Country music artists will have one less promotional vehicle available to them when Country Music Television Canada kicks off its fall programming on Aug. 28. While the Corus-owned cable and satellite specialty channel will still be named CMT Canada, it will not be playing music videos.
“As seen with other networks, there has been a shift away from music videos and programming on television,” reads a statement from Corus Entertainment Inc. “This fall we are taking the opportunity to refresh CMT Canada’s programming and build on the funny, light-hearted comedies that have been top performers on the network and resonate with viewers.
“Corus Entertainment continues to support country music and Canadian artists across national and local television programs, including Entertainment Tonight Canada, The Morning Show on Global and Corus’ long-standing country radio stations Country 104 (London, ON), Country 105 (Calgary, AB) and CISN Country 103.9 (Edmonton, AB).”
The TV station, which originally launched in 1995 as New Country Network (NCN) and programmed almost entirely music videos, is primarily owned by Corus (90 percent) with Viacom International Media Networks holding a 10 percent stake.
Viacom’s US channel Country Music Television (CMT) had previously been available in Canada since 1984 but was dropped when the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the application for NCN by then-owners Maclean-Hunter and Rawlco Communications.
In retaliation, CMT stopped playing videos by Canadian artists not signed to major American record deals. The matter was eventually settled with the purchase of a minority stake (by CBS Cable, which owned CMT at the time). The majority stake was bought by Shaw Communications (later acquired by Corus in 1999). The station re-launched as CMT Canada on Oct. 31, 1996.
So for more than two decades it has been instrumental in aiding the profile of Canada’s country artists, many of whom don’t enjoy the same profile outside the country, including Dean Brody (who just headlined Toronto’s Budweiser Stage Thursday night), Brett Kissel, Road Hammers, Paul Brandt, Johnny Reid, George Canyon and more.
“We’ve known changes at CMT were coming and while we valued their promotional partnership on many of our efforts, video spins and viewership were down and not as frequent so we’ve had to adjust our strategies with content,” Ron Kitchener, president of RGK Entertainment Group Inc, which includes Open Road Recordings (Label), told Billboard in an email. “With limited media outlets for country music in Canada, it still leaves a big hole. The timing is unfortunate though in that our domestic country scene has never been stronger. The Dean Brody and Tim Hicks show at Budweiser Stage in Toronto last night was a huge win for all, at the same time we lose one our best brands.”
When asked if traditional country music fans will make the move to online viewing, Kitchener is cautiously optimistic. “VEVO and YouTube views are half decent,” he says. “Numbers vary depending on the artist and the content, but I feel the increasingly younger country audience is going to steadily grow our opportunities there.”
Each broadcast year, on condition of license, CMT Canada was required to allocate no less than 11 percent of the previous year’s gross revenue to the development and production of Canadian country music videos.
Additionally, in 2001 the CRTC lowered its music video programming requirement to 70 percent and further reduced it to 50 percent in 2006.
In 2015, CMT Canada applied to the CRTC for “amendments to the nature of service definition (spending on Canadian Country music videos)” which was opposed by ADISQ, CIMA, CCMIA, MMF, CMPA, CMRRA, SOCAN & CCMA.
On Feb. 4, 2016, the follwoing broadcasting decision was released:
The Commission approves an application to delete certain nature of service conditions of license for the national; approves the request to delete CMT’s condition of license relating to the exhibition of Canadian programming and to amend its condition of license relating to the broadcast of Canadian music videos; and denies the request to delete CMT’s condition of license relating to allocating a portion of the service’s revenues to the development and production of Canadian country music videos. However, the Commission has amended that condition of license to remove the reference to “country music.”
Corus Entertainment assets includes 45 specialty television services, 39 radio stations, 15 conventional television stations, a global content business, digital assets, live events, children’s book publishing, animation software, technology and media services.