Canadian Association of Broadcasters shuts down

Irreconcilable differences spell end to the 80-year-old lobby group, but it might be for the best, if new associations are formed that present a united front.

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) is closing its doors. The organization that for some 80 years has represented private radio and television broadcasters said Thursday morning that it will wind down its operations by summer; undone, say sources, by conflicting interests among its members.

‘For some time the three sectors really couldn’t agree how to operate,’ says Elmer Hildebrand, the Manitoba-based radio exec who late last year became chairman of the troubled group, which also reps specialty/pay broadcasters. ‘What to present, how to proceed – it didn’t seem to work.’

One such conflict is the ongoing rift within the TV side of the organization, with cablers and broadcasters fighting over the issue of fee-for-carriage.

Having disparate interests within the CAB was preventing the organization from forming a united front, and this was having a negative affect on their level of influence, says Hugh Dow, Chairman, Mediabrands Canada. ‘The concern from the buyers’ point of view was that this represented a very fragmented view to the government or to the Commission. So in many respects this is probably a good thing,’ Dow tells MiC.

‘Because of the increasingly competitive nature of our business, it was clear that there wasn’t always agreement between individual networks or individual players,’ Dow says. However, he believes new associations will form out of the ruins in the coming months among players who can collaborate on common interests – whether it be a radio-only association or an organization that represents specialty TV, for example.

Hildebrand too says there are plans to form a new, radio-only organization, and there is talk of another group taking shape for the television sector.

Hildebrand says when he arrived on the scene in December ‘the track was already set,’ though he had hoped to hold the group together. He later thought to ‘peel off’ the TV sectors and reform CAB as a radio-only group, though this idea was abandoned because of practical and legal complications. On Wednesday the CAB board instead voted to disband.

CAB members were divided along industry lines – radio interests have long taken a back seat to television – though cracks had also formed between the TV members. Independent broadcasters like S-VOX, APTN, and Stornoway did not always see eye to eye with the larger, BDU-affiliated networks, according to S-VOX chief and long-time CAB insider Bill Roberts, a point demonstrated when the indies made a separate presentation during the CRTC’s BDU hearings in 2008.

Roberts and others also opposed a recent policy shift at CAB that saw lobby efforts redirected at politicians over the longer-view policymakers at the CRTC. ‘That was destined to fail,’ says Roberts. ‘Broadcaster interests are longer term. Politicians come and go.’