CRTC specialty channel digest: Everyone wants a break from CanCon

Some CRTC hearings currently open for public comment:

Videotron wants France 24

France 24Videotron has made a request to add France 24, the European country’s answer to CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera, to its digital cable network in both French and English.

Videotron wants to add the networks as Category 2 specialty digital channels, whose only real condition is that they don’t compete with protected-format Category 1 channels.

Considering we already have CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, EuroNews, BBC World and even Al-Jazeera (though with an unusual monitoring requirement) in this category, it’s unlikely the CRTC will reject the request.

Deadline for comments: Jan. 22, 2008

OUTtv is out of money

OUTtvLGBT specialty channel OUTtv, which as you can tell from its Wikipedia page has had an interesting history, wants to reduce both its Canadian content requirements (from 65% to 50%) and its requirement to spend money producing Canadian programming (from 49% to 25% of its revenues). The reason: Its “precarious financial circumstances” are forcing it to run more profitable (and cheaper) American programming.

OUTtv is a Category 1 specialty digital channel, which means that all digital operators must carry it (though not necessarily make it part of their basic package) and no other digital channel can compete directly with it with similar format. In return, the category demands a minimum of 50% Canadian content.

Not knowing the nature of OUTtv’s “precarious financial circumstances” (and for that matter, never having watched the network’s programming) I can’t really comment on whether or not this is a good idea.

Deadline for comments: Dec. 19, 2007

Avis de recherche won’t get off that easy

Avis de recherche TVThe CRTC is reconsidering an earlier decision to offer a license to Avis de recherche/All Points Bulletin TV, a pair of wanted-by-police channels that were licensed as Category 2 channels, but with must-carry status, which requires not only that digital* cable companies provide the channel on their basic digital service, but that they pay a fee per subscriber to the network.

The reconsideration was mandated by the Governor-General, who under advice from the Minister of Canadian Heritage ordered a re-examination of the unusually low requirement (see Appendix 5) for spending on Canadian programming.

Despite agreeing to a 95% Canadian content requirement (the channel is, after all, nothing but public bulletins from Canadian police departments), it is required to spend only 20% of its revenues on Canadian programming. That was considered too low by the government.

It’s hard to disagree. With a few pennies from every cable subscriber in the country, and a requirement to spend only 20% of that on programming, the channel’s owner stands to profit greatly.

In response to the decision to reconsider, the channel proposed upping the spending requirement to 43% of revenues, but with an odd rollover clause (and reverse rollover clause) that would allow them to shift up to 5% of that from one year to the next. So they could spend 38% of revenues on Canadian programming one year, and 48% the next, and still be in accordance with their license.

I fail to see how requiring this supposedly essential channel to spend a large percentage of its revenues on producing its programming is out of line.

Judge for yourself: Avis de recherche is available on Videotron Illico digital TV on channel 46.

Deadline for comments: Dec. 17, 2007

*UPDATE (Dec. 18): This post originally didn’t make clear that the channel is must-carry only on digital cable. It has been updated to clarify. See comment below. 

Shaw/StarChoice don’t want to simsub HD channels

The CRTC is conducting a hearing Jan. 15 over the apparent refusal of Shaw Cable and StarChoice satellite to follow simultaneous substitution rules for certain HD channels.

Simultaneous substitution requires Canadian cable and satellite providers to substitute American channels with local (Canadian) ones when the two are carrying identical programming (and the local network requests it, which they always do), so that Canadian consumers get all-Canadian commercials. We only notice the change during the Super Bowl, when those all-important multi-zillion-dollar American Super Bowl commercials are blocked out and replaced by a much-lower-budget Canadian equivalent.

The arrival of HD caused the scheme a hiccup for two reasons:

  1. Not all local broadcast networks have HD equivalents. Instead, most have just two HD channels, one for the East coast and one for the West. Since the East feeds come out of Toronto, cable providers in Montreal don’t have to substitute American channels for out-of-market Canadian ones.
  2. Substitution rules require that the signal being replaced is as good as or better than the signal it’s replacing. So they can’t replace a Fox HD version of House with a Global standard-definition version.
  3. The CRTC allows exemptions for small cable providers where the technical costs of substituting signals outweigh the benefits. (Neither Shaw nor StarChoice fit this definition of “small.”)

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters complained to the CRTC that Shaw and StarChoice were not performing their substitution duties for three stations:

  1. CTV HD Vancouver (Shaw and StarChoice)
  2. CTV HD Toronto (StarChoice)
  3. CITY-TV HD Toronto (StarChoice)

Shaw and StarChoice’s argument seems to be that HD presents unique technical challenges that makes it too difficult for them to substitute signals.

The word “bullshit” comes to mind, but I’ll wait until they present their argument at the hearing before I make any rash judgments.

If you’re interested in filing a written submission, the deadline is Dec. 13, 2007. The hearing is Jan. 15, 2008 in Gatineau.

4 thoughts on “CRTC specialty channel digest: Everyone wants a break from CanCon

  1. Mary Q.

    A couple of points need clarification following your post about Avis de Recherche TV.

    First of all, the channel is mandatory only on “digital TV” in Quebec. As such, revenues are considerably lower while operating costs are essentially the same as they would be for a national service. No economies of scale here. It is therefore unfair to say that the owner stands to profit greatly.

    Secondly, the initial petition to the CRTC proposed approximately 45% expenditures in the production of Canadian programming. The 20% mentioned referred only to the portion allocated to the production of “Safety & Prevention” messages produced with police, fire departments and other public safety organizations. Our response to the CRTC clarifies this matter.

    Finally, since it first came on the air in October 2004, ADR TV had to pay its only cable distributor for distribution of its service in Quebec. The amount is approximately $16,000 per month. ADR TV is probably the only television channel in Canada that pays for its distribution. With no source of revenue, the CRTC decision to recognize the “public interest” nature of the service and granting minimal subscriber revenues allows ADR TV to continue to provide the valuable service to the community. After all, isn’t the life of a child worth what is essentially a nickel a month?

  2. PatrickW

    SIMSUBS with a twist…

    As a small business owner in NB, trying to make a competitive edge though local TV advertising is now pointless. It is not surprising the cable operator or satellite TV providers are avoiding simsub responsibilities. Whether cost, technical or what ever the poor excuse is, it is B.S.! I am sure that Rogers Cable will figure out a way to simsub their OMNI.HD (Rogers Broadcasting) signals onto any American HD broadcaster and then into markets well beyond “OMNI-Toronto”.

    It is not just the absence of simsubs alone that has me frustrated but more so the allowance of “time-shifting”. Ten years ago TV viewers could only have watched the US (simsub) or the Canadian version. Now cable and satellite have added 6 or 8 Canadian versions from all time zones.

    When I asked my local CTV sales rep if she had stats on whether New Brunswickers watched “Oprah” on CTV Atlantic, CFTO or CTV-BC she of course could not tell me.

    I do not mean to pick on CTV as the other networks are all in the same boat. However, I believe that it was Bell-ExpressVU that started the “time-shifting” trend with CTV due to Bells’ controlling interest in CTV at that time.

    Obviously local advertising to the networks is too costly and not worth protecting.

    I’d hate to give away a marketing scheme but with the absence of time shifting would not more subscribers rent digital video recorders?

  3. Chris

    It seems like Patrick only cares about money and himself. I’m sorry but lots of people love timeshifting, it’s alot eaiser to watch tv. I live in Vancouver, and i’m used to watching 8pm shows at 5pm, and I really don’t want that to change becuase you want more people to see your companies horrible ads.

  4. Patrick W

    Actually, as a viewer, I agree that it can be very convenient for ME to watch a time shifted show as it is for YOU. However time-shifting actually deprives every Canadian in each community or time-zone from quality local TV. Whether it is news, entertainment, events, or commercials, local TV benefits everyone. To say I only care about myself and money could not be further from the truth! Satellite or cable TV is quite the bargain at 200 channels for $79/mo; I am not sure I’d want to pay for it without commercials. Those commercials, especially the local ones support and impact many Canadian jobs, likely including yours or someone else you know.


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