Fee-for-carriage requires rebalance of regulatory system, independent broadcasters warn
TORONTO - Small, independent broadcasters are urging the federal regulator not to introduce a fee-for-carriage regime without taking steps to offset the potentially damaging impact on their business.
In a joint submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the S-VOX group of companies, along with Stornoway Communications and Fairchild Television Ltd., called upon the CRTC to take into account the challenges facing small, independent broadcasters when considering the fee-for-carriage issue, and to rebalance regulatory support within the broadcasting system to ensure a more level playing field.
The Commission will hold a public hearing later this month to review the issue of fee-for-carriage, a proposed compensation arrangement whereby Canadian cable and satellite providers would be obliged to pay conventional, over-the-air broadcasters for their signals.
In their joint submission, the independents predict that cable and satellite providers (otherwise known as "broadcast distribution undertakings," or BDUs) will inevitably take steps to recover the costs of fee-for-carriage. And they may do so at the expense of specialty services operated by small, independent broadcasters.
According to the submission, BDUs may seek to reduce the wholesale fees paid to these specialty services, employing threats of punitive action that range from channel repositioning to the outright removal of channels.
The specialty channels licensed to independent broadcasters help to advance the goals of the Broadcasting Act "by adding to the diversity and comprehensiveness of Canadian programming and ensuring that Canadians have access to a variety of points of view on matters of public concern," the submission states. It adds, however, that small and independent broadcasters have little in the way of leverage or bargaining power at their disposal in negotiations with BDUs.
The submission notes that, in addition to fee-for-carriage, the Canadian TV industry faces a "tsunami" of potential changes that will adversely affect small, independent broadcasters.
The independents call on the CRTC to rebalance the system by reviewing and updating the regulatory framework for specialty services, and ensuring "better and more equitable access to distribution for small, independent Canadian services."
Among the measures recommended by the independents: barring BDUs from competing with broadcasters for commercial advertising revenues; maintaining the requirement for a preponderance of Canadian services in all channel packages offered by BDUs; maintaining a regulated wholesale fee for independent specialty services; and ensuring that the new VOD framework does not disadvantage linear broadcasters.
S-VOX (www.s-vox.com) is a diversified multimedia enterprise that offers high-quality television and digital content for individuals seeking spiritual awareness and personal growth. S-VOX properties include: VisionTV, Canada's multi-faith and multicultural television broadcaster, along with the digital television service One: the Body, Mind & Spirit channel and the local Joytv stations in Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Stornoway Communications (www.stornoway.com) are owners and operators of three specialty digital channels: ichannel, a public and social affairs issues channel; bpm:tv, Canada's Dance-Music Channel; and The Pet Network, a channel devoted to pet lovers of all ages.
Fairchild Television Ltd. (www.fairchildtv.com) is the leading Chinese-language specialty TV service, offering high quality general service content targeting the million-plus Chinese audience across Canada. Fairchild currently offers two channels: Fairchild Television in the Cantonese language, and Talentvision in Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.