As YTV celebrates its tenth anniversary, it’s hard to imagine the Canadian television landscape without a dedicated kids channel.
Kevin Shea, president of YTV from March 1988 to late 1993 (now president of Toronto-based Global Television Network), recalls the struggle to get such a channel off the ground.
Three separate attempts had met roadblocks before YTV received the approval for its license application from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on December 1, 1987. From 1975 to 1977, now-defunct CUC Broadcasting operated the Canadian Children’s Channel, a six-hour-a-day programming block that aired in Toronto, Vancouver and St. John, under an experimental license from the CRTC, which was not renewed. The CRTC again turned down applications in 1979 from cable company Rogers Cablesystems and in 1984 from CUC Broadcasting. ‘There were real concerns [on the part of the CRTC],’ says Shea, ‘that cable should be restricted to being a distributor, and not a programmer.’
But arguments in favor of a Canadian kids channel were mounting. While kids had a lot of preschool programming to choose from, ‘there was nothing for kids after four o’clock,’ says Shea. South of the border, Nickelodeon had been running since 1979, when it began as a local programming block. And much of the programming by Canadian producers that was airing on Nickelodeon was not shown in Canada for lack of an outlet.
As soon as YTV was granted a license, the specialty channel took on a life of its own and it hasn’t stopped growing since. By its September 1 launch, acquisitions and three original shows-in-house productions YTV Rocks and YTV Hits and the co-production Wild Guess-filled the 24-hour-a-day schedule and 3.7 million cable households subscribed to the channel. With these subscriber revenues, says Shea, YTV had a financial resource base to create more original shows, co-productions and specials such as the YTV Achievement Awards, all of which also helped to attract more advertising dollars.
Today, 7.6 million cable households subscribe to YTV and the channel reaches 9.5 million viewers age two-plus weekly, with as many as one-third being adults. YTV has aired more than 1,000 hours of programs in which it was a co-production partner.
YTV has spawned a second channel, the preschool service Treehouse TV, which launched last November. YTV is also a shareholder in the newly launched animation channel Teletoon.
Susan Mandryk, YTV’s vice president of marketing, says the challenge today remains the same as it has since day one. ‘We’re always trying to stay one step ahead of where [kids are] going or at least try to keep in touch with where they are.’