Media Ownership and Convergence in Canada: Alternate Take

- June 2nd, 2012

Recently, the Library of Parliament published a paper titled “Media Ownership and Convergence in Canada”. It is, as I said on Twitter when I first read it, a shabby piece of scholarship that the Library ought to withdraw or revise.

Why? It is an inaccurate and wholly incomplete picture of media ownership and convergence in Canada. Policy makers, Members of Parliament, and every day Canadians who might rely on this paper to advocate for the change of any laws or regulations (or to decline to change any laws and regulations)  could very likely make some bad decisions.

Now, I’m in the media business so perhaps I have a bit better knowledge than most who might review this paper, but it seems to me that any reader is going to immediately notice two glaring errors of omission right off the bat:

  • Failure to account for the single largest employer of journalists in the country, the CBC. CBC produces an extraordinary amount of content, i.e. media, on over-the-television, cable television, radio, and through an increasingly large number of digital platforms. It is has found a huge audience in all those areas and if it is not the market leader in the segments in which it provides content, it is among the market leaders.
  • Failure to account for rapidly growing media organizations operating in Canada and providing content to Canadians that is owned and managed by non-Canadians. These organizations are primarily digital-only media and would include, for example, Google Canada, Huffington Post Canada, and Yahoo Canada. These digital-only platforms employ news gatherers and editors based in Canada or who work outside Canada but tailor content for Canadian audiences. Some of them are market leaders in terms of audience share, eclipsing many “legacy” media organizations who operate in the digital space.

To sum then, a paper published in April 2012 (as this one is) treats the Internet and Internet-only media companies as if they don’t exist and completely misses the influence and significance of the single biggest media organization in the country — the CBC.

Moreover, the fact that CBC is a public asset owned by all Canadians through the federal government and the vast majority of rapidly growing digital-only media organizations are not owned, controlled or managed by Canadians will have some major policy implications if future discussions about media ownership and convergence in Canada take the same trajectory they have always taken, namely arguments over Canadian content and Canadian control.

Some notes reading through the paper:

Authors write: “Consequently, Canada’s information landscape is a place of much concentration and convergence.” Or you could write. “Because there are low or no regulatory barriers for media organizations to create online-only content for Canadian audiences, there is an increasing diversity of options available to Canadian media consumers.”

Authors write: “This paper presents a current picture of ownership in Canada’s media industry.” As we will see, the authors have failed to carry through on their promise. The picture presented is inaccurate and incomplete.

Section 3 of this paper is titled Canada’s Current Media Ownership Profile but, in fact, as they say in the first sentence of this section, it is not that at at all but is instead a list of “current ownership profiles of Canada’s largest private-sector media companies.” (My emphasis). The authors then list eight organizations but it’s not clear to me that these are the eight largest private-sector media companies and one, in fact, is not even a media company. And if this is a listing of “largest”, what does that mean? Largest by audience size? Largest by number of journalists or content creators employed? Largest by revenue derived from media products? And, of course, this is a listing only of Canadian-controlled media companies. So this list is already value-less from a policy-makers standpoint because it omits the single largest media organization in the country (the CBC), it lists a company that is not even a media company; it does not list foreign-owned media companies that are larger, by many measurements, than many of the companies on this list.

Here’s the details:

  • Authors indicate that “Shaw Communications operates specialty television networks”. And that’s true. That would be the business of Shaw Media. But that’s it. There is no mention in the paper of the fact that it Shaw operates a national over-the-air broadcaster called Global Television. That’s not a specialty network. Global, CBC and CTV are the country’s main English-language national broadcasters, each with national news organizations and each with a flagship national newscast.
  • Authors indicate that “Quebecor Media Inc.” (this is the company I work for) is “Primarily in Quebec”. Indeed, it is the dominant media organization in French Canada with most-watched over-the-air television network TVA, the most-watched cable news network LCN and the largest-selling French-language newspaper in the country, Le Journal de Montréal. But to say “Primarily in Quebec” gives a bit of a misleading picture to the reader of Quebecor’s size and influence for it is the single largest newspaper publisher in English Canada if, by large, you mean combined weekly circulation of those titles or combined weekly readership of those titles. (It may even simply own more titles, i.e. publications, than anyone else but, as you’ll see below, there’s a couple of Western-based media companies that own a pile of titles, too. Quebecor’s combined French and English language title list may be the largest in the country but of that, I’m not a 100% sure.)
  • Authors put TELUS on this list of “private-sector media companies”. TELUS is famous among investors, at least, for being pretty much the only telecommunications pure-play in Canada. (Why, here’s the CEO Telus saying that himself in May, 2011) Telus has made a strategic decision to stay away from the convergence idea and has never ever made a bid for a media asset such as newspaper, radio station, television station, or broadcaster. It employs no journalists. If TELUS were the only company on this list of “private sector media companies” in Canada, there would be no media in Canada for TELUS creates no content. TELUS may still be important to the policy debate, though, on media convergence for, as CEO Darren Entwistle has said, federal regulators ought to ensure that sports highlights on TSN, for example, can be accessed by Telus television, Internet and telephone customers and not just by the telephone, television and Internet customers of Bell, which happens to own the country’s most popular sports channel. Still, though it’s great to have Telus’ view as part of the policy debate, Telus does not belong on a list of Canadian media companies.

Accurate lists are important for research. We can’t make informed policy decisions without a clear measurement of what it is we seek to describe. So what is this measurement — this list — missing?

  1. Large foreign-owned private sector players that operate in Canada 
    1. Google, for example, is one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization; and while it does not send reporters and news gathers into the field (except for those Google cars that take pictures of your neighbourhood) it has an absolutely dominant position in the Canadian market for “search” through which many Canadians get the digital media content. Yahoo Canada competes against Google in Canada and around the world. In Canada, Yahoo employs journalists to find and create content for its Canadian audiences. Huffington Post is another foreign-owned entity that is now employing journalists for both French and Canadian audiences and its market share in English Canada is immense . In November, Huffington Post Canada managing editor Danielle Crittenden said that within a few months of the launch of Huffington Post Canada, it was drawing two million unique visitors a month and, according to Crittenden, that traffic exceeded a Canadian-owned media organization, nationalpost.com.
      Notably, as Postmedia Network Inc. CEO Paul Godfrey recently complained, foreign-owned media organizations are competing for advertising dollars and market share against Canadian private-sector firms whose operations are constrained by federal government regulations. Foreign-owned firms are not constrained by Canadian regulations and, in the view of some, that gives them a financial advantage, notably when it comes to raising capital from foreign sources.
  2. Important regional players
    1. In Atlantic Canada and in New Brunswick in particular, the Irving family owns a tremendous amount of media assets — both print and broadcast.  Black Press owns 71 newspapers in British Columbia with more than 1 million readers. Glacier Media Group owns 81 newspapers in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan including the Victoria Times-Colonist. Surely the Irvings, Black Press, and Glacier Media would belong on this list of “largest private-sector media companies.”

UPDATE: What else is missing? As my Parliamentary Press Gallery colleague Terry Pedwell notes in the comments below: The Canadian Press is not on the list of “largest private-sector media companies” and surely, simply because of its influence, CP ought to make this list?

Anyhow, that’s the research I could pull together on “Media Ownership and Convergence in Canada” in a couple of hours. I encourage the Library of Parliament to have another go at this important issue and publish some more comprehensive and accurate research.

Categories: Industry, Journalism

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3 comments

  1. Terry Pedwell says:

    The Canadian Press is also a privately-owned media company, since mid-2011. Not on the list?

  2. No surprise that the same dynamic duo penned this:

    “Several groups have argued that the federal government should take a leading role in a digital society and become an active model for Canadians in the use of digital technology.”

    http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/cei-23-e.htm?Param=ce6

    Is this just more conservative contempt toward Parliament? Paying partisan stooges to pose as legitimate researchers and scholars operating under the banner “Library of Parliament”?

  3. Eamon Hoey says:

    The “Paper” represents a very low level of scholarship. Perhaps the subject is not suitable for a “brief” paper.

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