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Digital terrestrial television in Canada, like the United States, Mexico and South Korea, is based on the US ATSC standard.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) initially decided not to enforce a single date for ending analog broadcasts, opting to let market forces decide when the switchover will occur.[1] It subsequently reversed its position, a later decision[2] setting an analogue shutoff date of August 31, 2011[3], just over two years after the American transition date of June 12, 2009. While there are no requirements that individual stations simulcast digitally before this date, a handful are doing so on a limited basis as a means of delivering high-definition television over-the-air in the largest media markets.

While digital converter boxes are slowly beginning as of Fall 2009 to be carried by a limited number of national retailers, Canadian authorities have chosen not to follow the US pattern of using funds from its auction of 700MHz-band spectrum being removed from television service to defray costs of set-top boxes for consumers, and have not created any mandates to require new television apparatus to be capable of receiving digital signals. Several of the coupon-eligible converter boxes sold in the United States are also compatible with the Canadian television ratings system, allowing converter manufacturers to sell the same model box in both markets, but the lack of a complete set of digital channels in any Canadian market (as of 2009) makes analogue passthrough on these boxes a necessity.



Several broadcasters, including the CBC, have argued that there is no viable business case for a comprehensive digital conversion strategy in Canada. At CRTC hearings in 2007 on the future direction of regulatory policy for television, broadcasters proposed a number of strategies, including funding digital conversion by eliminating restrictions on the amount of advertising that television broadcasters are permitted to air, allowing terrestrial broadcasters to charge cable viewers a subscription fee (retransmission consent) similar to that already charged by cable specialty channels, permitting license fees similar to those which fund the BBC in the United Kingdom, or eliminating terrestrial television broadcasting entirely and moving to an exclusively cable-based distribution model.

The CRTC ultimately decided to relax restrictions on advertising, gradually removing all limits to the number of advertisements per hour of broadcast programming, as the funding mechanism. However, a CRTC statement issued in June 2008 indicated that as of that date, only 22 digital transmitters had been fully installed across the entire country[4][5], and expressed the regulator's concern that Canada's television broadcasters were not adequately preparing for the shift to digital broadcasting.

Restrictions written directly into each of the individual broadcast licenses for Canadian digital transitional television severely limit the amount of additional programming which otherwise could be carried using digital subchannels, by permitting no more than 14 hours per week of programming that would not be duplicated on the analog service and requiring what little unique digital content can be broadcast be entirely in widescreen high definition with a minimum of 50% Canadian content.[6] Corresponding restrictions are imposed upon terrestrial digital radio as well as on the HDTV services of pay-TV operators[7]

This renders digital terrestrial television less marketable than in other countries such as the United States, where the use of subchannels to double or triple the number of viewing choices to audiences in underserved markets is commonplace. In most cases, viewers will not obtain any additional programming from Canadian stations by becoming early adopters of terrestrial digital television technologies. Outside large markets, the majority of broadcasters to date have adopted a wait-and-see approach, due to cost (TQS alone estimates $15 million in costs to convert its remaining five analogue-only owned-and-operated stations and associated network feeds in 2010-2011, although Montréal flagship CFJP-TV is already digital) and the lack of a viable business case to justify the conversion.

With the -TV suffix and callsign usage beginning to be more uncommon for usage in Canada (for example, CFTO-TV is IDed as CTV Toronto), it is likely for the -TV suffix to be discontinued on Canadian TV stations (especially CBC and Radio-Canada stations) during the transition and continue usage of the -DT suffix on digital stations. This was a similarity for U.S. TV stations continuing to use the -TV suffix on some stations after the digital transition and discontinuing the -DT suffix for good. However, some American TV stations use the -DT suffix (e.g. the Univision stations).[citation needed]

As of 2008, there are no requirements that new televisions sold in Canada include digital tuners (as they must in the US market), nor are there any labelling requirements for analogue-only receivers; many new television receivers are therefore unable to tune a digital signal without an external ATSC tuner. A new HDTV receiver connected to a terrestrial television antenna will receive OTA digital television, but Canadian regulations do not require cable television operators to carry these free local HDTV signals in unencrypted digital format on their systems.

The CRTC has expressed concern that "if all broadcasters wait until the last moment to proceed to the transition, there could be a shortage of professional engineers and competent technicians capable of assuming the development of new plans and the installation of new systems and structures"[8] but, unlike the United States, Canadian authorities offer no incentives, no subsidies and no real requirements for broadcasters, television manufacturers or viewers to adopt the technology early.


CITY-TV was the first Canadian station to provide digital terrestrial service, first broadcasting in January 2003, and going full-time in March 2003. The first HD broadcast in Canada was CBC Sports' coverage of the Heritage Classic, an outdoor NHL game. CBC ultimately launched a high definition feed of their eastern flagship CBLT in 2005, later launching feeds in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal. As of 2008, other digital stations on-air include the CBC and Radio-Canada stations in Toronto and Montreal, as well as CTV's CFTO and CIVT, and Quebecor Media's independent station CKXT.

Market Stations on-air Notes
CIII-DT-41 (Global)
CFMT-DT (Omni)
CJMT-DT (Omni)
CITY-DT (Citytv)
Most Toronto-area stations are available digitally, with the notable exception of public broadcaster TVOntario.
Vancouver CBUT-DT (CBC)
CHAN-DT (Global)
CKVU-DT (Citytv)
CHNM-DT (Omni)
CKXT-DT-3 (Ind)
CFMT-DT-2 (Omni)
CJMT-DT-2 (Omni)
CKXT is digital-only in Ottawa. Rogers has applied for a transitional digital licence for CITY.[9]
Montreal CBFT-DT (R-C)
CFTM-DT (TVA) has held an unbuilt digital construction permit since 2006; originally set to expire in March 2008, the permit has since been extended to August 31, 2011.[10] The station currently offers its HD feed to cable television subscribers.
Calgary CFCN-DT (CTV)
CICT-DT (Global)
Edmonton CITV-DT (Global)
Quebec City CBVT-DT (R-C) CIVQ-DT (Télé-Québec) holds an unbuilt digital construction permit. The station has until September 25, 2010 to sign on.[11]
London CKXT-DT-2 (Ind) CKXT is digital-only in London.

See list of television stations in Canada and individual television station listings for details.

Although as of 2009 digital television broadcasts have commenced in just eight of Canada's largest markets, most — although not all — Canadian television stations have digital channel assignments pre-allocated. This does not signify that the stations have applied for nor that they have received construction permits for these channels. In some cases, allocated channels are listed to Canada-US border communities with frequencies which overlap proposed US emergency services;[12] affected stations can be expected to require either new allocations or a flash-cut on an existing analogue channel.

See also


  1. ^ "Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2002-31". Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  2. ^ "Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2007-53". Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  3. ^ Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs - What You Need to Know About the Analog-to-Digital Television Transition in Canada
  4. ^ "Networks unprepared for digital TV shift: CRTC", The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2008.
  5. ^ Networks unprepared for digital TV shift: CRTC by Grant Robertson
  6. ^ Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2003-8, 9 January 2003 CHUM Limited, CITY-TV Toronto - transitional digital television licence
  7. ^ Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2006-74, 15 June 2006, Regulatory framework for the licensing and distribution of high definition pay and speciality services
  8. ^ Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2008-129, 26 June 2008 re: Change in the effective control of TQS inc. and licence renewals, Section 86: Conversion to digital
  9. ^ "Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2009-635". Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  10. ^ "Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2009-410". Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  11. ^ Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2008-268, 25 September 2008, Société de télédiffusion du Québec, CIVM-DT Montréal - New transmitter in Québec
  12. ^ Proposed Revisions to the Frequency Plan for Public Safety in the Band 700 MHz, January 2008, Industry Canada, Spectrum Management and Telecommunications


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