Rogers slams b'caster fee proposal


TORONTO -- Canada's largest cablecaster on Wednesday slammed a proposal by conventional broadcasters that cable and satellite providers begin paying a fee for carrying local TV stations that subscribers already receive for free.

Ted Rogers, the CEO and controlling shareholder of Rogers Communications Inc., told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that conventional broadcasters should instead be forced to invest in homegrown programming in proportion to what they currently spend on U.S. network series.

That proposal came as Rogers told Canada's TV regulator that a new fee-for-carriage paid to conventional broadcasters would be disastrous for the Canadian TV system.

"It could mean a loss to the system of around CAN$500 million ($442 million) annually. It would mean less advertising revenue for conventional and specialty channels, not more, less; less money for Canadian independent producers; less subcription revenue for pay and specialty TV services, because there's less people subscribing; and less money for capital upgrades," Rogers told the CRTC during public hearings on the future of Canadian conventional TV policy.

Canadian over-the-air networks on Monday asked the CRTC to order cable and satellite TV operators to give them a portion of subscription fees for carrying their local TV channels to offset a decline in their share of advertising revenues.

Rogers poured scorn on conventional broadcasters for insisting they were disadvantaged by a rise in market share for cable specialty channels.

"This is hardly a specter of an industry in crisis," Rogers said before arguing the fortunes of conventional broadcasters depended less on carrying local Canadian TV stations than on picking the right U.S. network shows for their primetime schedules via long-standing output deals with Hollywood suppliers.

Rogers insisted that, should the CRTC impose a new fee-for-carriage, that charge would be passed on to Rogers cable subscribers and identified as a separate line-item on monthly bills.

Rogers Communications executives told the CRTC that the cablecaster had suffered a subscriber backlash in the past when CRTC-sanctioned price increases were forced onto its customers.

Rather than ordering a fee-for-carriage from cable and satellite operators, Rogers argued the CRTC should reintroduce a Canadian program expenditure requirement for conventional broadcasters that was eliminated in 1999.

Under such a proposal, for every $1.00 spent by conventional broadcasters on U.S. network series, they would have to spend a specified amount on Canadian programming.

Rogers insisted that he was not seeking a minimum spending requirement on Canadian programming, or a cap on what conventional broadcasters might lay out for American programming, only a relationship between the two to give Canadian broadcasters an incentive to spend more on homegrown shows.

Canadian actors also were on hand at the CRTC hearings in Hull, Quebec, to urge that the regulator demand that conventional broadcasters once again spend minimum amounts on Canadian dramas and other homegrown fare.

"Our culture defines us as a nation, yet we can't hear or see ourselves when regulations encourage Canadian broadcasters to show American drama series and movies," actress Wendy Crewson told reporters at a press conference.

"Canadian broadcasters are filling their primetime slots with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of U.S.-made drama programs. We've been shut out of our own home," she added.

The CRTC's conventional TV policy hearings are set to run through Dec. 6.