Stornaway addresses the issues

With applications for four digital specialty services that offer up an eclectic array of content and premium licence fees, one of the less-than-usual suspects, Stornoway Communications, is primped, primed and ready to compete with the heavies at the upcoming crtc hearings....

With applications for four digital specialty services that offer up an eclectic array of content and premium licence fees, one of the less-than-usual suspects, Stornoway Communications, is primped, primed and ready to compete with the heavies at the upcoming crtc hearings.

‘Anyone who has an application that’s not mine is a competitor,’ says Stornoway president Martha Fusca. ‘In Category 1, there’s 89 of us competing for 10 spots, so as I see it I have 85 competitors.’

Toronto-based Stornoway, an 18-year-old producer of mostly documentary programming, along with partner Cogeco Radio and Television, has submitted applications in both Categories 1 and 2 for the four channels Issuestv, @work.ca, The Dance Channel and The Pet Network.

‘We felt because there’s only a certain number spots in Category 1, and chances are we aren’t going to get all four, we also applied for Category 2. We worked so hard [on the applications] and we didn’t want to miss the broadcast opportunity, ‘ says Fusca.

Together, the four channels have a budget of more than $30 million to launch and the company has already come up with 58% of it in cash, with the remaining 42% in a line of credit with the cibc.

Kickoff licence fees, depending on the channel, can be anywhere between $6,000 and $25,000 per hour. What this means is that each channel can only do about 3,000 hours of annual programming, but with a quality-over-quantity mindset, Fusca’s team is committed to fostering Canadian talent, reversing the ‘brain drain’ and repatriating viewers whose attention has been traditionally occupied by American programming.

The total annual programming budget for Issuestv is roughly $42 million (including $28 million in-house, $12.3 million independent); total for @work.ca is $39.3 million ($20.4 million in-house, $8.4 million independent; total for Dance is $31.7 million ($11.8 million in-house, $7 million independent); and total for Pet is roughly $24 million ($15.8 million in-house, $6.8 million independent).

As far as Fusca’s concerned, there isn’t any competition for either Dance or Issuestv.

However, an intervention from cpac and CBC Newsworld regarding Issuestv warrants some attention, admits Fusca. ‘But we called them and let them know we’re nowhere near where they are,’ she says.

On the flip side, Stornoway made a general comment to the crtc that it did not think there should be a doc channel in Category 1, given that there are so few spots and information programming fits into the mandate of so many channels, particularly the ones for which Stornoway has applied.

‘There are so many producers right now with broadcast commitments for documentaries that they can’t find financing for, so what does another channel do except fragment that money even more. And it’s not as if Rogers [which has applied for The Documentary Channel] is putting out so much money that it would double what’s out there now. So it doesn’t make sense,’ says Fusca.

‘We’re not against anyone in particular, we’re against the idea. After all, what kind of documentary could you produce that wouldn’t fit into one of our channels?’

Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting has applied for The Independent Film and Documentary Channel, Learning and Skills Television of Alberta has applied for DocsTV – The Canadian Documentary Channel, and Salter Street Films is bringing forward Reality tv.

Direct competition for The Pet Channel is Corus Entertainment’s app for Pet tv and ctv’s Animal Planet.

Chum Television’s Canadian Learning Television would be @work’s biggest competition in Category 1, but Fusca is quick to point out that while clt has experience with teaching and might have done more at this point, Stornoway has been more innovative. Last year, it became the first Canadian prodco to develop a third-year political science course on the Internet, at Guelph University.

Among Fusca’s ever-growing and impressive team are: head of engineering Stu Turner, who was also part of the team responsible for launching ytv and Treehouse; executive vp and gm Bill Gray, who worked with Global Television to launch Prime; and former head of programming at tvontario, Chris Johnson, who Fusca dug out of retirement to help put together the four applications. *

-www.crtc.gc.ca