Canadian digi-channels open doors to docs

Non-fiction is high on the list of priorities for Canada's raft of brand-spanking-new Category 1 digital channels. Find out what they're looking for and who to contact. In Category 2, Discovery has the potential for five channels - if it can get carriage.
December 7, 2000

The wave of new Canadian digital channels coming down the pipeline offers nothing but good news for non-fiction producers. Of the 16 English-language channels awarded Category 1 approval – meaning they have guaranteed carriage – six in particular look to have strong doc potential.

Biography Channel

According to general manager Alison Clayton, the Canadian Biography Channel won’t just consist of hour after hour of biographies. Like its counterpart in the U.S., she says, ‘the idea is to build on [the story of] a life. We will talk about the person in a Biography episode, then we might do a documentary that is related to their life or we will do a film. We want to put a person’s life in a broader context.’

As an example, Clayton describes the channel’s approach to Anna Leonowens, author of Anna and the King of Siam. ‘Anna’s descendants live in Canada, so there’s a documentary being produced here about her – it’s called Anna without the King. So, we would play that and then perhaps the older Yul Brynner version [The King and I] or maybe the newer Jodie Foster version [Anna and the King].

To start, 25% of the content will be Canadian and the remainder will come from A&E. By year five, Canadian content will make up 50% of the channel. Though Clayton couldn’t specify on license fees, she did say the channel will likely seek second or third windows rather than first.

Launch date: tentatively September 1 or October 1, 2001

Contact: Alison Clayton, general manager (

Partners: Rogers Broadcasting (Canada), Shaw Communications (Canada), A&E (U.S.)

Canadian Documentary Channel

Perhaps the most obvious choice for doc-makers, the Canadian Documentary Channel purports to tell the story of Canada’s peoples and communities; exhibit new works and nurture first-time filmmakers; emphasize cultural diversity; bring French documentaries to English viewers; air uncut, auteur-driven docs without commercial interruption; and commit up to CAN$1 million (US$650,000) per year to independent production and development across Canada.

The channel is looking for at least 200 hours of content each year from the indie community. It will spend 70% of its total programming budget on commissions or acquisitions from Canadian producers; 50% of the spending in Canada will go to independents.

Launch : tentatively September 2001

Contact: Sheldon Teicher, VP business development and general counsel for Corus Television (

Partners: Corus Entertainment, CBC, National Film Board of Canada, Barna-Alper Productions, Galafilm, OMNI Film Productions and CineNova Productions (all of Canada)

The Independent Film Channel Canada

‘The point of [the channel] is basically to promote independent film focusing on Canada, independent filmmakers and the art of filmmaking,’ says Tracey Jardine, specialty channels coordinator for Salter Street Films, the primary stake holder in IFC Canada. ‘A big part of our application to the CRTC included helping filmmakers find a place within the industry and supporting them, and we’ll do that through programming as well as sponsorship and funding. ‘

Despite the strong focus on Canadian indie films (fiction and docs), the content will not be exclusively Canadian, Jardine says. ‘We will definitely have foreign films in there.’ The channel will start with 40% CanCon and increase to 60%.

Launch date: tentatively September 2001

Contact: Tracey Jardine, specialty channels coordinator for Salter Street Films (

Partners: Salter Street Films (Canada), The Independent Film Channel (U.S.), Triptych Media (Canada)

Health Network Canada (WebMD)

From medical breakthroughs to diet and beauty concerns, Health Network Canada plans to cover it all, says Phyllis Yaffe, president of Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting. And she’s not looking for dry, classroom content. ‘This is a channel that has to grab people. Let’s put it this way, a person can be educated about health without being terrified or taught. It has to be compelling television.’

Series will definitely make up the bulk of the 24-hour channel’s content, though there will be some slots set aside for specials, Yaffe says. To start, the channel will have 60% Canadian content, gradually increasing to 70%. ‘We need to do that because there are many issues that are really national on the health side,’ she explains. However recognizing the international side of health, Yaffe adds that Health Network Canada will probably look to foreign producers to provide that content.

Launch date: September 2001

Contact: Barbara Williams, senior vp of programming of Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting,

Partners: Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting (Canada), Fox/Web MD (U.S.)

Tech TV Canada

Tech TV is all about technology, computers and the Internet, says general manager Alison Clayton. ‘We’re billing it as the lifestyle channel for the e generation. There’s something for everyone – you can be a real technophile or a real technophobe.’

Clayton notes that the channel definitely lends itself to series. Like sister station Biography Channel, Tech TV will start with 25% Canadian content and build towards 50% by year five, with the balance coming from partner techTV in the U.S.

Launch date: tentatively September 1 or October 1, 2001

Contact: Alison Clayton, general manager (

Partners: Rogers Broadcasting (Canada), Shaw Communications (Canada), techTV (U.S.)

Wisdom: Canada’s Body, Mind & Spirit Channel

‘Wisdom is the last big idea in North American television,’ says Bill Roberts, president and chief executive officer of Canada’s Vision TV, which holds a majority stake in Wisdom. ‘It’s a service dedicated to programming on life improvement, personal growth and human development from many perspectives, be it one’s health, environmental circumstances or spiritual development.’

Roberts stresses that the new 24-hour channel will seek content from both domestic and foreign producers, and will aim for a balance of commissions and acquisitions. He says license fees will be comparable to Vision’s (around US$10,000 to $20,000 per hour for first-window coproductions; US$1,300 to $1,600 for acquisitions). New York’s WNET, Innergy in Amsterdam, and the U.K.’s Alternative Health Channel have already expressed interest in working with Wisdom, he adds.

He advises producers to check the Vision website ( after December 15 for additional information about submitting pitches to Wisdom.

Launch date: September 2001

Contact: Paul de Silva, director of programming (

Partners: Vision TV (Canada), Radio-Nord (Canada), Wisdom Media Communications (U.S.)

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.