CTV CEO Ivan Fecan won’t answer Bell

CTV president and CEO Ivan Fecan announced Friday that he is leaving the network.
In a memo to staff, Fecan suggested his original plan was to exit in the summer of 2012, after CTV’s coverage of the next Olympic Games. After meeting with the new owner, BEC president and CEO George Cope, however, the timetable has been moved up. “With the sale of CTV to Bell happening now, I believe it is in the best interests of our Company for me to retire sooner,” reads the memo, “so that the new leader can have a fresh start with a new ownership structure.”
Fecan says he’ll stay through the regulatory process which should be completed next summer. “So I will probably be here for another year,” he says.
At times extraordinarily charming and charismatic, Fecan also was known to rule with absolute authority and demanded total loyalty from his staffers–qualities he shared with powerful U.S. network bosses like CBS’s Les Moonves or NBC’s Jeff Zucker. Over the years, I’ve had occasion to see his warm side, and also feel his sting. He is, in the ultimate sense, a guy you don’t want to mess with.
The York University grad was seen as a “wunderkind” in his early years, in on the development of CityPulse News at then fledgling Citytv. A stint running CBC’s Toronto station CBLT led to two years at NBC where he was groomed by revered broadcast legend Brandon Tartikoff. Fecan returned to Canada in 1987 where he was credited with revitalizing CBC with hits like Degrassi, The Kids in the Hall and Road to Avonlea. Long running CBC comedies like Air Farce got their start under Fecan.
Fecan arrived at CTV 17 years ago, when it was still a fairly dysfunctional gathering of private affiliates. In his memo, he describes CTV as “a part time network” at the time.
It took a while for CTV to power past Global, dominant for a decade after riding NBC “Must See” hits like Friends and Seinfeld to the top of the Canadian ratings. Under Fecan, CTV took the simulcast-to-riches business model Global had exploited–one he would claim in recent years was broken–and take it to a level of dominance not seen anywhere else in North America. Year after year, CTV programming executives would cherry pick the best the U.S. networks had to offer–at any cost–and built a powerhouse lineup. CTV had years where the won every night but Saturday (owned by CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada). Five, six years ago, Fecan’s network boasted 19 of the Top-20 shows in Canada, with Global’s Survivor the one Tiki torch he could not snuff.
All that dominance came at an incredible cost, not just in the hundreds of millions spent acquiring imports (that got more and more expensive) but in the failure to build the kind of made-in-Canada inventory that is the grand prize in today’s world of content delivery.
Finally, the unprecedented cost of acquiring the Vancouver Olympic Games, plus the deep recession, was a one-two not even Fecan could duck. The campaign to get in on the carriage fee gravy train seemed to some observers like a way to convince shareholders that the good times didn’t have to end. Fecan was humbled at some of those Ottawa sessions, with CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein providing a little more push back than the CTV CEO was used to.
Still, as he notes, CTV and all those CHUM specialty stations acquired under his watch is still a pretty kick ass little media operation. “I’ve had a great run,” Fecan declares in his memo, and there is no denying that. Still just 57, he may not be done.
As for CTV, this is a crossroads that makes Lloyd Robertson’s departure around the same time next year look like a change in the weather.

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