Warning bells at CTV, Canwest catches a break

Canwest Global Communications narrowly escaped disaster Friday, while CTVgm projects loss and pegs conventional TV status as 'alarming' to 'grave'.

Canwest Global Communications narrowly escaped disaster Friday when its senior lenders gave the embattled broadcaster two more weeks to renegotiate borrowing arrangements on a $300 million credit line to avoid defaulting on its debt load.

Bankers for Canwest extended to March 11 a deadline for its Canwest Media subsidiary to repay up to $112 million drawn on the credit facility, or secure new terms to extend the line of credit beyond March 11.

The broadcaster and newspaper publisher, which is carrying a $3.9 billion debt load, was headed towards possible bankruptcy without the creditor-approved reprieve secured Friday.

Canwest Global in a statement said it had ‘sufficient liquidity to enable it to continue to operate normally’ until March 11.

Besides a mounting debt load, a deepening advertising downturn has also placed the Winnipeg, Manitoba-based media group in a financial squeeze. Ahead of its next deadline with senior lenders, Canwest said it will continue to shed costs and sell ‘non-core operations and assets’ to service its debt.

Current efforts to sell off assets are expected to lead to additional job losses within the company, and redraw the Canadian media landscape.

The broadcaster hired RBC Capital Markets to sell its five E!-branded TV stations, and test the market for possible bids for 13 specialty channels that it operates in partnership with Goldman Sachs & Co.

The challenge facing Canwest Global – as advertisers pull back on commercial spending, or shift ad dollars to specialty TV and the internet – is also being felt at rival CTVglobemedia, which on Friday projected a $100 million loss for its conventional TV stations in 2009.

Ivan Fecan, CEO of CTVgm, in an internal memo to employees said the business climate for the CTV network was ‘alarming’ while that of the secondary A channels remained ‘grave.’

CTVgm also followed rivals Canwest and Rogers Media in writing down the value of its conventional TV assets on its books.

Fecan said CTVgm is to ask the CRTC for a short term one-year license renewal for the A channels, rather than the usual seven years license term, to enable the regulator to ‘begin a new process looking into the crisis in conventional television later this year.’ The short-term renewal is something the CRTC recently indicated it was considering one year license renewals for conventional bcasters at recent hearings.

He added CTV had been flagging the ‘deteriorating health of conventional TV’ to the CRTC for years.

‘This year, we will lose a significant amount of money in conventional. Our specialty business… is holding its own, in part as a result of the spending cuts we made in November,’ Fecan continued.

The CTVgm chief said costs would continue to be cut at the conventional TV stations, but ultimately the solution was for the CRTC to order cable and satellite TV operators to provide fees for carriage of free-to-air TV signals. The CRTC has already twice turned down the fee-for-carriage proposal from conventional broadcasters.

From Playback Daily