Without access to funding, Corus Entertainment says its Global television stations across the country will be left “in a precarious and unduly disadvantaged position” as Rogers Communications moves to redirect $13 million in local expression funding to its CityNews stations.
In a letter to the CRTC, dated May 10 and posted to the commission website this week, Corus requests confirmation of its eligibility to participate in the Independent Local News Fund (ILNF), funded by licensed broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs), which are required to contribute 0.3% of gross revenues from the previous broadcast year.
Corus – which is effectively controlled by the Shaw Family Living Trust – says given Rogers recent acquisition of Shaw Communications, Rogers has confirmed it will redirect Shaw’s approximately $13 million annual local expression funding from 15 Corus-owned Global stations to six competing Rogers-owned Citytv stations.
“Absent that confirmation, Corus’ 15 Global stations will soon be the only private, conventional local news broadcasters without access to regulated funding under the commission’s local and community television policy,” reads the letter, stating the company “has been left with no alternative but to pursue ILNF funding.”
“Conversely, denying or delaying this request would leave local Global Television stations across Canada in a precarious and unduly disadvantaged position, which could impact their news operations,” it continues, stating that it expects Rogers to discontinue funding to Global shortly.
The letter notes Corus raised concerns about the impact of losing that funding during the CRTC’s Rogers/Shaw proceeding, but the commission approved Rogers’ application to acquire Shaw’s broadcasting assets, nonetheless.
Competing for audiences, revenues
Global says losing access to regulated local news funds will leave it in an increasingly challenged position to compete for audiences and revenues with the public broadcaster, in addition to foreign over-the-top digital streaming services, which remain unregulated.
“On numerous occasions, the CRTC has acknowledged that the economics of local news are most precarious in small and mid-sized television markets. However, the Commission should also note that the $13 million formerly allocated to 15 Global stations will soon shift to just six competitor stations, all of which operate in metropolitan markets,” the letter continues. “Corus acknowledges Rogers’ legitimate interest in supporting its affiliated Citytv stations, but notes with concern that Global newsrooms operating in the same markets – to say nothing of vertically integrated CTV stations and publicly funded CBC stations – will operate at an undue competitive disadvantage.”
Corus says traditionally, over-the-air stations were able to deliver news as a public service based on internal cross-subsidies, but that’s no longer the case with the sharp decline in television revenues, noting a nine per cent dip in ad revenue, year-over-year in the period from Sept. 1, 2022 to Feb. 28 of this year.
“Broadcasters could afford to lose money on news coverage to build their relevance to local audiences, knowing those losses could be recouped from advertising revenues generated across the rest of their delivery system – primarily through prime-time programming. But in recent years these internal supports have collapsed,” it stated.
Corus says it is undergoing an “enterprise-wide cost review extending to all business units” which it states are already in a difficult financial situation.
“Against this backdrop, Corus has been left with no alternative but to pursue funding from the ILNF. To be sure, our company remains dedicated to local programming in Canadian communities, and Global News’ commitment to high-quality, public service journalism is unquestioned…In an era of rising polarization and misinformation, we view this work as a public service with immense cultural significance and want to continue doing it long into the future, but our ability to do so is in jeopardy. In the short-to-medium term, without access to regulated funding – or alternative regulatory relief – it will not be possible to sustain generally unprofitable news programming at current levels in 15 local markets.”
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