Abolish DTCA ban, suggests CRTC boss

CRTC's Local Programming Improvement Fund, currently valued at $60 million, is one option that stands to boost local programming. Another revenue driver may come through allowing DTC pharma ads.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein was pessimistic about the future of local television, calling it a ‘major concern’ during an appearance this week before parliament’s Heritage Committee and expressing fear that it could disappear completely.

Committee MPs asked the CRTC chair to appear in order to address the recent upheaval in the television sector. He indicated a bailout of conventional broadcasters could be in the cards, and called on Ottawa to cut a deal on Part II fees.

Von Finckenstein said the CRTC’s Local Programming Improvement Fund, currently valued at $60 million, is one option that stands to boost local programming in markets of less than a million people. Two thirds of the LPIF, expected to be in operation by September, will go to the English market.

The chief regulator also suggested that abolishing Canada’s ban on Direct to Consumer Advertising (DTCA) pharmaceutical advertising could result in more ad dollars. He acknowledged that the sector is in desperate need of a ‘systemic solution,’ and urged conventional stations to consider new business models.

But, despite his concern for local TV, von Finckenstein said the Commission would consider giving conventional broadcasters a break on their local programming requirements on an ‘exceptional basis’ and for a limited period of time to help them deal with the current economic crisis and ad slump.

Von Finckenstein was continually pressed by members of the committee on fee-for-carriage as a means of generating funds for local programming. The CRTC has twice turned down requests from conventional broadcasters for the right to collect such fees from BDUs.

‘The whole system has to be refined. Fee-for-carriage may be a part of the solution’ to be considered in non-metropolitan markets, said von Finckenstein, but added such fees would have to be part of a more encompassing solution.

Von Finckenstein noted that in previous debates on the issue, neither Canwest nor CTVglobemedia would commit to using any money generated by fee for carriage on local programming.

The chair noted change could not come from the CRTC alone, but that ‘it is a process that will require everyone to step up to the table with bold and creative ideas.’

Von Finckenstein added that Ottawa could cut a deal with broadcasters over Part II fees, a matter currently before the Supreme Court of Canada, and use money generated by the auction of analog spectrum to help broadcasters convert to digital.

Von Finckenstein recommended that the government should stop charging the fees in exchange for the broadcasters relinquishing any claims for repayment of previous contributions, roughly $700 million.

From Playback Daily