Monday, November 05, 2007


Friday night saw the launch of Canada's new Pay-TV service, "Super Channel", owned by Allarco Entertainment of Edmonton.

It's a gutsy move bringing a product like this to life in a television environment already heavily fragmented, competing with video-on-demand, movies-by-mail and the TMN/Movie Central matrix that has dominated the Pay industry here since 1984.

TMN/MC fought Super Channel every inch of the way from conception to birth, arguing against its license at the CRTC primarily on the grounds that another Pay service would create a "lack of program diversity" and cause the movement of some specialty channel programming to Pay.

Well, gee -- then why don't the networks affected get out there and produce some new stuff of their own? That's what they promised to do when they got licensed, wasn't it?

I guess monopolizing your turf makes good business sense at one level. But the best way to deal with a competitor is to outclass or outmaneuver him before he has a chance to get a solid footing.

With six months to prepare an ambush, you'd think TMN/MC might've cooked up something the new arrival would have had a tough time matching. Some ground-breaking series. Perhaps a stunningly original film or three. But so far the senior service doesn't appear to be offering its subscribers much beyond the usual fare in order to hang onto its "Big Dog" title.

Featuring 4 individual channels plus 2 HD positions on the dial that replicate the content on the first four, the current Super Channel schedule promises it will deliver "a little something for everybody". I'm sure that'll draw a wide variety of viewers to sample their wares, but the big question is how SC will hold onto those viewers in the coming months.

While TMN/MC continues to support the Canadian feature industry through equity investment and generous pre-buys, the last few years have seen a concerted effort to set themselves apart by creating or acting as first window for series such as "ReGenesis" and "Slings & Arrows" as well as prestigious minis like "Durham County" and "Terminal City".

SC's current commitment of $4 Million in the first year in new production and acquisitions would translate to licensing 3 or 4 series annually (if that's all it was used for). But that further copies the competition and I doubt such a commitment would have enough overall impact to clearly define their programming intentions. I also doubt such a strategy would attract a wealth of new subscribers or hold those that the limited hours of such new series might initially lure aboard.

SC and its audience might be better served by following the formula which laid a solid foundation for Showtime and was later replicated by currently successful specialty networks Sci-Fi and Lifetime. All of these opted to produce a mass of low budget productions that may have had their creative faults but ensured viewers would have at least one brand new and original feature every single week of the year.

People might have rolled their eyes at titles like "Moonshine Highway" or "Night of the Twisters", but they kept coming back in large enough numbers to establish their broadcaster.

Programming a slate of low-budget but audience friendly films in whatever genre(s) SC feels its target demographic is most apt to watch would be a simple way for this new kid in town to have something original to promote on a weekly basis and make sure they cover their quota of 30% prime time and 25% the rest of the time Canadian content.

And whether the content were exploitive or followed a middle path of Romantic comedy or bestseller mystery, it would still put the channel in a position to hedge its bets in the Pay market while tapping the revenue streams these original films would have in the foreign, DVD and online after-markets.

To be sure, the safe course would be to follow the TMN/MC format of Hollywood fare augmented by over played or just plain played out CanCon. But then, who's going to notice the new kid and are there enough subscribers to keep two more or less identical networks profitable? Let's not forget that it was this kind of "same-ness" that helped kill two of our original Pay services (C-Channel and the single word version Superchannel) the first time there were competing entities.

Super Channel is already committed to diverting 32% of its revenues to Canadian production, so why not give the production community the immediate shot in the arm it desperately needs, and build on the resulting mutual success later. It's a move which would earn Super Channel enormous industry support and just might attract viewers with a product no other Canadian broadcaster is currently offering them.


CAROLINE said...

I hope they success ... know most of the people over there from the WIC days and it's a scary deja view with the name and the old offices even.

The only major program announcements the new network has been have been large output deals with US and UK sources ... so far, no major Canadian announcements. I know it is predicated on revenue etc. but to launch without announcing any original projects even in development isn't a promising start.

And is it just be, or do their launch commercials kinda bite?

CAROLINE said...

I shouldn't post when I'm tired and hungry. I do actually have a moderate grasp of vocabulary and sentence structure ... really, I do.

jimhenshaw said...

That's okay -- the writers reading this page are used to seeing first drafts.