Bell Media: more LPIF dollars, or local TV stations will close

Money (2)

More small market subsidies for Bell Media, or local TV stations will close.

That’s the upshot of a presentation by multi-media colossus BCE Inc. to the CRTC on Monday as the regulator considers whether to kill, change or keep the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF), as is.

“Without LPIF funding, 10 of our 19 LPIF stations would have been unprofitable. Even with LPIF funding, six were unprofitable,” Mirko Bibic, executive vice president and chief lobbyist for BCE, reported to the CRTC on Monday.

Bibic also urged the regulator to extend the LPIF for another two years, but modify the industry fund to give more dollars to Bell Media’s small market TV stations.

“We’ve got the (LPIF) fund. Since we have it, and there’s still so much uncertainty, let’s keep it going for another two years. And let’s make it better,” he told the CRTC hearing in Gatineau, Quebec.

But when asked repeatedly by commissioners whether BCE would shutter any of the loss-making local TV stations if the LPIF was cancelled, Bibic conceded some will fade to black.

“Not all 19 will close,” he told the regulator at one point, arguing that, without subsidies like distant signal compensation or the LPIF, “some of those will close.”

Bibic also hinted strongly that BCE was waiting to see whether the CRTC will eventually bring in first-time retransmission fees to be paid by cable and satellite TV operators for local TV stations signals.

CTVglobmedia in 2009 made the same small market TV station closure threat when the broadcaster said it then faced mounting losses amid a Canadian TV ad revenue collapse.

That same year, the CRTC ordered 1.5 per cent of the gross broadcast revenues of major cable and satellite TV operators to be paid into the LPIF to mostly subsidize local TV station news-gathering operations.

But CTVglobemedia was since acquired by BCE, and rebranded as Bell Media. And the national TV ad market has recovered, leading the CRTC to review the status of the LPIF during Monday’s hearing.

Even so, Bibic insisted Bell Media TV stations have not received their fair share of LPIF subsidies, underlining the need for change if the fund is to continue.

“Under the current LPIF model, we expect to continue to be a net payer into the LPIF of about two million dollars annually,” he told the commissioners.

The CRTC review of the LPIF continues through Monday.