CGM tweaks plans for CHUM

The CRTC hearings into the CHUM buyout opened with a surprise on Monday.

The CRTC hearings regarding CTVglobemedia’s proposed buyout of CHUM properties opened in Gatineau yesterday with an unexpected announcement. Namely, that would-be parent CTVglobemedia is not planning any overlap of programming between its over-the-air CTV stations and the Citytv outlets it is seeking regulatory approval to acquire.

CGM had proposed a 10% overlap in its original application, but knocked the number down to zero in an apparent effort to alleviate concerns over the proposed $1.4-billion buyout and the media giant it stands to create. CGM wants to keep the City stations in Vancouver/Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto/Hamilton, while selling CHUM’s six A-Channels and three specialty channels (SexTV, ACCESS Alberta and CLT Canadian Learning Television) to Rogers Communications for $137.5 million.

Claiming the City stations are teetering on the financial brink, CGM president/CEO Ivan Fecan urged the CRTC to make an exception to its ban against a broadcaster owning two over-the-air stations in the same major market.

Fecan told the feds that CTV’s financial clout would enable the Citys to return to their roots of youth-oriented and risky programming. Financial realities have forced City stations to broadcast advertorials and money-makers like America’s Funniest Home Videos, which are off brand, added CHUM president/CEO Jay Switzer.

But the commissioners continued to press the executives about the deal. CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein noted that, while the commission has made exceptions to its media concentration rules, it had never done it for one company in five different markets, and only for stations that have been struggling financially.

‘We are the only company that hasn’t gotten an exception,’ responded Fecan. Von Finckenstein countered, ‘Let’s be honest, they’re not failing stations.’

Commissioner Stuart Langford wondered why CGM hadn’t sold the City stations and kept the A-Channels, which have even lower bottom lines. ‘By keeping City, you’ve built the biggest regulatory hurdle you could possibly have,’ he stated. Fecan responded that keeping the Citys was the ‘right thing for the system’ and would ensure diversity. He said the A-Channels were too similar to CTV’s stations.

CFTPA president/CEO Guy Mayson says he welcomes the 0% overlap between the Citys and CTVs. ‘It’s something we had asked for and it’s great. But there needs to be more attention paid to specialty TV.’

The proposal allows for exceptions, totaling 20 hours per year, for so-called ‘nation-building’ programming such as the Juno awards or Canada Day celebrations. The CRTC review is the last step in CGM’s buyout of CHUM. The hearing is expected to last two more days.

This story first appeared in Playback Daily.