CBC pushes for local cable packages

Hearing scheduled for Dec. 7

TORONTO -- The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) wants domestic cable and satellite TV operators to be forced to provide a "skinny basic" package of Canadian TV station signals that is cheaper than existing basic cable TV packages stuffed full of American programming.

The scaled-down offering of Canadian services would enable the CBC and other broadcasters to survive a worsening TV ad slump in a challenging economy.

"The conventional television financial model in Canada is collapsing," CBC/Radio-Canada president Hubert Lacroix told the CRTC Tuesday on the second day of public hearings into domestic cable and satellite TV operators possibly compensating broadcasters for carriage of their local TV station signals.

"Without a major correction that will allow conventional broadcasters to get a fair price for their signals, Canadians will have to start getting used to seeing stations shut down and high-quality programming disappear," Lacroix added.

The CBC president said domestic cable operators were getting rich by re-transmitting local TV station signals without paying a carriage fee.

So the public broadcaster asked the regulator to treat conventional TV channels like cable channels, which are priced and carried by cable and satellite TV operators at a cost to subscribers.

The CBC, like rival Canadian broadcasters, is suffering during the economic downturn from falling revenue and changing viewer habits and is looking to the CRTC to force cable and satellite TV operators to provide a new revenue stream beyond commercial advertising.

But the public broadcaster stopped short of threatening to black out local TV station signals if cable operators don't agree during current negotiations to offer fee-for-carriage compensation, as rival CTV threatened Monday.

"If negotiations include a threat to withhold services, that would not be consumer-friendly," Steven Guiton, chief operating officer at CBC/Radio-Canada told CRTC commissioners.

Rogers Communications, Canada's largest cable operator, earlier told the CRTC that it will not provide retransmission fees to domestic broadcasters, which they regard as a tax on consumers.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein told the hearings Tuesday that the regulator was unwilling to impose a charge on consumers for TV signals they currently receive for free, as CTV and other broadcasters have urged.

"We're all striving for finding a solution where Canadians do not have a higher bill, or have a higher bill because they get a better product," the CRTC chair said.

The regulator plans a second hearing on Dec. 7 before it rules on whether the broadcast compensation should be imposed on Canadian TV viewers.