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and I can't do a thing about it

Sun TV Rises

The Hill Times recently had one of the best and most substantive looks at the new Sun TV News channel and its ability to succeed or fail in the Canadian television marketplace. If you get the chance read the article at http://hilltimes.com/page/printpage/foxtv-06-28-2010. The article lays out the business reasons why a channel that has been created to emulate Fox News in the United States has a real chance to succeed in this country.

The primary argument raised by Kory Teneycke, the former Federal Tory mouthpiece and the man who seems to be the driving force behind the new station, is “We think there’s a big space in the market. I think most of what’s on cable news, today, in Canada is pretty flat. I don’t think it actually gets to the heart of debate on most issues; I think the news stories that end up on the air are too often of little relevance to Canadians and I base that opinion on the fact that most Canadians aren’t watching and that rates of viewership in Canada are much lower than they are in other countries, so all of that, from a business perspective, speaks to the fact that there is an opening in the marketplace and that’s the opening that we’re hoping to fill.”

So far so good. I agree with everything Mr. Teneycke says here. CBC NN is just about as boring and obscure as it is possible for an all news station to be. There is little to grab the imagination and get one’s blood boiling. Issues are discussed but tough questions, even, or should I say especially, on Evan Solomon’s political show are non-existent. One gets the feeling that Mr. Solomon is worried that if he makes it too tough on his political guests they will not appear again on his program again. Hey Evan, they need you more than you need them—get a backbone.

At CTV News Network discussion is rarer than a Leafs Stanley Cup run. For most of the day and most of the week all CTV News network does is run the same stories over and over again until the audience is so sick of them they must change the channel. It’s like CNN headline news without the constantly changing and updating stories.

Both networks are handicapped by not having their own reporting teams. They must depend on CBC and CTV network reporters and their availability. CBC and CTV networks have too few reporters to do the job for themselves, let alone staffing their all-news cousins. All-news in Canada has been a scam on the public. The stations were created as a way to raise money by subscription for the main networks without having to be a properly staffed news organizations. Last year CBC NN, or Newsworld as it was called, made over $60 million for CBC with few viewers and little of interest on the air. CTV News Network, with even fewer viewers, less than a typical Blue Jays – Orioles crowd, managed to bring in $15 million. The reason for the big profits are twofold, first the “must carry” designation. Cable and satellite companies must make the news channels available to all their customers. Second, every subscriber pays a monthly subscription fee, whether they watch the channels or not. Next year they lose their “must carry” status and it will be interesting to see if they can survive in a real marketplace where viewers actually have a choice.

So Sun TV News plans to fill the void that CBC NN and CTV News Network are leaving. Their argument is that since Fox, CNN and MSNBC have so many viewers in the United States and CBC NN and CTV News Network have so few viewers in Canada there must be an audience for real all-news and talk TV here. They believe Sun TV News will be the station to capture that audience.

This where I disagree with Mr. Teneycke. I see no reason to believe that Canadians, who so far have rejected extreme right or left wing views and who it is my experience producing talk television, both resist and resent people shouting at each other or the audience, will be prepared to watch Fox News Canadian style. Sun won’t even have the advantage of must carry that CBC and CTV had when they created their news channels. Sun will have to sell their channel one subscriber at a time and one cable and satellite company at a time. In this polite country where “sorry” is the most used word in our lexicon, is there really a market for what Sun and Mr. Teneycke are selling?

Changing the subject, few television viewers today will remember the giant who passed away last Saturday. Murray Chercover was the driving force that helped turn CTV into the most successful network in Canada. As President and then CEO Mr. Chercover was the glue that held together the disparate stations that made up the CTV network. When CTV was created it was ruled by the station owners from across the country. Murray had to get them to agree to whatever the network planned. No easy task with owners like the Bassets in Toronto and the Peters’ in B.C. Somehow he succeeded. He made CTV number one with the brilliant acquisition of American programming and the creation of a strong news and current affairs team that to this day bests CBC in the ratings with less than a quarter the staff and budget.

How did he do it? I can’t say I was close enough to the action at CTV to know but I did work with Murray Chercover a few times and I can tell you what I saw. Murray was always kind to his staff and the people around him. He was team builder. He allowed people to take chances and he rewarded his best employees by hiring from within. He had a sharp mind and always seemed to ask the most important question.

My fondest memory of working with Murray Chercover was when I was chosen to produce the Terry Fox Telethon just days after Terry Fox had to stop his run across Canada. On a Wednesday the network decided to produce a telethon on the upcoming Sunday night. I was a thirty-year-old producer of Canada AM. Murray called me into his office and asked if I could do this. Being young and stupid I said yes. I was lucky. Terry Fox was so popular and his deeds so breathtaking that almost every celebrity we asked was willing to take part. My dilemma was that I had too many guests for the three hours we were allotted. I went to Murray and asked for another hour. I’ll never forget what he said to me: “Howard, I’d rather see a four show in two hours than a two hour show in four hours.” He then asked me if I still wanted the extra time. I said yes and Murray Chercover trusted my opinion.

The bottom line: The Terry Fox telethon was the most successful telethon in raising money and audience ever in this country. I produced the show, but Murray Chercover made it happen.

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6 Responses

  1. Tom Smith says:

    I think what most Canadian media observers are ignoring, in their understandable ignorance about the media climate in Quebec, is that Sun News will be less based off Fox News – an easy boogeyman – than it is off of LCN/TVA. What’s not being talked about is Quebecor’s existing, strong, market-dominating channels here in Quebec that very much fit the description of Teneycke’s Sun News idea. Pierre Karl Peladeau is not thinking “I want a Canadian Fox News.” He;s thinking “I want an English TVA.”

    The reason I bring this up is that the implications are arguably far more dire in the case of an English TVA, given the generally abhorrent workplace conditions at TVA, the scabbing behavior of Agence QMI in the case of the Journal De Montreal/Rue Frontenac dispute (PS QMI supplies Sun News with it’s website headlines already) and a variety of other disputes surrounding Peladeau’s news holdings.

    All of this will of course be lost in the raucous bluster of Ottawa types lost in meaningless comparisons to Fox.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Tom you have it right about TVA but I still question whether that model would work outside Quebec. So far Quebecor’s record outside Quebec has been dismal. They have proved time and again that they do not understand English Canada. Why expect different here?

      • Tom Smith says:

        Agreed. I’m not too convinced it will work, either. My point is more that the model is not really what people, in their understandable disgust at the idea of a Fox-like network, think it will be.

        I think the network will only work in the sense that Quebecor is really downsizing everything to a totally horizontally-integrated model, where their coverage will mostly all come from a central agency (QMI and whatever its broadcast equivalent will be) and their Quebec coverage will bolster their ROC coverage and vice versa.

        In the long run i actually hope they do well if nothing else just to create a new employer and a new voice, but I have similar doubts to you.

      • hlbtoo says:

        Tom, once again, you are very right…

  2. Sharon says:

    From what one can gather from their website http://suntvnews.ca I think what they are importing is the Fox model. Not “extreme right” or “shouting”. But news during the day and opinion programming at night.

    Or as Teneycke put it himself, boring tv vs. interesting tv. After all, you can’t argue against Fox’s ratings. They are killing CNN and MSNBC.

  3. So many fantastic Journalists are walking the streets of this country unable to find employment because they will not subvert their morals and write the corporate philosophy. Most of those working bear the mark of QMI after their bias and partisan propaganda. Here is hoping that someday we will once again see honest investigative reporting but as long as the medias are owned and controlled Corporate interests this seems impossible.

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