MONTREAL — Canada’s broadcast regulator unveiled new policies for the TV biz on Thursday, including allowing more competition among pay TV channels, forcing cable and satellite operators to cough up more for local programming and giving them a lot more freedom in the way they offer packages of channels.
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission also rejected the terrestrial networks’ call for a monthly subscriber fee.
Many industry observers had expected the CRTC to deregulate the TV business — but that didn’t happen.
ACTRA, the main actors union, applauded the CRTC for its more cautious approach that keeps most of its rules in place.
“We’re relieved that the CRTC rejected pleas from the cable and satellite companies that they needed deregulation to survive,” said ACTRA national executive director Stephen Waddell. “Canadian drama all but disappeared from conventional channels when expenditure and programming requirements were dropped in 1999.”
The CRTC ruled that for the first time, pay TV news and sports channels can compete directly, which will let companies launch channels to rival news channels CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet and the sports channels TSN and Sportsnet.
But the regulator is not allowing free competition for other types of pay TV channels, such as, say, music channels, and it also rejected a proposal to let in U.S. cable channels such as HBO, Showtime or the Disney Channel.
Those channels are not available in Canada (though Astral Media did launch HBO Canada on Thursday, a Canadian-owned channel focusing on HBO fare).
The CRTC also said that cable and satellite operators must pay an extra C$60 million ($50 million) to support local producers.
In addition, the regulator ditched most of the rules governing how cable and satellite companies package the channels they offer. This will allow them to let subscribers pick and choose channels.
However, more than half the channels that subscribers choose must be Canadian.
The policies are a major setback for terrestrial networks, including CTV and Global.
The CRTC also nixed their demand for a monthly subscriber fee. The broadcasters had argued that they needed a fee to make up for the money they are losing as auds move to pay TV channels and new-media platforms.