The future of Canada's most controversial news network was thrown into doubt Thursday when the CRTC rejected the network's application to be a mandatory part of basic cable.
But at the same time the telecommunications regulator announced it plans to hold a review of how national news services are licenced in Canada.
That appeared to be a response to arguments from Sun News that it should be granted mandatory carriage because other news networks enjoyed that status when they started out. But news channels as a rule are no longer mandatory.
Sun News exec Kory Teneycke had previously told the commission that a denial of a mandatory licence would be a "death sentence" for the fledgling news network, which is running losses in the $16-million to $18-million range annually.
The CRTC plans to hold these hearings in a very short timeline, asking the public to submit comments no later than Sept. 9, with a decision expected before the end of the year. That, too, appears to be a bow to Sun News and its concerns it could go out of business without regulatory support.
The CRTC says it is looking at these four principles for its licencing review:
- 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.
The commission doesn't appear to be looking at the option of eliminating mandatory carriage altogether, an option that is popular with some consumers.
Though CBC News Network and CTV News Channel are no longer mandatory, the English language CBC news network is mandatory in Quebec, and the French version mandatory in English Canada.
The CRTC did grant mandatory carriage status to two channels: AMI TV, a service for visually impaired francophone Canadians, and Nouveau TV5, another French-language service.
A third channel will be made mandatory only in the northern territories: A pulic access channel broadcasting from inside the Nunavut and Northwest Territories legislative assemblies.
In its decision, the CRTC rejected numerous other mandatory carriage applications, including one from Starlight, a proposed channel that would show newly-made Canadian movies.
The CRTC reportedly said the channel did not meet the criteria for mandatory carriage.