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The Globe and Mail

Drama, not music, on Bell Media TV spending program

BCE president and CEO George Cope

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Bell Media wants to redirect millions of dollars in new program funding toward the creation of new dramas and comedies, citing a lack of interest and limited audiences for "high-end performing and visual arts programming."

When Bell Media bought CTVglobemedia in 2011, it agreed to spend millions of dollars on the creation of new content in order to secure approval from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

That's typical in any deal that sees a broadcast licence change hands in Canada, and companies often try to renegotiate the terms once the deal has closed for a variety of reasons. Bell inherited this package, which was put in place after CTVglobemedia bought broadcaster CHUM in 2006.

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Bell Media said it can't produce enough content fast enough to meet its obligations by its August, 2014 deadline, as it requested permission to redirect about $20-million toward producing dramas and comedies.

"The redirected funds will support programming that is most difficult to finance, including drama and comedy series and limited series," the filing states. "The high-cost category of dramas requires greater investments than any other and would serve a greater number of audiences and independent producers, as Bell Media would have the flexibility to find the best stories while engaging a larger number of independent producers working in the drama and comedy genres."

Here's how it has spent the money so far, and why it wants to redirect the cash.

Stories about music and entertainment:

Promised to spend $18-million, has $5.1-million left to spend.

"Its narrow mandate requires that the programs be limited to only being about music and entertainment, and the people involved in or are about the music and entertainment industries …  we have found that this category is overly restrictive in terms of the stories that can be created under the definition and it typically appeals to a narrow audience.  As a result, we have had very limited pitches from independent producers, which has created great difficulty in finding suitable programs that fit this envelope for our stations and services.

Centre Stage

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Promised to spend $16.7-million, has $13.2-million left to spend.

"Centre Stage is intended to fund high-end performing and visual arts programming.  The company has found very few projects from independent producers that meet the mandate of this category since the inception of these benefits.  Furthermore, there are very limited audiences for this genre of programming.  With a year and half remaining in these benefits, we are concerned about the amount of time required to commission suitable programming and see it through development and production."

Canada Rocks for the Cause

Promised to spend $5.5-million, has $3.4-million left to spend.

"Bell Media has supported a number of worthwhile multi-act events annually, such as the Polaris Music Prize, We Day, Rick Hansen:  A Concert for Heroes, to name a few.  The company will continue to fund these important events, to predominantly spotlight Canadian musical artists in support of Canadian registered charities, however, the costs of producing these events will not allow us to fully expend the benefits envelope by 2014. "

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