The CRTC today issued a release announcing its findings on the financial situation of private conventional television broadcasters.
In it, a few things that strike me right off: First of all, despite all the whining and complaining, conventional over-the-air television broadcasters like CTV and Global are still making money, albeit much less than they used to. Total profits for 2008 were $8 million, compared to hundreds of millions for the years before.
Though revenue was down from last year, the main reason for the financial shortfall is an increase in expenses, and the main increase there, which ate up half of their profits over the last year, is an increase in foreign (read: American) programming expenses:
Investments in Canadian programming remained essentially unchanged at $619.6 million, of which $146 million was paid to independent producers. However, private broadcasters spent $775.2 million on foreign programming in 2008, up 7.4% from $721.9 million in 2007.
In other words, the reason CTV, Global, CITY et al aren’t making as much money as before isn’t because they can’t afford to fund daily newscasts, it’s because they’re running themselves into the poor house bidding for the Canadian broadcast rights for House and Grey’s Anatomy.
It boggles the mind that Canadian broadcasters spend more money securing rights to U.S. content than they do creating their own Canadian content (in fact, if you exclude news from the equation, it becomes a ratio of more than 2:1).
The full analysis with tables and stuff (PDF) is worth taking a look at. It breaks down the numbers by region, and shows that profit in Quebec, for example, bucked the trend and actually increased slightly in 2008. This despite (or because of) the fact that Quebec’s private broadcasters spend more money to create their own (primarily francophone) content.
Taking that Canadian-to-U.S. content ratio again and excluding Quebec, it rises to 60:40 in favour of importing U.S. programming. Exclude news again, and you find out that non-Quebec TV broadcasters spend 80% of their non-news programming budgets on importing American programming, and only 20% on creating Canadian content (that includes quasi-news programming like “other information” and “human interest”).
Perhaps we may have located the source of the problem here?
UPDATE: That didn’t take long. Quebecor (which owns TVA and Sun TV) is already using this to ask the CRTC to allow broadcasters to force cable companies to give them money (via Branchez-Vous), something the CRTC has already rejected.
More crappy cable channels
The CRTC is hearing applications for new digital specialty TV channels in one giant hearing (which also includes a bunch of radio applications). Among the suggested new channels:
- The Asian Television Network has applied to create 12 new channels in various categories for news, sports and music programming. The applications are somewhat vague and ask for freedom to take programming from various categories, so there will probably be resistance from the existing players.
- Current TV has applied for a Canadian version of its cable channel.
- Some guy in Alberta wants to create The Country Channel, geared toward rural Canadians, which I guess means programming about farming and fishing. Again, some existing broadcasters will probably object to them not being more selective about programming categories.
- A Toronto company called Ultimate Indie Productions (which seems to have assumed that its application has already been approved) wants to create a channel which features music from emerging Canadian artists (those whose record sales have not hit 80,000 yet), similar (in every way I can see) to a channel that’s already been approved but has not started service yet. It says no more than 65% of its content will be music, so I’m not sure what the rest is supposed to be. It also proposes no limits on feature film programming, which will annoy existing broadcasters. It’s also asking for an HD version of the same channel.
In other news
- Two Montreal radio stations, CISM 89.3FM and CIRA Radio Ville-Marie 91.3FM, have been given approval to create new subcarrier channels which would broadcast content in Tamil language and Spanish, respectively. These special channels are not picked up by normal radios and do not affect the main channel.
- The Accessible Channel has been given approval for an HD version.
- The CRTC is taking applications for new radio stations in the Ottawa/Gatineau area. The usual suspects are there, recommending pop, rock and news/talk stations.