CTVglobemedia issues carriage fee threat

Broadcaster might force domestic cablers to pull programs

TORONTO -- Canadian broadcaster CTVglobemedia told the country's TV regulator on Monday that it might force domestic cable companies to yank programs they hold the Canadian rights to, including American shows, if it cannot successfully negotiate first-time carriage fees from content carriers.

CTVglobemedia CEO Ivan Fecan made the threat on the first day of hearings by the CRTC into possibly introducing a fees-for-carriage regime for local TV station signals and programming.

"It's time for TV distributors -- not consumers -- to compensate us for the value of our local services," Fecan told CRTC commissioners.

"We believe this new system will help ensure a viable broadcasting business in Canada benefiting viewers and consumers alike by offering more choice at affordable rates.

Without compensation for their signals, Fecan said domestic networks will retain the right to compel cable operators to black out programs, even if they are shown on cross-border U.S. TV stations.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein questioned the CTV proposal for being potentially disruptive to the broadcast industry and consumers.

"Isn't this the same as a strike?" Von Finckenstein told CTV executives. "When you have a strike both sides lose. But here it's not only both sides but the consumer as well."

The CTV proposal came ahead of Rogers Communications, the country's largest cable operator, also Monday addressing the CRTC in opposition to a so-called fees-for-carriage regime as an unnecessary tax on consumers.

CTV and rival broadcasters have twice before pitched the CRTC on compensation for local TV station signals, and both times were turned down.

The latest hearings come at the request of the federal government.

As in their past pitches, the over-the-air broadcasters will argue they deserve some of the subscriber fees charged by cable and satellite companies to offset a drop in advertising revenue they have suffered as a result of the rise of cable, satellite and specialty TV channels.

On the other hand, cable companies including Shaw Communications and Rogers Communications have said such fees would lead to higher bills for their subscribers, since the added cost would be passed on to consumers.