Editorial

Pay-TV: a shot in the arm or a nail in the coffin?

Peter C. Newman August 18 1980
Editorial

Pay-TV: a shot in the arm or a nail in the coffin?

Peter C. Newman August 18 1980

Pay-TV: a shot in the arm or a nail in the coffin?

Editorial

Peter C. Newman

When couple television of decades first ago, took the over odd our gloomy leisure predictime a tion was heard that its success would cut deep into popular reading habits, threatening the future of magazines. I never believed it. It still requires the printed word to confirm what you see on the boob tube. And besides, you can’t swat flies with a TV set.

The future of magazines seems assured, but television is about to be reinvented. The introduction of payTV (page 38) will transform all of our viewing habits, bringing first-run movies, glitzie showbiz spectaculars and top-line sports events directly into living rooms and, most important of all, allowing each viewer to fashion his own mix of home entertainment.

Pay-TV was available in Canada on an experimental basis in 1960 but, starting next year, the CRTC will probably allow its development on a national scale. In the U.S. nearly six million viewers already spend $120 million a month watching this new form of home entertainment.

The introduction of pay-TV brings with it as many problems as opportunities, but two criteria are absolutely essential in any scheme to wire Canada’s homes with this fabulous new medium: most of the revenues it produces should be funnelled into the production of

.. Canadian films and other programming; and whatever new CRTC regulations govern its use should be designed to guarantee the continuing viability of the CBC. PayTV must not be allowed to become just a new method of marketing foreign films—one more blow to an already fractured CBC audience. Certainly the size and influence of the networks will suffer, especially if pay-TV is allowed to siphon off the most popular programs from regular channels so they wouldn’t be available free to nonsubscribers.

According to Richard Nielsen, president of NielsenFerns International Ltd., Canada’s largest independent television producers, pay-TV can put $3.2 million a week into domestic production if the new service is exploited aggressively enough. That kind of funding would detonate an unprecedented creative explosion, based not on such artificial incentives as tax shelters and government grants but on the much more inspiring ideal of Canadian entertainers being able to reach and hold their audiences.

Pay-TV is not just a more expensive way of watching better television. It could become the final nail in the coffin that helps bury the dream of developing a distinctive Canadian culture. Or, properly regulated, it could provide the kind of financial climate within which we could develop our own film industry as well as M*A*S*Hs and Johnny Carsons.