DELAYING DIGITAL

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By Kristina Jarvis

The latest entertainment technology isn’t quite so cutting-edge by the time it reaches the Great White North.

Modern technology is revolutionizing the way people entertain themselves, but regulations and delays are leaving some Canadians to wonder whether they’re missing out.

A number of high-tech media outlets have been released in the U.S. to much acclaim and hype, but don’t see the light of day in Canada until much — sometimes even years — later.

By the time satellite radio arrived in Canada last December, it had already been accessible in the U.S. for over a year.

Sirius and XM Canada had to wait for the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission to create guidelines for Canadian satellite radio content (nearly a three-year wait, in XM Canada’s case) before they were able to obtain their licenses.

“Because we were a novel application, we required a novel approach to licensing,” says XM Canada Executive Vice-President Stewart Lyons. “That took time — a lot of time.”

The lengthy wait may have cost the company revenue, he added.

“We would have benefited from that lost time in the form of a faster start and larger subscriber base.”

The CRTC’s decision was debated in parliament and by the then-Liberal cabinet, who eventually approved the decision — on the grounds that each licensee produce a minimum of eight satellite radio channels in Canada. And 85 per cent of the content on those eight stations must also be Canadian.

The delay and the regulatory guidelines were too much for some people to handle.

“I own a Sirius satellite radio and bought it in the U.S.,” one commenter posted on CTV.ca’s “Tech Life” blog. “(I) subscribe to the U.S. service because it is better and the CRTC cannot censor it.”

Concerns such as these were common. “We got a lot of complaints (about regulating satellite radio),” says CRTC spokesperson Jolene Piche, adding that the commission is unapologetic about its mandate. “We have to support our artists.”

Caroline Grondin, another CRTC spokesperson, agrees.

“The CRTC tries to determine what is best for the industry and for Canadian culture as well,” she says.

Meanwhile, other digital entertainment technologies end up caught in bureaucratic slowdowns.

Marlee Liberman, a Ryerson continuing education student, has been able to use the American iTunes movie store because she has dual citizenship. Though she think the store is a “cool idea,” she adds that “We (Americans) get everything first.”

Apple launched the U.S. store in September, allowing users to purchase and download movies onto their computers and iPods. But while anyone can browse its selection and preview files, the option to make purchases is currently only available in the U.S.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently told reporters that the company will start expanding the movie store into other countries in 2007. Meanwhile, technology bloggers have speculated that the actual Canadian release date will be closer to 2008.

Apple representatives refused to comment on the issue, citing company policy that prevents them from discussing how the iTunes stores are run.

But the waiting period isn’t new: Canadians had to wait a while longer than their American counterparts for the iTunes music store.

The American version of the store was launched in the spring of 2003; the Canadian store opened in late 2004 — the fourteenth country to have its own version of the store — with a focus on Canadian content.

But the CRTC says online music stores don’t fall under its jurisdiction and that it had nothing to do with the delay.

“Anything that pertains to the internet, we don’t get involved,” Piche says. “With iTunes and music (cell) phones, we don’t get involved.”

Third-year computer science student Igor Todorovski says other entertainment-related technologies coming to Canada later than to the U.S.

“HDTV took longer to get to Canada” as well, he says.


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