ACTRA sounds off on Canada b'casters


TORONTO -- Frustrated with Canadian broadcasters' continuing reliance on American primetime series, Canada's actors union on Thursday urged regulators to establish new rules for Canadian program expenditures following takeover deals.

ACTRA, which represents 21,000 domestic performers, urged the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to force broadcasters that acquire rivals to spend more on homegrown dramas and less on U.S. shows bought to jack up ratings to justify the mega deals.

"We're alarmed by the amount of American programming acquired by CTV and CanWest Global Communications and we hope that Rogers doesn't do the same thing," ACTRA national president Richard Hardacre said at a CRTC hearing looking into the CAN$375 million ($353 million) purchase of five Citytv station from rival CTV.

As a remedy, Hardacre urged the CRTC to change the rules for benefits packages flowing from industry takeovers.

Typically, the CRTC orders acquiring companies to contribute 10% of the value of a negotiated purchase price toward investment in Canadian programming to demonstrate the deal's "tangible benefits."

Hardacre asked the CRTC to calculate benefit packages based on the full value of the purchase and ensure that two-thirds of benefits are directed to Canadian drama series.

The ACTRA proposal came in the wake of Rogers executives on Wednesday telling the CRTC that they may have to air more expensive U.S. shows on the acquired Citytv stations in order to restore their profitability (HR 8/29).

"We understand they will want to acquire non-Canadian programming. But for this short term in which the tangible benefits package apply, we absolutely expect them to spend the bulk of that money to create scripted dramatic production," Hardacre said.