Sun News Network has been denied a guaranteed spot on basic cable TV packages in a CRTC ruling released today.

The Quebecor-owned network did not successfully demonstrate to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that it met the criteria for a mandatory distribution order, the CRTC said in its decision.

But the CRTC suggested Thursday it isn't happy with the status quo and proposed "a new approach" regarding the distribution of Canadian national news services.

In an interview with CBC News, Kory Teneycke, the vice-president of Sun News Network, said the network was "obviously disappointed" with the ruling but remained "optimistic" about the CRTC's decision to review the current framework.

Teneycke said the CRTC's proposals largely reflect the concerns Sun News Network raised during the regulator's public hearings in April.

"Our objective at the end of this is simply to have a system that is equitable, not only for channels that have been in the market for a long time but also for new entrants," Teneycke said.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a release, "we are concerned that, under the existing rules, Canadian news services are not being given a pride of place in our broadcasting system."

"Canadians presented evidence suggesting that the policy on specialty Canadian national news services should be reviewed. The CRTC will focus specifically on the challenges that face new players in this sector, particularly in terms of their distribution," Blais said. 

The regulator outlined the following proposed changes:

  • Distributors must offer all Canadian national news services (not necessarily on basic service)
  • Distributors must place Canadian news services in close proximity in their channel lineup
  • National news services must be available in a package and on a stand-alone basis
  • National news services should be offered in the most appropriate packages according to their content.

Sun News future uncertain

While the CRTC's proposals suggest that distributors "must offer" all Canadian national news services, it is still not the "mandatory carriage" designation Sun News Network was seeking.

In fact, Teneycke told the CRTC in May that anything short of mandatory carriage would spell the end of the network, which lost $17 million last year.

"Let us be very clear: a 'must offer' licence would not have a meaningful impact on the current trajectory of Sun News and would inevitably lead to the closure of the station," Teneycke said at the time.

Today, Teneycke said Sun News Network "will continue to operate for the foreseeable future while we go through this process."

"Certainly the proposals that were put forward are broadly speaking a reflection of the types of measures that we've proposed. However, we want to take a little more time to consider those and we'll be making a presentation in the days and weeks ahead," Teneycke said.

Receiving mandatory carriage means cable companies must include the news network with basic service, whereas must-offer means subscribers can choose whether to take the channel with an added-cost package.

CBC News Network currently holds a national speciality category C service licence as does CTV News Network.

RDI, the French-language all news channel, receives mandatory carriage in English-language markets, while CBC News Network receives mandatory carriage in French-language markets.

Blais told CBC News the CRTC's proposal would see national speciality category C service licences "offered to Canadians either as part of a package or on a stand-alone basis."

Another challenge for the regulator is that Canadians currently have significantly more access to non-Canadian news services such as CNN, than Canadian news services. Not to mention that Canadian news services receive half the monthly wholesale fees non-Canadian news services receive.

Under the CRTC's new proposal, "these Canadian news services would have to be in close proximity in the channel lineup and would have to be part of a bundle that made sense," the CRTC chairman said.

22 applications reviewed

The commission also denied 11 other applications for mandatory carriage but gave the green light to three new television services.

The CRTC denied the following 12 applications for mandatory carriage:

  • Accents.
  • All Points.
  • Bulletin Canadian.
  • Punjabi Network.
  • Described Video Guide.
  • Dolobox TV.
  • EqualiTV.
  • Fusion.
  • Maximum Television Canada.
  • Starlight: The Canadian Movie Channel.
  • Sun News Network.
  • La télévision des ressources naturelles.
  • Vision TV.

AMI TV in French, a service that offers audiovisual content specifically adapted to the needs of people who are blind or partially sighted, was given mandatory carriage along with Nouveau TV5, a service offering programming devoted to diversity within the Canadian francophone community and official language minority communities.

The CRTC also gave mandatory carriage to a service operated by the Legislative Assemblies of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, which will be added to the basic service of satellite television subscribers in those two territories.

As a result, "Canadians living with a visual impairment, francophones and citizens of the North will be better served," the CRTC said.

The CRTC also renewed for another five years the mandatory distribution of AMI-TV in English, AMI Audio, Canal M, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), and the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC).

The regulator granted ARTV a "must offer" designation to ensure that it is carried by all distributors while leaving Canadians the choice to subscribe to it or not. ARTV is a CBC/Radio-Canada channel that offers arts news in French.

Finally, the CRTC ruled that the mandatory carriage granted to Avis de recherche in French-language markets will expire in two years.

The CRTC reviewed 22 applications in all.

Canadians have until Sept. 9 to give the CRTC their views on the new proposed regulatory framework.

Blais told CBC News the CRTC hopes to issue a decision by the end of this year.