Canada b'casters slam spending requirements


VANCOUVER -- Amid protests from domestic actors, Canadian conventional broadcasters on Monday cited intense competition from U.S.-based digital media as reason to reject calls to reimpose program spending requirements on their businesses.

"Does anybody really believe that drama expenditure requirements are the answer to YouTube and/or MySpace?" Glenn O'Farrell, CEO of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, asked during a keynote address to his members' annual convention in Vancouver.

O'Farrell pointed to U.S.-based Internet broadcasters, podcasting and video Web sites as evidence of growing competition for Canadian broadcasters during a period of gathering industry change.

"Never before has there been so much foreign media content available to Canadians flowing over our borders from unregulated competitors," he said.

O'Farrell's comments come in advance of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's public hearings on revamping federal TV policy, with the question of re-imposing spending requirements on conventional broadcasters high on the domestic TV regulator's agenda. The hearings kick off Nov. 27.

As O'Farrell spoke, Canadian actors countered with a press conference across the street from the convention site. They urged the CRTC to order increasing program expenditures on private conventional networks that increasingly depend on hit U.S. series to drive their primetime ratings and advertising revenues.

"Canadian TV drama is still disappearing while our private broadcasters are spending at an all-time high on American programming," Howard Storey, a Canadian actor ("Cold Squad") and president of the Union of British Columbia Performers, told reporters.

Other actors on hand to back the CAB protest included Joy Coghill ("Da Vinci's Inquest"), Jackson Davies ("X-Files"), Donnelly Rhodes ("Battlestar Galactica") and Christine Willes ("Dead Like Me").

The CRTC in 1999 did away with spending requirements on conventional TV networks in a bid to boost viewership for homegrown programming.

Canadian heritage minister Bev Oda offered CAB delegates few answers on how they can survive in an increasingly digital age as she addressed the private broadcasters in Vancouver.

"With HD (high-definition), our televisions are clearer, but our crystal ball (to see the future) may not be," she said.