Thursday, June 18, 2009


stupid tv 1

I was cleaning out the garage on the weekend and found a copy of MacLean’s Magazine I’d bookmarked from October 3, 2005. The story was a report on CTV boss Ivan Fecan’s ratings battle with Global and included elements far more interesting now than they seemed back then.

For students of modern history, this article may have been the first time the public became aware that CTV was purchasing hit American network shows and then parking them on the shelf until there was room in the schedule.

It’s a similar practice to what CBS is now doing with CTV’s “Flashpoint”, holding it back from the American audience this fall until they don’t have anything better to air.

But what was extra-interesting about the piece was this little passage:

“The network (CTV) has amassed such a stockpile of TV hits that there’s barely time to air them all. But rather than see a potential winner fall into the hands of the enemy, Fecan will bump popular shows into dead time slots – often sacrificing major ad revenues in the process…”

Excuse me?

CTV employed a broadcast strategy that made losing money on some of its more popular programs a certainty?

And the strategy succeeded...

And now CTV comes to us demanding a handout in the form of carriage fees.


So they can go and throw away that money too?

Is that the broadcast model that’s broken? The one where you alienate your audience by running their favorite shows when they can’t watch them and also try not to make back what you paid for them? Because a lot of people could have told you that never works.

When I was a kid, my mom used to insist that spending too much time in front of the TV would make me dumber. Maybe she was right. Maybe all the moms of the guys working at CTV sensed the same thing, because that “making sure you don’t make a profit” scenario isn’t the only problem with addition and subtraction CTV seems to have.

During their recent “Save Local Television” campaign, Pierre Bourque’s excellent Canadian News portal kept a running tab on the number of people who had signed the network’s petition to save their nearby affiliates. The numbers rose daily over a couple of weeks and then seemed to stall around 50,000. Suddenly, one Monday morning, the total had doubled according to a CTV press release headlined “100,000 Expressions of Support”.

Part of me was impressed at the sudden spike. But then another part of me read the press release.

It seems that 100,000 broke down as follows:

50,000 signatories to their online petition.

25,000 letters to the Minister of Heritage

And over 30,000 people who attended one of the networks open houses.


And I don’t mean “Huh?” as in, 50K plus 25K plus more than 30K doesn’t come out as 100K.

I mean, are you telling me that if you dropped by the local station to have a hot dog and ask what the fuss was about, you were automatically tagged as wholeheartedly agreeing that CTV deserved a bailout?

Does that include those who were encouraged to leave if they actually asked any questions?

Did it include the busloads of Seniors trucked in like it was election day in Chicago?

Those poor souls probably thought they were off for an afternoon at the Slots and instead only got to stand in front of a green screen weather map.

And somehow, the math wizards at CTV failed to mention that a lot of those visitors were handed those cards of support pre-addressed to the Heritage Minister  (no postage required) and assisted in signing the online petition.

So, it would seem the number of people who legitimately bought into CTV’s little scare campaign was a whole lot less than 100,000.

And frankly, even if it was 100,000, that works out to fewer than 5,000 concerned viewers for each of CTV’s network or ‘A’ Channel stations. Perhaps an indication of how little the rest of the Canadian public relies on CTV for local news and local programming.

I’m also hearing from others in the business that CTV’s “The sky is falling” mantra has caught the attention of a couple of banks who are now less than anxious to bridge finance on the basis of a CTV broadcast letter.

Maybe that doesn’t matter, since the network’s production focus seems to be shifting to creating programming that can find a home on American networks.

But I wonder if any of the bean counters at CTV have stopped salivating over the potential of the US Market long enough to recall that the CTF, which they rely on to provide the bulk of the financing for their shows ---- is finite.

There’s only so much Public money available. In reality, the CTF funds maybe six big budget series (the kind American networks prefer to purchase) a year. And then they’re done. Out of cash. Closing the vault until next season.

And when they’re done, so are our networks. Because, well, making anything else would require putting up more than half the budgets themselves.

And they don’t do that.

Under any circumstances.

So the much lauded push into the US market will probably total six series a year at best.

Fewer if our nets are going to make anything with a Canadian audience in mind. You know, the folks who pay for it? The ones the money is supposed to be used for telling their stories to…

In a way, it seems the current excitement at being able to attain half or less of the license fee CBS, ABC, NBC or Fox would pay an American producer for the same show will amount to no larger Canadian presence on US television than we had in the late 1980’s (“Night Heat”, “Adderly”, “Diamonds”) or the middle 1990’s (“Due South”, “Top Cops”, “Secret Service”).

I hate to burst anybody’s bubble, but – the numbers don’t lie.

And it’s apparently getting harder for some people to reliably spin them.


Racicot said...

And while our local MP's are being clogged with e-mails crying to save our networks, people like me (with real problems) can't get a subsidy for my daughter, who went into a hospital as a baby with an 'irregular EEG,' and came out with Epilepsy because:

"your request for a Soutien a la famille subsidy has been approved in the amount of $1,430... however due to a lack of funds, we have to put your request on a wait list... Unfortunately, it is not possible for us at this time to tell you how long this waiting period will be as it depends on the budget allocated to this program by the Ministry of Health and Social Services."

jimhenshaw said...

I assume this is the same Ministry of Health that can afford to pay $2700/ day for "Consultants" and $314,000 to a director fired for cause.

What a world....