Sask. pulls plug on TV channel

SCN, Saskatchewan's publicly owned TV channel, will cease operations in May as the province winds down the Saskatchewan Communications Network to save money.
The government says 35 SCN employees will be affected by the closure of the TV operation. ((CBC))
SCN, Saskatchewan's publicly owned TV channel, will cease operations in May as the province shuts down the Saskatchewan Communications Network to save money.

"SCN's viewership is quite low," Dustin Duncan, the minister of tourism, parks, culture and sport, said Wednesday in a news release about the cut. "We feel that there is no longer a role for government in the broadcast business."

Thirty-five employees will be affected. SCN was among several cuts announced in Wednesday's provincial budget, which reduces total spending by $121.3 million.

According to the province, surveys indicate only four per cent of television viewers tune in to SCN for at least 15 minutes in any given week.

This rating has been consistent for six years, the government said. 

While the news release cited a four per cent viewership rating, the most recent annual report of SCN says 16 per cent of people who responded to a questionnaire about the channel had tuned in during the week before being surveyed.

The TV channel was created in 1989 and began operations a year later. According to the province, closing down SCN will save $2.4 million the first year and $5 million a year after that.

CBC News reporters approached staff of SCN on Wednesday, but no one was available to speak. The SCN offices are in the same building in Regina as CBC Saskatchewan.

While the signal will end in May, the government said some employees will stay on the job until the end of June to finish some outstanding contracts.

"It'll be a loss, a big loss for the producers," Don List, the head of Birdsong Communications, a Regina production company, told CBC News. "TV audiences will suffer too because unfortunately Saskatchewan stories are becoming harder to watch, and where else are we going to see them?"

In addition to showing general interest programs, SCN also provides distribution services for some distance education services. It also carries proceedings of the Saskatchewan legislature.

Former head dismayed

 Richard Gustin, a former top executive of SCN, called the government's decision a tragedy.

"I was at SCN for its first 20 years of existence," Gustin said. "I think this is a tragedy."

Richard Gustin, a retired executive of SCN, says shutting down the television channel is a tragedy. ((CBC))
Gustin retired in 2009. He told CBC News Wednesday that SCN had spent more than $15 million on local productions while he was there.

"That just disappears," he said. "Commercial broadcasters do nothing here."

Gustin said the cost of producers having to travel to Toronto to pitch programs will be a barrier to many budding artists.

"With the loss of SCN, we get more and more packaged information out of Toronto."

Allan Bratt, the local president of ACTRA, says SCN provided opportunities for Saskatchewan artists to tell their stories. ((CBC))
"We're losing a voice," Allan Bratt, the local head of the performers' union ACTRA, told CBC News at the legislature in Regina Wednesday. "I know that it's not the first spot that people dial to when they watch television. But it's surprising how often you'll pick something up there when you're surfing through and say, 'I know that place. I know those people'. And you're going to lose that."

According to its website, SCN offers a wide range of program types, from documentaries to dramas. It purchases its content from a variety of sources, including local film and television producers.

The channel is seen on satellite and cable television. It also uses the internet to deliver some content.

The province said some elements of SCN's content will continue to be made available but will be transferred to Sask Tel, the communications Crown corporation.