Media businesses everywhere are scrambling for new ideas to boost their increasingly fragmented and distracted audience
Sky Bridges, chief operating officer of the Aboriginal People's Television Network, thinks he's found one.
"This is absolutely the last great opportunity for cable and satellite networks to launch a service that will reach a never-served market," he said recently, barely keeping his enthusiasm in check.
The excitement comes from the network's expansion plans. APTN expects to begin providing what Mr. Bridges says is the first indigenous-centred broadcasts to Americans as early as next year.
The need – and market – is obvious, said Mr. Bridges from Toronto.
"If you look at the landscape of what has been happening, in Canada and the U.S., there is a thriving culture. There is no doubt the market down there would embrace a network that is serving them directly.
"You have a system that caters to all kinds of groups in the United States – from diverse Asian groups, to African-American to Hispanic, yet the first peoples of that nation don't have a channel that they can consume and have news being told through their lens."
The U.S. has at least 17 million people claiming full or part indigenous heritage.
Market research conducted by APTN suggests 70 per cent of native Americans felt unrepresented in cable offerings. About 90 per cent felt an indigenous network should be launched and a large percentage of those who left cable and satellite systems said they would rejoin if it were.
"We were showing overwhelmingly that that particular market feels they are underserved," Mr. Bridges said. "We call them never-served. There isn't a national broadcaster that speaks to them in terms of the content they're looking for."
Since its start in 1999, the network has grown to offer a nightly national news broadcast, a weekly investigative show, children's programming, cultural offerings, drama and live-event broadcasts. It produces nearly half of its own shows and is available in 10 million Canadian homes on basic cable.
Rebroadcasting those shows on a U.S. network – tentatively entitled the All Nations Network – makes cultural and business sense, Mr. Bridges said.
"At the beginning, that network will lean on a lot of the content from APTN. It's about being cost-effective."
The plan is that ANN will eventually produce about 80 per cent of its own content, including news and current affairs. Events such as the Standing Rock protests in the Dakotas, where Sioux bands have spearheaded pipeline protests, highlight the need for indigenous news broadcasts, Mr. Bridges said.
"What's happening in Standing Rock is indicative of what's happening in other places as well. A new service like ANN would bring more in-depth coverage and continuous coverage."
Modern, lightweight technology makes it feasible to easily set up new bureaus wherever they're needed, Mr. Bridges said.
The network is negotiating with potential U.S. distributors for their signal. Canadian channels are required to offer APTN on basic service, but the Americans have to be sold on it.
"We're in negotiations. I'm confident it's going to launch, but it takes time. We're in dialogue."