Canadian b'casters seek carriage fees

4:00 AM PST 11/28/2006 by Etan Vlessing, AP

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TORONTO -- Canada's conventional broadcasters on Monday demanded first-time fees from cable and satellite TV operators for carriage of their local TV station signals. The move came as Canada's broadcaster regulator kicked off seven days of public hearings on the future of domestic free, over-the-air broadcasting.

"We need the funds to meet ... to develop Canadian programming and other objectives, such as converting to high-definition TV. There is no loud reason not to do so," Robert Rabinovitch, CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on the first day of hearings in Hull, Quebec.

Executives at rival conventional broadcasters CTV Inc., CanWest MediaWorks and Tele-Quatre Saisons similarly told CRTC commissioners Monday that cable and satellite TV operators should begin paying free, over-the-air broadcasters the same carriage fee that specialty channels already receive along with advertising and subscription fees.

CanWest MediaWorks, which operates parallel conventional networks here, proposed a CAN$0.50-a-month (40 cents) fee per subscriber for every private, local or regional local TV station carried by satellite or cable systems.

Representatives of Canadian cable and satellite TV companies will appear before the CRTC panel later this week to argue against the proposed new tax on conventional TV signals that Canadians now receive for free.

The introduction of carriage fees and other regulatory changes were urged by conventional broadcasters to help them survive and thrive in the emerging digital landscape.

Michel Arpin, the CRTC's vp of broadcasting, opened the public hearings by arguing that domestic conventional broadcasters face unprecedented change going forward from emerging digital platforms.

"(Conventional broadcasters') audience share is declining and the new technologies are putting pressure on the traditional advertising message, over-the-air television's primary source of revenue," Arpin said.

Amid that backdrop, Arpin said the CRTC wants to ensure conventional broadcasters can keep helping underwrite Canadian-made TV shows, while examining ways to ensure homegrown digital/high-definition TV signals are available to Canadians alongside U.S. signals.

The CRTC hearings are scheduled to wrap Dec. 6.
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