Claassen’s deal for Brandon station falls apart

Lack of satellite coverage scuttles plans to save Manitoba's CKX. Station goes dark, taking 39 jobs.


A deal to purchase CKX-TV in Brandon, Manitoba has come unstuck over CRTC regulations and Canada’s satellite TV monopoly, according to would-be owner Bruce Claassen.

The result is that the local station, which launched in 1955, is set to shut down after its supper-hour newscast Friday, with the loss of 39 jobs.

A frustrated Claassen says that his deal to buy CKX for $1 from CTVglobemedia was contingent on CRTC rules that grant at least one independent TV station in every province automatic direct-to-home satellite access.

Claassen’s holding company, Bluepoint Investment, first unveiled its bid for CKX in July, and had been working since then with CTVgm to bring about an ownership change.

Bluepoint assumed CKX, which is the province’s only indie station, would receive guaranteed DTH coverage as cable operators like western Canadian giant Shaw Communications launch satellites to reach small, rural markets not served by cable lines.

DTH coverage would have given CKX 54% more viewers, a big draw for local advertisers, Claassen explained.

But after Bluepoint Investment filed its application to purchase the Brandon TV station, it found the CRTC was changing its DTH policy and putting the current rules in abeyance to 2011.

‘It was total suicide,’ Claassen says of taking CKX forward without DTH coverage.

His company appealed, but didn’t get far with regulators or politicians in Ottawa. Claassen couldn’t secure a commitment from the CRTC for DTH coverage and, further, feared any such regulatory guarantee would have no teeth in a domestic satellite TV market dominated by Bell and Star Choice Communications.

‘If I’m Bell ExpressVu and Shaw, I’d rather put HBO and ESPN2 on my service and secure more sales,’ he said ruefully.

Star Choice is owned and run by cable operator Shaw Communications, which abandoned an earlier bid to purchase CKX.

Claassen said rather than impose deep job cuts and continuing uncertainty on CKX employees, whose station has known three owners in the last four years, including Craig Broadcasting and CHUM, a decision was made to shut it down.

‘I hate to say goodbye to the staff. We worked our butts off and spent a lot of money to ensure it worked. I said to Ivan [Fecan], we could still keep it going, but it will [be] blood and guts, and half the staff will go. They’ve gone through enough,’ he argued.

CTVgm CEO Ivan Fecan, in a Thursday memo to station employees, underlined how questions over DTH coverage undid the deal with Bluepoint. ‘I have talked with Alan Cruise, the general manager of CKX-TV Brandon, and we agreed it was in the best interest of everyone, including the employees, to get on with life, close immediately and pay out severances,’ Fecan said in the memo.

From Playback Daily