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Bell Media calls for aid fund for broadcasters

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The CRTC is holding three weeks of hearings on the future regulatory framework of Bill C-11, which amends the Broadcasting Act.

The Canadian Press

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The owner of Bell Media, BCE, wants the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to create an information fund that would provide financial assistance to broadcasters and require foreign broadcasters to contribute to the subsidy through their content spending Canadian.

Bell representatives told a CRTC committee on Tuesday that the regulator should simultaneously exempt Canadian streaming platforms such as Crave from these new obligations until traditional broadcasters receive regulatory relief.

The hearing, which began Monday and is expected to last three weeks, is part of the CRTC's public consultations in response to the Online Streaming Act, or Bill C-11.

The legislation received royal assent in April and aims to update the Broadcasting Act to require digital platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok to contribute to Canadian content and to promote it.

In September, the CRTC issued a decision that ended two previous consultations it had launched regarding Bill C-11. The committee is now seeking to determine what contributions traditional broadcasters and online streaming services will need to make to support Canadian and Indigenous content.

Bell's presentation opposed the regulator's direction in a context the company called a crisis for Canadian broadcasters.

Your priorities are backwards, said Jonathan Daniels, vice president of regulatory law at Bell, in his address to committee members.

Traditional broadcasters, pillars of the Canadian broadcasting system, need help now.

A quote from Jonathan Daniel, Vice President of Regulatory Law at Bell

Mr. Daniels outlined a trio of obstacles facing local broadcasting giants such as Bell. According to him, traditional platforms are losing customers to streaming services, which is leading to a drop in broadcasting revenues, while these same services are not subject to the same regulatory constraints.

With the arrival of streaming broadcasters in the Canadian market, it has also become more expensive for traditional broadcasters to purchase content, as they no longer only compete with rival Canadian companies. Additionally, Bell is often unable to purchase the type of content it previously carried, as foreign studios increasingly reserve such programming for their own streaming apps.

We're frustrated because, frankly, we don't think the CRTC is taking this reality into account adequately, he said.

Mr Daniels added that the company's proposal, which would require digital broadcasters to contribute to subsidy funding, would put more money into the broadcasting system for news and production Canadian television broadcasters, while reducing the obligations of traditional broadcasters.

Bell's presentation is its latest update in its ongoing campaign for relief of regulations.

In June, Bell submitted two requests to the CRTC, including one for the organization to reduce its Canadian content spending obligations for some of its television stations.

In its other request, the company asked the regulator to drop requirements for spending on local news and the number of hours per week that stations are required to broadcast news reflecting local reality in large and small markets.

These requests were filed the same day Bell announced the removal of 1300 posts, the closure or sale of nine radio stations and the closure of two overseas offices, in the face of growing financial pressure. The layoffs included a 6% reduction in the workforce at Bell Media.

Last month, Bell Media filed an application with the Federal Court of Appeal to appeal a CRTC decision that renewed its broadcasting licenses for three more years. She said the decision was made without a public hearing and could cause the regulator to prejudge issues she raised in her June applications.

The CRTC has already set the conditions for implementing the Online Streaming Act by establishing a threshold that determines which online streaming services will be subject to the new rules.

A September ruling requires streaming services that offer broadcast content in Canada and have annual revenues of $10 million or more to provide information about their operations to the CRTC x27;see you next week.

The watchdog also asked some online streaming services to provide it with information relating to their content and their subscribers, and to make the content offered in a way that is not linked to any mobile or Internet service specifically.

On Monday, the Commission heard from the President and CEO of Quebecor.

Pierre Karl Péladeau urged the CRTC to impose a reduction significant and immediate regulatory and financial burden on traditional Canadian businesses. His speech came with a caveat: Even if the CRTC imposes requirements on foreign broadcasters, that doesn't necessarily mean they will comply.

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