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Canadians deprived without channel devoted to homegrown films, CRTC told

Director David Cronenberg, producer Robert Lantos and actor/director Paul Gross meet with the Globe's editorial board to talk about their proposal for a Canadian film channel. Prior to the meeting, the three were photographed in the Globe studio on March 20 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadians won't understand how badly they need a television channel devoted entirely to Canadian films until such a channel is forced onto every television subscription in the country, a new specialty channel argued to the country's broadcast regulator.

A full slate of well-known Canadian movie executives appeared before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Thursday to make its case for mandatory carriage for Starlight: The Canadian Movie Channel, a rare designation that ensures a channel is included in every basic television subscription in the country.

When asked why Canadians would want the service – which exclusively air Canadian films and has vowed to put 70 per cent of its revenue toward producing new Canadian films – actor Paul Gross said people don't truly know what they are missing when Canadian films aren't readily available on television.

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"It's something that is difficult to quantify," he said. "If you go and ask people if you need to see such and such a film, they may not know unless you offer it to them. We're talking about providing access and letting it prove itself."

The channel would like to be in every home, and receive 45 cents per subscriber. That money would be used to fund its operations, but also to fund up to a dozen movies a year that would run exclusively on the channel. A key requirement of any channel that receives mandatory carriage is to produce Canadian content, and producer Robert Lantos said it would be pointless to launch the channel without a commitment to make films.

"Our mission with Starlight is twofold," he said. "On one hand, we want to bring the entire legacy of English and French Canadian films to every Canadian home to create easy and inexpensive access for all Canadians to their own stories. The other part is to create original programming … and to heavily market them so they will have been heard of when they air."

The channel's backers argue Canadian broadcasters that also own their own specialty channels aren't interested in showing Canadian films. It needs to be licenced as a mandatory service, Mr. Lantos said, because broadcasters are unlikely to put the channel on basic tiers of service unless they are forced.

"It boils down to a simple analogy," he said. "Approaching them for a service that is seeking as wide a carriage as their own services is really no different than asking wolves to guard the sheep. It is simply not going to happen."

CRTC commissioner Stephen Simpson asked why Canadians should be made to pay for a channel they may not want to watch.

"This could add 2.5 per cent to the average basic cable bill," he said. "Have you thought about that?"

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Starlight responded that the cost of service would be less than two rented movies a year. The channel's research shows most Canadians support their initiative, they replied, adding that their movies are among the country's most important cultural exports.

"Of all fiction programming, Canadian feature films have the highest cost, are the most difficult to finance and are the riskiest to produce," director David Cronenberg said. "They also represent the high water mark in Canadian creative and cultural expression. But there is no place where Canadians can get consistent and affordable access to our feature films on television. That is why Starlight is so important."

Mr. Lantos added: "What I find difficult to swallow is that Canadians are deprived of inexpensive access to our products."

The hearing will hear from other channels seeking mandatory carriage until the end of the day Thursday, and will also hear from those who oppose and support each channel into next week. Each channel also gets a chance to make a closing argument next week.

There is no timeline for a decision.

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