Oda: CTF payment a 'regulatory obligation'

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TORONTO -- The federal government has called Canada's cable and satellite TV giants to a Tuesday crisis meeting to discuss their recent threats to withhold industry financing for the Canadian Television Fund.

The move follows cable giants Shaw Communications and Groupe Videotron indicating that they will stop making contributions to the CTF in protest over how the government-sanctioned fund underwrites homegrown primetime TV series.

"In light of the seriousness of this and the impact on the Canadian production and broadcasting industries, I am calling a meeting with the principal funders of the CTF," Canadian heritage minister Beverly Oda said Friday in a statement.

Ottawa also announced that it will continue injecting CAN$100 million ($84.78 million) annually into the CTF, the main source of investment for Canadian producers seeking to get their shows on primetime schedules, for another two years.

The timing of the announcement, which had been expected, was designed to indicate continuing government confidence in a CTF plagued by industry questioning and turmoil.

"The two-year commitment will allow for longer-term planning and provide stability for the sectors," Oda said.

The CTF, which receives about CAN$150 million ($127 million) annually in investment capital from Canadian cable and satellite giants, was blindsided Wednesday when Quebec cable giant Groupe Videotron Ltd. said it will divert investment away from the CTF.

In January, rival cable giant Shaw Communications said it was considering stopping payments to the CTF over alleged inefficient management of the industry fund.

But Oda is expected to tell executives at both companies that, despite their concerns over how the CTF is run, their annual contributions to the fund represent a regulatory obligation imposed by the CRTC, the country's broadcast regulator.

"The government is aware of concerns expressed by some private sector contributors to the CTF and their stated desire to withhold their contributions to the Fund," Oda said, adding, "the CRTC is charged with ensuring that licensees respect their regulatory obligations."

For 2006-07, the CTF is expected to receive, in all, CAN$120.4 million ($102.5 million) from Ottawa and another CAN$145 million ($124 million) from Canadian cable and satellite companies.

CTF chairman Douglas Barrett on Friday said that cablecasters Cogeco and Eastlink as well as satellite TV service Bell ExpressVu have confirmed that their contributions to the industry fund will continue to be made on a monthly basis.

Guy Mayson, president and CEO of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., urged the CRTC to cite Shaw Communications and Groupe Videotron for breaching regulatory obligations.

"Shaw and Videotron's threat to withdraw from the fund cannot go unchallenged. We have asked the CRTC to take action to ensure that cable providers continue to comply with the regulations," Mayson said.
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