By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO Dec 19 Canada's broadcast regulator
said on Thursday it would require cable and satellite television
distributors to offer customers news channels on a standalone
basis, a decision that could pave the way for more "a la carte"
programing down the road.
The move should benefit Quebecor Inc's Sun News
Network, a conservative news and opinion channel that lost a bid
in August to require all distributors to offer the channel as
part of their basic packages.
But the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications
Commission said TV subscribers should at least have the
opportunity to subscribe to all domestic news services, both
individually and in packages of similar channels. It set a
deadline of May 18 for distributors to comply.
"Canadian news services are an important part of our
democracy," CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement.
"With the rules we are announcing today, Canadians, as
citizens, will have access to the news services that are of
interest to them and will therefore have an opportunity to be
exposed to a variety of opinions on matters of public concern."
At least one distributor, Telus Corp, does not offer
Sun News at all in its main Western Canadian markets. It said it
offers many channels "a la carte" or in simple packages, but
expressed concern about being forced to offer content in a
"We'd rather leave that choice up to individual customers,"
Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said.
He said Telus had been unable to agree to terms with Sun
News, but negotiations will likely resume now that the CRTC has
made this decision.
The loss-making Sun network had argued in the hearing on its
request for mandatory carriage that its target audience was
older and poorer, meaning they would not be able to afford to
pay for it outside of a basic package.
"This was never just about Sun News, it was always about
putting Canadian TV first," said Kory Teneycke, vice president
of the channel. "It is no longer OK to treat foreign news
channels better than Canadian ones."
When the CRTC rejected its bid for universal access, it
acknowledged barriers to entry that in turn limited the exchange
The "mandatory carriage" designation is reserved for
channels that broaden the range of Canadian content that would
otherwise not be able to reach large audiences, including a
channel dedicated to political proceedings and another made by
and for aboriginal communities.
The regulator is pushing for greater freedom for Canadian
television viewers to buy only channels they watch, rather than
require them to subscribe to large packages.
Some distributors have moved toward more flexible
programming since the CRTC "strongly encouraged" them to do so
two years ago, while the commission is collecting views and will
hold further public talks on the topic next year.
The moves are being closely watched south of the border,
where U.S. media companies have ferociously resisted flexible
programming, arguing that costs for individual channels will
But pick-and-pay programming might help cable companies
limit viewer defections to cheaper Internet-based offerings from
the likes of Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.