Is there a television station less bland than MuchMusic nowadays? Once upon a time, MuchMusic was fresh, low-tech, and spunky. (Yes, we can call the old MuchMusic “spunky” with a straight face. This was a different era, when spunky was actually good.)
Okay, we admit that Torontoist has written about MuchMusic sucking previously, so this is not exactly a new thing. But a new development has arisen in the saga of MuchMusic’s decline: namely, their recent application to the CRTC for amendment of their broadcasting licence. The proposed changes will largely render MuchMusic even less recognizable as the network that was still so relevant and important as recently as a decade ago.
The largest and most obvious change in Much’s proposed new licence? The videos. Specifically, Much wants to drop their minimum airing time of music videos from 50% of airtime to 25%. They also want to count “music video programs” for that 25% requirement, which would presumably include shows like Video On Trial, which have music videos in them but are not really a vehicle for airing the videos per se. Given that Much currently airs Video on Trial in between three and six hours almost every day of the week, this is a big deal for them.
Much’s argument for changing the licence in this regard is twofold: first, that people can watch music videos through other sources (i.e., Youtube), and second, that there just aren’t as many music videos as there used to be. We’re going to come back to that second point a bit later on, but let’s focus on the first for now.
One of the reasons people generally watch music videos on YouTube? Here’s a thought: maybe it’s because the vast majority of programming MuchMusic uses to fulfill its music video requirements happens overnight. All of the famous MuchMusic “specialty shows”—shows like The Wedge, RapCity, Loud, and MuchVibe—now air at 3 a.m. on weekday nights, which is of course the perfect time for a discerning young music fan to learn about new bands in their favorite genre. The generic MuchMegaHits now airs at 2 and 7 a.m. daily. UR11, the internet-themed vote-for-your-fave-videos show complete with lolspeak title and lack of respect for the younger generation’s intellect, airs at a comparatively accessible 11 p.m.
What’s on Much during the daytime? Well, today, you can watch My Date With… (it’s Fall Out Boy!), Love Court, Video on Trial, Punk’d, Pimp My Ride, My Own Show, Styl’d, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, When I Was 17, The Vampire Diaries, an airing of the movie Centre Stage, and then The Vampire Diaries again. The only show with actual, uninterrupted videos in it is MuchOnDemand. That’s one hour of videos, between 1 p.m. through to midnight.
Apparently, MuchMusic thinks this minuscule level of prime-time video airplay is too difficult to maintain. What do they want to replace it with? That’s in the licence amendment proposal as well: they want to increase the amount of time they can spend airing dramatic series and cartoons (from 15% up to 20%) and the amount of time they can spend airing movies (from six hours a week up to 10% of airtime, which is a little more than sixteen hours a week).
Oh, but it gets better than that! MuchMusic, a channel that was once defined by its Canadian content, a channel which sold its Canadian content in numerous foreign television markets successfully, now thinks that Canadian content is too hard to produce at current levels! Hence, they request a 5% drop in the amount of Canadian content airtime (from 60% down to 55%), and to entirely abolish the requirement that half of their programs from 6 p.m. through midnight be Canadian. On the bright side, this might mean a lot less Video on Trial in prime time (but then again that’s about the last entertaining show MuchMusic still bothers to make).
Oh, and MuchMusic also wants to remove the requirement that they air French-language music videos. (They currently “fulfill” this requirement by airing French Kiss. Remember French Kiss? Well, you can watch it even today! If you get up at 6:30 a.m., the only time it ever airs.) Their argument here is that other music channels like MusiquePlus and MusiMax serve that need, which is of course bullshit: the point of the French-language video requirement was never to serve French-language audiences, because MusiquePlus showed up less than two years after MuchMusic did; the point of the French-language video requirement was to offer English-speaking audiences the chance to see French-language videos. It was meant to be educational, to promote Francophone music culture. (If nothing else, it informed English Canada about Mitsou.)
But so long as we’re discussing the stimulation of culture, let’s talk about MuchMusic’s other stated reason for pursuing this licence amendment: the argument that there aren’t enough music videos for them to easily fulfill their airing requirements. You know what’s interesting? In addition to wanting to cut half of of their video airing requirement, they also want to cut half of the money they’re required to contribute to MuchFACT, the fund that assists emerging Canadian talent to produce music videos. Much is quite upfront about their reasoning: since they won’t have to air so many videos, they shouldn’t have to spend so much money.
If there’s any element of the proposed licence change that’s more odious than this, we’re hardpressed to name it. MuchFACT and VideoFACT before it are responsible for the growth and nurturing of so many major Canadian music acts that it’s ridiculous: k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo, Sloan, The Pursuit of Happiness, Nelly Furtado, Bran Van 3000, K-os, and Metric, and those are just the beginning of a very, very long list. (The videos in this post are just a few of the products of MuchFACT and VideoFACT.) So many bands that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten off the ground have fans to this very day because of VideoFACT, from the Skydiggers to Sandbox. (Okay, so maybe nobody remembers Sandbox, but their guitarist went on to become Bubbles in the Trailer Park Boys.)
But none of that matters, because MuchMusic, and more specifically CTV, don’t want to spend that money. And that’s what this licence amendment proposal boils down to, of course: money. CTV bought MuchMusic and ran it right into the ground, and instead of actually trying to make a channel people want to watch, their plan is to do everything cheaper: fewer Canadian shows, less of those oh-so-rare videos, less money promoting Canadian culture. Of course, the irony is that MuchMusic used to be one of the cheapest networks to operate ever, before CTV came along, and it produced tons of Canadian culture and made money doing it; in fact, it was Canadian content regulations of the sort CTV is now trying to evade that made MuchMusic so successful in the first place. And that tells you everything you need to know, doesn’t it?