CRTC mulls tighter limits on U.S. stations

MONTREAL – Canuck broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is looking into the possibility of stiffening rules governing simulcasts, which could further limits U.S. border stations’ access to the Canadian TV market.

At present, Canadian stations are able to insert their signal on the channel of an American station if the two stations are broadcasting the same program at the same time. The practice allows the Canadian broadcasters to earn around C$130 million ($96 million) in added advertising revenue annually.

Canada’s TV networks have long argued that the current simultaneous substitution regulations do not go far enough to protect the Canadian networks’ rights to U.S. programming.

The CRTC will hold hearings on the issue this coming June, and it is proposing four possible approaches to increasing the breadth of the substitution rules. The most extreme measure being contemplated is program deletion, whereby the distributor – either the cable company or DTH operator – would have to delete the show from the U.S. station if a local Canuck broadcaster owned local rights to the show.

Less extreme measures

Another proposed method is non-simultaneous substitution, which would replace the U.S. signal with the Canadian signal even when the show is broadcast at different times. The third CRTC proposition is that each Canadian broadcaster operate a second channel that would broadcast the show at the same time as the U.S. station. This would allow the Canadian station to develop its schedule without having to follow the same schedule as the U.S. networks.

The last CRTC proposal is strip program substitution, which would allow the Canadian broadcasters to block out the U.S. signal when the two stations broadcast the same syndicated series – even if it’s a different episode.

‘Much more flexibility’

“It’s a hearing that’s long overdue,” said Kevin Shea, president of the Global Television Network, one of Canada’s leading broadcasters. “We should be able to have everything in our artillery to protect expensive program rights. It also gives much more flexibility for the Canadian broadcasters to schedule.”

Executives at the Canadian networks complain that they have difficulty scheduling high-end Canadian-made drama in prime slots, because they’re dependent on following the U.S. networks’ skeds to take advantage of simulcast opportunities. Shea conceded that the deletion-of-programming proposal is likely to generate strong negative reaction from consumers, and he said Global would prefer to see some form of non-simultaneous substitution approved by the CRTC. The new rules would add between $22 million and $29 million to the coffers of Canadian broadcasters each year.

The revision of the simultaneous substitution rules is coming up in part due to the imminent introduction of new distribution avenues, notably DTH, which has yet to make a major impact on the Canadian TV scene.

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