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Canuck French twist

Regulators ok four new specialty channels

TORONTO — Canada’s broadcast regulator has approved four new French-language specialty channels “to strengthen the French-language broadcasting system,” the Canadian Radio-Television and Tele-communications Commission announced Friday.

The four channels are:

  • Canal Z, aux limites du savoir; featuring science, technology, sci-fi, the paranormal and social trends. The license application was submitted by Radiomutuel.

  • Canal Histoire; on ancient and modern history. The license application was submitted by Alliance Atlantis Communications and Astral Communications.

  • Canal Evasion; a tourism and adventure channel. The license application was submitted by BCE Inc., TVA, Serdy Direct, Media Overseas and Pathe/Canal Voyage France.

  • Canal Fiction; mainly Canadian and foreign drama programs. The license application was submitted by Alliance Atlantis and Astral.

Victorious bidders

“Today’s winners are clearly Astral and Alliance Atlantis,” said Adam Shine, a Montreal-based CIBC Wood Gundy analyst. Montreal-based Astral and Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis are 50-50 partners in Canal Histoire and Canal Fiction, with Astral as the managing partner. Astral also owns about 25% of Radiomutuel, which was granted the Canal Z license.

Astral spokesman David Novek said the inspiration for Alliance Atlantis and Astral to team up for the applications came from the CRTC itself. “The CRTC looked for people to get together and to make alliances,” he said. “If everybody would go out on their own, instead of 17 applications, you’d have 30 or 40.”

Nonetheless, any single Canadian company would be hard pressed to match such a partnership.

“We bring the experience and knowledge of the History and Showcase channels that have been launched and successfully established in English Canada,” said Lewis Rose, president of Alliance Atlantis. “And they bring the French-language cable channel knowledge and experience through their operations of pay and specialty channels broadcast in Quebec.”

Alliance Atlantis controls both the History Channel and Showcase, as well as several others; Astral is Canada’s largest provider of English and French pay, specialty and pay-per-view TV services in the country. “You can see that these licenses are fairly lucrative and there’s a limited number of them,” another analyst said.

“As we await the rollout of digital set-top boxes and a cable-expanded universe in Canada, these assets remain particularly valuable.”

Asked where the current lack of capacity leaves the little guy, he replied, “I don’t think there is any room for the little guy.” (Applications for additional English-language licenses have been postponed indefinitely for this reason. The CRTC is holding hearings to examine the license-granting process and availability.)