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Disclosure: Home Program Archives Episode 7 (Jan. 29, 2002) Paying for Time The Media

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printer versionLast year, a Canadian businessman, Kevin Francis, paid to talk about his Ottawa company, Accelio, with former U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander Haig.

World Business Review

Today, after the closing credits, World Business Review reveals that the companies featured on the program "contribute to the funding of the production of this series."


The interview lasted for eleven minutes, and was broadcast on Haig's program, World Business Review. The show offers businesses a "multimedia promotional campaign" for US$9,800.

The questions Haig posed to Francis weren't exactly challenging ("Tell our viewers about your new relationship with Accenture" … "How quickly can you expect to see a return on investment?"). The deal also included the production of a 90 second profile on the company.

The profile could be described as "positive." Interestingly, there were a number of "negative" issues that were never addressed on the program.

Three weeks before the story appeared on World Business Review, the Financial Post reported that Kevin Francis told his shareholders he was frustrated with the stock price. In the Post article, Francis spoke of sustained losses and said he hadn't met "the objective of restoring profitability." But Al Haig didn't get into any of that.

When World Business Review first went on the air back in 1996, the Washington Post reported that companies paid from $35,000 to $200,000 to get interviewed. The press, including the Washington Post, denounced the show as "glorified advertising."

Today, after the closing credits, World Business Review reveals that the companies featured on the program "contribute to the funding of the production of this series." But the show maintains "final editorial control."

So… what's the situation in Canada? These are the TV programs we focused on in our story:


BTV Business Television / Taylor Thoen, president and host

BTV Business Television is a weekly half-hour program out of Vancouver. It is broadcast across the country on stations like Global (in Quebec), the A Channel (in Manitoba and Alberta), the New VI (British Columbia) and some CHUM stations in Ontario.

Two years ago, the mining company Shane Starnes works for, Pacific North West Capital, got a phone call from BTV. "They just said, you know, 'Would you be interested in paying for a full piece on your company… a promotional piece," says Starnes. "But it was expensive… I think it was $15,000 to $18,000 - in there somewhere. We did get a CD that we can use over and over again for our trade shows, which we do use."

BTV website

On their website, BTV describes itself as having "found a position in television like no other. Void of interrogation, hype and dirty laundry… BTV draws solid, positive conclusions."


Starnes says he wouldn't have paid for the piece if his company had just received a video out of the deal. But Starnes felt BTV had made it clear that Pacific North West was paying to go on television, so he says he was willing to pay.

What the viewers saw was a seven and a half minute profile, featuring the company president, staff and analysts. There were shots of the company at its drilling sites in Sudbury and at a mining conference in Toronto.

On their website, BTV describes itself as having "found a position in television like no other. Void of interrogation, hype and dirty laundry… BTV draws solid, positive conclusions."

But those "solid, positive conclusions" are not what companies are paying for, according to BTV's president Taylor Thoen. She told us that companies pay for "backend marketing" -- things like a video copy of the show and an online archive of the video.

Unlike the U.S. show, World Business Review, BTV seems to feel there's no need to disclose in the program credits that any money is changing hands.

We gave Taylor Thoen another call, and asked her if she would give us an on-camera interview.

We didn't get the interview. World Business Review, the American show, wouldn't talk to us either. In fact, getting anyone to talk about business television's best-kept secret was virtually impossible, especially when we discovered that some of the best-known business reporters in the country are also involved.

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Canada's Best Businesses / hosted by Diane Francis

Diane Francis has been a big name business journalist for over 20 years. She's written several books. She has also hosted Canada's Best Businesses; a series broadcast nationally - first on Global, then on CTV.

One episode last February featured a four-minute "inside look" at DataMirror, an Ontario software company. The coverage didn't come cheap.

"I think it was approximately somewhere between $18,000 and $20,000," says Data Mirror's director of marketing, Tracy Staniland. "That included the broadcast plus all of the production."

Staniland says DataMirror wrote more than just the cheque for Canada's Best Businesses:

"We wrote the script. We rehearsed it with the key spokespeople prior to doing the production. [We] decided who in the organization would be the key spokespeople and then worked with their production."

Was the audience aware that the segment was really like an infomercial, written and paid for by the company? We called Diane Francis' office and were told she was too busy for the next four months to talk to us. Her assistant said Ms. Francis has parted ways with the production company that produces Canada's Best Businesses and she couldn't confirm whether Ms. Francis will be hosting the show when it returns to CTV next month.

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Millennium Media Television / Garth Turner, CEO

Garth Turner

Garth Turner burst onto the scene in the 1980's as a crusading business editor at the Toronto Sun. Then he went into politics. Then back to business journalism.


And then there's Garth Turner. He burst onto the scene in the 1980's as a crusading business editor at the Toronto Sun. Then he went into politics, becoming Minister of National Revenue. Then back to business journalism.

Today he works from the heart of Toronto's financial district, heading a production company called Millennium Media Television. They produce programs like: Garth Turner's Investment Television; Real Estate Television; Mutual Funds Television; Dot.com Television; and Board of Trade Television.

Board of Trade Television began last fall on CFTO, the Toronto affiliate of CTV.

John Schram, CEO of a healthcare company called We Care Health Services Inc., says "a charming lady" approached him. She "wanted to know if I'd be interested in having our company profiled on her show."

She told Schram that she was associated with the Board of Trade show and "Garth Turner would be doing a lead in and voice over" for the profile.

John Schram

"When I'm seeing someone interviewed on a TV program I would expect that it's done more with a journalistic motive in mind, and it's done without any payment."

John Schram


The woman told Schram she would come by his company and shoot "a short video of me and the company. I guess it was shortly after that, she mentioned a fee attached to this. And that's when my antenna went up."

Schram says the fee was in the $6,300 - $6,500 range, and he "didn't like the aspect that I was going to pay for it.

"Being the old fashioned person that I am," he says, "when I'm seeing someone interviewed on a TV program I would expect that it's done more with a journalistic motive in mind, and it's done without any payment."

We decided it was time for us to interview Garth Turner, but he wasn't too keen.

He agreed to an on-camera interview so long as we would promise that there there would be no comparison to shows like BTV and the Canada's Best Businesses.

In the end, Turner said he wouldn't talk to Disclosure on camera, but he would give us a studio tour and we could interview Nalini Sharma, Vice President, Content and Development for Turner's Millennium Media Television.

While Turner was showing us around the studio, we couldn't resist asking the big question:

Wendy Mesley: Is there any financial relationship between the people who are on the show and your company?

Garth Turner: That's, I think, the interview you're going to do with Nalini, so --

Wendy Mesley: I just wanted to ask you one question about how many financial links there can be to people on your show before it starts to get sticky.

Garth Turner: I'll only answer that by way of saying that, ah, because we're not the CBC and we don't get money given to us, that we have to run a business for which revenues are generated and the bulk of the revenues are generated by selling sponsorships and advertising and what we call billboards.

The "billboards" are those "brought to you by" messages. They alert the audience when they're viewing sponsored programming.

But we discovered one company had paid to appear on one of Garth Turner's programs, but there was no indication that it was sponsored programming.

Garth Turner interview with Wendy Mesley

"Because we're not the CBC and we don't get money given to us that we have to run a business for which revenues are generated."

Garth Turner


The company, Watson Wyatt, told us they paid for a profile piece that aired on Turner's Board of Trade Television.

We asked Garth Turner whether the audience knew that money had changed hands:

Turner: It's extremely transparent. It's Board of Trade Television. It's about the Toronto Board of Trade. We just simply go out and profile Board of Trade members -

Mesley: And take their money to offset the cost.

Turner: The cost of doing the show, exactly.

Mesley: But do you think the audience knows that?

[Nalini Sharma, Turner's Vice President, Content and Development, interrupts]

Sharma: I think the audience is smart enough to know that. It's called Board of Trade Television.

Investment Television is the flagship show of Turner's Millennium Media Television. The program is broadcast across the country on Global and Prime.

Garth Turner and Nalini Sharma

"It's really a way for us to generate revenue, support the jobs here."

Nalini Sharma


Garth Turner insists "people don't pay us money to be on Investment Television."

Well, remember Kevin Francis, the CEO who paid to be interviewed on the U.S. show, World Business Review? He got a free interview on Investment Television for 90 seconds - but then his company was contacted by Millennium Media Television, offering them a longer profile for $12,500. Francis' company declined.

"It's something we've been thinking about doing," says Turner, "but we haven't done it.

"And if we were to do it, as we've done with Board of Trade Television which you can watch and see, where we have had some paid profiles, the companies are not endorsed."

Mesley: Your sales people are saying to this company, 'If you give us $12,500, you can appear on our show and we'll do a video for you.'

Sharma: That's right. The profile that they would get on the show on Investment Television, for example, if they were to pay $12,500 - it's written by our staff, our editorial staff here.

We consult with the PR person or their spokespeople, but at no time do they ever send us questions or check the script… At no time do they have the right to pull programming. It's really a way for us to generate revenue, support the jobs here.

 


Originally Broadcast January 29, 2002

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