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Canada getting its MTV in digital deal

MuchMusic, MusiquePlus get competish

MONTREAL — Canada finally has its MTV. Calgary’s Craig Broadcast Systems and MTV Networks announced Tuesday a joint venture to launch three new digital channels, including MTV Canada, in the Great White North Sept. 7.

The other channels will be TV Land Canada and an unnamed MTV sister station devoted to videos.

MTV, the world’s most famous musicvideo web, reaches 353 million households in 140 countries. But until now it has been shut out of Canada by broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission because the country already has two homegrown musicvid nets, MuchMusic and French-lingo sister station MusiquePlus.

The CRTC has given the OK for Craig to launch a youth-oriented music and lifestyle channel called Connect. MTV Canada is a rebranded version of Connect, said Craig veepee Wayne Sterloff.

“We have comforted the CRTC all along the way to assure them that all of the regulations, the law of the land, the conditions of our license will be met,” said Sterloff. “We’ve had informal briefing sessions with them and we’re now involved in the formalities of presenting it. But we’re certainly not aware of any issues or problems.”

“It’s hugely important,” said Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks. “We’ve been trying to get into the Canadian market for years, and MTV is virtually everywhere but Canada. It’s our neighbor — so close and yet so far away. But the time is ripe. We’ve struck a great deal with the Craig Broadcast System, Canada is in the process of digitizing, and there’s going to be a raft of new channel introductions. It’s virtually MTV’s last big market, and it’s TV Land’s first market outside the U.S.”

The two companies will also launch two other MTV-themed musicvideo services in the future.

Digital raring to go

A slew of new digital channels bow in Canada this fall; the new webs will likely reach an initial audience of only 2 million to 2.5 million subscribers.

MTV Canada will feature much of the same programming as MTV in the U.S. But as a condition of license, it must feature 50% Canadian content. In addition, the CRTC rules stipulate that the channel devote no more than 10% of programming to musicvideos.

David Kines, veepee and general manager at MuchMusic, said the Canadian musicvideo network is not worried by MTV Canada’s arrival.

“If you think you’re getting MTV, you’re sorely mistaken,” said Kines. “This is some Canadianized version of it. They have some conditions of license that they have to adhere to, and the most notable one is no more than 10% musicvideo. That’s our bread and butter.”

MuchMusic airs a number of MTV shows, including the MTV Music Video Awards, Movie Awards, Europe Music Awards and “Beavis and Butthead.” Kines said he has yet to hear from MTV as to whether any of these shows would move to MTV Canada. MuchMusic is also launching two new digital channels in September, R&B channel MuchVibe and alternative hard-rock web MuchLoud.

The MTV channels marks a major step onto the national stage for Craig, which until now has focused on Alberta and Manitoba. Sterloff said Craig set up the partnership with MTV because execs realized that the new digital channels needed strong brand recognition to elicit deals for carriage and to attract audiences. TV Land is a rebranding of a channel called Retro, devoted to vintage programming.

The new service will benefit from a multiyear programming deal with Paramount, said Craig’s Sterloff.

Sterloff said he is surprised that it has taken MTV so long to break into Canada.

“It’s astounding to me that the Canadian youth know every program on the U.S. MTV schedule,” said Sterloff. “They know (“Total Request Live” host) Carson Daly by name. MTV is a huge brand in Canada. It’s just infiltrated the culture through magazines, newspapers, even shows like ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ ”

The new channels will be operated at Craig’s new digital play-out center in Calgary. MTV Canada will target the 12-24 demographic, while TV Land Canada will aim for 25- to 54-year-old viewers.

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