HD broadcasters unbowed by CRTC ruling

Canwest will seek looser license obligations at renewal hearings as unions cheer CRTC ruling.
November 3, 2008

Conventional broadcasters were surprisingly conciliatory to the CRTC’s new road map for Canadian TV, which denied them new cash from content carriers.

Hubert T. Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, in expressing disappointment at the CRTC decision on subscriber fees, repeated arguments that evidently did not work at public hearings last April.

‘All conventional broadcasters, public and private, need ad revenues to survive. Access to subscriber fees – already available to specialty services – would have addressed that decline,’ Lacroix said.

Leonard Asper, CEO of Canwest, warned that being denied much-needed subscriber fees to survive digital upheaval will force his company to seek regulatory relief during upcoming license renewal hearings.

‘Canwest will continue to aggressively pursue change as we enter into the license renewal process in the coming months, providing a business case for reducing license obligations that better reflects the competitive environment that we are in today,’ Asper said.

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters, representing private broadcasters, while welcoming a CRTC proposal to allow compensation for so-called distant signals, pulled its punches on the fee-for-carriage decision.

‘Regrettably, the measures announced today only remedy the distant signals policy, but completely miss the mark on the dire circumstances facing private OTA broadcasters, which the CRTC refers to as the ‘cornerstone of the system,” CAB said in a statement.

Specialty broadcasters welcomed the regulator relaxing genre protection for news and sport channels only, while retaining protections for most other niche channels from foreign competition.

Other industry players said they’d need more time to examine the CRTC decision before rendering their own verdicts.

John Levy, chairman and CEO of Score Media, praised the CRTC for deregulating rivals for The Score like Rogers SportsNet and The Sport Network while continuing to protect his channel as a news headline service.

‘The commission’s decision to retain its one-to-a-genre policy and guaranteed access ensures that independent voices like The Score will have the opportunity to continue to innovate and thrive in this new digital world,’ he said.

Other industry comment applauded the regulator for keeping dominant broadcasters and content carriers in check by denying big-ticket items from their wish-lists.

‘Like big cable, Canada’s private broadcasters are doing just fine, thank you. We hope today’s decision is just the first of many steps to end the free ride and revive Canadian drama,’ Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, representing Canadian performers, said Thursday.

‘The CRTC has listened to advice that the cable monopolies and satellite companies are too powerful to be allowed even more discretion to control what’s on TV,’ echoed Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

There were also cheers for the CRTC compelling cable and satellite operators to increase their subsidies to create a new local programming fund to 6% of revenue, from 5% currently.

‘This fund is only as first step, but does send a clear message to Canadian broadcasters about the need to meet their obligations to local viewers,’ Peter Murdoch, vice-president of media for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, argued as he called for a reverse of recent cuts to local TV station newsrooms.

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