Canada’s Country music industry and musicians have been waiting for the boot to drop at the Corus-owned cable specialty channel and the fix is in effective August 27.
That’s when the channel licensed as Country Music Television in 1994 officially drops playing music videos as part of its programming service.
Under the original condition of license, the channel was a TV jukebox, mandated to program a minimum of 90 percent country music videos. This was amended in 2006, reducing the obligation to 50 percent under the proviso that CMT Canada invests in the creation of original Canadian TV content.
Today CMT airs music videos throughout the day in blocks and a mix of acquired and original sitcoms and reality shows in the evenings. The specialty channel’s long-standing Chevy Top 20 Countdown and numerous Canadian artist documentaries and live concert replays have been instrumental in helping to build national careers for a hat tree of homegrown stars. Included stars were George Canyon, Brett Kissel, The Road Hammers, Johnny Reid, Paul Brandt, Dean Brody, Jess Moskaluke and, in the past, Shania Twain, Terri Clark, Michelle Wright and Charlie Major.
But the glory days of championing artists, boosting the music scene, charming the fans and kicking Country Bud butts is fading to black as it has at other former music video TV formats. The availability of video on digital platforms such as YouTube, a profusion of music streaming services and the relentless push to match a wider audience with advertisers have pushed Corus to reinvent the channel to find a niche in a cluttered space.
In the 20-plus years as a music channel, CMT Canada invested a lot of money in the Country genre, and greatly helped build a sector of the music business here that was under-privileged and in need of a slick promotional channel to build up its star system.
In its regulatory filing, Corus Media said at the time that it had no immediate plans to change the channel’s name, but it did have plans to shift the focus of its programming from country music to comedy, movies, and reality-themed shows and “one of a kind music programming”.
The music shows include content owned through Corus Media’s Corus Live division. The channel is already prominently promoting Corus Live’s first branded festival, which just happens to be country themed. CMT Canada will be required to continue pumping 11% of the previous year’s gross revenues into the production of Canadian music videos; however, as per Corus Media’s request, the prior stipulation that they be country music videos has been deleted from the condition of the licence.
The amendments to CMT Canada's licence conditions, filed by Corus Entertainment and approved by the CRTC, were vigorously opposed by the Canadian Council of Music Industry Associations, Canadian Independent Music Association, Music Managers Forum Canada, Canadian Music Publishers Association, Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd., Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, and the Canadian Country Music Association.
Several managers expressed sadness that the once great promotional and marketing tool has faded to black. Several e-mails to CMT and Corus yesterday went unanswered, and its website fails to disclose information about the changes afoot.
Manager and label owner Mike Denney (MDM Recordings, with a roster that includes Chad Brownlee, Tim Chaisson, The Lovelocks, Bobby Wills, and Jess Moskaluke) replied to a request for comment by e-mail:
"I am sad and disappointed that the one and only dedicated national Country Music broadcast partner we had supporting Canadian Country talent is now gone.
“What is even more upsetting to me is that this is happening while the Country Music genre is enjoying the most broad-based interest and success we have ever seen. In my opinion, it feels like this decision was made over two years ago when the CRTC allowed Corus to stop the allocation of funds towards both creating and making music videos for Canadian Country artists through the support of the VAP program, and it left the door wide open for this type of outcome."
Ron Kitchener who co-owns and operates the RKG Entertainment Group of companies that include management, concert promotions and the Open Road Recordings label (that includes Dean Brody, Road Hammers, and Madeline Merlo on its roster) also replied to a request for reaction from FYI by e-mail.
“The industry has been aware of the changes coming to the CMT Canada for many months and, to my knowledge, there won't be any opportunities there going forward.
“Like most changes in our business over last few years at RGK/Open Road we have long ago adjusted to the new realities of consumer habits and convenience with our planning decisions.
“CMT Canada's absence will hurt most in that they were a good promotional partner as much as a music video outlet. There will be some revenue loss now as well that will need to be made up elsewhere.”
He thoughtfully added that he was “curious to see” what kind of public reaction there will be to the format change.
The CCMA was also contacted and did not respond.