October 8, 2003   ACTRA asks for more funding for Canadian Television Fund, review of 1999 TV policyThe Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) converged on Ottawa on October 7 to push the government to restore the $50 million it cut from the Canadian Television Fund over two years. “It is ACTRA’s position that the government must restore its contribution to the CTF to the pre-2003 budget level of $100 million and commit to increasing its ongoing contribution by an additional 20%,” ACTRA told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in an afternoon appearance. At a media conference earlier in the day, the union and some of Canada’s biggest TV stars, including Rick Mercer, Sonja Smits, Wendy Crewson and Paul Gross, also called for a review of the 1999 TV policy.  Brian Topp, executive director of ACTRA Toronto Performers, said the organization was demanding new rules that would require broadcasters to air Canadian dramas during prime time. The CRTC’s 1999 TV policy has been criticized for negatively affecting the production of homegrown drama. It eliminated spending requirements on Canadian content for large broadcasters, and expanded the definition of priority Canadian programming. As a result, some broadcasters have commissioned documentaries and other genres of programming, rather than drama, to fulfill their Canadian content requirements. ”It’s hard to believe Canada could make an even bigger mess of its broadcasting system, but that’s what we’re about to do if things don’t change,” said Canadian comedian and actor Rick Mercer. “We are surrendering the most powerful medium we have. If we don’t change course right now, Canadians will be listening to and watching Americans 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on every channel they can click to.” The ACTRA delegation spent the day lobbying Members of Parliament on an individual basis, meeting with CRTC staff and appearing before the committee. Canadian Association of Broadcasters president and CEO Glenn O’Farrell is scheduled to make a statement before the Standing Committee on Finance at 5 p.m. today.CanWest founder Izzy Asper diesCanWest Global Communications Corp. founder and chairman Israel H. Asper passed away suddenly on October 7 in hospital in Winnipeg. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters was among the many groups and individuals in the industry to express condolences.Bell Canada inks deal with Microsoft TV, likely to apply for second broadcast distribution licenceMichael Coulson, associate director for Internet service provider development at Bell Canada, said last week that the telco had signed a memorandum of understanding to begin testing Microsoft TV in Toronto. He added that Bell Canada plans to test a set-top box that combines on-demand video services, an interactive programming guide and personal video recorder features, but would not specify when the tests would begin. He made the comments at the Digital Hollywood conference in Los Angeles, according to CNET News.com. Also, BCE Inc. executive VP Lawson Hunter last week said that the company would apply for another broadcast distribution licence to enable it to offer TV over terrestrial facilities as well as through its satellite TV distributor Bell ExpressVu LP. Both the Microsoft TV deal and a possible second application for a TV distribution licence appear aimed at helping Bell Canada compete more effectively against cablecos for customers residing in urban apartment buildings. Subsidiary Bell ExpressVu has filed a complaint with the CRTC accusing Rogers Cable Inc. of a litany of anti-competitive practices in protecting its hold on delivering TV service to multiple-unit dwellings in Toronto (CCR, July 31/03).Rogers gets CRTC approval on OMNI.2 distributionThe CRTC has approved a request by Rogers Cable Inc. to be allowed to distribute its over-the-air ethnic television channel OMNI.2 as a distant Canadian signal on the basic service of its cable systems (Broadcasting Decision 2003-492).Shaw expands PPV hockey services in Western CanadaShaw Cablesystems announced October 3 that it is introducing select Calgary Flames hockey games on pay-per-view (PPV) and expanding the number of Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks games available on PPV in Western Canada this National Hockey League season. Shaw is offering Flames fans a five-game package priced at $49.95, with the first-ever broadcast on PPV of a Calgary game on Dec. 18, 2003 against the Boston Bruins. The cableco is doubling the number of Oilers games available this year from last year to 10 games at a package price of $79.95. Edmonton games were introduced on PPV last year. The Oilers and Flames games will be available to subscribers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. A package of 17 Vancouver Canucks games, up from the 12 available last year, is priced at $129.95. It is the third year that Shaw has offered Canucks games to its digital cable customers in British Columbia. Individual games for the three teams can be bought for $10.95 each. The games are aired commercial-free, and contain news and exclusive interviews.Shaw expands VOD service to Prince AlbertShaw Cablesystems announced October 2 that it has expanded its video-on-demand (VOD) service to Prince Albert SK. Shaw on Demand is available to digital cable and high-speed Internet customers in Prince Alberta as well as Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Fort McMurray.Universal Studios to supply Shaw with content for its VOD serviceUniversal Studios Pay-Per-View (USPPV) has signed a long-term agreement with Shaw Communications Inc. to provide Shaw’s video-on-demand (VOD) service with major Hollywood movies and other programming content. Among the current releases that Shaw will receive from Universal are 2 Fast 2 Furious and Hulk. Further details about the agreement such as terms were not provided.Vidéotron again pumps subscriber figures, says record growth continues for third monthQuebec cable operator Vidéotron ltée reiterated on October 2 that its subscriber levels are continuing to grow, with even the number of basic cable customers once again registering net gains. The number of basic cable subscribers increased in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, 2003 by 11,000 to 1.423 million. That compares to a loss of 8,300 basic cable subscribers in the same period last year. September marked a third straight month of gains to Vidéotron’s basic cable subscriber base. The number of digital cable subscribers rose 19,000 in the quarter to 213,000 from the previous quarter. Last month, the cableco also announced gains to both its basic and digital cable subscriber base in July and August (CCR, Sept. 18/03; CCR Update, Sept. 10/03). At an investors conference last month in Montreal, Vidéotron president Robert Dépatie said the recent upward trend in subscribers could indicate a halt in subscriber losses experienced over the past few years.CanWest says Australian network registers record revenuesCanWest Global Communications Corp. reported October 7 that Network TEN, the Australian TV network of which it is a majority shareholder, had revenues of Australian $661 million, an increase of 12% over the previous year. It stated that EBITDA before non-recurring charges in fiscal 2004 was up 21% to Australian $211 million from Australian $174 million from the year before. TEN’s executive chair Nick Falloon credited the outstanding financial results to the network’s continued strength in ratings among young Australians and on market-leading strategies.Government to study reconciling different foreign ownership views of Heritage, Industry parliamentary committeesThe Canadian government will attempt to reconcile the conflicting recommendations on foreign ownership recommended by two separate House of Commons standing committees, with a review expected to be completed by spring 2004, Industry Canada minister Allan Rock announced September 25. Rock was responding to Opening Canadian Communications to the World, the report by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. It recommended a complete removal of foreign ownership restrictions on telecommunications carriers and broadcast distribution undertakings (CCR, May 8/03). The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, however, in its report called for the retention of current foreign ownership restrictions (CCR, June 20/03). ”The government of Canada recognizes that it has a responsibility to determine how best to reconcile the conflicting recommendations of the two standing committees. Accordingly, the government of Canada undertakes to immediately launch an analysis on this question. This review will be completed quickly, and by the spring of 2004, the government of Canada will be in a position to examine possible solutions,” Rock wrote in a letter to Walt Lastewka, who chaired the Industry committee. Rock also noted that he would be asking the Industry committee to undertake a review of the foreign investment restrictions in the context of the government’s innovation agenda. The Industry minister also indicated that the government would amend the Telecommunications Act to require a mandatory five-year review of the Act by parliamentary committee.Rogers applies for licence amendments that would allow for contribution to local expressionRogers Cable Inc. has applied for licence amendments for its Moncton NB and Ottawa ON cable systems to allocate up to 4% of gross revenues derived from broadcasting activities to local expression. Of those revenues, 2% would go to each of their French and English-language community channels in the two cities (Broadcasting Public Notice 2003-53). The request is being made pursuant to the CRTC’s policy framework for community-based media, which recognizes the merit of increased contributions to local expression. If approved, in the first two years Rogers wants to use 75% of the revenue on capital equipment purchases to upgrade the French-language community channels. Comments on the proposal are due by October 31.VisionTV celebrates 15th anniversary with “Spiritual Moments”Specialty television channel VisionTV is marking its 15th anniversary with a series of “Spiritual Moments” honouring important faith celebrations. The 30-second spots will be aired over the next 12 months. The segment currently airing pays tribute to 92-year-old Sikh runner Fauja Singh of Great Britain, who competed recently in a marathon in Toronto.CAB announces finalists for Gold Ribbon awardsThe Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has announced the nominees for the Gold Ribbon Awards, which honour achievement in broadcasting in various categories including community service, breaking news, humour, public affairs and promotion of Canadian talent. The judges settled on 118 nominations in 29 awards categories. There were 396 submissions. The awards will be presented to the winners at the CAB annual convention being held in Quebec City, November 9-11. The theme of this year’s convention is Private Broadcasting: The Voice of the Nation, The Choice of the Nation.Look Communications launches wireless broadband Internet service in TorontoWireless cable operator Look Communications Inc. has teamed up with Unique Broadband Systems Inc. to provide next-generation broadband Internet service to small- and medium-sized businesses in Toronto. The service is already available in Vaughan/Concord, with four more areas of the city expected to come on line later this fall.Telefilm Canada announces Immersion Europe: 2003 participantsTelefilm Canada has named the 36 Canadian producers who have been selected to participate in Immersion Europe: 2003, the annual Canada-Europe feature film financing forum that will be held this year in Paris from November 17-20. There were 67 applications from Canadian producers. The intention of the forum is for Canadian and European producers to forge strategic alliances to get their projects financed and completed. INTERNATIONAL NEWS   France Telecom partners with TPS to deliver TV service over ADSLFrance Telecom announced last month that it was partnering with satellite TV distributor TPS to launch a new digital TV service using ADSL technology in December 2003. Rollout will begin in Lyon at the end of the year, followed by Paris in the spring of 2004. TPS will manage subscribers and France Telecom will be responsible for the technical aspects of the service and subscriber and digital rights management. In Canada, Bell Canada sends TV programming from its satellite TV distributor Bell ExpressVu LP over VDSL lines in some multiple-unit dwellings because it can be difficult to attach satellite dishes to the building where it can receive signals.  FCC to hear from public on localism in broadcastingThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced six public hearings across the country to solicit input from consumers, industry, civic organizations and others regarding broadcast localism. The first hearing will be held October 22 in Charlotte NC. An FCC Localism Task Force will conduct studies to measure localism and efficacy of the FCC’s localism-related rules, organize a series of public hearings on localism, and advise the FCC on recommendations to Congress relating to the licensing of thousands of additional low-power FM radio stations, and make recommendations in the fall of 2004 on how the FCC can promote localism in television and radio.More electronics devices to include hard drives: In-Stat/MDRMore electronics devices will contain hard drive storage as the number of consumers wanting to store digital content increases, reports In-Stat/MDR. The research firm estimates that consumer electronics with integrated hard drives will represent about 7% of the total hard drive market this year, which is double that of 2002, it stated. The hard drive market is forecast to grow from 9.3 million units in 2002 to about 16.7 million units this year.