Television Providers Petition CRTC to Offer Community Channels Divided by Language

Prior to 2006, there was only ever one 'community channel' in a given neighbourhood. In 2006, Rogers petitioned the CRTC to divide its Ottawa community channels along linguistic lines. Other cable and satellite TV providers have been following Rogers' lead lately, a worry trend that takes Canadian 'community TV' ever further from its roots and more and more a copy of what's already available on commercial local TV.

But why?

The CRTC expects cable and satellite television service providers to spend 5% of their revenues on Canadian production. If they elect to offer a 'community channel' in a given licence area, they are allowed to retain between 1.5 and 2% of the 5% for the operation of the channel. The remainder flows to the Canada Media and other production funds that support professional production nationally.

Almost all cable and satellite companies have elected to operate a community channel given this choice, because it gives them some control over how a portion of their contribution to Canadian production is spent, and enables them to leverage local branding and advertising.

In 2006, Rogers proposed to the CRTC to offer two community channels in Ottawa: one programmed exclusively in French and the other in English. Prior to that time, there had always been two community channels in Ottawa, one in the east and one in the west, because the city had been divided into two cable service areas. However, anglophones and francophone volunteers and community producers were welcome at both facilities, and each aired a mix of content, depending on the programs being made at any given time. There was usually more anglophone programming produced from the western studio location on Richmond Rd. (one-time Ottawa Cablevision, and then Maclean Hunter) and more francophone programming produced in the east of town (the one-time Skyline channel), reflective of where most anglophones and francophones lived. Each facility was supported with 2% of the revenues collected from cable subscribers in that half of town.

Anglophones and francophones, as well as other minority and special interest groups mingled at both facilities, cross-fertilizing one another's ideas and contributing to a vibrant mix of programming that reflected the neighbourhoods where they lived.

Rogers' proposal to the CRTC was that it could better serve anglophones and francophones if it were allowed to retain 4% of the revenues collected in the whole city for community programming, of which 2% would support an anglophone community channel headquartered in West Ottawa, and 2% would support a francophone community channel headquartered in East Ottawa.

The CRTC accepted Rogers' argument. When the CRTC's community TV policy was reviewed in 2010, Rogers' one-time special case was made a permananet part of policy, paving the way for other broadcast distribution undertakings (or BDUs, which include cable, satellite, and other TV service delivery companies) to apply to the CRTC to be allowed to do the same thing. In the fall of 2013, Bell petitioned the CRTC to be allowed to retain 4% of its revenues in Ottawa and Montreal in order to offer two separate community channels. In the fall of 2013, Videotron petitioned the CRTC to be allowed to retain 4% of its revenues in Montreal (one of the largest licence areas in Canada) in order to operate two separate community channels. In January, Rogers petitioned the CRTC to be allowed to retain 4% of its revenues in Fredericton and Saint John in order to offer two separate linguistically divided community channels in those cities.

Aside from the flawed principale of separating communities on community media--when the point of having community media is to bring them together (not to mention third-language groups... where do they go?) --CACTUS has also intervened in each of these proceedings to point out that these companies' rationale for needing double the money to operate two community channels doesn't hold water.

In the private system, yes. If you wanted to program two channels in two different languages, you might need double the money, particularly if you produced the programming from two separate programming facilities. (In each of the instances noted above, the company in question has not proposed to create a second programming facility, only to offer additional programming in the second language from the same production facility.) However, under a community model, it is the volunteers who produce the programming, not staff. If you have a budget of a million dollars to train and support a population of say 1 million people to make programming, it doesn't cost more if 500,000 of those people happen to be English, and 500,000 happen to be French. It's still the same total number of people you need to train and assist during the production process. You just need to hire bilingual staff, which isn't hard in the bilingual cities where BDUs have felt there is a case to offer two community channels.

The fact that the BDUs can make these arguments and the CRTC accepts them over and over is discouraging, because it underscores the fact that not only do the BDUs really have no concept of what community media is about (or perhaps more fairly, they've lost it over the last 15 years), but the CRTC doesn't seem to either.

If you're interested to read CACTUS interventions against these divided community channels, click the links below. If you live in the communities affected by these applications, we encourage you to contact your regional CRTC Commissioner to voice your concerns.

Bell's Application to Retain 4% of Revenues for Dual Community Channels in Ottawa and Montreal.

CRTC Commissioner for Ontario: Raj Shoan (416) 954-6269
CRTC Commissioner for Quebec: vacant 514-283-6607

Videotron's Application to Retain 4% of Revenues for Dual Community Channels in Montreal.

CRTC Commissioner for Quebec: vacant 514-283-6607

Roger's Application to Retain 4% of Revenues for Dual Community Channels in Fredericton and Saint John.

CRTC Commissioner for the Atlantic: Elizabeth A. Duncan
(902) 426-2644