Bell Media hopes to save Book Television by focusing less on shows about actual books, and more on dramas and comedies based on books.
The broadcaster said the channel "has suffered" from low ratings and lacklustre subscription numbers, and needs to turn to a wider variety of programming if it hopes to compete in a crowded market.
It hopes that viewers will tune into dramas and comedies inspired by books, particularly during prime time when it must compete against hundreds of other channels for viewers looking for something a little more peppy than an author interview.
"Book's long-term success is contingent on its ability to increase the size of its subscriber base by offering more attractive programming and it is our hope that approval of these amendments will allow that to happen," the company wrote in a submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
"The nature of service definition specifies that the programming aired on the service must be exclusively based upon printed and published works. We are not seeking to amend this definition but rather provide the service with increased flexibility with respect to the scheduling of drama programming based upon the printed word."
The specialty channel has seen its subscription base fall by about 6 per cent since being taken over by Bell Media in 2010, the company said, and now stands at 926,000. It is usually bundled by television distributors along with other arts-themed channels, such as Bold and Documentary.
Bell said the channel "has suffered from low ratings and has had difficulty growing its subscribers since the service first launched," although data from the CRTC said the channel saw its base almost triple from about 350,000 when it launched in 2001 to close to a million when it was taken over by Bell.
The channel turned a $1.1-million pre-tax profit in 2011, according to the CRTC's most recent data, about the same as the channel was making when it took over the service in 2010. Bell spent $1.5-million on Canadian programming in 2011, down from $1.6-million in 2010.
The channel was licensed with the understanding it would broadcast talk shows, dramas and documentaries based on books. It agreed that only 35 per cent of its programming would be made up of dramas and comedies, but now wants that increased to 50 per cent. It also wants restrictions lifted on the amount of drama and comedy it can show during prime time. It is currently capped at 35 per cent, but wants that cap eliminated so it can have more programming flexibility.
The filing says the channel could attract new viewers if it's allowed to show more comedies and dramas. A sampling of its schedule for April 10 shows two episodes of Writer's Hotlist that are repeated later in the day and four episodes of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
"Allowing Book to schedule [drama and comedy] without restriction during those hours while working within the proposed 50 per cent weekly maximum will not only benefit our current audience, but may also invite new viewers to try the service, which might in turn lead to higher subscription uptake and increased revenues. Such revenues could then in turn be used to reinvest in Canadian programming, benefitting not only Book but the system as a whole," the filing stated.
Book Television was founded in 2000 by CHUM Ltd.-owned Learning and Skills Television of Alberta, and taken over by Bell Media in 2010 when it acquired CTVglobemedia. Its licence was renewed in 2011 for a five-year term.
Its original licence described it as: "Book is Canada's only television channel devoted to the writing that enriches our daily lives – spoken, written, or wired. Book offers programs for readers and viewers of all tastes – mystery, true-crime, romance, classics, non-fiction, comics, and cinema, as well as profiles of both established and up-and-coming authors."