Whatever the exact opposite of being on a roll is, the CRTC has spent the last month doing just that. Proposing to lower the standards which prohibit false or misleading news didn’t get as much attention as their plan to let Bell and Rogers impose usage-based billing (a plan so noxious and so blatantly favouring big business that even the Conservative Party balked at such a corporate-friendly move), but it was arguably even worse. Given those two massive errors, the CRTC’s decision to kill CKLN (though the station got a temporary stay) looks downright reasonable in response, although in actuality it’s a cold-hearted move by a bureaucratic regime that’s all too happy to give corporate media a pass whenever it sees the need.
In light of all that, the CRTC’s recent decision to prevent AUX TV from airing more music videos seems like a standard, day-to-day affair. Except, of course, that it isn’t. It’s yet another slap in Canada’s face from the federal agency that’s less responsive to Canadians’ wants and needs than any other. If the CRTC were Environment Canada, we would probably be required to eat toxic waste for breakfast once per week. There wouldn’t be a good reason for doing it; we’d just have to.
AUX’s request was simple. It is currently allowed to air music videos for only 35% of its airtime during any broadcast month. The station wished to remove this restriction so that it could air more videos. AUX pointed out, quite reasonably, that none of the other ostensible music channels in Canada have a “too many videos” restriction. MuchMusic certainly doesn’t.
Indeed, AUX is the only channel left in Canada doing what MuchMusic used to do: using music video programming to promote Canadian culture. AUX makes a point of focusing on up-and-coming Canadian artists in all genres: it has pushed K’naan, Japandroids, Owen Pallett, and You Say Party! We Say Die!, among many others. AUX does this because it knows it can do so cheaply, much in the way that MuchMusic used to do before it became an unwatchable void of suck.
So, AUX asked for more video airplay time, which would almost certainly assist it in promoting Canadian culture. This is a complete no-brainer; after all, one of the CRTC’s mandates is the promotion and protection of Canadian culture. Who could say no to that?
Well, the CRTC could, and did. The explanation? If they let AUX TV air more videos, it would put AUX in direct competition with MuchMusic. This reasoning is a holdover from the old days of CRTC licensing, when cable stations had to justify their existence by fulfilling a distinct niche. It worked a lot better ten years ago, before every one of the specialty channels became the same mix of low-rent reality programming and old American TV, when we didn’t live in a country where History TV airs marathons of M*A*S*H and documentaries about rodeo cowboys; where one of A&E’s best-rated shows is Dog the Bounty Hunter; and where you can’t tell Slice, TLC, W, HGTV, or the Discovery Channel apart without their little brands in the bottom corner of your screen.
The increasing homogenization and crapification of Canadian cable aside, the CRTC’s argument is even less sensical because, as we’ve written before, MuchMusic desperately avoids airing music videos in prime time. MuchMusic airs about an hour of videos between noon and midnight every day; most of the music videos actually show up in the dead of night. AUX, on the other hand, airs music videos in prime time. The idea that AUX airing more videos would put it directly in competition with MuchMusic is a bad joke, because there is no competition. MuchMusic wants to air as few videos as possible, because they get in the way of the American reruns that the station really wants to show.
The CRTC made exactly the wrong call, picking the option almost guaranteed to produce the least satisfying outcome for all concerned. Who benefits from AUX not airing more music videos? Canadian music artists? No. Canadian music fans who want to actually see more videos during daylight hours? Nope. AUX? Obviously not. MuchMusic? Not even them, because they don’t care. This is literally a decision that benefits absolutely nobody, which is why it’s so amazing: usually when the CRTC makes a horrendously bad decision, it at least has the appearance of being because Rogers or Bell whispered in their ear that they wanted to make more money.
But this? This is so witless that we are forced to wonder if maybe we’ve misunderstood the CRTC all along. Maybe they aren’t a shell of a government agency beholden to corporate media giants to the point of uselessness. Maybe they’re simply so stupid that uselessness is their natural state, and all along we’ve been blaming Bell and Rogers for influencing the acts of lunatics. It’s possible. After all, the CRTC honestly thinks MuchMusic airs music videos.