CRTC denies Sun News mandatory distribution

August 08, 2013  |  Chris Powell with files from Marketing staff  |  Comments

This story was updated @ 12:21 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2013
The sun will come out tomorrow… but the Sun News Network’s future could be in peril.

The CRTC has denied the 24-hour TV news service’s application for mandatory carriage, claiming the Quebecor Media-owned service did not successfully demonstrate that it meets the necessary criteria.

Thursday’s announcement leaves the future of the money-losing station, which debuted two years ago promising “hard news and straight talk,” in jeopardy. The channel is losing an estimated $17 million a year, losses that parent company Quebecor Media have called “unsustainable.”

Sun News was among 22 services – a mixture of new services, those that already had a mandatory distribution order and wished to renew it, and existing services seeking to obtain a first distribution order – seeking mandatory carriage from the CRTC.

Mandatory carriage is much sought-after by TV services because it provides them with a steady revenue stream from subscriber fees. It also enables services to charge higher ad rates because the service is carried in more households.

In its application, Sun News argued that despite being a “Canadian content powerhouse” – producing 96 hours a week of original Canadian content and “punching above our weight” in news coverage – it had been distributed like a “third-rate foreign news service.”

The service is currently available in only 4 out of 10 Canadian households, it said, and not offered at all by some BDUs including Telus and MTS.

Executives argued that much of the Sun News network’s audience is lower income and heavily oriented to elderly Canadians on fixed incomes. This group is more likely to subscribe to analogue services for reasons of cost and resistance to new technology, said Sun News.

The CRTC granted mandatory carriage for three new TV services: AMI TV, which caters to visually impaired Francophones; Nouveau TV5 and ARTV. It also granted five-year renewals for several existing services: AMI-TV’s English-language channel, AMI Audio, Canal M, APTN and CPAC.

In denying mandatory carriage applications from 12 services, including Zoomer Media’s Vision TV, Starlight: The Canadian Movie Channel and Fusion, the CRTC acknowledged that it has set the bar “very high” for obtaining a mandatory distribution order. “The CRTC’s policy requires that a service seeking such an order must clearly demonstrate its exceptional nature and that it achieves important public policy objectives under the Broadcasting Act,” said the federal regulator in its ruling.

Along with this ruling, the commission simultaneously announced hearings to review its policies on licensing and distribution of TV news services both foreign and domestic.

“The diversity of voices is an essential component of our society, particularly as they relate to news and information in the Canadian broadcasting system” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC, in a statement. “Television news channels provide an important public service by ensuring that Canadians are exposed to different opinions and perspectives on matters that concern all citizens. We are concerned that, under the existing rules, Canadian news services are not being given a pride of place in our broadcasting system.”

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