Save Local TV? Calling Captain Newfoundland

That phony “Save Local TV” campaign cliché kept clanging around my head in St. John’s last week–especially when the hotel set was tuned in to NTV.
The bizarro local “superstation”–Newfoundland’s oldest TV outlet dating back to 1955–is unique in Canada in that it carries a mix of both CTV and Global programming. You can watch Canada AM, for example, every weekday morning and then see Kevin Newman host Global National every night. There are promos for both running throughout the day.
Most of the prime time programming is straight off the Global feed, despite the fact that the red, white, blue and green CTV logo is still proudly emblazoned on the station’s giant satellite dishes.
The strangest deal of all is in late night, where NTV has cherry picked David Letterman. I’m watching Tom Hanks whine to Dave last week about a trip he took in his VW van. Cut to commercial, except there is no commercial—there is a Black Eyed Peas music video. I’m getting into it when it abruptly cuts back to Dave. The whole thing repeats at the next commercial break with another music video, this time featuring Eninem. And again, and again.
Seems they don’t sell ads overnight on NTV, or–and this was one explanation I got in St. John’s–the music videos played between commercial breaks were there to help boost the station’s Canadian content. That’s what we’re down to, folks—cramming in CanCon three-and-a-half minutes at a time.
Which made it all the more ironic when, during other Letterman breaks, they played those “Save Local TV” ads. The most offensive one starts with a teary goodbye clip from an anchor on that recently shuttered Brandon station, the one it is becoming increasingly clear CTV gassed just so it could be the poster child for this brazen extortion attempt.
NTV seems like the kind of place where there should be some local TV to save. It is a community with a fiercely distinct personality. It is a small enough market that it should qualify to dip into that $100 million-plus local television fund. Yet there is not a lot of Canadian content in prime time or even in day parts on NTV during the week. There is a local early morning news show, and a local noon news and some early morning weekend fare (“Scenes of Newfoundland”). But while Captain Newfoundland, a trippy NTV CanCon concoction from the ‘70s, is still visible in a fading mural painted on the old Newfoundland Herald printing press building next door to the station, he is no where on NTV’s import-heavy schedule, at least while I was watching.
It may take a Captain Newfoundland, teamed with Captain Canada, to sort out the regulatory mess that is Canadian television today. It might help if there was some evidence of actual local TV worth saving at the stations across Canada that otherwise seems to be mashed together with content produced outside the country.

2 Responses to “Save Local TV? Calling Captain Newfoundland”

  1. Amen, Bill. I too am sick of the ads to “save” local tv when it doesn’t exist (besides the news). Even in the rare case like NTV where there is actual local ownership, they do the bare minimum to maintain their license.

    I think the only way to truly save local tv is have local affiliates of networks. Even if those are U.S. networks.

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  2. In the United States, a city the size of St. John’s (or Sudbury, or any other 150-400K market you can name whose one and only TV station is in deep trouble) would have, at a bare minimum, distinct ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates. It might have a CW, too, or that might be a digital subchannel on one of the other four. It would have a PBS station. And all five or six of those stations would be doing some form of local production: news on the commercial stations, and at least a five or ten minute arts and events listings show on PBS, or a daily local talk show with some beloved semi-retired anchor who used to work for one of the commercial stations.

    That’s the question I can’t get a straight answer to from anyone: how is it that a city which could effortlessly support five or six local stations if it were in the United States can barely support *one* in Canada?

    I suspect it’s not entirely unconnected to the fact that in a market of that size, those stations wouldn’t be network O&Os.

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