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
Leafs TV (MLSE): $1.43 million; 636,000 subscribers(Oops, I forgot it shut down after last year)
- MTV (Bell Media): -$5.2 million; 2.8 million subscribers
- MTV2 (Bell Media): -$200,837; 752,000 subscribers
- 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
- 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.