CBC chief proposes hybrid approach for Canadian HD transition

The head of the CBC/Radio-Canada told Canadian regulators Nov. 27 that the broadcast industry “does not have the financial wherewithal” to fund the transition from the nation’s analog transmission infrastructure to one suited to over-the-air delivery of digital HD in a “timely and effective manner.”

Speaking before a meeting of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in Gatineau, Quebec, CBC/Radio-Canada president and CEO Robert Rabinovitch said it would take “another 12 years to achieve full digital/HD conversion of our English and French TV services” based upon ad revenue projections from PricewaterhouseCooper.

Rabinovitch's comments about HD and digital broadcasting were part of a larger presentation he and other CBC/Radio-Canada executives, including Ray Carnovale, vice-president and chief technology officer, made regarding the future of conventional TV broadcasting.

The CBC chief told regulators that no one questioned whether conventional broadcasters should keep pace with developments in digital communications. The questions that must be answered are “how best to do this, how it is to be funded and how quickly” conventional broadcasters should make the digital transition, he said.

Rabinovitch proposed the nation take a hybrid approach to delivery of digital television that relies on a mix of terrestrial broadcast and satellite, cable and IPTV delivery. With only 10 percent of Canadian viewers relying on over-the-air reception, he said, “we believe it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to try to replace our entire analog transmitter infrastructure with a digital one.” Rather, he proposed the installation of 44 digital over-the-air transmitters in major markets with other areas being served by satellite, cable and IPTV service.

To pay for the conversion in a timely manner, Rabinovitch suggested regulators consider granting his organization access to “supplementary financing, particularly subscriber revenues.” The CBC was “proposing eligibility, not a guarantee, to subscriber revenues,” to offset a weakened ad-revenue-supported business model afflicting conventional TV operations, he said.

To read Rabinovitch’s comments, visit www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/speeches/20061127.shtml.