- - Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The United States has historically served as an important political and economic model for many western democracies. This includes its northern neighbor, Canada.

For example, many Canadian conservatives have been impressed with Fox News Channel’s enormous success. The network reaches more than 87 million U.S. households, according to Nielsen’s February 2015 coverage estimates. (This number could be higher, now that its dispute with the Dish Network has been resolved.)

That’s what inspired Kory Teneycke, former director of communication for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to propose a similar concept, the Sun News Network. The owner was Pierre Karl Péladeau, CEO of Quebecor Inc. and (as you may have guessed) the Sun Media newspaper chain.

Sun News was called “Fox News North” by its critics for taking a right-leaning spin on news coverage and political analysis. They wanted to replicate the Fox News model as a viable political alternative to Canada’s various liberal media organizations.

At the same time, the two networks were different.

Fox News shows are professionally done, from impressive set designs to visually stunning graphics. The owner, 21st Century Fox and Chairman/CEO Rupert Murdoch, provides critical funding to improve and enhance its programming. The hosts, including Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace, are astute and entertaining. There’s a wide variety of intelligent contributors, including George F. Will, Charles Krauthammer, Juan Williams and Brit Hume.

As for Sun News, the experiment didn’t succeed. On Feb. 13, the network closed its doors after nearly 4 years on the air.

What happened?

Mr. Péladeau, unlike Mr. Murdoch, didn’t have limitless amounts of money. The sets and graphics suffered as a result. Sun News was way down on the TV dial, and was only offered in about 40% of all Canadian households. There was a lack of respect by the media - some of which was, most regrettably, self-created.

Its programs had average viewership numbers of around 8,000, which were very low by Canadian standards. The network was also a money pit: it lost $17 million CDN in 2012 and $14.8 million CDN in 2013, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Meanwhile, there was another problem that Sun News couldn’t overcome.

Larger Canadian TV networks have received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars over the years, based on mandatory carriage by cable and satellite companies as well as a per-subscriber fee. The CBC, the country’s public broadcaster, also gets roughly $1 billion CDN in annual funding from the federal government.

Sun News received nothing. It failed in its attempt to get mandatory carriage, although the CRTC ruled that cable and satellite providers had to offer the network in its TV packages.

Unfortunately, it came too late. The Sun was about to permanently set.

This led to a temporary restructuring of conservative punditry on Canadian TV. There were very few of us left once the dust settled. I’m one of them, since I appear weekly as a political pundit on CTV News Channel. Other talented commentators include Gerry Nicholls, Marni Soupcoff, Alise Mills, Keith Beardsley, and former Sun News host Jerry Agar.

As well, the chances of another small “c” conservative TV network in Canada starting up is very remote. There is no money to be made, and this type of vanity project isn’t in high demand.

Hence, some Canadian conservatives are exploring another U.S.-inspired model: promoting their ideas on the Internet.

A new conservative website, The Rebel, has just started up. Three former Sun News hosts - Michael Coren, Brian Lilley, and the driving force, Ezra Levant - are releasing regular videos of political commentary. They’re trying to pattern it after Glenn Beck’s successful and influential website, The Blaze. (Another website, True North Report, co-founded by former Sun News reporter Faith Goldy, is also being developed.)

It’s too early to tell whether The Rebel will succeed. It’s certainly an ambitious project. Alas, the deep American pockets needed to fund these types of business ventures are rarely found in Canada.

At the same time, there are no timelines or guidelines to follow on The Rebel. There are no regulatory bodies that can restrict free speech and free thought. The videos can be viewed at any time. The website currently has free content, and could eventually offer paid content for subscribers.

Canadian conservatives will survive on TV, and live to fight another day. There are also exciting new possibilities waiting to be discovered on the Internet, too.

Thanks, America. We owe you, again.

Michael Taube is a Washington Times columnist and former speechwriter with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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