MASSE IN THE NEWS: MEDIA Broadcasters seek changes for 'broken' industry CTV executive warns of 'demise of conventional television' if CRTC denies new fee structure

IDN: 090630062
DATE: 2009.03.04
SECTION: Report on Business

MEDIA Broadcasters seek changes for 'broken' industry CTV executive warns of 'demise of conventional television' if CRTC denies new fee structure

Two of Canada's largest broadcasters have proposed sweeping changes to their operations while offering increasingly bleak outlooks for the Canadian television industry, just weeks ahead of licence renewal hearings with federal regulators.

Yesterday, CTV revealed plans to cut 118 newsroom jobs and to axe morning shows from several of its A Channel television stations.

At the same time, rival CanWest Global Communications Corp., owner of Global Television, asked the federal broadcast regulator to loosen existing requirements for Canadian content on its local networks.

The announcements come amid growing evidence that the Canadian television industry is in dire straits. With advertising dollars vanishing and media companies forced to write down the values of their assets, Canada's broadcasters are expected to reiterate their demand to be allowed to charge cable companies for their signals - something the regulator has twice denied - when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission begins its licence renewal hearings on April 27.

"Without fee for carriage, we're only going to be witness to the demise of conventional television in this country," said Paul Sparkes, executive vice-president of corporate affairs at CTVglobemedia.

"We are doing everything we can to hang on to conventional television, but as we continue to stress, the conventional model is now broken.

In the long term, the only real solution is fee for carriage." CTV says it has cancelled its three-hour morning show A Morning , which is locally produced at its Victoria, London and Barrie, Ont., stations, as well as the 6 p.m., 11 p.m. and weekend newscasts at its Ottawa station. In total, CTV is cutting 28 per cent of all A Channel employees across the country, which began with last week's announcement that the broadcaster will not renew its licences for the Ontario A Channel stations in Wingham, Wheatley and Windsor.

In its submission to the CRTC, CanWest is asking the regulator to reduce the amount of Canadian programming it is required to broadcast on its stations. CanWest has proposed a minimum of 10 hours of local programming per week in markets of more than one million people and five hours in markets of less than a million.

Currently, CanWest stations are required to broadcast anywhere from about nine hours of local programming in markets such as Global Regina to more than 42 hours of local programming in larger markets such as Vancouver's Global B.C.

CanWest's request is "fairly steep," said NDP MP Brian Masse, who has launched a campaign to draw attention to the precarious position of local programming in Canada.

"Right now local content is being crushed with the economy the way it is," he said. "We need to get something done or it's just going to be one sorry tale after another if things aren't looked into." CanWest is also seeking to eliminate rules requiring broadcasters to air local programming in prime time, something Sandra Cunningham, chair of the Canadian Film & Television Production Association,opposes.

"Diverse, high-quality Canadian content produced by independent producers and accessible to Canadian viewers during prime time is the raison d'etre for the granting of licences in the first place," she said in an e-mail. Last week, CTV told the CRTC it expects to lose as much as $100-million in 2009 on its conventional television stations, which operate under both the CTV and A Channel monikers.

It also wrote down those assets by $1.7-billion, about three quarters of their value just a few years ago. CTV is owned by CTVglobemedia Inc., the parent company of The Globe and Mail.