A new crop of specialty digital channels launched in Canada in early September. While there’s some concern among viewers and TV critics about so-called ‘narrow-casting’, some of the factual channels may fare better than others.
Discovery Health Channel Canada launched with Cybersurgery, which features surgeons in different countries connecting via satellite and guiding each other through complicated procedures. The focus of the channel is on ‘real people’ who do extraordinary things, says Barbara Williamson, senior VP of programming for Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting. Alliance has 65% ownership of the channel, while Discovery Networks International retains 35%. Over the first year, Williamson says the channel will have 200 hours of original Canadian programming – ‘some in-house, some not.’
The programming, 60% percent of which will be Canadian, will also draw from the Discovery Health Channel in the U.S. Featured programs include The Surgeons, which profiles a different Canadian surgeon each show, and Being Human, which looks at the human condition from a medical perspective.
While the focus of The Independent Film Channel Canada is on feature films, a good portion of airtime will be devoted to docs. Almost wholly owned by Alliance Atlantis (pending CRTC approval), the channel will feature 60% feature films and 40% docs, shorts and magazine programming, says Deborah Carver, general manager and VP of marketing for the channel. Says Carver, ‘At launch, the majority of programming is acquired.’ She explains that a time crunch prior to the channel’s launch was a major factor in the decision to acquire.
The channel has three main in-house series. They include: F3, short for Film Festival Flow, which was shot at film festivals across Canada; Filmmaker, a 6×1-hour interview series hosted by film critic Cameron Bailey; and the weekly magazine series Indie Story, slated for January. The channel has also licensed a 2 x 1-hour series from Vancouver-based Paperny Films about independent filmmaking. Carver also says there are plans to work with producers for doc programming of a ‘personal, exploratory’ nature.
It’s all about docs on The Documentary Channel. The channel will broadcast 700 hours of docs per year from the CBC, the National Film Board (NFB) and foreign and independent producers, with 66% Canadian content. Majority ownership of the channel belongs to Corus (53%), the CBC (29%) and the NFB (14%). Each weekend will feature a different theme – from crime and punishment to jazz greats, while Monday’s ‘Academy Award’ nights will present docs such as From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China. The channel will be commissioning 15 to 20 docs per year and will also show regular series, including a weekly hour-long interview program entitled In Camera, and the Mark Starowicz-produced series on the history of television journalism Dawn of the Eye – a coproduction between the CBC, CBS and the BBC.
Prior to the Doc Channel’s launch, Michael Harris, the channel’s GM and former head of CBC Newsworld, was prepared for anything: ‘I’ve got my fingers crossed.’