Me during the broadcast of "Much On Demand" outside in front of the Muchmusic building in Toronto, ON on September 25, 2003.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Why is Bell Media trying to sabotage MuchMusic?

It was June 2007 when the CRTC approved the bid of CTV - in the form of their then-corporate moniker of CTVglobemedia - to acquire the CHUM specialty channels, which included MuchMusic, Muchmore (formerly Muchmoremusic), MTV Canada, and E! Canada, among others.

Since that time, I had been impressed for several years with how CTV not only didn't tinker with CHUM's winning formula for MuchMusic - including its' iconic storefront headquarters at 299 Queen Street West in Toronto, home to the "MuchMusic environment" in the northwest corner of the building, right at Queen and John - but actually enhanced it in small nuances by adding its' own ETalk studios to the building and cross-branding the two by doing such things as adding ETalk to the MuchMusic Video Awards' (MMVA) red carpet, but still being careful not to alienate the younger, hipper Much fans by ever actually showing the ETalk personalities on Much. Telethons and TV commercials featured all CTV/Much/MTV personalities together ("love is louder") but that was the extent of it.

Now, Bell Media has taken over CTVglobemedia. If that fact is relevant to what you are about to read. And it probably is.

And what has Bell Media now done to the historically fabled MuchMusic?

Lots. And all of it bad. Suddenly, they have: 1) Cancelled Much's flagship show New.Music.Live. 2) Taken off all of Much's non-music shows that appealed to an audience who had interest in Much's music programming and replaced them with fratboy U.S. Comedy Central shows that have nothing to do with Much, and, likewise, South Park and reruns of The Simpsons and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; the shows that aren't on Much anymore have been reassigned to other Bell Media channels. 3) Removed all but two of the "MuchMusic VJs," if they're still even called that, from Much and have sent them to do things on the other Bell Media channels. 4) This one is pure speculation on my part, but my gut tells me that New.Music.Live's cancellation had to do with the removal (?) of the famous "MuchMusic Environment," as it was called in the CHUM days, and its' space given to.....The Social? Now, I love CTV's new View-styled gabfest with the four saucy ladies, but that studio they're in looks suspiciously big, so I wonder if it was taken away from Much to give to them. Can anyone reading this in Toronto confirm or deny? What remains of Much's music programming is done on a small set that is in no way indicative of the "MuchMusic Environment" and I can't decide if it's done on a small sliver of space left intact at Queen and John (with the windows covered up) or if it's just some room on the second floor somewhere. Either way, don't expect any more "Live At Much" or "Intimate And Interactive" shows any longer, if the space is not Much's space any more, and the streetside windows are permanently closed as a result.

What makes this even more mystifying is the fact this space was just renovated in 2010 in the first place, as part of the renovation that took us from the Much On Demand era to the New.Music.Live era. Well, that was before Bell or Bell Media came onto the scene, I guess.

Some background is required here for non-Torontonions: Although we non-Toronto Canadians have referred to this building as the "MuchMusic building," it was actually the CHUM/City building before CTV took over CHUM. Toronto's local City TV station was located there as well. The CRTC didn't let CTV take over City TV. So City TV had to find new owners and move out. So CTV then moved in. So the building is still home to more than MuchMusic. It always was. But the potential is certainly there for a new owner, like Bell Media, that might not believe in, or understand, MuchMusic (keep reading) to downgrade the channel's prominent studio space in favor of studio space for their other channels, since it is the CTV building, after all, and the new owner might wonder why so much space and resources was devoted to this one, out of many, channels. And it looks like that is what has happened.

I recall a version of this company - not sure which version - applying to the CRTC to air less music video programming as a condition of their license. The CRTC denied it.

I say that, as well as the observations in the paragraph before that, because I believe that Bell Media not only doesn't understand MuchMusic, but doesn't want Much to even be a music video channel any longer.

Look at the evidence: The music videos now run from 5:00 a.m. to noon-ish each day. Not exactly prime viewing time for a young audience that is either sleeping or in school or working during those hours. Today's Top 10 and the Countdown still continue, and with the only two VJs Much retained, Liz Trinnear and Scotty Willats, but virtually no other music programming does. Obviously, Bell Media is only doing this to satisfy the requirements of their CRTC license that states that Much has to appear to be some kind of music video channel with a certain number of hours devoted to music videos. And they have even (not sure if it's official or unofficial) apparently changed the name of the channel from "MuchMusic" to just plain "Much." They're airing promos that promise Much this, Much that, with "music" being just one of the options, but they didn't say what that really meant was that they were replacing the Much shows that appealed to fans - mostly girls, but whatever (keep reading) - of current pop and hip-hop music with immature fratboy comedy shows whose audience isn't the slightest bit interested in music shows and whose passed out and hungover bodies certainly won't be tuning in to Much at 9:00 a.m. to view the music videos.

I will say this: With message boards dropping left and right, it's hard to find people saying things on the internet anymore, unless you're on Facebook, but I did read somewhere there was supposed to be some kind of replacement show for New.Music.Live. All this time later, it looks like maybe that report was incorrect, but Much does appear to be holding that time slot for some reason. They are, in addition to what I said last paragraph, also airing just an hour of music videos in the show's old time slot. Unless it's a CRTC requirement that they play music videos for at least one hour in almost-prime time.

But WHY would Bell Media sabotage its' MuchMusic channel like this?

WHY would Bell Media want to turn this channel from a music-oriented channel into a fratboy comedy channel? (Oh yeah, and I will acknowledge the retained Video On Trial does satisfy Bell Media's apparent new desire here.)

WHY has Bell Media not retained the interest in keeping MuchMusic the way it was that CTV and CTVglobemedia apparently did?

Not only is this is the hardest part of this blog entry to discuss, it's overall a hard blog entry to write, too, due to all the little details here, there, and everywhere, and no clear order to put everything you're reading in. Plus I want to make sure I don't forget anything. As a result, this blog was written at three different sit-downs. So let's discuss:

See, the fact, if it's so, that Much has lost much of their "environment," doesn't have to have anything to do with all these fratboy comedy shows Much has acquired. Much's music programming could adapt to the loss of the "environment," even if the adaption results were less than stellar. The fact these comedy shows are on the channel could signal a couple of things:

1) Maybe there was a desire at Bell Media to attempt to increase the audience of the channels that they gave Much's former programming to. Maybe people had forgotten that Muchmore existed, or that MTV Canada ever did exist. Maybe the audience for both Much and the Much shows was so strong that Bell Media figured that by sending Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries to Muchmore (now M3 - keep reading for more on that) and by sending Awkward and Degrassi to MTV Canada, that they would send those audiences to those channels as well, perhaps increasing viewership for other shows on those channels, and not decreasing Much's audience because everyone knows Much and will tune into Much anyway. Some people might actually not even be aware what is happening on Much's channel with this horrible move to replace the shows I mentioned with the immature fratboy comedy shows. It may not dawn on them until later. Maybe after this summer is over and they've realized there haven't been any "Live At Much" shows.

2) As I said, in the U.S., these new fratboy comedy shows air on Comedy Central, whose overall schedule I'm not familiar with. In Canada, there may have been a desire by Bell Media to not intermix these fratboy comedy shows with the more traditional brands of comedy that The Comedy Network (also a Bell Media channel) seems to air. Why, I don't know. I'm just grasping at straws here. Certainly Teletoon airs edgier fare at night. Why couldn't The Comedy Network air Workaholics or Broad City or The Kroll Show instead of Much airing them? Maybe it's simply a case of, when you combine what I said last paragraph with this, what WOULD Bell Media put on Much? They have to air something! That's what makes part of me think that the only reason Much airs these fratboy comedy shows was because someone high above decreed they were going to build this big set for The Social and that they didn't care that it took away the MuchMusic environment, and that they were going to just not worry about the Much channel until later. Maybe Bell Media just doesn't even know what to do with this channel anymore because they think it's a "lost cause" because they can't just dump the music video coverage due to the conditions of their CRTC license for the channel which they acquired from CHUM. Either way, keeping Much as the MuchMusic of old, the way the channel was when Erica Ehm and Steve Anthony were VJs there, just isn't a priority, or even a desire, anymore, by the new owners, Bell Media. And back then, MuchMusic didn't need a flagship show, because interviews were just done whenever the stars stopped by throughout the day, because the whole channel was music videos all day, except for a select few one-hour shows devoted to music genres. Eventually, for fans who couldn't watch all day, highlights were aired on half-hour music news shows like Fax or Much News Weekly.

This is made even more complicated by the new M3 Countdown show. Okay, here we go: Now we'll start talking about M3/Muchmore.

M3 used to be Muchmore, which used to be Muchmoremusic. It was originally created as a Canadian version of the U.S.' VH1, which means a music video channel that would appeal to people older than the Much demographic. It aired Sarah Mclachlan music videos, music nostalgia shows, and old prime-time reruns that would appear to a music-video crowd.

But now, here's another channel that seemingly Bell Media doesn't know what to do with.

First, they rename it "M3." What does "M3" stand for? Is it short for Muchmoremusic? Wait a sec, the channel was called Muchmore. They had already shortened it to that from Muchmoremusic years ago. So shouldn't it be called "M2" now? Unless they thought people would think "M2" stands for MuchMusic. There has already been confusion over the years between the two channels when people would write online that something was on "MuchMusic" when they really meant Muchmore. But now, no one would definitely have a clue what "M3" indicates.

Then they use it to air shows like Mike And Molly and The Mentalist that have no appeal whatsoever to music-video fans. If those series are first-run (not sure), then obviously M3 is being used as a dumping ground for shows Bell Media can't find room for on either CTV or CTV2. Now, as mentioned earlier, they sent shows like Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries to M3 for whatever reason, as well. Would the teen-girl-pop-fans who watch those shows, as well as new ones that started after all this happened, like Reign, like the rest of the M3 channel? Well, even before everything in this blog entry happened, Muchmore's music video playlist had started inching closer to Much's playlist. And honestly, very recently I just haven't had the time to adequately compare the videos on the two channels. But it could be irrelevant anyway, since M3 appears to air the videos all cuddled up in those morning time slots as well. It's possible Bell Media has given up on the idea of Much and M3 having two distinct playlists of music videos with only slight overlap.

Maybe Bell Media also considers this channel to be a "lost cause" due to the music video/CRTC requirements. But more of a channel they can do something with, since it doesn't have the "youth" stigma. So they fill it up with all sorts of prime-time series that overall appeal to a broad range of age groups.

Which brings me back to the new M3 Countdown show that kicked off this M3 section.

Someone realized that without New.Music.Live on Much, there was no outlet for interviews with artists on Much. So, instead of doing anything in that regard that would air on Much, which at least still, after all these years had past, purported to appeal to album-buying music fans, even if that crowd is now just a cult audience, which is why Much went for the teen-girl One Direction fan audience to begin with, because that audience was at least still interested in music and pop culture (how's this for a run-on sentence?), someone came up with the idea to put that stuff on a new show on M3 that included a countdown. The show itself is fine, and it reminds me a bit of the old CBC '70s radio show 90 Minutes With A Bullet. But its' existence on M3, combined with the sort of artists profiled and interviewed that would have in the past been on either Much or Muchmore, seem to further underline the erasing of the lines that defined Much and Muchmore to begin with, and in favor of.....what? In favor of keeping Matt Wells employed on M3 because he wouldn't fit in on Much? (Well, he does appeal to older people, and both Much's "former" audience, and the audience they seemingly want to appeal to now have one thing in common: youth.)

All of this makes me wonder what a Bell Media executive would say if you asked him. "What are your target audiences for Much and M3 now?" Or "What are the formats of Much and M3 supposed to be now?" I think that executive wouldn't even know. I think he might have asked his superiors that question already, and that his superiors shot him down, as their decisions I have detailed here were all knee-jerk reactions to one issue or another that they don't wish to discuss. Who knows, maybe someone at Bell Media just wanted to get rid of the teen-girl Much audience (why, don't they buy products?) and the only way they knew how to do it was to disperse everything on the channel to their other channels to fragment that audience and break it away from exclusively watching Much, before, maybe, eventually, in the future, turning Much into something substantial again?!?! Meaning they thought perhaps they couldn't do that M3 Countdown show on Much?

Or maybe it's just goes back to the simple issue I stated earlier of this new company basically not understanding what MuchMusic is to Canadians and basically thinking of it as just one of many channels they own, and treating (or in this case, abusing) it as such. (I've assumed your knowledge of this so far, but to anyone who doesn't know: At one time MuchMusic was City TV's only specialty channel. There was no Muchmoremusic or anything else. So most of that building was divided in half: One-half devoted to City TV, and one-half devoted to the MuchMusic Environment. That's what started MuchMusic as a "big deal" in Canada besides the music-video revolution of the '80s.)

I haven't e-mailed my concerns to anyone at Bell Media for two reasons: 1) It's easier to do this blog first. Heck, I can just send this blog's link via Twitter or e-mail to Bell Media executives, I don't have to even use copy and paste. And, 2) over the winter, I already was having a heated e-mail exchange with Bell Media executives over my quest to find out why Bell Media had taken away all evening E! channel broadcasts of ETalk, leaving Winnipeggers to watch ETalk for the first time of the night at 10:30 p.m. CST on both CTV Winnipeg (CKY) and E! (coincidentally the same time), unless they had the Canadian Time Shift package that cable offers, like I do. You see, in the Central Time Zone, we go from local news into prime-time programming, one hour earlier. So the Big Bang Theory rerun/ETalk hour airs AFTER that, unlike the other time zones where that hour airs after suppertime local news. But we had access to ETalk on E! at 5:00 p.m. CST, and a rerun at 7:30 p.m. Those are gone now. So, for myself, I can continue to watch/tape it at 5:00 p.m. but it will be on ATV in the Maritimes. Or at 6:00 p.m. on CFTO Toronto. Or at 8:00 p.m. on CFCN Calgary. Or 9:00 p.m. on CTVBC (don't know the call letters). But Winnipeggers without that package have to wait until 10:30 p.m. now. And I just could not find out from Bell Media the reasons WHY. All they would say was in the form of an executive from E!, who said, "We feature the premiere airing of the show as a single feed in a timeslot when the majority of our viewers can watch it across the country." That's it. What the hell does that mean? They won't tell me. That's from someone at E!, so are they talking about THEIR first airing, which is at 10:30 p.m. CST? If so, their answer makes no sense, as 10:30 p.m. is many hours after CTV airs it, except for here in Winnipeg. It sounds like it means that the "we" in that answer means the CTV network and that the executive is not just an E! executive, but has a regular CTV network position as well, meaning he is speaking for both the CTV network and the E! channel, and that he means that by taking it off E! until 10:30 p.m., that they filter all the formerly fragmented viewers into the CTV airings, creating higher ratings. So why don't they TELL me that, instead of me coming up with (i.e., SPECULATING, which is just that: speculating) that myself? And again, that doesn't help Winnipeggers without the Canadian Time Shift package. So I'm not crazy to open up another can of worms this soon, unless it's with different people. It may be, it may not be. But for now, I'll let this blog stand on its' own and worry what else I'll do with it after I have it up.

So, now that I think I have gotten in all the most pertinent points, what happens now? Where is this headed? Is this the end of the famous MuchMusic channel as generations of fans have known it since 1984? Are these "changes" just more crap that we music and media fans have to just learn to suck up and live with because answers will not be forthcoming? Or will someone with connections at least use this blog as inspiration to write a book detailing all the answers? Because I, at least, am not satisfied with what Bell Media has done to Much, and, to a lesser extent, M3. (MTV Canada's content always was dictated by what MTV U.S. does, and Awkward is actually an MTV show. So I haven't written much here about that channel. Degrassi might work on it. Without MTV Live/Showtown and all those MTV News airings that have mostly disappeared, how do they get their CanCon requirements in, I wonder? And MTV Canada operates on CTV's old Talk TV license, so they never did have a license to air music videos. This was a venture CTV initiated before they took over CHUM, so that's why MTV Canada and Much both existed by the same company in the first place. CTV/CTVglobemedia/Bell Media haven't actually shut down any of the channels they acquired.) They have sabotaged MuchMusic. This blog is at least one thing I can do to show that someone out there in music/media fandom will not let Much sink without putting up some kind of a fight.

Bell Media, it's your turn. You owe us Canadians, your viewing audience, an explanation.

What are you doing?

What have you done?

And WHY?

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