CTF urges cablecasters to contribute revenues

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OTTAWA -- Citing an "operational crisis," the head of the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) on Thursday urged the country's TV watchdog to order two rebel cablecasters to resume key equity investments in homegrown primetime TV series.

"Right now, we have an immediate deficit problem. We can't strike a budget and that is causing uncertainty -- that's the crisis," fund chairman Douglas Barrett told the standing committee on Canadian heritage in Ottawa.

Barrett raised the alarm after two cable giants, Shaw Communications Inc. in western Canada and Groupe Videotron Ltd. in Quebec, said they will no longer contribute a percentage of their cable revenues to the CTF.

Barrett told the all-party committee that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is responsible for enforcing CTF rules and contributions, and should intervene to restart stalled equity contributions from Shaw and Groupe Videotron.

The CTF chair soft-pedaled when he was asked whether Shaw and Videotron should have their licenses revoked for halting CTF contributions, insisting that was an issue for the CRTC to decide.

But Barrett insisted the cablecasters had violated their obligations as licensed content carriers, and that the CRTC needs to meet that challenge.

Guy Mayson, president and CEO of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., representing major producers who depend on CTF subsidies to finance primetime TV series, told the parliamentary committee that Shaw and Groupe Videotron should not be allowed to stop their CTF contributions.

"We cannot stand idly by -- and we believe this committee, the government, and the CRTC cannot stand idly by -- and watch some cable companies unilaterally destroy an entire industry by dictating the terms by which they will or will not live up to their regulatory obligations," Mayson said.

In withdrawing their contributions, Shaw and Groupe Videotron complained that too much of the CTF's annual CAN$200-million ($169.5 million) in private-public investment went to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,, Canada's public broadcaster, which already receives government operating funds.

Shaw and Groupe Videotron representatives met earlier in the week with Canadian heritage minister Bev Oda, and have yet to appear before the parliamentary committee.
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