Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Shining CITY Falls


The “Save Local TV” campaign took another hit on Tuesday as Rogers Communications, the cable giant that had assured the CRTC that there was no need to give any of their cable money to assist local programming, especially to the stations they themselves owned, gutted the local programming of their own stations due to “new economic realities”.

Six percent of the people who had a job at a CITY-TV stations across the country, delivering local news and information on Tuesday morning, didn’t have them by the time their evening newscasts rolled around. Many of those cut loose were a significant part of the Public face of the stations.

This morning, I went searching for insight into the affair by people who had worked at CITY-TV when it really was the smartest, hippest and most creative television station in the country. Make that --- on the planet.

It’s almost impossible to catalogue how many new things one small local station brought to the TV party or how inspired and privileged and just plain thankful you felt to be part of their audience.

You can find a sampling of the best of those stories here.

But among the list of hits the all-knowing Emperor Google returned during my search was a post I put up on this site 30 months ago.

Now, that kind of thing wakes you up. Because aside from the 3-4 cents a week I bank from all the ads the Emperor runs around here, getting mentioned in searches is about the only reward you earn for giving people something to read on the inner tubes.

I also don’t spend much time re-reading stuff I’ve written (even when rewriting it according to some). But I gave this one a couple of minutes and I was frankly stunned by how intelligent, insightful and prescient it was.

Literally everything that has transpired in the recent sad collapse and destruction of the Canadian television industry was right there in black and white (or white and green to be more precise).

And then I started to ask myself how I’d known all this.

How was I able to accurately map and discover the cause of the decline of an entire group of media empires at the moment when they were strongest and most healthy and while every large fee collecting media consultant, every Bay (or Wall) Street analyst plus every lawyer and accountant doing their due diligence on the deals was confident they were on the threshold of a brave new world – and about to make more money than they all could ever imagine, let alone spend?

I think at a certain level that answer is simple. I work here and I pay attention.

On another level, it’s more complicated. An industry that once had its own personality and character, where you could tell whether you were watching CITY-TV or CBC and knew somebody actually wanted to entertain or enlighten you instead of just hang onto your purchasing power through the next commercial break.

That was a world where bean counters didn’t have more value than those who made the beans and where the regulators weren’t pretentiously thoughtless and able to think beyond where the next lobbyist was taking them for breakfast.

The people who run Canadian networks, those who really make the decisions, apparently don’t have the first clue. Because otherwise what I wrote about CITY-TV two and a half years ago wouldn’t have come true.

And it’s unfortunately clear that unless the people running our networks are soon replaced, there won’t be a need for regulators or “Save Local TV” campaigns.

Global, we’re already having trouble finding your pulse. Time to get your affairs in order.

CTV, you’ve got a year and a half if you’re lucky. Is anybody over there even starting to consider where you’re going to get a third of your programming once NBC disappears after next season?

CBC, don’t sit there sipping your Soy Latte and acting all smug. You’ve got two years tops and all that’s keeping you around that long are contract commitments it’ll be cheaper to run out than pay out.

You’ve all screwed the proverbial Westchester Kennel Show winning pooch in the hope it will keep you going until a business that isn’t even there anymore miraculously turns around.

Rogers, you should be ashamed of yourselves for what you’ve done to a brand that once actually meant something. Why couldn’t you just have kept wrecking a baseball team that was also pretty good before you got your paws on it?

And it didn’t have to happen. You all could have changed your ways. All you had to do was read what I wrote in the sweet summer of 2007.

You can find it here. Maybe it’s still not too late.

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