A fight is brewing in Canada's television news industry as the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and cable, satellite and IPTV (Internet protocol television) companies bristle at changes they say could keep Sun News Network on the air at their expense.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is reconsidering how Canadian television news channels are offered to consumers, to address complaints by Sun News that existing arrangements offer no way to increase carriage fees from the cable and satellite companies that bring its signal into Canadian homes. The regulator aims to bring in new rules by the end of the year.
The public broadcaster is against any changes, arguing that they are "not in the public interest."
"It would make no sense to disadvantage one Canadian news service to enhance the position of another," the CBC wrote in a submission to the CRTC, which said it would consider submissions and decide whether to make changes by the new year.
Among the changes under consideration by the regulator is a rule that would make every Canadian news channel available to every Canadian subscriber on an opt-in basis. Fledgling services such as Sun News currently need to negotiate with television companies to have their signal included in their lineup. This would give greater negotiating power to a service such as Sun News when it negotiates with the television companies.
"The proposed regulatory regime holds genuine potential to stimulate the creation and promotion of Canadian programming in the all-news category, while also adding to the diversity of voices and editorial points of views available to Canadians," Quebecor Inc., Sun News' parent company, wrote in its submission.
The CRTC is also considering clumping all of the channels together on an advantageously low place in the dial to ensure Canadians find domestic services before others such as CNN or Al Jazeera.
Sun News is losing about $17-million a year, and says it needs such changes to compete with services such as the long-established CBC News Network and CTV News Channel, which have broad distribution.
The cable, satellite and IPTV companies also oppose any changes, arguing that moving channels around would confuse consumers and that a service should survive because of its popularity, not because it enjoys broad distribution from being forced into bundles at the expense of consumers.
Rogers Communications Inc. "does not believe that the proposed framework is necessary or prudent," the company stated. "The commission is proposing to impose an industry-wide solution to resolve an alleged problem relating to the distribution of a single specialty service, Sun News Network. If implemented, the framework will negatively impact consumers, broadcasting distribution undertakings and other stakeholders in the Canadian broadcasting system."
Shaw Communications Inc. said any changes would "harm consumers and the entire broadcasting system with no benefits, other than a 'benefit' to Sun News."
Shaw said if changes are made any news service that wants wide distribution should be required to have "on-the-ground" reporting resources in at least nine of 13 provinces and territories and average at least 16 hours a day of original news coverage seven days a week.
Bell Media, which owns CTV News Channel, is generally in favour of the changes but also would like to see more specific requirements for news channels receiving prime placement on Canadian television dials. Bell said standards should include a stipulation that 70 per cent of such a news service's operating budget be spent on editorial and production operations and that they operate new bureaus in "three locations other than its live studio production headquarters."