By Sean Davidson 08-06-2012
Canada’s CBC needs to sell one of its few specialty networks to make ends meet. Unfortunately, no one seems to want it.
Look up ‘motivated seller’ in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of CBC headquarters in Toronto, with one of its execs holding up the logo for Bold.
“Must go!” reads a hand-written message, scrawled across the white-on-orange letter B. “No reasonable offer refused!”
When the Canadian government earlier this year slashed the budget of its national pubcaster, selling off the digital specialty channel quickly became part of the plan to make ends meet as the Ceeb phases in the loss of C$115m over the next three years.
A hush-hush bidding process has been underway ever since.
But there appear to be few takers, and for good reason. Bold has spent every one of its 12 years struggling under a very difficult licence written, one can only assume, by some regulatory mad scientist who was looking to stifle any possible ratings or revenue.
Bold is required to air 60% Canadian content – a lot even by Canadian standards – with a multi-genre emphasis on rural audiences.
It had just over two million subscribers and revenue of C$4.2m (US$4.1m) for the year ending August 31, 2010, according to the most recent data available from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). That works out to a profit margin of 7.6%, putting Bold squarely among the runts of the litter in Canada, where the top specialties peak at around 10 million subscribers and have margins of more than 50%.
Asked if they placed bids for the channel, execs at the country’s biggest broadcasters tend to snort derisively. “Have you seen its CPEs [Canadian programming expenditure]?” said one high-ranking exec, scoffing on condition of anonymity, at the local content requirements.
Privately, other senior execs take a similarly dim view of Bold’s licence and prospects.
CBC seemed to agree with this sentiment a few years ago when it sought to wriggle out of the original licence, which placed an even greater emphasis on country folk. The Ceeb warned the CRTC there wasn’t enough rural-themed programming to fill the grid and the channel might not be “economically viable.”
(One imagines Corus Entertainment, which originally owned 70% of the channel, came to a similar conclusion back in 2002 when it sold its share to CBC.)
CBC noted that Bold had missed its penetration and revenue projections and was struggling to make do with off-the-shelf programming.
CBC got its wish, sort of, and the rural-ness was dialled down. These days, Bold is aimed at adults 25-54 with programming that includes “the living realities of rural Canadians” though its Cancon and CPE remain in place. Its biggest shows include re-runs of Dead Like Me, the Canadian-made Terminal City and UK import Skins. The schedule is filled out with shows lifted from CBC – it’s a good thing Little Mosque on the Prairie is set out in the sticks – and others including APTN, which turns out a great deal of programming aimed at Canada’s rural-dwelling aboriginal people.
So Bold is viable, maybe. But who would buy it? Reliable sources, some again speaking on condition of anonymity, rule out Canada’s big three commercial broadcasters, so cross Bell Media, Shaw Media and Rogers Media off the list. It seems unlikely that Corus would buy back in, and Astral is busy being purchased by Bell, so forget about them too.
Let’s also say, for the sake of argument, an incursion into English-language specialty TV by Quebecor isn’t going to happen and that APTN doesn’t have the money.
Canadian law bars any foreign buyers, so that leaves the very small category of independent broadcasters like Channel Zero, Glassbox Television and Zoomermedia – at which point all eyes turn to Glassbox boss Michael MacMillan and Zoomer’s Moses Znaimer.
Both companies have previously taken on and turned around neglected channels, Glassbox with former CTV property Travel + Escape and Zoomer with VisionTV. Glassbox is known to be eyeing further expansion into specialty networks, while Zoomer could probably align some of its Vision shows with the requirements of Bold, leading to some efficiencies.
So Bold will be bought by Glassbox, maybe. Or Zoomermedia. And some very, very happy exec from CBC will immediately sprint to the bank, waving the cheque in the air.