CRTC to review local television support fund

Dec 19, 2011

Source:  iPolitics

The CRTC will hold public consultations to decide the fate of a fund that has collected $300 million so far from cable and satellite companies to provide financial support for local television programming.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Monday it wants to gauge the effectiveness of the fund, which has supported local programming, particularly news, in 75 small-market stations across the country.

The fund was established in 2009 during the an economic crisis when broadcasters, particularly small, local stations, were facing a financing pinch.

At the time, the CRTC levied a 1.5 per cent charge on the gross broadcasting revenues of cable and satellite companies to be distributed to stations outside the top eight Canadian metropolitan areas. In the three years, the fund has raised more than $300 million for the stations.

“It’s been absolutely essential to the survival of local news in smaller Canadian cities,” said Ian Morrison of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. “It has provided funds to what would be otherwise money-losing operations.”

But several distributors chafed at the fund, noting it was an add-on to a pre-existing five per cent levy in support of Canadian programming.

Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B), which owns the Videotron cable network, said it still wants the fund to be abolished.

“We remain of the view that it is indecent in the current economic climate to impose such a burden on consumers in this manner,” said Serge Sasseville, the company’s vice-president of corporate and institutional affairs.

The CRTC said it wants to evaluate of the fund’s objectives and the performance of stations that have received financing.

The regulator said issues it wants to review include whether there should be additional spending by the stations to qualify for help, the fund’s allocation formula, the contribution levels of cable and satellite companies, and if the fund is still needed.

The public hearings will be held on April 16 in Gatineau, Que.

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