Canada–you’ve been OWNed!

Finally, after all that hype and frenzy, a new TV channel has arrived in Canada. No, not Rogers’ rotisserie channel (mmm–must-go-out-and-eat-six-juicy-basted-chickens). I’m referring to OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network that launched Tuesday in Canada on the old Corus channel Viva. You might have seen the full-colour wrap-a-round ad in Tuesdays Toronto Star and elsewhere.
I wrote about the launch of OWN for The Canadian Press last week, including a recap of the lavish U.S. launch party on the back lawn of the ritzy Langham Hotel and Spa in Pasadena in January. You can read that story here.
OWN launched Jan. 1 in the States. It took Corus a few extra months to iron out some wrinkles in order to get OWN across the border. Why the delay?
Way back in the mid-’90s, Viva was originally licensed by the CRTC as Canadian Learning Television. Part of the conditions of that license, which still apply (although they have been modified over the years), was that the service have an educational component. Even as the specialty station flipped from CHUM to CTV to Corus, rebranding to a more female lifestyles channel, there still were attempts to link Viva programming to ongoing courses at Canadian post-secondary institutions.
Which is why Corus saluted Oprah as the Queen of all things educational as it fended off inquiries from the CRTC. (Anyone can request correspondence between networks and the regulator, available on the Public File. They make delicious reading while you’re enjoying the Rotisserie Channel.)
When the CRTC caught a whiff that Corus was going to flip Viva to OWN, the regulator fired off an inquiry. Sylvie Courtemarche, Corus’ V.P. Government Relations, responded last October with an 11 page letter reassuring the CRTC that the network had every intention of complying with the existing nature of the service.
“Our confidence in making that statement is founded upon our discussions with the OWN management in the United States and upon Oprah Winfrey herself,” wrote Courtemanche. “There is probably no contemporary figure in the Western World so associated with informal and formal education as Ms. Winfrey.”
Sure, and, what’s more informal and educational than a rich woman hollaring, “YOU GET A CAR! YOU GET A CAR! YOU GET A CAR!”

The letter went on to explain how OWN shows like In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Bertram and Behind the Scenes: The Oprah Show Final Season comply with Viva’s approved nature of service.
Man, do I owe my son an apology. I’ve been on his back all year to keep up his marks in subjects like English, History and Law in order to get into university this fall. He could have been watching Oprah!
These kind of CRTC backflips go on every time a media company decides to exploit the market by rebranding a specialty dud into a potential winner. Remember how Talktv became MTV Canada? Lonestar became MovieTime? CBC became HGTV?
Rogers response to the CRTC last August regarding whether the kinds of shows they were sneaking onto G4 “may not reflect the nature of its service” should qualify for some special kind of Giller Prize for creative writing. In a five-page letter last August, here’s how Rogers’ V.P. Regulatory, Media, Susan Wheeler, justified recycling Rogers’ owned Citytv shows like The Office onto the G4TechTV sked:

The Office is a U.S. sitcom/parody about modern American office life. While its subject matter does not deal directly with issues related to technology, computing or the Internet, the show has always performed best with younger demographic groups and is one of the most downloaded, streamed and tweeted shows online 2. As such, it falls squarely within the type of programming that appeals to G4’s “e-generation” target demographic and in that context fits squarely within its nature of service.

Wow, so there you go. Hey, the paper pushers at Dunder Mifflin do have computers on their desks. I’ve seen staplers and the occasional shirt pocket protector, too. Too bad Rogers didn’t have the rights to The Big Bang Theory, it appeals to G4’s “e-generation” target demo, right? Nerds rule!
The CRTC doesn’t buy all this malarchy. As reported by no less an observer than Robert Kennedy Jr. on the Huffington Post, they’ve slapped down Quebecor’s bid to allow the kind of hyperventalating, made up commentary you see on Fox News into Canada. The SUN TV News Channel, whenever it launches (Still the spring? Of 2011??), will now have to try and report actual news–or maybe the CRTC will allow them to show old episodes of the Lou Grant. Hey, it was set in a newsroom, right?

2 Responses to “Canada–you’ve been OWNed!”

  1. Nice post, Bill….though I was thinking you should rebrand the blog to something less educational and more ‘G4’, though that may require a inquiry and hearing. Or not.

    Reply
  2. Another great article. I was part of a CRTC application and over the years I’ve seen many original licences taken in new and inconsistent directions. It just gets worse as media concentration increases.

    Reply

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