Community Cable: Filthy Stinking Rich

Like Betamax machines and UHF receivers, community programming seems like something out of the ’80s. Maybe it just looks that way to me because I was involved in that game over 25 years ago as a volunteer producer for long defunct MacLean-Hunter Cable TV in Etobicoke.
You mean you never heard of Bullock & Brioux and Etobichannel? This goofy little half-hour comedy–which got some access across the GTA through various cable hook ups back in the early-to-mid-’80s–was clearly a $1.98 ripoff of SCTV. Some talented folks, including always funny Pat Bullock (back in the ’80s, above with, uh, Bob Denver), director (editor, producer, mentor) Andy Tough and university pals Andrew Ryan (now at the Globe and Mail) and B.J. DelConte (formerly at CP24) were in on the hijinks.
Back before specialty channels like Comedy and way before the Internet and YouTube, community cable was the place to get camera ready after working the comedy club circuit. Ed the Sock (and the late Eric Tunney) emerged from mighty Newton Cable at the top of Toronto and The Frantics even found a little face time in community cable land. I remember seeing TSN’s Geno Reda hiding behind a big fat ‘stache back in his early community cable days.
Mike Myers, who grew up in Scarborough, certainly drew some inspiration for Wayne’s World from some of the community cable kookiness that found a surprisingly wide audience back in the day when the TV pie was only cut into a dozen or so slices.
Suddenly, like the return of King Tut, community cable is on the radar again. Half page ads appeared last week in the Toronto Star saluting volunteers who work in community programming. There was a big photo of a very diverse crowd of seniors and minorities posing with studio cameras.
The pre-emptive P.R. strike came as community TV proceedings get under way in Ottawa before the CRTC Monday. (You can follow them here on CPAC).
Apparently it’s the first CRTC community cable check in in eight years, which has the folks at CACTUS (Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) steamed.
With a name like CACTUS they’d have to be prickly but here’s their point: Some $680 million has been collected from satellite and cable subscribers since 2002 that was supposed to be spent on community cable TV. Maybe it has–certainly there’s still a ton of community fare on my Rogers Cable 10 station in Brampton–but the fact that the CRTC has never asked to see the books has left some wondering if all of that money–about as much per year as was pooled into the local TV funding pool last year–really goes toward all that coin and stamp club programming. Others look at the new community channels and see a lot of promotional spin toward the cable brand.
All that money is like a big fat lottery win and if you stop checking in on how this stuff gets distributed, well, a lot of 7-Eleven dudes are driving BMW’s now, that’s all I’m saying.
Certainly, without accountability, suspicions will be raised. Hopefully, the right questions will get asked this week. And if not, I’m re-launching Etobichannel: The Next Generation and looking to get in on this loot.
The other thing, though is–why is all that money ($116 million in 2009 alone according to CACTUS) still being directed to community programming? Hasn’t the Internet and broadcast yourself technologies rendered this whole issue moot? My teens and their pals might hustle a vid and post it to YouTube but put on a show down at Rogers Cable 10? It would be like asking them to thread a Super 8 camera.
So it the CRTC tied up with another church group while the Canadian TV industry turns to dust? I’ll be rambling along those lines early Monday morning in a series of coast-to-coast syndicated CBC radio interviews.

One Response to “Community Cable: Filthy Stinking Rich”

  1. Community cable stations should be stand-alone and all delivery systems (cable, satellite, microwave) should have to pay into them. It’s strange that if you subscribe to Rogers you get a “community channel,” but with Bell-TV you don’t. It would also lessen the influence of these systems to use the channel merely to peddle their own product(s).

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