Canada will finally enter the satellite radio era later this month when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announces who will get the much sought-after licence to beam. But don't look to the new tech to solve the Canuck content dust-up.
Neither of the two satellite applicants, it turns out, is promising more than 5 per cent CanCon, leaving two indie umbrella groups to bicker over whether new music will benefit from the space-age broadcasting.
The Canadian Independent Recording Artists Association may be pushing tighter CanCon rules on analog radio, but, interestingly, it isn't asking the same for satellite. That's because CIRAA sees it as a trade-off, accepting lower CanCon levels for promised access to an American audience that already exceeds 5 million listeners.
They've had satellite radio south of the border for five years now, and CIRAA prez Gregg Terrence thinks it's been good for Canadian musicians. "Hundreds of Canadian bands are already getting played on satellite radio in the U.S. that are not getting played on terrestrial radio in Canada," he says, adding that he supports both applications.
According to Bob Mackowycz VP of programming for the Canadian Satellite Radio (CSR), which, along with XM Satellite, is one of the bidders, 233 Canadian bands without significant commercial radio exposure are already played in the States.
CSR has committed five channels to Canadian content out of its 150, while the competing bid, Sirius Canada, which is allied with Standard Broadcasting and CBC, has offered the same number out of 120 channels. The public, regardless of who wins, would pay $70 to $300 for a unit and under $13 a month for a subscription.
But Brian Chater, president of the Canadian Independent Record Production Association, says that's just not enough. "We have never supported satellite applications. Our principles are that [broadcasting] should have high CanCon and be diverse."
In response to the applicants' claims that they could open new markets in the U.S. for Canadian music, Chater told CRTC hearings recently, "Canadian content on American-programmed channels is presented as a fait accompli, but nowhere is any promise made of any actual percentage. Even given this totally non-guaranteed exposure, one might also want to discuss the number of spins and where in the schedule these occurred."
(XM says it doesn't have spin numbers for the 233 bands played over U.S. airwaves.)
Chater also took a swipe at the CBC for offering to invest $13.4 million in its Sirius bid and accused the national broadcaster of using public funds to promote foreign content. "CIRPA has diligently searched the Broadcasting Act, and nowhere can it find wording that says it's a CBC Radio Canada mandate to be a distributor of foreign program services or that it should be programming into the U.S."
CBC spokesperson Jason MacDonald defends the relationship with Sirius, saying it's a way of ensuring a Canadian presence in the new medium, which some say has as many as 200,000 illegal listeners in Canada. "If there's a grey market [tech-savvy signal-stealers], there's no guarantee that satellite companies are going to carry CBC. We are the home of Canadian content, so we need to be there."
Playlists aside, if approved, both licences could be a boon for Canadian musicians. Sirius Canada has pledged 5 per cent of revenue, an estimated $22 million over seven years, for talent development, and CSR $28 million.