The Sun News Network made its case in front of the CRTC Tuesday to be made a mandatory part of basic cable, but some of the questions levelled at the right-leaning current affairs channel suggested skepticism about the attempt.
At one point, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais suggested that Sun’s problems in developing an audience may be because "Canadians may just not want to subscribe. How do you respond?"
"It is inevitable you'll pay for things you don't watch and don't like. That's true for everyone," Sun News vice president Kory Teneycke told the hearing, as quoted by the Globe and Mail’s Steve Ladurantaye.
The Quebecor-owned network is seeking what is known as mandatory carriage from the CRTC, which would require the channel to be included in every basic cable and satellite package across Canada.
The news channel says it will not survive otherwise.
Mandatory carriage would generate significant revenue for the network, which is proposing that it would earn 18 cents a month from every household that subscribes to a basic cable or satellite package.
The network lost $18.5 million in the year ending last August, and projects larger losses in the years ahead. Fees from mandatory subscriptions would cover much of the red ink.
Sun News has argued it is being sidelined by TV carriers, noting the specialty news channel is only offered in 40 per cent of Canadian households.
“We’re here because Sun News has not been getting a fair shake,” said Luc Lavoie, the network’s head of development.
But in twist to the debate, the CRTC’s Blais asked Sun News spokespeople at the hearing why the channel isn’t offered on basic cable on Videotron, the Quebec cable provider owned by Quebecor, the same company that owns Sun News.
According to a tweet from Michael Hennessy, head of the Canadian Media Production Association, Sun News offered “no answer” to the question.
Sun is asking the CRTC to make it a mandatory part of cable and satellite TV through to the end of 2017, noting that CBC News Channel and CTV News Network enjoyed similar privileges when they started out.
“We don’t begrudge our competitors in any way, we simply want the same rules that they enjoyed — at least for the next five years,” the company said in filings to the CRTC.
The network reportedly also asked to be placed lower on the dial than international channels such as CNN and BBC World, a request that some experts described as problematic.
The network has argued it deserves the must-carry designation because it acts as a public service and because of its high proportion of Canadian content.
"We think if we don’t qualify, no one does," Teneycke told the hearing.
Opponents of Sun’s bid will have the opportunity to voice their objections later this week. No timeline has been set for a decision on its must-carry application.
— With files from The Canadian Press
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the last quote in the story to Jean-Pierre Blais. The quote belongs to Kory Teneycke.