OTTAWA and TORONTO – Reaction from the broadcasting industry to the CRTC’s plan to depose of the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) was swift and virtually unanimous.
Mirko Bibic, chief legal and regulatory officer and EVP at Bell, told Cartt.ca that while his company is still “analyzing the new model and its financial impact”, the decision could serve to reignite the value-for-signal/fee-for-carriage debate.
“There’s no doubt, however, that local stations in small and medium-sized markets will receive significantly less revenue”, he said. “At a time when conventional television continues to be under tremendous financial pressure, including from a soft advertising market which continues to suffer from cyclical and structural downturns, this is obviously a major concern. It reinforces the very real need for a secondary revenue stream if we expect the quality and quantity of local programming to continue – specifically, value for signal.”
At the Commission’s public hearing into the LPIF last April, Bell backed the CBC and independent broadcasters such as CHCH and CHEK in their plea to keep the LPIF alive, while many BDUs advocated to discontinue the Fund.
In a note to employees on Wednesday, Cal Millar, president and COO of CHCH parent Channel Zero, expressed disappointment with the decision.
“…(W)e went to a lot of trouble to show (the CRTC) that, at least in our case, LPIF was meeting the objectives of increasing local programming and spending”, he wrote. “The Commission must feel that others were not making responsible use of the funding in the way that we have. This is not surprising since a great deal of the LPIF money was simply being transferred from one pocket of the BDU to its own television stations.”
While admitting that the decision may result in a re-evaluation of some of its plans, Millar emphasized that the LPIF’s demise will not detract from CHCH’s focus on local news content.
CBC/Radio-Canada said it was “astonished” by the CRTC’s decision which will come as “a big blow to viewers in the small markets that benefited from the Fund”. The ‘pubcaster drew over $40 million annually from the LPIF which it used in 20 different markets.
“Local television is a priority under the Broadcasting Act, yet this decision suggests that it is not important to the Commission,” said president and CEO Hubert Lacroix, in a statement. “For us, it will mean adjustments in terms of level of service, how we deliver service and the territory that our journalists can cover. Improving local service is one of the Corporation’s top priorities. This decision doesn’t change that, but it does present a major challenge that could limit our local television activities and our presence in those communities.”
The Canadian Media Guild (CMG), which represents about 6,000 media workers including 4,500 at the CBC, added that the move will not only harm local TV programming in smaller cities and regions, but “further undermines CBC's ability to meet its mandate to the Canadian public”.
Canada's largest media union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), called for an independent public inquiry into the decision to determine whether the CRTC is favouring “large corporate interests” over the wishes of Canadians.
"In ending the LPIF, the CRTC ignored not only the Fund's critical role in sustaining and strengthening local news across the country but also large broadcasters' threat to close more TV stations," said VP of media Peter Murdoch, in a statement. "Since the CRTC has ignored repeated requests to mandate local news on TV, this decision will lead to job losses and ongoing threats of TV station closures."
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