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.