Saturday, August 15, 2009

 

CHEESE WITH THAT WHINE?

Cable and satellite television viewers are outraged after being slapped with a one and half percent increase in their monthly bills courtesy of a new CRTC dictate to increase the Canadian Television Fund.

The fund requires the distributors of television services on cable or by satellite pay a small percentage of their revenues to assist with the production of Canadian programs. The total annual fund amount has been set at near $68-million for about a year, but increased just recently to $100-million on orders from the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as a stopgap measure to incessant whining from broadcasters that the downturn in the economy has left them unable to fulfill their programming requirements.

Frankly if I may digress, It ain't really mattered one scintilla that Ben Mulroney and "Canadian Idol" (one of the CTV casualties) haven't been on air this year - Likely no one has noticed.

CTV-Globemedia CEO, Ivan Fecan, has been amongst the loudest whiners launching a bid early last spring to charge the cable companies to broadcast CTV stations. Canwest-Global, the country's other privately held English language network, also supports the proposal. The war of words has waged and escalated since that time.

Every time there is a "tempest in a teapot" of this nature there is plenty of blame to go around. For now it's but a campaign for the hearts and minds of consumers, and Mr. Fecan's CTV, including the "Save Local TV" campaign have been good at setting the debate's agenda. This month though Rogers Cable (the country's largest), and Bell Canada, the largest satellite distributor, have made it mighty clear just who's pocketbook the networks' whining will hit. And, in a double whammy, Bell has also filed suit in court, asking a Federal Judge to intervene to stop the CRTC plans to hold hearings into the CTV and Global applications to begin charging for carrying their signals. The Federal regulator had scheduled the hearings to start on September 29, but has now pushed them back to mid-November with the expectation that the Federal Court will rule by then.

In the interim, CTV has decimated its smaller "A" channel group of stations, and has plans to close at least three of them. Global too has cut back, and put up the "for sale" sign on it's smaller "E!" television stations chain. Just like Nortel and so many others, the network's greed and disregard for sound financial planning are at the source of the problems. Dumping the burden on the television distributors, ultimately with the complicity of the Federal regulator isn't going to cause anything but agravation and grief.

Lost amongst the accusations and arguments is one undeniable fact: Cable and satellite viewers across the country already pay amounts ranging from a few cents to as much as a dollar per month for each of the so-called specialty channels they receive. Nationwide, CTV collects on its 33 specialty channels, versus its two over the air offerings (CTV & "A")...Canwest too each month collects money from viewers for each one of its 17 specialty channels, versus its two traditional channels: Global TV and E! In this war of words, CTV this week had the temerity to ask for transparent billing practices on the part of cable and satellite companies. The danger is that should its wish be granted, consumers will know once and for all just how much cash already flows into CTV and Global from the hidden specialty channel fees paid each month...I'm all for that.

While both sides have been lobing accusations and charges at each other; the CRTC, the Federal Agency mandated to protect our interests, seems to have lost the will and the backbone to tell them each to quit whining, just shut-up, and get on with their business.

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