TV regulators seek new formula for local content

Television regulators are contemplating collecting fees from cable companies to create a universal service fund to help pay for the production of “public service broadcasting.”

The Information and Communications Technology Authority, which is in the process of developing guidelines for the mandatory broadcast of local content on Cayman’s television networks, could raise money from its licensees to make grants available for certain types of programming, according to its managing director Alee Fa’amoe.

He said local news, sports, government information and community events would be mandatory under the new regulations.

Cable companies will not be allowed to meet their local content obligations by using government television.

If a commercially viable local television station proves impossible in the private sector, a universal service fund will be activated to help pay for content creation, Mr. Fa’amoe said.

Cable companies have previously been required to show a certain amount of community programming as part of their licensing requirements.

ICTA began considering a new framework after WestStar complained that it was at an unfair advantage because it ran Cayman 27 at a financial loss to fulfill a mandate to produce local content, while others met their obligations with CIGTV or lower-budget lifestyle programming.

Mr. Fa’amoe said “guidance notes” had been developed for mandatory public service broadcasting. The details of how that will be achieved will be fine-tuned by an industry working group over the next few months.

It is possible, he said, that Cayman 27, if it continues to produce local content that fits the definition of public service broadcasting, could be made a “must carry” channel on all networks.

He said the association is keen to stay out of the commercial arrangements but could get involved in providing grant support if necessary.

“Who pays for what is not the primary concern for us – whether or not the content meets the standard or definition of public service broadcasting is our main remit,” he added.

Following Logic’s takeover of WestStar, which owned Cayman 27, the future of the station has been a source of speculation. The potential sale of the station, which was primarily funded through WestStar’s revenues rather than its own profits, could impact the availability of local programming further.

Mr. Fa’amoe said the ICTA law envisages a universal service fund, from fees from licensees. He said this could be used to help fill gaps in programming not being met in the private sector.

He said it remains an open question whether a local television station, independent of other sources of revenue, is viable in Cayman’s market.

He added, “If the private sector is not able to deliver public service broadcasting, then we have a duty to make sure it is delivered.” He said an independent body would likely be needed to administer the fund and make decisions on grant proposals.

“We would want to levy a public fund like that only to fill a gap that the private sector was not filling,” he said. “If there is a commercially viable television station out there doing a good job, then maybe we could focus funding in some other direction.”