After almost a week of hearings into the future of broadcast television, cable giant Jim Shaw took his seat at the table, waited for his turn to speak, and promptly announced he didn't want to be there.
"Personally I'm getting tired of coming to these hearings, dealing with this issue," the chief executive officer of Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc. told the federal regulator. Mr. Shaw came to the Gatineau, Que., hearing room to object to the broadcasters' proposal to collect fees from cable and satellite providers for their over-the-air network signals.
"Let's stop this debate and move forward," the famously blunt Mr. Shaw said, adding, somewhat ironically: "Anyway, thank you for your time and we're glad to chat with you."
Mr. Shaw's open displeasure with the hearings was nothing new: he is known in the industry for his outspokenness and his clashes with regulators.
"Like you, I'm sick of the debate but I'm also sick of not being able to find a resolution," said Konrad von Finckenstein, the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. At the outset of the hearings this week, he berated both sides for being unable to resolve the issue on their own.
But Mr. Shaw criticized the networks for saying that the cable players won't come to the negotiating table because broadcasters have no leverage to demand compensation. While they are willing to travel to Ottawa to ask for the regulator to step in, the networks have made "no effort" to reach out, Mr. Shaw said, taking specific aim at CTVglobemedia Inc. president Ivan Fecan.
"You're the CEO of CTV. You're owned by the richest family in Canada, and yet you've never, ever come and seen me … never, ever come to Calgary," he said of Mr. Fecan, whose company also owns The Globe and Mail. "You can't even get your arse on a plane and come out and see me. Come on."
However, "Mr. Fecan has indeed met with Mr. Shaw and his father in Calgary some years ago, and is still waiting for a return call from Mr. Shaw when he offered to buy our Windsor and Brandon stations," CTV spokeswoman Bonnie Brownlee said Friday evening.
The broadcasters - CTV, Global and CBC - have argued that slumping advertising revenues have led to a breakdown of the business model that kept conventional TV afloat.
Mr. Shaw said the CRTC's role should not be to prop up troubled businesses. "If a specialty service doesn't make it, it doesn't make it," and conventional stations should be treated the same, he said. "You can't guard everything. You're not guarders of the world. You just gotta let 'er flow."
In the debate, which has dragged for months as both sides launched websites and attack ads, the cable and satellite companies have argued charging for a signal that has always been free for those with an antenna amounts to a "TV tax." Shaw executives echoed that point at the hearings yesterday.
"This is a money grab," said Shaw president Peter Bissonnette. Mr. Shaw added that while the cable and satellite companies get over-the-air signals at no charge, they also ensure them nationwide coverage.
"How much effort have they put into local signals, except for news?" Mr. Shaw said of the networks. "When I look at all these guys they're all cutbacks, there's no staff in any town … We have 11,000 employees … We spent a lot of time focusing on local, local, local."
Mr. Shaw hinted that if history repeats itself, and no solution is found, at the next set of hearings he may not show up.
"I'm tired," he said. "I'm tired."