Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Does their nerve know no bounds?

Now that CanWest has convinced he CRTC to look the other way on their takeover of the 13 cable TV networks previously owned by Alliance Atlantis, which required an injection of American capital well in excess of foreign investment limits, the Asper boys have set out to achieve the unthinkable. Wouldn’t it be great for their bottom line if they could get the CRTC to order Canadians to pay for over-the-air television broadcasts that have hitherto been free for all? Believe it or not, that’s exactly what they’re asking for, and if the CRTC goes along with it the average cable bill will swell by several dollars. It’s not completely unthinkable, given the close relations between the ruling Conservatives and CanWest, but I’m betting that if they pull this one off it will be more of an impetus for public outcry than their near-complete domination of the news media in some parts of Canada.

It’s not enough that CanWest became the most profitable television network in Canada by buying up Hollywood programming and inserting their own commercials in the U.S. network feed. It’s not enough that they gave back very little for this veritable licence to print money, reneging on many of the commitments they made for Canadian content. Now they want to rake it in with both hands. Here’s the rationale from Charlotte Bell, the company’s senior vice-president for regulatory affairs, writing in the company’s national newspaper, the National Post. If the name sounds familiar, she’s the one who got caught arranging a fundraiser for former Heritage minister Bev Oda, whose responsibility included broadcasting regulation, a tale I chronicle in Asper Nation.

“Cable companies have built profitable businesses based on the exploitation of free programming supplied by local broadcasters without giving any of the proceeds back to the stations,” argues Bell, playing to perfection the part of the pot calling the kettle black. “They take broadcasters' signals, charge you for them, and pay us nothing.” This argument ignores a small thing known as “must carry,” the fact that in exchange for a local monopoly cable systems are required by the CRTC to carry local stations on basic cable. Bell continues by arguing that the very type of specialty cable network that CanWest has recently invested in get a sweet deal compared to hard-done-by broadcasters.
Canadian pay and specialty services such as The Movie Network and TSN each receive a portion of monthly cable and satellite bills. Foreign services such as CNN, A&E and even the Playboy Channel also get a slice. Last year alone, $250-million from Canadians' cable and satellite bills was handed over to foreign programming services -- but not a cent went to local television

Bell’s column was written in response to a column by Phil Lind , vice chairman of cable giant Rogers Communications, that was carried alongside it in that day’s Post. That’s right, Bell’s column was a response, as she had obviously had the advantage of reading and rebutting Lind’s points, which she described as “disingenuous and misleading.” That’s just the kind of level playing field the Aspers love. Lind attributed the money grab to the recent expensive acquisitions of more lucrative specialty channels on the part of CanWest Global. “They want you to subsidize their local TV operations until they're as profitable as their specialty operations. That, in essence, is what fee-for-carriage is really all about.”

At least the Aspers were smart enough to get the CBC and CTV networks onside with this power play in order to prevent looking rapacious by comparison. After all, who can turn down free money, right? The networks are all crying poverty in unison in order to justify what is essentially a tax on television viewing, according to Lind.

CTV paid too much for CHUM, Global paid too much for Alliance Atlantis; and both, because they bid against each other, are paying far too much for U.S. primetime shows. CBC has set aside insufficient funds to upgrade its ageing facilities, preferring to squander its limited resources in bidding wars for the broadcast rights to blockbuster movies, hockey and the Olympics.

Let’s hope that if the CRTC goes along with this, at least the cable companies will be given the choice to opt out of carrying the new pay broadcasters. That wouldn’t go down too well with the networks, who would lose out on all the revenue from simultaneous substitution of their ads over top of the U.S. network feed.

1 comment:

Stormintv said...

We need help here in the north. A few years back when the new TV LORDS " Bell Globe Media" came into the picture. They bought all the TV stations in the north Timmins, Sault, North Bay, Sudbury and Huntsville downgraded them and MADE Sudbury the main hub of the north for TV. The people in the north are steamed. They set our news back 20 years here and there is nothing we can do. Each CITY in the north had their own news , sports , community events , local police presence and numerous other activities played daily . These TV LORDS have taken 5 TV stations, closed them down and made Sudbury the northern Ontario channel. We are in a communication age . There is no going backwards. The people in Timmins don’t care about a watermain break in Huntsville, likewise a small business in North Bay has to advertise in the Sault and Kap, a waste of money.. Now, the city that whines the most, gets airtime, but not Sudbury, we win. For a lot of Northerners this was the only TV they watched during the day our MCTV news. Now some people don’t even watch the news know because of how watered down it is. This is all BAD , not illegal, just plain BAD , to do this to the people of the north. How much has this hurt tourism? TV is their most useful tool for tourism and they took 4/5th’s of their tools away, come on. Sponsors for local teams get less coverage for the big money they spend, thank heavens they do it from their heart. Again BAD Now a big one . In the NORTH , when an election took place each city had their own 3 candidates on their channel. Ads, debates, we see them , hear them and if you’ve got a good tv you could smell them. Now that last election , seems like 15 minutes ago, there was NO AIR TIME available to local politicians. 95% to the federal cowboys. I pay attention in elections and I did not know what our NDP candidate looked like or had to say in last year election and that’s BAD. Again they have taken the main tool away. You can’t fix an election any easier or control it , and nobody noticed this at all. Here’s more. Police Departments for example in Kirkland have built a community presence over the years on TV 2-3 times a week on MCTV News Timmins, they go to schools see the future headaches and hopely shine a light, now they haven’t been on the news 10 times in the last 4 years.BAD What happened to the 30 yrs work to build it up to what it was? Thrown in the garbage and not coming back. Now all the other cites are starting to hate Sudbury. Sudbury this Sudbury that, do you blame them? No offence to the employees, we’ve had the best anchors ever, we are the training ground for the big boys. Bell Globe Media Why did you do this to us? Here’s my best guess. When these Expresvu dishes came out years back Bell ran into a little copywrite problem on the ground. They were selling dishes in the north and not following the rules, they are big boys that’s ok Here’s how it works, say figure skating
in Montreal is on CTV , being aired on MCTV in Sudbury on rabbit ears or cable. When The Notre Dame boys and Yollies ads are being played and they pay big bucks for those ads, the rules are clear, if you watching MCTV , figure skating in Capreol your suppose to be watching the Notre Dame Boys ads . But on the Bell dish at that time you were watching the skating from Hamilton and that’s a no no .
Bell was in a jam. They weren’t going to put 5 stations on the dish, so they went and bought all the stations in the north, closed them down, set us back 20 years and made Sudbury the capital of the north and said are you happy now. NOT Did this happen across the country to other places? If it did VERY BAD.
This is going to be hard to turn this back.
P. S. Situations like this happened in the states and guess what they did? The gov made them put all the existing stations on the dish. Direct TV viewers know this, that’s why there is 50 CBS 50 NBC 50 ABC channels to cover all cities This is now in the news again in the US . Bell Globe Media condensed us and that is BAD. We didn’t have much say. Did you? People are mad and are fed up with garbage news
Why didn’t they leave it alone the way it was and just put Sudbury on the satellite, ask us, we the people who pay all the money would have said its ok. We had good news for years. Thank you Bell for nothing..
Northern Ontario resident This is just my educated opinion…