You’ll recall Channel Zero and Canwest announced in June that they’d reached a deal to purchase the money-losing stations. It was a win-win for both Canwest (which is in debt trouble – it announced today it has gotten another extension from its lenders) and the stations, who would have otherwise faced the fate of other stations in the E! network: shutdown.
CRTC approval of the deal was the only question mark – Channel Zero wanted some license changes as part of the deal. There was an expedited approval process, including a hearing on Monday – a week before existing licenses expire and Canwest runs out of programming to air.
The CJNT decision accepted the reasonable requests of Channel Zero, namely to relieve it of its requirement to air a minimum amount of French-language non-ethnic programming, and eliminate a requirement to make sure 25% of its films are Canadian. It will also be relieved of closed-captioning requirements until the fourth year of its license (and there is no requirement to closed-caption programming that is neither English nor French). CJNT is planning to keep all its ethnic programming (even slightly increasing its local ethnic programming requirement) and focusing its remaining schedule on ethnic music videos and other programming geared toward a younger audience.
For the CHCH decision, the CRTC got a promise (after a CTV intervention) that “local programming” would be that directed to the Hamilton/Niagara/Halton area, and that the station would not try to compete with local Toronto news stations. It accepted a request to relieve CHCH’s mandate to acquire “priority” programming (Canadian dramas and other expensive-to-produce shows) since it would now be a stand-alone station and not part of a national network (this is consistent with CRTC policy). The plan for CHCH is to become all news all day, with popular revenue-generating movies in prime time.
Both stations officially become part of Channel Zero on Sept. 1, with licenses that expire on Aug. 31, 2016 (it’s not clear how the handoff will happen – it won’t be smooth if they want to try it literally over the weekend). Both will be required to switch to digital broadcasting on Aug. 31, 2011. And Channel Zero will be asked to re-appear before the commission in 2012 to discuss programming for both stations.
Quickie analysis: Today is a good day for the two stations, and for Montreal and Hamilton. Whether these business models are sustainable, though, is a whole other question.
In Victoria, the news isn’t quite so happy. Despite a campaign from the 40 employees to buy CHEK Victoria from Canwest and run it themselves, Canwest said it wouldn’t work and the station will shut down as scheduled on Aug. 31.