The WGC is beyond disappointed in Shaw Communications’ May 15 sell-off of its 39% stake in Corus Entertainment. If it wasn’t clear before, the move has broadcast the Shaw family’s plans in 4K Ultra HD — it wants out of the content business, stat. Sure, the Shaws remain the majority owners of both Shaw Communications and Corus, but it’s obvious who the family favourite is. Corus is in debt to the tune of $2 billion with its share prices falling, while Shaw Communications just got a $548-million booster shot to expand its wireless operations.
According to WGC data, Corus’s commissioning of original Canadian programming under our jurisdiction plummeted by 67.81% between 2014 and 2018. This is not really news to anyone working in the Canadian TV industry. Just ask those writing and producing series in the kids TV sector during this period. Corus had built a virtual monopoly in Canadian commercial kids channels, and then abruptly shut the door on Canada's independent animation and kids programming creators and producers. Its withdrawal from commissioning was devastating to this segment of the industry. And this latest move by Shaw doesn't do Corus any favours when it comes to possibly course-correcting its programming spend.
So, on the heels of yesterday’s news, we have to ask how long can this situation continue? Canadian private broadcasters have benefited from regulatory protection for decades, and their only real requirement was to invest some money in the creation of Canadian content. Now, after years of benefiting, it looks like — particularly in Shaw's case — they're done holding up their end of the deal. But they can't just arbitrarily exit. Our ask is pretty straightforward: If media owners like the Shaw family are making it clear they’re more interested in the content pipes than the content itself, it’s time for Canadian regulators to make ISPs and WSPs like Shaw Communications start contributing to the system from which they’re clearly benefiting. Members of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, are you listening?