I want my MTV

Canadians who have long moaned about the lack of MTV in their lives will soon be singing a happier tune. On August 21, Calgary-based Craig Broadcast Systems announced that it had come to terms with MTV Networks, a unit of parent company Viacom International, to license its popular programming in Canada.

Canadians who have long moaned about the lack of MTV in their lives will soon be singing a happier tune. On August 21, Calgary-based Craig Broadcast Systems announced that it had come to terms with MTV Networks, a unit of parent company Viacom International, to license its popular programming in Canada.

Craig will flip its must-carry category one digital licence – granted to youth-oriented channel Connect – to accommodate the launch a Canadianized version of popular MTV in September.

In addition to MTV Canada, the Craig-Viacom partnership will launch an English-language version of TV Land – a classic TV station – as well as three music genre-based MTV-branded services. These will launch as tier two digital networks with no guaranteed carriage.

TV Land and one MTV service will begin airing in September. The other two channels will launch at an as yet undetermined future date.

Wayne Sterloff, VP of specialty TV at Craig says that ‘Many people in the industry believe that the only way a big digital roll-out was going to work was to have killer brands. We’ve just got them, and they come with great programming.’

Indeed, the MTV brand is recognized the world over, and is extremely popular among teens and young adults, a reality that Craig will push with advertisers.

MTV Canada will target 12- to 24-years-olds and feature a mix of animation, drama, movies and documentaries all oriented around music.

The other category two MTV channel ‘will be mostly dedicated to straight music videos,’ says Sterloff. ‘We now have access to a huge catalogue.’

Sunni Boot, president of Optimedia Canada, says that from her perspective the deal makes a lot of sense for Craig and means that we will be seeing more U.S. content. ‘[Craig] had to do it to get themselves on the map. Subsequent to this deal, a lot depends on the type of carriage they get.’

Sterloff, in turn, says that ‘Carriage agreements are in advanced negotiations and we are quite pleased with the way things are working out.’ Craig projects that they will breach the one million mark for subscribers by end of year one.

Marketing efforts will focus on driving up subscribers and will be carried out largely on a co-op sponsorship basis with distributors Express Vu, Star Choice, and Rogers. They will be sitting down to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy in coming days. Sterloff expects that initiatives will almost certainly include on-air, radio, TV and print.

In terms of Canadian content, Sterloff says Craig plans to adhere to the licence agreement granted Connect.

‘One thing we guaranteed the CRTC is that we would not stray away from the original conditions of the agreement. As a category one carrier, 43% of MTV’s gross revenue will be spent on Canadian content. And the stronger the brand, the stronger the revenue.’ Some of MTV’s content, such as Live Through This, already qualifies as Canadian content.

And while this deal is good news for proponents of a freewheeling market economy in this country, it might not be so good for a couple of rather large broadcasters, namely MuchMusic of the CHUM Ltd. television empire and new Corus Entertainment outlet Edge TV.

Though MuchMusic and MTV are somewhat different in style and content, a closer look at MuchMoreMusic, Edge TV, and YTV would surely reveal a great deal of overlap in the programming that will soon be available to Canadians.

Sterloff begs to differ. ‘YTV’s demo is different, skewing younger, and MuchMusic’s programming is very unique from MTV’s.’

Fair enough, though the impact on MuchMusic, which currently airs the high-profile MTV Music Video Awards, can hardly be quantified at the moment. ‘It depends on how the deal has been structured with the U.S. partners,’ Boot says.

Moreover, the viability of a newcomer to the game, such as Edge TV, which already had its work cut out for it come September, remains more dubious than ever.

While Craig Broadcast Systems will be busy shipping Carson Daly and MTV’s motley crew of hipsters north of the 49th parallel, there now appear to be many players trying to eat at the same table. What remains to be seen is how deep loyalties to the CHUM juggernaut run in Canada, and how deep an impact MTV will have upon landing here.