CRTC to hold public hearings on fee-for-carriage

Distributors must increase support to LPIF - contributing $100 million to local programming for stations in markets of up to a million people - and English 'casters have been given consistent local programming airtime requirements.

Canada’s broadcast regulator has opened the doors to fee-for-carriage, increased the size of a yet-to-launch local TV fund and harmonized the amount of local programming the English-language nets have to broadcast.

Upon releasing the conditions of licence for CTVglobemedia, Rogers and Canwest’s conventional networks that run until August 2010, the CRTC on Monday upped the amount distributors must pay to its Local Programming Improvement Fund to 1.5% of revenues from the previously announced 1% for the upcoming broadcast year. The fund will provide about $100 million in support of local television programming for stations in markets of up to a million people.

‘Canadians have made it abundantly clear that they value local programming,’ said CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein in a statement.

Further, von Finckenstein has made consistent the number of hours that English-language conventional stations must broadcast such fare, making it a condition of licence that smaller terrestrial stations air a weekly minimum of seven hours of local and/or regional programming, while the larger stations must air 14 hours. Previously, the requirements ranged from four hours to above 30 hours per week, depending on the station.

The Commission says it will hold public hearings in September on certain issues relating to conventional TV, including fee-for-carriage. The notice refers to ‘establishing, through negotiation, the fair market value of these [conventional] signals’ – a kind of fee-for-carriage that would be negotiated between distributor and broadcasters.

‘The rapid evolution of the communications industry is forcing everyone to rethink the model for conventional television broadcasters,’ said von Finckenstein.

Rogers vice-chair Phil Lind was quick to put down the plans, remarking that the cable company is more concerned about the move towards fee-for-carriage than the increase to the LPIF. He says the company will fight the fees ‘in every way we possibly can.’

At CTVgm, EVP of corporate affairs Paul Sparkes praised the ‘fair market value for TV signals’ initiative, and said his network is considering keeping its Windsor station CHWI open. The troubled station was one of three held up during the recent CRTC hearings as evidence that over-the-air broadcasters needed the financial help that fee for carriage will provide.

The CRTC renewed the licences of all three – which include CKX in Brandon, MB, and CKNX in Wingham, ON – even though CTVgm had said it didn’t need renewals since it would be shuttering them.

‘I’m hopeful we’ll find a solution to Windsor; Brandon is a tougher circumstance,’ says Sparkes.

The CRTC turned aside complaints by the Communications, Energy & Paperworkers Union of Canada that OTA broadcasters were not complying with their current local programming requirements.

The regulator set different local programming benchmarks in renewing the French-language terrestrial TVA network, reducing the local programming to 18 hours per week, but continuing to require that nine hours per week of it exclusively target the Quebec market.

The CRTC made the local programming announcements as it began a public hearing into Internet neutrality.

From Playback Daily