Dire TV warning

Canada’s major broadcasters say as many as 30 local TV stations are at “immediate risk” of going off the air if they can’t convince cable and satellite companies to start paying for local programming.

CBC Vice-President Bill Chambers (right) speaks as CTV Executive Vice-President Paul Sparkes listens during a news conference in Toronto on Thursday.

CBC Vice-President Bill Chambers (right) speaks as CTV Executive Vice-President Paul Sparkes listens during a news conference in Toronto on Thursday.

TORONTO — Canada’s major broadcasters say as many as 30 local TV stations are at “immediate risk” of going off the air if they can’t convince cable and satellite companies to start paying for local programming.

Representatives from CTV, Global, CBC and A Channel launched a campaign Thursday in Toronto to lobby for the right to negotiate a so-called fee for carriage with cable companies.

Paul Sparkes, executive vice-president of corporate affairs for CTV, said the current model for Canadian television is “broken.”

“The foundation of the Canadian broadcasting system is crumbling,” Sparkes said.

“Local television stations from Victoria to St. John’s are heading, unfortunately, for financial ruin. They cannot survive by a single source of revenue.”

The broadcasters said the survival of many small- and medium-market TV stations is threatened by slumping ad revenues.

It’s the latest salvo in a battle over so-called “fee-for-carriage,” which pits the broadcasters against cable providers, who say the fees could add up to Canadians paying up to $10 more per month on their cable or satellite bill.

Conventional TV providers, who saw their profits plummet by almost 93 per cent in 2008, are asking the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to allow for negotiations with the cable and satellite companies regarding a fee for carriage to help offset this loss of revenues.

The broadcasters say it’s unfair that the cable providers profit from their programming while they don’t see a cent.

“It’s pretty basic,” said Sparkes. “They’re taking our programming, selling it to you the consumer, charging for it on your bill and not paying anything back to the people who are doing the hard work.”

Bell (TSX:BCE), Bell Aliant (TSX:BA.UN), Cogeco (TSX:CGO), EastLink, Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) and Telus (TSX:T) have their own campaign called “Stop the TV Tax,” and they claim the traditional broadcasters already get enough money from a local programming improvement fund and are just asking for more handouts.

But Charlotte Bell, senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs at Global, said that just like a grocery store pays its suppliers, cable companies should have to do the same.

“It’s not a tax, it’s the price of doing business,” Bell said. “Every business pays its suppliers for the products they use to resell and profit from.”