Canadian thesps protest CAB fare

ACTRA faults broadcasters for too much US content

OTTAWA — Execs leaving the Canadian Assn. of Broadcasters’ confab Tuesday ran a gamut of thousands of demonstrators protesting President Bush’s presence in the capital for a state visit.

But if locals are less than happy about Bush, local actors are less than happy with the CAB.

The convention, headlined Putting Canada First, was ridiculed by actors’ union the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), which is rankled by broadcasters’ doubled profits last year while Canuck content is given less space on schedules.

“Canada’s private broadcasters are throwing themselves a party in Ottawa,” said ACTRA national exec director Stephen Waddell. “While they’re congratulating themselves for all the good things they’re doing for Canada, their schedules tell a different story.”

ACTRA noted that broadcasters spend four times more on U.S. and foreign drama than on homegrown ($382 million vs. $93 million).

The 78th annual confab wrapped amid supertight security. But in spite of road closures and backups at the airport due to the Bush visit, attendance hit record numbers. Meanwhile, the venue’s location next to the seat of government on Parliament Hill meant that there was a strong political presence.

Attendees received assurances that the federal government has heard their concerns about satellite signal theft and government reps said that beefed-up copyright legislation is on its way.

In addition, federal officials promised to work to sustain, and perhaps increase, the size of the embattled Canadian Television Fund.

Broadcast regulators also disclosed a series of money-generating incentives for producing and airing English-language drama.

One of the hot topics was the issue of foreign services in the Canadian market, with attendees grumbling that such cable staples as A&E and the recently approved Fox News reap profits from the market but don’t contribute to the local system.

Reps from terrestrial networks such as Global and CTV complained that cablers have long carried their signals for free. Given increasing fragmentation, declining viewers and fewer ad dollars, terrestrial nets have become, according to CanWest Global Communications prexy-CEO Leonard Asper, “the discriminated party.”

They say that they, like specialty channels, should have a revenue stream from cablers. “The time is right for us to have a subscription revenue base,” said Rick Camilleri, prexy of CanWest MediaWorks.

Rather than looking to the consumer to foot the bill, some suggested forcing foreign channels, which have no status with regulators and no obligations to the Canuck system, to cough up. The issue is also one of rights, noted Rick Brace, prexy of CTV. Given that the networks might have channels in four or five time zones being distributed on satellite a show might be aired five times in a day and a canny advertiser can buy a cheap local ad in the East Coast and have it get full network exposure.

There was also buzz about foreign services, specifically the summer’s decision not to allow Italo channel RAI into the Canadian market.

Canuck broadcasters called for government regulators to establish clear guidelines with respect to foreign entrants.

“If people like HBO see even a glimmer of hope that they can come to Canada, then they will withhold programming, and that opens the door even more to the black market and the gray market,” noted John Cassaday, prexy-CEO of Corus Entertainment.

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