Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mashed Potato Wrestling, Scantily Glad Women, and Local Television – What Matters?

Maybe it is just part of being Canadian, to automatically denounce anything coming directly from our home and native land – that is until that thing makes it big down south.

Canadian actors, singers, song writers and other famous people from North of the American border never seem to make it big in Canada, until they garner recognition outside of Canada. Then, all of a sudden, our eyes open big and wide, and we proudly proclaim “he’s Canadian, eh?”

From Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Shania Twain and The Bare Naked Ladies, to Elisha Cuthbert and her 24 co-star Kiefer Sutherland (who’s dad is also a famed Canuck – Donald) – all these famous Canadians make us home-grown-proud. But that hometown-pride never surfaced until they became known in the big U.S of Eh, eh?
Local Canadian television is falling victim to our fascination with American programming traveling over airwaves, digital cable and satellite signals.

Just this past Wednesday, Rogers Broadcasting killed 60 local Canadian television jobs, when they laid off these people from their recently purchased CityTV stations in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and their flagship station which started it all, CityTV Toronto.

Rogers Broadcasting which owns CityTV, claims the ‘restructuring’ was necessary in the highly competitive industry.

Although the hardest hit are those whose jobs are no more, when a broadcaster cuts people, everyone sees it. The local lunch, evening and late night newscasts are gone from all stations except for the flagship station in Toronto, which still has both a dinner-hour newscast and their late night news. All stations were lucky to keep their morning programs.

Be Thy Own Enemy Be True

Local programming is under attack in Canada – but we are our own enemies.

Thanks to digital television signals, we are no longer limited to a mere twelve channels – for those of us old enough to remember those dark and grainy television days. Remember when your TV only had channels two to twelve, and you had to turn the knob to “UHF” (for Ultra High Frequency) to get any remnants of ghosting channels, often fuzzy at best, from beyond the basic twelve?

These days, we hook up a digital receiver, which is magically connected to either a digital cable outlet, or a digital television “co-ax” cable which is attached to a microwave satellite dish, bouncing digital signals to the stars.

There is literally no limit to the number of channels these digital signals can receive, so in theory, the sky really is the limit.

And that has created a whole new way of broadcasting – narrowcasting – and this is what is killing local television on both sides of North America, and probably elsewhere these digital signals soar.

Narrowcasting is the ability to create targeted television stations – not just programs, but complete television stations – geared towards specific demographics.

Back in the late 1980’s, we were introduced to the first of this kind of station – MTV. MTV was the first station to cater specifically to teenagers and their musical tastes, creating a whole new form of broadcasting, the music video.

Speed jump to present day, and we have several music video channels, each one playing videos for specific musical tastes. From metal to smooth jazz, to country – but these narrow focused stations aren’t limited to just music.

Shop-a-holics can rejoice on the shopping channels, techies can swoon in on the latest techy toys on their own channels, there are movie channels for movie lovers, History Television for history buffs, even Book Television for those who wish they were reading something instead of sitting in front of the tube. . .

For every culture, religion, special interest group, demographic – some of the many channels I’ve seen pop-up on my digital box: NASA TV (for us astronomy/science buffs), Discovery Health (for medical/fitness buffs), Canadian Odds Channel (for those who want to bet on the horses, but don’t want to deal with a slimy bookie at the track), The Game Show Channel (for those who like to yell out answers at their TVs), Teletoon Retro (showing us old folks classic cartoons) . . . the list goes on and on and . . .

Before all of this, we all watched the same local twelve channels. Not everything appealed to everyone, and the biggest gripe was “there never is anything interesting on TV,” but at least we all watched. Thanks to narrowcasting, we all watch different channels, often leaving the general interest local stations fending all alone for viewers.

Local stations were a bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of everything, because they could never narrowfocus on any one thing. Their audience was the mass appeal of television – back in the days when there were so few television stations, we were subjected to whatever the television executives thought we wanted to see.

Now the tables have turned, and by our tuning in – or more likely out – we dictate what the television executives run, else they are forced to do what Rogers Broadcasting’s executives did, and slash programs and jobs which just aren’t capturing the viewers.

But the real problem is us.

We don’t care enough about what goes on in our own backyards – how could we when we are drawn to scantily glad women wrestling in a vat of mashed potatoes on the Mens channel, or that hypnotizing infomercial for the Sham WOW?

Hmm. . . learn about a six car pile-up on the local news, or watch mashed potato wrestling chics? What a world we live in.

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