National Newswatch

GATINEAU, Que. - The heads of CBC/Radio-Canada say Canadians are ready to pay to get the broadcaster's content even if many consider it an acquired right.

Steven Guiton, one of the leaders of the publicy owned broadcaster, told hearings at the federal broadcast regulator on Friday that "95 per cent of Canadians have come to realize that you pay for TV."

"Canadians are there," said Guiton, the Crown corporation's vice-president of technology and chief regulatory officer.

"There is a group, and it's not a criticism of them, who still believe there should be something in this free. It's not free. It costs money."

The CBC/Radio-Canada executives hammered the traditional television business models and told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearings they are in favour of revamping it.

They said the current system has become less profitable, pointing out that conventional television content providers do not get any cut of cable TV bills paid by consumers.

"Something's not working," CBC/Radio-Canada president Hubert Lacroix later told reporters.

The corporation also cited the multiplication of platforms and new players in the market, saying providers of online video services such as Netflix should contribute financially to the Canadian system as much as other industry players.

Heritage Minister Shelly Glover said Monday the government has no intention of regulating or taxing the Internet content providers, a proposal the New Democratic Party described as "indecent."

Lacroix pointed to Glover's position and told reporters there are still outstanding questions to be addressed.

CBC/Radio-Canada also suggested in its testimony that a fund be established to pay for the production of local news, another service they said Canadians support.

However, the CBC/Radio-Canada executives would not say how much consumers would have to pay for the broadcaster's service despite questions from journalists and CRTC commissioners.

"I don't know what that will be," Guiton told the hearing. "Is it going to be two cents, is it going to be a buck? I don't know. None of us in this room know."

Guiton said he didn't think this was the time to have that discussion anyway.

Lacroix insisted new sources of funding are vital for CBC/Radio-Canada to ensure its survival or else the quality of its programming will decline.

Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC, suggested the broadcaster's funding model is possibly a greater challenge than any regulations it may face.

CBC/Radio-Canada has already undertaken deep cuts to its workforce to balance its books, aiming to reach $130 million in savings by the end of the year — the equivalent of 657 full-time jobs.

Lacroix preferred to avoid the issue in testimony, saying the debate at the CRTC is about the business environment facing those in the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications industry.

"Government appropriation is something completely different from the conversations we're having today and the suggestions we're putting forward," he said. "This is about the system."

The CRTC hearings will continue until Sept. 19. They are aimed at developing new rules to govern the television industry in the wake of changes brought about by new technology and services.

The Canadian Press
Click here for more political news headlines