November 5, 2003  MTS looks to Federal Hill for help with VOD offeringManitoba Telecom Services Inc. (MTS) has contracted U.S.-based Federal Hill Communications to help it negotiate content-licensing agreements with movie studios and independent producers for its video-on-demand (VOD) service. It is still awaiting final approval of its VOD licence application from the CRTC, but hopes to roll out VOD in 2004. Federal Hill will provide advice on general VOD strategy, assist MTS in developing an internal programming division, and help set up an end-to-end content solution. Federal Hill announced last month that it would provide similar services to Saskatchewan Telecommunications (SaskTel) (CCR, Oct. 16/03). During a conference call to discuss third-quarter financial results, MTS stated that it had 7,100 TV subscribers at October 30, more than the 6,000 TV subscribers the telco was aiming to have by year-end. Cheryl Barker, president and COO of MTS Communications Inc., the MTS subsidiary responsible for the TV service, noted in the conference call that the telco was working with Bell ExpressVu LP to launch pay-per-view (PPV) in early 2004. The CRTC granted Bell ExpressVu amendments to its terrestrial PPV licence this summer that make the launch of a PPV service by the satellite TV distributor more economically feasible (CCR, Sept. 4/03).Cogeco inks VOD agreement with MGMCogeco Cable Inc. announced on November 3 that it had signed a video-on-demand (VOD) supply deal with MGM Home Entertainment. MGM will supply Cogeco with such new releases as Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, Agent Cody Banks and Jeepers Creepers 2 as well as older hits such as Get Shorty and The Terminator. No further details about the deal were released. Cogeco Cable said that its VOD service is available to 92% of its Ontario customers and 72% of its Quebec customers. Rogers Cable Inc. also has a VOD supply agreement with MGM.Telus Corp. testing TV system with employees in EdmontonTelus Corp. stated on October 31 that it is undertaking extensive network and systems testing of its proposed TV service, including an employee trial in Edmonton. But the telco remains cautious on the rollout of a TV service over phone lines. It received CRTC approval to offer a TV service in select communities in Alberta and British Columbia on August 20, and to provide a video-on-demand (VOD) service on September 9. “Telus is taking a careful measured approach to the entertainment market,” the company stated in financials for the third quarter ended September 30. “No decision has been taken on any commercial launch.”Vidéotron signs on VIASAT GeoTechnologies to combat TV piracyVidéotron ltée has inked a long-term agreement with VIASAT GeoTechnologies Inc. to monitor its cable network and look for interference. The agreement demonstrates Vidéotron’s determination to use all available means to detect customers who may be inclined to pirate its services, the company stated in an October 27 media release.Rogers launches new digital and HDTV channelsRogers Cable Inc. announced on October 28 that it was adding a dozen new digital TV channels, half of which are high-definition (HD) channels, to its digital cable service. The channels are: HDTV Discovery, HDTV ABC Seattle (timeshifted), HDTV CBS Seattle (timeshifted), HDTV NBC Seattle (timeshifted), NDTV FOX Seattle (timeshifted), HDTV PBS Spokane (timeshifted), the Hustler Channel, MuchMoreRetro, Silver Screen Classics, Stampede Television, 10 Maxxximum, and Fairchild West.Telefilm announces new measures for Canada-U.K. film co-productionCanada and the United Kingdom have agreed that a minimum of 40% of a budget must be spent in the United Kingdom on Canada-U.K. film co-productions. The percentage is reduced to 35% in the case of tripartite co-productions and to 30% in the case of multipartite co-productions. Costs related to European Union/European Economic Community personnel or facilities are not included as part of U.K. expenses.OMNI Television to broadcast diverse programmingOMNI Television announced on October 31 that it offers programming in more than 40 languages to ethnocultural groups encompassing no less than 40 communities.Profits up at CanWest’s TV operations, diginets profitableRevenues from the Canadian television operations of Winnipeg-based CanWest Global Communications Corp. grew by 6% to $125 million in the fourth quarter ended August 31 compared to $127 million last year, according to company financials released on November 4. “EBITDA increased by 66% for the quarter to $13 million, with the gains attributable to a combination of improved advertising markets, elimination of EBITDA losses at the company’s start-up digital specialty channels, and effective control over costs,” state CanWest’s fourth-quarter and year-end financials.CanWest COO Rick Camilleri said during a conference call that the company’s digital channels are now profitable, a full two years ahead of expectations. Camilleri did not specify how much the channels made. Along with the analog channel Prime, CanWest either fully or in partnership has stakes in DejaView, Fox Sports World Canada, Lonestar, Men TV, Mystery and Xtreme Sports. Its latest diginet, CoolTV, launched in September, after the close of the company’s fiscal 2003 year.EBITDA was up at all of the company’s major broadcasting and publishing operations in Canada and overseas, with spectacular results at Network TEN and the TV and radio operations in New Zealand.CanWest begins charging for web contentCanWest Global Communications Corp. announced on October 29 that it would begin charging a subscription fee for its online newspaper content beginning on November 3, starting with the Ottawa Citizen. It will be followed by the National Post by the end of 2003, and the remaining CanWest major metropolitan dailies by the second quarter of 2004. Customers will be required to take out a subscription to access the full electronic edition, which will be delivered online by 5 a.m., and include access to seven-day newspaper archives, keyword searches, and the capability to print select articles. CanWest did not announce pricing. In 2004, the company plans to introduce “an even more sophisticated and flexible news and information product, that will feature Canada’s first comprehensive multimedia creation, containing all the news, information and entertainment content from CanWest television, newspapers and online sources, presented on a single, interactive, easy-to-use digital platform,” the company noted. CanWest will continue to provide some news free on its web sites.Quebecor Media records increase in net income of $2.8 millionQuebecor Media Inc. posted a 14.4%, or $18.5 million, increase in operating income in the third quarter ended September 30, driven by increases of 22.7% and 7.7% respectively in the cable television and newspaper segments, according to third-quarter financials released October 30. But while Quebecor Media’s fortunes were on the rise, printing giant Quebecor World saw its operating income decline by US$42.8 million as overcapacity and downward pressure on prices continued to affect its results. Quebecor Media recorded net income of $2.8 million, compared with a loss of $18.6 million in the third quarter of 2002, for a $21.4 million improvement. In the cable division, total revenues grew to $197.1 million for the quarter, compared with $183.7 million in the same quarter of 2002. Revenue increases of 43.3% ($14.2 million) from Internet access services and 45.5% ($6.4 million) from the illico digital TV service outweighed a decrease in revenues from analog cable television and other services. At the end of the third quarter, there were 213,000 subscribers to illico, 36% more than at the same time last year. Vidéotron ltée signed up 19,000 new customers to illico and lost 8,000 subscribers to its analog cable service for a net gain of 11,000 customers.CRTC rules that Shaw doesn’t have to carry Channel M on channel 10 in VancouverThe CRTC ruled that Shaw Cablesystems Ltd. doesn’t have to replace CHNU-TV Fraser Valley on channel 10 with the over-the-air ethnic TV channel Channel M on its Vancouver cable system, according to an October 30 letter issued by the CRTC. Shaw said it was willing to carry Channel M on channels 2, 4 or 8. Channel M attempted to argue that it had priority over CHNU-TV Fraser Valley because the latter was not considered a local station in any of the major municipal areas of the region and is licensed as a Fraser Valley service. The CRTC determined that since Shaw was prepared to distribute Channel M as part of its basic service, on an unrestricted channel in the basic band (channels 2 to 13), Shaw has met its regulatory obligations in this regard.TSN, RDS, CMT request “modified dual status”The Sports Network (TSN), Réseau des sports (RDS), and Country Music Television (CMT) have requested that the CRTC amend the distribution and linkage requirements so as to confer “modified dual status” on them rather than their present “dual status” designation with regard to carriage on Class 1 TV distribution systems (Broadcasting Public Notice 2003-59). The request comes in light of changes made, or proposed, by distributors to put these channels on the basic tier. TSN has indicated that it wants a condition of licence specifying that Class 3 cablecos could distribute the channel on the basic service at a wholesale rate of $1.07 per subscriber per month. CMT wants a maximum monthly wholesale fee of 7 cents when distributed on basic in English-speaking markets, and 5 cents in Francophone markets. TSN and RDS argue the move will prevent rate-deregulated Class 1 and Class 2 distributors from moving their services to the basic tier to the detriment of the programming services and the basic service subscriber who will likely be asked to pay more for the basic package.CRTC amends in part Craig’s MTV2 digital pop channel licenceThe CRTC has approved in part amendments requested by Craig Broadcast Systems Inc. to its Category 2 digital pop channel licence for MTV2 (Broadcasting Decision 2003-527). The regulator initially asked Craig to apply for a licence amendment for the channel stating that pop videos would make up no more than 95% of the music video clips aired, and that the amendment include a definition of pop to ensure that the channel wouldn’t be competitive with CHUM Ltd’s MuchMusic (CCR, July 31/03). The CRTC agreed to reduce the percentage of pop selections to 70% as requested by Craig. The commission has also decided that the Canadian Music Network’s CHRT Top 50 Spins chart, Top 50 Audience or Canadian Artists Top 50 Spins and the top 50 positions of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart will be used to define what constitutes pop. While Craig wanted all music selections on the Hot 100 chart to be used, the CRTC ruled that only the top 50 positions on the chart would qualify as pop. “Songs in the remaining positions will be available to use on MTV2, as part of the 30% of videos that may be uncharted selections,” the CRTC noted. The CRTC had initially suggested that any hit appearing on the charts within the last year would qualify. Craig wanted the time frame expanded to 36 months. The CRTC agreed to 24 months, or two years.Canadian Heritage announces creation of new online system to manage copyright clearanceCanadian Heritage announced on October 28 the creation of an online system to manage copyright clearance for works by Canadian authors and publishers. The common portal, created by the Société québécoise de gestion collective des droits de reproduction, allows access to Canadian works in conformance with the rights of authors and publishers.Newfoundland Capital announces increased EBITDA in third quarterRadio operator Newfoundland Capital Corporation Limited announced on October 30 that EBITDA increased $0.4 million in the third quarter ended September 30 and $1.7 million year-to-date due to both business and licence acquisitions as well as margin improvements in existing stations. The public company, based in Dartmouth NS, noted that as part of its growth strategy, it will be applying for new radio licences in Saint John and Fredericton NB, and that other new licensing opportunities in markets that will complement the current holdings are being assessed. Newfoundland Capital owns a 29.9% interest in a new FM licence in Kitchener-Waterloo ON that is expected to be on air in early 2004, and has applied for a new FM licence in Red Deer AB. Newfoundland Capital owns and operates 42 radio stations across Canada.Chalk-ing one up for live and interactive technologyChalk Media announced on November 3 that it is launching a national interactive TV program dedicated to technology called Dave Chalk Connected Live. Program hosts Dave Chalk and Mike Agerbo will demonstrate how to use technology in real-life situations. The show will include interactive chats, live telephone calls, and tele-messaging. The new program will air on Craig Media’s channels in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary. Digital specialty channel TechTV Canada will also broadcast the show. Episodes of the show will also be archived online for on-demand viewing at www.chalktv.com.CBC makes Mediacorp Canada’s top 100 employers listThe Canadian Broadcasting Corp./Radio-Canada has been chosen by Mediacorp Canada Inc. as one of Canada’s top employers, the CBC announced. The exact ranking of the public broadcaster on the list was not released by the CBC or was not indicated on Mediacorp’s web site.INTERNATIONAL NEWSU.S. court upholds key component of FCC’s digital transition planThe United States Court of Appeals upheld a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule requiring tuners that can receive digital TV signals in all but the smallest TVs by July 2007. Some electronics makers tried to block the rule, saying that it would make the sets more expensive. They also argued that the tuners were unnecessary because cable and satellite TV viewers don’t need them. The U.S. Court of Appeals took the FCC’s side, saying that the requirement was necessary to force the industry to make the tuners available in a timely manner. FCC chair Michael Powell praised the court ruling, which upheld a key component of the regulator’s digital TV transition plan.Some U.S. telco giants want national policy framework on VoIPBellSouth, SBC Communications and Motorola are among the U.S. companies calling for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national policy framework for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), CNET News.com reports. Fifty telecommunications interests filed opinions last week with the FCC in its process aimed at determining whether the regulator should overturn numerous state efforts to regulate VoIP, which could create a patchwork of different rules for the technology across the United States.