Local TV news faces challenges, too

While most headlines about the future of journalism have focused on how the internet is killing newspapers, local television news has difficulties of its own.

Canwest and CTVglobemedia have been cutting back on programming as local advertising revenue tumbles and more viewers tune into specialty channels. Smaller markets in Ontario have lost some television news programming, including at two of CTVGlobemedia’s A stations: CKVR in Barrie and CFPL in London. But the picture at another A station, CKNX in Wingham, is worse as it no longer carries local programming. It now relies on London’s CFPL – more than 100km away – for “local” TV news.

Programming at Windso’s CHWI was also set to face the same fate as its sister station CKNX, but was given a year-long reprieve after the Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced a 50% increase to the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) in July. The cable and satellite companies –including Bell, Telus, Shaw and Videotron – are required to contribute 1.5% of their gross broadcast revenues to the LPIF. They immediately passed on the cost to their customers.

The issue is all about money. The networks think the cable and satellite firms should pay for all their channels, not just the specialty channels. But the cable and satellite companies think that because local television signals are free, they shouldn’t have to pay.

Broadcasters say the market has changed.Private conventional TV profit dropped to $8 million in 2008, according to the CRTC. That’s down significantly from the $112.9 million reported in 2007 and $233.4 million earned in 2004.

Last week, the federal government decided to step in and resolve the dispute between the broadcasters and cable/satellite companies. It requested that the CRTC “consult the public on the implications of implementing a compensation regime for the value of local television signals.” A hearing is scheduled for December 2009.