Quebec billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau is attempting a major shakeup of television news in Canada, with plans to launch a 24-hour cable channel modelled on the right-leaning U.S. network Fox News.
It is a shot aimed directly at CBC and CTV, which for years have dominated the all-news format in English Canada. For months, Mr. Péladeau's Montreal-based media empire, Quebecor Inc., has been putting together plans for a channel that will tap the same conservative sentiment that has made Fox News a major contender for ratings in the U.S.
To operate the upstart news network, Quebecor has enlisted a former senior aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to oversee the operations. Kory Teneycke, who served as director of communications to Mr. Harper in 2008 and 2009, has been appointed vice-president of business development at Quebecor Media Inc. and will lead the new project.
If approved by the federal broadcast regulator, the gamble takes Mr. Péladeau outside of his comfort zone of Quebec, where he dominates French-language media.
Though he ranks among the country's wealthiest print and television magnates - with an empire that includes the Sun chain of tabloid papers in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario - his focus is mostly on assets in his home province.
An application for a licence was submitted to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission late last week. Though Quebecor's plans are not yet public, a source said a formal announcement on the venture is "imminent."
Mr. Teneycke has been working behind the scenes since last summer to investigate the feasibility of a news outlet that would speak to conservative-minded Canadians. The strategy would seek to spawn new audiences in English Canada, while also hoping to steal disgruntled viewers from CBC and CTV. The proposed channel has been informally referred to in political circles as "Fox News North."
Sources say Mr. Teneycke pitched the proposal to Quebecor last year and has been trying to prove the business case ever since. It's an attempt to mine what Mr. Teneycke believes is a largely untapped market for more right-of-centre TV news, according to people familiar with the plans. The envisioned Canadian station would offer conservative-minded opinion shows - although news and opinion would be clearly separated rather than blended.
If licensed, the new channel will be wading into a market that consists of national 24-hour news offerings CBC News Network and CTV News Channel. The president of CTV News, Robert Hurst, said he believes there is room for more competition: "Come on in, the water's fine," he said. "The more Canadian voices, the better."
CTV, which is owned by the same parent company as The Globe and Mail, also operates news channels CP24 and BNN. Mr. Hurst said CTV News Channel is also looking at ways of bringing more diversity of opinion to the airwaves.
"It'll be an interesting project to see whether the appetite for right-wing news is the same in Canada … I would say the broadcast discussion in Canada is much more milquetoast than it is in the United States," Mr. Hurst said.
The new channel is also courting a prominent Canadian right-wing pundit. Ezra Levant, a conservative author and activist, is being seriously considered as a host for one of the new station's anchor opinion shows, sources say. Mr. Levant and Mr. Teneycke have worked together as far back as the 1996 Winds of Change conference, a precursor to the unite-the-right movement.
Mr. Levant rejected the suggestion he's in line for a job. "I have no contract with any network whatsoever. I have no offer from any network whatsoever," he said.
Mr. Teneycke refused to discuss his employer's plans. "When Quebecor has something to announce we'll announce it and right now I am afraid we don't."
However, Quebecor's bid could face a hurdle that would stall the channel. According to sources familiar with the plans, Quebecor is seeking a "must-carry" designation for the channel. Such status would guarantee the network a spot on basic cable, and a pipeline to almost every home in the country - but it's a long shot to be approved.
Since the CRTC has largely stopped approving such licences, unless a broadcaster can argue it serves a public need, the company may have to settle for a standard cable licence. That would require Quebecor to negotiate carriage deals with each cable and satellite company and hope that viewers subscribe to the service on their own.
Quebecor already operates the French-language cable news channel Le Canal Nouvelles (LCN), and analysts believe the cable channel will feed into its other businesses, such as Internet, cable and a wireless phone service that is starting in Quebec later this year.