Paul Reid, Station Manager at CXCX-TV in Kingston, Ontario angrily crumpled the first draft of a letter he was writing. Three days earlier, on November 23, 1998, Paul had received a letter from the Kingston Status of Women Group. The letter insisted that the station change the format of "20-Minute Workout," an exercise program which CXCX-TV broadcast under license from the program's Canadian producers.
CXCX-TV served approximately 180,000 homes in the Kingston area. The station was the only one authorized to broadcast locally by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC). However, CXCX-TV did not enjoy a monopoly over television viewers. Some 80% of the homes in Kingston received cable transmission, which meant that most viewers could select one channel out of as many as 17, at any time during the day or night.
While CXCX-TV was owned privately, the station was affiliated with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). This affiliation gave the CBC control over 51% of the time available for programming. Generally, the CBC focused its control at the prime viewing hours of 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. on week days and 2:00 to 11:00 p.m. on weekends. Although CBC programming dominated during these hours, it was not exclusive, and CXCX-TV did offer programs that were different from those shown by other broadcasters in the CBC network. Nevertheless, most of the programming decisions made at CXCX-TV affected morning, daytime, and latenight viewing.
FEDERAL ADJUDICATION: THE CRTC
In Canada, television was a federally adjudicated business. While the CRTC did not act as a censor, the commission did regulate the activities of all broadcasters, including the networks. In order to broadcast legally, a station needed CRTC approval. Although the CRTC rarely revoked a station's license, the commission did insist upon a public enquiry into the station's business activities and programming policies before renewing a license. Anyone could register a formal complaint or argue against a station's license renewal with the CRTC. Paul expected the usual public intervention when the CXCX-TV license came under enquiry in the new year. However, he felt there would be nothing scandalous or irregular.
John Gordon, president at CXCX-TV, held the view that all public criticisms directed at the station should be answered by management. Paul Reid shared this view, and in 1997 they created the position of Director of Community Relations. As a senior manager, the director was responsible for promoting a positive image of the station. One of his tasks was to answer all letters from the public, regardless of whether the letter was written to complain about programming or to praise it.
When a complaint addressed a particularly sensitive issue or raised an issue with broad implications, the Director of Community Relations referred the task of responding to the complaint to the Station Manager, or even to the President. Occasionally, all three managers sought consultation from one another, if they felt the issue warranted the time and expense of a committee response.
Most of the letters criticizing the station's programming policies concerned scheduling. Often individuals or groups favoured a particular television program which CXCX-TV did not schedule at a time these people considered convenient. For example, "20-Minute Workout" was first shown at 8:30 a.m. Many people, mostly women, phoned or wrote the station complaining that the time conflicted with family responsibilities, and that an earlier hour, or even an afternoon slot would be better. CXCX-TV accommodated these suggestions by rescheduling "20-Minute Workout" for 7:30 in the morning, and 3:00 in the afternoon.
Other critics of CXCX-TV programming were not so readily appeased. Occasionally, the CBC network would schedule and advertise programs to appear during the few prime time hours over which CXCX-TV held control. The CBC would then offer the stations along their network the option of carrying the programs. The individual stations could deny time to the CBC programs, and instead, offer their viewers programs they had created or purchased. When CXCX-TV did not carry CBC programs which had received positive response from viewers in other cities, or when the station refused a program of interest to special groups, the station received phone calls and letters criticizing their judgement.
CXCX-TV was the most visible participant in the group which brought television programs to the viewer, a group which included the program's producers and sponsors, the CBC network, and television press; therefore, CXCX-TV heard accusations of bad management whenever viewers received conflicting information. For example, during the 1998 World Cup Soccer Championships, Labatt's Brewery advertised live full CBC coverage of the Cup finals. The CBC had, however, negotiated one hour delayed coverage of the finals with its network stations. This outraged supporters of the French Championship team. The incident came to a head with members of the local French Club picketing the office of CXCX-TV.
While exercise programs were common to television, "20-Minute Workout" was unique; it was new and lively, featuring three attractive young women performing aerobic exercises. The program's most distinctive character, however, was the television camera. The camera did not stay still, it followed the activity of the women. Moving forwards or circling around, the camera isolated different parts of the body, as the women worked through their exercise routines. All this motion attempted to create an invigorating twenty minute workout.
For the producers, "20-Minute Workout" was an immediate success. In 1998, 92 stations in the U.S. and 19 stations in Canada including CXCX bought rights to broadcast the program. This early success made "20-Minute Workout" an attractive proposition for CXCX-TV when they picked up the program in September 1998. Paul knew that buyers from advertising agencies would recognize the program, and would be confident in the program's popularity with Kingston viewers. Also, he felt that "20-Minute Workout" reflected a trend toward more vigorous forms of exercise. If properly placed, the program would encourage viewers to turn on their television sets early, and, hopefully leave them tuned to CXCX-TV throughout the morning hours, when CXCX-TV broadcast programs produced locally.
THE KINGSTON STATUS OF WOMEN GROUP
While "20-Minute Workout" enjoyed popularity, it had received some harsh criticism in the press. Judith Finlayson, a Toronto columnist, lambasted the program for exploiting women's bodies, and creating erotic entertainment for men. In her column Miss Finlayson came close to labelling "20-Minute Workout" pornographic. CXCX-TV, however, had not heard any direct criticism of the "20-Minute Workout" until Paul received the letter from the Kingston Status of Women Group (see Exhibit 1). Because the charges issued in the letter were serious, and the circumstances of the letter were sensitive, Paul decided to answer the letter himself, rather than assign the task to the Director of Community Relations.
Assume you are Paul Reid and write a response to the Kingston Status of Women Group.
Kingston Status of Women Group
P.O. Box 2000, Kingston, Ontario K7M 1R3
November 19, 1998
P.O. Box 100, Terminal 'A'
Dear Sir or Madam:
We have some serious objections concerning the TV Show- 20 Minute Workout.
An aerobic programme definitely has merit for those interested in a good exercise routine. However, this programme is designed to attract a male rather than a female or family audience. 20 Minute Workout is now a peep show in the disguise of an exercise programme, rather a twenty minute comedy designed to appeal to those who view women as all body and no mind. Women are inappropriately clad, make seductive gestures physically, and verbally, and stand in compromising positions while the camera teases with shots of their buttocks and breasts. We then hear: "Come on, get tough, get strong, stay with me."
Are we supposed to have health and fitness on our minds when we view this? Is wearing a skimpy outfit exposing as much flesh as possible a requisite of keeping fit? Male viewers would find it ridiculous and offensive if they were watching other men being exploited in the same manner.
No seductive gestures, appropriate exercise outfits (i.e. knitted leotards as opposed to flesh coloured), and camera work which depicts women as a whole person, minus verbal seductive suggestions will make for a good exercise program.
If it is the intent for the exercise programme to benefit the whole family, the producers will eliminate the above offensive format. We, the undersigned, would like an answer to our objections.
Gwen Marshall, Chairperson &
12 others (see attachment)
© 1984 New York University, Stern School of Business, Management Communication Program. All rights reserved. Revised 1999.