Corus responds: What Corus has to say about OWN, W Movies and Sundance Channel

Corus Entertainment (logo via Wikimedia)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about OWN Canada and its decision to air the soap opera The Have and the Have Nots. I saw the program as a clear violation of its licence as it is supposed to be an educational channel.

Then I followed that piece by looking into W Movies and Sundance Channel and I noticed some odd programming on those channels as well.

W Movies is supposed to be a channel devoted to romance and sexuality and instead it was airing things like The Longest Yard and Ice Quake.

Sundance Channel is supposed focused on 50s and 60s era B-movies but instead was airing acclaimed things like the movie Nurse. Fighter. Boy. and series such as Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys and the UK version of Shameless.

I contacted Corus twice about OWN and The Have and the Have Nots and I didn’t receive a response.

After coming across Corus’ strange choice of programs for W Movies and Sundance Channel, I decided to contact the CRTC for answers. They handed over my concerns to Corus and said they had 20 days to respond.

Naturally, Corus took their sweet time and got back to me at the very end of the 20-day deadline and I was absolutely floored by some of their responses.

One of the first shockers in their letter was not just that Corus thought The Have and the Have Nots is educational but how they felt it was educational.

Corus said, “The educational value of The Have and Have Nots program is to demonstrate the specific structure of a dramatic series and the devices it uses to build characters, create relationships, create tension and advance storytelling.”

Essentially, they’re saying The Have and the Have Nots is a show that teaches you how to make a show. Crazy isn’t it?

I suppose I shouldn’t have been that surprised. As I mentioned in a previous post The Globe and Mail reported they made the same sort of argument to defend airing Oprah’s Master Class as well as other OWN shows.

I also asked about the overlap between W Network and OWN. Corus pointed out the new condition of W Network and OWN’s licence which says, “in each broadcast month, the licensee shall limit the amount of shared programming between OWN and W Network to 10% of all programming.”

They claim only nine hours of programs were shared between the two in the month of March, but Divine DesignGhostly EncountersAll for Nothing?He Said, She Said, Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag and The Shopping Bags air multiple times a day on OWN, and they all aired on W Network previously. When you look at OWN’s schedule even today some days have upwards of eight hours of shows that aired on W Network previously.

So where did they get just nine hours in March? Likely they were only counting episodes of shows that aired on both W Network and OWN within the month of March and not counting all shows aired on OWN in March that originally aired on W Network regardless of what time.

Corus knows by instating that condition the CRTC was trying to tell them the two shouldn’t be airing the same type of programming and targeting the same audience, but they think by being smart and counting episodes of the shows that aired on the two within the same month means they’re in the clear.

When it came to W Movies, Corus didn’t really address my points.

They basically said they choose programming with love, romance and relationships in mind and believe the channel does meet the conditions of its licence.

They also said, “neither the narrative contained in the nature of service of W Movies, nor in other conditions attached to the licence stipulates what format the type of relationship/ women-oriented style programming should take.” So basically what they’re getting at there is that they feel they can air whatever they like on W Movies as long as its focused on “relationship/women-oriented” programming.

What I found odd was that they said, “W Movies is programmed exclusively with women in mind” when the licence wasn’t specific to women. They even quoted the CRTC saying, “as noted by the Commission, the nature of service for W Movies states that the service will be ‘devoted exclusively to programming related to love, romance, marriage, relationship-themed game shows, sexuality and gender issues, family planning, relationship breakdown and magazine-style programming featuring romantic vacation resorts.’”

You can go by gender stereotypes and jump to the conclusion that the description means the channel should be targeted at women, but the CRTC didn’t explicitly say that the channel should be geared to one gender. By choosing to make channels focused on women willy-nilly, Corus helped to create a large disparity between channels explicitly for women (W Network, Slice, W Movies, OWN, Cosmo, Lifetime) and men (Spike, Action and…).  That’s a problem isn’t it? Perhaps the CRTC should look into making sure broadcasters don’t unnecessarily discriminate against certain groups especially when it comes to gender because as it is we have a bunch of channels for women and barely anything for men.

Corus saved the best for last. They feel Sundance Channel is consistent with its nature of service to provide drive-in B movies and series and magazine-style programming on the genre. They made particular note of the licence condition requiring it to be devoted to obscure titles not offered by other Canadian movie channels.

So how does Sundance’s programming reflect drive-in B movie cultureit doesn’t, I suppose. Corus chose to look at the modern incarnation of B movies, which are cult classics, art-house movies and films covering taboo subjects. However, the CRTC said, “programming will consist of Drive-In B movies and series, as well as occasional magazine-style shows focusing on the genre. The schedule will cover the entire drive-in genre, including selections from horror and thriller movies, beach party movies, car chase movies and social issues B-movies (juvenile delinquency, unwed mothers, biker gangs, etc.).”

Drive-in B movies means, ’50s and ’60s era B movies doesn’t it? Nurse. Fighter. Boy.Shameless and Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys weren’t screened in drive-ins as far as I know, and how do they reflect the culture of that era?

I responded to Corus and I let them know what I thought. I included many of the points I made above in my email to them.

 I also let them know I felt they were cheating the Canadian public as OWN was intended for people to learn college/university level courses, but instead people who want to learn are given a soap opera and told they can learn from it because it shows them how to make a soap opera.

They’re cheating their competitors as Rogers made the effort to comply with the CRTC demands when they cracked down on G4, yet OWN is still doing whatever they want.

They’re cheating Canadian businesses who want to advertise to people who want to learn, people who are interested in sexuality and romance, and people who like drive-in era B-movies as Corus decided to change their channels to no longer target those audiences.

I also thought they’re cheating themselves because they probably paid a lot to use the OWN and Sundance brands, but they’re forcing them on channels where they can’t use them to their full potential.

 It seems to me that the system we have is broken. It’s almost as if there is a tug-of-war between the CRTC and the major media companies and the CRTC is often the one losing the fight.

 The CRTC would like Canadian stations to fit neat, tidy predefined identities, and to do so with a significant chunk of Canadian programming, but the broadcasters don’t want to follow suit. They often air what they want and then think of wildly imaginative ways to argue that their programming choices reflect the licences set by the CRTC. Then they find a way to produce far less original shows than the CRTC would like by repurposing shows on multiple networks and reairing them ad nauseam.

 On the other hand, Bell, Shaw, Rogers and Corus all are businesses — they need to make money. Changing up channels to better suit their audiences and saving cash by reairing shows across multiple channels helps to keep them healthy and profitable.

 It seems what the broadcasters want and what the CRTC wants is incompatible. Perhaps they need to go back to the drawing board and rethink this licence process. They need to come up with something that actually benefits Canadians instead of a process that wastes time and frustrates viewers in the process.

 However, until they find something more effective than the process they have now, rules are rules, and the CRTC should hold broadcasters accountable if they break those rules.

 Anyway, I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything else worth mentioning from Corus.