Bombshell from CRTC

The commission is looking at shortening licence terms for the country's over-the-air broadcasters to just one year down from seven, and drastically changing the Cancon spend ratio.

The magic number at the CRTC is one – as in one-year licences and a proposed one-to-one ratio on spending for Canadian and foreign programming.

In a startling announcement on Friday, looking ahead to this spring’s licence renewal hearings, the commission said it is poised to shorten licence terms for the country’s over-the-air broadcasters to just one year, down from the traditional seven, and that it may require English broadcasters to spend the same amount on domestic shows as on foreign.

The CRTC said ‘at first blush [it] finds a lot of merit’ in imposing a 1:1 ratio on spending as a condition of licence on English television outlets, a move that, if implemented, could drastically change the look and economics of Canadian television, funneling much more cash to domestic producers.

Pointing to the lagging economy, the switch from analog to digital transmission and other factors, the CRTC said it would be ‘extremely difficult’ to issue seven-year licences for the likes of CTV, Canwest, Rogers and TVA.

Instead, it favors narrowing the scope of the hearings and reducing the terms to one year, looking to revisit the issues in the spring of 2010.

Further, the commission indicated that in 2010 it will assess licence renewals by ownership group, rather than by sector, in a bid to address ‘the increased consolidation’ in the broadcasting sector.

A CTV spokesperson declined to comment, saying that the broadcaster needed to ‘take a serious look’ at the proposed changes. Canwest did not return calls for comment.

The Writer’s Guild of Canada, however, is applauding the regulator’s decision to move to group licence renewals in 2010, which will include over-the-air broadcasters and its specialties. ‘Maybe business isn’t as booming on the OTA side, but certainly it is still doing very well for them on the cable side,’ says Maureen Parker, exec director at the WGC.

Parker doesn’t know what to make of the 1:1 ratio, and wonders whether it would include all Canadian programming such as sports and lifestyle shows. ‘We’d like to keep the conversation focused on drama,’ she says, noting that broadcasters spend nine times the amount of money on foreign drama versus Canadian.

The CRTC has asked the broadcasters to comment on its proposals by Feb 23. The licence renewals are set to start on April 27.

From Playback Daily