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Oprah Winfrey's OWN Canada Cited for Programming Mandate Violation

UP: Oprah Winfrey

Corus Entertainment, the Canadian licensee for the TV maven's network, needs to explain why it has strayed from an original broadcast license focused on education.

TORONTO – Canada’s TV czar has Oprah Winfrey in its cross-hairs.

The CRTC on Friday said it has called Corus Entertainment, which runs the Canadian version of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, onto the carpet to explain why it has strayed from its original condition of license.

"The commission found that while OWN’s programming was focused on 'enhancement programming,' it did not provide basic adult education, job development skills or professional development as reflected in its nature of service definition,” the regulator said ahead of a December 11, 2012 hearing.

The dispute follows Corus Entertainment last year rebranding and relaunching its Viva cable channel as OWN Canada, the local version of Winfrey’s U.S.-based cable network, and apparently shifting away from the Canadian cable channel’s original educational programming mandate that dates back to the 1990s.

Corus Entertainment in a statement Friday contended it is in compliance with the nature of service for OWN Canada, "and we look forward to explaining our position ot the commission at the hearing to be held on December 11, 2012."

The CRTC has cited other Canadian broadcasters for violating their original programming mandate, including MTV Canada for airing the Jersey Shore reality TV series, even though it has an all-talk format for its original broadcast license.

But OWN Canada’s programming strategy may be the least of the Canadian channel’s start-up problems.

Corus Entertainment CEO John Cassaday like Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav and Winfrey herself has urged patience from investors with OWN Canada and its slower-than-anticipated start to life.

And all the while Corus is pumping programming dollars into OWN Canada.

Those expenditures from its licensing agreement with OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, are due to escalate in 2013 and 2014.

Those programming costs, according to the CRTC, coincide with a regulatory request from Corus Entertainment to change the broadcast license for OWN Canada from a category A, must-carry channel with steep Canadian-content obligations to a category B service that reduces its local programming requirements.

As well as explaining its programming strategy for OWN Canada, the CRTC will also ask Corus Entertainment during the upcoming investigation why the regulator “should not suspend or revoke” its broadcast license.