Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Have We Saved Local TV Yet?


Did we finish saving local TV last year or is everybody just gearing up to make us give up something more to save it all over again?

I'm just asking, because the whole "our broadcast system is in trouble" thing seemed to go quiet after the CRTC offered its decision (okay, technically only a proposal for a decision) last April in which it said Cable companies had to give broadcasters more money -- uh, if the courts said it was okay for them to decide stuff like that.

As far as I know, no court has made any determination on that yet nor has one side or the other filed the inevitable appeals that would follow.

But to get a head start and make sure they had the cash on hand if they had to fork it over, Cable companies immediately announced a rate increase. In the last 15 months, Rogers has increased their cable fees by 10% to offset increased operating costs of only 3%.

According to Rogers, their costs are actually up 10% and they're eating half of it to be nice. But their financial statements show adjusted operating profits at Cable operations for the first three months of this year rose 10% to $449 million on a 6% increase in revenues. More on that here.

Bell jacked their rates up across the board last November in anticipation of the CRTC decision, earning between $2 and $4 per customer per month ever since for doing nothing new while Shaw reports its revenues and income are up 10% and 17% respectively over the last nine months.

And it appears the broadcasters are just as healthy. An item in the Hollywood Reporter yesterday indicated that even as the broadcasters were appearing in Gatineau to cry poor last summer, their revenues were already increasing over 2008 and ended up totaling $6.5 Billion for 2009.

To be sure those numbers are skewed because Specialty Channels are raking it in (revenues up 16.6%) while the free-TV side is down 7.7%. But that's really a matter of the same guy having more money in one pocket than the other since all the free nets own all the specialty channels.

What's more, despite all the dire predictions from Global, Rogers and CTV about having to close up shop and with no new Cable money arriving in the mail just yet, the Free Three somehow found $800 Million to buy new Fall programming in LA while cutting their Canadian production orders back to about an hour of new drama or comedy apiece.

And really, why spend money on new shows when you already have a lot of stuff people already aren't watching that you can renew so it'll look like you're committed to Cancon while amortizing your investment over enough episodes that you've got something you can dump offshore.

But if we've really saved local TV, how come CTV has applied to the CRTC for a little relief from requirements on its "A" channels?

The network has asked/instructed the Commissioners to now…

1. Eliminate all programming exhibition requirements.

2. Eliminate any requirement that 75% of priority programming be independently produced.

3. Eliminate the obligation to broadcast Canadian programs 60% of the year.

In return, CTV offers to make "best efforts" to support priority programs, programs of national interest and independently produced programs.

CTV's submission comes three months after Global filed one of its own with the CRTC basically asking for a break from genre protection so anything produced for any one of its specialty channels (or the free net) could run on all of the others. What better way to lower costs, maximize revenue streams and completely piss off your audience.

So here's where we stand after almost three solid years of whining and lobbying and cluttering the airways with self-serving drivel:

Cable companies -- still making billions.

Broadcasters -- still making billions (but forced to carry it in a different part of their pants).

Canadian creatives and production companies -- trying to hang onto their pants with little money for production, fewer buyers and less available shelf space.

Canadian audiences -- over-taxed to assist the industry, over-charged for TV signals and completely underserved with Canadian programming while being constantly harassed or cajoled into buying new channels that repackage what they've already seen.

Local TV saved? Your guess is as good as mine.

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