Getting with the Aboriginal Television Program

How CEO Jean LaRose has helped spread the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s roots and breathed new life into the stories of Canada’s indigenous people

Years ago, Jean LaRose’s uncle became an Aboriginal pioneer of the national media landscape as one of the first First Nations newsreaders for the Société Radio-Canada. So it seemed particularly fitting when LaRose himself became CEO of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), where he has been able to continue his family’s tradition of precedent-setting broadcast work.

APTN is one of the foremost national Aboriginal broadcasters in the world, and it keeps the unique and varied cultures of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in the public eye with programming created by, for, and about the country’s indigenous population. Here, LaRose offers some numbers that signify the national television station’s success and its plans to expand its offerings.

12 years

“I never expected to end up in this position,” LaRose says, “but I was always interested in journalism and, to a certain extent, television journalism.”

At the start of his career, LaRose developed his skills in communications and public relations for the federal government. Eventually he landed a position working for the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa, where he remained for eight years. But in 2002, the opportunity to join APTN cropped up, and LaRose has been there ever since.

In his dozen-year tenure, LaRose has watched the television landscape shift with the rise of the Internet, tablets, and smartphones. “Our biggest challenge right now is getting everyone onboard as we move to the new realities of a brave new world,” he says.

Fortunately, APTN has always readily adapted to the constantly changing standards of its field. For example, it was one of the first specialities in Canada to go fully HD in 2007, and it’s now poised to find ways to create primarily web-driven content.

1999

Launched as Television Northern Canada (TVNC) in 1992, APTN began as a product of the federal government, designed to give northern Canadian communities an opportunity to broadcast locally relevant programming. But in the mid-1990s, the government started cutting back on all its expenses, putting TVNC at significant risk.

So the network’s board of directors approached producers in the south with the hope of creating a national entity that could then earn a license from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and begin earning guaranteed revenue from cable and satellite providers. Finally, in 1999, APTN launched with an expanded mission to tell the stories of all Canada’s Aboriginal people.

10.5 million homes

The transition from TVNC to APTN gave more Canadians access to the new network, but it also brought about restrictions. Once the network was under licence by the CRTC, it had to follow guidelines that stipulated not only the types of programming it needed carry but also the times that certain programs could be aired. The regulations forced some restructuring, but in the end, APTN found itself under Mandatory Carriage, meaning the channel was to be carried on all cable and satellite providers’ basic packages, guaranteeing revenue from approximately 10.5 million homes

160 employees

LaRose has seven direct reports from a total workforce of more than 160 people—66 percent of whom are Aboriginal. But APTN doesn’t just strive to give voice to indigenous people; it also boasts some of the industry’s highest rates of female employment, with a staff that is 52 percent women. Furthermore, 60 percent of its content producers are women, 60 percent of its senior management team is made up of women, and its board of 21 directors is nearly 50 percent women. APTN’s board has the largest concentration of female members outside of women-based advocacy groups; typically, most broadcasting boards fall within the 5–10 percent range.

100+ active producers

Almost all APTN’s programming is created by independent, Aboriginal producers; the network had just 6 in 1999 and now has more than 100. “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, obviously, but our audience is growing,” LaRose says.

Feedback from viewers has been getting more and more positive over the years, too, and other networks and platforms have taken notice and are now looking to buy APTN’s programming. For example, Hulu just purchased the rights to a series called Blackstone in order to make it available across North America.

2 initiatives

In order to keep expanding its brand’s reach and revenue, APTN recently launched two large initiatives: The first is to follow the Blackstone-Hulu deal by breaking further into the US market. APTN wants to create and exchange programming with American Indian producers and organizations because of their country’s proliferation of topical movies. While APTN produces a great deal of television programming, its movie catalogue is relatively lacking.

Second, APTN wants to get into radio. Currently, there are numerous small Aboriginal radio stations across the country, and APTN wants to act as a unifying force and create a national network. The move would strengthen the existing market and infrastructure, and it would give APTN the ability to cross-promote and increase opportunities for profit and communication.