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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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THIS remarkable new form of broadcasting has evoked great interest and enthusiasm among the general public, the advertising industry, and in all groups whose interest or duty it may be to inform, entertain or influence the public. This interest and enthusiasm is one important fact about television not open to dispute. Another equally important but perhaps not equally recognized fact is its unpredictability. Its history indicates that we can be certain only of its uncertain future.

2. The other commonly accepted facts about television should probably be considered in the light of these first two. The theme of its power to influence people always inspires a lavish use of superlatives. The combined influences of sight, sound and motion are intensified when received in the quiet of a home. There is little doubt that television is becoming as popular as it is persuasive.

3. Another common generalization, that television is becoming an important and even dangerous rival of the other mass media, radio and the cinema, has been questioned. There is evidence to show that attendance at cinemas and listening to sound broadcasting has been noticeably reduced in places where television is available. In the New York metropolitan district, for instance, an investigation indicated that "each radio home that installs TV has lost eighty-three per cent of its evening potential for the radio advertiser. The report contends that TV practically wipes out AM night time listening in radio homes".1 It has been argued, however, that once television is no longer a novelty it will find its own level along with radio and the cinema as a means of instruction and entertainment; and that the last two may be forced by healthy competition to exploit new possibilities until now neglected.

4. It is evident, then, that we are faced with a new and important means of communication which, if it does not supersede the others, will almost certainly exercise a profound influence over them. In our country of difficult communications, consideration of the use of this new force cannot be neglected. We have been asked to suggest the policies which should guide its development, a subject of concern to many, as we have learned. As a preliminary to our recommendations to be made in Part II, we present here a brief survey of television development abroad and in Canada, of the technical, financial and programming factors that must be considered


and of the views of the public in so far as we have been able to ascertain them.

5. There is television broadcasting today in a number of countries, notably, of course, in Great Britain, France and the United States. Each of these countries follows in television the same policies as in radio broadcasting. In Europe there are also experimental transmissions in Holland and in Italy, and there are two stations in Russia. There are stations in Mexico, in Brazil and in Cuba, all operating on the American standard. Denmark and Switzerland are contemplating television, but have adopted a "wait and see" policy, and Switzerland has, like Canada, the special problem of broadcasting in at least two languages. We understand that both these countries propose to retain television under state control, free from commercial advertising.

6. The British Broadcasting Corporation began in 1936 a service which was interrupted by the war. Since its resumption, a good programme service has been offered from the London station which broadcasts four hours a day and is available to 12,000,000 people. The new station in Birmingham, linked with London by radio relay stations and by coaxial cable, will be within the reach of 6,000,000 more. There are now 300,000 receivers. The B.B.C. produces its twenty-eight hour a week programmes on a budget of about £2,000,000, and in 1949 had a television staff of 620. As with radio there are no commercial activities, and no private stations. The system apparently gives satisfaction but the prospect of cinema television introduces a new factor. A British company proposes to offer television programmes in moving picture theatres on a commercial basis, presumably using land lines from production studios or from the scene of news events, thus providing a form of television for those unable to afford television receivers at home.

7. France, like Great Britain, has organized television as a non-commercial public service. Recently there have been proposals for enlisting advertising interests to operate television with the French Government as a co-operative monopoly; but no effect has been given to this suggestion. There are two stations in France, one in Paris and the other in Lille, but development in France is at the moment rather limited, for the authorities have decided to concentrate, for the future, on "high definition" television, to produce a more highly defined or clearer image, even although experts claim that the proposed system is too expensive and limits the number of available channels. This policy naturally delays the sale of sets (now only 15,000 are in use) and the development of television either as a public service or as a business.

8. Television broadcasting in the United States began only in 1939 and was interrupted by war in 1941. Its progress since the war has been astonishingly rapid in spite of serious technical and financial problems.


The United States, like Britain and France, has adhered to the policy of governmental control of licensing channels for television. The Federal Communications Commission is the government agency empowered to issue television licences. At the beginning of 1951, there were in the United States 107 operating stations in sixty-six cities. Receiving sets have increased from 7,000 at the end of the war to more than 10,000,000 at the present time (more than 2,000,000 in the New York area alone), with an estimated audience of about 40,000,000 people.

9. In Canada, television is in the proverbially happy position of having as yet no history. The Board of Governors of the C.B.C., as the body primarily responsible for the national interest in broadcasting of all kinds, issued two public statements in May and November, 1948, with the object of explaining its "fundamental thinking" on the matter. Admitting that television must become an important and perhaps the most important aspect of broadcasting, the Board drew attention to its high cost, particularly in Canada, to special technical problems, and to the availability of American commercial programmes. In general, it recommended developing television in the national interest by following the policy already established in radio broadcasting. High costs, unsolved technical problems and the desirability of covering Canada as rapidly as possible after the opening of television services, suggested a policy of careful planning and preparation. The Board has no direct or official responsibility for private investors willing to risk their money, but does feel responsible for the quality of service rendered to members of the public who spend their money on receivers.

10. Meanwhile, however, the development of television services in the United States by commercial interests proceeded rapidly in spite of consistent losses by operators who paid for television costs from radio profits. Because of this, Canada could no longer postpone some decision on a service already reaching many Canadians. In March, 1949, the Canadian Government issued an important statement. In view of the cost of television and the uncertainty of its future it seemed wise to delay its introduction into Canada until the completion of the experimental period. In view of the progress already made, and of the availability of Canada's growing electronics industry, it was decided to lay down an interim policy for a planned development of a Canadian system of television in which private enterprise would participate. It was therefore announced that the general direction of television broadcasting was to be entrusted to the Board of Governors of the C.B.C. which should arrange for broadcasting by the C.B.C. or by licensed private stations in accordance with the Broadcasting Act. National production centres and transmission centres were to be established in Montreal and Toronto, with the service to be extended to other parts of Canada as soon as possible. A licence might be granted in any city or area to one private


station, provided adequate assurance of financial means and service could be given. All network arrangements in television, as in radio, were to be under the control of the Board of Governors of the C.B.C. Initial capital and programming costs for the national system were to be met by a loan to the C.B.C. of $4,000,000.

11. This policy, approved by Parliament, determines Canada's present television development. Canada, like Britain, France and the United States, has for television purposes so far adhered precisely to the policy governing radio broadcasting; it might be supposed that this course needs no particular explanation, and calls for no comment. There are, however, certain special aspects of television broadcasting particularly those related to its experimental stage, which seem to demand a careful review of any policy proposed.

12. The present Canadian policy in radio broadcasting matters is partly dictated by the cost of covering the entire country; this will be even more true of television where costs, compared with radio broadcasting, are variously estimated to be from three to ten times higher. It will be recalled also that at present the consistently effective range of television is limited to about fifty miles. The following estimates, supplied by the C.B.C., give a general idea of television costs. The minimum cost of a standard television broadcasting station in Canada is estimated to be about $250,000 for a station which does not originate its own programmes. For a fully equipped television station, with studio and administrative facilities, it is expected that the cost will be about $2,000,000, or if an existing building with studio space could be used, about $1,500,000. The cost of a television network, whether by coaxial cable or by microwave, has been in the United States about $10,000 per mile, although there is a great variation depending on the nature of the terrain. To provide television network facilities on a national basis in Canada would cost from $35,000,000 to $50,000,000, but this investment, it is expected, would be undertaken by our telephone and telegraph companies which, with the assurance of television network business, would provide equipment which they would also use for the expansion of their own commercial services for telephonic, telegraphic, teletype and telephoto purposes. That is to say, the C.B.C. would not be called upon to establish its own network mechanical facilities but would use these new coaxial or microwave commercial circuits, just as now the C.B.C. uses the telephone or telegraphic circuits of commercial companies.

13. The actual cost of television networks to the C.B.C. would, in large measure, depend on the extent to which these facilities are used for other purposes, and on the terms which the C.B.C. would be able to make with commercial companies for the lease, during agreed hours, of the companies' equipment. In any event, the annual costs for network facilities will


be heavy, just as at the present time the expenses for land-line services are an important item in the annual expenditures of the C.B.C.

14. In some ways, more serious than the high and certain costs of television broadcasting, are the technical uncertainties that will attend its development. The vexed question of lines and frames which has affected the development of television in Europe, however, does not constitute a problem on this continent where it may be assumed that all countries will adopt the established system of the United States.

15. A much more difficult question has been raised by the development of colour television. If it can be successfully developed, it is likely to replace black and white transmission entirely. This alone introduces an element of uncertainty into plans for the future of television. A further complication has arisen from the competition among various colour systems developed by rival companies in the United States. In order to make the necessary choice between the competing systems, the F.C.C. began hearings in 1949. Its decision of October, 1950, was challenged in the Courts, and as this Report is being prepared the outcome is uncertain. Indeed, we understand that aspects of this complex matter, which has provoked the sharpest differences both among rival companies and among technical experts, will ultimately be the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court and that in consequence no solution can be expected for a considerable time. We are informed, however, that shortage of essential materials during the present period of international tension must postpone still further the development of colour television.

16. Underlying all technical problems is the basic one of air channels. These are much more limited than in radio. They present no particular problem in France and Britain with their government monopolies. In the United States, the system originally followed of assigning the same channels to competing stations in contiguous areas threatened to break down because of unexpected interference which developed in practice under certain atmospheric conditions. This situation caused a freeze in the granting of licenses in the fall of 1948, in order to make possible fresh investigations which are still going on. The channels now allocated all belong to the "Very High Frequency" band. The problem might be solved by "moving upstairs" into the "Ultra High Frequency Band", until now reserved for experiment in colour and in high definition systems; but such a solution, by absorbing all available channels, might also delay improvements in clarity and in development of colour.

17. We have considered the costs and technical problems of television only as preliminaries to a consideration of the programmes and the services which television may render to the Canadian people. It is quite obvious that if television is more powerful than radio it lends itself more easily to abuse. Since few Canadians have seen television programmes,


we did not receive detailed opinions on them at our sessions. We ourselves have examined some of the American programmes now available to Canadian viewers. Recalling the two chief objects of our national system of broadcasting, national unity and understanding, and education in the broad sense, we do not think that American programmes, with certain notable exceptions, will serve our national needs.

18. Television in the United States is essentially a commercial enterprise, an advertising industry. Thus sponsors, endeavouring to "give the majority of the people what they want", frequently choose programmes of inferior cultural standards, thinking to attract the greatest number of viewers. And as television greatly intensifies the impact of radio, so television commercials intensify the methods of appeal to material instincts of various kinds, methods which now disfigure many radio commercials. We assume that the many who have protested against certain radio commercials will feel even more strongly about their television counterparts. In a recent American work on this subject, it is stated that the quality of television offerings in the United States may be adversely affected by the rapid transference now going on from sustaining to sponsored programmes.

19. Moreover, advertising has a direct effect on the programme itself. It may be fairly well isolated at the beginning and end of the programme, or included in but not out of harmony with the show itself. On the other hand, when introduced in the intermission of a play, it may readily destroy the atmosphere. Finally, the common practice of introducing advertising into the very material of the show successfully ruins any programme worth receiving by completely destroying the illusion of a disinterested performance. The sponsors must of course get reasonable publicity in return for the money they are spending on the programmes; but experience in the United States has demonstrated how difficult it is to give that publicity without spoiling the programme.

20. We must recognize, however, that despite our generally unfavourable observations on American programmes, there are among them, as already stated, certain notable exceptions. Important news events, such as the sessions of the Security Council of the United Nations, have been carefully chosen and skilfully presented; there have been superb programmes of operas and of other music and of drama; group discussions are usually vivid and lively; there have been interesting and imaginative demonstrations of scientific research and of technical training; and there are some well-planned children's programmes.

21. In Great Britain, it is assumed that the role of television is not simply to reproduce in picture and sound a reflection of contemporary life. One of the members of this Commission learned from the directors of British television that it is part of British policy in television to present


programmes which are consciously educational in nature; indeed, the directors of television in Britain refer to their "moral and cultural responsibilities". For this reason British television is extremely varied, but possesses nonetheless a markedly cultural character. There are no commercial programmes of any sort. "Men and women who devote themselves to [broadcasting]", says Sir William Haley, Director-General of the B.B.C., ". . . must do not what noisy uninformed clamour tells them to do, but what they believe to be right. If they go astray there is a broad public conscience that will operate as a governor and a guide".2 In examining a schedule of all television programmes broadcast in Britain over the course of thirteen weeks, we found that many programmes were entirely recreational, such as sports and variety shows; there was also included a number of undistinguished films. But the great majority of programmes was obviously designed not only to entertain but to instruct, whether through drama, opera, ballet and music, or through lectures and commentaries. In addition, of course, there were special television programmes such as fashion shows intended to serve women's interests. There were also excellent programmes for children and we understand that a project is under way to provide television sets for schools. It seems to us that British television is attempting to effect a suitable balance in the varied whole of its productions.

22. In France, television together with radio, forms part of the responsibilities of the Under Secretary of State of the Office of the Prime Minister, and at the present time devotes much of its effort to educational broadcasts. The directors in charge of these broadcasts are continuing their study of television as an instrument for teaching. It is their purpose, in co-operation with the Ministry of Education, to produce programmes continuously throughout the year appropriate to the different levels of national education: "It is our desire", an official statement of 1949 concludes, "to give the example . . . of a television system which can within our own country contribute to the intellectual unity of our children and in the world at large to the bringing together of all peoples." 3 There are no commercial programmes in French television, and we understand that this policy is to be followed in spite of the fact that the development of television in France is dependent upon an extremely modest annual budget, amounting to about the sum expended daily by the B.B.C. for television services. Television in France is now operating for two or three hours a day. It is apparently not intended to increase the number of hours; programmes are costly, and the general public has few hours for entertainment; moreover, it is considered undesirable to interfere with the studies of school children or to interrupt the time which adults should have for reading and reflection.

23. No sensible person will ignore the possibilities of television, properly developed, in the fields in which radio has already made such valuable


contributions. If Canadian radio and films have done so much already to bring Canadians together in sympathy and understanding, it is easy to imagine how much could be done through television as a supplement to both. Television also offers intellectual possibilities in adult education and in family entertainment which, if they cannot be exactly forecast, must not be ignored. As with radio, the Canadian problem is to make the best possible use of this new medium, within the limitations imposed by Canadian conditions and by costs.

24. We conclude this section with a brief account of the views we have received from various groups which have appeared before us. If most of them had little precise information, they were aware of the general implications of television development in Canada; all showed a realization of the possibilities of this new medium. We were interested in one comment that the art of producing a television programme lags far behind the technique of broadcasting it. Some also expressed a fear of excesses and abuses. The most optimistic views came from those interested in exploiting television's commercial possibilities. We have, however, had serious discussions of its probable educational importance, particularly of its use in schools. Some pointed out the danger of encouraging passivity in the viewer, especially in children; and we have been interested to note that Mr. T. S. Eliot has recently commented sharply on this point. 4 Its relation to the Canadian film industry was discussed; and the possibility was suggested that in the course of television development something might be done for the much-neglected Canadian feature film.

25. In general, it has been proposed by various groups, including influential national bodies, that Canada proceed slowly with television, since it is bound to be costly, and economies may be effected by profiting from experience elsewhere. Again, it was urged that there be equality of opportunity in the various regions, and that isolated regions need this service much more than densely populated areas. "Television can render signal service to agriculture and help to bring the benefits of arts, letters and science to the rural areas . . ."5, we read in the brief of the Corporation des Agronomes de la Province de Québec. Finally, voluntary groups have been almost unanimous in insisting on the importance of following our general radio policy and hence, of keeping television under national control, free from excessive commercialization. Even those who look forward to the services of television are acutely aware of possible dangers and feel that there must be a nationally controlled system. The public is, we should imagine, even less aware of technical and control problems in the field of television than in that of radio; but their general confidence has been expressed in the present policy of control by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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