Community television in Canada
Community television in Canada is a form of media that carries programming of local community interest produced by a cable television company and by independent community groups and distributed by a local cable company.
A community channel is a form of community television, much like public-access television cable TV in the United States and other forms of citizen produced content. The provision of a community channel is required by CRTC regulations governing the licensing of cable companies. Cable companies are required to allocate a small percentage of cable subscription revenues for the provision of a community channel. This amounts to over $116 million annually in Canada. The community channel is viewed as a public trust that the cable companies manage on behalf of the Canadian public.
In Canada, citizen media has roots going back to 1922 when filmmaker Robert Flaherty brought in an Inuit hunter to participate in Nanook of the North. In the 1960s this film was cited as an inspiration by a group of filmmakers associated with the National Film Board of Canada, whose Challenge for Change project was part of Canada's War on Poverty. In 1967 Challenge for Change contributed to a prototype studio where people were free to help shape community media. More public access experiments followed. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission required cable companies to provide public access on July 16, 1971.
In 1997, the CRTC deregulated community television in Canada, causing a protracted period of political tension between cable companies and community groups. After complaints to the CRTC from the Canadian public, a policy review process was initiated, culminating in CRTC Decision 2002-61, a reinvigoration of the participatory elements of the community channel. Under 2002-61, community channels can be run by independent community groups, and up to one-half of the channel must be made available for independent community producers.
More recently, cable companies have begun to question whether or not they should be required to carry community channels, with one example being Shaw Cable in the Vancouver area in the early 2000s.
Large companies may brand all of their community channels similarly — for example, all community channels operated by Rogers Cable are branded as Rogers TV, and Cogeco Cable's stations are branded as TVCogeco. Such systems may also share some of their more general interest programming. For example, the Toronto-produced movie review series Reel to Real aired on all Rogers Television channels throughout Ontario.
More rarely, a cable company may offer more than one community channel. For instance, in Ottawa and some communities in New Brunswick, distinct channels serve the anglophone and francophone communities, while in Vancouver, Shaw Cable produces a multicultural programming channel in addition to the primary community channel.
Community channels commonly broadcast a mix of public access television and community service programming such as city council meetings, sports broadcasts or local talk shows. Under CRTC policy 2002-61, up to one half of the air time of the community channel must be made available to independent community producers. Some community channels produce and show full programs, while others predominantly adopt the format of a local news channel with a constant rotation of news, public affairs and human interest reports. When not broadcasting live programming, a community channel typically displays a bulletin board of community event listings.
Cable companies sometimes collaborate with volunteer committees to produce programming of community interest. Through their community programming initiatives, community channels have often been leaders in media diversity in Canada — for example, community channel programs such as Coming Out, Gay News and Views and 10% QTV were the first Canadian television programs targeted to LGBT audiences in Canada.
Community channels also frequently broadcast local minor or junior league sporting events, such as OHL, QMJHL or WHL hockey games. In provinces which do not operate a dedicated legislature broadcaster channel, community channels may also air some proceedings of the provincial Legislative Assembly.
While Canadian community channels are expected to make efforts to solicit program proposals from the public, nowadays despite the many requests for airtime it is relatively uncommon (compared to American public-access television cable TV channels) for a proposal from an individual member of the public to make air. Community groups and cable companies disagree as to the best way to manage the public-access television channel assets. Many cable companies develop system-wide formats which fill up much of a local channel's schedule – for instance, several Rogers Television channels air programs entitled Daytime, First Local, or (City/Region) Living. Community groups want access to airtime for their independently produced programs.
In 2015, the CRTC censured Vidéotron, one of Canada's largest cable companies, for the programming on its Montreal community channel MAtv. According to the commission, MAtv's schedule comprised just 30 per cent public access programming compared to its license requirement of 45 per cent, and instead was counting shows hosted and produced by professional broadcasters as public access. In addition, the majority of the channel's schedule comprised general interest programming shared by all of Vidéotron's community channels across Quebec, rather than being specifically oriented toward Montreal. In extreme circumstances, the CRTC's community channel policy allows it to force the cable company to surrender operation of the community channel to an outside community group; although a community group had requested this remedy in the MAtv case, the CRTC did not impose it in their decision.
A notable community channel success story is Tom Green, whose guerilla gross-out comedy first appeared on Rogers Television in Ottawa. Some other personalities who have been associated with community channel programming include Catherine Clark, Jacqueline Hennessy and Dale Goldhawk.
The term community channel may also refer to a conventional broadcast station — for example, CFTV in Leamington, Ontario, CFSO in Cardston, Alberta, CHCO in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and Telile in Arichat, Nova Scotia — owned and operated by a local non-profit organization to serve a similar function. Terrestrial community stations are offered only where a local group has presented a viable business plan to the CRTC and been awarded a license — unlike cable community channels, it is not mandatory that a terrestrial community channel be made available in any given market. Cable companies may also apply to the CRTC for relief of carriage responsibilities on the basic cable tier, such as in the case of CFTV, which is carried on digital basic cable.
One of the most famous attempts to launch a terrestrial community station in Canada, Star Ray TV, became notable when its owner began operating it as a pirate station after failing to secure a CRTC license.
On occasion, a cable community channel may itself be awarded a license to broadcast terrestrially in addition to its cable television carriage. Examples include NAC TV in Neepawa, Manitoba and Télé-Mag in Quebec City. This occurs most frequently in smaller communities that have no commercial media service of their own.
Notable community channel systems
- MATV (formerly VOX)
- EastLink Television
- Rogers TV / TV Rogers
- Shaw TV
- TVNB (defunct)
- para11, Review of community television policy framework, Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2009-661, http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2009/2009-661.htm
- "CRTC says Vidéotron's community TV channel has failed in its mandate, but can become bilingual". Montreal Gazette, February 4, 2015.