TV producers call for spending limits

Canada group wants to halt runaway spending on U.S. series

TORONTO -- Canadian indie producers on Thursday called for minimum indigenous programming spending requirements to be imposed on domestic broadcasters to stem runaway spending on U.S. network series.

"Sky-high expenditures on foreign programming are a big part of the problem in the English-language market," Norm Bolen, president and CEO of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., told a CRTC public hearing on possibly compensating domestic broadcasters for carriage of their over-the-air signals.

"The massive spending on foreign programming takes a big bite out of over-the-air television profitability," Bolen added.

The CFTPA insisted private conventional TV broadcasters in 2008 spent 7.4% more on foreign, mostly U.S. network series programming, while their revenue fell by 1.5%.

"Any business that grows spending more than its revenues is walking on a tightrope," Bolen told CRTC commissioners. Bolen, a former broadcaster with Alliance Atlantis Communications before becoming a lobbyist for domestic producers, conceded under questioning by CRTC commissioners that U.S. programming can be profitable.

But not all of it, especially when U.S. series are forced on Canadian broadcasters by Hollywood suppliers as part of output deals.

"When I was buying foreign programming at Alliance Atlantis, I was forced by U.S. distributors to buy programming that I couldn't use, or didn't perform for me," Bolen recalled.

Market-leading CTV has shut down local TV stations and cut its programming budgets to deal with a worsening ad slump. Rival Global Television has seen its parent, Canwest Media, tip itself into creditor protection to deal with a crippling debt load.

Both CTV and Canwest this week asked the CRTC to order domestic cable and satellite TV operators to pay compensation for carriage of their local TV station signals.

That bid is being opposed by domestic cable and satellite TV operators as representing an unwelcome tax on TV viewers.

But Bolen told the CRTC hearing that "meaningful" Canadian program expenditures being imposed on CTV, Global Television and other domestic broadcasters would encourage them to treat homegrown programming as core to their business.

The CRTC hearings continue to Nov. 27.