The future of local television in Canada

The future of local television in Canada

People seem to say that local TV news is dying… it’s not, but it is certainly changing. 

With a few exceptions, like the closure of CHCA-TV in Red Deer, AB and CKX-TV in Brandon, there have been very few cancelations of local news programming in Canada. 

But why is that? It’s because stations pretty much have to air them. 

Licences

Every television station in Canada requires a license to broadcast over the air by the CRTC, Canada’s broadcast regulator. With that licence comes the requirement that stations air local programming. In major markets, stations must air 14 hours of local programming a week, and in smaller markets, in which Winnipeg is included, stations only need to air seven hours a week. 

While this programming isn’t always news, it almost always is. Looking at this chart from the CRTC, which lays out exactly what local programming each television station is producing, the vast majority of the programs are local news of some variety. 

This is CKY-DT’s list of locally produced programming:

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Does it have to be news?

The short answer to that is no it doesn’t. In most cases, stations are generally free to program whatever they want for their mandated local programming hours. But only a few stations opt to produce things other than news to fill this quota. Winnipeg has one of these stations. CHMI-DT, the City O&O, no longer produces any local news-related programming, instead simulcasting their sister station CITI-FM’s morning drive show. 

However in some cases it does have to be local news. 

When Shaw bought the broadcast assets of CanWest, they pledged to produce morning shows on almost all of their stations, which is why we now have ‘Morning News/‘ 

Shaw pledged to spend 54 million on these newscasts across the country for at least seven years, and these newscasts would be in addition, not a part of, the mandated hours of local programming 

Bell, when they re-purchased CTV, made a similar promise to launch morning newscasts across western Canada, which lead to the creation of ‘CTV Morning Live.’ In addition, they also pledged 58 million dollars to prop up funding of their western Canadian news operations and maintain the CTV Two stations, and their local programming, for at least three years. 

Why bother with it?

So you’re probably thinking ‘why bother?’ with these regulations? Why not just move the stations to cable, cancel the local programming and save so much money? 

Because that would seriously harm advertising revenue. 

In Canada, there is a CRTC policy called Simultaneous Substitution, often called ‘Sim-Sub,’ which allows local television stations to place their signal over an American one if they are both airing the same thing at the same time. You have probably only noticed this happening when there is an error and you miss the start (or finish) of your favourite show, or during the Super Bowl (as of 2017, sim-subbing will be banned during the Super Bowl).

The only stations allowed to invoke simultaneous substitution are those with a transmitter in the market, who has a licence that require them to air local programming. So in Winnipeg, only these stations are eligible for simultaneous substitution:

  • CBWFT-DT, channel 3 (SRC)
  • CBWT-DT, channel 6 (CBC)
  • CKY-DT, channel 7 (CTV)
  • CKND-DT, channel 9 (Global)
  • CHMI-DT, channel 13 (City)
  • CIIT-DT, channel 35 (HopeTV)

So if the stations were cable-only, they would not be able to sim-sub American stations, and would not be able to solicit local advertisers, and under the modern-day CRTC regulations would not likely be a required channel in Basic Cable, which would mean that you would possibly need an extended cable package to see CTV and Global for example. 

Does anyone even watch?

I have heard many people say that ‘no one watches local news anymore,’ so would anyone miss it?

Well in fact, loads of people still watch your supper hour newscast. According to Numeris, the company that measures TV Ratings in Canada, 1.75 million Canadians watch their local CTV News every week – making it the seventh most-popular tv show in the country. And these numbers are only for CTV, Numeris only publishes the top 30 shows of the week online, and in most markets that aren’t Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton, Global’s local newscasts do quite poorly in the ratings, and Numeris pools all the stations in the country together to gather the weekly top 30. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 9.38.25 AM

Not dying, just evolving

Speaking of Global, they have come up with a new idea to make local programming as cheap as possible. 

Did you know that your local 6 p.m. Global Newscast is shot in front of a green screen, with a control room in Toronto punching the show?

That is how things have been done at Global since the last few years of CanWest ownership. 

Here’s a video explaining the system used at Global stations across the country:

And last year, Shaw Media took this even further by cancelling late and weekend newscasts on their small-market stations and replacing them with pre-recorded broadcasts produced out of Toronto. 

Whether this is violating the spirit of the local programming regulations is up to you, but I can imagine this has saved them a significant amount of money. 

Where is it going?

I believe that local television will be alive and well for quite a few years to come, especially in larger markets. The programming is required, and in many cases it is popular, which leads to legitimacy to the television station. But most-importantly, the simultaneous substitution policy requiring a local license (which comes with it the requirement to produce local programming) will keep at-least the bare-minimum six o’clock news alive and well for years to come. 

However, one change I could see happening is more station groups utilizing technology, such as Shaw has, to create efficiencies in their operations, allowing them to produce more content for cheaper. 

What do you think?

What do you think, does local TV have a future in Canada? 

Comment below.

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