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CRTC roundup: broken television

Canadian television network breakdown

The big news this week is the release by the CRTC of submissions from major Canadian private television broadcasters whose licenses are up for renewal in August. This includes CTV/A, Global/E!, TVA, Sun TV, Citytv and OMNI. (TQS is the notable exception since it had its own dealings with the CRTC after it went bankrupt).

The CRTC has suggested having one-year license renewals (instead of standard seven-year ones) and dealing with the TV financial crisis in the meantime. The networks have gone along with that and are recommending status quo until August 2010.

The private networks (especially CTV Globemedia and Canwest) are re-repeating all of the please-give-us-money talking points they’ve been sending toward the CRTC for years now, including bringing up their pet project of forcing cable and satellite companies to give them money for putting their free over-the-air channels on their systems, mainly because they can’t find a way to make a profit off advertising and say the system is broken.

Among their other money-grabbing and money-saving ideas:

  • More access to the new Local Programming Improvement Fund (deigned to help with local programming at small-market stations) by expanding them to larger markets (Canwest even argues that CJNT Montreal should have access to the fund even though it doesn’t provide any local news.)
  • Having the ability to own their own production companies instead of being forced to use independent production houses
  • That the proposed 1:1 ratio of spending on Canadian vs. non-Canadian programming is “not viable” because it would mean cutting back on the very thing that is generating the revenue to keep the networks afloat (and besides, CTV argues, they’ve already signed contracts for the 2009-2010 broadcast year)

Canwest proposes a “5 and 10″ rule that would require 5 hours a week of local programming for stations serving markets of under a million viewers, and 10 hours a week for stations serving markets of over a million. Since most Canwest stations already have local programming requirements far in excess of 10 hours a week, this would save it a lot of money. (It counts only four stations as being in large markets – even Global Quebec is considered small because it only counts English-speaking viewers, which means it would drop from 18 hours a week of local programming to only five)

Even Quebec’s TVA, which does plenty of local (or at least regional) programming, wants to cut back. It’s asking to reduce the amount of local programming at its Quebec City station from 21 hours a week to 12 UPDATE: They now say they only want to cut it to 18 hours a week.

Canwest even proposes going further than its continued demand for money from cable companies, and throw out some new ideas that nobody has suggested before, including:

  • Non-simultaneous substitution, which would replace U.S. signals with Canadiens ones showing the same programming, even if they’re not being broadcast on both channels simultaneously.
  • Banning commercial advertising from CBC
  • Government assistance for digital conversion
  • Tax cuts

UPDATE: More coverage from the Globe and Mail, which also looks at how much the networks are spending on Canadian versus foreign content.

Canwest wants Global Quebec to become Global Montreal

As part of its submission to the CRTC on license renewal, Canwest said it wants to convert only primary transmitters of its 15 major stations to digital by 2011, and as part of that it wants to convert regional networks Global Ontario and Global Quebec into local stations in Toronto and Montreal, respectively. CKMI-TV is actually based out of Quebec City (and also serves the Eastern Townships through a transmitter in Sherbrooke), but all its programming, including its newscasts, originate in Montreal.

The change wouldn’t affect programming but would allow CKMI to attract local advertisers, even though Canwest says they would not be taking advantage of this much.

CTV wants to pull the plug on CJOH-8

In its submission to the CRTC, CTVglobemedia put forward a long list of television transmitters it said it would not apply for licenses to renew past August. Included in that list is a retransmitter for CJOH Ottawa in Lancaster, Ont., on Channel 8. Montrealers and off-islanders with good TV antennas will note that this transmitter serves southwestern Quebec since it is just across the border. Shutting the transmitter down means those near the Ontario/Quebec border will have to tune into CJOH’s Ottawa transmitter or CFCF-12 in Montreal.

The Obituary Channel?

The CRTC has granted approval for a regional Quebec cable channel called Je me souviens, which will be devoted essentially to obituaries and related public notices. The CRTC did not agree to a request to carry local advertising in addition to the obits, however.

The channel (which is a private venture unconnected to the major broadcasting companies) is interesting because it’s an original idea and because it’s a regional network (most cable networks are national in order to reach as broad an audience as possible).

But if Astral Media couldn’t keep its TATV shopping channel on the air, does a regional channel of nothing but obituaries stand a chance?

UPDATE: I see CJAD reads this blog.

Pay up, CFAV

The CRTC has denied a request from Laval radio station CFAV 1570 AM, which wanted to be excused from the $8,000 a year it has to pay to promote Canadian artists. Its excuse is that it’s not making a profit. The CRTC says rules are rules.

Rogers wants carte blanche on OLN

Rogers has asked for some very radical amendments to its license for the Outdoor Life Network (OLN). Among them, it wants to be able to use sitcoms, comedy shows and animated shows, reduce its restriction on televising live sports, and reduce requirements for Canadian content. The proposal was so radical it caught the eye of the Globe and Mail.

TVA wants carte blanche on specialty channels

Speaking of radical amendments, TVA has filed requests to add more programming categories for three of its specialty channels: Mystère (mystery), Argent (financial news) and Idées de ma maison (home/living). While some might make sense in a world where various forms of programming blend together (say, a game show about science), it’s hard to see some of these categories as being requested solely so that TVA can stretch the envelope and provide programming that has only a tenuous connection to the mandate of the channel.

Among the categories they’d like to add:

  • Religion programming
  • Professional and amateur sports, including live sporting events
  • Drama, sitcoms, comedy programming, animated programs
  • Music videos

I’m all for flexibility, but can you imagine a program that has music videos about mysteries? Or a sitcom about financial news?

The Weather/Emergency Network

Pelmorex, the strangely-named owner of the Weather Network/MétéoMédia, is asking for the CRTC to require that all cable and satellite companies operating in Canada have the networks as part of their basic digital services (it’s already required on analog cable). In exchange, the networks will act as “a national public alerting aggregator”, distributing emergency information.

To sweeten the deal, Pelmorex gives idle threats about how their existence will be in “jeopardy” if they can’t force that $0.23 per subscriber out of us, even though most Canadians already (happily) get the Weather Network by default.

Still, having the Weather Network distribute emergency information makes sense, if only because many such emergencies are weather-related and TWN already deals with emergency weather alerts.

The only problem is: Shouldn’t it be the broadcast networks (like, say, CBC/Radio-Canada) who distribute emergency information, so it’s over the air where everyone can receive it?

HD vs. SD

While Canal Évasion wants to start an HD version of the channel, the owners of three HD-only networks – Oasis HD, Treasure HD and Equador HD – want to distribute those channels in standard definition. This isn’t the first request of this kind I’ve seen, and is probably a reflection of the fact that while most Canadians have cable or satellite service, the number with HD service and sets is not as high as they had expected by now, and offering a downgraded SD signal will allow them to reach a larger audience.

And finally

The CRTC has approved a request to add five networks, all of third-language programming originating from east and southeast Asia, to the list of eligible channels for satellite providers.