MusiquePlus is dead — but music on TV is far from it

There are quite a few eulogies to MusiquePlus this week in various media, after news came out that owner V will be replacing it this summer with a women’s movie channel. (Many news stories talked about it going “off the air” or being “shut down forever”, when neither is true. The only thing really changing that has any connection to its former life is the name.)

Brendan KellyRafaël Ouellet and various former MP personalities shared memories of the music channel, how it influenced a generation and how much fun it was to work there.

The eulogies tend to fall along the same lines, remembering the personalities the channel built up, the live music performances, the interviews with big stars, the excitement of debuting a new song or video. Then they go on to acknowledge that most people can get their music videos on YouTube these days and have no need for a channel that runs them on an endless loop.

There’s a few problems with this logic, though. For one thing, there is demand for such a channel. As I’m writing this my TV is on Stingray’s PalmarèsADISQ music video channel, which is an automated channel that runs nothing but francophone music videos. It doesn’t have live music or video jockeys, though.

And that’s what we really miss about MusiquePlus. It’s not the music videos, it’s everything else related to music.

But live music is expensive to produce. So while it may have worked as a weekly special occasion on a cable channel 20 years ago, it doesn’t make sense any more on Quebec television.

Which would make sense if you didn’t watch Quebec television, and conveniently ignored that the most popular francophone program on Quebec TV right now, with more than 2 million viewers a week, is a singing competition show.

I looked through the TV schedule for next week, and here are shows I found that are directly music-related:

  • La Voix (TVA, Sunday 7pm)
  • Virtuose (ARTV, Monday 10:30pm)
  • The Launch (VRAK, Wednesday 8pm)
  • En direct de l’univers (Radio-Canada, Saturday 7pm)
  • Pour l’amour du country (ARTV, Saturday 7pm)
  • La vie secrète des chansons (TV5, Saturday 8:15pm)
  • Belle et Bum (Télé-Québec, Saturday 9pm)

That doesn’t include general talent competition shows, cultural current affairs shows, dance shows, community television, talk shows featuring musicians as guests or one-off documentaries.

Music is still very present on television. What’s changed is more subtle than that, and has various factors. Music videos aren’t the money-maker they once were. TV channels have to work harder to gain audiences. Automation in TV production, and the job cuts that followed, have made it easier to just run content produced elsewhere than create original live studio programming. Corporate consolidation has led to more caution and a focus more on big-money highly-promoted “event” programming and less on the daily grind that will be mostly forgettable and not reusable, even if it can occasionally create unexpected gems.

I honestly don’t know if someone really committed to bringing back the essence of MusiquePlus (or MuchMusic on the English side, for that matter) could make it financially viable. MP didn’t make money when it was sold in the Bell-Astral merger, and V paid very little for it. If anyone felt they could step in and make it work, they had ample opportunity. And nothing it stopping anyone from creating a TV or online channel that does all of what MP used to do. They might even convince V to sell them the brand, since they won’t be using it anymore.

It’s sad that we’re losing MP’s history (they’re apparently in talks to preserve archives), but from music videos to live performances to interviews and critiques, the programming we found on it still exists.

It just no longer exists all in one place. And we don’t have Véronique Cloutier, Rebecca Makonnen and Geneviève Borne tying it all together.

6 thoughts on “MusiquePlus is dead — but music on TV is far from it

  1. Ricky B

    Bell doesn’t buy tv stations to make them thrive. They buy them so they can get more on–air space for their advertisements. They just keep buying and killing.

    There is absolutely a market for the old MusiquePlus today. But you have to spend money to make money and Bell doesn’t spend money. Also, since Bell doesn’t listen to the people and quite frankly doesn’t care, they can let it die and replace it with another short-lived format.

    As long as they can advertise their cell phones and Internet.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      There is absolutely a market for the old MusiquePlus today. But you have to spend money to make money and Bell doesn’t spend money.

      Bell does not and has never owned MusiquePlus.

      1. Stéphane Dumas

        When Bell acquired Astral (the original owners of MP), they owned very briefly MusiquePlus until they sold to V due to pressure from Quebecor.

        For Musique Plus, I remember more the days of Paul Sarrazin, Marie Plourde, Paul Beauregard, Denis Talbot, Sonia Benezra, Francis Bay and Denis Talbot.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          When Bell acquired Astral (the original owners of MP), they owned very briefly MusiquePlus until they sold to V due to pressure from Quebecor.

          They didn’t. As part of the conditions the CRTC imposed when it approved the Bell/Astral merger, MusiquePlus and other assets to be divested were placed in trust pending their sale. Pierre Boivin (the former Canadiens president) was in charge of those assets during that time. Bell exercised no editorial, organizational or financial control over MusiquePlus.

  2. Dilbert

    The music programming you list is nice, but it’s also not really what Musiqueplus did when it did live. MP generally had a very small studio audience, a very intimate setting, and hundreds of people with their noses pressed up against the windows to see what was going on. It wasn’t just music, it was a destination event.

    I was lucky enough to see Shawn Phillips there, a very anglo kind of a guy who seduced a mostly franco audience. Insanely intimate, only about 50 people in the room. Cooler than cool. It was like having him over to my house to play.

    When I saw other live shows on MP, I always saw that same feeling in people’s eyes. In a world where everything is mass market, crowds of thousands, huge stadiums, and the like, seeing shows in such a small cozy space surely touched the people who got to experience it.

    However, for MP, let’s be honest: It was started as and mostly worked as the french MuchMusic, and that slightly too Toronto feel always made the channel a little more distance for Quebecers. It was sort of the “must be 35% french” CRTC mandate disaster that often seems to happen. If you wanted the popular videos, you just watched Much.

    In the end, like MTV and other music video channels, most of them figured out that there wasn’t enough viewership or enough ad dollars to support the channels. MP was really only surviving on being globbed into cable packages where people who never watched it were still paying for it. Even then, it wasn’t a money maker, it was a space taker. You can be sure that Bell worked the bottom line hard to make sure it was never profitable, and when they sold it on, they knew it was going to be a DOA or just about.

    MP is gone, off the air, shut down forever. You can play with words, but it’s gone. It’s like suggesting that Mix96 isn’t gone, it’s just resting. Want to buy a parrot?

  3. Mario D.

    Musique plus has been dead for more than a decade. Of course we tend to recognize that in it’ s own way it was for many the entrance door to the medias and / or the entertainment world. Most of the good ones came from the same short era and then it went sour big time. About when they started to broadcast cheap american reality teen tv.

    Had the musical part off music plus continued it would have been in much better shape now. On radio this is all you hear ,music from the 70’s ,80’s and 90’s. But musique plus chose to play less and less music videos and aim for a really small and specific age group.

    24 hours a day music station and the crappy music reality tv shows we see weekly have nothing in common though. It all comes down to bad decisions and poor vision over the years and the money is gone ! What if …too late ,it’s about time that this good idea gone bad is put to rest.


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