Regulator backs down from local spend proposal

MONTREAL — Canada’s broadcast regulator Friday backed down from a proposal that would have forced local broadcasters to spend as much on home-grown programming as they do on American content.

It’s good news Stateside — the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission proposal would have radically cut spending on the Hollywood shows that fill skeds at the expense of pricey Canuck fare.

Now the networks will be free to spend as much as they want at the L.A. Screenings, which start today.

Several weeks back, the CRTC announced that it was mulling the one-for-one rule, prompted by many industryites — from producers to actors — who want the regulator to put some kind of a cap on the networks’ Hollywood spending.

But the networks lobbied hard against the one-for-one rule.

In its press release, the CRTC said that it wouldn’t be practical to introduce the rule in the upcoming broadcast year, “given the sector’s production timelines and the programming commitments that are already in place.”

In other words, the idea may come back next year.

Last year, local networks spent C$775.2 million ($657 million) on U.S. programming, up from $358 million in 2000. In 2008, the Canuck networks spent $523 million on home-grown programming, including news. Of that total, only $75 million went on drama.

“We had hoped the commission would put caps on the broadcasters’ reckless spending in L.A. this year, especially as they have been crying poor,” said Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, the country’s main actors union. “The CRTC had a real opportunity to stage an intervention, tell them enough is enough.”

The CRTC went on to say that it “will continue to explore various regulatory measures to ensure that English-language television broadcasters devote an appropriate proportion of their expenditures to Canadian programming.”

Also Friday, the CRTC announced that will give out one-year license renewals to the main English-language networks CTV, CanWest Global, Sun-TV and the Rogers-owned City-TV stations this year rather than the usual multi-year renewals.

The CRTC will award multi-year licenses next year based not only on the financial standing of the networks but also of their parent companies — most of which also own more lucrative cable channels.

There will be public hearings in the fall to set new TV policy and consider how to bail out the ailing terrestrial networks.

The CRTC had earlier rejected the networks’ call for the cable and satellite companies to pay for use of their channels. Friday’s announcement hinted that the regulator may reconsider that idea.

The CRTC also said the hearings will set minimum levels for spending on local programming, something actors, producers and directors have wanted for years.

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