Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is asking Canada’s broadcast regulator to keep its signal on basic cable and bump its subscriber fee so it can keep up with higher costs and commission more television shows for the channel.
Chief executive officer Jean Larose explained why he would like to see his funding increased to 40 cents per subscriber (from 25 cents), how his network handles controversial news in its own community and why its charitable status ensures accountability in this interview.
What happens if you don’t get your guaranteed slot on basic?
We may get someone to carry us wholesale, but it would be put in a package people may or may not want. We expect we’d go from 11 million subscribers and drop to 3 million. At that level of revenue, we become nothing more than an aggregator of previously made content. It would basically be the end of aboriginal programming in Canada. We’d have to ask if there’s any reason to exist anymore. It’s too bad for people who don’t want to watch Honey Boo Boo ad nauseum, for those people who want to watch something else that isn’t on one of the big networks.”
Why do you think APTN is important?
When we started this there were very few aboriginal producers because they had very few opportunities. Notwithstanding members who had government funding in the north, in the south you had five or six aboriginal producers and very few outlets. So when we launched we started developing production communities, started developing the opportunity to do a range of programming but the cost of programming has shot up dramatically. A series like Blackstone has a $5-million licence. CBC Arctic Air’s licence is $25-million. We think we’re doing a really good production for less than what others are doing.
You can’t do that with the $35-million you’re already getting?
All of these demands are pushing us to a level where we can’t keep doing what we’re doing with the revenues we have, much less expand on what we’re doing. Young people are all on smartphones, on the Web. Idle No More showed them they could start exchanging ideas about controlling their destinies and moving forward. A lot of them turned to us and started sending us information about events. The community turned to us a lot.
Does that translate into viewers?
In December and January, our usual number of hits on the Web is 300-400K. We shot up to 12 million. That’s total digital presence. For us that’s huge – what it demonstrated is young people are turning off the TV part but still using us to a fill a need for information and to share what’s happening in their community and what’s happening to it.
Interestingly enough, events have proven what we anticipated – the next wave of growth for APTN is exactly what happened. But again, in order to do the VOD for schools, to build digital drum.ca website to allow young people to exchange, upload videos and stories, create blogs, we want to give them those opportunities. Right now we can do on it on Facebook, but a lot of them expressed interest something connected to their communities and for them APTN is the logical site to do it.
OK, so why more money?
All of these things require a higher subscriber fee. We’ve been trying for years to build advertising revenue to hopefully over time become less dependent on subscriber fees and more on advertising. But the problem we face is the BBM system doesn’t measure our audience at all. Only Canada. For years they’ve told us they don’t have any aboriginal people in their sample site. The ratings we get are of Canadians watching – we’re not top of mind for the average Canadian viewer. They don’t tune into APTN. So, our ratings numbers aren’t reflective of our actual viewership. So we share all of our air time data to advertisers, who think we are a very good way to reach that community. But because our numbers are so low because of viewership measurement they can undercut and they can make demands.
But you always have ads?
All of our airtime is sold – you’ll see the same ads as elsewhere. But when we turn to them and show them focus groups and surveys to show we have a quarter million viewers, but BBM says we have 50,000, they say good luck. We show advertisers focus group data to show we have a quarter million viewers sometimes, and they say ‘too bad, so sad’ and undercut us. .Until that changes or something else happens that dramatically increases our viewership we’re in this mode. We’re thinking about maybe trying to find some sponsors for some programs to pick up part of licence costs. But that takes a while to develop, so we have to rely on subscriber fees.