CMG eyes viewer-funded programming pool


TORONTO -- The Canadian Media Guild, Canada's largest TV journalist union, on Friday urged the country's TV regulator to charge cable and satellite TV subscribers a few extra dollars monthly to fund the creation of new pool for homegrown independent TV programming.

The CMG outlined its proposal for a Canadian Broadcaster Program Fund to be financed by a monthly basic fee for cable and satellite subscribers as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Communications continued public hearings in Hull, Quebec, on the future of over-the-air television.

Throughout the week, conventional broadcasters have urged the CRTC to begin charging cable and satellite companies fees for carrying their local TV station signals, while the cable and satellite TV giants also appearing in Hull have told the regulators to just say no to any new consumer charges.

Jim Shaw Jr., CEO of Shaw Communications Inc., Canada's second-largest cablecaster, told the CRTC that if new technologies means the sky is falling for conventional broadcasters, they should put themselves on the auction block.

"If other small-market stations are for sale, or maybe a network, please give us a call," Shaw told CRTC commissioners, referring to earlier industry consolidation in 2006.

Conventional broadcasters have been coy this week about explaining where any new carriage fees likely to be passed on to cable or satellite TV consumers might be spent.

The CMG's Lareau said Canadian TV viewers would be willing to support "an extremely modest increase" on their cable or satellite TV bills if there were certain it would go toward producing original Canadian TV shows.

The CMG estimats that, with about 10 million cable and satellite subscribers in Canada, a CAN$1.00 ($0.88) to CAN$2.00 ($1.76) per month fee would generate CAN$120 million ($106 million)-CAN$240 million ($212 million) annually.

Faced with competition from digital channels and an increasingly fragmented audience, conventional broadcasters called for additional regulatory relief, including more advertising minutes per-hour and less time-shifting, or what's known here as distant signals.

To the frustration of local advertisers using national TV networks, Canadian digital cable and satellite TV viewers can jump time zones and watch from Vancouver, for example, the local Toronto station from the same network.

U.S. rules guard against time-shifting, but Canadian cable and satellite companies trumpet the offering to sign up and retain subscribers.

CTV president Rick Brace told the CRTC that, while distant signals may be popular with consumers, "they cause material harm to broadcasters.

CTV and Quebec broadcaster Quebecor Inc. also led the charge this week for the scrapping of the 12-minute-per-hour limit on TV advertising.

They were opposed by rival broadcasters Corus Entertainment Inc. and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which argued that prices for air-time advertising will fall if more is allowed.

The CRTC hearings on conventional TV, the first in seven years, will continue to the middle of next week.

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