Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Analysis: ABC Spark


If you ever needed proof that YTV should not have shunted out "older youth" programming to other cable networks, look no further than ABC Spark's schedule as of late. Having moved reruns of YTV sitcoms (and Open Heart) to Disney Channel Canada, Corus Entertainment has stuffed ABC Spark with the same recycled lifestyle crap that airs on the former Shaw Media lifestyle networks. That, and Rookie Blue reruns in the mornings.

Seriously, is this what CanCon has come to?

Freeform, true to its name, is a network with no distinctive identity. It's rebrand from ABC Family signified that the channel has grown up, no longer identified as a network for family-friendly shows, but as a network for mature girls and their families. At least, that's what their current slate of programming is telling me. It's a mismash of melodramatic programming, edgy comedies, and generic reality shows that women would like, but any other viewer (males, in particular) wouldn't give these shows the time of day.

On ABC Spark, the only Freeform programming you'll see on a regular basis are sitcoms like Baby Daddy. No Switched at Birth and no Fosters. The only time you'll see them or any other original show is when new episodes are premiering, unless it's Pretty Little Liars, which now premieres on Bravo (Seriously?) and airs reruns on Fashion Television Channel (OH, COME ON!), or Shadowhunters, which is a Netflix exclusive in Canada.

So they don't air Freeform shows, yet they have plenty of room for reruns of Just for Laughs: Gags and America's Funniest Home Videos? Apparently, Corus hasn't already overexposed those shows enough!

ABC Spark is the perfect analogy for what American-branded networks are to Canadians: a cheap knock-off of the genuine article that's lazily programmed with the most barebones lineup which exists as straight up filler for when new programming from the American network isn't airing.

Compare it to FX Canada. Rather than try to emulate the American channel, Rogers has used the FX brand to launch its own competitor to Showcase (and a crappy knockoff of FXX) and programmed a coherent and focused schedule that complements FX's original shows.

Its unfair to compare ABC Spark to Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, or Disney XD, because I assume all three networks keep their original shows in exclusivity, whereas Freeform's programming could end up in reruns on some other network years down the road. But at the end of the day, Nickelodeon airs Nickelodeon shows. Cartoon Network airs Cartoon Network shows, and Disney XD airs Disney XD shows, because that's what viewers subscribe to these channels for.

ABC Spark is indecent because they don't air enough programming from Freeform, nor do they have enough meaningful programming to warrant its target audience to tune into the channel outside of primetime. This wouldn't be such as problem if Corus didn't already own so many channels before acquiring those of Shaw Media. So many of Corus' channels overlap with those of Shaw's, to the point where they end up airing the same shows.

Corus should not have given ABC Family shows their own dedicated cable channel in 2012, they should have aired these shows on YTV as compensation for the closure of Bionix. Without any teen-targeting programming, YTV has become absolutely worthless after hours because, unlike Teletoon, they've completely alienated half of the audience for any successful kids network: the audience that's awake when the kids are asleep.

Nickelodeon has Nick at Nite, Cartoon Network has Adult Swim, and Disney Channel isn't worth a damn. Family Channel was quick to bring back older viewers alienated by Disney Channel's sitcoms with the teen-targeting F2N and Degrassi: Next Class.

Speaking of Degrassi, it's a lucky break that ABC Spark's direct competitor, Bell Media's MTV Canada, is actually doing worse. With genre protection being phased out, MTV is no longer obligated to air talk shows (Remember, this used to be talktv). However, MTV has decided to fill out their daytime schedule with nothing but Degrassi reruns, being that its the only show Bell owns that can support such a schedule. No variety whatsoever: just a lone teen drama, a drop of MTV programming, and reruns of Campus PD, plus whatever Canadian show Bell can use.

Between ABC Spark and MTV, I'd say the market for millennial-targeting networks in Canada is effectively dead. But while I don't how well Viceland is doing here, its at least looking better than these two. Viceland has a different voice, different programming, and a different attitude. It has all the irreverence MTV should have and targets a demographic that networks like ABC Spark have outright ignored. I'd say give this network a look.

With ABC Spark, life has gotten a lot darker.

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