Canadian TV viewers could be hit with higher bills if a new effort by U.S. television stations to win compensation for their signals is successful.
The U.S. Television Coalition, a group of five local stations, is asking Canadian cable, satellite and Internet TV providers to pay for the right to distribute their signals to viewers. The signals are currently plucked off the air and redistributed to Canadian viewers without any direct compensation paid to the stations, while Canadian stations are compensated for their signals.
The coalition comprises WIVB and WNLO, Buffalo stations that carry the CBS signal; the Minneapolis-based ABC affiliate KSTP; NBC affiliate WDIV in Detroit; and the NBC affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., WHEC.
The channels are carried under so-called "distant signal" provisions.
"Given the success and importance of the Canada-U.S. trade partnership, we remain hopeful this unfair situation will be put right by Canada and our U.S. stations will be included under the consent and remuneration provisions," said Susan Wenz, program director at KSTP, in a statement.
"Our channels deliver value for Canadians," said Chris Musial, the general manager for WIVB and WNLO-TV, in a statement. "We expect the right to negotiate appropriate compensation for the full value that our signals and programming deliver to Canadian markets."
The stations say they are asking for the same rights enjoyed by Canadian stations under new retransmission regulations that went into effect in September, 2011. The regulations give station owners the right to insist cable, satellite, and Internet TV operations get their consent before distributing their signals. That consent requirement is used to extract fees from the distribution operations.
"Based on the spirit of Canada-U.S. trade, they should be eligible for these consent and remuneration rights, on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis," said Francis Schiller, a spokesperson for the Coalition, in an interview.
The stations face a potentially long fight, since they are appealing for equitable treatment under the Broadcasting Act, which only applies to Canadian companies.
The new policy was passed after stations in some of Canada's smaller markets argued they were being hurt by cable and satellite companies importing the same signals from larger markets. The loss of viewership meant the local operations had difficulty drawing advertising dollars.
It is unclear exactly how much money could be at stake, but an industry source said compensation could run into the millions of dollars if the U.S. stations were granted the right to charge for their signals.