CRTC annual report: Revenues down for networks, up for ‘casters

Record losses continue to plague conventional TV sector, says CRTC report, but the picture looks much rosier for cable and satellite broadcasters.

There’s both good news and bad news in the world of Canadian television, according to the CRTC’s annual report on the financial health of private television.

For conventional TV networks, profits and revenues continued to move in the wrong direction last year as the sector lost $116.4 million collectively before interest and taxes. Revenues took the sharpest drop in 2009, plunging almost 8% to just $1.97 billion as the industry was hit by the full force of the recession. Local and national ad sales were down, as were infomercials, contributing to a 10.1% drop in overall ad revenue, which came in at $348 million.

The numbers are perhaps the gloomiest yet for a sector that continues to be plagued by difficulties brought on by the economy and technological change. Last year marked the first time in five years that the books show a loss before interest and taxes. They also reveal the greatest drop by far over that period in pre-tax profit, down to a loss of $279 million.

The numbers contrast those of the cable and satellite industry, where profits and revenues were up according to a separate study also released on Thursday.
Overall, spending was down across the television sector, due largely to savings on administration and salaries stemming from the layoffs that swept across the major broadcasters last year and in late ’08. This was offset by an increase in spending on US and other foreign programming, which rose 9.2% to $846.3 million.

Meanwhile, spending on Canadian programming dropped by 3.3% to just under $600 million, broken down as:

$75.4 million for drama
$80.9 million for general interest
$312.1 million for news
$65.9 million for other information programs
$38.3 million for musical and variety
$3.8 million for sports
$11.1 million for game shows

The data was not overlooked by ACTRA, which was as always quick to criticize the spending on US programming while expressing hope that the CRTC’s forthcoming television policy will help to right the economic and cultural ship. The federal regulator is due to announce its decision on fee for carriage and other policies on Monday.

For the first time the CRTC report also included CBC data. The Ceeb saw revenue of $1.2 billion in ’09, expenses of $1.1 billion and posted a pre-tax loss of $21 million.

The average salary at the CBC was $93,420 though this number was inflated due to severance packages paid out during the year. In the private sector, it was $78,202.

The good news: cable and satellite still in the pink

It looks like the recession was just a blip for Canadian satellite and cable companies, who continued to make financial gains in 2009, according to the CRTC report.

Revenues for cablers such as Rogers, Cogeco, Shaw and Videotron rose 11.9% last year to $9.2 billion, continuing a healthy year-over-year trend. (In 2007 and 2008 the growth was 16%.)

Meanwhile, combined revenues for direct-to-home and multipoint distribution system companies including Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice climbed 7%, to $2.2 billion.

Revenues for both sectors combined amounted to $11.4 billion in 2009, and provide a stark contrast to those of private conventional broadcasters, which again were down according to a separate report from the federal regulator.

Both sides are awaiting Monday’s CRTC decision on the controversial fee-for-carriage issue, with conventional broadcasters looking to charge the profitable cable and satellite companies to carry their signals.

The number of Canuck households that acquired cable services last year grew by 2.2% to 8.1 million subscribers, while DTH and MDS subscribers rose 2.3% to 2.8 million.

As far as contributing to Canadian programming, distribution companies doled out $352 million, an increase of 8.3% in one year. The money breaks down to about $180 million for the Canadian Television Fund, while $50 million was directed at independent funds, and $122 million went to local expression such as cable community channels.

From Playback Daily