Rogers ups benefits, brushes aside ‘twin stick’ issue

Company execs pledged no more than a 10% programming overlap on Citytv Toronto and its two conventional ethnic TV stations in Toronto.

Rogers Media added $2 million to its benefits package and agreed to fund priority Canadian programming when it appeared before Canada’s regulator last week seeking approval for its $375-million purchase of five Citytv stations.

Rogers upped to $39.5 million the benefits package associated with its proposed purchase of the five over-the-air stations previously owned by CHUM in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

The adjustment relates to real estate property in Vancouver valued at $7.3 million, and in Calgary at between $13 and $16 million, that Rogers will acquire as part of the acquisition, but which wasn’t originally included in the value of the acquisition.

Half of the additional benefits will go toward documentary development and the other $1 million will top the Allan Waters Canadian Content fund to a total of $33.5 million. Rogers Media president Tony Viner also pledged that 100% of the Canadian production funding will go to priority programming, with a minimum of 85% dedicated to independent production and 65% specifically for drama.

The deal met little resistance. Sun TV, despite filing paperwork that strongly opposed it, did not appear at the hearings. Unions including CEP and the Writers Guild had raised the issue of the value of the real estate but, following the additional $2 million offer from Rogers, had little to say against the deal.

CFTPA presiden/CEO Guy Mayson praised Rogers for making the changes.

‘Overall, we’re supportive of the application. We feel that Rogers has really listened to us in terms of our intervention and its contribution to priority programming. The areas like new media, though, remain a little fuzzy.’

Rogers Broadcasting president Rael Merson said the new strategy for the Citytv stations involves reaffirming their ‘local, urban and diverse identity.’ But he noted American programming would continue to play a part in ensuring the stations remain viable.

Viner committed to no more than a 10% overlap in the programming on Citytv Toronto and Rogers’ two conventional ethnic TV stations in Toronto.

A loss of synergies between CHUM’s specialty TV channels, now owned by CTVglobemedia, and the Citytv stations will provide new opportunities, added Rogers exec Leslie Sole. ‘The City stations will have much greater freedom to acquire U.S. programming that is supportive of their local, urban and diverse market position,’ he noted.

Rogers also told the CRTC that its OMNI stations need to retain the ability to broadcast 40% English-language programming, mostly U.S. syndicated shows, to generate the revenues needed to produce the ethnic programming. The company also pledged to maintain separate editorial newsrooms at Citytv and the ethnic stations.

Company execs brushed aside questions from the five-member CRTC panel headed by chair Konrad von Finkelstein over whether acquiring Citytv Toronto – a market in which Rogers already owns two over-the-air stations – goes against CRTC policy. The feds prohibit ownership of more than one conventional station in one language in a major market.

The common ownership of City and the OMNIs fits squarely within the CRTC policy, said Viner. ‘These stations do operate in different languages.’ While Citytv is an English-language station competing with CTV, Global and CBC, he said the OMNI stations devote the majority of their schedule to programs in other languages.

Viner also noted the commission allowed CanWest to purchase an ethnic station in Montreal in 2000 even though it essentially provided the broadcaster with a second station in that market.

This story first appeared in Playback Daily.