Source: Calgary Herald
REGINA — After nearly 20 years, the Saskatchewan Communications Network will go off the air.
Wednesday's budget indicated SCN's assets will be transferred to SaskTel this spring, with the SCN Corporation expected to cease broadcast operations by May.
About 35 employees are impacted by the closure, which the government estimates will save $2.4 million over the budget year and as much as $5 million annually.
A government spokeswoman said SCN CEO Twyla MacDougall was with her staff Wednesday and wasn't available to comment.
But former SCN CEO Ken Alecxe called it "disappointing."
"Losing SCN means we lose our capability to portray ourselves as a province through television," he said. "There's no one else who is going to do it for us and it also means we lose a lot of opportunities to trigger film production in Saskatchewan."
Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Dustin Duncan — under whose ministry SCN falls — said the decision was based on "efficiencies" and changes in broadcasting.
"When SCN was started 20 years ago, there were maybe 20 or 30 channels on the cable box and SCN was one of them," he said. "Now people, whether it's through cable or satellite, can get up to three, four, 500 channels. There's so many more specialty channels that are out there now that will cater to some of the productions that will have been on SCN in the past, and many of our Saskatchewan producers have been very successful in getting on those specialty channels and major networks like CTV and CBC and Global."
From an efficiency standpoint, he said SaskTel can manage some of the services provided by SCN, such as satellite distance education classes, the Provincial Public Safety Telecommunications Network and the broadcast of the Legislative channel. A team will look into potential buyers for the broadcast assets, including the CRTC license.
Meanwhile, outstanding contracts with film producers will be concluded, although Duncan said the government will honour existing contracts.
What isn't so clear is what becomes of SCN employees.
"Many of those employees have been there for a long time and we certainly thank them for their service to SCN and to the province," Duncan said. "But it's certainly going to be a very difficult day for the employees of SCN and it's going to be a difficult day for management because today's the day they let the employees know that we're making this change, and the management has been absolutely professional in the last number of weeks that we've been putting this in place, and so I thank them for that."
A small number of employees likely will move over to SaskTel, and Duncan said the government will seek positions for others.
Duncan described SCN viewership as "very low," pointing to the most recent Bureau of Broadcast Measurement (BBM) survey that found that only four per cent of TV viewers watched SCN for at least 15 minutes during any given week, with the low figures remaining consistent since 2004.
But Alecxe questioned whether BBM numbers provide an accurate picture of Saskatchewan viewership due to the tiny sample size here.
"You could have one family representing 100,000 people."
Because of that, Alecxe said when he was with SCN, he commissioned a third party to look simply at Saskatchewan ratings — and found a completely different picture. Between 2004 and 2008, that survey found viewership jumped from 25 to 50 per cent of the population.
"It showed that certain, especially the Saskatchewan content, programs were being very well received."
Alecxe said he doesn't know what mechanism was being used most recently to measure ratings, or what those ratings were.
Meanwhile, arts and cultural organizations also saw cuts in the budget, nose-diving from an estimated $4.5 to $2.47 million.
But Duncan explained that won't impact any organizations directly, with budgets for existing organizations remaining intact. Instead, he said the cut was due to "a reduction in programs that we were going to run through the ministry that we'll just now delay until another time."
© Calgary Herald