Industry Update – The New Adventures of Old City

Photo by Darren Goldstein/DSG Photo.

City New Year’s Bash 2013 was notable for one thing beyond the start of a new year – it was the first time Citytv called itself City, on a national basis. The name truncation was floated for a few months beforehand on Citytv stations, and on voiceovers that call the program service “City Television.”

The rebrand doesn’t amount to much – online viewing habits are the official stated reason for the rebrand, even though people are still watching television on the Internet. The true attraction is City’s soon-to-be-newest owned-and-operated station, City Montreal. On February 4, 2013, City makes its formal debut as a national program service.

Citytv was a fairly active brand, in the Moses Znaimer and CHUM Limited eras. Citytv Bogotá still exists, and Citytv once extended its reach to Barcelona, Spain, and Naranjito, Puerto Rico. A Citytv viewer instantly understood its general attitude – sometimes sensational, sometimes lurid (Baby Blue Movies), sometimes insightful, sometimes featuring Mark Dailey’s voice, and willing to produce Canadian content on a shoestring budget.

Even as Citytv became a semi-national program service, moving away from the newsmagazines (e.g., The NewMusic, MediaTelevision, SexTV) that once defined the channel, 2000s-era Citytv greenlit scripted programs like Terminal City, Blood Ties, Across the River to Motor City, The Collector, Murdoch Mysteries, and Less Than Kind. Citytv’s identity bled out gradually, as Bell Globemedia/CTVglobemedia carved up CHUM Limited’s assets around 2006-07, and Citytv transferred to Rogers. The decimation of Citytv’s newsrooms by Rogers served as the final break from Citytv’s past.

City, as currently exists, is a daisy chain of acquisitions. CKVU was Global’s official Vancouver station from 1997 to 2001, though it was Global’s Vancouver affiliate long before then. Canwest’s purchase of Western International Communications forced Global to sell CKVU to CHUM Limited; CHAN has been Global’s Vancouver station since 2001, while CKVU is now City Vancouver. City Calgary, City Winnipeg and City Edmonton were originally part of Craig Media/CHUM Limited’s A-Channel program service, and were made Citytv stations in 2005.

City Saskatchewan was the Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN) from 1991 to 2012, and entered into a Citytv affiliation agreement in 2011. Bluepoint Investment Corporation, which had only owned SCN since 2010, sold the station to Rogers in 2012. City Saskatchewan airs educational programs from 6:00 AM CT to 3:00 PM CT, as it is still an educational program service.

CJNT, a dual City/OMNI affiliate calling itself Metro14, will become City Montreal on February 4, 2013. CJNT has been many things in its history – a public-access ethnic cable channel, an independent ethnic station, an affiliate of Canwest’s secondary program service CH (later E!), and its now lame-duck incarnation as Metro14. CJNT’s ethnic requirements will be wiped out upon its City conversion, as International Channel/Canal International launches a new ethnic television station in Montreal.

Three more stations – CFJC (Kamloops, British Columbia), CKPG (Prince George, British Columbia), and CHAT (Medicine Hat, Alberta) – are affiliated with City, and owned by the Jim Pattison Group. Jim Pattison Group’s stations are all small-market, and have been City affiliates since 2009.

Once Rogers acquired Citytv in 2007, the program service banked largely on reality and documentary programs like My RONA Home, The Quon Dynasty, Extraordinary Canadians, and Canada’s Got Talent, as well as the usual high-profile, mostly-American imports. The only long-running scripted original on Citytv was Murdoch Mysteries, which was greenlit at the tail end of the CHUM Limited era, and is now firmly entrenched on CBC.

The next few years should be interesting for City. Rogers has its takeover of TheScore, and a possible takeover of some Bell Media and/or Astral Media properties, to look forward to. Bell and Rogers have joint majority control of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment. Rogers has also funneled a lot of money into the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2013 Major League Baseball season.

Recently, Rogers sold its one-third stake in TVtropolis to Shaw, for $59 million. By comparison, Rogers acquired SCN for $3 million, and CJNT for $10.67 million. Rogers bought Citytv for $375 million in 2007; for an extra $13.67 million, City is more attractive to national advertisers.

Compared to most of Rogers’ most recent purchases, Rogers managed two good deals. Granted, Channel Zero bought CJNT and CHCH from Canwest for a total of $12 in 2009, yet it was Channel Zero that originally sold CRTC on CJNT’s English-language conversion, and ICI’s formation. In both cases, Rogers desperately wanted stations in key markets that the previous owners wanted to abandon. The only challenge Rogers has left is placing a City station in Atlantic Canada.

It will be interesting to see how Rogers revitalizes City. City at least has a few new original comedies on tap for 2013. This time last year, City smeared Murdoch Mysteries reruns all over the place, so any new movement is positive movement. The question is, what will City be in five years? Unless Rogers aggressively pursues more Canadian content than Seed, Package Deal, Mother Up!, Canada’s Got Talent, and The Bachelor Canada, City will likely continue to ape CTV and Global. I don’t begrudge Rogers its future plans for City, but I hope City has more up its sleeve than adhering to CRTC CanCon minimums, and Sportsnet-branded sports content.