Tag Archives: Book Television

Bell Media to shut down Fashion Television and Book Television on Feb. 22

The cull of zombie specialty channels, many of which trace their origins to a boom around 20 years ago, finally reached Bell Media, which has advised the CRTC it will shut down Fashion Television and Book Television as of Feb. 22.

The CRTC on Thursday responded by revoking the licences of Book Television and Fashion Television Channel as of that date.

Bell’s letters to the commission don’t provide any reasoning for the shutdowns, other than saying they will “cease operations.” But the business model for such channels has collapsed in recent years, as people adopt more custom TV packages and drop channels with no original content, like Cosmo, BBC Canada, G4 and many other similar channels.

According to financial statistics submitted to the CRTC, Book Television had lost more than half its revenue between 2015 and 2019 as the number of subscribers dropped and subscription fees dropped even more. It still had a healthy 40% profit margin, but with less than a million dollars in profit.

Similarly, Fashion had less than a quarter the total revenue in 2019 it had in 2015, and fewer than half the subscribers.

Neither channel has had any original programming in years and Bell has spent virtually no effort at all trying to promote them. Both reported spending $0 in Canadian programming in 2018-19. Book’s current programming is reruns of legal dramas JAG and Matlock, plus CTV shows The Amazing Race Canada, Cardinal, 19-2, Transplant and Saving Hope. Fashion’s is even more pointless, with reruns of Cash Cab, Comedy Now and Amazing Race Canada, none of which are known for having anything to do with fashion.

Both channels were originally licensed to CHUM in 2000, as part of a big wave of licences for new digital specialty channels, and were acquired by Bell when CTV acquired CHUM and Bell bought CTV.

Who’s next?

Rogers killed G4 in 2017 and Viceland in 2018, while Corus killed Cosmo and IFC in 2019 and Bell got rid of Comedy Gold in 2017, so the big guys have cut off the low-hanging fruit already. But there remain a bunch of channels that don’t have much original programming that could be on the chopping block in the coming years, including Rogers’ OLN, Bell’s Discovery Science or MTV2, Corus’s Slice or DIY and Quebecor’s AddikTV or Moi&Cie, plus a bunch of channels owned by smaller companies.

Book Television and the de-specialization of specialty channels

Updated below with CRTC decision.

These days, what little public attention is devoted to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is split between two major hearings taking place back to back: The mandatory carriage hearings, in which more than a dozen groups are trying to force themselves onto basic cable to get maximum audience or free money, or both; and the Bell takeover of Astral Media, which is heavily opposed by most of Bell’s competitors.

There’s another file open for public comment that’s much more minor, but much more representative of what’s happening to Canada’s television industry right now. Book Television, a specialty channel owned by Bell Media, has applied to the commission to modify its licence to allow for more fictional entertainment programs, like scripted dramas, sitcoms, feature films, sketch or standup comedy shows, and animated shows.

Its current licence limits these kinds of programs to 35% of their schedule over the week, and no more than 30% between 6pm and midnight. It wants to bring that up to 50%, and eliminate the separate limit on programming during prime time.

The reason is simple: Book Television wants to run more popular programs, and fewer programs that have to do with books.

Like all specialty television services, Book Television is tied to what’s called the “nature of service” clause in its licence. This is the clause that requires a specialty television channel to specialize in something. It sets its language and its topic. And all programming should fit its theme.

For Book Television, the licence says this: “The licensee shall provide a national English-language specialty Category A service that will feature magazines and talk shows, dramas and documentaries that are exclusively based upon printed and published works and offered with additional programming that provides an educational context and promotes reading.”

In other words, a channel about books, and about things based on books.

In the 2000 hearing where Book Television was first proposed to the CRTC (it was only one of several proposed book-themed channels, with Alliance Atlantis, Corus, Boxer Four Entertainment and Key Media also proposing channels based on books and literature), then-owner CHUM said “Book Television — The Channel will develop, over several years, shows on critics and criticism, kidlit, reading festivals and erotica, support for new writers with the WordFACT Foundation and more.”

CHUM wanted to expand on the offering of another channel it owned, Canadian Learning Television. That channel, since rebranded twice, got into its own trouble at the CRTC recently for straying from its purpose.

The idea was that drama programming would be presented in such a way as to educate viewers about books and encourage them to read.

The CRTC agreed, and awarded a licence for Book Television.

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