As Canada’s telecom regulator continues gathering the data for its report on audio-video programming in Canada, an interesting fact has emerged.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is choosing to bend the Commission’s rules of procedure, in order to provide a swath of both Canadian and U.S. media companies with a veil of privacy.
Rather than making information like subscribers, advertising and total revenue public, the CRTC has told media companies it won’t require the companies to disclose the information publicly due to its “sensitive” nature.
The deadlines for the first and second phase of comments have already passed, but the CRTC sent procedural letters requesting financial and subscriber information to companies that provide audio-video programming in Canada.
These include companies like Facebook, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Spotify, Rogers, Bell and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
MobileSyrup has reached out to a number of the companies who received procedural letters, and we’ve learned that every U.S.-based company that did submit information to the CRTC have chosen to exercise their CRTC-given right to privacy.
Apple and Netflix declined to comment.
The CRTC has told media companies it won’t require the companies to disclose the information publicly due to its ‘sensitive’ nature.
Amazon confirmed that the company did respond to the Commission’s letter, but declined to comment further.
Google and Spotify didn’t respond to MobileSyrup’s request for comment.
Facebook didn’t file and a spokesperson explained that the company’s Watch video streaming platform is not available to Canadian consumers. As such, the company doesn’t provide audio-video programming in Canada.
However, Canadians can still access certain shows — like Humans of New York — that fall under the Watch umbrella in the U.S.
In Canada, this programming is just classified as regular Facebook content.
Of the Canadian companies called upon to submit information to the CRTC, Bell and Shaw all failed to respond to MobileSyrup’s request for comment.
Rogers Cable, Rogers Media and Quebecor both confirmed that they filed information, but declined to comment further.
Additionally, the CBC confirmed that it submitted information to the CRTC, but a spokesperson told MobileSyrup that “the information we provided is competitively sensitive and therefore has been designated as confidential.”
A representative for Corus Entertainment confirmed that the company responded to the CRTC’s request, but that “the information was filed in confidence.”
OpenMedia addresses concerns about the public interest
OpenMedia’s Katy Anderson told MobileSyrup that while she recognizes the importance of making such information public, she also believes that “it’s most important for the CRTC to have good data to make decisions and then perhaps they can do things like make the information available to the public in aggregate, perhaps.”
“The CRTC is a federal body and I’d trust that they do a good job,” said Anderson. “It’s not dangerous that the CRTC have more information to make a decision. I want the federal regulator to have as much as possible. That’s the number one priority.”
However, Anderson did add that she hopes that the CRTC under chairperson Ian Scott doesn’t make a habit of bending the rules of procedure in this way.
“We are looking toward Ian Scott and what CRTC he is going to lead,” said Anderson. “I certainly hope this isn’t indicative of the CRTC under Scott.”
Criticism from the FRPC
Granted, there is one Canadian advocacy organization that is utterly opposed to the manner in which the CRTC has chosen to collect information.
Monica Auer, the executive director of the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications, spoke with MobileSyrup about the forum’s position on the CRTC’s decision to provide media companies with a veil of privacy.
“I think it’s an egregious breach of a concept of informed public participation,” said Auer, in a phone interview with MobileSyrup.
“How are Canadians supposed to make an informed judgment when they don’t have the data the CRTC has or will have?”
“I think it’s an egregious breach of a concept of informed public participation.”
Auer also questioned CRTC chairperson Ian Scott’s decision to provide a veil of privacy when he previously spoke about the importance of promoting the public interest at last year’s International Institute of Communications’ annual Law and Policy Conference.
On the subject of eventually accessing this private information, Auer expressed skepticism that it would eventually be made readily available.
“At this point, I doubt that we’ll see the data,” said Auer, adding that she “would be very happy if we did see the data.”
MobileSyrup also reached out the Public Interest Advocacy Centre for comment; however, the centre declined to comment.
Rose Behar contributed files to this story.
Correction: This article previously stated Rogers Media failed to respond, but Rogers intended to confirm it had filed information with the CRTC and declined to comment for both Rogers Cable and Rogers Media.