Corus plans educational content to meet CRTC rules for Oprah's OWN Network

TORONTO – Corus Entertainment Inc. (TSX:CJR.B) said Tuesday that plans are underway to create educational programming for its Oprah Winfrey channel that would appease federal regulators.

Chief executive John Cassaday told analysts in the broadcaster’s quarterly earnings call that, after meeting with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last month, the broadcaster will create two more hours of educational programming for it schedule.

At issue at the meetings were concerns over whether shows on its Oprah Winfrey Network, also known as OWN Canada, met an educational mandate set for the channel’s broadcast licence.

“At this point we are extremely confident that as a result of the discussions that we had with the CRTC that we will be successful in maintaining our Category A licence,” Cassaday said.

He did not provide any details about the content of the television programs or when they would air.

Category A licences are prized by broadcasters because they mean that all digital cable and satellite providers must carry the signal, which means they reach a large number of Canadians. The licences are limited and rarely granted by the CRTC, but fall under strict content rules.

The OWN channel used to be the Canadian Learning Television channel when its licence was originally granted by the CRTC. The channel was rebranded as VIVA, a women’s entertainment channel and then rebranded again as Oprah Winfrey Network in March 2011 by Corus.

The CRTC has said OWN is required to honour the original licensing agreement and provide formal and informal educational programs that generally focus on adult education.

The regulator has not made its official decision and did not return calls for comment late Tuesday.

The CRTC could insist on changes to OWN programming, request it apply for a different operating licence or, in a worst case scenario, pull its licence, possibly jeopardizing the specialty cable channel’s operation.

Cassaday said he doesn’t think the regulator will need to go to those measures because he believes the content will meet expectations.

“We will intersperse it into our schedule and we will produce it as creatively as is possible,” he said.

On Monday, Corus boosted its dividend by more than six per cent, or six cents a share, to $1.015 for class A shares. The annual dividend for class B shares rises to $1.02, or 8.5 cents a month.

During the first quarter, the company’s net income attributable to shareholders was $52.2 million or 62 cents per diluted share in the three months ended Nov. 30. That was up three per cent from $50.5 million or 61 cents per dilute share in the year-earlier period.

However, consolidated revenues slipped to $226.1 million, down five per cent from $236.9 million the previous year, partly on weaker revenues from its television operations.

Corus shares rose 22 cents to close at $24.45 on Tuesday at the Toronto Stock Exchange.