CRTC gives homegrown TV a push

Asks for expenditures to match those of U.S. fare

OTTAWA -- Canadian broadcasters could be forced to curb their appetite for U.S. network series at the upcoming Los Angeles Screenings after Canada's TV regulator on Thursday proposed that their expenditures on homegrown TV shows match those on American fare.

"At first blush, we are inclined to introduce a condition of license for English-language broadcasters requiring a 1-to-1 ratio between Canadian and non-Canadian programming expenditures," Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, told the Prime Time conference of Canadian indie producers in Ottawa.

The CRTC chair argued the federal Broadcasting Act calls for a "preponderance" of homegrown content on domestic TV schedules. Despite that rule, TV networks like CTV and Global Television in recent years have paid out more to U.S. program suppliers with whom they have traditional output deals at the same time that Canadian program expenditures have slipped.

Asked whether the question of upcoming expenditures by Canadian TV networks at the Los Angeles Screenings should be left to the market, and not regulatory fiat, the CRTC chair said broadcasters should have "no problem" with his proposed policy measure if they reduced their U.S. program spend.

Von Finckenstein received applause in Ottawa from local producers, writers and actors when he proposed the rule change ahead of the Los Angeles Screenings.

But domestic broadcasters slammed the proposal for ignoring the role profitable American series have in subsidizing loss-making Canadian primetime fare.

"If you force either the foreign program spending to come down, or the Canadian spend to go up, you compromise our ability to make the margins necessary to support Canadian programming," said Barb Williams, senior vp programming and production at Canwest Broadcasting.

Other broadcasters argued the proposed 1-to-1 spending ratio amounted to a salary cap on sports teams, and would undercut the most profitable part of a Canadian TV industry already under siege from a deep advertising downturn.

At the same time that von Finckenstein proposed possible curbs on U.S. expenditures, the regulator said he would revisit a proposal to grant conventional broadcasters first-time fees for carriage of their signals by domestic cable and satellite TV operators.

"In this economic crisis, we need a systemic solution to their (conventional TV networks) situation," he told the Prime Time conference.

The Canadian producers conference continues to Friday.