Rogers TV cancels seven local news programs

First Local, a weekly newsmagazine show that airs versions (with different hosts) in Barrie, Mississauga, Brantford, York Region, Durham Region, Stratford and Guelph, all in Ontario, has been cancelled.

The Collingwood, London and Kitchener editions of the show were cancelled in 2009 and 2010. The show also had a provincial edition in New Brunswick.

Julie Hensen, director of programming at Rogers TV (which boasts 34 community stations in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Ontario), told local reporters that the cancellation came in response to new CRTC programming requirements, which came into effect on January 1st.

The new requirements include an increase in access programming (local programming developed by a volunteer member of the community that involves said person in the production and editorial direction of the show).

The CRTC has introduced incremental increases, designed to help ease licensees into the change. TV stations were previously required to run 30 percent community-based access broadcasting, which has increased to 35 percent starting January 1st. In 2012 the requirement is 40 percent, 45 percent in 2013 and 50% by 2014. The same incremental rules apply to spending on access programming. Network programming maintaines its 40% share throughout.

First Local didn’t qualify because the concept came from Rogers’ staff. Rogers also claimed that the show was expensive to produce because of its heavy reliance on location shooting (Hensen calls it a “resource hog”). It plans to re-jig its programming to meet the new standards in local programming.

“As far of the percentage of access programming, we have tons. We do very well on that front thanks to the active involvement of our communities,” Hensen told The Wire Report. “The targets for access programming are not to blame here, it’s the spending requirement.”

Cindy MacDonald, the regional station manager of Rogers TV in Simcoe Country told Collingwood’s The Enterprise-Bulletin “We’re not abandoning the community. If anything, we’re doing more.” She added that no one is losing their job over the change in formatting.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re not cutting back, we’ re just re-assigning,” Hensen told The Expositor, a local Brantford paper.

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) says that the access programming that is created to replace First Local will benefit community television, The Wire Report reports.

“The result should be that their staff resources are employed more efficiently in enabling more production,” Catherine Edwards, a spokeswoman for CACTUS, said in an interview with The Wire Report.

Most of the country’s community TV stations are owned by one of three large cable companies — Rogers, Shaw and Cogeco Cable — which much pay a community broadcast levy of 2 percent of subscriber revenue.

Edwards points out that professionally produced news shows gobble up a lot of a station’s resources, so many community stations are dependant on imported content to fill the news hole. The shift toward access programming is

“What Rogers and all of the major cable companies have been doing for almost a decade is consolidating their staff resources rather than using the staff they have to work with the public to make shows proposed by the public,” she told The Wire Report.

“They’ve been consolidating their resources in these professionally-produced news magazines. First Local is an example. They might have been tying up five or six staff to produce one news program … instead of facilitating under an access model that one staff person would coordinate a volunteer-driven show.”

Of course, it remains to be seen how Rogers will spend the newly freed First Local funds.