Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/2/2015 (2413 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s an ending that was as inevitable as, well, the setting of the sun.
Sun News Network faded to black early Friday, a couple of months short of four years after it arrived on Canadian airwaves with a boldly shouted promise to "change TV history."
It was going to shake up the TV-news game. It was going to provide a much-needed alternative to this country’s limply left-leaning traditional networks. It was going to engage in "hard news" and "straight talk" that reframed Canada’s political discourse.
It didn’t. And years from now, it will probably be noted that the only way in which Sun News Network changed TV history was by becoming a mostly overlooked footnote in it.
In the end, this isn’t a story about unrealized potential or missed opportunity or the unjust stifling of a voice that was clamouring to be heard. It’s a simple case of the failure of a product for which there was no market.
For a variety of reasons, Sun News Network was a channel that almost no one bothered to watch. After weeks of hype and over-aggressive advertising (including the installation of one of its female news anchors as a Sunshine Girl in the days leading up to its launch), Sun News Network arrived in April 2011 with an amateurish and low-budget look and a less-than-compelling roster of on-air personalities and shows. And even after the bugs were worked out and the talent bench was shortened, it still maintained the air of a TV enterprise that was doing things on the cheap.
As unimpressive as the packaging was, however, the real problem for Sun News Network was in its agenda, its approach and even its initial inspiration. By seeking to become the voice of the underserved (by traditional "lefty" media) conservative-thinking right, SNN’s creators miscalculated the size and level of disgruntlement of its target audience.
Simply put, Canada is not nearly as polarized a nation as its neighbour to the south. U.S. politics are all about extreme views and ideological gridlock, while this country’s attitude toward political debate skews more toward seeing which party can more effectively claim the middle ground.
Fox News, the U.S. cable giant that SNN clearly sought to emulate, has had two Democratic presidents to rail against and demonize — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — and the us-vs.-them mentality that Fox News has been able to fuel with its right-wing rhetoric has helped to rally a sizable and faithful audience.
For all of Sun News Network’s brief existence, Canada has had Stephen Harper at the helm. It’s a lot harder to whip up feelings of discontentment and alienation when your guy — the Conservative guy, the RIGHT guy — is in control.
Perhaps more than anything else, though, Sun News Network’s inevitable failure may have been a result of the foundation on which it was built. One always had the impression that for Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch, creating a right-of-centre "news" channel was an ideological crusade that happily also turned out to be a hugely profitable enterprise.
In the case of Sun News Network and its parent company, Quebecor, however, this always seemed to be a business proposition first and a political ideal second. The question was whether SNN’s owners had the necessary ideological zeal and the willingness to keep spending until their TV version of the Sun finally rose.
On Friday morning, that question was answered.
Supporters of Sun News Network will lament its passing by claiming that its demise is a direct result of the federal broadcast regulator’s failure to afford SNN mandatory-carriage status on basic cable alongside Canada’s other TV news providers. It certainly didn’t help, but that decision alone wasn’t what made SNN fail.
Its inability to create compelling content and find a sizable like-minded audience was.
And last year, when rival newspaper giant Postmedia bought up Quebecor’s Sun Media Corp.’s collection of English-language newspapers, SNN was not part of the deal. After that, and the subsequent failure to find a buyer for SNN, it was really just a matter of deciding when to pull the plug.
In a nation of 35 million people, Sun News Network’s average viewership remained mired in the four-figure range (that’s thousands; not even TENS of thousands). By any standard you choose to apply, that’s a catastrophic lack of popularity, not to mention an unsustainable commercial-TV model.
To paraphrase an old TV-news pundit of my acquaintance, it might have been cheaper to rent a van and drive prime-time SNN commentator Ezra Levant to deliver his rants in individual viewers’ homes rather than spending what it cost to put his show on the air.
Sun News Network didn’t work because it was unable to make very many people care that it existed.
The Sun went up, but not very high, and then the Sun went down, as expected. And Canadians went about their daily business without paying it any mind at all.
After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.