Canada b'casters want cut of cabler's fees

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TORONTO -- Quebec media giant Quebecor Media Inc., which operates a cable system, cable channels and over-the-air TV stations, on Tuesday asked Canada's broadcast regulator to order cable channels to share the fees they receive for carrying local conventional TV stations with free, over-the-air broadcasters.

"We are in favor of maintaining a fee-for-carriage system, but we're asking you to give conventional stations access to it," Quebecor CEO Pierre Peladeau told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission as it continued public hearings on conventional TV policy.

Peladeau argued that cable and satellite TV operators should not be forced to pay fees for distributing local TV station signals to Canadian households, a proposal put on the table by conventional broadcasters during the first day of the CRTC hearings on Monday.

Major over-the-air broadcasters including CTV Inc., CanWest Global Communications Inc. and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. argued that they should receive the same fee-for-carriage revenues that cable channels, increasingly their main competition for eyeballs, already receive.

Canadian cable channels derive their revenues from air-time sales and subscriber fees, while conventional broadcasters depend solely on advertising revenue for income.

But Peladeau's suggestion that existing fees-for-carriage should be reallocated from cable channels to conventional broadcasters was rejected outright by John Cassaday, president and CEO of Corus Entertainment Inc., an operator of conventional and cable channels.

"This is a lose-lose proposition for the specialty (cable) channel business," Cassaday told the CRTC commissioners.

Corus, which is majority controlled by western Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications Inc., would "have a significant impact" in its ability to produce homegrown programming for its channels, Cassaday argued.

He added that Canadian TV viewers may cut back on their program packages or turn to illegal U.S. satellite TV signals if asked to pay more for conventional TV station signals received as part of their cable or satellite TV packages.

Canadian cable and satellite TV giants are scheduled to address the CRTC hearings later this week and are expected to dismiss the fee-for-carriage proposal from conventional broadcasters as a cash grab.

The conventional TV policy hearings run through Dec. 6.
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