So, we know ethnic television. We understand the crucial role it plays in helping new Canadians integrate and succeed in this country while maintaining a connection to where they’re from. And new Canadians aren’t just an important audience, they’re a large one: equivalent to the population of Quebec. For all those reasons, we strongly believe that now is the time to take ethnic television in Canada to the next level.
For years, Canadian television consumers have only really had one multilingual television brand to choose from: OMNI. OMNI Television broadcasts third-language (in other words, non-English or French) programming across Canada under a mandatory-carriage license. That means that every cable and satellite provider in Canada carries it, and every customer gets it. You could say OMNI TV is omnipresent.
There’s no question that OMNI has played a groundbreaking role in delivering television to a multiethnic audience over the past several decades. But OMNI is based on an outdated model. Programs in languages like Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi get preferential, prime-time placement on OMNI’s schedule. Other languages get relegated to off-hour timeslots and lesser airtime.
Today, OMNI is just like your old VCR in our on-demand, streaming world. It still does the job it was designed to do. But is there a better option?
The issue is up for discussion today because — right now — the CRTC is considering new applications for the mandatory-carriage license now held by OMNI’s owner, Rogers. To be fully transparent — we have submitted our own application for that license, for a new service called Voices.
Voices is unlike any kind of multi-ethnic television service Canadians have ever seen – or heard. It will deliver multi-ethnic programming in ten languages, through simultaneous translation, for 55 hours a week. The languages will be chosen based on what the data tells us are the ten most-spoken third languages in Canadian homes. And ten is just in the first year – the number of languages carried on Voices will grow to 25 after three years.
Voices is built on the same technology that CBC uses to broadcast Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi. Indian broadcasters have delivered a similar service for years now. What we’re proposing isn’t a radical technological change. It’s just a more effective use of tools we already have to create a better viewing experience for Canadians – have one of the most diverse viewerships in the world. It is a viewership that is, in our view and the view of many others, being underserved by the status quo.
Our competitors don’t want to change the way we deliver multi-ethnic television. If it isn’t broken, they’d argue, why fix it? Frankly, that’s an argument VCR manufacturers would have agreed with. History shows us that Canada’s major media companies do not embrace change.
As entrepreneurs and innovators, we thrive on change. We embrace it, and pursue it relentlessly, because change is how we drive progress. And in the end, it is Canadian television viewers who benefit.
As broadcasters privileged with work in this great country, under license from the Federal government and on behalf of the Canadian people, delivering the best possible product is – and should always remain – our highest priority.
Slava Levin is the Chief Executive Officer of Markham-based Ethnic Channels Group. Hari Srinivas is the President. Learn more about Voices at www.voicestv.ca.
© Philippine Canadian Inquirer