Canwest seeks content easing in abbreviated TV licences: system is broken

CanWest News Service
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TORONTO - Financially beleaguered Canwest Global Communications Corp. (TSX:CGS) has submitted licence renewal applications for its conventional TV stations seeking only one-year extensions and an easing of programming requirements.
Canwest stated Tuesday that its position ''reflects the country's outdated regulatory environment and the challenges of the current marketplace on the sector.''
The one-year application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission seeks standardized local programming obligations of 10 hours per week in markets of more than one million people and five hours per week in smaller TV markets.
Winnipeg-based Canwest also seeks elimination of priority programming obligations in prime time.
''While we are maintaining the existing levels of Canadian content, we are seeking more flexibility to respond to viewers' tastes,'' stated Charlotte Bell, Canwest's senior vice-president of regulatory affairs.
''We have had to make some very difficult decisions because, while the CRTC itself has acknowledged that the system is broken, it has, so far, rejected the solutions we tabled last year that would have provided stable revenues and ensured Canadians continued to receive more drama, local news and information.''
Canwest and CTV, Canada's other major conventional television network operator, appealed unsuccessfully to the federal broadcast regulator last year to enact so-called fee for carriage, which would require cable and satellite TV operators to provide payments for their signals.
''Earlier this month, the CRTC released data showing precipitous declines in the 2008 fiscal year financial results for conventional television,'' Canwest's statement Tuesday noted. ''Since then, the outlook has worsened. All major broadcasters in Canada and the U.S. have had to write down the value of their assets.''
Canwest has put five stations up for sale and CTV plans to allow smaller stations to close.
Canwest stressed that operators will not invest in local television unless impediments to success are removed.
''We currently produce about 355 hours of local programming every week and lose money doing it,'' Bell stated.
''Meanwhile, cable and satellite companies take our signals and sell them to the consumer without providing us any compensation. They essentially have monopoly status, free from domestic and foreign competition, and are subsidized as both distributors and competitors in television.''

Organizations: Canwest, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, TSX

Geographic location: TORONTO, Canada, U.S.

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