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The failed local TV experiment and why it shouldn’t be used to change the rules

By guest blogger karenatcmg

Le Devoir reported this week that Quebec private TV network TQS is cancelling the last of the three magazine-style (read: cheap and cheerful) shows launched after the new owners canned local news last summer. The report says ratings were hardly registering for morning show Deux Laits, Un Sucre. Turns out the weekend evening news that TQS buys from an outside company is pulling a respectable 223,000 or so. So guess what? The network’s owners are looking to get back into early evening news on weekdays.

Let’s just hope it’s not too late to make sure the failed experiment, green-lighted by the CRTC last year, doesn’t come back to haunt us during the round of TV licence renewals coming in April. That’s what Commissioner Michel Morin feared when he dissented on the decision to give TQS what it wanted. [Scroll down to find Morin’s dissenting opinion.]

We have good reason to be fearful. After all, CTVglobemedia and Canwest are upping the ante ahead of those renewals by threatening to let their small market stations die.

CTV announced yesterday it wants to dump CKX-TV in Brandon, which has the only local TV news broadcast in the area. If CTV doesn’t find a buyer, the company will simply let the station go dark. CBC, which has an affiliation agreement with CKX until August 31, has already turned down the opportunity to buy it. Whether the station survives or not, it looks like local viewers will have to pay for cable or satellite to watch their public broadcaster starting in September.

Some analyst told The Canadian Press that small market TV stations “are costly to run and maintain and were having difficulty providing a decent return on investment even in good times.”

Define decent. Apparently nobody but the networks themselves and (perhaps) the CRTC actually knows how individual TV stations are really doing. Have a read of the latest Canwest Global Communications earnings reports and you get the idea the newspaper and TV operations are doing ok. It’s the debt and the foreign exchange losses that are killing them. And yet four Canwest small market stations are also facing extinction in Hamilton, Red Deer, Kelowna and Victoria.

For the local viewers of any station that’s threatened, you’ve got to wonder if a small return on investment – or simply the ability to cover costs and pay decent wages – works just fine if it means putting some quality local news on the air.

And don’t worry … Lise will return.

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