CBC buys into doc channel

The CBC’s new programming focus came into sharper focus earlier this month with the purchase of a 53% controlling stake in The Documentary Channel from Corus Entertainment and its launch of a factual entertainment division.

Pending CRTC approval, the CBC will hold an 82% equity stake in the Category 1 digital channel that now reaches 950,000 homes.

Kirstine Layfield, CBC’s executive director of network programming, says the channel will add to the pubcaster’s emerging multi-platform strategy, alongside CBC Newsworld and CBC.ca.

But the buyout has spurred concern in some quarters over the possibility of dueling mandates, as the digital channel stresses feature-length documentaries and CBC’s main network pursues reality fare.

‘In some ways, the fit makes sense. The CBC and The Documentary Channel have both been great supporters of independent film,’ says Ann Shin (The Four Seasons Mosaic), a filmmaker with the Toronto-based Fathom Film Group.

‘But they are different beasts with different mandates. I hope the CBC allows The Documentary Channel to retain its independence.’

Michael Burns will stay on as the channel’s director of programming.

Paul Robertson, president of Corus Television, says The Documentary Channel performed well, but documentaries are now non-core, as his company has moved its focus to programming for kids and women, and to movies.

The National Film Board owns a 14% stake in the channel, with Barna-Alper Productions, Galafilm, Omni Film Productions and CineNova Productions holding 1% each.

Meanwhile, Layfield says CBC is focusing on ‘high-impact’ reality fare by launching a factual entertainment division, to be headed up by Julie Bristow, a former head of current affairs at CBC Newsworld.

Layfield, in Halifax at the tail-end of a cross-country consultation with indie producers, says charging Bristow with producing or acquiring lifestyle and reality TV fare will help shake up the CBC schedule, especially during the day.

‘We’re strong with kids in the morning. Now we need fresh programming that speaks to parents in the afternoon programming that can engage and connect,’ she says.

She adds that CBC is not looking for reality fare like The Swan or Extreme Makeover. ‘It’s occasions like The Greatest Canadian that get whole neighborhoods excited,’ Layfield adds, reiterating the network wants big numbers from reality or lifestyle fare it commissions from indie producers.

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NFB75Anniversary - Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley with Claude Joli-Coeur (NFB Acting Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson)