Rogers, Shaw, CBC testify at CRTC hearings

The battle of the television biggies is raging on in the capital, showcasing various versions of Canada's future broadcast landscape.

Rogers Communications execs presented a three-step proposal for new TV regulation that would ‘emulate many of the benefits of the Internet’ at the CRTC hearings on the future of broadcast distribution.

But the cableco stood firm in its opposition to fee-for-carriage, with vice-chair Phil Lind saying it would create new problems, such as consumers fleeing the system or downgrading their TV services. Conventional broadcasters are not losing money, he insisted, noting that Rogers wouldn’t have spent $400 million on the Citytv channels if it didn’t believe profits could be generated without fee-for-carriage. If broadcasters aren’t profitable, he added, it’s because they spend too much on US programming.

Viewers would be happier with their TV services if they were able to watch the programming they want when they want it, said other Rogers execs. This can be accomplished through new technologies such as video-on-demand, and by giving BDUs access to more foreign TV channels, said Lind.

Regarding genre protections, Lind said keeping out foreign channels if they are competitive with Canadian outlets is too restrictive. Instead, he proposed that the test be based on viability rather than program overlap.

CEO Ted Rogers later piped in, ‘We are not in favor of removing restrictions on foreign services. Some of my cable friends would disagree with me, but we are not in favor of that.’

Shaw Communications, for one, said that allowing such channels as HBO and ESPN into Canada would help prevent consumers from turning to the black market or new technologies.

Proponents of Rogers’ proposal said it hinges on giving viewers a reason to stay in the system, maximizing new revenue opportunities and reinvesting new revenues in the system.

Also, the company again requested the right to insert Canadian advertising into local avails – ad spaces on US channels such as TLC and A&E – with 50% of the money generated, an estimated $175 million over seven years, going toward Canadian programming. Current regulations limit the use of local avails. The cableco also wants the rules changed so it can put Canadian ads into VOD shows.

The CBC, meanwhile, had a completely different view on fee-for-carriage. The public broadcaster wants cable companies to pay it $1.50 per subscriber per month for its over-the-air signals – higher than the 50-70 cents being requested by Canwest and CTVglobemedia.

CBC executives said a smaller, less expensive package could be introduced for consumers who were not willing to pay more. Distributors have said they will pass the fee-for-carriage rates directly on to consumers. ‘People are accustomed to paying for TV,’ said CBC EVP of English Services Richard Stursberg. ‘Consumers already believe they are paying for conventional TV signals since they are packaged with discretionary TV channels and pay a monthly subscription fee for the entire package.’

Rogers said it would be too costly to introduce a smaller service, though this would change in an all-digital system, which is expected to take effect in Canada by 2011.

From Playback Daily