If nothing else, there seems to be general agreement that the traditional revenue and regulatory model for conventional television is broken. Now we’ll see how that translates into a solution for what troubles broadcasters like the local branch of A Channel (formerly CKVR and The New VR). Comments earlier this year by CRTC chairperson Konrad von Finckenstein could be interpreted as a sign the federal regulator is in a mood to listen to the tales of woe now coming fast and furious from conventional broadcasters. Addressing the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, he acknowledged the problems besetting the broadcasters, and hinted at solutions, including a rethink of the regulator’s refusal to approve the broadcasters’ love-to-have item: fee-for-carriage. He seemed to, however, attach a condition, saying that conventional broadcasters had never explained how the fee would further the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. That might be a bit of a chasm to bridge, as conventional broadcasters seem to be thinking more in terms of survival than ‘furthering regulatory objectives.’ Broadly speaking, the act is a big-picture set of principles and regulations governing broadcasting in Canada. It seeks to preserve and promote Canadian-owned and operated stations. It gives the CRTC authority to develop and enforce ownership regulations and content standards, such as the amount of Canadian and local content required to meet licensing criteria. A loosening of requirements to carry Canadian and locally-produced content has been identified by conventional broadcasters as a means to the end of becoming financial stable, but it’s fee-for-carriage – receiving a fee from cable and satellite companies to carry the signal – that has been pegged as the cure to declining revenues. “Fee-for-carriage is absolutely number one. We believe we can make it work if we have that extra revenue stream,” Peggy Hebden, station manager for Barrie’s ‘A,’ told me recently. Push is turning to shove as far as the broadcasters are concerned, as insiders like Hebden worry about the ability of local television to survive. Earlier this month the station let go 24 of its 74 employees. “In our heyday, we had 135 employees. We could make a profit at that time but now we can’t.” The station has been a fixture in the community since 1955. It has undergone a number of name and ownership changes, including CKVR, The New VR and now ‘A’ channel. It has been independently owned, a CBC affiliate, and is now part of CTVglobemedia. At the time of the Barrie layoffs, CTV also announced the closing of stations in Windsor and Wingham, and the cancellation of local content, including Barrie’s morning show. Instead of that show, early-morning viewers are watching a repeat of the suppertime news program; later-morning viewers see the 11 p.m. newscast. Across the ‘A’ network, 118 jobs were eliminated. It’s an indication of how dire the situation is for conventional television in smallish markets like Barrie, said Hebden. “If we sold every 30-second spot on our channel, we still couldn’t make money.” The station, and others like it, has not been profitable for years. “We can’t continue to do what we were doing. We were losing money anyway, we’re just losing it faster now.” Unlike specialty channels, which receive fee-for-carriage payments, conventional television has one revenue stream: advertising. “We need to come up with a new way. They (licensing regulations) need to be revised,” said Hebden, adding the regulations governing conventional broadcasting are 50 years old. During his address to the film and television association, the CRTC boss pointed to four challenges facing conventional broadcasters. 1) The global economic crisis: “It accelerated much more quickly than expected and caught everybody by surprise, including us.” 2) Advertising: “One of the first casualties of such an economic crisis is – inevitably – advertising. The broadcasting industry as a whole depends heavily on a strong, steady flow of advertising dollars … advertising placement is down sharply. The conventional TV broadcasters, who must depend entirely on advertising for their revenue, are obviously the sector most heavily affected by this downturn.” 3) Audience fragmentation: “A shrinkage of viewership of conventional TV has already been in progress because of the fragmentation of the audience. Specialty and pay channels have siphoned off many viewers … a lot of eyeballs have migrated to the discretionary sector and they have taken profitability with them.” 4) Challenge of New Media: “ … especially its on-demand capability and its attraction to advertisers. Younger Canadians in particular are turning to Internet-based and mobile media that hardly existed as entertainment sources ten years ago.” 5) Diminished role of conventional television: “What is also clear is that a lot of people are watching less conventional television than before.” The chairperson went on to identify four unresolved issues that need to be addressed in the drive to fix the ‘broken model.’ 1) Digital transmission: Most Canadians get their broadcast signals from cable or satellite. About 10 per cent get their signals over the air (OTA) using old-style antennas. The CRTC has set a deadline of Aug. 31, 2011, for the switching of analog signals to digital, however the industry is balking, saying it would be too costly to invest in OTA digital transmitters, when only a small number of households would use this service. The commission says it’s unacceptable that those households now relying on free OTA signals would lose them, or be forced to pay for them through broadcasting distribution undertakings (BTUs). Discussions are underway to arrive at a solution, with some sort of hybrid system probable, he said. 2) Local programming improvement fund: “Stations in smaller markets have been having difficulty in maintaining adequate levels of local programming, especially news … the fund’s objective is to provide incremental funding for local programming,” said von Finckenstein, who added, “ … terms must be set for administration of the fund, including eligibility to access it.” 3) Distant signals: “For some time, broadcasters have been asking for compensation for the retransmission of their signals outside their priority carriage market … the commission recognized the legitimacy of their claim … we believe that market-based negotiations between the parties will arrive at a fair price.” 4) Terms of trade: “The industry needs to have a template for agreements on rights, just as there are standard forms for the sale of a house.” OK, so there is general agreement the industry is in trouble. So what now? The CRTC boss outlined a three-phase approach. The first phase is to hold the scheduled licensing hearings in April, but with a dramatically reduced focus with the objective being how to help conventional broadcasters weather the immediate storm. Instead of seven-year licenses, one-year licenses will be granted. A review of the entire licensing system over the summer will constitute the second phase. The commission will look at “the reality of large ownership groups controlling both conventional and discretionary broadcasting services – with some of them also being major distribution undertakings.” According to the CRTC chairman, “The intent is to design a framework for licensing broadcasters – both conventional and specialty – on the basis of these ownership groups, not on the basis of the types of service they deliver. Such a framework would reflect the industry reality.” The third phase, in April 2010, involves “… a combined hearing for specialty and conventional television and assign privileges and obligations on that new ownership basis.” Sounds like quite the plan. Broadcasters hope fee-for-carriage lies somewhere amid the details. “This is not a selling problem or performing problem,” said Hebden. “We have great performance, but it doesn’t seem to matter.” The loss to Barrie and region of its local television station would hit the community hard, she predicted. “We’re very important and we need to have a local television station tell our stories. We don’t need our stories told from Toronto, and that’s what would happen.” To tell those stories, ‘A’ is required to produce 14 hours of local content per week, said Hebden. “Barrie is exceeding it with 20.5, including our repeats.” To a layman, it seems a balance needs to be struck between profit and local content. The station is, after all, a business. But without local content, there wouldn’t be any of “our stories” Hebden speaks of, and without those, little value to the community from a station merely based in Barrie, but carrying content readily available elsewhere. Many in the community are rallying to the station’s side, including MP Patrick Brown. “The majority of residents … adore having the ability to learn about local news, cultural activities and charitable events through the ‘A’ station.” “The CRTC must allow local television stations to add a second stream of revenue, a fee-for-carriage, which would be paid for by local cable providers.” Ultimately though, it would be the consumer who paid, as cable and satellite providers can be expected to pass on the costs. The CRTC has already rejected the fee-for-carriage request twice, with cable and satellite providers among the most vocal opponents. There’s no argument the industry is in trouble. The numbers speak for themselves. The CRTC recently reported that the profits of conventional broadcasters dropped by more than 90 per cent last year; the industry’s 2008 profits, before taxes, were a miniscule $8 million, compared with $112.9 million in 2007 and $233.4 million in 2004. Debt load, particularly with Canwest ($3.7 billion), compounds the problems facing local television, as the media giants struggle to service debt amid declining revenues. The industry is being assailed from a number of fronts, and, is “at a crossroads that people need to pay attention to. “It’s serious,” said Hebden, adding she doesn’t see how the CRTC could ignore the call for fee-for-carriage. The alternative is a stark one, she said. “We are so important and vital to this community and we could very easily shut down if something doesn’t change.”
Visitors are once again free to come and go from Alliston’s Stevenson Memorial Hospital as officials announced the risks associated with a viral outbreak are over. Visitor restrictions were put in place at the hospital last Saturday after a number of patients and staff on the Medical Surgical Unit exhibited symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Special measures were put in place to limit further spread of the suspected gastroenteritis outbreak to patients and visitors were not allowed on the Medical Surgical Unit for a period of approximately 24 hours. After controlling the outbreak and with no new admissions to the unit, family members were allowed to visit their loved ones on Sunday. Contact precautions were still in place and visitors and staff wore gloves, masks and gowns. Today, (Fri., April 17) the outbreak status has been lifted and visiting hours have returned to normal. The infection is still prevalent in the community and hospital officials remind the public that if they are ill they should not be visiting people in health-care facilities. People may unknowingly bring the infection into hospital when visiting sick relatives or friends. "Our staff who always do a stellar job, worked quickly and constantly to contain this outbreak," said Gary Ryan, President and CEO of Stevenson Memorial Hospital. "Effective hand washing also helped to keep the illness from spreading," he added. The hospital and Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit also remind the community that proper hand hygiene is one of the best ways to fight the spread of disease. People should always wash their hands with soap and warm water or alcohol based hand rub for at least 15 seconds. They should ensure their hands are clean before preparing or eating food, after using the washroom, and before or after any person-to-person contact. Alcohol hand sanitizer is available throughout the hospital and visitors are reminded to clean their hands before visiting.
The cost of leasing retail and office space in Bradford West Gwillimbury is a growing concern for both council and the town’s manager of economic development, Michael Disano. However, Mr. Disano said there’s not much the municipality can do about it. “We can’t force the hand of the business owners,” he said. “We can only hope that with time, their prices will come back down.” The concern came up during a discussion at a council meeting regarding the town’s economic state. The average price for leasing industrial, commercial or retail space in town in 2008 was $15 per square foot. That said, the total square footage leased in 2008 went up by 10,000 square feet over 2007. However, that increase is believed be quite low, considering the number of people who were in search of space but couldn’t find any at a good price, according to some members of council. “I have heard from many people who have come to me and said that they were looking to open up in Bradford but the actual square footage costs were too high,” Ward 4 Councillor Mark Contois said. “We want businesses to relocate, but the price that the landowners are asking is too high.” According to a report Mr. Disano compiled with the help of outside sources such as Tina Sibbald of Royal LePage Timeless Realty, those prices could soon change without the aid of municipal politicians. “As development continues to expand west, property owners will have to take a more realistic view with respect to lease rates in order to avoid high vacancy rates in the downtown and east end,” Ms Sibbald said in Mr. Disano’s report. “This applies particularly to buildings which are older and in need of significant structural, system and facade upgrades.” Making matters worse, according to Mr. Contois, is the number of property owners who don’t live in the town. “I would love to know the percentage of people who own the buildings that actually live in town,” Mr. Contois said. “These other absentee landlords don’t seem to care what happens to the property.” However, the involvement of landlords in their property is something the town can’t get involved with, Mr. Disano said. “There is not a whole lot the town can do unless they want to start to buy or expropriate these properties,” he said.
Good Samaritan Blocks Drunk Driver A member of the public stopped a potential drunk driver by blocking the accused’s car until police arrived. Police were called to a Tottenham business Friday when a resident noticed someone that looked like they were drunk get into a car and drive away. The resident blocked the suspect vehicle until police arrived. The accused, a 55-year-old Beeton man, refused to give police a breath sample. He is charged with impaired care and control and refusing to provide a breath sample. His vehicle was impounded and his licence was suspended for 90 days. Tools Stolen A maintenance shed in Adjala-Tosorontio was broken into Sunday night. Police were called Tuesday morning after someone noticed that someone had broken in through the door of the building, which is on the 25th Sideroad. Tools were stolen from the shed. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
The Georgian Bay Land Trust (GBLT) announced last week that it made major strides in 2008 toward its goal of preserving the eastern shore of Georgian Bay as a public trust. “Thanks to successful fundraising efforts, we nearly doubled our holdings by the addition of 12 new properties,” Richard Stark, GBLT’s incoming president, stated in a press release. “This marks our most successful land protection year yet, as we now own more than 1,200 acres, 730 of which were acquired in 2008.” The newly protected properties are scattered throughout the trust’s target area, including Tiny Township, Port Severn, Go Home Bay and a 15-acre parcel on Giant’s Tomb Island. Through these properties, the GBLT has ensured the protection of acres of classic landscapes along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay, and has also protected rare flora and fauna such as the eastern fox snake, eastern massasauga rattlesnake and stiff yellow flax. “This incredible accomplishment shows what can happen when you combine the selfless generosity of donors, the tireless efforts of volunteers, directors and advisers, and the unwavering determination of our highly competent and dedicated staff,” commented Wendy Cooper, executive director of the GBLT.
A Meaford man is dead after the vehicle he was in jumped a parking curb and went over the edge of the breakwall into the Meaford Harbour. On Sunday morning, March 22, at 10 a.m., someone observed a dark SUV, which seemed to be parking on Bayfield Street near the intersection of Nelson and Bayfield, when the vehicle suddenly accelerated and dove into the harbour water, according to police. Meaford Fire Department, Grey County OPP and Grey County EMS responded to pull 65-year-old Philip Butler out of his car and out of the harbour. He was brought to the Meaford hospital where he was pronounced dead. Constable Steve Starr, Grey County OPP, said the investigation is ongoing, and may take a while, adding that there are three areas the police are studying: the mechanical state of the vehicle, Butler’s medical condition and whether or not the act was deliberate. Starr commended the Meaford Fire Department on their swift and efficient response to the situation. Grey County OPP asks that anyone with information contact the investigating officer, Constable Alina Grelik.
The Georgian Triangle Real Estate Board says March brought forth improved property showing and sales activity throughout the region. The board says that in the most active price range – homes up to $249,000 – there was “an increase in the number of instances where multiple or competing offers were present.” The board says that, “low interest rates, a wide selection of properties available to choose from and stable pricing have many buyers realizing now is the time to buy.” Still, the board says the number of real estate listings is down for the first quarter of 2009 when compared with the same period a year ago. There were 1,317 listings between January and the end of March, compared to 1,342 last year. The board says the number of sales for the first quarter was 238, compared to 394 in 2008. The corresponding total dollar sales was $55-million, compared to $105-million for the first quarter last year. A breakdown by price range reveals that 168 listings were sold in the first quarter in the up to $249,000 range, compared to 243 a year ago. In the 250,000 to $499,000 range, 56 sales occurred, compared to 124 during the first quarter of 2008. In the $500,000 to $1-million range, there were 13 sales, compared to 21 a year ago. In the $1-million and up rage, there has only been one sale the first quarter of this year, compared to six a year ago. The Georgian Triangle Real Estate Board is comprised of agents from across the Georgian Triangle.
The Collingwood and The Blue Mountains Affordable Housing Task Force will hold its first meeting this Friday. The session is open to the public and takes place at the Collingwood Town Hall at 1:30 p.m. Counc. Ian Chadwick said representatives from Collingwood’s task force have wanted to meet with The Blue Mountains for several years. "We’ve wanted to get together with TBM to discuss issues," he said. Chadwick said Intrawest is one of the largest employers in the area but there isn’t enough low-cost housing for the workers. "It puts them at a great disadvantage if housing prices continue to soar," he said. Chadwick said the problem of affordable housing is bigger than just Collingwood and it’s something both communities need to work on. The announcement of the meeting comes on the heels that the developer of an apartment complex on High Street – 18 units are affordable housing – is interested in making the entire building an affordable housing project. Town CAO Gordon Norris made the announcement on Monday and said the item would be up for discussion at the March 9 council meeting.