Canadian conventional television newsrooms got good and bad news today. The federal broadcast regulator turned down for the second time in two years a bid by conventional broadcasters for a 50-cent fee for cable and satellite subscribers.
To date those stations have been carried free, and attached to others in packages, on cable, while specialty channels in particular categories have been able to be underwritten in part by subscription fees. Conventional broadcasters argue their economic model is deteriorating and that their dependence on advertising might be untenable in a climate of increased use of PVRs and Internet streaming.
The bid would have raised $300 million for Canwest (disclosure: my employer) and CTV (disclosure: my former employer). Some of those funds doubtlessly would have flowed into their news operations. The regulator did permit negotiations by conventional broadcasters with cable and satellite providers on fees for their time-shifted channels, given that those entities now charge specifically for that service.
The news isn't entirely bad for television news, though:
1. A $60-million fund is being created for newsrooms in markets of less than one million people, which includes all but a handful of Canadian markets.
2. Competition now is open in the news genre on cable, meaning competitors can emerge for CBC Newsworld and CTV's Newsnet.