Rogers calls for market-driven fund

Cable giant breaks silence on CTF, telling CRTC that distributors need a separate fund to turn out shows that will click with audiences, while shooting down talk of money for new media

OTTAWA-GATINEAU — Rogers Communications told the CRTC Tuesday that a new fund should be created from the approximately $140 million that distributors pay to the Canadian Television Fund, so that private broadcasters can focus on market-oriented productions that would resonate with Canuck audiences.

Money from distributors should ‘be directed to a separate fund, rather than be diverted to a separate funding stream within the CTF,’ said Rogers vice-chair Phil Lind in opening remarks before the commission. ‘From our perspective, it has become increasingly complex to harmonize a variety of government public policy goals and objectives with those that resonate with the private sector funders.’

Under the Rogers proposal, the federal government’s $120-million contribution to the CTF would then go to the CBC, educational broadcasters and regional producers.

Unlike fellow cable giants Shaw Communications and Quebecor Media — which temporarily withdrew their CTF payments last year, sparking debate that led to this week’s public hearings on the fund’s effectiveness — Rogers has maintained a low profile on the issue.

‘We don’t think it’s a radical proposal. We’re interested in Canadian eyeballs for Canadian programs,’ Lind told the commission. However, he added, ‘It’s confusing when everybody has their hand in the pie. To maximize Canadian audiences in primetime, social policy objectives need to be elsewhere.’

But under pointed questioning from the three-member CRTC panel — consisting of regional commissioner Rita Cugini, CRTC vice-chair of broadcasting Michel Arpin and national commissioner Michel Morin — Rogers executives conceded that dividing the CTF into two streams might be just as effective.

A CRTC task force last year recommended that the fund should be split into separate cultural and commercial streams. This proposal was adamantly rejected by CTF managers, producers, directors, writers, actors and the CBC on Monday.

‘We do think [the CTF] is working, but it’s not perfect,’ said Ken Englehart, VP of regulatory at Rogers. ‘We think it’s losing its way a bit…I continue to be amazed at how complicated it is.’

Rogers’ idea is similar to a proposal put forward by Quebecor, which wants to divert the money it currently pays into the CTF into a fund it would administer itself. Quebecor is also pushing for some CTF money to go toward new media projects, a notion shot down by Rogers.

‘Diluting the CTF’s limited resources, in order to fund programs designed for unregulated new media platforms, would impair the ability of the fund to meet its core objectives,’ said Lind. ‘There are other sources of funding for new media content, including a $14.5-million new media fund at Telefilm Canada.’

Rogers executives also asked the CRTC to expand the types of programming that would be eligible for CTF funding. In the past, Rogers has complained that third-language productions can’t tap into the fund.

Lind noted that while Rogers Cable is one of the largest private contributors to the CTF — about $315 million since the fund’s inception — the company’s broadcast arm has one of the smallest CTF envelopes of all the over-the-air broadcasters. The company recently acquired the Citytv stations, and also owns the multilingual OMNI stations.