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Canadians knock out system

Funding to flow to homegrown hits

MONTREAL — When the government announced March 9 that it was creating the C$310 million ($239 million) Canada Media Fund to disburse coin to networks many voiced concern for embattled pubcaster CBC.

The new fund replaces the Television Fund and the much smaller New Media Fund.

It comes with new rules and drops a few old ones, such as the one that guaranteed CBC and its sister French-language public web Radio-Canada around C$100 million ($78 million) each year in funding.

But CBC boss Richard Stursberg isn’t worried.

The way Stursberg sees it, his network might actually garner more dough under the new system because the revamped fund rewards the most popular Canuck shows.

“I like our chances a lot because we’re the only ones that have all of our primetime filled with Canadian shows,” says Stursberg, exec VP of English services at CBC. “If (the new system) is genuinely based on a first-window ratings test, well aside from ‘Flashpoint’ and ‘Corner Gas’ (both on CTV), no one gets any numbers for Canadian shows.”

The homegrown hits on CBC include satirical comedy shows “The Rick Mercer Report” and “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” dramas “Heartland” and “The Border,” plus sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”

The Canada Media Fund will provide $241 million in financing for TV production annually and the new twist is that every production will have to be designed for at least two platforms — TV and one or more new media outlets, like the Internet or cell phones.

But not everyone is as upbeat about the new fund as CBC head honcho Stursberg.

The new fund, like the old Canadian Television Fund, is financed by mandatory levies on cablers and satcasters as well as government coin — and the board will be dominated by the cable and satellite companies, which will provide five of the seven members. The remaining two will be named by the government. There will be no independent producers on the board.

“I worry about this because you have (Shaw Communications head) Jim Shaw saying that (hit foul-mouthed sitcom) ‘Trailer Park Boys’ was not the kind of programming he’d fund,” says Stephen Waddell, national executive director of actors’ union ACTRA. “So what kinds of decisions will be made about programming? ‘Trailer Park Boys’ is a big success and an excellent show.”

At the unveiling of the Canada Media Fund, federal heritage minister James Moore made comments that some interpreted as an attack on a touchy subject recently raised by regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.

The CRTC is mulling introducing a law forcing broadcasters to spend exactly the same amount on local programming as they do on the pricey Hollywood fare that auds love. Right now, the private networks spend far more on U.S. shows.

A Heritage Canada spokesman later said the minister has no intention of interfering with the CRTC’s plans.

But it’s unlikely the CRTC will institute a one-to-one ratio — especially as CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein told the producers’ Prime Time conference in Ottawa last month that his agency was going to have to provide some kind of relief for broadcasters in these tough economic times.

If that’s the case, the CRTC can hardly ask the networks to spend more on Canuck fare.

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