Some CBC viewers cut off

Shaw says it will add CBC St. John’s channel when new satellite is launched

Deana Stokes Sullivan
Published on November 14, 2011
Shaw Direct will make changes by January 2013. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/ The Telegram

In Dire Straits’ popular “Money for Nothing” song, the band sings, “I want my MTV.”

Since the switch from analog to digital TV this year, some Newfoundlanders might be singing slightly different lyrics: “I want my CBC.”

When Canadian television viewers were being reminded earlier this year about the changeover, most advertisements said if you were a cable or satellite subscriber, you wouldn’t be affected.

But on Aug. 31, many people in this province found out that wasn’t exactly true.

Shaw Direct subscribers had no  CBC programming from St. John’s before the switch, except for the supperhour newscast, “Here and Now,” broadcast on the Shaw Direct channel 299, and that hasn’t changed.

But before Aug. 31, they could always watch CBC on any TV not connected to their satellite system. Now, that’s not possible without buying extra equipment, such as a digital TV signal converter box.

Denise Wilson, managing director for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, says she’s aware of the problem. She said CBC in this province has to make a special request to have any additional local programming broadcast by Shaw besides, “Here and Now.”

As an example, Wilson said, prior to the provincial election, she made a request that Shaw carry CBC’s local election coverage on its 299 channel and Shaw agreed.

“They have been very accommodating in doing that, I must say, but there are other programs that they’re not carrying … it’s not an ideal way to operate, obviously. We want our own local channel on Shaw, always have,” Wilson said.

“They are missing programs such as ‘Land and Sea,’ ‘On Point,’ now that we’ve started it, and ‘Late Night’ is not carried,” she said.

“So, yeah, it’s a big deal for us and it’s a big deal for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, for sure.”

Wilson said there is some good news in that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recently revised its policy for direct-to-home satellite providers, requiring them to carry more local channels in the near future. The revised policy means Shaw will be required to carry the local CBC channel by January 2013.

A previous CRTC policy stipulated that satellite providers had to carry particular local channels, but required them to carry only two of the four CBC channels in the Atlantic provinces.

“For whatever reason — I have no idea — (Shaw) decided to carry the Maritimes Halifax feed, we’ll call it, and distribute that as an Atlantic feed to Newfoundland,” Wilson said.

“That’s not ideal, obviously, for us.”

CBC made a submission to the CRTC in November 2010, arguing that both Shaw and Bell Expressvu were not carrying enough local CBC and Radio-Canada channels in regions across the country. At the time Bell was carrying the CBC channel from St. John’s, but not Fredericton/Saint John, Charlottetown and Winsdor stations.

The missing stations on Shaw were CBC from St. John’s, Fredericton/Saint John, N.B., Charlottetown and Windsor, Ont. Both satellite providers have since added more local channels to their lineups.

From the Atlantic region, Shaw added the Charlottetown CBC station, but not CBC from St. John’s. It is, however, carried on channel 200 on Bell Expressvu.

The recent CRTC decision was based on CBC’s appearance before the commission, Wilson said.

“We made a very strong case for them to carry the channels they currently don’t carry, not only the CBC English services, but also Radio-Canada as well.”

A spokeswoman for Shaw Direct said the company wants to add the CBC-TV St. John’s channel, as well as other local channels in other regions, but currently it doesn’t have the capacity.

“We have two satellites that are full right now,” she said.

However, a third satellite, Anik G1, is being built and is scheduled to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2012. It will be operated by Telesat, but Shaw will be a primary user of it, the spokeswoman said, and when it’s launched, Shaw will put up the full CBC St. John’s signal.

“So, there is relief in sight.”

Shaw has described this situation to the CRTC and the commission understands the capacity issue, she said. That’s why it set Jan. 1, 2013 as the deadline to add the extra channels to allow time for the new satellite to be launched and become operational.

“We look forward to adding St. John’s, but we just don’t have the space right now. We recognize that it’s a competitive market and Bell does have it, so we try our best with the 299 channel, but that’s all we can do in meantime,” she said.

According to CBC, a number of its local stations will be added to Shaw Direct’s programming by Jan. 1, 2013, including CBC NL, Fredericton, Charlottetown and Windsor, as well as Radio-Canada channels from Rimouski, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Toronto and Regina.

Several stations will also be added to the Bell Expressvu by Aug. 31, 2012, including TV stations from Fredericton, Charlottetown and Windsor and Radio-Canada channels from Rimouski, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Toronto and Regina.

Wilson said this is “fabulous news” for CBC, especially in view of a recent five-year strategy announced by the corporation which included a commitment to have a regional presence across the country.

The strategy is to “make sure we’re not only seen in locations and regions like this province, but also to expand on what we have,” Wilson said.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, she said, CBC will be extending its news service into the weekends and doing two more television news inserts into various shows on the main network.

The current target for the television news expansion is April or early May 2012. Wilson said an online news expansion is happening now. Most CBC TV shows are also available for viewing on the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador website