We’re now a month away from all (licensed) cable, satellite and IPTV companies in Canada being required to add the Sun News Network to their systems, but one important question remains unanswered: Does Sun News have to be added to analog cable as well as digital?
It may seem like a simple question, but I’ve gotten contradictory answers on it, as I write in this story at Cartt.ca.
When the CRTC made its decision two months ago that all licensed TV distributors in Canada had to make all five national news channels available to all subscribers, it gave them until March 19 to come into compliance with the more important part of its order: adding Sun News to their systems. (Most of them already carry the other four channels — CBC News Network, RDI, CTV News Channel and LCN.) The TV distributors have a further two months, until May 20, to comply with other aspects of the order, requiring the channels to be added to the “best” packages “consistent with their genre and programming,” requiring that each be available à la carte (where possible) and filing affiliation agreements with the CRTC.
But the order, and the decision that led to it, don’t say anything about analog cable. This despite the fact that Sun News made distribution on analog one of its key arguments in favour of a mandatory distribution order. Sun argued that its audience skews older and rural, and that those viewers are more likely to have analog cable service.
This is what the order says about how it’s applied:
This order applies to all licensed distribution undertakings, including terrestrial and DTH distribution undertakings. These licensees are collectively referred to in this order as distribution licensees.
In CRTC-speak, “distribution undertakings” are cable and satellite TV services. “Terrestrial” refers to those that bring you television by some sort of wire, either cable or IPTV, and “DTH” refers to direct-to-home satellite (Bell satellite TV or Shaw Direct). The term “licensed” is used here because many distributors (those with fewer than 6,000 customers) are small enough to be exempt from licensing. So the order does not apply to them.
A reading of the order suggests large cable companies with analog systems must make the channel available on those systems. I asked the CRTC about this, and a representative agreed that it applies to all analog systems as well.
But when I contacted Canada’s large cable TV companies, not one of them said they are required to add Sun News on analog, or that they would do so. Videotron, Cogeco, Rogers, Access Communications in Saskatchewan, and the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance, which represents small cable companies across the country, all said it would apply only to digital systems. (Shaw wouldn’t comment, and Eastlink didn’t respond to a request for one.) The logic seemed to be that offering the channel in digital complies with the order, even if customers would need to change from analog to digital to get access to the channel.
I asked the CRTC media relations department about this argument. They said they’d send it to their broadcast team and get back to me. It’s a month later, and there’s still no response.
This might only be an issue if Sun News itself complains. (Or LCN if there are analog cable systems somewhere that don’t carry that channel.) But it wouldn’t say whether it plans to force the issue, because it’s in negotiations with carriers. And if Videotron doesn’t think it has to carry it, I’m hard-pressed to think another arm of Quebecor is going to take the opposite opinion.
Cable companies have until March 19 to add Sun News. And it looks like none of them are going to add it in analog. We’ll see after that whether someone makes that an issue and sends the matter back to the commission for clarification.
The CRTC order says that the systems have to carry it, but they didn’t say in what format. So as long as digital is available to all of the subscribers of a given system, they would appear to comply.
Now, if Videotron as an example has areas that are not able to get service with illico for some reason, then they would be (at least on the face of it) in violation of the order because the channel would not be available. This might play into the situation of the time frame required to move to digital (as Videotron may face with the ICI issues). Could they be stuck either way?
I am really thinking that issues like this are going to force the CRTC to mandate an orderly switch to digital with a reasonable time frame.
Now, if only any of them were worth watching for any actual news.
What confuses me about Sun News (a conservative TV channel) is that it is owned by Quebecor.