Canada's broadcasting regulator is breathing new life into Sun News.
Rule changes revealed Thursday by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will force television providers to carry all five Canadian "Category C" national news channels, including upstart Sun News Network, which has struggled to gain access to viewers across the country.
All those news channels must now be offered both as part of a bundle – the "best available discretionary package" – and a la carte, while fees paid to the news networks by television providers must be "fair and commercially reasonable," the CRTC said. Ultimately, the CRTC has the power to resolve any disputes.
The changes most heavily affect Quebecor Inc.'s Sun News, which had earlier mounted a failed push for "mandatory carriage," which would have forced it into basic cable packages and guaranteed it base funding.
The rule changes will force Telus and MTS – the only providers not offering Sun News – to begin carrying it by March 19. Those deals could then influence new contract terms with providers already carrying the network.
"It means we are now operating with the same rules as everyone else, in practical terms," Sun News spokesman Kory Teneycke said, adding Thursday's changes "absolutely" bolster the network's business case.
"It puts everyone, in practical terms, operating under the same rules, which was not the case before. It forces cable companies to come to an agreement with us, and forces them to come to a reasonable agreement," he said.
Other service providers had opposed the changes. The CBC said earlier this year the changes were "not in the public interest." Rogers Communications Inc. said the proposed changes weren't "necessary or prudent," while Shaw Communications Inc. said there would be no benefit "other than a 'benefit' to Sun News."
In a statement, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said Canadian news channels are "an important part of our democracy," and the changes will boost access and offer "an opportunity to be exposed to a variety of opinions on matters of public concern."
The two-year-old Sun News Network has branded itself as an outlier, offering "straight talk" and aligning itself with the conservative viewpoint of its parent company's newspapers. The network lost $18.5-million in the year ending in August, 2012, according to a CRTC filing, and is available in just 40 per cent of homes. The network argued it needed rule changes to compete against established channels such as CBC News Network and CTV News Channel.
One TV provider, Telus Corp., said Thursday it supports "any decision that increases choice" but was "concerned" by changes that force it to carry channels. "We'd rather leave that choice up to individual customers. We plan to bring that perspective to the CRTC's review of TV's future in Canada," the company said.
Cogeco Cable Canada said it "agrees that choice is good for Canadian consumers," and plans to comply with the changes. Bell noted it already carried Sun News and that it would comply. CBC and CTV said the changes wouldn't affect how their channels are carried.