|Sun Newsers and one of their fans in happier times|
That was the CRTC ruling Thursday for the Sun News Network, the all news operation launched over two years ago by Quebecor. The channel has struggled, losing a reported $15 million in its first year. Executives argued that it deserved to be on a level playing field with all-news TV rivals CBC New Network and CTV News Channel.
The service, however, failed to demonstrate there was much demand for the product. Ratings were abysmal both before and after Sun News had a cozy, over-the-air berth on a coveted lower channel setting–channel 15 in Canada’s largest TV market. SUN TV was eventually forced to give up that double dip but ratings never really changed, mired in single digits across Canada even into the prime time hours.
Thursdays CRTC statement reiterates that the regulatory body is determined to take a hard stand against mandatory carriage. “The CRTC has set the bar very high,” reads the statement. Others getting bad news Thursday included Vision TV, Canadian Punjabi Network, EqualiTV, Fusion, Described Video Guide and Starlight: The Canadian Movie Channel fronted by Paul Gross, Robert Lantos and David Cronenberg. Twelve channels in all were denied.
The Sun application was always a political hot potato. There were recent allegations that embattled Conservative senator Mike Duffy was among those lobbying Ottawa insiders for the CRTC to grant mandatory carriage. A former member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inner circle was, from the beginning, a driving force behind the venture.
Former colleagues in Sun newsrooms, especially at the Toronto Sun, blamed the money-bleeding TV venture for the last two rounds of newspaper layoffs.
Sun News Network was launched with great fanfare, with proponents arguing Canada needed a conservative media voice to counter the perceived liberal bias at the CBC. Right wing pundits Ezra Levant, Charles Adler and Michael Coren were given showy electronic pulpits and the CBC and Justin Trudeau bashing began.
Trouble was, nobody showed up to watch. Levant’s animated antics would occasionally draw upwards of 30,000 viewers but there were just too many dead hours filled with ads for foot insoles. Sun News was not able to make a convincing argument that Canadians wanted or needed their service.
What hampered the channel was not so much the incessant right wing tone, although beating that one note all day long had to get old even for folks who embraced the message. More damaging was the overall cheap presentation. Fox News is by far the No. 1 cable news outlet in the U.S. but not just because it tilts right. It also looks slick. Fox has the resources and a powerful executive with experience and vision in Roger Ailes.
The parade of talking heads behind desks on Sun News, however, gave the Canadian veture a bland sameness, no matter how colourful the individual commentators. More fun was when Levant and others ventured into the streets to prod protesters camping in tents in Toronto parks. There just was never enough of that.
Harder for the CRTC to swallow had to be the charges of inappropriate content being leveled at Sun TV. Levant made one on-air apology well-timed to the CRTC hearings, but that move may only have amplified that this was a headache the commission really didn’t want or need to force on Canadian cable or dish subscribers.
Without the mandatory money tap to draw from, Sun News may be ready to set. Executives hinted during the hearings that making a go of it in this ad market did not seem like a sustainable option. With losses piling up, Quebecor chairman Pierre Karl Peladeau seems bored with the venture and seems more focused lately on becoming Quebec’s next premier.
Other services did get in on the mandatory carriage money train Thursday, with APTN among those popping corks today. Read the CRTC release here.
The CRTC did leave the door open a crack to Sun News, proposing a whole new look at how all-news channels are distributed. More on that here.