Canadian TV Channels Make Must-Carry Bids to Fend Off Competition

Nevermind the market: Broadcasters are lining up to ask the CRTC to order mandatory carriage for their services, whether consumers want them or not.

TORONTO – Can’t get enough Canadians to watch your content?

Then get the CRTC to force consumers to pay for it as a regulatory gift.

That’s the strategy of Canadian broadcasters and film directors this week lining up in Ottawa to get the country's TV regulator to order mandatory carriage for new and existing cable channels.

It’s a hard sell, and one domestic carriers and other market-driven players are wincing over.

“We’re here as a new entrant because we see an opportunity in the market to provide Canadian content that Canadians want to watch. But in order to do that, we have to be able to put the product in front of Canadians, and our competitors have no interest in seeing that happen,” Kory Teneycke, vp at the red-blooded Canadian conservative TV news channel Sun News, told the CRTC hearing. 

Quebec media giant Quebecor Media launched Sun News two years ago as an antidote to existing, and apparently too liberal, all-news channels at the CBC and CTV.

Sun News also faces a crowded Canadian all-news TV channel market dominated by such U.S. players as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Quebecor Media lost $17 million alone in 2012 on Sun News and this week asked for its all-news channel to be carried as part of all basic digital cable and satellite TV packages here.

The CRTC in 2010 rejected a similar bid for a guaranteed spot on the dial for Sun News and told Quebecor Media to negotiate carriage with domestic carriers.

The regulator does guarantee audience and a revenue stream for a range of domestic TV services, including CPAC, Canada’s C-SPAN, The Weather Network, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and Sun News rival CBC News Network.

Now other existing services are following Sun News, including Vision TV, The Natural Resources Television Channel and All Point Bulletin, as they also ask the CRTC to force distribution of their channels.

Proposed new digital cable channels looking for mandatory carriage -- whether Canadians want the services or not -- include the Canadian Punjabi Network, a channel for the legislative assemblies of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories in Canada’s north, and Starlight, a cable channel devoted to Canadian films otherwise hard-pressed to find screen time in the nation's living rooms.

The CRTC has made it clear it has a high bar as it considers possible new must-carry orders for new or loss-making channels looking for a leg up in Ottawa during hearings expected to continue into next week.

“These services have a direct impact on consumer bills and the choices they receive,” CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in his opening remarks this week.

“We also know that subscribers are more and more concerned with the affordability of television services,” he added.