Religious television in Canada is headed for uncharted territory following the granting to televangelist David Mainse of a licence for a station in lucrative southern Ontario and the multi-faith Vision network being forced higher on the converter dial by cable companies.
The surprise approval of a licence for Crossroads Communications, producer of the popular 100 Huntley Street, could be a blow to the 10-year-old Vision network, which gets part of its revenue from mosaic programs, many of them TV evangelists who might opt for an evangelical outlet run by Mr. Mainse.
Religious broadcasting policy in Canada for the past 70 years has refused licences to single faith broadcasters, citing lack of balance. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has turned down Mr. Mainse and other evangelicals on previous occasions.
Unlike the American religious broadcasting model which has opened the airwaves to scores of evangelical Christian stations, Canada has limited the field to Vision, a multi-faith network supported by major Christian denominations and faith groups.
Vision president Fil Fraser said the new licence is just part of the evolution of television. “We’re seeing a fragmentation of TV audiences and this means more and more channels,” he said. “You have to look at TV now as a magazine rack.”
Vision could suffer a loss of revenue if some of the television evangelists who buy time move over to the new Crossroads station, but Mr. Fraser predicts both broadcasters, which are aiming at different markets, can survive.
Vision reaches 6.5 million cable homes throughout the country, which dwarfs the reach Mr. Mainse will have from a conventional southern Ontario station. His station will, however, have a spot on the lower tier of cable.
Vision has had concerns about the impact of a rearrangement of the cable dial. In many parts of Canada, this has meant moving to Channel 59, which sparked a torrent of protest in areas where 59 is also used as a security channel for high-rise tenants.
Protests to the CRTC, supported by the Anglican Church, resulted in a decision that will see Vision move to Channel 60, which is not as desirable as its former Channel 24 location on many cable services.