The Canadian version of the Oprah Winfrey Network is not one of the CRTC’s favourite things right now.
On Friday, the commission issued what’s called a mandatory order — a kind of “do this or else” note that has the backing of the federal court behind it — requiring the channel to abide by the terms of its licence that it has tried its best to work around since its days as CLT.
OWN, formerly VIVA, formerly CLT, was originally licenced as Canadian Learning Television in 1996 as a channel that would “provide formal and informal educational programs on a wide range of topics.” (Even then, there were concerns — Commissioner Claude Sylvestre objected because it stepped all over provincial jurisdiction over education.) Its licence has been slightly watered down since then, but it remains at its core a channel focused on education.
Despite this, its programming has been largely of the mainstream entertainment variety. Under CLT, it aired episodes of The West Wing preceded by some comment by professors in a half-hearted attempt to justify the educational value. When it rebranded as VIVA, a network for “boomer women”, it just about laughed in the face of its nature of service.
One needs only look at its current list of “accredited” educational programs to see how it’s twisted things, showing general interest shows and getting small colleges to have courses where they critique camera angles or other silliness.
A look at its finances shows the move to OWN has been successful. Profit has gone up significantly, and the network now has a profit margin of 40% (that’s actually down from almost 50% in 2009), making $10 million a year ($8.5 million after interest and adjustments) for Corus.