Thursday, March 12, 2009

Obituary channel approved in Canada

CRTC approves obituary channel
Quebec entrepreneur seeks backing to bring death notices and tributes to the small screen

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
March 11, 2009 at 1:00 AM EDT

GĂ©rald Dominique is hoping there's room on Canadian airwaves for yet another specialty channel – one that would be all death and illness, all the time.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has for the first time approved an application to move forward with a channel dedicated to paid obituaries and notices of illness.

The French-language channel, which would air in Quebec, amounts to a TV version of the paid death notice pages in newspapers, giving families the chance to have sound, music, photos, video, text and other testimonials broadcast about their loved ones.

Mr. Dominique, 44, the Quebec entrepreneur behind the plan, first applied for the channel last summer and hopes to title it Je me souviens, or “I remember.” The phrase is also the official Quebec motto.

“The goal of this channel is to tell stories,” Mr. Dominique said. “How many stories are lost all over the world each year? Great stories about people's lives. Those are the stories we hope to tell.”

Mr. Dominique believes some 56,000 Quebeckers die each year. With baby boomers aging, he thinks that death – and the services that go with it – is something of an industry on the rise, inadequately served by existing tribute and memorial services.

“I felt the need to do more,” he said.

He said the TV death notices will cost about the same as they do in newspapers, and hopes one day to extend the service in English to the rest of Canada. The concept may also include longer-form obituaries – features done on public figures and aired at no charge to their families – as well as the paid classifieds.

Although offering the chance for multimedia memorials, Mr. Dominique anticipates the majority of notices will be text only, displayed on screen and read aloud.

“The service would be dedicated to the broadcast of obituary notices, notices of hospitalization and messages of thanks and prayers, mainly in alphanumeric format, that would be read on air,” the CRTC approval notice reads.

After being granted CRTC approval on Feb. 26, Mr. Dominique now hopes to find a financial backer, and sign a deal with a cable distributor before a launch.

“I would need some help,” Mr. Dominique said. “But if the planets align, I should be on the air in July.”

In addition to paid notices, Mr. Dominique got CRTC permission to run six minutes of national advertising in each hour, although he'd asked to run local and regional ads.

The concept of a 24-hour channel devoted to death and illness notices first came from Europe. Etos TV launched last year in Germany, offering TV and Web-based death notice services, and was billed as the first station of its kind.

According to European media, it cost about the equivalent of about $16-million to launch, backed by a group of German funeral directors.

But Canada's directors have no part in Mr. Dominique's initiative. Suzanne Scott, executive director of the Funeral Service Association of Canada, said her group has discussed backing a single website devoted to online memorials – of which dozens operate independently – but never a TV station.

“It's going to be interesting to see whether it does have legs, because I don't foresee people sitting there everyday and watching,” Ms. Scott said. “But to have it on television, are you going to say: ‘Watch Channel 247 at 4:57 p.m.?' I don't know.

“I'm not sure it's something people in Canada are going to jump on, but I could be completely wrong.”

With a report from The Canadian Press


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