The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has slapped down a request from Rogers Broadcasting that its CITY-TV stations in Toronto and Vancouver no longer be mandated to air 100 hours of Canadian films a year in prime time.
The decision was greeted enthusiastically yesterday by the country's distributors, who were spitting mad over Rogers's appeal to the federal regulator this spring. They argued the controversial change of licence would snuff out the sale of English-Canadian features to television stations.
"We're thrilled the CRTC has rejected Rogers' request to have the condition of licence to support Canadian films dropped," said Ted East, president of the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters. "CITY has been a critical partner in financing Canadian films and reaching audiences, and the loss of this support is having a devastating effect on Canadian film."
East added that sales of Canadian features have ground to a halt since Rogers purchased a total of five CITY-TV stations from CTVglobemedia two years ago. (Sales to television stations represent roughly 40 per cent of the overall TV market for Canadian feature films.)
Susan Wheeler, Rogers Media's vice-president regulatory affairs, said yesterday the company was not surprised that the CRTC insisted on maintaining the status quo, adding, "It's not necessarily decisions that affect only the movie condition licence, [the CRTC]has indicated they have no appetite to change any licence rules for the one year before they will extensively review all specialty and conventional licences in April, 2010."
The news was overshadowed by another CRTC decision on Monday that gave conventional broadcasters such as Global and CTV a foot in the door in their quest to get cable companies to pay for their signals.
The federal regulator also launched a public proceeding - which will start Sept. 29 in Gatineau, Que. - to develop a new regulatory framework that will give broadcasters greater flexibility to cope with the rapid evolution of the communications industry.
In exchange for that "greater flexibility," however, East pointed out that the CRTC made clear that it will not be letting the conventional broadcasters ease up on their commitment to making, acquiring and broadcasting high-quality Canadian programming.
"The CRTC told broadcasters it will expect them to make 'meaningful commitments' to Canadian content," said East, "and going into the September meetings we are encouraged by that."