CORRECTED-Canadian TV regulator to lean on broadcasters over choice

Fri Sep 2, 2016 4:27pm EDT
 
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(Corrects to show rules took effect in March, not May, in 7th paragraph)

By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Canada's television regulator said on Friday it will use the pending expiry of broadcast licenses as leverage in talks with distributors to judge their adherence to new rules forcing them to offer channels individually.

Distributors that collectively provide television service to three-quarters of the Canadian market will see their existing licenses expire in 2017, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said.

The regulator said it has also told the country's four largest television distributors - BCE Inc, Rogers Communications Inc, Shaw Communications Inc and Quebecor's Videotron - not to expect the typical seven-year extensions this time around.

"We have put people on notice that these renewals are likely to be short-term in nature," a CRTC executive said during a not-for-attribution briefing with journalists ahead of hearings next week on sweeping new CRTC rules that created a C$25 "skinny basic" package of television channels.

The regulator has taken an aggressive stance in support of consumer choice in recent years. The Canadian government has also said it is looking to overhaul laws governing broadcasting, media and cultural industries to support local content.

The CRTC in May warned that broadcasters must invest in robust news operations, as a string of television and radio stations cut jobs and reduce programming in an effort to adjust to rising online competition.

The Sept. 7-8 hearings will review adherence to the new CRTC rules that took effect in March. They require that all extra channels be offered individually by December.

The CRTC said some 177,000 viewers had signed up to skinny basic packages by the end of June, up from around 100,000 soon after the rules come into force. (Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Paul Simao and James Dalgleish)