CRTC hears Bitove's HD net pitch

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TORONTO -- Canada can solve a chronic shortage of homegrown high-definition content if a proposed over-the-air national HD network is licensed, the country's broadcast regulator was told Tuesday.

John Bitove, whose HDTV Networks consortium is proposing a high-definition network that would eventually broadcast in eight cities, told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that 50% of Canadian homes will have a HD TV set in three years, yet domestic broadcasters would have little homegrown HD content to offer them.

"Were almost creating two classes of people, those who can pay the premium to get high-def, and those who can't," said Bitove, who operates the Canadian franchise for the U.S.-based XM satellite radio network.

The CRTC also will hear this week from a second proposed HD network, YES TV, which is seeking a license to launch a high-definition channel in the Toronto market.

At least 50% of HD programming to be proposed by YES TV will be Canadian content, with the rest coming from the U.S. and other international markets.

While Ottawa has OK'd the possibility of a new national HD network to speed Canada's transition to high-definition, CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein expressed skepticism that HDTV Networks will not impact existing over-the-air TV stations, as Bitove claims.

Finckenstein told Bitove that there is no precedent for the regulator licensing a national TV network that did not propose to produce homegrown content to serve local TV markets.

"This is quite different from the normal rules we have for main networks," von Finckenstein said, as he referred to rival national TV networks like CTV, Global Television and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which have local and national newscasts, for example.

The HDTV Networks proposal only calls for a national newscast.

"Just because it hasn't been done before doesn't mean it can't be done now," Bitove told von Finckenstein.

Existing Canadian national TV networks like CTV and Global Television were formed over time by the parent broadcasters' acquisition of local TV stations.

Bitove argued that Canada requires a new national TV network at this time because recent industry consolidation has lessened the number of industry players and voices.

The CRTC hearings into a possible new national HD TV network will continue through Thursday.

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