Bell Media gave up on Vrak, now it’s shutting it down (which channel is next?)

The announcement came last week: Bell Media is ending the “activities” of Vrak, a channel that used to be about family and youth but recently has become just another soulless number airing reruns and dubbed American shows.

It was surprising in that Vrak was one of the marquee Astral Media specialty channels, had a larger than usual amount of original programming focused especially on youth (kind of like a Quebec version of YTV), a hefty per-subscriber fee and a good amount of name recognition in Quebec.

But Videotron finally pulled Vrak from its distribution service last week (it wanted to do so more than a year ago, but Bell complained to the CRTC, which finally ruled in February that it could not prevent Videotron from terminating its agreement with the channel and sister channel Z).

And all the stuff that was special about Vrak was in the past tense anyway. It cancelled all that original programming, and even dropped its youth focus. When it announced its fall schedule recently, the “original productions” section was all shows that were original to Bell Media but not to Vrak, and had already aired on Noovo or Crave. Its “interim” schedule, until Sept. 30, allows it to finish off seasons of shows for the few still watching.

In its statement, Bell blamed both Videotron’s decision (it’s hard to run a French-language specialty channel in Canada without carriage on Videotron) and the changing media environment. Looking at Vrak’s financials, it’s clear the channel’s problems far predate Videotron’s decision to end distribution (though it was technically still profitable, if only just, as of last year).

I’m not saying Bell is wrong here, but there’s just so much you can blame external forces when you’re not putting in much effort anymore. The last press release that wasn’t just a seasonal programming announcement dates to more than two years ago. The channel once known for series like Vrak la vie and the Karv “anti-gala” was now airing dubbed versions of Sullivan’s Crossing and Chicago Med.

The good news is that despite also being dropped by Videotron, Z lives on. Its fall schedule announcement shows some actual original programming.

But if Vrak can fall, who’s next? Here are some channels whose revenues, expenses and subscribers have been falling off cliffs lately (with their operating profit and number of subscribers in 2021-2022):

  • ABC Spark (Corus): -$440,237; 2.9 million subscribers
  • E! (Bell Media): $460,784; 4.2 million subscribers
  • ESPN Classic (Bell Media): -$868,735; 373,000 subscribers (Bell has turned in the licence for ESPN Classic effective Oct. 31)
  • MTV (Bell Media): -$5.2 million; 2.8 million subscribers
  • MTV2 (Bell Media): -$200,837; 752,000 subscribers (UPDATE Feb. 27: Bell is shutting MTV2 down as of end of March 2024)
  • Nickelodeon (Corus): -$11.5 million; 1.9 million subscribers
  • ONE (Zoomer Media): N/A, but revenues down an average of 12% per year
  • OLN (Rogers): $5.7 million; 2.9 million subscribers
  • OUTtv (independent): -$1.36 million; 434,000 subscribers
  • OWN (Corus): -$462,000; 2.8 million subscribers
  • RDS Info (Bell Media): -$7 million; 600,000 subscribers
  • Starz (Bell Media): $1 million; 1.8 million subscribers
  • Yoopa (Quebecor): $216,000; 340,000 subscribers (UPDATE Nov. 14: TVA is shutting this channel in January, replacing it with a TV version of QUB Radio)
  • Z (Bell Media): $2 million; 1.2 million subscribers

This is mainly from the major broadcasters as minor ones don’t have to divulge number of subscribers or profit margins. I’ve excluded some that won’t get pulled any time soon, either because they’re very popular or because they just got rebranded or repurposed. I could see several of these channels get shut down, especially if it doesn’t look like things are going to go their way on a regulatory level.

Going through the CRTC’s reports also serves as a reminder of all the channels we’ve lost in the past few years:

  • BBC Canada (Corus)
  • BBC Kids (Knowledge Network)
  • Book Television (Bell Media)
  • Comedy Gold (Bell Media, then sold to WOW Unlimited Networks)
  • Cosmopolitan TV (Corus)
  • FashionTelevision (Bell Media)
  • FYI (Corus)
  • IFC Canada (Corus)
  • Leafs Nation (MLSE)
  • Sundance Channel (Corus)
  • Viceland (Rogers)

Plus all the other channels whose licences are still active but reused for other purposes.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing if, instead of these low-subscriber 24-hour channels airing mostly reruns, television programming is added to on-demand libraries of high-subscriber streaming services. But it’s a sad day when a cultural institution ends, even if what made it special had already disappeared.

Vrak’s last day on air will be Sept. 30.

14 thoughts on “Bell Media gave up on Vrak, now it’s shutting it down (which channel is next?)

  1. Martin

    Hi i was wondering why is RDS Info losing 7 millions? They have no original programming, they just rerun RDS’s Sport 30 all day long

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Hi i was wondering why is RDS Info losing 7 millions? They have no original programming, they just rerun RDS’s Sport 30 all day long

      Good question. According to data submitted to the CRTC, RDS Info counts $10 million a year in programming expenses, almost all of which is classified as “Filler Programming + Program Production”. My guess is they put their entire news budget on RDS Info’s books, leaving the other $150 million of expenses for RDS/RDS2. So while on paper it’s losing money, in reality shutting it down might not save much, even while it’s losing an average of 10% of its subscribers every year.

  2. S.D. Thompson

    Leafs TV (in its final days, Leafs Nation Network) bit the dust last year, signing off August 31, 2022, and returning the license a day later. I guess ESPN Classic still survives, despite the original American network (and later European spin-off) going dark years ago.

  3. Andy Reid

    There are definitely too many channels in Canada – many of which offer no original programmng. Many can go

  4. Anonymous

    Most of the companies stop providing actual valuable content ages ago. For a long time, they were just milking the cow for every dollar they could get. Back in the day, they were tripping over each other to create “exclusive” channels for their cable and sat systems that they could charge consumers for in packages.

    To some extent, that golden goose was eaten a long time ago.

    The number of Canadian households with “pay tv” is dropping consistently, trailing but following the path of pretty much every other form of legacy media. I don’t say cord cutting, because most of us have replaced coax with and rj45. But for companies trying to sell programming, the game is already just about over, especially the way it’s been done in Canada.

    There are so many problems. When you see “channel name Canada” you already know it exists artificially. Rather than allowing Canadians to enjoy the original channel, we get the CRTC regulated, CanCon mandated trash that nobody really wants. Bell, Videotron, Rogers, and Shaw each made a ton of money stuffing these useless channels into packages on the cable systems and milking consumers as hard as they could. Nobody wanted the channels, they were just forced to take them. Even though in theory the packaging went away, the reality is that there are still “good” packages and “bad” packages, and each company puts their stuff up front and makes consumers pay through the nose for the other company’s stuff.

    But now the grim reaper has come for it all. There are only about 8 million pay TV subscribing households, and those are taking fewer and fewer channels over time. More people are get antennas, going online, and generally walking away from the whole deal. The Nonsense Canada Channels can’t make a living if there isn’t anyone to scam into paying for them.

    So looking on your list, it is easy to see what is likely to fall next. And subsidiary channel (like RDS info) is a certain target. Any of the ones netting less than $1 per subscriber per year are doomed. Any of the ones who depend on access to small markets (like Quebec franco market) are doomed. Any channel that isn’t producing reasonable amounts of it’s own content, relying on parent company table scraps, is doomed.

    Fact is, the whole deal is doomed. Linear TV, no matter how much they puff it up, isn’t worth much anymore. In Canada, it’s even more so, because the few things that provide actual value – like news, local sports, weather, community – have been commoditized into specialty channels nobody is willing to pay for anymore.

    Who needs an all weather channel when you can say “hey google, what’s the weather like today?”. Who needs supposed “local” media when it’s all made in one place, the same sausage factory that also makes all the other crappy programming that isn’t worth paying for? Who needs sim-subbed nonsense when you can just point an antenna south and get it all for free? Why pay a fortune for linear cable move channels when you can get Nexflix and be done with it?

    There is so much. There is real panic in the land, which is why the CRTC has been handed a mandate to try to empty out the internet ocean and make people drink only Canadian water.

    1. Andy Reid

      And it could get worse if terrestrial TV is allowed to reduce local programming. That application from Bell is in front of the CRTC now

      1. Anonymous

        Terrestrial TV is no longer a real product. It’s a place holder to allow for subbing over US broadcasts to get Canadian ads in front of people, and to cut shows down by 2 minutes per hour. it’s part of the lie train that says local stations aren’t profitable, because if CTV had to deal arms length with independent local broadcasters instead of corporate shells that can be scraped out for cash. The simple fact that the CRTC has allowed a very few companies to control all sides of the business has lead to them bleeding most parts of it dry. Remember, Bell as an example makes billions in profits each year, but claims almost everything they do loses money somehow.

        The simple fact that even small market US local TV stations are profitable, often running hours of news each day, tells you a lot. The market is fundamentally broken in Canada, and the CRTC is the leader of the parade off the cliff.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          The simple fact that even small market US local TV stations are profitable, often running hours of news each day, tells you a lot.

          Mainly that local television stations get money from cable TV providers in the U.S., something that isn’t allowed in Canada (at least not in the same way).

          1. Anonymous

            So effectively, it’s the business model tilted towards the major players that put the squeeze on local TV and killed it.

            Bell makes billions a year. Something needs to change.

            1. Fagstein Post author

              Bell makes billions a year.

              About $3 billion a year in profit, though only about $700 million of that comes from Bell Media. The telecom side is far more profitable. And of that $700 million, very little comes from CTV. In fact, CTV/CTV2 currently operates at a loss, according to Bell’s filing with the CRTC.

              1. François-Patrick Arteau

                Traditional and specialty channels really suck and are completely useless nowadays! I now often use Amazon Prime Video and Fox-owned free ad-supported on-demand streaming service Tubi, which both have original content and movies and TV shows from a somewhat niche market that don’t get a French dub. The Quebec networks are too small and too unwilling to carry these. I especially like the Tubi Originals lineup from Tubi, most notably the TMZ specials.

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