Canadians Brace for Pay-TV/Broadcaster Debates

Canadian multiplatform players are set to face off today on matters that have pitted north of the border cable and satellite TV companies against broadcasters that want the video services to pay for use of their signals.

The issue has resemblances to skirmishes U.S. pay-TV companies have faced when battling broadcasters. But the divide goes further to include the debate as to whether Canadians should receive U.S.-centric services like ESPN, and whether government-granted protections should be kept intact for so-called "genre" specialty channels, such as Canada's sports net TSN, which don't face competition from foreign programmers.

And some fret that any moves by Canadian regulators could raze a broadcasting scheme that backers said has nurtured a creative and robust domestic TV industry throughout the nation.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will begin its hearings on the items today.

For their part, broadcasters promoted a survey conducted by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting that suggested consumers don't think de-regulated cable and satellite companies would promote and deliver Canadian content.

"These results clearly point out that Canadians strongly support regulations that ensure access for independently owned broadcasting companies on both cable and satellite distribution systems in Canada," said Martha Fusca, president and CEO of Stornoway Communications, a Canadian specialty television channel operator. "The CRTC could make or break the sector depending on their decision."

Any final regulatory decision also could have big implications for Canada's cable and satellite TV players. Those companies include cable operators Rogers and Shaw and satellite TV companies Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice.