CRTC: Canadians Love Their Digital Devices

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Canadians are increasingly watching TV on their smartphones, tablets and online as U.S. digital giants like Netflix, YouTube and iTunes move north of the border.

TORONTO -- Now we know why Netflix, YouTube and iTunes are breaking for the Great White North: Canadians are watching TV shows on their digital devices in droves.

The CRTC, Canada’s TV watchdog, in an industry survey reports 24% of English-speaking Canadians and 20% of French-speaking Canadians in 2010 watched some TV programming online, including newscasts, sports clips and popular U.S. and Canadian TV shows.

“This trend is expected to continue as these services give consumers the flexibility to catch up on the television shows they have missed, at a time and on the device that is most convenient,” the regulator said.

The CRTC predicted that online viewing traffic on Canadian Internet networks will quadruple from 2009 to 2014.

Mobile video streaming is driving the growth: the regulator estimates that, between 2010 and 2014, the number of Canadian wireless subscribers will grow from 25.8 million to nearly 30 million, with half using a smartphone that can connect to the Internet and social media.

The CRTC report is not just about cheerleading about Canadians being digitally savvy.

The regulator insisted it needs to know the TV viewing habits of Canadians online, or on mobile phones and tablets, to ensure it can maintain shelf space for homegrown content.

"In this new digital world, regulators will be faced with challenges, particularly as they pertain to maintaining the currency and flexibility of existing laws,” the CRTC warned in its report.

“In order to understand where regulations may become ineffective or result in unintended consequences, it is critical to examine the trends that drive convergence, alter business models, and change consumer behaviours—particularly those related to media consumption—and any other issues that concern consumers,” the report added.

The CRTC has faced calls from domestic TV producers and broadcasters for the regulator to force Netflix to subsidize homegrown TV production as it continues to expand into Canada.

Netflix is considered the canary in the mine as the Canadian TV industry deals with a wall of U.S. digital content coming across the border and aimed at digital devices – and all unregulated by the CRTC.