Cable, satellite revenue still rising: StatsCan

Revenue at Canada's cable and satellite companies rose 14.4 per cent in 2008, the third consecutive year of double-digit increases, according to a report from Statistics Canada.

Revenue at Canada's cable and satellite companies rose 14.4 per cent in 2008, the third consecutive year of double-digit increases, according to a report from Statistics Canada.

The report, released Wednesday, showed operating revenue at the cable and satellite firms totaled $10.3 billion for the year.

The cable and satellite companies are waging a public battle with the conventional television broadcasters over whether they should pay a fee for the CTV, CBC and Global signals they carry.

The cable and satellite companies said if such a fee were introduced, they would pass on the cost to consumers.

The fee-for-carriage issue, as it's known, is before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission this week. Consumers have told the federal regulator they don't want to pay more for cable and satellite signals.

The broadcasters have proposed the cable and satellite companies either absorb the extra fee or be forced to offer a low-cost alternative for consumers.

The cable industry disputes whether the broadcasters need the money from a carriage fee, saying they will be profitable once the recession is over.

A CRTC report released in March shows 2008 profits at conventional television broadcasters plunged by 93 per cent.

Statistics Canada's figures show both the cable and the satellite industries were profitable in 2008.

The cable firms had a profit margin before interest and taxes of 25.9 per cent — and have had a profit margin of more than 20 per cent since 2004.

The industry had 15.7 million subscribers to television, internet and telephone services as of Aug. 31, 2008, about 1.4 million more than in 2007, the report said.

The wireless broadcast distributors, of which satellite is the largest segment, have been catching up to cable since they emerged as an alternative method of delivering services, beginning in 1997.

The satellite industry's profit margin before interest and taxes was 4.1 per cent in 2008, and it continues to build its market share, with 2.7 million subscribers, the report said.

On Tuesday, CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein rebuked both the cable and satellite industry and the broadcasters for trying to confuse the public over the fee-for-carriage issue.

He dismissed the cable-satellite claim that consumers would be forced to pay an extra $10 a month for TV if fee-for-carriage is approved. He took the example of Ottawa, showing that with four local TV stations being paid a hypothetical 25 cents per subscriber, the increase on the cable bill would be $1.

"Why are we frightening consumers?," von Finckenstein said. "Why are we putting out big figures rather than trying to figure out how to solve this problem? The problem is we want to keep a viable Canadian TV system.

"Instead, we seem to have a debate that nobody understands. We have a huge publicity campaign that nobody understands, and we have figures and concepts swirling around that don't make sense."

With files from The Canadian Press