March 19, 2010: Cable Community TV Channels Really Regional Networks

With the CRTC hearing on Canada’s community TV policy just over a month away, new research by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) has found that outside Quebec, “community” TV channels have been transformed into regional TV networks. “Small communities have lost their own community channels because of more concentrated cable ownership,” said CACTUS’ spokesperson Cathy Edwards. “New Brunswick used to have more than 30 separate and distinct community TV channels – but now has just one service in English and one in French, with local content inserted only occasionally.”

The CRTC first released a list of Canada’s 139 community TV channels at the end of January, which CACTUS used to analyze the channels’ schedules. “Since cable subscribers are paying more than $100 million a year for the right to create and produce programs for their own communities, we had hoped to find many diverse and distinct types of programs produced in and by Canadian communities for themselves,” explained Edwards.

The CACTUS research found that in English Canada there are only 19 distinct programming services, in which at least half of the programming schedule is produced locally. The rest replay programming produced primarily in larger centres.

Even when a service is "distinct" and more than 50% of the programming is local, the vast majority is not made by the community, but by cable company staff. Cable company reports released by the CRTC substantiate this research. In 2009, just 27% of programs were reported made by communities themselves, and CACTUS believes this figure is high. "We have heard widespread reports that cable companies report as 'access programming' any program that invites the public on for interviews, not programs actually produced by the public."

CACTUS believes that province-wide cable-system interconnection explains the shift from community to regional programming. “Lack of diversity is a major problem for the community TV sector,” Edwards commented. “How can these channels reflect the country's diversity,” she asked, “when five cable companies control 90% of them and cut costs by replaying the same staff-produced programs across provinces?”

CACTUS has proposed that the CRTC adopt a forward-looking, 21st century, community-based model for multi-media training and production that would bring local content back to more than 250 communities across Canada, at no new cost to subscribers. “Since most of the productions on cable community channels are made by staff, it’s too expensive to produce for every little community. A community-owned and operated model that welcomes community producers is the only model that can fill this growing void of local programming in Canada, as well as the thirst for new media training and access.”

CACTUS has posted a summary of its findings, along with a summary of the model it has proposed to the CRTC, on its web site at www.cactusmedia.ca. CACTUS will be participating in the CRTC’s April 26 community TV hearing.

Contact: Catherine Edwards, (819) 772-2862