Gatineau, Que. -
Those CTV and Global shows that come into your home courtesy of a cable or satellite company could soon hike your monthly bill - or even go dark - following a landmark ruling on how money flows in the broadcasting system.
The TV networks won their fight Monday before the country's broadcast regulator to negotiate a fee for their signal with cable and satellite providers, who have never paid before for those transmissions.
But the Canadian Radio-television and Telecomm-unications Commission (CRTC) also wants the Federal Court of Appeal to review the new "value for signal" system before it kicks in.
And the Conservative government will have to decide whether it can live with the decision, or balk against the threat of increased costs for consumers by prescribing a different scenario.
The broadcasters had warned that the future of local TV programming depended on their getting a solid new source of revenue, with advertising dollars drying up and audience numbers dwindling. The cable companies posted an 11.9 per cent rise in revenues in 2009, a recessionary year.
If the court gives the green light, the industry and consumers will be in for a wild ride. Suddenly, cable and satellite companies would be forced to negotiate with conventional broadcasters for payment to carry their signals.
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein underlines that payment can be in exchange for other considerations, and doesn't necessarily always involve cash changing hands. He is skeptical - as he was during last fall's consultation period - that consumers will see the cable bill hikes executives have been warning of.
"It's not the only game in town. After all, consumers can watch all of this on the Internet for free, and they might do that if you raise your cable company's freight too high," he told The Canadian Press.
"It's in the parties' own self interest to come up with a solution that's in the best interest of the consumer."
CTV's corporate vice-president Paul Sparkes celebrated the commission's decision.
"They have recognized that there is value associated with the content that we produce, so we're very happy with that," said Sparkes.
"I'd like to thank the thousands of Canadians who wrote in to the CRTC in support of our position and in support of local television."
However, the cable and satellite firms repeated their warnings of higher costs for consumers.
"Consumers are going to see increased bills on monthly basis for access to local programming, and that's the part that I find rather sad," said Mirko Bibic, Bell's senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs.
Rogers vice-chairman Phil Lind added, "We think the CRTC has essentially placed a tax on cable and satellite customers, so they're going to pay more."
TV stations would be able to withhold their signals completely from a cable or satellite company if they don't like the way negotiations are going. Because they pay for the rights of a given television show in a given season, the cable firm would be blocked completely from transmitting it in any capacity.