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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Winnipeg's Downtown Snackeries: After The MTS Centre Lovin', Can We Still Be In Love With You?

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman's recent spat with Mark Chipman makes me think of something else Bowman could hold against him, if he wishes. If he even knows about it. If there is an agreement in place.

I'd rather do a letter to the editor on this to both of Winnipeg's newspapers but I don't know for sure if there really is an agreement in place or not here. I think I saw this being reported in years past, but buried deep in stories about other aspects of True North building the MTS Centre and bringing the Jets back to town, and with only a few quick words before changing the subject.

I speak of the believed-to-be agreement between the city of Winnipeg and True North to do everything in its' power to make sure any nearby convenience stores, donut shops, and fast-food outlets are NOT open after MTS Centre events are over. And that no more of these are built, either.

There are several Tim Horton's and Subway outlets near the MTS Centre. They're all closed at night. Only one real fast-food restaurant, McDonald's in Cityplace. Also closed at night. And most McDonald's stores are open 24 hours, too. The Cityplace store could stay open until 4:00 a.m. to service Shark Club customers (both the nightclub and casino), too. But, no. I think the closest places within walking distance are Robin's Donuts at York & Garry, Mac's Convenience Store at Carlton & Cumberland, and Jumbo Pizza on Balmoral near Sargent. If you consider any of those within walking distance.

The Bargain Shop right outside the MTS Centre just closed. That would have been an ideal location for a convenience store. If you want to hang out outside the MTS Centre afterward in the dead of summer checking out the girls, go in the store and buy yourself a bag of chips. Or a chocolate bar. Or a slurpee. You don't want a full restaurant meal, just something small. As it turned out, the store became a Dollar Tree. Is it open at night? No.

Mark Chipman wants us all to buy the overpriced food at MTS Centre or nothing. So I believed he brokered some klind of backroom deal with the city when the MTS Centre first opened to make sure nothing was open close to the building after their events.

But that was in 2004, even before the Winnipeg Jets came back. Or now, the Moose. The MTS Centre is well established now. It's time to rescind this outdated agreement and allow the Tim Horton's and Subways and McDonald's and Starbucks near the building to be open after their events, and to allow new fast-food, donut, and convenience stores to open. Ironically, there is a Tim Hortons right inside the MTS Centre, and that, too, is closed after the events are over. But if you think that's to clear out the building, well, they are still selling that night's performing rock band's overpriced t-shirts after the events.

That's what, along with people living downtown, will really spark a street scene of people on the streets downtown. Not just traditional restaurants and nightclubs.

So there's a story idea for all you Winnipeg newspaper guys (and I know you love reading this blog), if in fact there is such an agreement. If there isn't, then it's those places I named that all suck for not being open after the events. (And the Subway on Notre Dame beside Solid Gold could grab the bar crowd, too.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bell Media Part 2: They had 91 layoffs and you might be one

Whenever I've tried to brainstorm ideas of what to blog about next, this Bell Media thing keeps coming back to me.

Because when I wrote my Bell Media/MuchMusic blog entry last time, even with all I brought up in it, that was still before they.....wait for it.....laid off 91 employees, mostly at Much, M3, and MTV Canada.

So now, I guess I have to do a followup.

Talk about being dumbfounded.

Something is clearly wrong with this company.

Isn't Bell Media supposedly the biggest private broadcaster in Canada? And they can't financially run these channels adequately? (Without telling us why not, as I reiterate my last blog's theme.)

In addition to all my observations and complaints last blog about what Bell Media has done to Much (formerly MuchMusic, I hate to say but must), those 91 layoffs mean that almost all the on-air personalities known as VJs that were on Much (most of which Bell Media had moved to other channels after they got rid of Much's flagship show New.Music.Live and replaced the MuchMusic Environment with the studio for CTV's The Social) are now gone, except for Tyrone Edwards and Chloe Wilde, who are still on E! Canada, and Liz Trinnear, now the sole VJ on Much. Much, M3, and MTV Canada now run on skeleton crews, and Much now has only one produced show, the Much Countdown, hosted by Liz. Liz still interviews music stars in the Bell Media building (after they're finished with ETalk, I'm sure), but those interviews run online, and now as insets during the videos on the Much Countdown (a good idea, but I'll come back to this). The rest of the schedule consists of morning videos (that extend into the afternoon and even the evening on some days), the fratboy comedies, and back-to-back Simpsons and South Park reruns. Also back-to-back Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air reruns which, after seemingly forever, they aren't even dropping in favor of another rerun show. This past Christmas season, if you remember all the hour-long review shows the former MuchMusic used to do, like Hisses, Disses, and Kisses, well, Much still did two or three of those, but they were around two minutes long and ran during the commercials on Much and online. Hey, at least they're trying, but, as I said in the brackets, I'll come back to that subject. And Tanya Kim was laid off from ETalk.

How can Bell Media, all of a sudden, decide they can't afford to keep these channels going in a proper manner? Something fishy is going on here, and it's more than just Bell Media taking the MuchMusic Environment away from them and giving that studio space to The Social. And, yeah, that is exactly what happened, as I finally got confirmation on that from, of all people, Jess Allen, on The Social itself, when they were promoting the 30 Years Of Much half-hour special (only half an hour?; more on that later) and they were showing clips of all the music stars that came to the building to play songs in the MuchMusic Environment and, in between songs, answered fan questions and walked up to Much's huge Queen Street storefront window where Much regularly took the glass out so the fans outside could be a part of the show, and signed autographs from those fans and answered their questions, and Jess says, "And that all took place in this very room!" Bless you, Jess. I wonder if she wasn't supposed to say that, because I wonder if Bell Media didn't want anyone pointing out that those days are actually over now, and that there won't be any more stars coming to Much to play and promote any more. I wonder if the MMVAs are no more now, as well.

Whatever Bell Media's financial problems are, clearly, what they are doing now is this: They are simply holding onto these channels for as long as they can so that the competition doesn't acquire them. Because if anyone out there thinks they can do a better job at running them (and I'm hearing rumblings that Ed The Sock might be getting involved in a new music video channel - no, really) and they think Bell Media has lost interest and will sell to them, guess again. If Bell Media sells to them, that will make the buyer a Bell Media competitor. Bell Media doesn't want that. And Bell Media can probably still charge top advertising rates for portions of these channels' programming, because the actual shows themselves - from Pretty Little Liars to Reign to Broad City to Workaholics - are fine shows and attract audiences. If the audience wants to watch these shows, they'll watch them on whatever channel they're on. That's a different issue than the issue of them being on the wrong channel, that I discussed in my last blog. I'm sure Bell Media does advertising package deals that involve these channels plus CTV and CTV Two, too.

Yet what defies logic in Bell Media's stance is how they think they can get away with next to no CanCon (Canadian content) on these channels as per their conditions of license with the CRTC for these channels. When does their renewal hearing come up? When it does, they will undoubtebly be hauled onto the carpet by the CRTC. I don't know how much produced CanCon content they are supposed to provide vs. purchased CanCon, but on MTV Canada, there is zero produced content now, and next to nothing for purchased CanCon. When MTV Canada were at the Masonic Temple building on Yonge Street, they did lots of produced content: MTV Live (I saw a taping), MTV Aftershow, 5 Gays 1 Girl, MTV News. When they moved into the main CTV building at 299 Queen Street West, MTV Live turned into Showtown, but that, and everything else, is now gone. I thought the reason for that content in the first place was to fulfill Bell Media's CRTC license requirements. As said, Much has one produced show, the Countdown, and a few between-commercials Liz Trinnear segments, and that's it. M3, for whatever reason, mostly carries on, as they didn't have too much produced content to begin with, so Gabby Henderson replaces the departed Matt Wells, and they mostly just carry on. So it appears the CRTC will either force Bell Media to live up to their conditions of license at a "show cause" hearing, or take the channels away from Bell Media themselves. Why would Bell Media open themselves up to that? If Bell Media was going to do what they did, instead of laying off 91 people, why not lay off only 75 and keep some more produced content on these channels (especially MTV Canada) to secure their licences? It doesn't make sense.

Now, to be fair, the remaining staff Bell Media has at Much does at least appear to be making lemonade out of lemons. These blogs I have been writing have nothing to do with them; they're just doing their jobs, and they appear to be doing them quite well. After I tweeted to Much, "You don't even have the resources to take those great Liz Trinnear interviews and edit them into a half-hour show?" they.....well, they didn't do that, but they at least run parts of them now in inset interviews on the Much Countdown during the videos. I told them that's a good idea, because on a countdown show, the videos can get repetitive, so those inset interviews relieve any boredom that might set in. They have done some interesting things with the blocks of videos that still remain in the New.Music.Live time slot: Brought back the Spotlight (one artist's videos) one night a week, made another night new videos called "Brand New Shit," made another night videos curated (chosen) by a famous artist, and made Thursday a Throwback Thursday night. All of which are still just videos with no host, no nothing, just the videos, but it's better than just regular videoflow. Because if the morning videoflow (and even that was retitled "Playlist") is too early for people to catch up on videos, you can always tape it while you sleep or work. I've done that. And at least Much did do those two-minute Holiday Wrap "shows" with Liz I brought up above. They could have done nothing. (Because I don't think two-minute segments fulfills license requirements.)

Then there's the curious show they did called "30 Years Of Much." For the last several years, Much has driven away screaming from its' past, because their most recent audience had been teenage girls screaming over The Jonas Brothers and One Direction, and Much didn't want to drive them away by suggesting their parents watched Much in the '80s and '90s in the form of referring to/airing their past all the time. But Bell Media bigwigs canned Much from airing anything that audience was interested in, as I covered last blog, except early morning videoflow, so I suppose the creative people (person?) still left at Much thought they had nothing to lose by mining their past and putting those segments together to create 30 Years Of Much. That show might have even been a way for the people still left at Much to shove the middle finger in Bell Media's face, as if to say, "See how much BETTER things were when Much did all this stuff, mostly when Moses ran the place?" So I looked forward to it, and wondered if it would be an hour or two hours. But it turned out to be only HALF AN HOUR?!?!? Of course: Much doesn't have the resources to make it more than half an hour. I'll bet Winnipeg's Shaw TV Community Channel has more resources today than Much does.

Oh, and CTV President Kevin Crull says people are watching music videos online now. The big problem with that argument is that when people are in control of what they want to watch, they won't punch up videos or artists that they don't know. How would they know about them? Killing new artists is killing the lifeblood of the industry. Today, I STILL come into contact with new artists and current artists' new videos for the first time ("Oh, that artist has a new video? I didn't know that!") by watching the early-morning videos on Much, maybe on tape later as I'm sleeping when they're on. Because Much is controlling what I see and is surprising me and introducing me to things. Someone online, like me, can't do that for himself. Someone has to do it for him.

Throughout my youth and early adulthood, I never found anything I wanted to be. Maybe I'm smart enough for university, but there was never anything taught there that I gave a shit about. I just looked at a job as a needed way to finance my personal life, to give me the money I needed to buy records by Kiss and Cheap Trick and Van Halen and Streetheart and to discuss the intellectual ramifications of those records at drunken house parties. I never found my calling, until I discovered MTV U.S. and then MuchMusic. To this day, all I ever wanted to be was a VJ on Muchmusic. And, while I never made that goal a reality, partly because of my age, I did accomplish the next best thing: I created my own TV show, Hard Rock Heroes, and became a VJ on that show. I mentioned my age; I turned 30 in 1992, right in the middle of the Hard Rock Heroes period.

So to see all of this crap go down with Bell Media and Much and MTV Canada and M3 is not only disheartening, it is cruel, it is heartache, it is inhumane, and it is barbaric. To think that VJs on camera talking about music and artists and throwing to videos all day is something that became too expensive to provide is both head-scratching and pain-inducing. People are passionate about their businesses. Well, this is MY business. And I want to see it survive and thrive, not get kicked in the head like a home invader does to a dog like Bell Media has done.

Hopefully, this story isn't over yet. Hopefully in the coming days the CRTC will investigate why Canada's biggest private broadcaster can't make these channels work. Hopefully someone will come forth and start-up a new music video service with VJs, whether it's on one of the Bell Media channels, if the CRTC takes them away from Bell, or a new channel. Hopefully someone will fix this. Someone MUST fix this! And hopefully whatever the public has been watching on the internet is just a supplement to TV viewing and hasn't really been enough to drive audiences away from channels like Much, unlike what some in the media might think. Audiences of all ages must be educated (re-educated?) to believe, know, and understand, that the music-video/VJ format is not an outdated concept or a fad; that it is as standard a television format as the late-night talk show format is, and that is is simply Bell Media that is trying to kill it. They must become hungry enough (are they already?) that when someone brings it back fully, it will be flocked to and embraced.

If those things don't happen, both the music industry (especially the Canadian artists), music culture, and yes, even pop culture, will ultimately suffer for it.

Bell Media, is that what you want?