Here is the article quoted from the Toronto Star.
Toronto's new TV station thinking big
A variety show nightly in mix
`Gaping hole' seen for T.O. viewers
Seen from Calgary, the view of Toronto's congested television landscape isn't as daunting as one might think.
"We think there's a big, gaping hole," said Drew Craig, head of Calgary-based Craig Media, Inc., speaking from his temporary digs in a Yorkville office. "Toronto is maybe the most competitive media market in North America. But when you look at local television, it's not."
Really? Toronto, by some estimations, is laden with local television options, from such juggernauts as CFTO, the local CTV affiliate, to the CBC to Global to CHUM Ltd.'s intensely local Citytv.
But there's a lot of space between the tokenistic local efforts of the national mega-broadcasters and Citytv, Craig said. "City has done what I believe to be a good job in serving the local market. But effectively, they're the only show in town."
With that in mind, Craig is busying himself with the task of filling the gap. Craig pulled up stakes in his Calgary home and moved his family to Toronto for the most pivotal launch yet by his family's 50-year-old media company.
This evening, Craig will be at the Second City theatre to pitch the advertising community on a bundle of channels his company has to offer. Most significant among them is Toronto One, the brand-new, yet-to-be-launched local station Craig will roll out in September.
Its importance is this: In this age of digital cable, Toronto One will not be one more obscure specialty channel feeding hints on knitting to a niche viewership, perched somewhere in the oxygen-thin broadcasting stratosphere of the high-80s on your converter dial. No, Toronto One will be an all-access, basic cable priority channel, mandated between channels 2 and 13 on the dial. Don't have cable? No problem. Toronto One's high-definition signal will be antenna friendly.
In short, Toronto One is the first new local channel of its kind since another independent-minded upstart arrived back in 1974, Citytv.
The channel is the product of a CRTC application derby last year in which Craig beat out media giants like Alliance Atlantis and Torstar Inc., which owns this newspaper, for the much-coveted licence. That it went to Craig, whose most significant holdings are in Manitoba and Alberta, was a surprise to many. CHUM Ltd's Citytv, which currently defines localism on the Toronto TV dial, was said to be particularly livid.
It's not hard to see why. In 1995, when Craig won licences in Calgary and Edmonton, it promptly installed its two A-Channel franchises featuring an urbane, youthful, dynamic type of broadcasting emanating from downtown studios encased in glass. To Citytv's owners, it sounded more than a little like the streetfront concept pioneered by the station in the early '80s at its then-new Queen St. W. site. In 2001, Craig rankled CHUM Ltd. further when it signed a licensing deal with MTV, the enormously successful U.S. music channel, to establish a Canadian version as a digital channel. CHUM, of course, had operated MuchMusic as a Canadian version of MTV since 1984. Up to that point, MuchMusic had been buying content from MTV.
CHUM has countered with licence applications in both Calgary and Edmonton. Its previous attempts to gain entry to the Alberta TV market have been turned down.
Now the battle shifts to CHUM's home turf Toronto.
"I wouldn't say we feel tremendously threatened, but we're not taking (the new channel) lightly, either," said Maria Hale, vice-president of Citytv. As to the A-Channel homage, Hale is blasé. " I think Moses (Znaimer) would say many people have emulated our look," she said. "A successful formula was created 30 years ago. We're flattered when people try to emulate us. But I think the audience can see what is sincere and what is not."
Craig insists he's not targeting Citytv's audience in particular. "We'll steal a little bit from everybody. I don't think any one player will get hurt more than anyone else," he said.
But Citytv does leave a lot of audience out in the cold, Craig said. "They have a distinct style and a distinct approach, and we think that's a fairly niche approach. It tends to skew very young. I think there's a real opportunity to (attract) people who outgrow City, but find CFTO too stuffy. We don't intend to be niche players. We are broadcasters in the true sense, so we need everybody to buy into the concept."
The A-Channel concept for Toronto will be more fully fleshed out for the admen tonight, but it will have to adhere to certain requirements laid out by the CRTC in the application process. By mandate, Toronto One will need to heed the city's cultural diversity, provide variety entertainment and culture programming every night in prime time and also devote at least 30 minutes a week to aboriginal programming.
Supplementing such altruistic initiatives, of course, will be more lucrative U.S.-imported programming like Monday Night Football, which Craig has secured through 2004 for the Toronto market, and a new ABC talk show hosted by comic Wayne Brady. Such are the necessaries of attracting advertisers. But Craig shows more interest in the new programs that Toronto One is preparing to unleash in the fall. The Toronto Show appears to be his favourite; Craig, soft-spoken and serious in manner, grows animated when describing plans for this nightly variety show.
"The Quebec broadcasters have done a terrific job of reflecting the culture of Quebec in prime time. The English Canadian broadcasters have done, I believe, a poor job of it," he said. The Toronto Show hopes to fix that by providing an open door to local talent comedians, musicians, performers of all sorts every night.
Indeed, to feed a nightly show's voracious appetite, the door will have to be open wide. Craig isn't concerned. This city "is probably the only Canadian market where you can do something like the Toronto show and make it work," he said. "The talent pool is endless."
Toronto One is also paired up with a couple of cred-heavy local institutions. Second City, the theatre that launched the careers of John Candy, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, among others, will be the source of a regular program Second City Improv. Another alliance is with Toronto Life magazine.
"Toronto is long overdue for a new station," Craig said. "Gaining the respect and confidence of viewers takes a long time. But we're in this for the long haul."