part of the table.

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Special CRTC Off-Air Survey: Would You Ever Subscribe?

In the CRTC special survey of Canadians who rely on off-air reception, respondents were asked a hypothetical question. The question was put to them that if local channels were only available via cable or DTH for a monthly fee, would they subscribe. More than one quarter of Anglophones (28.8%) indicated they would and about half of Francophones (50.3%) said they would subscribe. Younger people were more inclined to say they would subscribe but less than one-third of older people said they would pay a monthly fee. In total, about two-thirds of all respondents said they would be unwilling to subscribe to cable or DTH, meaning they would be disenfranchised if they could no longer receive TV off-air.

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Special CRTC Off-Air Survey: What One Station Would you Choose?

Interestingly, almost one half (45.7%) of Canadians who don’t subscribe to cable or DTH say they would choose CBC TV if they could receive only one TV station off-air. Clearly, CBC is the basic TV service for Canadians. There are some differences among age groups: younger people are less likely to choose CBC, while older people, especially those 55 and over, overwhelmingly choose CBC as the one station they want to receive off-air.

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Special CRTC Off-Air Survey: What One Station Would you Choose?

Naturally, there are differences among Anglophones and Francophones but both language groups chose CBC TV over all private broadcasters and provincial public broadcasters. Some 44.7% of Anglophones chose CBC as the one station they want to receive off-air and 45.7% of Francophones chose Radio Canada, well ahead of the nearest private broadcaster in both cases.

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What Do BBM/Nielsen Tell Us About the Off-air Audience?

The CBC said in its submission to the CRTC: “Today, however, smaller and rural communities rely heavily on DTH reception and have very little OTA reception. Since OTA reception in larger urban areas has been less affected by DTH, the result has been that OTA reception in major population centres – once considered quite low relative to rural areas – now reflects the most significant over-the-air reception in Canada.” This seems counterintuitive and is somewhat of a surprising claim.

The table at right shows that many small communities still rely on off-air reception. Over 10% of all viewing hours were off-air in the BBM fall 2005 survey in such communities as Windsor, Chatham/Kent, Leeds/Grenville, Northumberland, Lambton, North Okanagan, Norfolk, Brandon and Kingston. Other small communities above the national average included Yorkton, Orillia, Red Deer and Prince Albert. Off-air viewing in the two largest English markets, Toronto (5.1%) and Vancouver (2.2%), is significantly lower than in these smaller communities, which seems contrary to the claim made by CBC in its submission.

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What Do BBM/Nielsen Tell Us About CBC’s Off-air Audience?CBC appears to want to shut down its transmitters in smaller communities. In it’s submission to the CRTC CBC stated: “…over-the-air transmission will only remain a viable distribution technology for the distribution of television programming in major urban centres.”

The CBC submission mentioned three times that only 7% of all TV viewing in 2005-06 was off-air. The submission went to some effort to demonstrate that a small proportion of the CBC’s audience was delivered off-air by its owned and operated stations, especially in rural or remote areas. However, this ignored the fact that much of the CBC audience in these areas is delivered by CBC affiliates, not CBC owned stations. BBM surveys, which employ a sample of more than 75,000 respondents each fall, were used to examine the CBC’s claims. Since BBM does not conduct diary surveys in Toronto/Vancouver, Nielsen data were used in these markets.

The table at right confirms that only 7% of all viewing in fall 2005 was off-air. 1 in 10 people rely on off-air reception but because they are lighter viewers, only 7% of total viewing is off-air. The table also reveals that some 14% of CBC English TV viewing in total was off-air in 2005 and, importantly, the CBC off-air audience was at its highest in places such as Windsor (50.5%), Saskatoon (32.4%), Leeds/Grenville (31.8%), Northumberland (31.8%), Orillia (29.3%) and Norfolk (28.2%). The CBC states in its submission: “In certain major markets, CBC/Radio-Canada stations get as much as a fifth of their viewing from over-the-air households.” This analysis shows that the CBC English off-air audience alone exceeded 20% in some 20 locations, many of them smaller, remote communities. In the two major markets of Vancouver and Toronto the CBC off-air audience is 10% or less, that is, less than the CBC national average and the apparent opposite of the CBC’s assertion.

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