Sun News Network is on its own.
The unprofitable (and controversial) channel won’t get any financial help from Canada’s broadcast regulator, throwing its future into doubt just two years after it went to air with a promise of “hard news and straight talk.”
The controversial all-news channel hoped to be forced onto basic digital television subscriptions across the country, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected its application despite the channel’s insistence that its heavy reliance on Canadian content made it a logical fit for wide distribution.
The channel is losing about $17-million a year, and its executives vowed to pull the plug if it didn’t receive the designation.
The commission offered a bit of hope: It will launch a review to determine whether Canadian news channels are being treated equally by the country’s television providers.
Sun News was one of almost two dozen stations awaiting word on if their signal would be forced into every living room in Canada over the course of its next licence.
Channels that already had the designation – such as Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and CPAC – kept their status. But new applicants such as the celebrity-backed Starlight: The Canadian Movie Channel were stopped in their tracks before they broadcast one minute of television.
The decision doesn’t affect other channels that already have the designation and weren’t due for renewal, such as The Weather Network and CBC News Network (in French Canada).
So-called “mandatory carriage” was always a longshot for the channel, because the designation is reserved for channels that contribute to the growth of a wide range of Canadian voices that may not otherwise be able to be reach large audiences.
The CRTC held two weeks of hearings in the spring, in which the channels made their cases. The decision is another in a string of rulings that underscores the commission’s new focus on consumers, many of whom worried that the introduction of new services to basic television packages would drive costs higher.
The hearings drew interest from across the country, with more than 13,000 Canadians writing letters voicing their opinions on everything from individual applications to the role of the commission.
Their messages were largely echoed by the country’s television providers, who are still adding subscribers each year but are seeing that growth slow considerably as viewers opt out of conventional television.
A report earlier this year suggested that the number of consumers who are “cord-cutting,” or abandoning their cable and satellite subscriptions, is on the rise, although the total number is still small. It estimated that the number of so-called “connected homes” in Canada subscribing to a regulated cable, satellite, or IPTV service grew by only 52,000 in 2012 rather than about 250,000, which is what industry trends would have forecast.
The television providers argued forcing more channels into basic packages, which could cause a spike in TV bills of about $6 a month if they were all approved, might be enough to push many out of the system.