Monday, May 25, 2009

WEAVING THE TANGLED WEB

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.” – Sir Walter Scott (albeit sounding a lot like Shakespeare).

It turns out I may be a lot smarter than I think I am. Not to mention there’s a little bit of Kreskin in me. (No, not that part – his predicting the future thing).

In fact, if I had just a little less self-respect, I could probably be making a pretty good living as a consultant.

You see, I was starting to type this, felt I was about to repeat myself, did a search and discovered I’d not only said it but had gone into great (and, of course, interesting) detail on how Canadian TV was about to take a dirt nap if it didn’t change its ways, predicting the dire outcome practically to the day.

You can read it here. Actually you might want to give the whole of February 2008 a read as it relates to the current debate. Man, I was fricken “On Fire”.

Hopefully, however, if I ever do combust, it won’t be in the proximity of anybody from CTV or Global. I have a feeling even urine would suddenly be in short supply.

Which brings me back to local TV and the pissing contest between the networks and the rest of us.

don't tax

As promised, CTV held their big coast-to-coast festival of panhandling and the Cableco’s responded with full page ads (many in the very papers owned by the network conglomerates) rightly pointing out that “carriage fees” won’t do a damn thing to improve, let alone save, local programming.

I say “rightly pointing out” because the problems facing local television and television in general have been pretty obvious to anyone working in this industry for several years. And they’ve been brought to a crisis here by the greed, lack of vision and privileged arrogance of the people running our networks.

But instead of admitting they were both self-absorbed and asleep at the switch, CTV and Global instead concocted a very large lie, blaming their problems on an economic downturn and competition from specialty services.

Unfortunately, the attention they’ve brought to themselves is making those lies unravel, revealing that the only ones endangering local TV are the guys threatening to close or sell their own stations while failing to even mention that network TV suffered an overall audience loss of 16% this season.

That February 2008 post referenced above was a NATPE Convention (attended by 35,000 broadcast execs) update which included a seminar on a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign that had been spiked after all the product had been advertised and sold on Craigslist in just five hours – for free. The same post got into the rise of internet TV services and the coming ability to further access television on mobile phones that was also much discussed at the confab.

All those futuristic scenarios are now common currency and it’s not like anybody even half paying attention couldn’t have seen them coming or realized the need to address them in a very aggressive fashion.

ipod abc

But I don’t recall noticing anybody from CTV or Global at those seminars nor any of the dozens that were also available on revitalizing local markets. As usual, they were glad-handing at the booths of their American content suppliers with the lavish buffet tables, prepping for the May shopping trip that would see them spend more than $700 million on US programming.

Other execs were probably back home negotiating with investment bankers to shore up the huge spend that they had just made or were about to make acquiring the competition. 

Meanwhile, programming purchased the season before was still sitting on network shelves un-broadcast because it had been acquired merely to keep it out of the hands of the competition.

And in Toronto, massive renovations of CTV’s newly acquired CITY building at Queen and John were underway. Renovations which included expensive upgrades to the executive offices and a private elevator to the fifth floor which eliminated the need to encounter any of the working plebes who would soon be fired.

One wonders how much of that money could have been spent on “local programming”.

But none of that is mentioned now so the Big Lie that successful cable operators are bleeding them dry can become the only talking point.

One wonders if the journalists at CTV were instructed to avoid or marginalize any mention of what really got their networks into the bind and for which their local stations are now being turned into poster children.

ctv head

Throughout Saturday, those anchoring the CTV “Newscasts” kept steering the conversations back to their company’s personal corporate need, bravely steamrolling past the factual realities explained by the experts they were interviewing.

None of those reporters ever asked -- if local programming was so damned valuable it justified a monthly tithe from their viewers – how come those same local stations were only worth a buck to their owners – or had to run shuttles from nearby Seniors homes to populate their demonstrations of support.

One of my favorite moments during this beg-fest was an interview with Christopher Waddell, the Carty Chair of Business and Financial Journalism at Carlton University, which can be found here.

In case smarter executives at CTV than the guy who kept talking about seeking “renumeration” (sic) from the cable companies take the interview down I’ll summarize…

Of course, if they do take it down, it’ll kind of prove the Cable operators’ argument that they’re only presenting one side of the case, won’t it?

At any rate, Waddell’s main point was, “While local Television is in trouble at the moment, specialty channels are making rates of return of more than 20%” and CTV and Global own almost all of those; essentially illustrating that the whole point of having a big conglomerate is so the strong parts of the company can support the weaker parts to maintain the competitive advantage the less profitable cousins still bring them.

The good professor also pointed out that CTV and Global have made zero commitment to put the money they want to collect from carriage fees into actual local programming.

Nor have they offered a single idea on what their plan is to improve local programming, combat or embrace the internet, recapture advertising, revitalize their own prime time product, etc, etc, etc.

Instead, they just want us to give them a bunch of money to keep doing what they’re doing when what they’re doing obviously isn’t working.

And no matter how many like-minded experts appeared, CTV just kept cutting back to some weather guy serving a hot dog or sportscaster posing with a local notable reminding us they would soon disappear without our (financial) support.

ctv 2

In addition to the faux journalism, we endured the spectacle of politicians turning up to support an argument they’d studied about as deeply as Bill C-10, the film censorship debacle they unanimously passed and then sheepishly admitted not even having read a year ago.

CTV made a meal out of Justin Trudeau and Jack Layton turning up to offer their party’s support.

The former committed a sin of omission by failing to mention his Liberals were in power when the television industry was decimated in 1999 and remained in charge for many years thereafter, yet did nothing to help the artists it now recruits to defeat a different government’s apparent indifference to the arts. 

The latter likewise voiced support for networks who continue to make working people in the thousands suffer for their capitalist mistakes.

And is it just me, or does Jack always look like his real agenda is he’s got a spare pair of nipple clips in his pocket and he’d enjoy your grimace if he could get you to wear them?

Can somebody who votes NDP please take this guy aside and explain that Tommy Douglas stood for more than the convenient photo op!

At any rate, the weekend’s over and the begging will be replaced in a day or two by announcements of all the great new shows these two supposedly cash strapped networks have again paid millions for in LA.

And while I was struck by how many “Save Local TV” ads CTV was running, the true measure of the state of our industry was on show in Global’s promos this weekend. For they were endlessly hyping the return of “Big Brother” – the American version.

BIG BROTHER: 'TIL DEATH DO YOU PART

Now “Big Brother” is about as easy and cheap a concept to execute as exists in reality TV. All you need is a dozen people you try to avoid at the gym, a house wired with cameras and a couple of books of 1950’s party games. Each week, the least interesting house member (hard as that may often be to accurately determine) is voted off until only one person remains.

Yet, despite the format being franchised to great financial success in virtually every country in the world, Global can’t be bothered to spend either the effort or expense to create a Canadian version. Even though it might earn a little money (maybe a lot of money) it’s still easier for Global to purchase and run the American version.

And that’s what’s really being hidden by the “Save Local TV” Big Lie.

Those currently running CTV and Global have never cared about local programming or Canadian programming or any other kind of programming. They were so consumed by the easy money of rebroadcasting foreign fare that they didn’t think they had to do anything more than slap their own logo in the bottom corner of it.

And now that they do, they don’t have even the first clue as to what local programming is or how to start delivering it. They just want us to keep giving them enough cash so they can continue hiding their indifference.

And as usual, the truth seems to be more easily found in the blogosphere, where you can find more on the issue from coast to almost coast.

UPDATE:

As if there were any remaining doubt as to the agenda of CTV, I offer the following:

VICTORIA - Last week's British Columbia election would have been an excellent opportunity for Victoria's 'A' Channel to demonstrate the importance of local television, but the station ran big American shows instead.

Parent company CTV is part of a Help Save Local Television campaign that's appealing to the public to pressure federal regulators to allow them to start charging cable companies to carry their signal.

“The future of local television broadcasting, including your station, is at stake,” according to CTV's campaign website. “Local news is the foundation of the Canadian broadcasting system. If we cut local roots, we lose something invaluable as a nation. At CTV and ‘A’, we want to see local television continue to strengthen our communities.”

So what kind of coverage did 'A' Channel Victoria provide on election night?

As the polls closed, according to the schedule on the station's website for the day, they showed Reaper: To Sprong With Love. At 8 p.m., when other stations were beginning to report results, it was American Idol, followed by Fringe: There's More Than One of Everything. Finally, at 10 p.m., they broadcast the popular Dancing With The Stars.

'A' Channel reporters provided feeds to the Vancouver CTV affiliate. It did not, however, provide the in-depth coverage focused on Vancouver Island and Victoria races that it did in 2005.

Station manager Jim Blundell did not return phone messages left before or after election night. Nor was anyone immediately available at CTV's head office in Toronto.

So – one of our National networks does not even curtail its American programming to cover a provincial election in the capitol of one of the Country’s largest provinces. You can read the full report in The Tyee.

2 comments:

Skinny Dipper said...

"At any rate, Waddell’s main point was, “While local Television is in trouble at the moment, specialty channels are making rates of return of more than 20%” and CTV and Global own almost all of those; essentially illustrating that the whole point of having a big conglomerate is so the strong parts of the company can support the weaker parts to maintain the competitive advantage the less profitable cousins still bring them."Go to my blogpost to see a WKRP video with radio station owner, Mrs. Carlson, talking to Dr. Johnny Fever about placing the pluses and minuses.

http://skinnydips.blogspot.com/2009/05/local-television-its-plus-and-plus-if.html

JA Goneaux said...

specialty channels are making rates of return of more than 20%” and CTV and Global own almost all of thoseNot hard to do when you regurgitate every property you've ever owned onto every channel it kinda almost maybe fits. Hey, we own "Blue Murder". It has women on it, so its a great fit for Showcase Diva AND it has people moving in it, so its a match for Showcase Action too! And its a cop show, so its PERFECT for Mystery as well.

I wouldn't mind this if I knew the writers, producers and actors were getting a decent royalty, but I get the idea they aren't.

We've beaten this horse to death, but if I had wanted to watch "Without a Trace", I would have, I don't need to pay for a "premium" channel like "Bravo" to do so.

I have to tell you, that over-the-air antenna is looking better and better...zip.ca takes care of the movies, and the internet has everything else for free, legally or otherwise.