Is it too early to run an obit for Canada's flagship music video channel? Given the severity of the latest round of cutbacks and layoffs, the station is barely even on life support, and it's clear that current parent company Bell Media intends to starve it of support until it disappears. Even if there is a miraculous, unexpected transfusion of cash, there doesn't appear to be any realistic long-term hope for MuchMusic. Video may have killed the radio star, but the internet is the new sheriff in town. Sure, people do still watch music videos, but they want to see them on demand, not wait around glued to the tube hoping to catch their favourite acts.
Growing up in the 80s in rural Ontario, I was always jealous of my suburban friends who had cable, mostly because it meant they had access to MuchMusic. Compared to most commercial radio, the station seemed edgier and way more exciting - and not just because I was able to see my favourite pop stars. When I eventually moved into a place that had satellite access to American MTV, it was a poor substitute for their cooler Canadian cousin. The channel's founders, John Martin and Moses Znaimer, had created something far more grassroots than the American model.
Even as the station grew up, it remained a key entry point to the Canadian independent music scene. For young musicians, appearing on shows like the Wedge proved to your parents that you weren't wasting your time, impressed your friends, and exposed you to a whole culture of music consumers. Electric Circus broadcasted dance music to a wider audience, and RapCity helped legitimize hip-hop in a country that wasn't always super receptive to the art form.
Unfortunately, the media consolidation trends of the last decade have not been kind to the station. Bell Globemedia took over the channel in 2006 when they acquired CHUM, and then became CTVglobemedia. It was then bought by Bell Canada in 2011, and became Bell Media. In 2010, CTV tried to get the CRTC to reduce its requirement that 50 per cent of content be music videos to only 25 per cent, but was denied. Nevertheless, Bell Media dropped "Music" from the name in 2011, and in 2013 began rebroadcasting more and more content from the Comedy Network.
Still, many felt hopeful when the Wedge was revived, with Fucked Up's Damian Abraham taking over hosting duties. In recent times, MUCH even saw a modest increase in subscription revenue, but that couldn't offset the plummeting advertising numbers. By slashing almost all original programming, parent company BCE, Inc. are signalling that they do not believe those advertising dollars can be lured back.
This leaves a generation of Canadian musicians wondering if they should even bother filling out grant applications to produce music videos, since it's increasingly unlikely they'll ever be aired.
Then again, maybe that's not so important anymore. Youth culture hasn't been defined by television for quite some time, even if for a couple decades MuchMusic felt like it was central to how our nation's identity was being carved out.
Had there been more time, and more funds, maybe Much could have repositioned itself. But unless something dramatic happens soon, it appears that the window to save Canada's music video channel is nearly shut.