The style of their headquarters reflects the two TV channels’ personalities. Brash, youth-oriented and devoted to popular music, MuchMusic is housed in a renovated historic building in the heart of downtown Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West strip. Instead of a conventional studio, there are specially designed outlets that allow crews to shoot a live show practically anywhere in the building. By contrast, The Sports Network (TSN), dedicated to serving the most ardent armchair athletes, makes its home near a Toronto residential suburb and has just opened a state-of-the-art broadcast facility right inside Toronto’s new SkyDome. Despite their differences, the two national 24-hour operations—both celebrating their fifth anniversary in September—are success stories in the treacherous world of Canadian television. This week, MuchMusic completes its move from pay TV to basic cable, increasing its penetration to 5 million from 3.8 million cable households. TSN also leaves pay TV—where it reaches 2.1 million homes—to gain access to more than 5 million households via ordinary converter. Besides proving that specialty TV works, the two services have made a big impact on domestic music and sport.
Having carved out their niche on pay TV, the two channels must now win over viewers in the households where they are newly accessible through cable. MuchMusic and its Frenchlanguage arm, MusiquePlus (which reaches 1.5 million Quebec households) began that process one year ago when it became available on certain basic cable systems across the country. MuchMusic executives say they now hope to expand their audience beyond the mostly 18-to25 age group. “We’re going to disprove the perception that it’s only for the kids,” said John Martin, director of music programming. “We want to get, say, the Tommy Hunter crowd and introduce them to newer country stars.” TSN is not only moving onto basic cable but also launching its own French-language network, Le Réseau des sports, to 1.4 million francophone subscribers. Gordon Craig, president and chief executive officer of TSN, said that his channel’s move to basic cable will help to “stabilize our base. We won’t be in the highcost, roller-coaster pay TV world anymore; we won’t be a part of those high-priced packages.”
MuchMusic was the brainchild of Martin and Moses Znaimer, president and executive producer of the channel. Znaimer holds the same position at Toronto’s CITY TV, which is housed
in the same building; both MuchMusic and CITY TV are owned by Toronto’s CHUM Ltd. Since MuchMusic’s launch in 1984, it has retained its staple of music videos while evolving to offer news, concerts and special segments on country, heavy-metal and soul music—as well as interviews with major rock stars. That formula of live shows—delivered by hosts such as Ziggy Lorenc, who look as if they have been plucked from a video themselves—has steadily increased the number of viewers: while available as a pay TV service, subscription to MuchMusic increased to 1.3 million households in August, 1988, from 350,000 in 1984. Besides its content, Znaimer attributes the channel’s success to its “radical esthetic.” Said Znaimer: “We believe TV is not necessarily something that comes out of an expensive, hardwired studio box in which everything is artificially reconstructed from real life.”
MuchMusic’s emphasis on Canadian artists has had a profound impact on the domestic pop-music industry. In line with Canadian Radio-television and Telecommuni“ cations Commission requirements and its own philosophy, about 35 per cent of the videos feature Ca-
nadian artists—and the channel’s early exposure of such Canadian performers as k.d. lang, Jane Siberry and Bryan Adams boosted their careers. Said Allen Moy, a partner in Gangland ppArtists, a management company whose clients include the Vancouver rock band 54*40: “MuchMusic has been the number 1 promotional tool for bands like 54*40.” He added, “In this country, where a few people are spread out across a large geographical area, MuchMusic is one of the connecting factors for music fans.” The channel has also stimulated the domestic video-production industry: in addition to playing Canadian videos, MuchMusic devotes five per cent of its gross revenues ($500,000 in the current fiscal year) to its VideoFACT foundation, which helps fledgling Canadian artists to get videos produced. Said Toronto video direc-
tor Don Allan: “MuchMusic has spawned a new industry in Canada and given a good grounding to people who want to learn film-making.” Supplied with relatively cheap programming—the record companies initially made videos available for free and now charge only a nominal fee—MuchMusic made a modest profit in the first year. TSN—in keeping with the expensive nature of sports coverage— achieved its projected break-even point in its third year and made profits in the next two. And the signs of its success are evident: it paid $5 million to become an official Sky Dome partner and in May it opened Dome Productions, a $ 15-million studio at the dome site.
The only such facility to be located in a stadium, it features everything from computer animation equipment to a cappuccino bar.
The channel itself has covered more than 72 professional and amateur sports, ranging from NBA basketball to curling and monster-truck racing—and sees itself as a complementary service to the major networks. Said Craig: “Conventional networks have so many different constituencies to serve that they really can’t add to their sports coverage.” It now broadcasts 50 games of the Toronto Blue Jays, 40 of the Montreal Expos and 40 regular NHL games a year, as well as splitting the firstround NHL playoffs with the CBC. Meanwhile, the channel lavishes attention on Canadian participants in international events. With more than 50-per-cent Canadian content, TSN has boosted the image of college-level and lesserknown but popular sports such as rowing. In 1988, it provided the first live national coverage in 15 years of the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. Said Mark Lowry, general manager of Rowing Canada Aviron, the association that represents Canada’s 65 rowing clubs: “In a sport like ours where we’re always trying to raise our profile, that’s very important.”
Expectations, as much as profiles, will be raised this week as more than five million cable customers click their remote-control buttons to watch the two channels on the regular converter dial. And as the descrambled signals beam out, the people at TSN and MuchMusic will be banking on some positive feedback from their new customers.
DIANE TURBIDE with NICK JENNINGS and PAMELA YOUNG in Toronto
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