Channel Zero buying two E!s

The deal with Canwest hands the troubled Hamilton and Montreal stations over to the cablecaster, while news, movies will fill the CHCH schedule.

Canwest Global Communications has begun to shift its struggling E!-branded stations with specialty and pay broadcaster Channel Zero picking up CHCH in Hamilton and CJNT in Montreal.

Channel Zero and Canwest did not specify a selling price as part of their sales agreement, revealed Tuesday. And Channel Zero VP and GM Cal Millar would not be drawn on whether his small-market purchases are modeled on Shaw Communications’earlier purchase move to purchase three A-branded stations from CTV for $1 each, a deal which CTV announced late Tuesday has been called off.

But Millar did indicate his deal with Canwest comes with spending obligations, including a pledge to secure local programming and all jobs at the two conventional TV stations.

Channel Zero will also radically reshape programming at both stations, as CHCH goes to an all-news format from dawn until 8 pm, followed by movies and music videos. And by jettisoning American strip series, the Hamilton station will shed costs and lift its local programming hours from 36.5 hours a week currently to over 100 hours.

Millar says that the CHCH morning, noon and supper-hour news format will go unchanged, with a question mark over only the 11 pm newscast.

In Montreal, Millar said CJNT will stick to its multicultural mandate, with an obligation to air 13.5 hours of local ethnic programming per week, but add more foreign-language movies, music videos and multicultural hosts.

Unlike CHCH, CJNT does not have a local newsgathering operation in place.

‘It’s a different approach, a different business model,’ Millar said of the overall programming plan Channel Zero has drawn up for the Hamilton and Montreal stations.

He added that movies represent a business which Channel Zero knows well as it operates Movieola – The Short Film Channel and Silver Screen Classics.

Channel Zero also has a movie pipeline through Ouat Media, its film and new media distribution business.

The TV station purchases are also conditional on CRTC approval, to which a change of ownership application will be made shortly, and Canwest securing a one-year extension of CHCH’s current collective agreement with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union.

Employees at the Hamilton and Montreal stations will also have to agree to unspecified pension and benefits concessions.

Canwest said investment bank RBC Capital Markets will continue to shop the three remaining E! stations – CHCA in Red Deer, CHBC in Kelowna and CHEK in Victoria – as it focuses on its main Global Television network.

‘We believe that this sale, once complete, will represent the best opportunity for these stations, the communities they serve and the employees who work there,’ Canwest Broadcasting president Peter Viner said in a statement.

Selling the Hamilton and Montreal TV stations is the latest move by Canwest Global to shed costs and raise cash to service a ballooning debt load.

Canwest also intends to integrate its remaining Global Television network with the 13 specialty channels that it runs in partnership with Goldman Sachs & Co.

From Playback Daily