Thursday, February 10, 2011
CTV Must Change For The Better
When I wrote my appreciation of departing CTVGlobemedia president Yvan Fecan I mentioned that others who worked closely with him would also depart.
So it's no surprise to see that Fecan's programming czar at CTV, Susanne Boyce, is also decamping followed by CTV's expert on regulatory matters, Paul Sparkes, and CFO John Gossling.
It's an indication the once and future owners of CTV, Bell BCE, agrees that the current model of operation is broken and big changes need to be done fairly quickly.
No question about it the soft-spoken Boyce rearranged the broadcasting company as primarily a carrier of imported American series.
To accomplish this clear goal CTV had to be ruthless in outbidding the competition to get the big hit series.
In those days CTV was so flush with cash it actually bought series to keep Global and Citytv from acquiring them.
One example is Desperate Housewives which CTV plunked down big bucks as its extra show in case something else failed --for the first month or so CTV ran it off Sunday afternoons at 4 until it zoomed to the top in the U.S. and quickly got pride of place in the Canadian schedule.
Another example is Kevin Hill which CTV bought just to keep Global at bay --CTV never ran this drama with Taye Diggs and the irony is it was made in film studios just down the street from the Toronto Star.
At the big launches every fall Boyce would parade in front of a gaggle of American stars all lined up to show CTV was number one.
In recent years these stars disappeared because CTV understood it was sending out the wrong message. After all it was supposed to be a Canadian based national network.
For the last decade CTV bought so many U.S. shows at top prices it spent comparatively little on Canadian programming. In refusing to promote homegrown talent CTV in the process lost much of its own identity.
But things are changing. Ailing Global TV was sold off in a fire sale to ambitious Shaw Media which presumably has the bucks to outbid CTV if it wants.
And feisty Citytv used to get the left overs but all that might change with feisty Rogers Media behind it.
Boyce's fixation on U.S. shows did give CTV big ratings but only with the connivance of the CRTC. Prime time on CTV and Global turned into a sea of simulcasting with Buffalo stations blocked out for most of the evening and CTV or Global signals substituted.
There have been recent CRTC attempts to force the Canadian networks to spend as much on Canadian shows as they spend on U.S. imports already available on American channels. Let's see how far that goes.
What's readily apparent is the slow and inevitable decline of conventional networks and the growing competition from cable weblets and digital alternatives.
Costs are skyrocketing. I remember CBC's top programmer Thom Benson once confiding to me in 1972 he was spending all of $2,500 a week on Mary Tyler Moore. Today a top sitcom might cost CTV or Global upwards of $400,000 an episode.
And can CTV afford anymore to buy up series just to keep them from the competition?
In the new BCE configuration CTV sports head Phil King takes over duties for independent Canadian broadcasting which he'll have to quickly grow.Rick Brace who once headed TSN is now in charge of specialty and in-house programming.
But don't forget BCE owned CTV once before and sold off much of its interest because of a lack of synergy.In the new configuration of Canadian TV everything is about product. American product may be harder to control in the future --the simulcasting blackout of border stations is a clumsy device that could quickly become outmoded. A computer geek down the street is peddling a device that gives a false computer destination --thus he can unblock the website hulu which shows NBC programming.
CTV and its weblet cable affiliates do have bright futures only if they start paying attention to their Canadian roots.