Business

What’s going at Global?

News anchor Peter Kent, possibly, as the network revamps and shifts westward

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 28 2000
Business

What’s going at Global?

News anchor Peter Kent, possibly, as the network revamps and shifts westward

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 28 2000

What’s going at Global?

Business

News anchor Peter Kent, possibly, as the network revamps and shifts westward

In the tight-knit world of Canadian television, Winnipeg-based Can West Global Communications Corp. is known for several qualities. One is founder-chairman Izzy Asper’s emphasis on profit. “We don’t do anything unless we make money from it,” says one longtime employee, with a sigh. Another is Global’s tradition of stacking its lineup with American imports ( The Simpsons, The X-Files) to achieve that goal. “It’s true,” says a wry Kevin Shea, Global’s president of eastern operations, “that not everyone sees us as a big spender in original Canadian programming.”

Part of that is about to change. Last week, Global CEO Leonard Asper, 35year-old son of the company’s founder, unveiled an $800-million proposal to expand and reshape Canadian operations as well as pump more than $84 million over five years into support for domestic programming. The plan— subject to approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission—will see Global sell some operations, expand greatly in Western Canada and achieve its aim of becoming a third national network, available to 88 per cent of Canadians. Much of this will be achieved by assuming control of nine television stations owned by WIC Western International Communications Ltd.—a deal made last year that awaits CRTC approval. The measures, said Asper, are “the biggest and most important in our history.”

They come as the CRTC is examining Global’s WIC takeover plans—and are aimed at addressing concerns the commission has expressed in the past. “In every case I think of,” says Shea, “we’re not only meeting but exceeding what they ask of us.” One is a requirement that Global airs a minimum eight hours a week of “Canadian priority programming” by September, 2001; the network will do so this fall. And, said Shea, “I can promise more highend Canadian drama.” Its best-known drama, Traders, ends a five-year run this season. Shea says, without more specifics: “We will do more like that.” Another issue is a requirement that broadcasters invest a percentage of assets in Canadian programming: Global’s $84-million commitment is 20 per cent higher than normally required. That money will go to areas ranging from programming to education and training. Global will sell Montreal’s CLCL TV and its current Vancouver affiliate CKVU: otherwise, it would compete against itself in those cities because of properties acquired in the WIC deal. It will operate Hamilton’s CHCH (ONTV) and Victoria’s CHEK TV separately because it has overlapping stations in Toronto and Vancouver.

Some planned steps will be highly visible to viewers, spread over the next 18 months. Seven of nine WIC stations to be acquired are in British Columbia and Alberta, and that helps explain two changes: moving the base of the network’s 6:30 p.m. national news broadcast to Vancouver from Toronto in September, 2001, and adding a Sunday morning current-affairs show from Calgary. That likely implies a new anchor in place of Peter Kent. Shea says he expects Kent to “play a key role, and we’re discussing with Peter exactly what that will be.” Kent himself is upbeat. “All this is great news for us,” he says, “and there’s plenty of work to be shared.” BCTV’s smooth Tony Parsons is the anchorship’s heir presumptive.

The steps reflect the hand of the younger Asper, who took over the CEO’s job from his father in June. Recently, Asper has poured millions into Web plans, and recently formed an Internet broadcast alliance with partners that include the Washington Post Co. A soft-spoken figure known for eschewing social events in favour of time at home with family, he has long been contrasted with his outspoken, hardcharging father. “Leonard is emerging from the shadow,” says Shea. “His stamp is over everything we’re doing now.” To succeed, he must combine his new plans with his father’s passion of making money for shareholders.

Anthony Wilson-Smith