Ottawa -- Four yet-to-launch Canadian pay TV channels are
lobbying regulators here for permission to launch on analog cable in an effort to get a
jump on U.S.-based programmers that have already been let into the market.
The channels -- MuchMoreMusic, Canadian Learning
Television, Star TV and Report on Business Television -- are pushing for permission to
launch by Sept. 1 or sooner. They were among a host of digital-only services licensed by
the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in 1996.
The channels were promised space either on digital -- which
has yet to roll out in Canada -- or on analog by September 1999, if digital wasn't
reaching more than 15 percent of the cable-subscriber base.
Since they were licensed, most of the digital-only channels
have found homes on the analog dial, along with U.S. services such as Speedvision, The
Golf Channel and Black Entertainment Television. The remaining Canadian digital licensees
weren't pleased that niche U.S. channels have been selected while they're still
waiting for spectrum, which is why they've applied to the CRTC to change their
What they want varies from company to company.
MuchMoreMusic, Canadian Learning Television and Star TV -- which are owned by Chum
Television, operator of MuchMusic, Bravo! and Space: The Imagination Station -- want
analog access by Sept. 1.
MuchMoreMusic intends to launch on that date, grabbing
whatever analog slots it can negotiate with individual cable operators and direct-to-home
Meanwhile, Report on Business Television is being more
aggressive: It wants access to analog now.
For Denise Donlan, vice president and general manager of
MuchMoreMusic, the application isn't an overt attempt to strong-arm the cable-TV
industry. Instead, she said, it's only fair that MuchMoreMusic and any other Canadian
channels be given priority in the allocation of any future available analog space. This
didn't happen when Canadian cable TV launched its last package of Canadian/U.S.
However, Canadian Cable Television Association president
Richard Stursberg was shocked by the application. He accused the four networks of trying
to "retroactively remake the rules" in moving up their analog fail-safe launch
dates. Such a change would put the Canadian cable-TV industry in chaos, perhaps forcing it
to drop U.S. services to fit the new channels in. Given subscribers' aversion to
losing existing channels, Stursberg said, such a forced rollout would cause "huge
difficulties" for the industry.
Asked whether the CRTC is likely to give into these
demands, Stursberg said, "I presume that they'll stick to their rules."
If existing channels are knocked off, the cable-TV
industry, rather than the four newcomers, could bear the brunt of consumer complaints.