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Friday, February 13, 2015

Sun News Network is no more

There will be plenty of gloating in far left circles in Canada as the chatter from the Sun News Network went silent this morning. The four-year old cable news network abruptly went off the air following years of financial loses and a breakdown of negotiations for its acquisition by Moses Znaimer's Zoomer media.

Most journalists, even those who despised Sun TV's brash, unabashedly conservative slant, aren't welcoming the development too joyously, however. The 200 jobs that will be lost with Sun TV's shutdown is indicative of not only the defunct network's difficulty to expand its audience, but of the shrinking market facing individual news channels and newspapers in general. Challenges from multiple Internet news sources, the abundance of cable news competition, and the advent of blogs as a news alternative have all combined to erode the once monolithic control the mainstream media had over the flow of news.

The end of Sun News is a sad, but not unexpected development after the CRTC refused to put the network on an equal footing with its cable news competitors. Sun TV provided a unique voice among mainstream news in Canada which has become almost uniform in its outlook and biases. It's detractors derided Sun News hosts for using terms like "The Media Party" and "the consensus media" to describe their competition. But there was a tremendous amount of accuracy in those descriptions.

It wasn't through active collusion, but the fact that the small pool of professional Canadian news reporters and journalists are, even in the case of competitors, often former colleagues. The rest of them generally know each other, frequently socialize, and they have an increasingly uniform worldview from which little politically incorrect variation is tolerated.

Making matters more unfortunate is the dumbing-down of the profession in general. Long gone are the days of William L. Shirer and Edward Murrow when reporters were intimately familiar with their subjects and courageously sought out corruption. New reporters are frequently barely literate, very few have anything approaching above average intelligence, and as often as not, they act as little more than stenographers for their preferred sources.

That's where Sun News was different. Their on-air hosts, like Michael Coren, Brian Lilley, and Ezra Levant are all exceptionally intelligent people who actively courted controversy.  They were unafraid to take on the issues that made the rest of the media establishment squirm because someone might get offended.

That's a brave position to take these days, when every disgruntled Tom, Dick and Jane with a computer and a chip on their shoulder is examining each word uttered in public, looking for an opportunity to be outraged and to launch a campaign demanding punishment and ostracism. 

The reality is that even though Sun TV didn't make money, it made a difference. There were many instances where it shamed the rest of the media into covering stories they didn't want to, recently, particularly for the many blunders by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. It also was unafraid to identify the extent of, and confront Islamist radicalism in Canada which the rest of the media actually goes out of its way to cover up because of its multicultural sensitivities. We've seen how those sensitivities translate to cowardice and can enable some of the worst forms of extremism and abuse.

And the fact is that even it's detractors incessantly talked about Sun News. When was the last time people discussed something a host said on CBC Newsworld or the CTV News Channel? For that matter, who can even name a host on one of those networks. By contrast, Sun News was that bright candle that burned out quickly.

As someone who had been on Sun TV as a commentator on about fifty occasions, I'll miss it because it was fun. But as Jay Currie pointed out, its politics weren't the only cause of Sun TV's demise. The format and content of its shows were repetitive and the network lacked variety.

For bloggers who don't swallow the party-line and who provide alternative outlooks, the departure of Sun TV may come with a silver lining. Because with their voice silenced, the rest of us, who are prepared to speak out against the tyranny and deceit of political correctness, have become that much more necessary.


Skippy Stalin said...

I'm not as convinced as everyone is that mandatory carriage was as important as everyone is making it out to be, and it should be pointed out that Kory promised that Sun wouldn't seek it during the launch.

But as I understand it, SNN was available on basic cable throughout the GTA on Rogers and Shaw. Let's say that that's a million homes, which seems reasonable.

The network often struggled to break 10,000 viewers during prime time. SNN was lower on the dial than Fox News on my cable package, and Fox seems to be doing all right.

My issue with phrases with "Media Party", "consensus media" and "state broadcaster" - particularly when they're repeated ad nauseum, as they were - is that they betray a political intent. And the network was riddled with campaign operatives.

Another issue is that the network seemed to be to the right of even most conservatives in this country, which is an almost ridiculous level of narrowcasting.

But I know that you and a number of our friends enjoyed going on there, so I am sorry about that.

Richard K said...

In prime time it did skew to a very socially conservative audience, even though they had hosts like David Aiken, who were more centrist, earlier in the daily schedule. So yeah, having 3 shows back-to-back in similar formats covering similar, if not identical subject matter is not the best TV formula.

Jay Currie had it right. They could have done OK, regardless of the political slant, if they had mixed things up with different types of shows, more pop-culture that talked about rather than just poo-poo'd current trends, more celebrity- focused stuff, which is the biggest eyeball magnet, etc.

It's not like that wasn't suggested to them, but for the last year plus, they said they didn't have the resources to make any changes.

Skippy Stalin said...

Well, at that point, they went into a spiral of circular reasoning.

From day one they couldn't get an advertiser as prestigious as the Sham-Wow guy because the programming sucked, but not spending to improve programming served only to drive advertisers even further away.

Of course, controversial content doesn't help there, either. You don't get better ratings than Rush Limbaugh, but national brands won't go near him. Remember the ads on Glenn Beck's Fox News show? Same thing.

I agree with Jay to a certain extent; SNN was much more like MSNBC than it was Fox, bad programming and constant complaining.

Finally, Sun News proved once and for all that you can't do big, splashy extravaganzas on Canadian TV, regardless of who produces it. Anyone with the talent to pull it off split for Hollywood or New York years ago.

Skippy Stalin said...

The reason I brought up the GTA availability is because it wasn't starving for a demographic.

In the GTA, Rob and Doug Ford got hundreds of thousands of votes each, ans Stephen Harper holds a bunch of seats. But Sun seemingly couldn't get as much as a tenth of those voters to watch. And that's just in the Toronto area. I suspect that it's even worse nationally.

Jonathan said...

No matter how you slice it, this is a sad day. And a dark day for dissenting voices, voices that desperately need to be heard.

I sincerely hope that a leaner, meander conservative news organization can rise up from the ashes. Perhaps it's time for the Netflix model?

Skippy Stalin said...

I'm not sure that there's any great need for a "conservative news organization" at all. It's hard to argue your independence whilst clinging to a heard mentality.

Conservatives, in my opinion, are smart enough to know what to think without a bunch of television executives telling them. For the life of me, I can't understand why anybody so desperately needs the positive reinforcement of the people who green-light three-quarters of the horsehit that's on television today.

If conservatives need that, they may as well start a knitting circle, which isn't as likely to lose nearly a hundred million dollars and convince everyone that they don't know how to run a business.

I wouldn't look to Sun's failure for any lessons. Instead, I'd look to Fox, which at least understands that it's TV before its Republican.

Besides, the best television today, with the exception of AMC, is from pay services, like HBO, Showtime, etc. And if the market won't support that, so be it. But I don't know how you argue, like Sun did, that the government is incompetent while demanding the same goodies from it that everyone else gets.