CRTC signals lenience for free stations

Canada's TV watchdog limiting license renewal hearings

TORONTO -- Canada's TV watchdog said Friday that it might go easy on ailing free, over-the-air TV stations as it gets set to renew their broadcast licenses.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission said it will narrow or reduce the scope of license renewal hearings for CTV and Global Television, Canada's two largest conventional TV networks, that are set to start in April.

Canadian broadcasters have started to take write-downs on the value of their over-the-air TV stations to deal with a growing advertising slump, and Canwest Global Communications Corp. and CTV, the country's largest private broadcasters, have signaled they might be forced to close smaller TV stations whose business model no longer works.

Canwest Global also told financial analysts on Jan. 14 that it might have to consider shuttering its E! Network, which also is loss-making.

The recession has speeded up the migration of domestic advertising dollars from conventional TV to cable TV and the Internet.

Executives at Global Television and CTV are expected to ask the CRTC in April to roll back local programming obligations so they can keep their over-the-air TV stations in business.