Canadian Digital Television (CDTV) president Michael McEwen called on Canada to develop a na-tional high-definition (HD) rollout plan – and fast, before homegrown audiences switch to the U.S. networks to get their fill of HD programming. In his keynote address at the Canadian Satellite Users Association (CSUA) conference in Toronto on February 1, he lamented that Canada has fallen five years behind the United States in its digital rollout. That’s a lag period significantly longer than the two years anticipated in CDTV’s strategy. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. government are talking about analog shutdown in 2009, he noted, adding that Canada is nowhere near that date. The potential impact, he said, is that Canadian eyeballs will shift to U.S. services and content because it is in high definition, with a subsequent negative economic impact on the Canadian industry."We haven’t done a very good job with our digital HD transition," he said. "What we need is a national strategy and a will to get this on board and correct. Canadian channels in HD without Canadian content (in HD) is simply not acceptable." Significant amounts of HD content are being aired on U.S. conventional channels, including more than 60 hours a week in prime time plus late night and sports programming in off prime, McEwen said. He added that pay and specialty channels south of the border are providing more than 100 hours a day of HD programming. In contrast, the HD programming on the Canadian over-the-air networks CTV east and west, Citytv, Toronto One and Global TV in Toronto is primarily simulcast U.S. product, McEwen said. There is an increasing amount of Canadian sports programming available from Sportsnet and TSN, but viewers are still finding the offerings modest, he noted. He added that more needs to be done to meet viewer expectations and create shelf life. He called on the production community to become engaged, and for broadcasters to commission HD product. To speed the HD transition, he advocated workshops for the production community that highlight that shooting in high definition will not only make money but save money. "The broadcasting industry individually and collectively needs to also recognize there are some serious challenges facing the business model, and they must quickly develop digital strategies with HD infrastructure, and commission and broadcast Canadian high definition programming," he said. "It is at this point that the new digital devices and platforms will offer the opportunity for new revenue." McEwen also advocated a role for government and the regulator in aiding the transition. He called on Canadian Heritage to allocate public funding for television programming and films shot in high-definition. Also, he recommended that the federal government introduce enhanced tax breaks for private broadcasters for HD transmission. Under CRTC regulations, over-the-air broadcasters essentially duplicate their analog channels in HD, and are allowed 14 hours a week of unique programming. "Remember there is no additional advertising dollars available for these (HD) services, just the opportunity for them to maintain what they already have," he said. "The Canadian broadcasting industry has historically done very well growing advertiser and subscriber revenue…but that has pretty well maxed out." At the same time, he urged the federal government to give the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. a "special one-time capital allocation" to build up its high-definition offerings. He called on the CRTC to contribute to HD by establishing a coherent digital migration strategy where all current analog players can make the transition in a secure environment following a reason business plan. The CRTC last month issued a public notice calling for a framework for digital migration, but the regulator appears to be relying on the industry to come up with a plan (CCR, Jan. 14/05). "We don’t need strict regulation, but we do need to create conditions that help the transition," he said.