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A television system is a term sometimes used in Canada to describe a group of television stations which share common ownership, branding, and programming, but which for some reason does not satisfy the criteria necessary for it to be classified as a television network.
As the term "television system" has no set legal definition, and as most audiences and broadcasters usually refer to groups of stations with common branding and programming as "networks" regardless, the distinction between the two entities is often not entirely clear, and indeed the term is rarely discussed outside the Canadian broadcasting enthusiast community. In the latter regard, however, a group of Canadian stations is currently considered a "network" if it satisfies at least one of the following:
- it operates under a network licence (either national or, in the case of Quebec where the majority of Canada's francophones reside, provincial) issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Five such networks currently operate: CBC, Radio-Canada, TVA, APTN, and V (a provincial network in Quebec).
- it has at least near-complete national over-the-air coverage (or equivalent mandatory cable carriage) in Canada's major population centres. Three additional station groups meet this criterion: CTV, Global, and City.
If the group of stations does not match at least one of these criteria, it would then be classified as a "system".
In current practice, a television system may be either:
- a small group of stations with common branding, such as CTV Two or Omni, or
- a regional group of stations within a larger network, such as CTV Atlantic, CTV Northern Ontario, or CBC North, which are legally licensed as multiple stations but effectively act as a single station for programming, branding, and advertising sales purposes.
Systems are differentiated from networks primarily by their less extensive service area — while a network will serve most Canadian broadcast markets in some form, a system will typically serve only a few markets. As well, a system may or may not offer some classes of programming, such as a national newscast, which are typically provided by a network.
Finally, with regards to "primary" systems, the amount of common programming on participating stations may be variable. While CTV Two (and previously City, BBS and Global) generally has programming and scheduling practices similar to networks (with variations required for specific stations licensed under educational or ethnic formats), the programming and scheduling of Omni and CTS stations often differs greatly between stations, with the system sometimes serving mainly as a common format and brand positioning, but providing limited common programming.
Television systems should not be confused with twinsticks, although some individual stations might be part of both types of operations simultaneously. Moreover, a single originating station serving multiple markets within the same province or region is neither a network nor a system; it is merely a station (though it might still be described as a system by its owner, as was the case with CFMT during the 1990s). For example, independent station CHCH-DT Hamilton has rebroadcasters in various parts of Ontario but broadcasts the same newscasts and advertising, which target Hamilton and surrounding areas, across all of these transmitters province-wide.
The term likely originated in the early 1990s when CanWest Global Communications, then a fledgling owner of independent stations airing common programming, began using "CanWest Global System" (CGS) as a secondary brand for its various stations. Soon after, the Baton Broadcast System (BBS) launched as a secondary "affiliation" linking another station group. In that sense the term "system" was intended to give the impression of a full network service without any of the additional regulatory responsibilities, such as enhanced Canadian content requirements, associated with a CRTC-issued network licence. Much like today's systems, however, both CGS and BBS operated in relatively few markets compared to full "networks" such as CBC or CTV.
CGS was subsequently rebranded as the Global Television Network but never applied for a network licence from the CRTC. BBS's operations were eventually folded into CTV, which surrendered its own network licence in 2001. Indeed, as defined in Canada's Broadcasting Act a "network" is an operation whereby the programming of a station is controlled by a different company. As both CTV and Global now own stations serving virtually all markets, a national network licence would be redundant. Nevertheless, such "station groups" are now regulated in much the same way networks were regulated in the past.
Based on their national reach and the very limited differences in programming between stations, CTV and Global are both considered "networks" by the media and by the general public, notwithstanding the legal definition.
For a time, in the few markets where CTV does not own its own stations, programming was provided through a network licence that applied only to the applicable markets. Global, meanwhile, simply sublicenses its broadcast rights to local stations (i.e., stations pay for programming, as opposed to the traditional North American model of networks paying stations).
Regional network subsystems
"Upgraded" to networks