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Aboriginal TV network seeks U.S. expansion

APTN says interest in indigenous programs high

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In the last few weeks, more than 500 people have been arrested at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota as they protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2016 (2208 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the last few weeks, more than 500 people have been arrested at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota as they protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It’s a news story that has received scant attention from mainstream American news outlets.

A small Winnipeg broadcaster has big plans to do something about that.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS APTN CEO Jean La Rose shows off the new studio at its expanded headquarters on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. APTN wants to launch a U.S. network and a Canadian radio network.

Aboriginal Peoples Television Network — the last remaining broadcaster in Winnipeg that once hosted the headquarters of Canwest and WTN — is attempting to launch an American version of its Canadian network, which is in its 18th year of operation.

There has been a flurry of meetings with executives with increasing authority at several of the major U.S. cable companies. It is far from a done deal, but at least one of them may be in a position to give the green light within several months.

On top of that, APTN has its sights set on launching a new Canadian radio network.

Jean La Rose, the CEO of APTN, which bills itself as the world’s first independent national aboriginal broadcaster, said research shows the U.S. market is ripe for television content produced by and for the indigenous audience south of the border.

“There is nothing like it in the U.S.” said La Rose, who hopes to be able to capture the television-viewing eyeballs of 22 million recognized native Americans and those of native American descent and heritage.

“The data show that within the native American community, the level of interest is very high, between 80 and 90 per cent of people who would want to have a service like that and are willing to pay for it,” La Rose said.

The research shows the interest is so high that U.S. cable companies — which APTN absolutely needs to earn revenue from carriage fees — don’t believe it.

“In their view, it’s not typical for interest to be so high,” he said. “Maybe they think our questions were slanted. They want to go back and take a different approach… to confirm our data.”

He’s received commitment from some of the smaller carriers that have said if the network launches, they will carry it, but their subscriber base is not sufficient to make it financially viable. That’s why APTN is targeting the largest carriers.

APTN executives have been spending time in Ottawa these days where five radio licences in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver may be up for grabs.

Aboriginal Voices Radio recently appealed a CRTC ruling that revoked its licence 18 months ago. If it loses the appeal, the commission has said it would prefer an indigenous operator take over those frequencies. La Rose said APTN has put a solid proposal on the table. A decision on those licences may be made within the next few months.

It may seem like a preposterous proposition for a $45-million-per-year, not-for-profit charitable operation to simultaneously launch an American television network and a Canadian radio network, but APTN has confounded naysayers in the past.

‘The data show that within the native American community the level of interest is very high, between 80 and 90 per cent of people who would want to have a service like that and are willing to pay for it’– Jean La Rose, chief executive officer, APTN

Ensconced in its striking new Portage Avenue building, which features a northern lights-inspired metal spire, the 100-person headquarters is up for the challenge.

“Over the years we have taken on a lot like Olympics coverage and all sorts of projects that people thought were beyond our capabilities, and we have pulled it off,” La Rose said. “We’re confident in our crew here in Winnipeg and across the country. We can pull off the American network and radio and whatever we set our mind to.”

La Rose and his team have lined up the financial requirements, which will be modest at first, and have beefed up its Winnipeg digital broadcast hub where the U.S. service would be transmitted from initially.

The plan is to start slow from a capital point of view with U.S. broadcast licensing rights likely being the largest expense at the outset. APTN has secured some of those rights in advance.

On the news-gathering side, it’s stripped away costs in its 14 Canadian centres — closing bricks-and-mortar offices and deploying studio-in-a-box technology.

The U.S. launch would be predominantly Canadian content at the outset, but partnerships with American producers are in the works.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

History

Updated on Saturday, November 19, 2016 10:25 AM CST: Photo added.

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