TV stations crying poor

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE

A campaign by this country’s television stations to get the public’s support in urging the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to allow them to generate more money could end up costing consumers more on their cable bill.

The television companies want the CRTC to force cable companies to pay them for carrying their signals. Currently, the cable companies pick up the television signals and pipe them into the homes of subscribers who pay for the service. They’ve never had to pay the television stations, which were satisfied with the revenue they generated from the sale of commercials.

Now, however, facing a drop in advertising as a result of the downturn in the economy, television stations are looking for ways to generate revenue and they are looking to the cable companies. We all know who will end up footing that bill. We, the consumers, as the cable companies add any extra costs to our bill.

Over the past few weeks, we have been inundated with appeals from some of our favourite television personalities for support. The folks at CTV, for example, held open houses across the country last weekend, ostensibly to show how important local television is and what we would lose were they to go out of business.

CTV and the other media conglomerates want the CRTC to force companies such as Rogers and Shaw Cable to pay them what is called a “fee for carriage”. Some analysts say such a move could add up to $6 a month to our cable bill, which is already too high as it is.

The television companies say the cable companies are already making enough money (we agree) and they should not be allowed to pass the cost on to the consumer. But, who will stop them?

It is true that the cable companies are making money by packaging and selling the television signals. It is also true, however, that these signals carry the television stations’ advertising which we – although we are paying for the cable service – are forced to watch. Isn’t it funny how all the stations seem to take their commercial breaks at the same time?

Shaw Cable has been running full page ads in daily newspapers for about a week now explaining their side of the story. Why Shaw? Why not Rogers, which is the dominant player in this region? Does it have something to do with the fact that Rogers also now owns television stations and will benefit either way?

According to Shaw, broadcasters are holding viewers “hostage, demanding a tax on subscribers as the ransom”, adding that viewers will get nothing in return for the additional cost, since the money will not go towards additional programs or services.

“They are asking you to save local TV when, in fact, they have been starving local programming across Canada for years.”

Apart from the couple hours of news aired throughout each day, how much local programming do we really get on our so-called local television? And how many of these stations are really local anymore? Remember CKCO, CFTO, CHCH, CKVR and other such stations? Whatever happened to them? Oh, yes, they were swallowed up by the conglomerates as part of the quest for dominance by the major players in the communications industry.

According to the Shaw ad, broadcasters “spent billions of dollars acquiring foreign programs, TV stations and newspapers …”

They have over-extended themselves. But, when the economy turns around they will again make lots of money. We, on the other hand, will be stuck with any additional charges.

Back in the day, consumers got their television signals from an antenna on the rooftop (or those awful rabbit ears on top of the television set), which were not always dependable and provided limited access. The cable companies made available a wider range of channels to viewers and provided the television companies with a much larger audience with cleaner and more dependable signals. This made it possible for the television stations to charge more money for their commercials.

The television companies should, instead, be paying the cable companies for this improved delivery system. And the cable companies should be passing that money back to us by reducing our cable bills. That’s something the CRTC should look into.

But, don’t hold your breath.

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