I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Private Network Pirates

Canada’s biggest networks could not make it any clearer. They are cynical, money-grubbing entities that are not worth giving the time of day let alone the millions they are trying to squeeze from television viewers in Canada.

Let’s look back at how the last few months have played out. First CTV and Canwest/Global cry poor and beg the federal government through the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) to force the cable and satellite companies to pay them for their signal. They claim this is so they can save local television. Let’s leave aside the fact that their buying spree of local TV stations followed by their cutting them to the bone have been a primary cause of the failure of local TV. The networks shamelessly produced commercials and invited the public to their stations to explain why local television was in danger of disappearing. These fine upstanding TV moguls told us they want the opportunity to save their local stations and the only way that could happen was to charge all Canadians a few bucks for their services.

The CRTC then caves in to the demands of the millionaire owners. A new levy of 1.5% is to be added to your cable or satellite bill which is supposed to go towards local television production. Problem solved.

Not so fast. While waiting for word from the feds about the bailout the networks got busy. Victoria, B.C. and Red Deer, Alberta will see their stations closed. CTV sold its Brandon, Manitoba station and Canwest/Global sold CHCH in Hamilton and CJNT in Montreal. But hey, you say, they got money. Not enough it seems. The networks still want to charge for their programming even though their last pretense, saving local television, has gone by the wayside along with five local stations.

This whole situation is just plain crazy. The networks bought up every available station in Canada. CTV bought the CHUM/CITY group with all its “A” Channels across the country and specialty stations. Canwest/Global bought CHCH and Alliance Atlantis with a large roster of cable and satellite channels. This came years after CTV bought a bunch of small over-the-air stations from Victoria to Northern Ontario and Canwest/Global opened stations in Montreal and the Maritimes. The networks created a huge debt load they can’t sustain. Add in the recession and their troubles mounted. They screwed up. Their eyes were bigger than their stomachs as my mother would say when I wanted too much food at dinner. The CRTC knows this. The feds know this. So why are we contemplating bailing them out, now especially, when they have abandoned the reason for the bailout, local TV?

Here’s my take. If Canwest/Global is serious about operating a television empire in Canada they should immediately sell or shut down The National Post. It barely exists anyways after the staff slashing that has gone on for over two years. You don’t save a newspaper by providing less and less news on its pages. It is an empty shell. Further, it’s time to sell off the foreign assets like Channel 10 in Australia. Why should Canadians pay to support failure and foreign ventures? Canwest/Global has some excellent assets in its stable of cable networks. They could get all the money they need by picking two or three of their cable stations and selling them to Rogers or Astral Media. Save yourself before you ask me to save you. Finally, I would demand that Canwest/Global become serious producers of Canadian content. When I worked there they never lived up to their CRTC license agreements and they constantly cheated on the money they claimed they spent on Canadian content.

If CTV wants to prove it is serious about its commitment to Canadian programming and to Canada it too will have to produce and invest in more than the odd Canadian drama and comedy and schedule the Canadian shows in time slots that are not dead zones opposite Canwest/Global’s few winners. CTV too has plenty of assets that they could sell to tide them over the recessionary hump. Did we need a TSN2 at a time when CTV says they have no money?

I’m probably wasting my time and energy because of the political power the networks command. I cannot see any way they will not get their money from us. The CRTC wimps and the toady politicians will cave to their demands. But has anyone thought about the long term affects of the large increases in the cost of cable and satellite? Will you continue to buy History Channel and Discovery Kids if you need to save a few bucks because of the rising cost of cable? Is MTV Canada and CTV News Channel still worth having when you can’t afford the satellite TV cost increases? Are CTV and Canwest/Global actually hurting their own bottom lines with this irrational demand for new payments for their network signals?

So far I have seen no sign of intelligent life at Canwest/Global since Izzy Asper died and left the company in the hands of his kids. At CTV I have seen a company that has managed to lose money while running seven of the top ten shows in Canada, a feat worthy of public ridicule. This is what we are being asked to prop up, greedy owners who have mismanaged a license to print money in the good times and are now paying the price in the bad times. Only they don’t want to pay the price, they want us to.

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Filed under: Media Commentary, Political Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. wcdixon says:

    Don’t mince your words now, Mr. Bernstein sir…tell us how you ‘really’ feel.

    Hahaha. Awesome post.

  2. Jim Henshaw says:

    Welcome to the battles, Howard. It’s inspiring to have someone of your experience and insight weighing in on these issues.

    I’ve written a lot on how our coddled broadcasters have end run their content and contribution obligations, knowing the CRTC will never call them to account and, in fact, assists them in their pillaging of the Canadian audience.

    So far, nobody’s been dumb enough to sue me and given what you’ve been privy to, I doubt they’ll want to take you on either if you care to expand.

    There was never any intention on CTV or Global’s part to improve local broadcasting anymore than there’s ever been an honest commitment to Canadian content. The broadcasters made that clear themselves in their submissions to the Commission.

    Yet, in addition to handing them this windfall the CRTC also reduced the number of hours of news and information they were required to provide. In short, more of our money in return for less product and reduced service.

    I’m sure the lower ratings numbers they will incur from having fewer stations (and perhaps the precipitous drop they will see if Shaw and Rogers eliminate time shifting rather than paying extra for it) will be spun into the need for a further handout.

    The real culprit here is not only the greed of the broadcasters, but CRTC Commissioners who can ignore a parliamentary committee demanding they take the entire corporate holdings of our media conglomerates into consideration when crafting solutions.

    Restaff the Commission with people who will uphold its mandate and things might start to change.

  3. JimmyBean says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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