I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Introduction

Hello world indeed. Just what we all need another blog…or do we? Is anyone telling you the real story of what is going on in the media? Certainly not in any of the mainstream media. Well I intend to try.

It is my belief that there has not been a serious media writer or columnist in Canada since Joan Irwin left the Montreal Gazette decades ago. The writers and columnists depend on the media themselves for their insights. Some, like the Globe, actually question the media. Others tend to be toadies who accept and print whatever the media tell them just so they will continue to retain their contacts. None have the access or experience to know when they are being fed misinformation at worst and the fudging of the facts at best.

That’s my rationale and I’m sticking to it.

On this first blog I have to pin the tail on the donkeys at CTV and Global. They want cable and satellite companies to pay them for what is free, over the air broadcast rights. This is incredible chutzpah. Their licence is for free broadcast available to all Canadians. Now they want to be paid. Cable and Satellite are forced to deliver CTV and Canwest/Global to all their subscribers. They are called “must carry” by the CRTC.

I am no fan of Rogers, Shaw and Bell. There service is poor at best and their prices and profits are beyond ludicrous. But hang on a second, they won’t pay. They will pass the fees on to their customers, you and I, we were the ones promised free access by the TV  stations and the CRTC in exchange for the granting of those TV licenses.

In fact Cable and the CRTC are already helping CTV and Global in ways that are highly beneficial to them. They deliver their signal to just about every Canadian even where there is no Canwest/Global of CTV station thus building  ratings and increasing money from advertising. They do this for “free.”

They give them the best spots on the cable and satellite dials. This means they are better placed to grab the audience as they channel surf. Guess what? This also increases the audiences and thus the revenues.

Finally, there is the real plum, simulcasting. Have you ever tried to catch the U.S. feed of the Superbowl to see the great commercials? Good luck Canada. When you watch CSI, or Law and Order SVU if the Canadian network chooses to run the program at the same time as the U.S. network Canadians are forced to watch the Canadian feed. You want to talk about increasing audiences and revenues, this is the real secret to making money. And this is done at you guessed it, no charge to CTV and Canwest/Global.

So why are CTV and Global crying poor and threatening local TV? Here’s what they leave out of their sob story: For years they have been buying media properties. CTV has bought dozens of local stations to help increase market share. Every time they add bricks and mortar stations they add staff and buildings they have maintain. They have also added a huge debt load. All this so as to shut others out of the broadcasting marketplace.

It’s a similar story over at Global. They own a money pit of a newspaper, The National Post, and they recently bought Alliance Atlantis and all their TV stations. This only a few years after a buying spree of stations to create a national network. Add to this the fact they have a dreadful record of picking winning TV shows since their original TV guru, David Mintz, left the company years ago. The result a huge debt load.

The debt loads are not good, but when the recession hit and advertisers began cutting back they were left with big trouble, they can’t service their debt.  But let’s get this straight, it’s trouble they made for themselves through bad investments and greed and the attempt to create monopolistic circumstances for themselves.

So why should we pay for their mistakes? We shouldn’t.

What about the loss of local TV? Interestingly the biggest advertising push by CTV is in the big cities, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver. Mark my words, these stations will never be cut. In smaller centers it is possible that CTV will be forced to sell. I think that’s a good thing. CTV has already cut these stations to the bone. If you live in a small city most of your news is about Toronto and Ottawa already. CTV never had any interest in local markets for local coverage. All they wanted were big numbers to add to their network ratings for national advertising and to cut others like Canwest/Global out of the picture.

I have one trade off I am willing to make. If I am forced to pay for CTV and Canwest/Global I want the right to not take those channels on my cable and satellite service. They have to lose the “must carry” designation from the CRTC. It’s only fair. I shouldn’t be forced to pay without a choice of whether I want the service or not. I also demand the end to similcasting. I will watch the Superbowl on CBS or Fox and be done with CTV.  I will finally get to see those great ads. It’s only fair.

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8 Responses

  1. TB says:

    Good to see a seasoned industry pro blogging on the topic. So, while on the woes of current CRTC debates… what do you think of CTF funding being made available for in-house productions by broadcasters. Doesn’t that rather defeat the purpose of the funds – namely, to increase the voices on the air through indies?

  2. hlbtoo says:

    Thanks Trish…also, I love when a comment comes with another blog idea. I agree with you, btw.

  3. Lon Appleby says:

    Somebody needs to make sense of this business these days, especially the quality of its programming. So Howard, maybe you can explain.

    We have maybe the most diverse nation on the planet, and correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it written in our constitution that we’re a “world heritage” people? So where’s the world when we turn on our TVs?

    Whatever happened, for instance, to all of our foreign correspondents? And is there any chance of doing better than “Little Mosque on the Prairie”?

    • hlbtoo says:

      The viewers were not asked why. They were asked what kinds of stories they preferred. They said they liked international news stories the most. National (non-politics), good news stories, medical, local, provincial, arts, and sports followed. National (political) came in dead last.
      We did some focus groups who were asked to watch newscasts and news stories when I was at CBC News. I hesitate, because focus groups are not very scientific. Here we got a smattering of opinion, most of which was in the “I’m just not interested” vein. The viewers could not put their fingers on the root cause of their disinterest. What I take from this is that we are both not telling the stories people care about and we are not making stories they should care about sufficiently interesting,

  4. Peter McCluskey says:

    Howard;

    I remember hearing an interview a few years ago about a Danish newspaper that tried just such an experiment. The paper closed down its parliamentary bureau during the summer – granted not during the height of the parliamentary session – and reassigned all the reporters to various bureaus around the country. The result was an increase in readership.

  5. Kash says:

    I’m with you Howard. We’re paying ridiculous amounts for cable already, for channels most of which we hardly ever get to. The key is in your last paragraph: “If I am forced to pay for CTV and Canwest/Global I want the right to not take those channels on my cable and satellite service. They have to lose the “must carry” designation from the CRTC.” Mind you, on the other hand, how about stipulating that 50 per cent of what we are forced to pay goes towards local news programming and the other 50 towards the “world” that Lon would like on our screens?

  6. Lon says:

    Howard, you mention the study you did at Global and the fact that viewers are not interested in politics, but you didn’t tell us why — we got your opinion, not theirs.

    I’m curious. Why are viewers not interested in political stories? I don’t disagree with you about the pack mentality. This is what we get in an era of continuing consolidation, stubborn recession, and bookkeepers as network presidents.

    But I want to know what the viewers think.

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