All posts by Cameron

Industry Update – CRTC: Mandatory Carriage vs. Channel Drift

On April 23, 2013, the CRTC began a public hearing on “distribution orders under section 9(1)h) of the Broadcasting Act” – in other words, mandatory carriage orders. Mandatory carriage automatically adds a service to a cable/satellite/IPTV provider’s basic package, and – unless the service is distributed for free – requires distributors to pay that service a wholesale fee per customer. This is a privilege ten services currently enjoy. A new or existing service granted mandatory carriage is the CRTC equivalent of winning pole position in a horse race. It practically guarantees that service some form of subsidy.

New and/or unlaunched services applying for mandatory carriage, such as Starlight: The Canadian Movie Channel, ACCENTS, and FUSION, are forward-looking statements in search of stable funding. Starlight, in particular, has made some noise in the media about its commitment to Canadian film. Existing services, such as Sun News Network and Vision TV, see mandatory carriage as the way to secure their futures.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a Steve Ladurantaye Globe and Mail piece about four services — Blue Ant Media’s Travel + Escape, OUTtv Network Inc.’s OUTtv, Stornoway Communications’ ichannel, and ZoomerMedia’s ONE – asking the CRTC for licence amendments. To that end, the Independent Broadcast Group — the four previously mentioned broadcasters, plus APTN, Channel Zero, Ethnic Channels Group, TV5 Quebec, and ZoomerMedia — lobbies to protect the independent broadcasters’ interests.

ichannel, OUTtv, ONE, and Travel + Escape’s renewals are part of the same CRTC Broadcasting Notice of Consultation as the applications for mandatory distribution orders. To demonstrate what a new “basic” service could become in the future, I point to two current services on differing prosperity levels — OUTtv and Vision TV — as they have at least one thing in common.

OUTtv debuted as lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) service PrideVision, and struggled to attract viewers in its early days – it aired pornographic content in the late night hours, and lacked a West Coast feed. Shaw Communications, in particular, resisted PrideVision. Headline Media Group (later Score Media Inc.) sold the service in 2004, to a consortium led by broadcaster William Craig.

PrideVision, by then doing business as HARD on PrideVision, briefly aired porn between 9:00 PM and 6:00 AM. In 2005, HARD on PrideVision spun off into a separate service (now Playmen TV), making the “new” OUTtv a full-time, general-interest LGBT service. Today, OUTtv is almost fully owned by Shavick Entertainment (Re:Source Media owns 4.16%), and has 939,200 subscribers as of 2012. Arguably, it took a decade, two ownership changes, and the “spinoff” of a questionable program block for OUTtv to find its footing.

Vision TV began in 1988 as a multi-faith religious service, initially owned by a company that evolved into S-VOX Foundation. ZoomerMedia acquired the service in 2010. Under ZoomerMedia ownership, Vision TV is more of a general-interest service for older audiences. ZoomerMedia’s chief argument is that cable and satellite companies want to remove Vision TV from their basic tiers, in part due to Vision TV straying from its original mandate. In the event Vision TV is bumped off basic cable, ZoomerMedia will attempt to amend Vision TV’s licence.

Where OUTtv and Vision TV intersect is their desire to amend their licences, and reduce Canadian content levels. This is why I don’t see a future for Starlight, EqualiTV, Dolobox TV, or other unlaunched services vying for mandatory carriage. The history of Canadian specialty services suggest that a service will rebrand, and/or amend its broadcasting licence, at some point. Even well-established, profitable services like The Comedy Network want to reduce their Canadian content levels.

Canadian television is littered with services that failed – C Channel, WTSN, The Life Channel, Edge TV, Cool TV, X-Treme Sports, Fox Sports World Canada, etc. Other services have new storefronts – Drive-In Classics is now Sundance Channel, TV Land is now Comedy Gold, mentv/The Cave is now H2, and so on. Services might wrap themselves around noble goals – engaging youth, reviving the Canadian film industry’s fortunes, appealing to underserved minority groups. What matters is whether the services are managed well enough to survive on their original mandates, and whether channels will still be maintained, if their preferred source of funding doesn’t materialize.

In the end, I don’t think CRTC’s current mandatory carriage hearings will produce much of value. In 2013, there are too many examples of services that meant well, but gave in to the pressures of commercial broadcasting. I rarely see a CRTC licence amendment that increases Canadian content, or strengthens a service’s mandate – maybe AUX’s 2011 application to play more music videos, which the CRTC denied.

I neither want to see overfunded services that can’t sustain themselves, nor services using mandatory carriage orders as a substitute for venture capital. In the wake of CRTC’s second round of Bell-Astral hearings, there are more pressing matters in Canadian television.


Industry Update – CRTC News: Licence Renewal Amendments – Blue Ant, Super Channel, Stornoway


Various companies
Section 3 – Licence renewal applications of independent conventional, pay and specialty television services
Broadcasting Notice of Consultation filed: January 21, 2013
Deadline for comments: February 20, 2013

I’m not going through the entire list of renewals. Many of the channels listed in Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2013-19 will simply ask to renew their licences, under their current terms of service. There are a few channels here that want to amend their terms of service, so that is what I will focus on.

Unless otherwise stated, the licences for the channels mentioned in this article expire on August 31, 2013. Of particular interest to me is Blue Ant Media’s bid to take a Rogers/Shaw/Bell-like form. Blue Ant’s under-the-radar now, but if there’s a marginal channel it figures it can turn around, Blue Ant will make a play for it. I still don’t know how it will turn bold around.

Allarco Entertainment 2008 Inc.
Super Channel

Super Channel is required by the CRTC to invest thirty-two percent of its total gross revenue each year on Canadian programming. Super Channel wants to change this to at least twenty-two percent, based on the number of Super Channel subscribers. When 820,000 people or more subscribe to Super Channel, this will trigger the full thirty-two percent commitment. Allarco claims this is in keeping with The Movie Network and Movie Central’s previous Canadian programming expenditures, before they were fully established.

Allarco wants to lower Super Channel’s $1-million-per-year commitment to regional outreach programs, reducing the commitment to $500,000. It wants to bring its other licence commitments in line with current commitments from The Movie Network, and Movie Central.

Allarco wants to delete a condition requiring it to spend as much each year for Canadian programming as it makes in operating profit. The argument is that Super Channel has operated at a loss ever since it launched in 2007, and that any money made by Super Channel will be used to pay down its deficits. It should be noted that Super Channel first made a profit in 2011. In its first three full years, Super Channel recorded a total pre-tax loss of almost $100 million.

Stornoway Communications Limited Partnership
The Pet Network

The Pet Network will increase dramatic and comedic content, from twenty to twenty-five percent. ichannel will air sports, music-related material, and variety shows, as well as increase its dramatic and comedic content.

ichannel also wants a relief from its current Canadian programming expenditure requirements. The argument is that Stornoway Communications, as a small-time player in Canadian television, can’t afford ichannel’s present CPE level. ichannel’s CPE will fluctuate from year to year – in a worst-case scenario, ichannel will spend ten percent less than its average CPE level of thirty-seven percent. In case of a yearly deficit, the next year’s CPE will make up for that deficit.

The GameTV Corporation (Insight Sports)

GameTV will expand into “Reporting & Actualities,” as well as music and dance programs, variety shows, entertainment/human-interest shows, and reality television. In effect, Game TV wants to air awards shows, dance contests – anything that will keep the channel from going under. The channel can’t live on Talk About and Bumper Stumpers reruns forever.

World Fishing Network ULC
World Fishing Network

WFN will become more of a hunting, fishing and “sportsman lifestyle” channel.

ZoomerMedia Limited
Vision TV

Vision TV is mentioned in an earlier Industry Update piece, but if Vision TV doesn’t earn mandatory carriage, it will reduce its religious programming requirements to seventy-five percent. During the broadcast day, only half of the programming will be Canadian, and ZoomerMedia/Vision TV’s Canadian programming expenditure requirements will be limited to 12.64%. A rule “limiting the number of minutes of solicitation of funds in Cornerstone and Mosaic programming” will be removed, and twelve more minutes of dramatic-programming commercial time will be added.

In short, if Vision TV doesn’t earn mandatory carriage, the channel will slash its commitments considerably – less religion, more Downton Abbey and EastEnders.

Blue Ant Media Partnership
Travel + Escape

Blue Ant Television Ltd.
bold (pending)
Oasis HD

Blue Ant Media, through its two divisions, wants a group-based approach to its Canadian programming expenditures. In essence, its eight properties will have their original productions count towards a group-based CPE. Blue Ant argues that Rogers Media, Shaw Media, and Bell Media do it, so it might as well get in that game.

In addition, AUX does not agree with a thirty-five percent cap on music videos, arguing that for the service it provides – music videos from “emerging artists” – it doesn’t compete directly with MuchMusic. Bite wants to air more long-form documentaries, miniseries and specials, and variety shows. Former High Fidelity HDTV channels eqhd, HIFI, Oasis HD, and radX will shift to more general-interest programming.

Finally, AUX’s current licence – which expires August 31, 2015 – will be revoked, so that in the future, all Blue Ant properties will be renewed on the same date.

Fifth Dimension Properties Inc.
Penthouse TV

TEN Broadcasting Inc.
Hustler TV
Red Hot TV

All three channels will broadcast in 3D, when available. Boi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oing!


Other CRTC News

Blue Ant Media Inc., on behalf of Blue Ant Television Ltd.
Transfer of bold from Blue Ant Media Partnership to Blue Ant Television Ltd.
Broadcasting Notice of Consultation filed: January 22, 2013
Deadline for comments: February 15, 2013

Blue Ant Media already owns bold. This is a corporate reorganization, placing bold in the same corporate division as former High Fidelity HDTV channels eqhd, HIFI, Oasis HD, and radX. I’m not sure why CRTC wants a hearing on this reorganization, to be honest. Perhaps, this is related to the group-based CPE?

Shaw Television Limited Partnership
CIII-DT-41 Toronto and its transmitter CIII-DT Paris – Technical change
Approved: January 22, 2013

Global’s Paris, Ontario repeater will soon change from channel 6 to channel 17. The maximum effective radiated power of the transmitter increases from 4,000 to 165,000 watts, while the average ERP increases from 4,000 to 97,000 watts. The average height above average terrain decreases, from 311.3 to 272 metres. Essentially, this means the Kitchener area will get Global a lot better.


Industry Update – CRTC News: The League, Quest, Paul Girouard, theScore, Must-Carry Channels

asperFight Media Inc.
The League – Fantasy Sports TV (Category B)
Approved: January 9, 2013

Fight Media Inc., which currently owns The Fight Network, is owned by Leonard Asper. Asper used to be the CEO of Canwest. Today, he stakes his future success on mixed martial arts, and fantasy leagues. At this point, The Fight Network relies most heavily on MMA, boxing, and the Live Audio Wrestling brand.

To be honest, The League isn’t a bad idea for a channel. It will likely work better on the Internet than as interactive television, yet Fight Media wants to get The League on air in North America, by summer 2013. There’s already a “fantasy pool” on The Fight Network’s website, where players choose who will win MMA fights.

The League won’t be able to devote more than ten percent of its schedule to televised sports. It’s hard to say what The League will be, when it debuts. The point is, Asper hasn’t left the Canadian television scene, though he’ll likely never get back what he lost.

Continue reading Industry Update – CRTC News: The League, Quest, Paul Girouard, theScore, Must-Carry Channels


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.

Continue reading Industry Update – The New Adventures of Old City


Industry Update – The Great Canadian Pilot Burn-Off 2013


It’s the beginning of 2013, as Canadian broadcasters build their original series foundations for the 2013-14 season. CTV currently pins its hopes on Tim McAuliffe sitcom Satisfaction (pictured above) and “edgy” cop drama Played. Eva Longoria stars in adult cartoon Mother Up!, for CityTV. These are the high-profile greenlights, which TV, eh? has mentioned before. Less reported-on are the failed pilots that Canadian broadcasters want shod of.

In 2010-11, Bell Media announced a couple of high-profile pilots – Borealis for Space, and Stay with Me for CTV. Stay with Me was announced at the same time as Saving Hope and Highland Gardens (later The L.A. Complex.) According to CTV/CTV Two Communications Manager Jim Quan, Stay with Me aired on CTV Northern Ontario. The pilot can currently be seen at

Borealis, a sci-fi pilot centred around a frontier town in the Arctic region of 2045, airs today — Friday, January 11, 2013, at 9:00 PM ET. SPACE eventually greenlit Borealis as a two-hour, backdoor pilot. Borealis has received a bit of press, mainly West Coast coverage.

Three of CBC’s 2011-era unsold pilots – Wish List, Gavin Crawford’s Wild West, and Great Scott – don’t currently have air dates as far as I know. All three shows appear in the Canada Media Fund’s 2011-12 list of funded projects (PDF). Usually, CBC’s unsold pilots air in the summer or as filler on nights between Stanley Cup Playoff games.

I generally like unsold television pilots. A full-fledged television series can throw its promotional weight on you from every angle – billboards, print and online ads, social media, webisodes, word of mouth both organic and astro-turfed. Unsold Canadian pilots are generally aired once, with as little fanfare as possible, and done with. Even Ron James went through this process with Almost There.

I can’t blame CTV for picking the shows with American sales. Saving Hope was picked up by NBC, while The L.A. Complex earned a shot on The CW; Stay with Me got lost in the shuffle. SPACE’s current Canadian content includes Being Human (US) and Primeval: New World, with Orphan Black and Bitten on the way. In Canada, science fiction television is competitive, as Showcase has Lost Girl and Continuum. Borealis was initially announced as a one-hour pilot, so its current status as a backdoor pilot makes it more marketable.

There is one main difference between an unsold Canadian pilot and a unsold American pilot. Most Canadian pilots get their money through public funds, like the Canada Media Fund. Current CMF Performance Envelope guidelines require most CMF-funded pilots to be aired within 18 months of their completion and delivery of their production (PDF), and must be aired between 7:00-11:00 PM, unless the broadcaster and producer(s) mutually agree that the pilot should not be broadcast.

By airing Stay with Me in Northern Ontario, CTV – as a national program service – technically fulfills its agreement with the CMF. There’s no specific rule that the pilot has to be nationally broadcast, which allows CTV wiggle room. It can be argued that satellite services, like Shaw Direct and Bell TV, allow a local broadcast to be televised nationally. In any case, Stay with Me is better served on CTV’s video site, although Twitter posts like this make up the brunt of the promotion.

There are exceptions to the unspoken, get-it-on-and-off strategy. APTN is usually democratic about its pilots, airing them in prime-time slots before some of them make series. APTN does this to fill schedule holes – it’s one of two by-definition Canadian national networks serving an aboriginal Canadian audience.

Of note, APTN floated the Pick a Pilot competition in 2009, which pitted Blackstone against The Time Traveler. Blackstone and The Time Traveler reaired in 2010, in keeping with APTN’s treatment of pilots.

In 2007, Teletoon launched the Teletoon Detour Pilot Project. Ten pilots were floated on the web in 2009, and nine aired as part of a 2010-11 anthology series. The initiative took three years to fully implement. By the time the Pilot Project debuted on television, Teletoon Detour gave way to Teletoon at Night. Fugget About It is, to date, the Pilot Project’s only “graduate.”

In the 2000s, CBC floated viewer-response polls for eight pilots. Rideau Hall and An American in Canada aired on January 18, 2002. For three consecutive Mondays in January 2005, Walter Ego, Hatching, Matching and Dispatching, and Getting Along Famously were floated as possible series. Only Walter Ego remained a pilot.

The viewer-response initiative hasn’t been tried since 2006. On January 3 and 4, 2006, Cheap Draft, Bad Language, Fast Cars, Women and a Video Camera (yes, that was the full title); Rabbittown; and This Space for Rent were floated as possible series. This Space for Rent lasted four episodes and that was it. To date, the longest-running show from CBC’s viewer-response initiatives is An American in Canada, which lasted two seasons.

Of the three approaches to airing prospective pilots, I respected only APTN’s. Pick a Pilot had a sense of finality – Blackstone and The Time Traveler were pitted against each other, and Blackstone survived. CBC’s viewer-response polls didn’t yield any successful, long-running shows on the level of Corner Gas, or even Little Mosque on the Prairie. I still don’t understand what the Teletoon Detour/at Night Pilot Project meant to accomplish. To be fair, Teletoon heavily promoted the online part of the Pilot Project in the fall of 2009.

With the three aforementioned initiatives, I’m not strictly writing about unsold pilots. Obviously, Blackstone sold, as did Fugget About It, and a few pilots from CBC’s viewer-response initiatives. Would the series orders have changed due to audience “influence?” I doubt it. At the end of the day, television executives have the final say in which shows become series. APTN, a non-profit that accepts advertising, has to weigh its aboriginal mandate against the realities of commercial television.

I won’t argue that unsold pilots should be promoted the same as series. A network/program service/cable channel goes with the shows that will, supposedly, make it the most money. At the same time, pilots sometimes fail due to factors outside their overall quality – lack of overseas sales, executive shuffles, not being a good “fit,” overall cost, etc. The American television system beats Canada on unsold pilot quantity, and it’s a rare occurrence these days when an American pilot is shown on its channel of origin.

CTV talks about Spun Out now. If the pilot doesn’t evolve into a series, will CTV still talk about it? Of course not. Spun Out is where Stay with Me was a couple of years ago, and Satisfaction no longer is.

It’s dumb to pretend unsold pilots don’t exist in Canada, especially in a Netflix/Hulu world. The trick is for the Canadian broadcaster to make the most money off its pilots, before content control reverts to the production companies. Sadly, few Canadian broadcasters want to discover that trick.

As an aside, whatever happened to Showcase’s Rave Squad?