Canada TV regulator still cool to fee-for-carriage

Mon May 25, 2009 4:29pm EDT
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's television regulator said on Monday it wants to help struggling conventional broadcasters, but prefers to look at alternatives to re-examining a controversial fee-for-carriage proposal.

Konrad von Finckenstein, the head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, told a parliamentary committee on Monday the commission is prepared to "seek to provide revenue support for conventional television."

However, "rather than resorting to fee-for-carriage," the CRTC would look for alternative mechanisms and seek ways to establish through negotiation the fair market value of the stations' signals, he said.

Von Finckenstein added that the CRTC is willing to back up such talks with arbitration if necessary.

Conventional broadcasters such as Canwest Global Communications and CTV Inc have argued that Canada's satellite and cable companies should pay them for carrying their signals.

Cable players like Shaw Communications and Rogers Communications have called the fee-for-carriage proposal unfair and urged the CRTC to reject it, which it did -- most recently in October.

The fight over carriage fees comes at a time of crisis for the broadcasters, who have seen their revenue plunge as advertisers cut spending amid the recession.

The economic crisis has forced broadcasters to cut staff and programing, as well as either close or try to sell some stations.

In March, Von Finckenstein said conventional broadcasters could get C$235 million ($210 million) a year if they were paid for signals from their local stations. If they were paid for all the signals carried, even in markets where they don't have local programing, they would receive C$600 million.

($1=$1.12 Canadian)

(Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Rob Wilson)