CRTC Roundup: They saved local TV!

Well, not quite.

The CRTC on Monday decided to hike the fee (temporarily, at least) for its Local Programming Improvement Fund from 1% to 1.5% of cable and satellite provider revenues (revenues, not profits), which would give broadcasters an additional $32 million a year ($100 million total in the new fund) to devote to local programming.

You can see all its arguments in the official decision. It’s less than the 2.5% that a parliamentary committee suggested in June.

It’s a victory for broadcasters and a defeat for cable and satellite companies (and probably consumers). CBC is happy. Canwest is happy. CTV is happy. Bell is sad. Cogeco is sad (PDF). Rogers is sad. Videotron is sad. Bill Brioux is annoyed.

Especially when you consider how much the television industry is already subsidized through mandatory fees from cable and satellite companies (now 6.5% of their revenues) and funding from the government, all without us having a say in programming, you have to wonder whether it’s all worth it.

Best of all, the broadcasters say they need more.

The CRTC also released its conditions of license for one-year renewals for the major networks:

Many of the decisions below come from these renewals.

Finally, the CRTC has kicked the fee-for-carriage can (which was in turn kicked to them by a parliamentary committee) and other issues down the road to a hearing in September, where it will discuss that and other issues affecting broadcast television. The indication, however, is that the CRTC supports a fee-for-carriage idea, provided the fees are negotiated with broadcasters and cable/satellilte companies.

Harmonized local programming minimums

And how much more local programming will we be getting for all this extra money? We won’t! In fact, we’re getting less! Thanks to new “harmonized” minimum requirements, most stations in the country will now have to produce less local programming.

For English-language stations, the minimums will be 14 hours a week for large markets (Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver), and seven hours a week for smaller markets (including Halifax, Hamilton and Victoria), with some exceptions. This will mean reductions for CKMI (18 hours a week) and CFCF (15.5 hours a week). Stations with really high requirements might see massive cuts and layoffs. CHCH Hamilton, for example, has dropped from 36.5 hours to only seven, though they’re going to make a go at more local programming, at least in the short term.

For French-language stations (effectively just TVA since TQS has a special exception), it’s on a case-by-case basis:

  • CFCM (Quebec City): 18 hours a week, down from 21
  • CFER (Rimouski): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10
  • CJPM (Chicoutimi): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10
  • CHLT (Sherbrooke): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10

Independent stations owned by Radio-Nord (TVA Gatineau) and Télé Inter-Rives (SRC/TVA/TQS in Rivière du Loup, TVA in Carleton) maintain their current requirements.

Note that for French markets, only Montreal is larger than a million and is ineligible for LPIF funding.

In the same decision, the CRTC also rejected requests from broadcasters to eliminate requirements for priority programming (expensive dramas) and independent production (as opposed to in-house).

Global Quebec is now Global Montreal

After again rejecting union complaints that Global’s produced-out-of-Vancouver plan violates local programming requirements for Global Quebec (not saying it wasn’t in violation, only that there is “insufficient evidence” and it will “continue to monitor the situation”), the CRTC has approved a request to change CKMI from a Quebec City-based regional station to a local Montreal-based station.

CKMI-TV was once based in our provincial capital, but since it was purchased by Canwest and turned into a Global station it has effectively been headquartered in Montreal, with retransmitters in Quebec City and Sherbrooke (technically, the transmitter was in Quebec with a retransmitter, CKMI-TV-1, in Montreal). Global Quebec was licensed as a regional station, which meant it couldn’t take any local Montreal advertising. The license change makes it a local station which opens up that door (as small as it is) and allows the station to compete directly with CFCF and CBMT for local advertising.

A similar move was made for CIII, which is de facto Global’s Toronto station but was technically licensed to Paris, Ontario, which is west of Hamilton.

CJNT keeps ethnic minimum

A request from Canwest to relieve money-losing ethnic station CJNT Montreal of its ethnic programming requirement was denied. Canwest wanted 5 hours a week, but will be stuck at the original 13.5. Since the station is being sold, it won’t sadden Canwest too much to lose this battle.

Mandatory digital transition (or not?)

The CRTC recognized that some broadcasters are lagging behind in transitioning to digital. U.S. broadcasters were forced to make the switch last month (in a deadline that was delayed from February), but Canadians have until August 2011. The CRTC’s decision doesn’t suggest that this deadline will change for smaller markets (though it suggests perhaps a “hybrid model” may emerge), but it does say it “expects” that major markets will make the transition. It released a list of markets larger than 300,000 it “expects” will do so without complaint, and says it will discuss the issue further in September. The list includes Montréal, Quebec, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, Rivière-du-Loup, Saguenay, Ottawa-Gatineau, territorial and provincial capitals and large cities across Canada. Essentially any market with more than one station.

The issue (which also includes whether there should be U.S.-style subsidies for converter boxes) will be dealt with again in September.

CTV-Shaw rejects get renewed

Even though Shaw’s offer to buy them has fallen through, the CRTC has renewed licenses for CKX-TV in Brandon, Man., CHWI-TV in Wheatley/Windsor, Ont., and CKNX-TV in Wingham, Ont., for another year, despite CTV’s request that they be terminated. They’re still expected to shut down in August, although CTV says it is “reviewing” CHWI in light of the new funding. UPDATE: CTV says it will continue operating CHWI until Aug. 31, 2010. CKNX will be converted into a retransmitter, and CKX is still being shut down.

Other CTV stations which had the bare minimum of local programming have been relicensed as strictly retransmitters only:

  • CKCO-TV-3 Oil Springs (Sarnia), Ont.
  • CFRN-TV-3 Whitecourt, Alta.
  • CFRN-TV-4 Ashmont, Alta.
  • CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer, Alta.

No copy-copy

Separate requests from Canwest and Rogers to allow them to duplicate content on E!/Global and City/OMNI respectively were denied by the CRTC. The stations (CHAN-TV Vancouver/CHEK-TV Victoria, CIII-TV Toronto/CHCH-TV Hamilton, and City/OMNI pairings in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) are currently limited to 10% overlap since they are stations with the same owner in the same markets. Requests to be relieved of that restriction were denied.

City stays special

In addition to allowing more overlap between City and OMNI, Rogers asked to be allowed to redirect “priority programming” money (money for expensive Canadian dramas) into local programming, and remove an unusual requirement at City to air Canadian feature films. Both were denied. The Globe has a story.

CHOI News Talk?

RNC Media has applied to the CRTC for a license amendment for CHOI-FM in Quebec City, which would change it from an alternative rock format to 50% spoken word. CHOI has a rather rocky past with the CRTC.

Radio was doing OK last year

The CRTC has released financial statistics of Canadian radio stations (taken as a whole). Looking at all of Canada and Quebec in particular, the numbers are fairly stable on both sides of the balance sheet. Of particular note is AM radio in Quebec, which shows significant losses year after year while the rest of the country just about breaks even.

Asians Asians Asians!

Asian Television Network has gotten approval for a slew of new specialty channels:

Another two networks – ATN Multicultural Channel and Commonwealth Broadcasting Network – were denied, as their nature was judged to be too broad for a specialty service.

ATN announced on Tuesday that nine channels, including some of the ones above, will premiere on Rogers Cable in the fall. The channels are being renamed to more interesting names.

CHEAR!

Ultimate Indie Productions has received authorization to start a specialty channel devoted to emerging Canadian Artists called CHEAR! (and CHEAR! HD)

Ashes to ashes, SCREAM to DUSK

Corus is rebranding its SCREAM! horror channel to DUSK, and expanding its niche to include “paranormal” and “supernatural” stuff that might not be so scary. I guess this means more X-Files? The change takes effect on Sept. 9 (09/09/09, as if that’s scary or paranormal or something).

In other news

  • TVA got a slap on the wrist (hell, not even that) for failing to meet expectations regarding airing of Canadian films and closed-captioning. The CRTC “expects” they’ll meet those requirements in the future, or else they’re going to get a sternly-worded letter, I guess.
  • The Globe and Mail is reporting that Al-Jazeera English may be close to approval as a specialty channel.
  • CPAC has gotten approval for a license amendment that would allow it to broadcast non-CPAC-sounding stuff like music on Canada Day every year. Now it can let loose in an explosion of patriotism on July 1.
  • Vision TV has given up and is now asking viewers to figure out its programming.
  • Cogeco has asked to move its transmitter for CFGE-FM (Rhythme FM) in Sherbrooke and increase its transmitter power to improve reception.
  • MusiquePlus has gotten authorization to hand over its 3.4% of revenues required for the production of Canadian music videos to MaxFACT instead of VideoFACT. The difference is mainly that MaxFACT is what MusiMax gives its money to and this would simplify things for them. The request got an intervention from ADISQ which was concerned that there would be less money for youth-oriented music videos as well as those from Quebec anglophones. MusiquePlus responded that it has no control over the procedures used by MaxFACT to allocate it money.
  • The CRTC is mad at CHRC in St. Catharines for violating a number of conditions of its license. There is, of course, no actual penalty associated with such violations as long as you promise not to do it again.
  • The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has dismissed a complaint against CJMF-FM in Quebec City regarding a promotion related to driving while on a cellphone. The CBSC concluded that the station was not, in fact, advocating that people drive while illegally talking on a cellphone without a hands-free device.

7 thoughts on “CRTC Roundup: They saved local TV!

  1. princess iveylocks

    “Corus is rebranding its SCREAM! horror channel to DUSK, and expanding its niche to include “paranormal” and “supernatural” stuff that might not be so scary.”

    Dude that stuff is CREEPIER. They should re-run “Unsolved Mysteries” so I can relive my childhood nightmares.

    Reply
  2. C

    got a telemarketer call from videotron yesterday telling me I might need an illico box eventually. I thought people with cable TV were okay for the big switch?? He offered me an illico box half-price.

    Reply
  3. Norman Brandt

    I wonder what profits for OTA operations would be if debt incurred for acquiring the so called “money losing” operations was factored out for the likes of CTV and Global. It would likely be a big fat profit. Also, I have to wonder what profits would look like if the newly acquired money losing operations were factored out. It’s just a shell game for most businesses. They create a financial “crisis” by using leveraged buyouts (instead of general revenues) to acquire previously profitable operations. They then start squeezing everyone in the process by factoring the buyout costs into financial statements. OTA broadcasters are in no more financial straits than any other business that expanded as rapidly in recent times. They just see an opportunity to squeeze more money out of the public purse and have presented distorted figures to justify it.

    CTV and Canwest made 20% profit on their specialty channel operations. That doesn’t make Rogers and Shaw look so fat. Also, consider that Rogers and Shaw are making huge, ongoing capital investments to increase network capacity, develop new technology and provide new services. The bulk of CTV and Global expenditures are for foreign programming while investing relatively little in the way of Canadian programming and new technical services. If Shaw and Rogers were run the way CTV and Canwest runs their networks, 90% of Canada would not have access to digital TV or high speed Internet.

    It’s well known that Canwest’s problems are due to its high debt. CTV is not far behind due to their badly conceived acquisition of Chum that left them with the A stations. If you don’t know how leveraged buyouts work, I suggest you look into it.

    It’s quite true that consumers pay for capital improvements in cable operations. It’s not altruistic because consumers will pay for the added services. In contrast, OTA broadcasters are in trouble because nobody wants to watch, or pay for, stripped down services that are no longer relevant to the communities they serve. Maybe if they produced better programming and converted to digital, that would change. Digital TV has produced a surge in interest about OTA TV in the US and Canadian cities that have it, why not the rest of Canada too? It appears to me that CTV and Canwest want to force Canadians to support a product that many of them no longer want or need, a product that has seen no improvements and a lot of neglect for many years. OTA broadcasting is a dying industry in Canada, largely due to changing markets but also due to the actions (or lack of action) by broadcasters and the CRTC. I’m not sure that taxes and subsidies to support private broadcasters are even legal, let alone in the public interest.

    Reply
  4. Marc

    As far as I know, analog cable is going to be history around the time of the big switch to digital. However, if all they offer is digital cable, and if you have a new TV, you technically shouldn’t need an Illico box because the new TV’s have digital tuners. You should be able to hook up directly as you do now with analog. But the Illico boxes could prove to be a cash cow for Baby Péladeau.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The illico box isn’t just a digital tuner. It decodes the television channels (they’re encrypted to prevent you from accessing those you haven’t subscribed to) and does video on demand. It would still be needed regardless of what kind of television you have.

      Reply
  5. LightningRod

    “Resistance Is Fertile”
    All this Big Media back biting is just prepositioning to pillage and strip small media markets again… the crtc is again selling out canadians in an intensifying transnational corporate mono-cultural takeover. The transnationals have been dumping into small markets on all fronts for ages, Canada isn’t special. It doesn’t matter because TV is just so last century anyway, i am putting my money on a better fatter wireless internest connection and already canceled my cable anyway. Try and dominate that from your cozy little private jet. We the little people will watch what we want, when we want and when we want to pay for it . Be Free Be Wireless!

    Reply

Leave a Reply