French-language TV faces funding crisis


Montreal, - Quebec's three largest private French-language broadcasters, Astral Media, TQS and TVA, are convinced that financing
decisions for Canadian programming -announced April 14 by the Canadian Television Fund (CTF)'s License Fee Program (LFP) - will have very negative consequences and thus cannot be considered final.

According to the broadcasters, corrective measures are unavoidable: they must be taken in the coming weeks in order to establish a better balance in the financing of public and private sector programming. If no corrections are made, the momentum and extraordinary success of the private French-language television industry, which took years to build, will be compromised.

Private broadcasters propose that a special budget of at least $8 million be allocated to finance the private French-language programs that were refused funding. The LFP contributes an average of 20% to a program's funding. Based on these numbers, the proposed budget would sustain a French-language television $40-million production volume, which would otherwise be compromised.

Due to the fact that its screening criteria had become ineffective, CTF administrators decided to test a new system in 2003-2004 for evaluating projects submitted to the LFP. However, this system did not function fairly, and the severe cuts that reduced the LFP's resources this year only exacerbated inequalities.

"With respect to the francophone market, the results published April 14 favour public broadcasters' programming to the extent that they violate the very principles and objectives that presided over the creation of the LFP," explained Raynald Brière, president and CEO of Groupe TVA.

According to the information released by the CTF, more than 70% of this year's LFP funding for French-language drama will be accorded to public broadcasters, mainly Radio-Canada. Eleven of TVA's series were turned down, including five programs that rank among the top ten most popular shows among the francophone television audience, "Emma", "Les poupées russes", "Histoires de filles", "Km/h" and "Cauchemar d'amour", as well as three TQS programs, including 450 Chemin du Golf and 3 x Rien. As for youth programming, 77% of the LFP's funds go to programs to be aired by public broadcasters.

In total, 187 hours of Astral, TQS and TVA youth and drama programming will be compromised. This number corresponds to over 60% of all threatened French- and English-language programming in the whole country, which totals 300 hours according to the CTF's press release.

"The LFP - close to 83% of whose financing is provided by private cable and satellite distributors - was created to support the efforts of broadcasters, particularly private broadcasters, who seek to provide viewers with Canadian programs that are appealing and competitive, programs that they want to watch," noted Michel J. Carter, president and CEO of TQS.

"Canadian Heritage, the Canadian Television Fund and Telefilm Canada have always maintained that one of their main objectives is to finance popular programs that are able to reach their Canadian target audiences," recalled Brière. "And indeed, close to 70% of the total francophone audience tunes into private French-language networks, compared to approximately 20% for all public broadcasters."

"If solutions are not found immediately," rejoined Carter, "they may cause a de-structuring of the main private networks' programming schedules and threaten the survival of certain independent producers who work predominately with them."

Pierre Roy, president and CEO of Les Chaînes Télé-Astral, reiterated that when the CTF published its new rules for 2003-2004, it clearly stated that this was a trial, a pilot project, and that it would be possible to "take
corrective measures if required."

"Astral, TQS and TVA are confident they can count on the cooperation of the Fund's Board of Directors to apply the necessary corrective measures in a very expedient manner," added Roy. "In order to achieve this, we will work closely with representatives from broadcast distribution undertakings - who are the main financial backers of the CTF - as well as representatives from Canadian Heritage, television broadcasters and independent producers, to find very quickly a concrete solution to this inequitable allocation of resources between the public and private sectors, an imbalance that is specific to the French-language television sector."

The three main private French-language broadcasters intend to submit a proposal to the CTF Board. This proposal calls for a special budgetary allocation of at least $8 million - generated through the CTF's existing
resources or according to next year's anticipated revenues - to be devoted to the privately broadcast French-language programs that did not qualify for funding due to distortions created by the newly adopted rules and the considerable reduction in the LFP's overall resources.

This solution does not penalize Radio-Canada's or other public broadcasters' projects, as the decisions made today, which weigh heavily in their favour, will stand. On the contrary, the creation of this special, additional funding will ensure that francophone viewers continue to have access to Canadian programs supported by the LFP via the broadcasters of their choice, whether they be private or public, conventional or specialized.

Once this urgent matter is corrected for the current year, the industry as a whole may convene to conduct, in a more productive context, a general review of the CTF's rules for the years to come.

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