We’re number three. We don’t try at all.

KVOS in Vancouver isn’t like other Canadian TV. People actually watch it.

Canadian Business, November 28, 1997   

During last year’s hearings before the CRTC, all the contenders for the new, highly prized Vancouver TV license agreed on one thing: they all hated KVOS-TV. The station, also known as TV12, is incorporated in Canada, buys Canadian broadcast rights for the programs it shows, has a Vancouver office and a Vancouver ad agency, and its signal footprint covers BC’s Lower Mainland perfectly, hitting a more than healthy 75 percent of the province’s population. But the station itself is American: its transmitter and plant are based in Bellingham, Wash. “It’s as Canadian as a television station can be without actually being Canadian,” says KVOS research manager Ian Grant. “There’s nothing else like it on the continent.”


What KVOS doesn’t do is follow Canadian content regulations, preferring instead to run popular syndicated fare, including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess, a point made repeatedly by KVOS’s rivals during the CRTC hearings. One after another, the license applicants (Baton Broadcasting Inc. of Scarborough, Ont., Toronto-based CHUM City Ltd. and WIC Western International Communications Ltd. of Vancouver, to name three) decried KVOS: those nasty Americans profaning the sacred trust of broadcasting by showing, well, entertainment, a deplorable situation that only licensing [your corporate name here] could remedy. “They needed a whipping boy,” KVOS vice-president and general manager Dave Reid says. “They made it seem as though they were just going to take revenue out of the KVOS slice of the pie. That played well with the CRTC, but any person who has been in this business longer than three-and-a-half weeks would see you can’t take revenue out of just one station.”


Ironically, it was the Canadian government that put KVOS in this situation in the first place. From its debut in 1953 with a kinescope of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation until the mid-’70s, KVOS took its responsibilities as a Canadian station seriously. It had a full-scale production center in Vancouver, employing about 125 people and making its own programs. Then Bill C-58 — meant to stop split-run Canadian editions of US magazines and toughen Canadian content rules — closed KVOS’s production arm and cut its Vancouver staff to eight. The station began showing cheap US reruns, upgrading to syndicated programming that is still cheaper than network fare.


In the new Vancouver TV landscape, KVOS looks smarter than ever, ranking a solid No. 3. If, as the old joke has it, “painting is art, film is entertainment and television is furniture,” then KVOS is the IKEA Ltd. of broadcasting, turning out knockoffs of last year’s hits at a fraction of the cost. That’s why its competitors hate the station and Vancouverites love it.