Why E! & A Channel Are Losing

After recent news that Canwest Global has placed it’s E! Channel stations up for sale, and is thinking of shutting them down if they can’t find a buyer, I decided to put in my 2 cents about why such a thing may be happening. Following further news that CTV’s A Channel, which operates a local station here in London, was shutting down it’s Wingham and Windsor stations, I realized it really needed to be done.

Speaking about E! Channel specifically, I think the network is in trouble mostly due to a large lack of quality programming. Think about it. The entire channel is based around the concept that potential viewers are so obsessed with “celebrity culture” that they will tune-in to shows like Dr. 90210, TMZ.com and True Hollywood Story (THS). I think that potential audience base has already been diluted by equally pointless shows like Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which airs on MuchMoreMusic. I won’t dignify them by linking to them, sorry.

Seriously – when was the last time someone came up to you at work, during break or otherwise, and said “Oh my god! Did you see [insert random E! show here] last night?” With the exception of critically acclaimed shows like How I Met Your Mother and The Biggest Loser, the instances are few I’m sure. Out of a staff of over 40 people in my department where I work, only 2 ever talk of celebrities and news from sources like Perez Hilton or TMZ. Appealing to 2 out of 40+ potential viewers does not equal a business model – and the backgrounds and interests of the people I work with vary widely by age, heritage and general interests. You are far more likely to hear people talking about the last UFC event or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

And let’s take a look at the E! lineup (nevermind that the station sounds like a hallucinogenic drug):

  • Celebrity Apprentice
  • Chelsea Lately
  • Instant Beauty Pageant
  • Janice Dickinson
  • Kath and Kim
  • Knight Rider
  • Party Monsters Cabo
  • The Soup

Really? That’s what you’re trying to entice several hundred thousand people to watch at any one point in time while you’re competing with the likes of a wide array of sports, Grey’s Anatomy, three versions of CSI, three versions of Law & Order and Hell’s Kitchen? Come on E! No wonder you’re being sold – no one’s watching your shows! If no one watches your programming, you can’t sell ad dollars. So the problem is not so much the lack of ad revenue, I would argue that it’s a lack of quality programming to drive viewers to your station, which in turns would drive a decent amount of ad revenue.

If they watch it (viewers), they will come (advertisers).

As for A Channel, well that’s a slightly different issue. Wingham (as of the 2001 census) had a population of 2,885 people. Windsor (as of the 2006 census) had a population of 218,473 – it’s over 320,000 if you include surrounding communities. Being realistic about running a business, especially in Wingham, I would say that driving ad dollars would be relatively tough. I certainly respect the fact that the Windsor station has been going fairly strong for some time now, but when you allow yourself to merge with several other stations across Ontario (the newXX era: i.e. newPL, newWX, etc.) and then to be bought out by a large conglomerate like CTV… well, you’re bound to be scrutinized more and more.

And so it has come to pass that the Wingham and Windsor stations are shutting down. I don’t know why so many people were surprised by the Wingham announcement. With a population of 3,000 and so much of the programming coming from London, why even bother with a separate license? Why would you expect a huge company like CTV to care about maintaining a presence in such a small market? They measure their revenue in billions, not hundreds of thousands. A couple hundred thousand dollars to a company like CTV is more akin to a rounding error.

Again though, the programming is lacklusture at times. I don’t know anyone who watches Fringe and most of the Lost fans I know don’t watch religiously anymore or have stopped completely. Even the morning “news” show, which featured segments with local chefs, personal trainers and paid-for segments by companies like Loblaws, well let’s just say it’s not any better than Canada AM or, worse yet, the Today Show or Good Morning America south of the border.

So in the end, as a viewer and critical thinker, I would say that those are the real reasons for E!’s and A Channel’s troubles. Bad programming = no ad revenue, and big conglomerates don’t care about puny markets that don’t get 7-9% profit margins. Windsor, Wingham – it’s been nice. E! Channel – I hope Global picks up the good shows, like Biggest Loser, How I Met Your Mother and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and puts them on their own network. If not, I’ll watch them on the American stations they air on.