Tonight marks the season finales of the Rick Mercer Report and 22 Minutes, two Canadian shows Canadians would actually miss if CBC was in a position to pull content in the upcoming 2010 Cable Wars. (Read more about the 22 Minutes finale here in a piece I wrote last week for The Canadian Press).
Canadians would scream and yell if shows like Dragon's Den, Heartland and Battle of the Blades went dark, too. But since CBC was sidelined by yesterday's CRTC decision, they won't have the opportunity to enter into the hardball content wars that CTV, Global and Rogers may be lawyering up for.
That this was by design and not accident is evident by this quote from CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein yesterday: "We cannot have decisions where access to the CBC is in doubt," he said.
Yet the CRTC put everything in doubt yesterday. Will CTV, Global and Rogers really back away from years of bitter name calling and hammer out a deal by themselves on fee for carriage? If not, will Canadian screens go dark as networks play hardball with the content providers, blacking out imported hits like American Idol, House and The Biggest Loser in U.S. style brass knuckle fights with cable and satellite companies?
As Von Finckenstein has stated, he wanted to avoid that with CBC content, yet he gives in to the private broadcasters outrageous demand that the U.S. simulcast border station signals be squelched in the event of a contest stand off, too. The CRTC has just gone to unprecedented lengths to protect Canadian business interests involving U.S. content, while at the same time lowering the private broadcasters requirements to produce Canadian content. Thank God somebody in Canada is standing up for the right to blackout Gossip Girl.
Von Finckenstein defended the CRTC decision to deal with the CBC later by stating he wants to see how the private guys sort it out first, then act when the CBC license renewal hearings roll around in August of 2011. "We haven't forgotten about the CBC at all," he said Monday. "There was just too much on the table to deal with in one sitting so we decided to deal with the private broadcast system before turning to the public one."
My God--he's prorogued the Broadcast Act. Von Finckenstein knows how it would play to shovel more money toward the public trough on top of the $100 million-plus local content fund announced the year before and the sacred billion-dollar-plus annual appropriation already pumped CBC's way.
But by dithering on a CBC decision, he will end up punishing the people who write, produce, act and everything else associated with Canadian television at the one network that actually makes Canadian television. CBC--hit as hard as the other guys in advertising revenue during the deep recession--admitted they were short some $60 million a year ago when they started cutting back on show orders. CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix said yesterday that "one thing is clear: this will force us to cut programs and services, and our ability to fulfil our mandate has been compromised."
CBC already has some tough calls ahead for next season. Shows like 18 to Life, Little Mosque, Just Four Laughs and Being Erica have all flirted with the More-People-Live-in-Brampton barometer this season. Other shows like 22 Minutes, The Ron James Show and Doc Zone have swung high and low (and mysteriously seemed excluded from the giddy PPM lift showered on many private network shows). Meanwhile, CBC News got an expensive face lift and big money media re-launch this fall and aside from Peter Mansbridge, nobody stood up for it. Then there are the daytime hosts, who just unpacked and now face another stint in Siberia.
The CRTC decision has probably doomed one or more of these shows and will likely mean shorter seasons for some of the others. While they were busy finding a way for Canadian cable and satellite subscribers to pay for CTV and Rogers' Olympic party, found money that bails out a decade of reckless, unchecked spending on U.S. imports, the CRTC burns the one guy with a schedule full of Canadian shows. Von Finckensten may have honestly thought he was protecting the CBC, but he really is punishing the network and anyone in the business of doing the one thing the CRTC was supposed to protect--making Canadian television.