CTV Edmonton launches Inner Tube blog

On Friday afternoon, just hours before the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, CTV Edmonton launched a new blog called Inner Tube. I’m not sure if the timing was just a coincidence or if CTV Edmonton purposefully wanted to “soft launch” the blog, but either way, this “online experiment of sorts” is something that’s worth paying attention to.

First, the key points:

  • Inner Tube is a group blog. Entries will be written by a variety of people at CTV Edmonton, including Carrie Doll and Josh Classen.
  • This is an Edmonton project, not something that came from Toronto.
  • Posts are edited for clarity, comments are moderated.
  • From the about blurb: “You’ll read stories about the inner workings of the news process, how we develop our stories, or just casual observations about what makes north central Alberta so special.”

I called Stewart Shaw, web guru at CTV Edmonton, to learn more about the site that he has been working to launch for the last six months or so. My first question was why it took so long! Stewart very democratically explained that many people just aren’t as comfortable with technology as the rest of us, and that convincing all of the necessary people took time (as it would have in any typical corporate environment). He was pleased with how things progressed.

Stewart told me that CTV Edmonton sees this as an extension of what they’ve been doing for more than 50 years. The station has always felt that it was part of the community, and the blog is just a modern way of ensuring that remains true. And while the CTV Edmonton account on Twitter has been quite successful, and most stories on the news website offer the ability to leave comments, neither offers the same kind of connection that the blog can (though Carrie Doll, Josh Classen, and other personalities regularly interact with other Twitter users). Stewart said that the Save Local TV open house last year opened some eyes – it was the first time in a long time that CTV Edmonton had invited the public to the station, and they were overwhelmed by the response. The idea with Inner Tube is to open up a little, to provide a glimpse behind the curtain from the people that make CTV Edmonton tick.

Local media blogs are not new, of course. The Edmonton Journal, iNews880, and Edmonton Sun have had blogs on their websites for a long time, with varying levels of success. The difference is that CTV Edmonton has created a group blog that everyone will contribute to, rather than individual blogs for each employee or personality. The idea is that it’ll be a little easier to keep fresh, and also to build a following with. I think the jury’s still out on which approach is more successful, but I like that CTV Edmonton is experimenting with something different.

Inner Tube is off to a good start, with roughly half a dozen posts already up on the blog. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves – I hope it opens the door to even more online activity from the local media. Congrats to Stewart and everyone else at CTV Edmonton for launching Inner Tube, and good luck!

No more bailouts please

As you’re probably aware, CTV has been running an aggressive “Save Local TV” campaign over the last couple weeks. Along with occasional ally Canwest, the two broadcasters are petitioning the CRTC to impose a fee-for-carriage on cable and satellite companies. In a recent guest post on Connect2Edmonton, CTV’s Lloyd Lewis wrote:

Local stations like CTV Edmonton do not receive any compensation from cable and satellite companies.  We believe the time has come that local television must share in this pool, just as all other channels on your cable and satellite systems do.

Shaw has been the most aggressive company on the opposite side of the issue. Here’s what Jim Shaw wrote in his message to Canadians:

Canadians should not have to pay to fix broadcasters’ problems. They’ve spent billions of dollars acquiring foreign programs, TV stations and newspapers and now they say they’re broke?

Essentially, I think the situation can be described as follows:

  • CTV and Canwest are losing money. This is partly because of a decline in advertising revenue, exacerbated by the economic downturn.
  • They have twice before asked the CRTC to impose a fee-for-carriage, and were denied both times. A fee-for-carriage would force cable and satellite companies to pay for the signals they rebroadcast.
  • If such a fee were imposed, Shaw and other cable/sat companies would likely pass the cost on to consumers.
  • Fee-for-carriage exists in other countries, but has never existed in Canada.

My gut reaction when I first started reading about all of this was that CTV and Canwest wanted a bailout, just like the auto manufacturers. Their business model is broken, and they’re looking for the quick fix. I firmly believe that we need to allow sick businesses to die, so that more efficient ones can take their place. I feel that way about all industries.

I decided to do some reading. Here’s what I have learned:

CTV argues that their local news programs are suffering because I can get CTV Toronto and CTV Edmonton on my cable/satellite package. That means I can watch a popular primetime show on the Toronto feed instead of my local one. Some questions on that:

  • Isn’t CTV receiving the same revenue either way?
  • Isn’t most advertising sold nationally anyway? Isn’t that the argument for a large conglomerate?
  • Why does the ad revenue for a primetime show affect my local news program as much as CTV seems to suggest it does?

The financials only tell one side of the story. It’s the other side of the story that really makes me frustrated. CTV has taken a page out of the newspaper playbook, and is claiming that they are vital to the local community.

Cities do not need newspapers to survive and flourish, nor do they need local TV stations.

In the article posted at C2E, CTV argues that local TV is important for the following reasons:

  1. Local content is more relevant than ever, despite more the web making global sources and more choice available.
  2. The accurate reporting of news is critical.
  3. Local stations provide a high level of community service.

None of those things require a TV station.

You might wonder where all the local content is on CTV or Global. Aside from the news programs (which themselves are not even close to 100% local content), what is there? Lots of American shows, that’s what (this post is a long but good read on the topic of local vs. foreign content on the networks). The six o’clock news is too late for most breaking news, but too soon for context and analysis, which is what the 384 years of experience CTV Edmonton is touting would be good for.

TV stations are not perfect, they make mistakes from time to time. The problem is that they can’t correct those mistakes until the late news or else the next day. How accurate is that? More importantly, TV is not required for the dissemination of accurate news. It just happens to be one of the vehicles for it today.

It’s true that local TV stations do a lot for the community. So do other organizations. I’m sure charity events could find other individuals to MC. Aside from donating free advertising, I’m not sure what specifically CTV brings to the table with regard to community service that other organizations do not.

Comments via Twitter

I decided to ask Twitter for some comments on this last night. There was an almost even split among the replies I received, with roughly half supporting CTV and half supporting Shaw. Here are some of the tweets:

  • wikkiwild1: I have to go with Cable, if CTV charges carriage fees they will be passed onto the cable subscribers. Why pay for local TV.
  • andrewmcintyre: CTV and Canwest are clearly not in the right. The CRTC’s role in this debate is very interesting.
  • chrislabossiere: if I had to pick one of two sides, I would say status quo and Shaw. They are at least fighting for a new way.
  • ZoomJer: I’m for fairness. If you buy a DVD you can’t show it and charge admission. Shaw is in the wrong. I want to see @ctvedmonton stay.
  • paulstrandlund: Shaw. CTV only has 1 local program – the news.
  • tachyondecay: Neither. They’re both in it for money. My local TV (which has nothing to do with CTV) offers little interesting except news.
  • thzatheist: Shaw. How has CTV fared so well this long? Advertising – let’s see them continue. (I only support media bailout if CBC is saved)

Final Thoughts

There’s really nothing “local” about CTV’s campaign. It’s disappointing propaganda, replicated across the network of CTV stations. It might have more of an impact if it actually came from a local perspective.

I don’t think Shaw and the other cable and satellite companies are completely in the clear here either. They are rebroadcasting CTV and Canwest signals without paying for them, and they seem awfully quick to suggest fees would be passed on directly to consumers.

Just because Canada hasn’t had a fee-for-carriage in the past doesn’t mean it shouldn’t in the future. I’m not completely opposed to a fee-for-carriage, but I am opposed to a mandatory fee-for-carriage. An optional one, on the other hand, could be good. I should be able to tell Shaw that I don’t want CTV Edmonton, saving us both the expense.

Of course, CTV and Canwest don’t want that, because then they’d see just how vital Canadians think they are. I think it’s unfortunate that CTV and Canwest are threatening more job cuts and station closures if they don’t get the fee-for-carriage revenue. What they should be doing is innovating, to reduce costs and to ensure they have multiple, steady revenue streams.

If they can’t do that, we should allow them to die. Healthy, innovative businesses will take their place.

Sadly, this whole argument may become irrelevant (or at least delayed) if the rumored $150 million bailout package for the broadcasters turns out to be real.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this issue. What do you think?

UPDATE: It’s worth pointing out that the CBC doesn’t seem particularly interested in joining CTV and Canwest on this issue, despite the fact that they may benefit.

Talking Twitter with CTV Edmonton

It’s no secret that the local media have jumped aboard the Twitter train in recent weeks. They seem completely smitten with it! Almost all the media outlets in Edmonton are now on Twitter in some capacity. The two big television stations, Global and CTV, have been really great about accepting feedback and assistance as they figure out how Twitter can best work for them. A couple weeks ago Karl Kovacs spoke to the Global Edmonton newsroom, and yesterday, I was fortunate enough to speak at CTV (there were also some folks from Access and 91.7 The Bounce in attendance).

I guess “speak” isn’t really the right term. I started with a bullet list of some key concepts (such as terminology and that Twitter Search rocks) but didn’t have any prepared slides or remarks. Instead, I had a browser open and encouraged everyone to fire away with questions. And fire away they did!

Questions ranged from “why do people follow other people” to “how can we best use Twitter during our newscast”. We also took some time to talk about the #teachctv discussion I had started on Twitter in the morning. I think it was a good eye-opener for most in the room to see how quick and easy it was for me to gather a bunch of feedback from the Twitter community. Thanks to everyone who posted a tweet in response.

I don’t know what CTV is going to do with the things we talked about, but the feedback I got was that everyone found the “primer” useful. I think I was able to start some interesting discussions, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with in the weeks ahead.

What I hope they took away from our chat was the following:

  • Links are important! I’d rather see a link than “coming up at 6” and I think most others on Twitter would also.
  • You’ve got to be willing to experiment. Some things will work, others won’t.
  • Twitter will not replace the TV or website, it is simply another tool. If used correctly, it can compliment CTV’s other channels.
  • Twitter is about people and relationships. You’ve got to show that there are humans behind the Twitter accounts! Be personable.

Those points are valid for any business on Twitter of course, not just for CTV.

Thanks to Carrie Doll and her team for the opportunity to discuss my favorite topic! I think it’s great that CTV Edmonton is so keen to utilize Twitter. Exciting times ahead!

To follow CTV on Twitter: @ctvedmonton, @carriedoll, @darylmcintyre, @joshclassen, @JoelGotlib, @robbywilliams, @ErinIsfeld, @davidjamesgreen, @crnkylttlmnky