Canada seeks to help struggling broadcasters

Ottawa plans to introduce regulatory and tax revisions

TORONTO -- The Canadian government is ready to stop the Big Media bleeding -- or at least try.

A spokesman for the federal heritage department on Thursday confirmed that Ottawa has drawn up plans for regulatory and tax changes to help major broadcasters deal with a growing TV ad revenue shortfall.

"We have always been mindful of the difficulties that have hit the broadcasting industry, and (want to) keep our options open," heritage department press secretary Stephanie Rea said, adding that no funding commitments to private broadcasters have yet been made.

With audience numbers and ad revenue for broadcasters falling, many local Canadian TV stations stand to be sold off or shut down due to the current economic downturn.

The potential for a bailout from Ottawa comes as Canwest Global Communications continues to negotiate with its bankers to deal with a growing debt load, rival CTVglobemedia predicts its local TV stations will lose up to $100 million this year and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. faces its own $60 million TV ad shortfall for the first quarter.

After Ottawa said no to new money for the pubcaster, the CBC said Tuesday that its board of directors approved a new budget for 2009-10, with unspecified programming and job cuts.

Details on the size of budget chops will be unveiled by the end of March. Assets sales are considered likely, while an earlier proposal to introduce the first-ever commercials on CBC radio stations has reportedly been pulled off the table.

Canada's public broadcaster also faces growing calls to refocus on local programming to distinguish itself from private sector rivals like CTV and Global Television, which rely on American fare.

"I think there is a danger in discussing public broadcasting (in terms of using) ratings numbers as a measure of success," former broadcaster and CBC board chair Carole Taylor told the Globe and Mail newspaper Thursday. "If you do that, that inevitably draws public broadcasting into straight competition with American shows."

Federal Heritage Minister James Moore, in media interviews this week, said he'd prefer to see the CBC not air U.S. game shows like "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" and instead focus on homegrown Canadian shows.