Community television in Canada
Community television in Canada is a form of media that carries programming of local community interest produced by a cable television company and by independent community groups and distributed by a local cable company.
A community channel is a form of community television, much like public-access television cable TV in the United States and other forms of citizen produced content. The provision of a community channel is required by CRTC regulations governing the licensing of cable companies. Cable companies are required to allocate a small percentage of cable subscription revenues for the provision of a community channel. This amounts to over $116 million annually in Canada. The community channel is viewed as a public trust that the cable companies manage on behalf of the Canadian public.
Due to a 2016 change in CRTC regulation, cable community channels are no longer provided in several of Canada's largest television markets; in major markets where the cable company is also the licensee of a conventional television station, the company is not required to operate a separate community channel so long as the equivalent percentage of cable subscription revenue is allocated to the newsgathering operations of the conventional station. In smaller markets or in cities where the cable company does not also hold a terrestrial television license, however, the provision of a community channel remains a mandatory condition of license for all CRTC-regulated cable companies.
In Canada, citizen media has roots going back to 1922 when filmmaker Robert Flaherty brought in an Inuit hunter to participate in Nanook of the North. In the 1960s this film was cited as an inspiration by a group of filmmakers associated with the National Film Board of Canada, whose Challenge for Change project was part of Canada's War on Poverty. In 1967 Challenge for Change contributed to a prototype studio where people were free to help shape community media. More public access experiments followed. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission required cable companies to provide public access on July 16, 1971.
In 1997, the CRTC deregulated community television in Canada, causing a protracted period of political tension between cable companies and community groups. After complaints to the CRTC from the Canadian public, a policy review process was initiated, culminating in CRTC Decision 2002-61, a reinvigoration of the participatory elements of the community channel. Under 2002-61, community channels can be run by independent community groups, and up to one-half of the channel must be made available for independent community producers.
In 2016, the CRTC enacted a policy stating that a television provider which also owns television stations within a metropolitan market they serve (defined as having a population higher than 1 million) can re-allocate funding normally devoted to community television to support the news departments of their local broadcast television stations. Subsequently, Shaw Communications announced in April 2017 that it would wind down its Shaw TV community channels in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver on August 15, 2017, and shift their funding allotments to the Global stations (owned by sister company Corus Entertainment) in each market. Rogers Cable similarly announced that it would cut back on its Rogers TV services in the Greater Toronto Area for similar reasons, shutting down four channels (including Brampton, Richmond Hill, Mississauga, and Toronto) and cutting staff at others.
Large companies may brand all of their community channels similarly — for example, all community channels operated by Rogers Cable are branded as Rogers TV, and Cogeco Cable's stations are branded as TVCogeco. Such systems may also share some of their more general interest programming. For example, the Toronto-produced movie review series Reel to Real aired on all Rogers Television channels throughout Ontario. Prior to the Telecable system in Saskatoon being taken over by Shaw Communications, its designated community-access channel was branded Telecable 10.
More rarely, a cable company may offer more than one community channel. For instance, in Ottawa and some communities in New Brunswick, distinct channels serve the anglophone and francophone communities, while in Vancouver, Shaw Cable produces a multicultural programming channel in addition to the primary community channel.
Community channels commonly broadcast a mix of public access television and community service programming such as city council meetings, sports broadcasts or local talk shows. Under CRTC policy 2002-61, up to one half of the air time of the community channel must be made available to independent community producers. Some community channels produce and show full programs, while others predominantly adopt the format of a local news channel with a constant rotation of news, public affairs and human interest reports. When not broadcasting live programming, a community channel typically displays a bulletin board of community event listings.
Cable companies sometimes collaborate with volunteer committees to produce programming of community interest. Through their community programming initiatives, community channels have often been leaders in media diversity in Canada — for example, community channel programs such as Coming Out, Gay News and Views and 10% QTV were the first Canadian television programs targeted to LGBT audiences in Canada.
Community channels also frequently broadcast local minor or junior league sporting events, such as OHL, QMJHL or WHL hockey games. In provinces which do not operate a dedicated legislature broadcaster channel, community channels may also air some proceedings of the provincial Legislative Assembly.
While Canadian community channels are expected to make efforts to solicit program proposals from the public, nowadays despite the many requests for airtime it is relatively uncommon (compared to American public-access television cable TV channels) for a proposal from an individual member of the public to make air. Community groups and cable companies disagree as to the best way to manage the public-access television channel assets. Many cable companies develop system-wide formats which fill up much of a local channel's schedule – for instance, several Rogers Television channels air programs entitled Daytime, First Local, or (City/Region) Living. Community groups want access to airtime for their independently produced programs.
In 2015, the CRTC censured Vidéotron, one of Canada's largest cable companies, for the programming on its Montreal community channel MAtv. According to the commission, MAtv's schedule comprised just 30 per cent public access programming compared to its license requirement of 45 per cent, and instead was counting shows hosted and produced by professional broadcasters as public access. In addition, the majority of the channel's schedule comprised general interest programming shared by all of Vidéotron's community channels across Quebec, rather than being specifically oriented toward Montreal. In extreme circumstances, the CRTC's community channel policy allows it to force the cable company to surrender operation of the community channel to an outside community group; although a community group had requested this remedy in the MAtv case, the CRTC did not impose it in their decision.
A notable community channel success story is Tom Green, whose guerilla gross-out comedy first appeared on Rogers Television in Ottawa. Some other personalities who have been associated with community channel programming include Catherine Clark, Jacqueline Hennessy and Dale Goldhawk.
The term community channel may also refer to a conventional broadcast station — such as, CFTV-DT in Leamington, Ontario, CFSO-TV in Cardston, Alberta, CHCO-TV in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and CIMC-TV in Arichat, Nova Scotia — owned and operated by a local non-profit organization to serve a similar function. Terrestrial community stations are offered only where a local group has presented a viable business plan to the CRTC and been awarded a license — unlike cable community channels, it is not mandatory that a terrestrial community channel be made available in any given market. Cable companies may also apply to the CRTC for relief of carriage responsibilities on the basic cable tier, such as in the case of CFTV, which is carried on digital basic cable.
One of the most famous attempts to launch a terrestrial community station in Canada, Star Ray TV, became notable when its owner began operating it as a pirate station after failing to secure a CRTC license.
On occasion, a cable community channel may itself be awarded a license to broadcast terrestrially in addition to its cable television carriage. Examples include NAC TV in Neepawa, Manitoba and Télé-Mag in Quebec City. This occurs most frequently in smaller communities that have no commercial media service of their own.
Notable community channel systems
- MATV (formerly VOX)
- EastLink Television
- Rogers TV / TV Rogers
- Shaw TV
- TVNB (defunct)
- para11, Review of community television policy framework, Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2009-661, http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2009/2009-661.htm
- "Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-224". CRTC. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
- "Shaw TV stations to close in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton as funds diverted to Global". CBC News. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
- "Update: Rogers TV Peel has closed". mississauga.com. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
- "Rogers TV Durham stays on-air but staff cut as Rogers reduces community TV support". DurhamRegion.com. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
- "CRTC says Vidéotron's community TV channel has failed in its mandate, but can become bilingual". Montreal Gazette, February 4, 2015.