Canadian web culture and community TV clash

Over where existing cable revenue should be directed

TORONTO -- Canadian comics Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd and Tom Green got their start on homegrown public access TV channels tied to local cable networks.

But as Canadians now spend more time in front of computer screens than TV sets, the proponents of web culture and over-the-air public access channels are set to clash this week in an Ottawa regulatory hearing over where existing cable revenue for local expression should be directed.

Canadian community TV is today big business as industry consolidation has turned community TV into regional networks programmed by cable giants, which contribute 2% of their revenue to run them.

So cable critics on Monday urged the CRTC, Canada’s TV regulator, to re-direct around $130 million in subscriber revenue earmarked each year for cable community channels to new local citizen media centers, including restored grassroots over-the-air TV channels.

“It’s time to let communities produce their own local TV services,” Catherine Edwards, a spokeswoman for CACTUS, a lobby group for local TV viewers, told CRTC questioners as the regulators opened a hearing into the future of community TV.

But CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein questioned the need to restore a local over-the-air TV presence when the broadcast landscape now embraced the Internet, social media and other avenues more suited to local expression.

Von Finckenstein in his opening remarks Monday held out the potential for local direct-to-home satellite TV services to launch competing community channels in their markets, introducing advertising on public access channels, and possibly allowing VOD platforms to host community TV programming.

Competition from the launch of domestic DTH satellite TV services here in 1997 ushered in widespread cable consolidation. Small family-owned cable operators headquartered in the communities they served were increasingly scooped up by the country’s four major cable giants, Rogers Communications, Groupe Videotron, Shaw Communications and Cogeco.

The result is the cable giants' current program of public access networks from professionally run regional centers, erasing the need for local community studios run by volunteers.

But Toronto-based Rogers, Canada’s largest cable operator, on Monday released a poll indicating local support for its Rogers TV community service across 34 channels.

"From minor and amateur sports to parades to funerals to documentaries to daily information programming, our 34 stations create thousands of hours of programming with, by and for the people of those communities,” Colette Watson, vp of Rogers TV, said in a statement ahead of an upcoming appearance before the CRTC hearing, which will continue into early May.
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