MUCHMUSIC

Canadian Music Television Programming Service

MuchMusic, a twenty-four hour Canadian music television station, a satellite to cable programming service, was launched nationally in September 1984. In a satellite to cable structure that relied for its success on the massive penetration of cable coverage of urban Canada, MuchMusic was part of the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television Commission) regulated introduction of specialty services on cable two years after the introduction of pay television. Similar to its U.S. counterpart MTV, MuchMusic was instrumental in setting the national agenda of Canadian popular music tastes. The predominant format of the station was and continues to be videoclips of artists or music videos received from record companies free of charge. A French sister station, MusiquePlus was established in 1986 primarily for the Quebec market.

Stylistically, MuchMusic bears the marks of its creative origin. The station's managing team was connected to the syndicated New Music program (1978 - )developed and sold by Citytv of Toronto. The executive producer of the New Music program and the original owner and manager of Citytv in Toronto was Moses Znaimer. Along with John Martin, Znaimer designed the "live" emphasis of the set of MuchMusic that has made MuchMusic so distinctively different from both MTV and most of the rest of Canadian television. The set of MuchMusic is the actual video paraphernalia of a television station and is inherently studio-less. The video jockeys or VJs negotiate themselves around the various machines, lights and screens to chat with the technicians and producers between their introductions of new videos. Indeed, because of this exposure technicians have even moved into before-the-camera roles. The intention behind this design is to structure an environment that resonates with the youthfulness and exuberance of popular music itself. The set, which often moves with portable cameras to exterior locations, produces a sense of immediacy and spontaneity that, through its weekly reach, has captured the sought-after demographic of youths and young adults in Canada.

MuchMusic is owned and operated by CHUM Limited of Toronto and the name itself is a play on the corporate name. CHUM operates the only private radio network in the country and has successfully owned and operated a number of music oriented radio stations. CHUM also is the owner of Citytv (purchased in 1981 from Moses Znaimer), a Toronto based free-to-air UHF station that has been distributed by cable to most of Southern Ontario, the most heavily populated region of the country. The background in music broadcasting allowed CHUM to successfully win the licence of the first and only English language music television station in Canada. The facilities of Citytv in Toronto served as the first home for MuchMusic.

Self-titled "the nation's music station", MuchMusic gradually moved to a format that allowed it to target and promote itself like other television services. Originally a flow service that resembled radio in its seamless quality, MuchMusic relied on its mixed rotation of videoclips and the personalities of the vjs to maintain the audience. Later, however, the station began making identifiable programs that would at least allow it to garner the free publicity of listings in TV program guides and to sell portions of time for specific advertisers. It still maintains eight hours of programming which is taped and repeated three times to fill the 24-hour schedule. In the 1980s these programming blocks included the Pepsi Powerhour and the singly sponsored Coca-Cola Countdown. The "spotlight" feature also transformed the mix of rotations of current music into a half-hour retrospective on an individual artist's or group's career. To coordinate with a slightly different demographic of daytime listeners, MuchMusic programmed a show called "Mushmusic" that showcased softer and more romantic ballads. Other programs also coordinated with and competed with the rest of television. A late night weekend program called "City Limits" attempted to showcase the more avant-garde, alternative visuals and music. In a more primetime evening slot a shorter segment, "Combat du Clip," was programmed; here a returning favourite videoclip faced a challenger clip.

MuchMusic's licence requirements have also posed problems for what kinds of programming are included under the definition of music. In the mid-1980s, MuchMusic was not allowed to show movies, even those with a musical theme or premise. It was likewise questionable whether television programs such as The Partridge Family or The Monkees could be shown on the station. In recent years there has been a relaxation of what constitutes music programming and this has allowed MuchMusic a freer hand in organizing a schedule that maintains its key marketing demographics of youth and young adult. Regulatory requirements have demanded, however, that a greater range of musical material be part of the national music television station. Hence, MuchMusic programmed the country music half-hour Outlaws and Heroes. The CRTC has likewise continued to maintain that the station must stick close to its licence mandate: its top -rated program of 1993, the cartoon series Ren and Stimpy, did not meet a minimum musical content rule and was ordered removed.


Courtesy of MuchMusic

From its inception, MuchMusic has also provided a percentage of its revenues( currently 5% of its gross revenues) for the production of Canadian independent music videos. The company, Videofact Foundation produces clips for emerging popular music groups in both English and French and has spent 6 million dollars to produce 820 videos in its first ten years. The production of Canadian sources allows MuchMusic easily to surpass its 10% Canadian content quota established in consultation with the CRTC. This connection to a national popular culture is differently constructed than that produced by public broadcasters such as the CBC. MuchMusic's stance is thus more outward than inward looking. It has actively sought out other markets for its program package. Currently it is available to over four million cable subscribers through various services in the United States. It has a reach that includes both the United Kingdom and parts of Latin America. The station has been negotiating for inclusion on DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite) services for greater coverage of a complete North America. The station format/concept has been sold to New Zealand and MuchMusic has showcased well in Europe, often outdrawing its more established rival MTV.

MuchMusic's success at forming a national youth audience has ensured its economic survival in the multichannel Canadian television environment and has allowed it to claim in its most recent licence renewal application that it has provided "a state of mind for a generation." Its 1994 reach of 5.6 million Canadian households and its pretax profit of almost 6 million indicate that it has successfully forged a national music culture. Its recent forays into international broadcasting indicate its ability to negotiate the increasingly global television economy by providing a clearly branded and identifiable channel.

-David Marshall

FURTHER READING

Flint, Joe. "MuchMusic Confirms Rainbow Coalition." Variety (Los Angeles, California), 24 May 1994.

Marshall, David. "Videomusic: The Converging Interests of Promotional Culture." In, Sansom, Gareth, editor. Watching all the Music. Working Paper in Communications. Montreal: McGill University, 1987.

"MuchMusic and Much More." Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Canada), 29 August 1994.

Pawlett, Steve. "Ten Years of MuchMusic." Cablecaster, September 1994.

Turbide, Diane. "The Show Moves On: MuchMusic and TSN Bid For New Viewers." Maclean's (Toronto, Canada), 4 September 1989.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English; Citytv; Music on Television; Znaimer, Moses