CanWest given a reprieve

Canadian broadcaster gets debt extension

Broadcaster CanWest Global Communications, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, was given Wednesday yet another two-week extension on its debt repayment deadline.

Canada’s biggest entertainment company is in the midst of negotiations with its senior lenders and an ad-hoc committee of note-holders, and both groups have agreed to give the embattled company until May 19 to try to come up with a solution to its financial problems.

Winnipeg-based CanWest owes C$30.4 million ($26 million) in interest to the note-holders, a sum that was originally due in mid-March. CanWest’s failure to pay means the note-holders could demand repayment of the entire $652 million owed.

The broadcaster, which controls the Global Network and a slew of cable channels, including Showcase and Slice, has been hit by a downturn in the advertising market and is saddled with $3.2 billion in debt due to earlier acquisitions. Last month it posted a loss of $1.2 billion for the quarter ended Feb. 28.

CanWest isn’t the only Canuck broadcaster facing tough times.

Rival CTVglobemedia, which owns and operates the CTV Network, recently opted to sell three of its more troubled stations to cable operator and broadcaster Shaw Communications for a dollar per station. CTVglobemedia would close the stations if the sale doesn’t go through.

CanWest and CTVglobemedia have been hit hard by the slumping ad market and by changes in the TV landscape, as audiences and advertising revenue move to cablers and new-media platforms.

Both have recently lobbied broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) asking for regulations to be loosened to ease their financial burden.

However, representatives from the Writers Guild of Canada appeared before the government’s Heritage Dept. culture committee Wednesday, arguing that broadcasters should not be allowed to use the financial crisis as an excuse to buy less Canuck programming, which is pricier than U.S. fare.

Both companies also had fought for a fee-for-carriage system that would force cable operators to pay to run CTV and CanWest-owned Global stations. But this was rejected by the CRTC.

CanWest has been trying to sell assets, including five of its E! stations. It cut just under 600 jobs in November.

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