Quebecor fires a volley at CTV

PQ media giant wants CRTC to be fair when it comes to early regulatory relief

It might be vacation time, but Quebecor Media continues its relentless public campaign to shape Canadian broadcasting policy. This week it issued a press release telling the CRTC to deny CTV Globemedia’s recent request for regulatory relief.

In its landmark television policy ruling last March, the CRTC said conventional English-language networks could reduce overall Canadian content quotas both in terms of airtime (down from 60% to 55%) and spending (to 30% of gross revenue). The changes are to come into effect in late 2011, but CTV wants to implement them now.

‘It’s no secret that conventional television is struggling. We hope that doing it earlier will benefit us and put us on better footing,’ CTV’s executive VP of corporate and public affairs, Paul Sparkes told Playback Daily.

Sparkes is puzzled as to why Quebecor objects to its request. ‘It’s a bit odd that they would take this position. Most of these decisions have been made by the CRTC. We just want to take advantage of the new rules a bit earlier.’

In a separate application CTV has also asked the CRTC to relax a few regulations to help make its A” stations more profitable, including reducing Cancon rules to 55% and eliminating all exhibition requirements relating to priority programming, including the condition that 75% of it be made by independent producers. CTV also wants the CRTC to suspend the current rule that 50% of required hours of described video be original broadcasts.

‘The As are in dire circumstances. They just aren’t profitable. We want to try to make them profitable by having more control over our schedule,’ says Sparkes.

But Quebecor doesn’t see it that way. In a bombastic public statement issued July 12, the company told the CRTC that it must reject CTV’s requests.

‘Either you give the same flexibility to everyone or you reject their request,’ company spokesman Serge Sasseville told Playback Daily.

In its release, Quebecor Media, which owns Quebec’s profitable TVA network, maintains that ‘CTV was fully aware of the implications of its actions when the company acquired the A stations in 2007 as part of the CHUM Limited purchase,’ and therefore shouldn’t be provided additional regulatory flexibility.

Under the Broadcasting Act, rules governing French-language networks are different than their English Canadian counterparts. As a result, 60% of TVA’s programs must be Canadian content and it must also broadcast eight hours of priority programming per week, of which 75% must be produced by independent producers.

Quebecor’s public outrage at CTV’s request may be an attempt by Quebecor Media head Pierre Karl Peladeau to reduce Canadian content regulations for French-language broadcasters, a policy change he’s been advocating for in recent years in a series of editorials and public statements.