Canadian Aboriginal Network Seeks to Expand Into US Market

By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
November 16, 2016 Updated: November 16, 2016

Media businesses everywhere are scrambling for new ideas to boost their increasingly fragmented and distracted audience. Sky Bridges, chief operating officer of the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, thinks he’s found one.

“This is absolutely the last great opportunity for cable and satellite networks to launch a service that will reach a never-served market,” he said.

APTN expects to begin providing what Bridges says is the first indigenous-centred broadcasts to Americans as early as next year.

The need—and market—is obvious, said Bridges from Toronto.

“If you look at the landscape of what has been happening, in Canada and the U.S., there is a thriving culture. There is no doubt the market down there would embrace a network that is serving them directly,” he said.

“You have a system that caters to all kinds of groups in the United States–from diverse Asian groups, to African-American to Hispanic, yet the first peoples of that nation don’t have a channel that they can consume and have news being told through their lens.”

The U.S. has at least 17 million people claiming full or part indigenous heritage.

Market research conducted by APTN suggests 70 percent of native Americans felt unrepresented in cable offerings. About 90 percent felt an indigenous network should be launched and a large percentage of those who left cable and satellite systems said they would rejoin if it were.

“We were showing overwhelmingly that that particular market feels they are underserved,” Bridges said. “We call them never-served. There isn’t a national broadcaster that speaks to them in terms of the content they’re looking for.”

Enter APTN. Since its start in 1999, the network has grown to offer a nightly national news broadcast, a weekly investigative show, children’s programming, cultural offerings, drama and live-event broadcasts. It produces nearly half of its own shows and is available in 10 million Canadian homes on basic cable.

Re-broadcasting those shows on a U.S. network–tentatively titled the All Nations Network–makes cultural and business sense, said Bridges.

“At the beginning, that network will lean on a lot of the content from APTN. It’s about being cost-effective.”

The plan is that ANN will eventually produce about 80 percent of its own content, including news and current affairs. Events such as the Standing Rock protests in the Dakotas, where Sioux bands have spearheaded pipeline protests, highlight the need for indigenous news broadcasts, Bridges said.

The network is negotiating with potential U.S. distributors for their signal. Canadian channels are required to offer APTN on basic service, but the Americans have to be sold on it.

“We’re in negotiations. I’m confident it’s going to launch, but it takes time. We’re in dialogue.”