So it’s done. At 5am Eastern Time today, after a repeat of Byline with Brian Lilley and a promo ad featuring Pat Bolland, Sun News Network cut to black, eventually being replaced with notices from distributors that the channel has ceased operations.
Today is the second anniversary of the Sun News Network.
Canada’s small-c conservative news channel launched on April 18, 2011, days before the royal wedding of the century, a historic federal election and the surprise death of Osama bin Laden. It promised to break stories that the other media wouldn’t cover, to give a voice to those it felt had been blacklisted by the other media, and to present ideas that were politically incorrect.
Even before it launched, it was attacked by the establishment and by left-wing activists. Combined with some reporting that failed to properly explain the issues at hand, this left many Canadians with an incomplete, biased or simply incorrect picture of what the news channel was about. I was skeptical about the quality of its journalism, but also encouraged that there would be a specialty channel out there that would create all of its own programming instead of relying on rebroadcasting U.S. specialty channels, airing reruns of TV series from decades past, or reshowing the same hit shows that have already aired on the broadcast networks.
I finally gave the network a review after one year. Most of my worries turned out to be justified. Its production values are cheap, it preaches to the converted, its primetime hosts (all white men) are unrelatable mainly because of the size of their egos.
Not much has changed in the year since. Most of the personalities are the same, with the notable exception of Krista Erickson (what she’s up to now is a mystery – her website, blog and Facebook page haven’t been updated since November). The shows still look the same, still sound the same, still have the same strengths and weaknesses.
I find myself watching it less and less these days, except for the sweeps I do of all the news channels when there’s breaking or other live events happening. It doesn’t have a must-see program, and with PVRs there’s no reason to stumble on it when you’re bored during the day.
But still, in an era where specialty channels are doing their best to de-specialize and go after the cheapest and most profitable content, it’s nice that there’s one force out there that believes original programming can make a network work.
All that original programming is expensive. Thanks to the CRTC we know that it cost $14 million in 2012. Added to overhead expenses, Sun News costs $22 million a year to run. But it made only $5.7 million in subscription fees and advertising. And subscription fees, under 10 cents a month per subscriber, make up the bulk of that. The network draws only $3,750 a day in advertising revenue. Business News Network draws more than six times that.
Sun blames this low revenue on lack of subscriptions, which it in turn blames on the big cable and satellite companies not packaging it attractively. The channel has 4.9 million subscribers, which is less than half of the 11 million subscriptions to CBC News Network, but puts it on par with channels like Lifetime, OLN and Showcase Action, and well ahead of some other more niche channels, not to mention every French-language specialty channel in Quebec that isn’t forced on subscribers.
So it is coming to the CRTC, asking that it issue an order requiring all cable and satellite providers to not only carry the channel (some like Telus and MTS still don’t have it at all), but to add it to all their customers’ basic cable packages, and even force it onto analog cable as well.
Once again, there has been some spin on both sides about this application. Sun argues it wants a fair shot in this hyper-regulated environment, while its enemies say it’s grossly hypocritical for a group that advocates choice and freedom to be asking the government to force people to pay for something they don’t want.
The hearing into Sun News and all the other applications for mandatory carriage begins next week in Gatineau. I’ve written a story for J-Source outlining the case and Sun News’s chances of getting what it wants.
People ask me a lot how I think the CRTC will rule on a controversial application, and the truth is I don’t know. I can point to precedent, but applicants and intervenors find creative ways to argue why precedent shouldn’t apply. The CRTC’s decisions wouldn’t be controversial if they were easy, and the hard ones are hard to predict.
Still, we can look at a few clues that might hint at which way the commission will go. The biggest one is that it has already deregulated mainstream news channels somewhat, opening them up so they can compete directly with each other. This presupposes that the channels are similar in nature, which would seem to go against one of the main criteria for granting this status, that a service be exceptional. Similarly, granting this request would set its own precedent, encouraging every other new news network to do the same. Global and Rogers have new regional news networks, and would probably be next in line for mandatory carriage.
Sun also makes a less than solid case that it needs this status because it can’t reach subscribers. There are channels out there that would love to have 4.5 million subscribers. And the CRTC is unlikely to feel this is the proper solution to a dispute over packaging. Sun makes a good point that it’s not accessible on analog cable, but neither are CityNews, Global BC1 and every other channel that has launched in the past decade. It’s an argument to rethink policy about analog cable, but not to force Sun News on consumers.
So my instinct is that Sun News will be denied mandatory carriage, along with most of the other applicants that come in front of the CRTC in this two-week hearing. But I’ve been surprised before.
And if the CRTC does say no, how long will Quebecor keep financing it before it realizes that market forces are just not on Sun News’s side?
When the Sun News Network launched on April 18, 2011, the rapid-fire reviews were not kind at all. In response, host and seasoned journalist David Akin asked on Twitter that the network be cut some slack, at least until Day 2.
I decided to cut them a bit more slack. I’d give them a week, I’d watch the network throughout the day with an open mind, and reserve judgment until afterward (some sarcastic tweets excepted).
I put my new DVR into overdrive, recording the network for 16 hours a day, then watching it with the remote in hand to fast-forward through some of the repetitive parts and commercials.
After the first week, I realized that Week 2 would be a stronger test of Sun News than Week 1. The royal wedding was scheduled for the coming Friday, and Sun News had promised live coverage just like every other network in the world. And the end of Week 2 would feature the Canadian federal election, a huge test for any network, and an even tougher test for one that’s two weeks old and still trying to find its footing. So I recorded Week 2 as well, from 6am to 10pm (the overnight hours are repeats of prime-time programming).
As it turns out, there was a third major news event during that weekend: the death of Osama bin Laden. An unexpected breaking news event on a weekend evening would also give huge insight into how Sun News performed.
In the end, I recorded and watched (or zipped through) almost 200 hours of Sun News Network broadcasts, including the first two weeks in their entirety.
Afterward, I watched a half-day each of CBC News Network and CTV News Channel, in order to get a proper basis for comparison. (I was reminded, for example, how much 24-hour news networks in general will repeat stories.) I also checked back in with Sun News to see how they filled airtime after the election.
For the past year, I’ve checked in periodically, when there’s nothing better on TV. I won’t be so bold as to suggest that makes me an expert on the network, but I think I’m a bit more familiar with what they put on the air than many of the people who have written about it since it launched.
So for the benefit of those who want a more balanced perspective about the network, and hopefully to counteract the flood of (mostly negative) commentary that comes from people who clearly have never seen it, I’ll offer my review.
I haven’t interviewed anyone at the network, and other than brief Twitter exchanges and a single on-air appearance, I haven’t spoken to anyone there in any other context either. My opinions are based on what has actually been aired, combined with what personalities have said in other media. My research is based on what has aired combined with reputable sources I’ve found online.
(Note: This is really long. Feel free to skip to the conclusions and suggestions at the end if you’re pressed for time.)
It seems a week can’t go by without Quebecor or one of its journalistic outlets picking a fight with a competitor. Whether it’s an unwritten company rule to bias its news coverage in this fashion or simply an astonishing coincidence, I can’t say for certain. But either way the result is the same: lots of mudslinging in the direction of Quebecor’s enemies.
And, unfortunately, the response to a lot of this mudslinging is mudslinging in the other direction. Rather than see dispassionate analysis of important issues presented with balance, we’re bombarded with fact-massaging attacks from both sides and left to our own devices to try to pick out truth from truthiness.
Here’s a few examples of the battles it’s been waging recently:
I find it funny how the lady in the Sun News Network promo complaining about how “political correctness has run amok”:
is the same lady promoting government assistance to old people in Quebec:
(Click on the photos to get links to where they come from)
This is, of course, a stock photo. I tracked it down to German photographer Martina Ebel, who sells it through various stock photo sites. She confirmed the photo was hers, though she didn’t give me information about the model, who appears in dozens of other photos taken by Ebel.
I’d be willing to put money on the assumption that this nice-looking old lady is not Canadian, has never requested financial assistance from the Quebec government, and has never watched the Sun News Network.
But that’s not important, right? What’s important is the illusion that this photo represents an actual person we can relate to, and who are news media or the government to dispell us of the false impressions they planted in our minds?
Besides, it’s so heartwarming that right-wing media blowhards and left-wing government money wasters have at least one thing in common: the same taste in generic old women.
It wasn’t quite the way I pictured it would be, but on Friday evening I was on national TV for the first time.
Well, maybe calling it “national TV” is an exaggeration. It was during the 5pm hour on a Friday, and the audience was probably somewhere in the low five figures at best. I was actually more curious about the experience than I was excited about the idea of having wide exposure or getting famous or something.
After the previous application for a Category 1 specialty channel was outright rejected by the CRTC, Quebecor has decided to put forward an application for a Category 2 channel, just like almost every new specialty channel in the past few years.
Both categories are digital channels, meaning they won’t be on analog cable and aren’t part of the basic package. The difference is that Category 1 channels must have a minimum of 50% Canadian content, and in return all digital cable and satellite providers must make the channel available on a discretionary basis. For Category 2 channels, the dealings with television providers are mostly unregulated. They negotiate carriage fees with each other, and the providers can choose whether or not to make the channel available.
But while the Sun TV News application is technically a Category 2 channel, Quebecor is asking for an exception that grants it the biggest advantage of Category 1: mandatory availability, at least for the first three years.
In both the previous and current applications, media coverage and left-wing reaction has confused the nature of what Quebecor is asking for. That’s partially understandable. CRTC’s regulations can be overly complicated sometimes, particularly when it comes to what channels providers have to carry.
This Canadian Press article, for example, states three times that the new channel would be “funded with money from cable TV fees”, even though that’s not what the application is requesting. The statements are attributed to activists, but aren’t challenged in the article, leaving readers to assume they are true. This report uses the term “must-carry”, which has a special meaning at the CRTC that doesn’t apply in this case. Quebecor isn’t asking for must-carry status. This Globe and Mail story also uses the term “must carry”, as does this National Post report.
“Must carry” vs. “must offer”
In an effort to reduce the confusion, let me explain a bit how this works.
There is a list of channels that all cable and satellite providers must provide as part of their basic packages. In addition to the local television channels, this also includes things like CPAC and APTN. Other channels like CBC News Network and the Weather Network are also included in basic packages. Fees, set by the CRTC, are charged to all subscribers to pay for these channels.
Beyond that, there are levels of discretionary tiers that have different statuses at the CRTC. Some are allowed on analog cable on a discretionary basis or can be part of the basic package. Some, like Category 1 channels, are offered only on a digital basis unless an exception is warranted.
Category 2 channels are the least regulated type, and the one preferred by both the CRTC and new channel applicants because of how easy it is and how low the minimum requirements are.
Though it might seem like your cable or satellite company has every channel in existence, it doesn’t. Bell TV, for example, doesn’t carry MuchMoreRetro. Videotron doesn’t carry Fox News Channel (somewhat ironically, if you think Quebecor is an evil right-wing empire). Shaw Direct doesn’t carry Court TV (now Investigation Discovery) or TFO. There is no regulation requiring these companies to make these channels available. They decide what their users might be interested in, based on what the channels offer and what they want to charge the TV provider. The channels, meanwhile, ask people to “call your cable or satellite provider” to pressure them into adding the channel to their lineup.
What Quebecor wants with Sun TV News is to bypass this process, and require that all digital TV providers have the channel in their lineups. The wholesale price would still be negotiated between the provider and the network, and the provider could package the channel and charge for it however it feels.
Kory Teneycke, the former Harper aide who is behind this application, calls it “must offer” to distinguish it from “must carry”. I’ll use that expression for lack of a better one.
In short, Quebecor is asking that this channel be available on all digital cable and satellite providers, but the choice to take it would be entirely up to the consumer. Nobody would be forced to pay for the channel if they didn’t want it.
The package exception
One scenario that might see people paying for Sun TV News without wanting to would be if they got it as part of a package. It would make sense for a news channel theme pack to include Sun TV News with CTV News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, BNN, CNBC, Al Jazeera English and BBC World News. Someone might select that wanting all the news channels but having moral objections to Sun TV (and, presumably, Fox News).
But this packaging is entirely up to the TV provider. It’s not regulated by the CRTC and isn’t negotiated with the channels.
The CRTC only regulates packaging to ensure that porn channels and single-view religious channels aren’t forced on consumers as part of packages. Theoretically, the CRTC could require the same thing for Sun TV News that it requires for Playboy TV, but that seems a bit excessive.
Of course, if cable and satellite providers did away with such packages, or offered people à la carte options, this wouldn’t be an issue. But so far, only one major TV provider offers that kind of à la carte service: Quebecor-owned Videotron.
Ignorance breeds fear
What gets me most about the reaction to this application is how much people are willing to oppose it without knowing what it is. There has been no proposed program grid, not even any confirmed hosts. All we know about Sun TV News is that it wants to be a mix of news and opinion, that its creators consider the other news channels “boring”, and that those creators are Conservatives who want to create a channel based partially on Fox News.
A group of activists has already started a petition that has 68,000 signatures on it (we’re not sure how many of those are real people). It repeats the non-truth about forcing people to pay for the channel, and throws in some drama that makes it seem as if Stephen Harper is trying to force his ideological agenda into our brains through the CRTC.
Sun Media had a field day with this, saying that the petition is based out of New York and that author Margaret Atwood and her cronies are trying to suppress free speech. Even Teneycke himself weighed in.
Fox News Cheap
It’s hard to judge something like this until you’ve seen it. Sun TV News could become a quality all-news network that bring much-needed competition to the industry. It could become a Fox News North, as critics have called it, providing news coverage to make people think it’s objective, but loading primetime hours with fearmongering blowhards who care more about expressing their opinions than seeking the truth.
The arguments from Quebecor that this isn’t Fox News North are contradicted by statements in the CRTC appliction, particularly this one:
The most comparable channel to STN is located in the USA, Fox News. Both channels’ strategy is to focus hard news and commentary that raise public debates and reactions on different topics. Fox News has been USA’s most watched All News channel for years and still is. In 2008-2009, Fox News’s audience was as high as CNN’s and MSNBC’s combined. Fox News does not have extensive distribution in Canada. Therefore, this represents a true opportunity for STN.
But while their goal is to replicate Fox News, I think the more likely scenario is that Sun TV News will be an experiment in cheap newsgathering that will quickly become a laughing stock because of its horribly small budget. According to the CRTC application, the channel plans to have a budget of about $25 million, of which $15 million would go to programming and technical costs. Though it’s hard to directly compare this to CBC and CTV, since they take advantage of their local stations and national newscasts (I’m trying hard not to use the word “synergies” here), it’s still very little money. We’re looking at a staff of maybe 100 people, including journalists, anchors, producers and technicians, advertising salespeople, marketers, etc. Anyone who thinks he can run a national news network on that kind of budget is probably kidding himself.
The feared scenario, that they’ll spend little money on news budget and focus all their efforts on opinion, makes more sense considering how little they have to spend. But even then, the big-name blowhards come at a high price, and a $25 million total budget isn’t enough to get a Canadian Glenn Beck on the air if you want anything more than a webcam and laptop in front of him.
How Sun TV News describes itself
Though it’s obviously self-serving, we really can’t judge Sun TV News based on anything other than the statements of the people behind it.
Here, verbatim from the CRTC application, is how Sun TV News describes its “hard news” and “straight talk”:
“Hard News” will almost exclusively rely on live reporting and real-time conversations with journalists covering breaking news – as opposed to the more traditional news wheel format that features a revolving set of news stories. But these headlines will be analysed, commented upon and discussed at length. The host will question the reporter and will have an intelligent exchange that will often open to further debate.
News will not be read like in a news bulletin. Daytime “hard news” will be covering a broad range of political, economic and lifestyle stories that matter to Canadians both rural and urban. So even its “hard news” portion will not be “all news” like it has traditionally been done in Canada. Short traditional news bulletin may be programmed but not more than once an hour.
“Straight Talk” will be programs featuring hosts and guests that deliver strong opinions and analysis of stories that are important to Canadians that day. “Straight talk” opinion journalism at night will be clear, intelligent and engaging – featuring a broader array of television personalities and signature hosts who will challenge viewers to think – and decide – for themselves. The challenging of ideas in itself may feed the news but at least will attempt to have Canadians make their own mind on the events occurring every day in Canada.
That could easily describe either Fox News Channel or MSNBC. Or a bunch of other networks. But it gives a bit of an idea what they’re going for.
What the CRTC should do
The CRTC doesn’t have the luxury of watching this network and judging whether it’s good for Canadian TV watchers. It has to go on the application itself.
Based on that application, I would argue the CRTC should accept the network, maybe even with the exception they’re requesting (particularly since it’s only temporary).
The reason is simple: The channel proposes to create all its content. It says it will have zero foreign content. That alone should put it on a level higher than those Category 2 channels that air little but Family Guy reruns, 80s music videos, Star Trek movie marathons and ancient sitcoms.
The fact that Sun TV News wants to add to both news coverage and political debate in this country should certainly count for something as well, even though we may not agree with it.
The potential for abuse is there, but the CRTC already requires broadcasters to adhere to a code of ethics through the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. Sun TV News has already accepted that it would be subject to those rules. The CRTC can’t prohibit someone from starting up a channel because fearmongers disagree with the political leanings of its creator.
Sun TV News made sure to suggest in its application that without mandatory availability for at least the first three years on air, its business case would fall apart:
If mandatory access for a maximum period of three years is not granted to Sun TV News, one or more major cable or satellite providers might decide to not offer this service. This would be fatal to our business case as shown in Appendix 1, and would likely result in the cancellation of the Sun TV News project.
The CRTC shouldn’t let itself get bullied. But it should set policy encouraging new channels to include as much original, Canadian content as possible. Sun TV News, which seems to put this figure at 100%, should be rewarded for that, just like any other channel should.
Sun TV News’s suggestion that it get a break from closed-captioning requirements, though, should be ignored. Broadcasters routinely request exemptions from obligations to CC programming, like a high school student who wants an extension on a term paper.
Though it doesn’t specifically request relief from CC requirements, it gives this quote: “However commendable this obligation is, the sums that need to be invested in such an amount of closed captioning means a lower amount is left for Canadian programs.”
I’m pretty sure everyone else could make a similar argument.
By the numbers
Looking through Sun TV News’s CRTC application, I found some interesting financial projections I thought would be worth sharing.
- Though the wholesale fee would be negotiated between the broadcaster and TV provider, Sun TV News uses a base fee of $0.25 per subscriber per month in its analysis, and seems to suggest that they would aim for this. (That doesn’t mean the channel would cost $0.25 to consumers though – providers charge consumers far above the wholesale rate.)
- If the mandatory availability or “must offer” requirement is given, Sun TV News expects 17% penetration in the first year and up to 50% penetration by the end of the seven-year license at $0.25 per month. (“Penetration” defined as the number of cable/satellite subscribers who pay for the channel.)
- Based on this analysis, the channel would get $15 million a year in subscriber revenue, which would be combined with $10 million a year in advertising to reach the $25 million budget.
Quebecor survey shows Sun TV News wouldn’t be popular
The CRTC application includes some survey data from polling they conducted. Though they do a good job of spinning it, the survey shows only 41% of Canadian TV watchers would be somewhat (36%) or very (5%) likely to subscribe to the channel. This makes its 50% penetration rate seem a bit far-fetched.
Similarly, a survey showed “Canadians do not find reporters to have an inherent bias in the news they report” (52% vs 7%), contradicting claims by Quebecor that Canadians are tired of the “lamestream” media’s biases.
When asked about their satisfaction with current news choices, 67% in Quebecor’s survey rate it six or higher on a scale of 1-10. Quebecor spins this as saying Canadians are “not extremely satisfied”, but when almost half are rating seven or eight on a scale of 1-10, I would argue that’s pretty satisfied. Postmedia’s Andrew Mayeda agrees.
Finally, even though Teneycke and company are pushing this as a competitor to CBC and CTV news channels, the application softens the stance and even argues that those networks won’t be seriously affected by the appearance of Sun TV News. Instead, it argues that it will bring Canadians back from CNN (which it simultaneously argues is winning Canadian viewers from CBC and CTV because it has more opinionative programming in primetime, and is losing American viewers to Fox News because its primetime programming isn’t opinionative enough).
“In the long run, we believe the impact on the existing Canadian all-news services will be negligible,” it says.
I’m sure that comes as a relief to them.
(Updated with more talking out of my ass)
Before its name was made public, people were calling it “Fox News North”, partly because the guy behind it, Kory Teneycke, used to shill for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The reputation that Quebecor and its head honcho Pierre-Karl Péladeau have built certainly helped fuel the rumours that a strong conservative bias would be more important to this network than a commitment to accuracy in reporting.
Though the announcement doesn’t make reference to Fox (directly) or use the word “conservative”, and Teneycke dismisses the comparison, the hints are all there. The video talks about being “strong and proud”, and Canada being “the greatest place on Earth” (I assume that’s part of their “factual” “straight talk” and they have lots of research to back that assertion up). And, of course, nobody involved with the project has denied outright that it would take a conservative, or at least strongly opinionative, stance.
Quebecor says it has applied for a Category 1 specialty channel license from the CRTC. This means that satellite and digital cable providers would be required to put the channel on a discretionary tier so anyone who wanted to have it as part of their package could get it. Analog cable companies are not even allowed to carry them, except by special exception.
This is interesting because virtually all new specialty channels apply for a Category 2 license. This is entirely discretionary – cable and satellite companies would not be required to even make it available, and can freely negotiate with broadcasters to determine fees.
It makes sense for Quebecor to apply for a Category 1 license because the two biggest regulatory hurdles don’t apply to the concept. First, Category 1 channels have genre protection (and must respect other channels’ exclusivity), so people can’t launch a new weather channel or business network or cartoon network – unless it has a very specific focus that doesn’t compete directly with the Weather Network, BNN or Teletoon, respectively. But the CRTC decided recently that it would remove such protections from news and sports networks, because it judged that they had matured to the point where they were no longer needed.
Second, Category 1 channels must have at least 50% Canadian content. Since presumably all the content on Sun News would be provided by its journalists and those of Quebecor Media, that wouldn’t be a problem.
The biggest problem will be convincing the CRTC that it should grant a license in what it originally planned to be a very limited category of digital specialty channels like Book TV, Bold, Discovery Health and G4.
Think Sun Media, LCN … and yes, Fox News
I don’t doubt that Sun News Channel will have a conservative slant to it, or at least a Fox News-style sensationalist slant. They’ve already said that they want to have opinion, and the kinds of talking heads you don’t find on the other networks (CBC, CTV). But while I have no evidence to back this up, I’m thinking the model they’ll want to use for the channel isn’t so much Fox News as it is LCN.
For the Toronto-ites out there, LCN is kind of Quebec’s equivalent to CP24, a regionally-focused news network that’s the first to send a helicopter out when something happens in Montreal. Fires, car accidents, minor natural disasters, dead children, all the usual local news stuff. It’s the channel that’s usually on in the newsroom, for the simple reason that it’s the TV network closes to an all-Montreal-news channel. (LCN pretends it’s Quebec-wide, and it does have journalists elsewhere, but the vast majority of its news is based in the Montreal area, or occasionally Quebec City).
LCN also has opinion. Richard Martineau, Jean-Luc Mongrain, Claude Poirier, and anyone else who can talk loud even if they don’t really say much of substance (Actually, now that I think about it, that does sound a lot like Fox News), and can be easily pre-empted if breaking news happens during the day. After LCN changed its format to have more of these kinds of hosts, ratings apparently shot up 300 per cent.
But while I think there will be a definite fiscal-conservative slant (expect investigative stories every day based on access to information requests for CBC expenses), I don’t think we’ll be seeing the same kind of socially conservative biases you see in the United States. I don’t see Sun News praising Sarah Palin or talking about the evils of abortion or trotting out conspiracy theories that Michael Ignatieff is a secret terrorist.
Then again, I could be wrong. Sun News could turn into the press release arm of the Conservative Party. It could start simulcasting Fox News Channel. It could start running free ads for the Christian Heritage Party. Nobody knows yet. We’ll just have to wait and see.
It’s interesting to note here that although Fox News Channel is approved for carriage in Canada, Quebecor-owned Videotron doesn’t make it available on its digital service. I suspect many Quebecers criticizing Quebecor may be basing their opinions of Fox News on what they see on the Daily Show.
Conservative is better than nothing
I welcome Sun News for the same reason I welcome the National Post: It’s a different voice, and it employs journalists. If that means stories get out into the public that would have remained secret before, I’d say that’s worth hearing more of Ezra Levant. I would hope they take their role seriously and concentrate more on being honest and open than countering perceived biases in their competitors. And I think Canadians should keep them on their toes and put immense pressure on them to keep their biases in check.
But either way, adding a new voice to the equation can only make the Canadian news industry more diverse.
My biggest worry
Although a news network that seeks to impose an opinion more than inform the population sounds pretty scary, my biggest worry about Sun News isn’t that it will be conservative, it’s that it will be cheap.
During the press conference announcing the network, after Teneycke blasted so-called “elites”, he talked about, and I’m quoting directly here: “value-added content convergence with Sun Media properties across Canada”. Besides being filled with meaningless industry buzzwords, it seemed apparent that Sun Media and Quebecor believe they can use existing journalists to supply the network. They think that Sun Media print reporters can do TV spots, as part of some convergent utopia.
(Speaking of which, it’s interesting that Péladeau claims the media is in crisis – forcing him to lock out journalists at the Journal de Québec, Le Réveil and the Journal de Montréal – and then appears at a press conference to announce he’s spending millions on a new TV news network. Péladeau said during the press conference when asked directly about this that the two are unrelated. But the irony was certainly not lost on locked-out Journal de Montréal workers.)
Even CTV and CBC, which have local television stations across the country to supply a national news network, need “national” reporters in various cities to supply the national network and national evening news. Anyone who’s seen videos on Sun Media websites can’t be optimistic about the prospects of a news network relying on them for content.
I’m sure Sun News will hire anchors (the prettiest they can find), technicians and all sorts of other people to run the channel. But without that network of videojournalists, I wouldn’t expect their news operation to be able to match what the main networks can provide, outside of Toronto and (if they share resources with LCN and TVA) Quebec.
The opinion-news mix has two advantages over straight news. One is that it provides higher ratings, as the choir flock to their preachers. The other is that it’s cheap. Spend good money on a well-known host, add maybe a researcher or two, and you’re done. The big mouth blabbers about whatever, provided it’s controversial and excites or angers the audience enough that they pay attention. And if Glenn Beck demonstrated anything, it’s that those talking heads don’t have to make sense, be consistent, have any connection to reality or have any journalistic integrity to succeed.
As much as sending out hundreds of access to information requests to the CBC, then trolling through management expense claims to drum up even the most minor irregularity may seem petty and biased, it’s still journalism.
My fear with Sun News isn’t that it’s going to have those kinds of stories, it’s that it’ll have those kinds of stories and then have blowhards yelling about them for three hours, showing some clips from YouTube and then calling it a day.
Kind of like Fox News. Or CNN. Or MSNBC.
Let’s hope I’ve vastly underestimated what Quebecor has planned.
Sun News Channel is slated for launch Jan. 1, 2011, pending CRTC approval.
UPDATE: Bill Brioux is also highly skeptical of this network, particularly because of the failures at CKXT, the local Toronto station they’re trying to “convert” into Sun News.
UPDATE (June 24): Steve Proulx has some thoughts (mainly negative) about Quebecor’s convergence and conservativeness and how it’s affecting media.