Sides line up quickly over Canada TV report


TORONTO -- Canadian actors on Thursday applauded a landmark report that urges a reduction in the number of U.S. shows on the domestic airwaves.

"Canadian TV airwaves are awash in Hollywood shows thanks to broadcasters chasing advertising dollars," ACTRA president Richard Hardacre said a day after the country's TV watchdog released a study of Canadian broadcast rules by veteran lawyers Laurence Dunbar and Christian Leblanc (HR 9/13).

"This report, commissioned by the CRTC itself, says market forces have failed to put high-quality Canadian programming on the air and that more effective measures are needed. ACTRA calls on the CRTC to act," Hardacre added.

But Glenn O'Farrell, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, slammed the 300-page Dunbar/LeBlanc report as "absolutely irresponsible."

"We believe that the report's far-reaching recommendations, if not properly applied, could fundamentally undermine the foundation of the Canadian broadcasting industry," he said.

The broadcasters were especially chilled by the report's recommendation that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission review the long-standing practice of simultaneous substitution, which sees Canadian broadcasters air U.S. series in the same time slot as they air south of the border while substituting in Canadian commercials.

"Simultaneous substitution is a mechanism of fundamental importance to ensure that broadcasters are able to preserve their territorial programming rights," O'Farrell argued.

The private broadcasters estimate that simulcasting earns them about CAN$200 million ($188.6 million) annually in additional ad revenue.

Canadian broadcasters each year pay a premium for rookie and returning U.S. series at the Los Angeles Screenings for the right to insert Canadian commercials when airing the American shows in prime time.

To the broadcasters' surprise, the Dunbar/LeBlanc report questioned the value of simulcast rules, which they say allow domestic networks to fill their primetime schedules with U.S. shows, while marginalizing homegrown series.

But Kaan Yigit, study director at Toronto-based consultants Solutions Research Group, said any recommendation to change simulcast rules, while fueling debate now, will prove a "non-starter" at upcoming CRTC hearings on conventional and cable channels.

"Whether deliberate or not, the timing of the (Dunbar/LeBlanc report) ... is a reminder to all sides that the issues are complex and there is no silver bullet or quick answers," he added.