Bell Media president Kevin Crull has said that his money-losing A Channel stations are "on life support." Now, the company is hoping a shot of program spending and a new look will breathe new life into the stations.
The network of A Channels have up to now mostly served smaller urban centres such as London, Ont. and Victoria, B.C.
Bell Media announced on Monday that this fall, it will extend the reach of the station to 89 per cent of viewers in English Canada, and will rebrand the channel CTV Two, as a secondary network to its flagship brand. And on Thursday, it will announce the program lineup for this fall alongside that of the main CTV network -- including one "monster acquisition" it says will beef up the schedule.
But its not just goodwill keeping the station alive. The money it will take to transform A Channel to CTV Two comes from the commitments BCE Inc. had to make to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last February, when it asked for approval to buy the broadcast assets of CTVglobemedia Inc. BCE argued that the A Channel stations -- which lost $29-million last year -- weighed down the value of the purchase. Because of that, the company said it should have a discount on its "tangible benefits," or the money a buyer has to spend to improve the broadcast system, anytime a broadcast license changes hands in Canada. The CRTC disagreed on the discount, but did allow $30-million of BCE's $245-million tangible benefits commitment to be directed to overhauling the A Channels, as long as the company promised to keep them alive for at least three years.
"As we stated to the CRTC, we are committed to the viability of the A stations," Mr. Crull said in a statement on Monday. "We are extending CTV, Canada's strongest television brand, to our second network, so that these channels can resonate deeper with audiences, advertisers and the communities they serve ... today's announcement signifies a new beginning for this network."
CTV made the announcement on Monday, the day of the City TV upfront presentation.
The channel will also begin airing in high-definition this fall. CTV will launch an ad campaign on the main network to promote the secondary station as well, which now operates with the recognized CTV logo, with a large red "two" underneath, to replace the /A\ logo it currently has.
CTV also appears to be taking shots at City TV, which spent more aggressively on programming this year during the negotiations with Hollywood studios, Mr. Crull said in an interview last week. The company claims that some of the programs it feeds on to the A Channel, including Criminal Minds and Two and a Half Men outrank certain City TV shows in ratings. But CTV refers to its secondary network as "a strong contender for Canada's fourth network," suggesting it is attempting to position the new CTV Two as a rival to the network owned by Rogers Communications Inc.
"We are committed to building the CTV Two schedule to contend on nearly every night of the week," Phil King, the president of programming and sports for CTV, said in a statement Monday.