Editorial – Did CTV Make a Big Mistake?

There has been an interesting event in the world of Canadian broadcasting last week. Bell TV, Cogeco, Rogers, Telus, Eastlink, and the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance have filed a complaint with the CRTC accusing CTV of violating the Broadcast Act when they launched their “Save Local TV” campaign in order to be granted Fee for Carriage.

As a rule, I normally remain silent about these debates. The success of my television channel depends on the Canadian television industry continuing to operate as they have for decades. The longer they continue to operate under an obsolete business model, the sooner they’ll go out of business, and the more likely there will be room on cable and DTH satellite for my channel.

So why speak up now? After investigating the matter, I have to admit that even I was a bit shocked at how CTV brought their “Save Local TV” campaign to the public’s attention.

They featured it as a news piece on their own local newscasts instead of promoting it separately.

As soon as I learned about this, I immediately realized that the CRTC complaint had merit.

Both the Canadian Broadcast Act and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’  Code of Ethics have provisions emphasizing that news broadcasts must be unbiased and present an equal and balanced view of the issues. In other words, newscasts can’t choose sides.

But from my perspective, CTV did choose sides. The videos I’ve seen on CTV’s own Web site presented their “Save Local TV” campaign as if it was just another evening’s news piece. There was no advanced warning that what they were presenting was a self-serving editorial, or a promotional piece if you prefer.

So how did all this came to be?

Currently, your cable or satellite bill includes the cost of obtaining basic service as well as extra charges for obtaining specific channels or channel packages. Most specialty channels get paid a per-subscriber fee to be included on the cable or satellite company’s network. What most Canadians don’t realize is that their local broadcast channels (the ones available off of rabbit ears) don’t get paid anything to be carried on cable or satellite. None of the money you pay every month for your television service ever reaches the local broadcaster.

Both the public and private Canadian networks have been campaigning for years to the CRTC to obtain compulsory Fee-for-Carriage status, where the cable and satellite companies would be required to pay the local broadcasters a fee for each household subscribed to their service. The broadcasters’ argument is that the cable and satellite companies have been making money off their backs for years, and they would like to be fairly compensated for carriage of their channels. The cable and satellite industry has indicated that the introduction of any new fees for local carriage will be passed directly to their subscribers, increasing their monthly bills.

Despite the numerous times the broadcasters have presented their request to the CRTC, the Commission has said “no” every single time.

Today, both CTV and Canwest Global are seriously in debt, and they continue to lose audience share to specialty channels and the Internet. On that, I can certainly understand their position even though I don’t fully agree with the way they want to resolve their financial situation. The broadcasters have never received any fees from viewers who picked up their broadcasts with rabbit ears, and I don’t see why this should be any different on cable or DTH satellite.

Even more important, after years of following this debate, I’ve yet to see any financial statements indicating the cable and satellites companies were actually making any money from the distribution of local channels. In fact, if you look at the line items on your cable or satellite bill, the bulk of your monthly payment is to cover your subscription to all of the specialty channels.

On top of CTV introducing their “Save Local TV” campaign as a news piece on their own local newscasts, there has also been a sudden increase in the number of messages posted by new members on many Canadian bulletin boards, siding with the “Save Local TV” campaign. When these new members were asked if they were affiliated with CTV or the campaign, they suddenly became very defensive.

An unwritten rule on most bulletin boards is that you’re suppose to disclose your affiliation with any corporation or public campaign before giving your opinion on any subject directly related to that same corporation or campaign. Failure to do so is normally interpreted as a blatant attempt to influence public opinion through questionable means.

That’s why it doesn’t really matter how the CRTC answers this complaint at this stage. By disguising their campaign as a news piece instead of promoting it separately as they should have done, CTV has seriously damaged its journalistic integrity in what I can only describe as an act of sheer desperation, and has also seriously damaged its national campaign before it even got off the ground. The whole situation is so mind bogglingly idiotic that I simply couldn’t keep quiet about it.

Very bad move, CTV. What were you thinking?

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4 Responses to Editorial – Did CTV Make a Big Mistake?

  1. First, don’t be afraid of my nickname. It has nothing to do with the bare essentials. My blogsite is G rated (most of the time).

    I will introduce myself by saying that I used to work for a broadcast company in Toronto several years ago. I won’t mention the name of the company (It wasn’t CTV). I was proud to work with a great group of people. I left to go into another type of employment.

    I wanted to go to the CTV Toronto open house yesterday. Unfortunately, I could not find a bullhorn to express my opposition to the “Save Local Stations” campaign. This seems like a motherhood statement. Who could object to saving the local stations? Unfortunately, the broadcast companies have been decreasing the number of hours of local programming over several years. The only local programming that exists in each market is the suppertime and late evening news. Some stations still have the lunchtime news. There are no local entertainmen or non-news information programs. I would not classify ET Canada as being local since it is meant to broadcast over the whole Canwest Global network.

    If I am correct, most terrestrial stations are allowed to air 12 minutes of commercials every hour. Most specialty cable/satellite channels are only allowed to air 8 minutes. While the terrestrial stations don’t get local carriage fees from cable/satellite companies and consumers, they can get their extra revenue through the extra four minutes of advertising per hour.

    I was extremely disappointed with CTV’s lack of objectivity in promoting the “Save Local Stations” campaign. They made no effort in trying to find and interview anyone who may object to the local stations receiving carriage fees. I started to believe that I was watching “Faux-News” north. Instead of CTV and the other private stations reporting the news, they started making it up to suit their own purposes. If I want entertainment-news, I can watch “This Hour Has 22 Minutes”, “The Mercer Report”. “The Daily Show”, and “The Colbert Report.” I don’t need to get it from CTV News.

    From FC: What really disappoints me is that CTV could have easily created a valid argument in their favour without resorting to the “Faux-News” style propaganda pitch (I also thought of Fox), and without having company “friendlies” seed Canadian bulletin boards with prepackaged opinions.

    CTV went for an approach that has already been tried in the past, and was just as loudly denounced once they were uncovered.

    As for the allowed commercial time, it’s also 12 minutes for the specialty channels. This doesn’t include show promos however, which is why the commercial breaks seem to last forever despite the time restrictions.

  2. Self plug, go to my blogsite to read my thoughts about the “Save Local Television” campaign.


  3. Mr Ed - Kitchener, Ontario says:

    I am presently 57.

    I remember a time when TV was simple and FREE!
    All networks fought for your viewing time, supplying many many new shows, with average time spent for commercials (3-5 Minutes). In Europe, TV was broad casted, commercial FREE, but you were required to pay a monthly FEE !!

    Now, in Canada, we must pay a monthly FEE, to receive regular TV stations, “AND” watch long periods of advertisement.(5-10 Minutes).

    I am now watching old movies, that in the past had a TV viewing time of 2.0 HOURS, now has become a 3.0 HOUR viewing time.
    WHY ?? = More Advertisement !!

    This applies to CTV, CBC, Canwest Global.
    Why do the above Corporate TV Stations have so many TV stations, (Same Network) in many different Canadian Provinces ?
    The TV networks are only repeating the “SAME” TV programs, at a different time slot ? There really is not that much on TV, once one ignores all the repeats, repeats, duplicated TV channels, and the infomercials !!
    The TV stations had expanded to make more revenue, when commercials paid out the “Big” $’s.
    Big commercial revenue is now gone !

    It is time for Canadian Broadcasters, to downsize.
    Like in the old days, boost your TV output.
    Do “NOT” rely on 2nd party distribution centers, to relay your TV signals, and you also want extra funds $’s from them !

    Maybe I will back to a regular TV antenna, for “FREE”
    TV, and rent commercial “FREE” movies !!
    A much cheaper / simple route.

    – ED –

  4. Jean-Francois Mezei says:

    I hold no sympathy for CTV and Global who are, for all essential purposes, USA networks.

    I have nothing against foreign programming, but it should be diverse. Why did Global buy the failed “Coupling” from the USA instead of buying the highly succesful original Coupling from the UK ?

    I go out of my way to avoid watchning Global/CTV because I don’t want to encourage them to buy US programming.

    To this end, if they do win the ability to get revenus from Cable/Satellite, it may be a good thing since, I would hope, as a subscriber, I could then choose to NOT subscribe to any CTV/Global channels which would allow me to watch original USA programming. And this would give CTV/Global incentive to get distinct programming at which point I would consider signing up.

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