July 22, 2013

Canada’s BookTelevision ordered to stick to actual book programming


The Canadian TV network BookTelevision has been told by a government commission that it will not be allowed to expand its programming beyond the scope of shows directly about books and authors.

BookTelevision had submitted a request to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to increase the amount of time devoted to dramas and comedies from 35% to 50% to improve its low ratings, which was denied last week.

Steve Ladurantaye writes for the Globe and Mail that the specialty network, owned by Bell Media, has been concerned about flagging ratings and low subscriber numbers and “hoped the changes could attract new viewers with comedies and dramas.” He explains that “the channel was licensed with the understanding it would broadcast talk shows, dramas and documentaries based on books,” and that the CRTC has been stringent lately with similar bids from broadcasters asking to renegotiate terms of programming once they’re already on the air. That includes a separate request from Bell Media’s Comedy Network to increase the number of animated series and reduce original Canadian programming.

In its decision, the CRTC stated that “The commission is of the view that Bell has not provided any concrete proposals to demonstrate how the proposed changes of licence would be in keeping with the nature of service for which BookTelevision was licenced or benefit Canadian programming.”

It’s not difficult to sympathize with BookTelevision’s position and its desire to gain a larger viewership. More eyeballs on screens for crowd-pleasing fare could theoretically get people to watch the more serious documentaries and talk shows. Then again, it’s not clear whether that kind of thinking has convinced Downton Abbey watchers to tune in to other PBS programming (despite the crafty decision to place that show in the Masterpiece Classic series, leading any DVR subscribers to also automatically record, for instance, an adaptation of Great Expectations). And as Ladurantaye reports, BookTelevision’s schedule of series loosely inspired by literature recently included four episodes of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in one day.

Without denigrating the fine work of Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, Lois and Clark seems like a far cry from the truly literary programming that BookTelevision had promised to provide the Canadian airwaves—particularly when the country has produced Slings and Arrows, an excellent show about a Shakespearean theater company. Here in the US, we’ve seen highbrow networks like Bravo and A&E slowly slide from being dedicated to the arts in the traditional sense, to endless parades of reality shows featuring various Real Housewives and auctions over storage units. So it’s fairly heartening to see our neighbors to the north hold their broadcasters to a stricter standard.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.