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In a little more than a month, television in Canada’s biggest cities will be changing drastically.
As you’ve heard in all those public service announcements, your service may be affected if you use an antenna to watch TV.
Television is most of urban Canada will be switching from analog service to digital service.
It will happen as late as Aug. 31, but some stations have stated they are switching earlier. CFKM in Trois-Rivières, for example, has already turned off analog service in favour of digital.
Still others have been running the digital TV services alongside their analog service for some time.
In short, if you’ve got an older tube TV or a flat-screen TV with only an analog tuner, you’ll need a converter box to keep getting a signal.
This isn’t your grandma’s antenna TV — the picture quality for digital antenna TV is simply stunning compared with any kind of analog service. It’s technically superior to any digital signal you get from cable or satellite providers.
(To avoid clogging up this post with too much technical stuff, please see more on the DTV transition on the discussion boards at Digital Home Canada.)
Although Canada’s private broadcasters are going ahead full-bore with the DTV transition, CBC/Radio-Canada’s version of the DTV switch-over can only be described as a disaster.
Here are the cities were the CRTC has mandated DTV transition for Aug. 31, 2011:
Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Lloydminster, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Windsor, London, Kitchener, Toronto/Hamilton/Barrie, Ottawa/Gatineau, Montreal, Quebec, Saguenay, Sherbrooke, Rivière-du-Loup, Rouyn/Val-d’Or, Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton, Charlottetown, Halifax and St. John’s.
But CBC/Radio-Canada is only doing a DTV transition for stations where it makes original programming — a list that excludes repeater stations, so it is much shorter than the CRTC’s list.
This means huge swaths of Quebec and New Brunswick (including Quebec, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Moncton) will lose CBC service and huge swathes of Canada outside Quebec (including Calgary, Windsor, Fredericton, Saint John, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s) will lose Radio-Canada service. In the worst cases, in places such as London and Saskatoon, people will lose both English and French television altogether.
Management at CBC/Radio-Canada has been repeating a mantra about Canadians migrating away from tradition television toward online/mobile technologies and that no one uses antenna television anyway.
They constantly cite a meaningless statistic, that only 8% of Canadians use antenna television, in hopes that repeating a lie will somehow make it true.
You see, the 8% statistic only represents the number of Canadians who use OTA exclusively as a means of capturing TV signals. If you use cable or satellite in your family room but use antenna TV in the kitchen and in your bedroom, you’re not being counted as an antenna TV viewer.
And frankly, even if that statistic is true, 8% of 34 million Canadians is still almost 3 million people. That’s a huge chunk of the Canadian population who are paying taxes that subsidize CBC services but will be soon unable to watch it.
Another curious part of the CBC/Radio-Canada’s transmission strategy is that they are maintaining a huge analog TV broadcast network, reaching sparsely populated, far-flung parts of Canada where satellite services are arguably more efficient to deliver service. Meanwhile, they are abandoning antenna TV in some of Canada’s densest areas. That dichotomy doesn’t make sense.
More things to consider:

  • Canadians might not have embraced analog antenna television given its relatively poor picture quality. That doesn’t mean we will do the same with over-the-air DTV, which is superior to analog OTA in almost every way.
  • Not all Canadians are able to afford a subscription to television services via cable or satellite. CBC/Radio-Canada has been pushing Canada’s cable and satellite systems to offer a low-cost “skinny local” service — but cheap is not free.
  • CBC/Radio-Canada has been pushing their online/mobile services, yet many parts of Canada are still without reliable high-speed Internet. And in those places that do have good high-speed Internet, most major service providers are generally a lot for bandwidth.
  • Some of Canada’s smallest broadcasters are doing their all to convert to DTV. Consider eastern Quebec, where the transition is not mandatory, yet local networks are switching to DTV anyway.

CBC/Radio-Canada, like every other broadcaster in the country, knew years ahead of time the DTV transition was coming.
Perhaps it was unable to budget the money required to convert its transmitters as per CRTC rules, so it chose to turn off a number of urban transmitters instead.
Perhaps it shifted its DTV strategy mid-stream, choosing deliberately to eliminate antenna TV service to so many parts of the country.
There are signs CBC/Radio-Canada has suddenly realized Canadians won’t just accept the Mother Corp.’s DTV transition plan without asking questions and pushing back. After the CRTC turned down CBC’s application to turn off their transmitter serving Saint John and Fredericton, to be replaced with service only to Fredericton, CBC came back with a plan to retain analog service to Saint John, even after the mandatory transition deadline. There are rumours surfacing about the same sort of thing happening elsewhere.
All this reeks of poor planning and poor management at CBC/Radio-Canada.
Not only must the corporation correct the omissions from its DTV transition plan by implementing DTV service in all urban areas as mandated by the CRTC, it also must be taken to task for bungling the transition in the first place.