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Right-wing television needs upscale market

Kory Teneycke, director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaks to reporters at the Conservative Paty national caucus retreat in in Levis, Que., on July 30, 2008.

MATHIEU BELANGER/Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

The wraps come off as early as next week for a Fox News-style TV network being assembled by Quebec billionaire Pierre Karl PĂ©ladeau - a right-of-centre cable offering that's already causing a stir in Canada.

Sources familiar with the effort say a relatively low-key announcement is currently planned for Tuesday in Toronto - but caution the date could shift if circumstances warrant. Quebecor Media Inc. is expected to outline plans and shed light on the strategy it will use to persuade a federal regulator and cable companies to grant the channel a favourable spot on the TV dial.

The venture, led by Kory Teneycke, a former spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is an attempt to shake up TV news in Canada with a cable offering that includes hard news reporting and right-leaning talk shows - programming that is separated rather than blended. Among those being courted as hosts is Conservative pundit Ezra Levant, a former aide to Tory minister Stockwell Day.

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But market researchers familiar with right-wing audiences say the Quebecor network cannot style itself too conservatively if it hopes to attract significant advertising dollars.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Conservative who works in market research in Toronto said right-wing talk shows - which are almost solely on local AM radio stations - tend to attract an older and downscale audience with far less disposable spending than advertisers prefer. "It's not the demographic most national advertisers are going after and that's why talk radio is in local markets."

The Tory market researcher predicted that this is why the Quebecor venture will likely copy the Fox News formula of lively public affairs TV with larger-than-life personalities - but not necessarily toe a uniformly conservative line. "The conservative bent is not fundamental to the formula," the researcher said. "Kory thinks most public affairs TV is boring and he wants to mix it up."

This would explain why backers of the venture have been trying to enlist on-air names that have little to do with partisan political discourse in Canada.

For instance, Mr. Teneycke has tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit comedian Rick Mercer whose show, The Rick Mercer Report,is a mainstay on CBC television.

Mr. Mercer said he's happy where he is now. " The Mercer Report is an independent production and over the years we've been pleased to see that other networks are interested in working with us."

Mr. Teneycke, who was appointed vice-president of business development at Quebecor Media this week, has already found himself on the defensive in the face of criticism that "Fox News North" is a bad import for Canada.

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Veteran political journalist Don Newman penned a column for CBC's website this week that bore the headline: "The absolute last thing this country needs."

Mr. Newman argued a "right-wing news channel" would urge Conservative MPs "to be more rabid" and could force the opposition Liberals "into a more polarizing posture."

Mr. Teneycke pulled no punches in defending his network, lashing out at Mr. Newman in return. He used his Twitter account on the Internet to label Mr. Newman "Canada's answer to Helen Thomas." It's a reference to the long-time White House reporter who resigned in embarrassment this week after she said Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Germany, Poland or the United States.

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