CRTC considers one-year license renewals

Move would benefit small-market stations hit by economy

TORONTO -- Canada's TV regulator on Friday moved to prevent a small-market TV station train wreck by signaling that it will grant owners emergency one-year broadcast license renewals.

As free, over-the-air TV stations increasingly see their advertising revenue collapse and losses mount in tough times, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said it will be "predisposed" during planned April hearings to issue one-year license extensions, rather than the usual seven-year license renewal terms.

The CRTC is betting the Canadian TV landscape will be transformed by economic uncertainty and emerging digital competition when it holds yet another planned round of license renewals in April 2010.

During the next year, a host of Canadian free, OTA stations are expected to be put up for sale and possibly sold as part of an industry shakeout.

CanWest Global Communications Corp. last week put up for sale its loss-making E! network, free, OTA stations that are heavily dependent on U.S. network series and a supply deal with Comcast Entertainment Group's U.S.-based E! Networks.

And rival OTA stations run by rivals CTV and Quebecor Media have renewed calls for regulatory relief from the CRTC as audiences increasingly migrate to cable channels and the Internet.

The CRTC this week published statistics on Canadian OTA TV stations that indicated their profits evaporated in 2008 because of soft advertising revenue.

That decline has only worsened, the broadcasters complain, as collapsed ad revenue in a consumer downturn bites.