An independent film channel, to be run as a joint venture between Halifax-based Salter Street Films, Toronto-based Triptych Media and New York's Independent Film Channel, has been granted one of the 21 digital television network licences by Canada's broadcast regulator.
The Independent Film Channel Canada, which is obliged under its new licence from the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to devote half its programming to Canadian content, will launch next September at the earliest.
The independent movie network was one of 16 English and five French-language "Category 1" licences awarded by the CRTC. These initial licences were particularly coveted because they are guaranteed carriage as the country's cable operators begin to roll out the first stage of their digital services.
In order to maximise viewership and thus the likelihood of the new channels' survival, the CRTC requires cable distributors of digital programming services to carry all Category 1 licence-winners that are appropriate to their language market. The CRTC also provided genre protection: none of the new licensees competes with each other.
By contrast, the 262 "Category 2" licences that were approved by the CRTC ensured neither carriage rights nor genre protection. Such networks will have to compete in the hurly-burly of the marketplace. However, while Category 1 licensees will be required to maintain a 50% Canadian content level, Category 2 will only need to meet a 35% threshold.
The successful applicants in both categories were familiar Canadian entertainment companies backing familiar programming brands.
Alliance Atlantis, for example, was granted one Category 1 licence and 33 Category 2 services, among them National Geographic Canada and BBC Canada. Despite being Category 2, the strong international brand recognition of these two ventures, combined with Alliance's deep pockets and strong carrier relationships, make it likely both services will find carriage eventually. However, any Category 2 channels are unlikely to launch let alone find carriage space until the first tier establishes viewership.
A leak to the media forced the regulatory body to release the information two weeks ahead of schedule. The 16 "Category 1" digital channels (together with their backers in parentheses) are as follows: