Typing Faster

July 12, 2010

Seven Hundred Channels and Nothing On: An Indictment of Canada’s Specialty Channels

Filed under: the biz — petertypingfaster @ 7:00 am

I canceled my cable television package. In fact, I canceled it a couple of years ago now. I got tired of paying a hundred bucks a month for hundreds of channels and then never being able to find anything to watch. What’s the point of that?

A Greg Quill piece from The Star kind of bears me out. The branding of these channels has come to mean less and less as rebranding becomes more and more common. What exactly are we paying for when we subscribe to a channel like Biography or the Outdoor Life Network?

Oddities abound. How, for example, does Rogers-owned Citytv’s home decorating/fashion/food program CityLine qualify for a regular slot on the Biography Channel, also owned by Rogers?

How come, when I turn in prime-time to the supposedly tech-oriented G4 (Rogers, the channel’s Canadian co-owner, is also its cable distributor, an unallowable conflict of interest just a couple of decades ago), I get back-to-back reruns of The Office?

How does Ghost Hunters, about a group of self-styled American paranormal researchers (led by a pair of former plumbers) investigating haunted houses, and Operation Repo, a so-called reality show about the adventures of a U.S.-based property repossession outfit, qualify as the prime-time mainstays of the Outdoor Life Network?

And how did A&E – once a showcase for quality drama, performance programs and arts documentaries – morph into the home for Dog the Bounty Hunter? The show – and countless reruns – consume a disproportionate amount of the American-owned channel’s prime-time hours without raising the Canadian broadcast regulator’s eyebrows.

At the very least it all seems like a case of false advertising. Presumably when someone subscribes to a channel like HGTV they do so expecting a bunch of shows that deal with Gardening, not more reruns of Friends and Seinfeld (seriously…what’s with that? Seinfeld is on all the damn time!). At the very least shouldn’t the Canadian specialty channels be airing Canadian shows?

That…that’s just crazy talk!

With a few exceptions, the wacky, wild-west world of specialty TV doesn’t have to deal with the sort of programming promises that the CRTC imposes on conventional broadcasters. Some specialties (History, Discovery, MTV) must carry as much as 70 per cent CanCon, but others (National Geographic) need very little and still others (Mystery) none at all, as long as they’re not competing with existing Canadian services.

It’s like a fin-de-siècle frontier sideshow. Sudden rebranding to target a better demographic is frequent and is rarely opposed by the CRTC. What used to be the Drive-In Channel, featuring old movies, is now the Sundance Channel, a showcase for independent and alternative cinema. What used to be CBC Country Canada, focusing on rural Canadian issues, changed overnight to Bold, a mix of drama, arts, comedy and sports. The Fine Living Channel is now the DIY Network. Thriller and horror-movie fortress Scream has been replaced by the gentler, not-so-bloody Dusk.

The original mandate of the specialties doesn’t matter. What the individual specialties broadcast doesn’t matter. What the consumer wants is irrelevant. All that matters is the bottom line, and the bottom line is good.

A related fact sheet Mr. Quill posted shows just how good things are for Canada’s specialty broadcasters.

In 2009, the specialty channels captured the largest share of the total revenues – $2.4 billion – of the $3.1 billion accrued by Canadian specialty, pay and pay-per-view television channels, and video-on-demand services.

Of the total $3.1 billion earned in 2009 by the specialty and pay-TV sector, $1.4 billion came from cable television subscribers, $624.1 million from direct-to-home satellite subscribers, and $982.2 million from national advertising.

The specialty and pay-TV sector spent $1.08 billion on Canadian programming in 2009, roughly the same amount as in 2008.

Spending on Canadian programming in the specialty and pay-TV sector:

  • $163.1 million for news
  • $226.8 million for other information programs
  • $302.6 million for sports
  • $194.7 million for drama
  • $47.5 million for musical and variety shows
  • $73.7 million for general-interest programming
  • $521.8 million to acquire foreign programming, an increase of 36.7 per cent over the $381.6 million reported in 2008.

So, despite spending a billion dollars on programming, there’s still nothing on?!?! Why are we paying through the nose for these services again?

Oh right, I’m not.

One last interesting tidbit. Here’s a list of the Top 25 most profitable specialty channels.

Canada’s 25 English-language specialty and pay channels with the highest profit before interest and taxes, 2009 (all figures in Canadian dollars):

  1. W: Total revenue: $85,707,465; profit before interest and taxes: $41,338,671
  2. Rogers Sportsnet: Revenue: $186,010,744; PBIT $40,666,682
  3. The Sports Network: Revenue $220,517,591; PBIT $40,263,902
  4. Teletoon: Revenue: $76,267,679; PBIT: $35,278,771
  5. The Movie Network: Revenue: $122,667,736; PBIT: $28,158,007
  6. History Television: Revenue: $49,692,444; PBIT: $27,264,241
  7. The Discovery Channel: Revenue; $87,421,346; PBIT: $25,376,231
  8. YTV: Revenue: $85,315,289; PBIT: $21,270,325
  9. HGTV Canada: Revenue: $63,477,445; PBIT: $20,958,486
  10. Bravo: Revenue: $46,602,883; PBIT: $20,954,692
  11. Movie Central: Revenue: $96,876,697; PBIT: $20,231,416
  12. Showcase: Revenue: $62,836,848; PBIT: $19,466,035
  13. Family Channel: Revenue: $59,276,716; PBIT: $19,624,850
  14. Food Network Canada: Revenue: $40,887,983; PBIT: $19,624,850
  15. Space: Revenue: $45,000,409; PBIT: $18,540,740
  16. CBC News Network: Revenue: $79,100,000; PBIT: $17,859,000
  17. TVtropolis: Revenue: $51,373,400; PBIT: $13,382,187
  18. MPIX: Revenue: $22,897,580; PBIT: $12,388,459
  19. The Comedy Network: Revenue: $51,475,363; PBIT: $12,388,459
  20. Rogers On Demand: Revenue: $51,373,400; PBIT: $12,388,459
  21. Shaw On Demand: Revenue: $42,402,532; PBIT: $10,501,800
  22. CMT: Revenue: $26,570,744; PBIT: $9,681,041
  23. Viva: Revenue: $18,186,952; PBIT: $9,440,658
  24. Discovery HD: Revenue: $18,186,952; PBIT: $8,564,086
  25. MuchMusic: Revenue: $41,186,449; PBIT: $7,030,316

1 Comment »

  1. This is an amazing critique, well done. Do you know what percentage of revenues the artists get?


    Comment by Fionnuala Martin — October 22, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

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