CRTC Plays Hardball With Oprah Winfrey Network in Canada

Joe Pugliese

"I don't do an interview if someone tells me I can't as a certain question. My policy is, 'You can tell me you won't answer it, but you have to tell me that on camera,' " the 58-year-old mogul said. 

The TV watchdog told Canadian licensee Corus Entertainment to comply with OWN Canada's educational mandate or face loss of broadcast license.

TORONTO - Canada’s TV watchdog is putting Oprah Winfrey's network on a short leash north of the border.

The CRTC said Friday that it will not pull domestic broadcaster Corus Entertainment’s broadcast license for the Canadian version of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network after it strayed from an original educational mandate. But the regulator is slapping Corus with a mandatory order to ensure OWN in Canada “complies with its nature of service definition."

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That means airing more educational programming and "learning opportunities" for viewers and less celebrity-driven lifestyle programming that targets Winfrey's Canadian following.

And that leaves less space on the schedule for such series as Eat Yourself Sexy, Anna and Kristina’s Shopping Bag and The Nate Berkus Show to get OWN Canada to 55 percent formal education and preschool programming during daytime hours, according to the CRTC decision.

The dispute follows Corus in 2012 rebranding and relaunching its Viva cable channel as OWN Canada, the local version of Winfrey’s U.S.-based cable network, and shifting away from an educational mandate stemming from an original 1996 license for the Canadian Learning Television service.

The regulator said OWN Canada was airing too much “enhancement” shows and not enough basic adult education, job development skills or professional development programming to honor the original licensing agreement.

Corus during a Dec. 11 2012 hearing argued that it was complying with the nature of service for OWN Canada in good faith and promised to produce more educational programming for the channel. 

But the heavy-handed CRTC decision on Friday denied a bid by Corus to extend the broadcast day for OWN Canada from 18 hours to 24 hours and turned thumbs down to a separate application to operate Winfrey’s network in Canada as a category B service to reduce its Canadian content obligations.

The CRTC also repeated its threat to revoke the broadcast license if abuses of OWN Canada’s educational mandate reoccur.

“The commission notes that it may consider recourse to additional measures, including suspension, nonrenewal or revocation of the licence under sections 9 and 24 of the Act, should OWN Inc. again breach its nature of service definition or any of its other regulatory requirements,” the regulator stated.

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The regulatory decision puts OWN Canada in a bind, as the offending programming cited by the CRTC on fitness, beauty and well-being themes, for example, appeals directly to advertisers.

The tight leash on OWN Canada also comes as Corus continues to pump programming dollars into the Canadian service.

Those expenditures from its licensing agreement with OWN are due to escalate in 2013 and 2014.