Canadians could clip U.S. TV spending

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Canadian broadcasters could be forced to curb their appetite for U.S. network series at the Los Angeles Screenings after Canada's TV regulator proposed Thursday that their expenditures for homegrown TV shows match those for American fare.

"At first blush, we are inclined to introduce a condition of license for English-language broadcasters requiring a 1-to-1 ratio between Canadian and non-Canadian programming expenditures," Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, told the Prime Time conference of Canadian indie producers in Ottawa.

The CRTC chair argued that the federal Broadcasting Act calls for a "preponderance" of homegrown content on domestic TV schedules. Despite that rule, such networks as CTV and Global Television in recent years have paid more to U.S. program suppliers with whom they have traditional output deals while Canadian program expenditures have slipped.

Asked whether the question of expenditures by Canadian TV networks at the L.A. Screenings in May should be left to the market and not regulatory fiat, the CRTC chair said broadcasters should have "no problem" with his proposed measure if they reduced their U.S. program spending.

Von Finckenstein received applause from local producers, writers and actors when he proposed the rule change. Domestic broadcasters, however, slammed the proposal for ignoring the role of profitable American series in subsidizing loss-making Canadian primetime fare.

"If you force either the foreign program spending to come down or the Canadian spend to go up, you compromise our ability to make the margins necessary to support Canadian programming," said Barb Williams, senior vp programming and production at Canwest Broadcasting.

Other broadcasters argued the proposed spending ratio amounted to a salary cap on sports teams and would undercut the most profitable part of a Canadian TV industry already under siege from a deep advertising downturn.

Von Finckenstein also said he would revisit a proposal to grant conventional broadcasters first-time fees for carriage of their signals by domestic cable and satellite TV operators. (partialdiff)
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