In May 1999, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) granted licenses to four new French-language services to balance the line-up of French specialty channels relative to those available on the English market. These new channels
will form an all-French optional package including: Canal ƒvasion (a travel and adventure channel), Canal Z (a sci-fi channel), a fiction channel called Séries+, and Historia, a history channel. Montreal-based Astral Communications and Toronto’s Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting each own 50% of Séries+ and Historia, with Astral serving as managing partner under the newly formed division Les Chaînes Télé Astral. Both new channels will be supported by advertising and cable/satellite subscriptions and will offer 24-hour services.
While Séries+ will feature a variety of high-end drama series and made-for-TV movies from around the world, Historia has only one thing on its mind. ‘At Historia we have one obsession, and that’s history,’ says programming VP Jocelyne Lavoie. ‘Our mandate is to cover everything you could ever want or need to know about history.’ Targeting male viewers aged 25-54, the new channel will offer a ‘uniquely Quebecois’ perspective, while exploring ‘every subject from ancient to modern history, national to international subjects.’ Adds Lavoie, ‘Our goal is to offer a multitude of perspectives and attract a wide variety of viewers.’
While half of the channel’s content will be allotted to historical dramatic features and series, emphasis will be placed on the other half – documentary strands and information magazines. Lavoie explains that the key to Historia’s programming strategy is reserving its Monday to Friday primetime slots for historical information such as Histoire à la Une (Front Page History), a daily infomag produced by Montreal-based Pixcom International, which is scheduled to air weekdays at 6:30 p.m. ‘We really want to brand Historia as a documentary and information channel so we schedule that kind of programming in primetime, placing drama before 6:00 p.m. and after 10:00 p.m. and also during the weekend.’
To fulfill the CRTC’s 35% Canadian content requirement, Historia has planned an expansive slate of original Canadian programming. From Monday to Friday starting at 9:00 p.m. the channel will have five different one-hour documentary strands including: Histoires de Trains (Train Stories) by Pixcom International; Artisans de Notre Histoire (Makers of our History),
budgeted at CDN$40,000 per episode, produced by Montreal-based Motion International; and Les 30 Journées Qui Ont Fait le Québec (The 30 Days that Made Quebec) from Montreal’s Les Productions Ronald Brault, a weekly series that will review the milestone days in the evolution of Quebec during the twentieth century – also budgeted at around $40,000 per hour. That 35% translates into 20 one-hour primetime slots of home-grown programming per week.
As for Historia’s non-Canadian content, Lavoie has an open attitude, but discriminating tastes. ‘We’re looking for the best doc series from all over the world,’ adding that the preferred format is 60 minutes over 30 minutes, and series of at least six episodes over one-offs.
Lavoie would not discuss fees but says she’s looking to buy 15 plays over three years for acquisitions – over five years for commissions. So far the channel has acquired programs from the likes of Discovery, BBC, ITEL, Télé Images and La Cinquième on subjects ranging from American history to lost civilizations to war stories – such as the series Guère et Civilization (War and Civilization) from London’s Worldview Pictures (in association
with TLC and La Cinquième). The channel has also acquired the acclaimed New York series (us$7.5 million), from Steeplechase Films (in association with WGBH and WNET), which they will dub in-house, and air sometime in April.
At this point, all of the new channel’s content is either acquired or commissioned but Lavoie believes that coproductions are a possibility in the future. ‘Right now we are doing no coproductions,’ she says, ‘Maybe in year two or three.’