Shaw slams TV fund at CRTC hearing

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OTTAWA -- Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications on Thursday told the country's TV watchdog that the Canadian Television Fund is a failure and a waste of taxpayer funds, and that its CAN$265 million ($262 million) in annual subsidies for indie producers should be handed back to cable and satellite TV subscribers.

"The CTF doesn't deliver programs that Canadians watch," Shaw Communications senior vp of regulatory and corporate affairs Ken Stein told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which is conducting weeklong hearings into the future of the domestic TV production fund.

The CTF, Stein told the regulators, has not created a viable homegrown production industry. As evidence, he offered the fact that domestic viewing for foreign -- largely U.S. -- programming in 2005-06 increased in every genre supported by the CTF (including drama, kids programming and documentaries).

Cable operators such as Shaw and satellite TV distributors are required to pay up to 5% of their yearly revenue into the CTF, which is the main source of subsidies for indie producers here.

The CTF also receives a CAN $120 million ($119 million) annual contribution from the federal government.

Shaw's Stein refuted Monday's claims by Canadian producers, writers, directors, actors and CTF management that the fund has underwritten a host of successful Canadian TV series.

Stein pointed out that non-Canadian shows account for 83% of all English-language drama viewing, and added that just 4% of English-language drama viewing was directed at CTF-supported productions.

Stein also accused private broadcasters of using the CTF as a way to reduce the amount of money they contribute toward license fees for Canadian programming.

"In this way, private broadcasters use CTF money to subsidize their Canadian content obligation," Stein said. "At the same time, Canadian private broadcasters have devoted an increasing share of their programming expenditures to U.S. shows."

Shaw Communications proposed scrapping the CTF altogether. By contrast, Quebecor Media, which operates cable giant Groupe Videotron, proposed to the CRTC that it create a new subsidy fund that would include its annual CTF contribution as well as additional financing.

Quebecor Media said the fund would help underwrite programming for TVA Network, its private French-language conventional network, as well as other broadcast assets it owns and operates.

Canada's largest cabler, Rogers Communications, on Wednesday told the CRTC that the money contributed by distributors to the CTF should be set aside in a separate fund, with a distinct board, for commercially viable and popular Canadian programming.

Rogers proposed that the federal government's separate financing should be directed into "cultural" programming.

Such a two-streamed approach that divided indigenous programming into commercial and cultural fare has been opposed by Canada's creative community, which argues that programming that reflects Canadian culture can also be commercial.

The CRTC hearings into the future of the CTF will conclude Friday.

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