Tag Archives: StarChoice

CRTC roundup: Deciding the future of TV

The CRTC continues to dominate be a footnote in the headlines as conventional television operators appear in two hearings – one for the CRTC itself in Gatineau to discuss license renewals, and another for a House committee in Ottawa to discuss the future of local television. And those discussions are heating up.

Last week, CTV and Global pressed their fee-for-carriage idea, where cable and satellite providers would be required to pay broadcasters to carry stations that already transmit their signals over the air for free. This would give broadcasters a $350-million lifeline, which is why they’re continuing to press for it even after having gotten rejected twice. They say local news simply can’t pay for itself, and it needs to be subsidized.

Even TQS jumped on board, despite the fact that it doesn’t produce local news.

Rogers, which owns CityTV and OMNI but gets much more of its revenue from its cable distributor, argued in front of MPs that CTV and Global were exaggerating their financial troubles to get a handout.

This week, Rogers repeated the accusation to the CRTC, saying the networks want money for local stations but also want to shut down small stations that don’t rake in money. It tempered that by saying that if the CRTC approves such an idea, it should be temporary until the recession goes away and a revenue goes back up. It also said fee-for-carriage means they shouldn’t be required to distribute conventional TV channels if broadcasters demand fees that are too high.

(This brings up an issue: Isn’t Rogers in a conflict of interest here? On one hand, OMNI and Citytv would benefit from additional fees, but Rogers is silencing those voices because the corporate parent has decided it would have more to lose from these fees through its cable provider than it would gain through its television stations. The same applies to Quebecor, which owns the TVA network and Videotron. In all, distributors showed revenues of $10 billion in 2008, with over $2 billion in profit.)

Pierre-Karl Péladeau, who speaks on behalf of TVA and Videotron, gave a more nuanced, have-your-cake-and-subsidize-it-too answer to MPs, saying fee-for-carriage should be allowed, but that the rates should be subject to negotiation between broadcaster and provider (no doubt the negotiations between TVA and Videotron would go amicably).

Leonard Asper of Canwest argued the problem is a regulatory system that allows distributors to flourish while broadcasters falter. He said debt and the recession are problems too, but they’re not the whole answer.

Ivan Fecan of CTVglobemedia said the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a special fund setup by the CRTC to subsidize local television stations in small markets, would need to be tripled, and that even then this would only protect the status quo and would not result in any increase in local programming. That angered Rogers and CRTC members.

CTV and Canwest also pointed out that cable and satellite providers are constantly increasing their rates without the “revolt” that the providers say would happen with a fee-for-carriage.

The Globe and Mail’s Grant Robertson, who has been covering this issue better than anyone, has a list of some of the issues that may come up in discussions about the future of television in Canada.

Why not just shut them down?

An interesting point was made in discussions of license renewals: If CTV and Global are so jealous of specialty television channels, why don’t they just become specialty channels?

It’s not quite so simple, but with 90% of Canadian television viewers having cable or satellite service, the added expense of setting up transmitters and local news stations isn’t worth the added viewership and ad revenue that comes with it. (Not to mention the cost of transitioning to digital television, which has caused broadcasters to decide to shut down dozens of retransmitters across the country.)

CRTC chairman Konrad von Finkenstein asked if CTV would prefer the specialty channel model to the conventional TV model. Conventional stations require a certain amount of local programming, while specialty channels are required to spend a certain percentage of their revenues on creating original programming. CTV suggested it would prefer the latter, though it wanted some recognition that having local stations is much more expensive than rerunning old Seinfeld episodes.

CRTC wants more transparency from big guns

The CRTC is seeking comment on new rules that would require large broadcasters and distributors to disclose more information about their finances than they currently do.

Currently, the CRTC collects lots of information but only releases “aggregate information” to the public. So we know how much all broadcasters spend on U.S. programming, but we don’t know how that breaks down per broadcaster or broadcasting unit.

Since broadcasters are arguing that they need more money because their business model is broken (and the distributors are arguing that the can’t spare fee-for-carriage payments without raising prices), it makes sense that they should let us see their books.

The CEP labour union certainly agrees with that reasoning.

Broadcasters want changes on the air too

In addition to fee-for-carriage, television broadcasters are asking for a relaxing of regulations about how much Canadian content they have to air and what kind of programming they must create. One of the proposed changes is to include reality programming in the list of “priority programming” (scripted comedies and drama shows) that the CRTC gives special attention to because it costs more to produce. This would go against the entire point of distinguishing expensive from cheap programming, and encourage private broadcasters to cancel expensive dramas in favour of cheaper reality shows.

Meanwhile, Bill Brioux wonders if CTV and Global will be reducing their big-budget U.S. programming purchases in light of their apparent financial woes.

StarChoice really dislikes CBC Regina

Last year, the CBC got all up in StarChoice’s face because of a decision by the satellite distributor to remove CBC Regina (CBKT) from its channel lineup. The CBC complained to the CRTC, saying that the removal meant StarChoice had more CTV channels than CBC channels, and this represented a violation of one of its conditions of license.

In November, the CRTC ruled that CTV’s main network and its A Channel network should be considered separately for the purposes of this rule, and that StarChoice was still in compliance. It dismissed the complaint.

But the CBC pressed on with its case, arguing that the CRTC got the numbers wrong and that even excluding the A Channel network, StarChoice has more CTV-owned stations than CBC-owned stations. These include CTV-branded stations as well as CJCH in Halifax (formerly ATV, rebranded as CTV Atlantic) and MCTV’s CICI (rebranded as CTV Northern Ontario).

What followed was a war of words betwen CBC and StarChoice, with the latter accusing the former of using incendiary language.

Now, StarChoice is asking for an exception to be made to its license to allow it to continue not distributing CBC Regina but still distribute all its CTV stations (including CTV Regina). I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest the CBC will oppose this request.

In other news

CRTC Roundup: No Super Bowl loopholes this year

For the latest on Super Bowl ads on Canadian cable and satellite, click here.

Note: This post has been corrected. I originally confused the two rulings for satellite companies as being the same. In fact, the Commission ruled in different ways for the two. Thanks to Patrick for pointing out the error.

Catching up on some CRTC broadcasting news over the holidays:

A complaint filed by CTV against Bell and Shaw, which run our two national satellite TV providers, has resulted in an order from the broadcast regulator forcing the two providers to close loopholes allowing Canadian viewers to see U.S. commercials during the Super Bowl.

Last year, both Bell TV (formerly Bell ExpressVu) and Shaw’s StarChoice concocted a scheme whose logic was something like this:

  1. The CRTC requires broadcast distributors (i.e. cable and satellite companies) to use “simultaneous substitution” to replace U.S. channels with Canadian ones when both are airing the same show. This is so that Canadian networks get all the advertising money. Normally nobody cares that they’re seeing Canadian commercials instead of American ones, but the Super Bowl is the one time of the year when people want to watch the commercials. Canadian Super Bowl commercials just don’t measure up.
  2. The CRTC rules have some loopholes. The substitution is only done when requested by the Canadian network, it’s only done when the Canadian signal is of equal or better quality than the U.S. one (which caused some issues in the early days of HD), and it’s only done in markets that have a Canadian over-the-air broadcaster.
  3. CTV had high-definition broadcasters only in Toronto and Vancouver, so simultaneous substitution of the Fox HD signal is only necessary in those two markets
  4. Bell and StarChoice developed a way to substitute the signal only for Toronto and Vancouver markets, and kept the Fox HD signals unsubstituted outside those markets for the benefit of Canadians wanting to watch the U.S. Super Bowl commercials. Viewers outside those markets would be given a choice of watching a substituted signal or an unsubstituted one.

CTV complained, and the CRTC agreed, that Bell TV is required to substitute those channels nationally, even for customers in markets where there is no Canadian broadcaster carrying the HD signal, because that is the method of substitution they currently use. The company, it said, can’t decide to use one method or the other depending on which is more convenient.

It dismissed Bell’s suggestion that the Super Bowl is an exception because it’s a “pop culture phenomenon”. CTV’s response to that:

CTV added that those viewers who really want to see the U.S. commercials can download them from the Internet within minutes after their being broadcast during the game.

The result is that Bell has to assure CTV in advance that simultaneous substitution will in fact take place for SD and HD signals nationally, and that Canadian subscribers not be given access to the U.S. commercials. Period.

In the case of StarChoice, the CRTC took a different tact. Unlike Bell TV, StarChoice substitutes channels locally through the receiver. They receive the U.S. signals, but are programmed to substitute them based on local requirements. This is the CRTC’s preferred method of substitution, as it protects local broadcasters. Since StarChoice didn’t deviate from their normal practice when they allowed subscribers outside of Toronto to view the U.S. Super Bowl feed, the CRTC ruled they are in compliance.

The CRTC did slap Shaw on the wrist about its cable TV service, which it said did not properly substitute the HD signal in 2008, but accepted the explanation that there were “technical difficulties” because Shaw had only started substitution for HD signals a month before the broadcast. They’re on a form of probation for the 2009 Super Bowl, with orders to take special steps to ensure substitution takes place as required.

The Super Bowl, which I think is a game of rugby or something, airs on Feb. 1 on NBC and CTV.

More commercial substitution

An unrelated issue, which the CRTC will debate next month, concerns “local availabilities of non-Canadian services

If you’ve ever watched CNN and noticed commercials for Viewer’s Choice Pay-per-view or some other Canadian channel, this is what they’re talking about. Canadian broadcast distributors are allowed to override commercials on U.S. networks, but only to put in programming ads. They can’t put in their own commercial advertisements. At least, not yet. They’re arguing to get that privilege.

Personally, so long as the advertising substitution is negotiated with the U.S. network, and it doesn’t disrupt service, I don’t see a problem letting this happen.


LCN has received approval to increase the amount of opinion and analysis programming during its broadcast day from 12% to 19%. CBC argued against the change, saying it would reduce the amount of news programming, which would hurt francophones outside of Quebec.

(As an aside, has anyone watched RDI and LCN and noticed how much local Montreal news and how little local news from outside Quebec are on those channels? It makes sense – that’s where their audience is – but neither is really a national news channel)

LCN argued it needs to adapt to a quickly changing media environment, which I’m sure you know favours opinionated blowhards shouting their mouths off in prime time over any sort of actual news gathering.


Astral Media has received approval to add sitcom and drama programming to its MPix service, which used to be about movies. It’s limited to 15% of its content coming from those categories, and they have to be at least five years old, but I still find it kind of silly that they want to add sitcoms to a movie channel.

They’ve also gotten a reduction in the lead time between a movie’s release and the time they can start airing it, from five years to three years.


SuperChannel, a pay TV network which wants to compete with The Movie Network and Movie Central, is still trying to get carried on some cable providers, including Videotron, despite an order from the CRTC that gives it “must carry” status.

Videotron has refused, citing some minority language rule that I don’t quite understand and probably doesn’t make any sense.

SuperChannel notes that Quebecor applied for a similar service and was turned down in favour of SuperChannel, and this might be payback for that rejection.

De-CanConing The Movie Network

The Movie Network has gotten approval to reduce its Canadian content requirements by getting extra credit for priority programming. This extra credit system came after the CRTC and media watchdogs noticed that Canadian broadcasters preferred certain cheap kinds of programming (like reality shows) over more expensive dramas. So the CRTC decided it would let broadcasters claim 150% credit for dramas and other expensive programming, to encourage them to create more of it.

Digital Home calls this a “weakening of Canadian content regulations“, though it’s entirely consistent with CRTC policy, as flawed as that may be.

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.