January 22, 2003  Stornoway appeals CRTC’s CPAC licence renewal decision Stornoway Communications, owner of the Category 1 digital public affairs ichannel, is asking Cabinet to set aside a CRTC decision that it believes "radically alters" the licence of the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC). It says the changes in CPAC’s licence put it in direct competition with ichannel. In November, the CRTC granted CPAC a wholesale rate, mandated basic carriage, and allowed it to expand its programming categories to include analysis and interpretation programming, long-form documentary and informal education/recreation and leisure shows (CCR, Nov. 22/02). The changes approved during CPAC’s licence renewal were opposed by Stornoway, the National Film Board, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. For more on the appeal, see the upcoming issue of Canadian Communications Reports.  Craig Wireless has sights on merger in upping stake in Look Communications; UBS also acquires shares in LookCraig Wireless International Inc. has announced that it has acquired 7,196,872 common shares in Look Communications Inc. from an undisclosed third party to bring its current holdings to 8,770,040 common shares representing 29.9% of the outstanding common shares of the wireless cable operator. It also stated that it plans to buy an additional 752,923 common shares to bring its holdings in Look to 32.5%, subject to CRTC approval. Craig Wireless, whose SkyCable subsidiary provides wireless cable and Internet service in Manitoba and SkyCable Pacific unit is close to providing service in B.C., stated in a media release that it has bought the shares for "investment purposes." However, Craig Wireless president Boyd Craig was quoted by the Winnipeg Free Press as saying that Craig Wireless planned to meet next week with Look’s other shareholders to see if they’d be interested in merging Look’s Eastern Canadian operations with Craig Wireless’ Western Canadian operations to establish a new national high-speed wireless Internet and digital television network. Craig has not yet filed an application with the CRTC. Look Communications will not comment on the Craig Wireless announcement. On the same day that Craig made its announcement, Look announced that Unique Broadband Systems Inc. (UBS) had acquired 5,866,247 common shares in Look for about $2.4 million. UBS created a wholly owned subsidiary, UBS Wireless Services Inc., to acquire the shares. The transaction was completed through a private placement. The deal is different from an arrangement that was announced last August but never concluded (CCR Update, Nov. 28/02; CCR, Aug. 15/02). Under the initial deal, UBS would have invested $5 million in Look for a 9% stake. It also involved a $2.4-million equipment supply agreement. UBS could have increased that stake to 23% on conversion of a debenture.  Telesat Canada files insurance claim on Anik F1 satelliteTelesat Canada has filed a claim with its insurers over a degrading power problem with its Anik F1 satellite that will shorten the life of the two-year-old satellite. The move was disclosed in Shaw Communications Inc.’s fiscal 2003 first-quarter report to shareholders released last week. The Anik F1 satellite, built by Boeing Satellite Systems and put in service in February 2001, is used by Shaw’s satellite division Star Choice Communications Inc. and various broadcasters. In its latest report to Telesat on the problem in December 2002, Boeing indicated that power levels on the satellite would continue to degrade at the rates observed to date, according to Shaw. "Based on the most recent update from Telesat, we do not anticipate any incremental cost to the Company or disruption to our DTH and satellite services customers," Shaw said. It added that Telesat is now moving forward with plans to replace Anik F1 in a timeframe that will ensure continuity of service for its North American customers. Boeing first informed Telesat of a gradual decrease in available power onboard the satellite in August 2001. Last summer, Boeing advised Telesat that if the situation did not change, at then-observed rates of power degradation, certain core services on the satellite could be affected starting in mid-2005. "Telesat has begun the planning required to take the appropriate action to provide its customers with continuous service," the satellite carrier said in its Q3 2002 report to shareholders. "Telesat has insurance in place to cover such occurrences and intends to file a claim at the appropriate time. Although management believes that any claim it makes in connection with the power anomaly will be resolved successfully, there can be no assurances on the ultimate timing, amount or success of the settlement of such claim."  Telesat is likely to provide further details of the Anik F1 situation in its fourth-quarter financial report, which is due out shortly. Alliance Atlantis reviewing value of its investment in Headline Media Group as Headline’s losses mount Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. is reviewing the value at which its 32% interest in Headline Media Group Inc. is carried on its books. It is currently valued at about $27.3 million. Headline Media group announced more bad news on January 9, stating that losses before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization at its broadcast group for its fiscal fourth quarter ended Aug. 31, 2002 increased $10.6 million to $17.7 million. The increased loss was attributable to an increase in the operating loss of PrideVision TV, a $12-million charge to terminate a rights contract that the Score had with Major League Baseball, and the write-down of certain PrideVision TV assets. The write-down of certain PrideVision assets, including fixed assets, programming and deferred charges, resulted in a one-time charge of $4.3 million. At Aug. 31, the Score had 5.2 million paying subscribers, and PrideVision TV generated $0.2 million in subscriber revenue during the quarter with about 20,000 paying subscribers. Headline Media Group completed a private placement of shares to controlling shareholder Levfam Holdings to raise $500,000, which will be used primarily to fund the operations of PrideVision and for working capital purposes. Headline Media Group reiterated its intentions to find additional investors or a buyer (CCR Update, Jan. 8/03), and to look at renegotiating cash commitments, further reducing its workforce, a further restructuring of business units, which could include the divestiture of certain assets of the company.  "The company’s successful execution of its revised business plan is dependent upon a number of factors that involve rights and uncertainty. In particular, revenues in the specialty television industry, including subscription and advertising revenues, are dependent upon audience acceptance, which cannot be accurately predicted. In addition, the distribution of the company’s specialty television channel, PrideVision TV, is limited to digital subscribers," the company noted in its fourth-quarter report. "Initial consumer acceptance is encouraging, however, it remains uncertain that the penetration rates required to ensure profitability will be achieved." Shaw launches VOD and HDTV in Greater Vancouver areaShaw Cablesystems last week announced the launch of video-on-demand (VOD) and high-definition television (HDTV) service in the Greater Vancouver area. The VOD launch follows initial deployment of the service in Calgary last September. Also last week, the cableco announced in its fiscal 2003 first-quarter financial report to shareholders that VOD will be launched in Saskatoon, Fort McMurray, and Edmonton this year. In a conference call with financial analysts to discuss its Q1 results, Shaw executives declined to reveal VOD buy rates, saying it is too early to discuss take-up rates particularly since there remains a lack of VOD content available.On the HDTV side, Shaw is now deploying the Motorola DCT 5100 HD digital cable set-top box, which it is currently selling for $698.98. First-time digital cable customers buying the HDTV-capable box are offered $100 in programming credits. Shaw is currently providing access to three HDTV channels that frequently broadcast HDTV programming, including two U.S. signals from Seattle.  No need to amend New Media Exemption Order, CRTC concludes in report to CabinetIn a report released January 17, the CRTC concluded that there is no need to change its New Media Exemption Order to allow Internet-based retransmission of over-the-air television signals (Broadcasting Public Notice 2003-2). In response to Cabinet’s request for an inquiry into Internet retransmission, the CRTC ruled that Internet retransmission of over-the-air TV signals has the potential to do significant damage in relatively short order, while noting that the practice also has the potential to foster innovative new business models and is unlikely to compete directly with traditional broadcasting in the foreseeable future. "Rather, Internet retransmission undertakings should remain exempt from these and from other requirements under Part II of the Broadcasting Act," the CRTC concluded. "In addition, since the recent amendments to the Copyright Act address the main concern identified in this proceeding, the commission sees no need to amend the New Media Exemption Order at this time." For more details, see CCR affiliate publication CNM Update, Jan. 17/03, and the upcoming full issue of Canadian NEW MEDIA. Aliant files for experimental retransmission licence for TV on my PC serviceAs expected, Aliant Telecom Inc. has filed an application with the CRTC for an experimental licence to continue its TV on my PC service (CCR, Sept. 12/02). TV on my PC consists of the Internet retransmission of several specialty television services, with which Aliant has signed agreements, and some over-the-air TV stations, for which it relied on the compulsory retransmission regime under the Copyright Act and paid the same royalties as cablecos (CCR, Dec. 5/02). Bell Canada chief regulatory officer Sheridan Scott says Aliant’s ability to control the geographic distribution of the service seems to put its application onside with the CRTC’s January 17 decision to not re-open the New Media Exemption Order to deal with Internet retransmissions. Aliant’s filing was expected given that Bill C-11, which passed in December 2002, denied companies operating under the New Media Exemption Order the protection of the compulsory licensing regime. Scott says part of Aliant’s application to the CRTC is an offer to work cooperatively with broadcasters as a way to keep over-the-air signals as part of the TV on my PC service. "Part of the experimental licence will offer up to broadcasters the ability to work with Aliant to use it as a bit of a test bed if they want to look at some of the ways Canadians will use these new services," Scott says. For more details, see CCR affiliate publication CNM Update, Jan. 20/03, and the upcoming full issue of Canadian NEW MEDIA. Part of money raised from Sun Media offering to be used to pay down Vidéotron debtSun Media Corp. has announced that it plans to offer about US$200 million of senior notes and enter into new back credit facilities of Cdn$385 million. The proceeds of the sale of the senior notes and the new bank credit facilities will be used to pay a dividend of Cdn$220 million to parent Quebecor Media Inc. Cdn$150 million of the Cdn$220 million will be used to reduce the long-term debt of cableco Vidéotron ltée. Quebecor Media announced on January 21 that it reduced its debt by Cdn$350 million in its 2002 fiscal year ended December 31 to Cdn$3.3 billion.  ACTRA raises dues for first time since 1991The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) is increasing its basic dues from $130 to $175 a year, and its working dues from 1.75% to 2% of earnings, effective March 1, 2003. The dues cap will increase to 2% of the first $150,000 of earnings (from $2,000 to $3,000). ACTRA Performers’ Rights Society (PRS) will also implement a service charge of 5% on money collected on behalf of full members. The dues increase was approved by 69.34% of members who voted on the issue, while the ACTRA PRS service charge was approved by 57.17%. "ACTRA’s revenues are no longer adequate to cover costs of our organization and maintain services members expect," ACTRA states in a notice posted on its web site. "ACTRA hasn’t increased dues since 1991 – 12 years ago. In the past five years, the industry has grown by over 130%, but our dues have stayed at 1991 levels. In real dollars, dues have declined by 30% as a result of inflation." The Movie Network trumpets its high-definition programmingThe Movie Network said in a media release that it broadcasts an average of 12 high-definition movie titles per month, and 16 Dolby Digital 5.1 titles per month, with multiple showing times. "Our mission is to keep premium television premium," said Chris Bell, VP of technology, in the release. "And as such, to meet the demands of our subscribers who increasingly invest in sophisticated home entertainment environments, we became early adopters of HDTV and Dolby 5.1 audio technologies." The pay TV channel, owned by Astral Media Inc., plans to broadcast numerous movies in HDTV in 2003, including Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Shrek and Traffic. WIFT-T inaugurates new Banff mentorship awardWomen in Film and Television – Toronto (WIFT-T) has announced the new annual Warner Bros. Entertainment Banff Mentorship Award program, which will send a female producer or director to the 2003 Banff Television Festival. The national program is open to emerging Canadian female producers and directors working in television drama or documentary productions. The deadline for applications is Feb. 17, 2003. Vidéotron high-speed Internet customer base reaches 300,000Quebec cable operator Vidéotron ltée announced January 15 that it had gained 100,000 new high-speed Internet customers in the past 16 months to reach a total of 300,000. Licensing agency doesn’t have to repudiate Anne of Green Gables trademarksA licensing agency formed in partnership with the Prince Edward Island government won’t be forced to give up control over several Anne of Green Gables trademarks. On December 20, a Federal Court of Canada judge dismissed a motion for partial summary judgement against Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority (AGGLA) by television production company Sullivan Entertainment Inc. Sullivan brought the motion as a pre-emptive strike against the AGGLA, which Sullivan fears will interfere with the upcoming distribution of its new Anne of Green Gables, The Continuing Story – an animated series with associated merchandise.  CRTC sets March 24 hearing to consider applications for new Category 2 and radio licencesThe CRTC has scheduled a public hearing for March 24 to hear a number of applications for more Category 2 digital specialty television licences and new radio stations (Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing 2003-1). The commission will consider applications from Dieter Kohler for The Cult Movie Channel, The Armed Forces Network, The Hunting Channel, and The Auto Channel. It will also evaluate numerous bids for radio licences, including an application by RadioMédia Inc. for a French-language radio network to broadcast Montreal Canadiens games. Comments on the applications are due Feb. 27, 2003.  Canadian Television Fund announces application datesThe next deadline for applying for funding for drama, children’s and youth, and variety and performing arts productions through the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) is Feb. 12, 2003. But CTF organizers say that complete applications can be submitted as early as Jan. 29, 2003. Documentary applications can be submitted anytime between Feb. 26, 2003 and the deadline of March 12, 2003. Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television announces pre-Genie screeningsThe Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television has announced that public pre-screenings for the Best Motion Picture nominees will be held in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa between January 31 and February 6. The 23rd Annual Genie Awards will be held in Toronto on February 13. QUARTERLY EARNINGS AND SUBSCRIBER RESULTS Improvement in advertising market helps Astral Media achieve another strong quarter EBITDA at Montreal-based Astral Media Inc. grew 44% to $29 million in its fiscal 2003 first quarter ended Nov. 30, 2002 from $20.2 million during the same period a year earlier, the company reported January 22. Results of the current year include the contribution of the recently acquired Télémédia radio assets. Net earnings in the first quarter increased 65% to $16.1 million from $9.8 million in the first quarter last year. Astral announced revenues from its television operations of $86.9 million, up from $79 million a year earlier. Television EBITDA was $24.4 million, up from $18.1 million a year earlier. Astral president and CEO Ian Greenberg attributed the "robust quarter" principally "to a strong increase in the advertising market felt across all our properties and by sustained television subscriber growth." EBITDA increases 12% at CanWest Global, but new diginets still losing moneyCanWest Global Communications Corp. reported combined EBITDA of $214 million for the first three months of its 2003 fiscal year, ended Nov. 30, 2002. The figure represents a 12% increase from the pro forma combined EBITDA of $191 million recorded during the same period last year. Net earnings for the quarter were $68 million, compared to $45 million in the same quarter a year earlier, excluding a one-time gain from the sale of CKVU -TV. CanWest’s Canadian television operations generated $212.5 million in revenue during the quarter, up from $200.8 million during the same quarter a year earlier. The Canadian television operations generated $81.8 million in operating profit, up from $75.5 million the previous year. But CanWest Global’s television operations in development in Canada, including its new digital specialty TV channels, lost $424,000, according to the financials. CanWest noted that there were improvements in all of its Canadian and international broadcasting operations. "I am encouraged by the strength of the recovery in advertising markets seen first in our international broadcasting assets and that is now increasingly evident in our Canadian television and newspaper operations," CanWest president and CEO Leonard Asper said in a media release. Earnings up at Cogeco Inc. in Q1 2003 due to gains from TQS purchaseEarnings at Cogeco Inc. climbed 25% year-over-year in its fiscal 2003 first quarter ended Nov. 30, 2002, due in part to its acquisition of 60% of the TQS television network in the second quarter of fiscal 2002. Cogeco posted a profit of $3.4 million, up from $2.7 million in the same quarter a year earlier. The company reported that revenue at its television division increased 306.7% in the quarter over the same period a year earlier, with 281.3% of the increase resulting from the acquisition of TQS. TQS achieved a 15.3% viewing market share for the fall of 2002, according to BBM audience ratings in the 18-40 age group for the French-speaking population. The figure represents an improvement over the 14.4% market share achieved in the same period a year earlier.  Persona sees lowest basic cable subscriber losses in more than three years; digital cable subscriber growth slowsPersona Inc. lost just 760 net basic cable subscribers before cable system acquisitions in its fiscal 2003 first quarter ended Nov. 30, 2002, its lowest quarterly subscriber loss in nearly three and a half years, according to financial results released by the cable operator on January 20. Persona’s cable subscriber base actually increased to 268,900 due to previously announced cable system acquisitions in the Caribbean and Ontario. On the digital cable front, Persona added fewer digital cable subscribers in the quarter than it did in the same period a year earlier, but subscriber growth improved quarter-over-quarter. The cable operator added 1,518 net digital cable subscribers in Q1 2003 to end the quarter with a total of 17, 513 subscribers. This compares to net digital subscriber additions of 2,845 in the same quarter last year and 925 in Q4 2002. Persona had 22,028 digital cable set-top boxes deployed at Nov. 30, up from 19,745 at the end of the previous quarter.  On the financial side, Persona reported EBITDA of $18.8 million at a 44.1% margin for the three months ended Nov. 30. The figure comprises Canadian EBITDA of $11.9 million at a 42.9% margin and Caribbean EBITDA of $6.9 million at a 46.3% margin. The company stated that "despite subscriber base erosion and increased signal costs in its Canadian cable operations, the rapid growth of its Internet business had enabled it to produce a relatively stable level of EBITDA in Canada in the first quarter of this year as compared to the first quarter of last year." In particular, the primary driver in the Caribbean region was Cable Bahamas’ rapidly growing Internet business, which accounted for $1 million of its total $1.2 million EBITDA growth. Shaw subscriber growth rebounds in Q1 2003Shaw Communications Inc. started its 2003 fiscal year with good basic cable and digital cable subscriber growth following two consecutive quarters of dismal results, according to first-quarter financial results released by the cable operator last week. Shaw’s basic cable customer base increased by net 12,526 in the quarter ended Nov. 30, 2002, compared to net losses of 28,679 customers in the previous quarter and 19,000 in the quarter before that. But growth was lower in this year’s first quarter versus last year’s, when 19,094 net basic cable subscribers were added. Shaw attributed overall customer growth in Q1 2003 to the seasonal success of its "Back-to-School" marketing campaigns and continued success of its bundling strategies including the launch of video-on-demand in Calgary. On the digital cable side, Shaw added 19,823 net digital cable set-top boxes and 17,153 net digital cable households in the quarter to end the period with a total of 515,427 digital boxes deployed in 469,446 digital households. This compares to net additions of 1,657 digital boxes in the previous quarter and 5,976 in the quarter before that. (Past digital household growth not reported.) As with basic cable subscribers, digital cable growth was lower in this year’s first quarter versus Q1 2002, when 81,130 net digital boxes were added. All numbers include Shaw’s U.S. cable systems in Texas and Florida, which are close to being sold. On the financial front, revenues were up 14% in Q1 2003 compared to Q1 2002 and cash flow from operations increased 78% in the quarter over the same period last year, including $28.2 million in cash flow from the cable division. Star Choice subscriber growth continues to slowSatellite TV operator Star Choice Television Network Inc. added fewer subscribers in the first quarter of its 2003 fiscal year compared to the same quarter last year, according to first-quarter financial results released by Star Choice parent Shaw Communications Inc. last week. The satellite TV operator added 19,192 net subscribers in the period ended Nov. 30, 2002, compared to 45,323 net subscribers added in Q1 2002. It marks the seventh consecutive quarter in which Star Choice has added fewer subscribers compared to the same period a year earlier. Shaw blamed the lower numbers on higher than normal churn in the quarter as a result of problems associated with a billing system conversion implemented in the fourth quarter of 2002. Churn rates have since improved, company executives told financial analysts in a conference call. iMagicTV reports third-quarter net loss of US$4.6 millionNew Brunswick-based iMagicTV reported a net loss of US$4.6 million in its fiscal third quarter ended Nov. 30, 2002. The loss is down from the net loss of US$5.9 million for the same quarter a year earlier. Revenues for the most recent third quarter were US$334,000, compared to US$337,000 for the same period last year. The company also recorded a one-time charge of about US$1.6 million as a result of continued cost reduction measures (CCR Update, Nov. 13/02). In a conference call on January 15, CEO Gerald Pond said that time was of the essence in looking at alternatives or at restructuring the company, which continues to lose money. But iMagic has picked up some new customers, including Telus Communications Inc., which is using its software to test its proposed digital TV service, and French TV broadcaster TF1, which is delivering broadband TV services in a field trial in Paris (CCR Update, Jan. 8/03). Company officials told investors during the conference call that the two deals were market trials with live users and revenue-generating agreements, and do not require further development expenses. Pond added that another iMagicTV customer, SaskTel, was having a "successful" launch of its telephony-based television service. "It’s early days…and I can’t comment on behalf of SaskTel as you can appreciate. The only thing that I can say is that they are satisfied with the targets that they have achieved in terms of take-outs as well as their revenue per customer. And they believe that this is a very successful launch," Pond said. INTERNATIONAL NEWS Powell says FCC doesn’t plan to drastically roll back media ownership rulesFederal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Michael Powell said recently that the regulator hopes to ensure that some existing regulations on media ownership remain in place. "We are working hard to make sure that the broadcast ownership rules are not completely swept away by the hand of the court," he said on January 16 in introductory remarks at a public hearing on media ownership held at Columbia University. He explained that there was a "rigorous" onus on the FCC to justify every two years each broadcast ownership rule under current market conditions, or else the rule is abolished. In the last two years, four of the FCC’s ownership rules have been challenged in court, and each time the rule was overturned. "Certainly no issue before the Federal Communications Commission is so important as the decision on whether to eliminate or significantly change our media concentration protections," said FCC commissioner Michael Copps. "At stake are core values of localism, diversity, competition and maintaining the multiplicity of voices and choices that undergrid our precious marketplace of ideas and that sustain American democracy." Added FCC commissioner Kevin Martin in his opening remarks, "The existing media ownership rules were crafted to promote their principles: competition, diversity, and localism. While the media marketplace may have changed since those rules were first adopted, our need to promote these core values has not. I remain committed to doing everything I can to ensure that the FCC adopts ownership rules that protect competition, diversity, and localism in today’s media environment." Magna Entertainment launches HorseRacing TV Aurora ON-based Magna Entertainment Corp. has launched HorseRacing TV (HRTV), a new 24-hour cable television network featuring live thoroughbred, harness, and quarter horse racing action from more than 70 racetracks in Canada and the United States. Coverage will also include post parades, odds and race results for up to 15 hours per day. Customers will be able to wager, where permitted by law, via phone or the Internet through XpressBet, Magna’s national account wagering system. The channel is offering guaranteed per-subscriber carriage fees of between 5 cents and 10 cents to cable operators in 34 states where XpressBet accepts in-home wagers, where Magna owns, operates or manages racetracks, or where horse racing television coverage is strategically important. Carriage deals have been secured in San Diego on Time Warner Cable’s digital tier, and in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, as a successor to Meadows Racing Network in more than 90,000 analog homes. Magna says it has also reached an agreement with the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC). "HRTV is unique in its ability to offer a new guaranteed revenue source for cable operators who are struggling with the increasingly high costs of live sports programming," said Bill Bridgen, president of HRTV. "Our reverse business model enables operators to provide one of television’s most important commodities – an exclusive, live sports product – while actually lowering overall programming costs." Bridgen was previously the VP of business development at Headline Media Group Inc., and was VP of affiliate relations with Fox Sports Net/Fox Cable Networks. Orders down at set-top box manufacturer Pace MicroSet-top box manufacturer Pace Micro experienced difficulties in the quarter ended Nov. 30, 2002 as deployment of set-top boxes around the world fell. Losses before taxes and amortization of goodwill amounted to 15.9 million British pounds for the quarter, compared with profits of 22.2 million British pounds for the same period a year earlier. Business was down due to ongoing problems associated with Pace’s U.K.-based cable customers, nthl and Telewest, and satellite TV distributor BSkyB’s renegotiated contract with Pace in its favour. Pace doesn’t expect to see increases in the U.K. market, where it has a 50% market share, but sees "opportunities for future growth" in Asia and continental Europe. In the U.S. market, low levels of shipments, combined with the high level of new product development and customer support, have resulted in continuing losses. Pace commenced shipments to its second major cable customer, Comcast Communications, but did not make further shipments to Time Warner Cable. Alcatel to provide DSL-streamed video-on-demand (VOD) service to Monaco TelecomBroadband equipment supplier Alcatel has signed a partnership deal with Monaco Telecom to offer video-on-demand (VOD) services via DSL-streamed television in Monaco, starting this month. Monaco Telecom will offer a range of on-demand movies to television sets to more than 200 Monaco residents for a six-month trial period. Monaco Telecom has already tested VOD via PC with 500 people during a nine-month period in 2002.