Evidence of meeting #8 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was media.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Walter Duszara  Board Secretary, Quebec Community Groups Network
Hugh Maynard  Past President, Quebec Community Groups Network
Ian Morrison  Spokesperson, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
Peter Miller  Expert on Local Broadcasting, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
Ann Mainville-Neeson  Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS
Frédéric April  Manager, maCommunauté, TELUS Télé Optik, TELUS

April 12th, 2016 / 9:55 a.m.

Ann Mainville-Neeson Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Thank you very much.

Good morning, and thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you on this important issue of media and local communities.

My name is Ann Mainville-Neeson, and I'm vice-president of broadcasting policy and regulatory affairs at Telus. With me is Frédéric April, who manages our French language community station called maCommunauté for Telus' Optik TV.

Telus is one of Canada's large telecommunications providers. We're well known for our commercials with the nice little animals, but we also provide an IPTV-based TV service called Optik TV. It's an alternative to the cable and satellite companies. Optik TV is available in Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec. Unlike our competitors, who take an ownership stake in the content programming services and the networks that distribute these services, Telus does not own any programming services. We are not vertically integrated. Like most cable TV companies, we do operate a community television service, which is a public service that we offer in the areas in which we offer TV service.

Our approach to community programming is different from our competitors as well, though.

First, instead of operating a traditional community channel, the likes of which I'm sure you're familiar with here in Ottawa, Telus Optik Local programming breaks free from the scheduled channel and instead we offer our programming on demand. That allows us to offer convenience to our customers, but also to break free from the scheduling. We can offer programming in the length in which the programming requires. It could be a bite-sized bit of information, or it could be a longer-form documentary, or whatever the programming length is required for the content itself to be expressed.

Second, our community programming service is not only available on our Optik TV video-on-demand service, it's also available completely free online on our YouTube channel. We believe that it's important for our communities to be served with programming available, regardless of the television service provider that customers choose. We make our content available to everyone. We want the programming to be watched not just by our own customers, but by as many people as possible, including people living in the surrounding region, province, and indeed in the country and around the globe.

Most importantly, what truly distinguishes Telus' community programming is our heavy reliance on programming created by independent producers who reside in the local communities. Telus does not operate local studies for the creation of community programming. Instead Telus provides the voice to the communities served by Optik TV through funding for the local producers who can work at their creative arts in the communities in which they reside.

Telus' investment in Optik Local and maCommunauté, as well as its approach to production and availability of community programming, reflects the philanthropic philosophy and commitment to the communities we serve. Telus is proud to support sustainable communities and strong social outcomes. Providing a platform for community members to share stories and get informed on local issues is one of the ways that we give back to the communities.

Telus recently participated in the CRTC's review of the regulatory framework for local and community programming. One of the matters which was discussed, as Peter Miller has just informed the committee, was the determination of whether support was needed for the creation of local news by the television broadcasters. In that proceeding, Telus argued strenuously that the CRTC should not adopt a subsidy model for the production of traditional newscasts, and we did so for two reasons.

The first reason is that Telus is concerned that such a subsidy would be implemented at the expense of the diversity of voices that are provided by community television services. Telus submits that as an increasingly consolidated media communication sector, it is essentially important to prioritize information sources that are independent from the large media conglomerates.

The second reason for its position in the hearing is that we do not believe subsidizing traditional news models is sustainable. Nor do we believe that subsidies would constitute good public policy, given the changing technologies and consumer behaviours. For example, Statistics Canada reported a considerable decline in viewership on news on television, falling from 90% in 2003 to 78% in 2013. There is no doubt that the proliferation of media news information sources is at the root of this decline, but there's also the rise of social media and the increase of sharing on video platforms that does account for such a decline.

Telus knows from experience that optic local programming has the power to build an understanding and empathy between diverse community elements and inspire citizens to take action to better their communities. Many of the Optik Local stories are shared through social media, and they strike a chord, so to speak, in highlighting important societal issues not typically covered by mainstream media. The short, shareable programs of Optik Local therefore enhance the awareness of people, events, and issues in our communities.

Consider, for example, the social impact of the short documentary produced for Optik Local called Eastside Stories, which chronicles the spirit and struggles of the residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The program was viewed by tens of thousands of viewers, and shared by many of these viewers, and it had a strong impact on the understanding in that area. Indeed, the producer of that series indicated that many viewers have stated the content has changed their views on the homeless and opened their eyes to the gentrification issue of the Downtown Eastside and some of the grassroots initiatives popping up in the community.

Another example of the positive social impact of Optik Local programming is the short documentary about Staff Sergeant Baltej Dhillon, the first Sikh RCMP officer permitted to wear a turban as part of his uniform. Telus posted this program on its Facebook page, and it has reached over 33,000 viewers, many of whom also shared the story with their own networks and left positive comments on the site. This demonstrates these are important stories to tell, and we're encouraged to see that we can amplify their impact through social media.

We welcome the opportunities presented by new technologies and platforms that are enabling the creation and viewing of innovative forms of local programming. We embrace future opportunities as they emerge.

Here I'm really going to push the boundaries. In a recent TED talk, filmmaker Chris Milk spoke on creating the ultimate empathy machine by filming in virtual reality. Specifically, he described using virtual reality technology to shoot his film of a young girl living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. This allowed viewers, or more accurately participants in this virtual reality experience to not only witness the experience of her onscreen, but essentially to climb through the screen and live the experience on the other side. What a powerful tool to truly engage viewers and create the empathy that is essential to positive action.

In conclusion, then, Telus believes it's essential for this committee to examine all the forms of local media, including those that are breaking away from traditional journalism formats as this can create the impetus for positive social change.

The point is there is no longer a better or best way to convey news and information. Telus hopes that the committee's study on media and local communities will embrace the development of non-traditional platforms and formats and distribution methods to better engage citizens, bring them together, and ignite positive social change in communities across Canada.

Thank you. I would be pleased to answer your questions.

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much. That was well done in eight minutes.

I would like to move now to the questions for seven minutes. Again, I would like to remind both the people who are answering the questions and those who are asking the questions to be short and to try to get in as many things as you can in that seven minutes. Thank you.

Ms. Dabrusin, for the Liberal Party.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you for that outline. It was really informative and helpful.

My first question, actually, is about something I've been reading recently about a Rogers program to provide subsidized Internet service to people in community housing in some provinces. I believe it's in three provinces right now that it is offered.

Does Telus have a similar type of program available for subsidizing low income people to receive Internet?

10 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

Telus certainly has looked at launching various programs, and we have offered numerous grants to communities. We have a system for philanthropic activities that we administer through community boards. Various boards across the country comprise both members of the community as well as Telus representatives, and we decide what grassroots charities within those communities will receive funding.

Millions of dollars have been given over the past I don't know how many years since we've been operating these community boards, and those go to the grassroots charities who can then determine how best to disburse that. It does at times include in-kind services.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

I believe the CRTC is right now doing a Let's Talk broadband discussion that's looking at ensuring the availability of affordable Internet services to all Canadians. I expect you will be probably presenting that as well.

10:05 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Do you have any comments that you can share with us right now about how to increase affordable broadband access across Canada?

10:05 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

I would hate to pre-empt my colleagues who will be speaking next week at the CRTC hearing. Certainly this is an important issue, and one that we believe is dealt with. It's an important social issue for all to have access to broadband.

We also need to keep in mind the tremendous investments that have been made through private investments already. Canadians have significant access to broadband as it is. But we do have some thoughts on providing special assistance to those in need.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

You had talked about providing your content from Optik TV on YouTube. How is that monetized? Once you put it on YouTube, how do you develop any kind of money from that?

10:05 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

First off, our community programming service is not monetized. Instead, it is a public service that we offer to the communities we serve. It's part of our philanthropic efforts in all the various communities, and it's also part of the required contribution that all broadcast distributors must make into the Canadian broadcasting system.

Those funds, to create this content, which happens to be local content, are part of that contribution system. Instead of maintaining exclusivity over that content and using it to attract people to our own broadcasting distribution service, which is what other cable companies generally tend to do, we find that if we're going to use so-called public funds for the creation of this programming, it should be made available to all. This is why we make it available on platforms other than our Optik TV. It's not just our Optik TV subscribers who have access to this programming.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

You've talked about Optik TV and it being available on social media networks. Do you provide funding to other forms of community media other than just TV?

10:05 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

Other than TV....

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Other ways of reaching people than through TV.

10:05 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

Right. Essentially all of our funding goes for Optik Local, a television platform. It is video-based, available on various other platforms, but it is a video service.

If you're asking if we contribute to print media, it's only through our other philanthropic efforts to the extent that there might have been some communities that have sought assistance.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

You've mentioned your philanthropic activities quite a bit. Can you give me some examples?

In particular, when I asked my first question, you mentioned trying to increase availability to people who may not be able to afford Internet service. You mentioned some of your grants. Do you have any specific examples of the types of grants you've given?

10:05 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

Most of the grants go to the grassroots organizations in the community. They are determined from the ground up. They are determined by the communities themselves.

I can give you examples in Ottawa. I was a member of the Telus community board here. We received anything from applications for assisting in special needs schools to helping to create some projects for underserved youth in various areas. Some are completely unrelated to our telecommunications business. I don't want to mix the two. They could combine, but I don't want to necessarily mix the two. We do have other programs as well.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

As part of that, have you analyzed what the need is?

10:05 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

Each community board certainly does extensive research. These community boards themselves are composed of some very prominent members of the community. Here in Ottawa we had the head of the United Way, for example, who obviously has a very keen understanding of what the need is in the community.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Those are the outside organizations. Telus is an active player in this industry, and understands the industry quite well in terms of the availability of the Internet out there. Have you analyzed—

10:10 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

The need for Internet? Yes, absolutely. That is something we analyze. We will be presenting on those matters at the CRTC. I really don't want to pre-empt my colleagues.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

I'm not trying to pre-empt your colleagues, but it's also a matter of what we're looking at here. We're talking about the fact that we've been hearing from many witnesses about a shift towards digital.

So it's not a matter of pre-empting. It also covers what we're looking at in terms of what we're recommending down the line.

10:10 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

Yes, absolutely. I would comment that in the recent CRTC broadcasting monitoring report, they did note that there is significant use of Internet. The usage by Canadians itself should also be a very clear indicator that there is availability of broadband. If Canadians are using it, obviously there's less of a problem than what we might otherwise consider.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much, Ms. Dabrusin.

Now we'll go to Mr. Waugh for the Conservatives.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Thank you.

Thank you for your presentation. I'm just going to pick up on what Madam Dabrusin said in regard to who's controlling this. This is the big thing in media right now. You can say anything socially and hide. We have seen that on Twitter and on Facebook. We have seen it everywhere. Who regulates?

I know that you're just a carrier. You've said that you're really not a broadcaster other than Optik TV, so do you pay anyone with Optik TV to do a presentation? Who's regulating what you're putting on YouTube? Who's regulating what you're doing?

10:10 a.m.

Vice President, Broadcasting Policy and Regulatory Affairs, TELUS

Ann Mainville-Neeson

We're not a broadcaster—