Family Channel (often known as simply Family) is a Canadian English-language Category A specialty channel owned by DHX Media. Family's programming is aimed towards the tween and teenage demographics, broadcasting domestic and imported children's television series, teen dramas, off-network sitcoms, and theatrically released and made-for-television movies targeted towards the demographics. When Family was launched in 1988, much of its programming was heavily sourced from the American cable network Disney Channel, although these rights were later acquired by Corus Entertainment in 2015 to launch its own Canadian version.
Even though it was formerly licensed as a premium television service, the channel is carried on the basic tiers of most Canadian subscription television providers, and is also carried by Flow Cable in Jamaica. and on Cable Bahamas in The Bahamas. Family is headquartered in the Brookfield Place office complex, near the Financial District of Downtown Toronto. It has transmitted from Corus Quay since at least 2014. While it previously operated with a commercial-free format due to its status as a premium channel, the formal categorization has since been deprecated by the CRTC, allowing Family to transition to an ad-supported format similar to conventional specialty channels.
As of March 2013, Family Channel is available to approximately six million pay television households in Canada; it also has the highest total viewership among Canada's children's television channels. It transmits three feeds: Eastern Time Zone feeds in both standard definition and high definition, and a Pacific Time Zone feed solely in standard definition.
Family Channel was licensed as a pay television service by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on December 1, 1987; it was originally operated as a joint venture between Allarcom Pay Television Limited (owner of Superchannel) and First Choice with both companies owning a 50% stake in the service.
The network officially launched on September 1, 1988; during its first decade, Family Channel's programming format mirrored that of then fellow U.S. premium service The Disney Channel. Family's programming lineup consisted mainly of domestic and foreign-imported live-action and animated series (with many of the imported series produced by The Walt Disney Company's television production units – Walt Disney Television, and eventually Touchstone Television, now ABC Studios), feature films from the Walt Disney Pictures library, classic films from other American and Canadian film studios, and specials (mostly concerts, documentaries and animated specials). At the time of its launch, Family Channel broadcast for 16½ hours each day, from 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time.
Family was originally offered by cable companies as a standalone channel that required an additional monthly subscription fee. In October 1997, most domestic cable and satellite providers started offering the channel as part of a package with that year's wave of new specialty channels. While Family initially continued its "pay" format, including broadcasts of older Disney movies which would be repeated several times a month, it soon changed its programming practices to the point that it operated as a de facto specialty channel, much like similarly themed channels such as YTV. However, in line with CRTC regulations for premium channels at the time, Family did not broadcast commercials.
In October 1999, as part of the break-up of Western International Communications (WIC)—which had bought Allarcom—its stake in Family Channel was sold to Corus Entertainment. In March 2001, in response to complaints by the CRTC over its near-monopoly on ownership of children's specialty channels in Canada (citing YTV, Treehouse, and its stake in Teletoon), Corus sold its stake in Family Channel to Astral Media for $126.9 million.
By this point, Family – whose programming had been targeting a broader family audience throughout its schedule, save for some programs targeted mainly at children interspersed within its daytime lineup – began to target a dual audience: kids and teenagers during the daytime, and families at night. Gradually, though, the channel's programming shifted more towards children with feature films being the only family-oriented programming featured on the channel by the mid-2000s.
On July 1, 2007, Family became the last English-language children's network in Canada to switch to a 24-hour broadcast schedule. On January 11, 2011, Family debuted an updated logo and on-air identity to coincide with the launch of its new high-definition feed.
On March 4, 2013, following the Competition Bureau's approval of Bell Media's acquisition of Astral Media, Bell announced that it would divest Family and its sister networks, as well as Astral's French-language music channels MusiquePlus and MusiMax, in an attempt to relieve concerns surrounding Bell's total market share in English-language television following the merger. Bell's original proposal, under which it would have maintained ownership of the channels, was rejected by the Bureau in 2012 as it would have given Bell a 42% share of the English television market. Bell filed a new application for the proposed takeover with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on March 6, 2013; the CRTC approved the merger on June 27, 2013, with Family Channel and the other Astral channels that were put up for sale concurrently being placed in a blind trust held by businessman and former Montreal Canadiens president Pierre Boivin, pending their sale to a third-party.
On November 28, 2013, DHX Media announced that it would acquire Family and its sister networks for $170 million. While the Halifax-based company already distributes and produces a large library of children's television series (particularly through its 2012 purchase of the Cookie Jar Entertainment, which gave it ownership of the program libraries of Cinar and DIC Entertainment), the purchase marks DHX's first foray into broadcasting. DHX has indicated that it would leverage its resources and library to add more original, Canadian-produced programming to Family under its ownership.
The acquisition of Family Channel and its sister networks by DHX was approved by the CRTC on July 24, 2014. Under DHX ownership, the network is subject to new licensing conditions which require that at least 60% of the Canadian programming broadcast by the network on an annual basis be produced by companies other than DHX. The acquisition was finalized on July 31, 2014, with Family and its sister networks becoming part of a newly formed division of the company known as DHX Television.
On April 16, 2015, it was announced that Corus Entertainment had acquired Canadian rights to Disney Channel's programming library, and that it would launch a Canadian version of Disney Channel in September 2015. Corus subsequently launched new Disney Junior and Disney XD channels as well in December 2015. DHX's programming agreement with Disney ended in January 2016.
As a result of these changes, Disney programming was phased out of Family Channel's lineup throughout the remainder of 2015, and its sister Disney Junior and Disney XD-branded networks were rebranded as Family Jr., Télémagino, and Family Chrgd. Alongside new and original productions, DHX reached new output deals with AwesomenessTV, DreamWorks Animation, and Mattel in 2015 for programming based on their properties across its networks.
On June 9, 2015, it was announced that a new incarnation of the Degrassi franchise, Degrassi: Next Class, would premiere on Family in 2016. The show is produced by Epitome Pictures, whom DHX had acquired in 2014. Next Class premiered on January 4, 2016 as part of a new primetime block known as "F2N". The F2N block is positioned towards an older teenage audience than the "tween" audience that Family has typically targeted; DHX Television senior vice-president Joe Tedesco explained that the company had original series in development for Family in case it ever did lose its output deal with Disney, and that these decisions were based on a goal to build a "strong lineup" of programs, and was not financially motivated. Tedesco went on to explain that the F2N block was meant to create a "meaningful destination" for teens and, in the case of Degrassi—a series that has historically dealt with teen issues, encourage family viewing.
As part of the CRTC's "Let's Talk TV" initiative, DHX Media expressed concern that the elimination of genre protection for Category A specialty channels would put services licensed as premium services at an unfair disadvantage, especially due to their inability to air advertising. On November 2, 2016, the CRTC approved the implementation of new categories for licensed television services, replacing the separate specialty and pay television categories with a single Discretionary service category using standardized conditions of license, and ruled that current premium services may operate under these deregulated policies effective immediately. As a result, channels that were legally considered premium services, such as Family Channel, may now optionally broadcast advertising. Tedesco commended the CRTC for the decision, stating that it "represents the next logical step in the implementation of the Let's Talk TV decision, when genre protection was eliminated, and it ensures that pay and specialty channels will now be on a level field."
Family's daytime lineup primarily consists of original and imported series aimed at pre-teens and young teenagers, as well as a primetime block featuring reruns of sitcoms and other programs aimed at an older teenage audience.
Historically, Family had been the main Canadian outlet for the programming of the U.S. cable network Disney Channel, including its live-action and animated programs, as well as its made-for-TV films. Family began to phase out Disney programming in late 2015 following Corus Entertainment's acquisition of exclusive Canadian rights to Disney Channel's programming and associated brands. For a period, the network also aired programming from Disney Channel's spin-off network Disney XD; these programs were phased out following the launch of a local Disney XD channel run by Family in 2012. Family has also acquired and aired programming from other sources, including previous live-action Nickelodeon series, and the Australian series The Elephant Princess. Since the loss of Disney programming, the majority of Family's acquired programming has come from AwesomenessTV, as part of an output deal with DHX Media.
Family airs films on Friday and Saturday evenings and on weekend afternoons; they consist of either theatrical releases, or, previously, Disney Channel made-for-TV films. Family commissioned its first original movie, Vacation with Derek, a movie based on the popular original series Life with Derek, which premiered on the channel in June 2010. In addition, Family Channel has also been involved in one other made-for-TV film co-production, the 2010 film 16 Wishes, which was co-produced in association with Disney Channel and MarVista Entertainment.
As previously mandated for premium services, Family, historically, did not air traditional commercial advertising, besides promotions in between or during programs for its own programming and underwritten contests, along with interstitial segments such as Fam Jam (which airs teen pop music videos), and in the past, selected interstitial segments from Disney Channel U.S., and features on upcoming family films produced by former sister The Movie Network. Since November 2016, due to changes in CRTC policies and the network's licensing, Family may now optionally air commercial advertising, as with all other specialty channels.
Past and present original programs produced for Family include:
Family Jr. is a multiplex service of Family Channel that features programs aimed at a preschool audience. It originally launched on November 30, 2007 as the Playhouse Disney Channel, and was re-launched as Disney Junior on May 6, 2011, following the launch of the brand in the United States earlier that year. On September 18, 2015, due to Corus Entertainment's acquisition of rights to Disney's children's programming and brands, the channel was re-branded as Family Jr.
Because Family is licensed as a premium service, which allows for the addition of multiplex channels that are consistent with the programming requirements designated by the network's licence, no additional licence was required to launch the service. Existing subscribers of Family are automatically eligible to receive Family Jr. free of charge, subject to carriage by their television service provider; however, it is not available on a standalone basis. The use of Family's existing licence also allows the service to compete with other preschooler-targeted specialty channels such as Treehouse TV and Disney Junior, despite the format protection guidelines for specialty channels enforced by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. This is so, because Family's nature of service is to broadcast programming targeted toward "youth to age 17," in which case, a preschool audience would qualify.
A French-language version of the channel, now known as Télémagino, was launched on July 5, 2010 as Playhouse Disney Télé. It also changed its name to Disney Junior on May 6, 2011 to coincide with the rebranding of the English channel. Unlike the English-language Family Jr., Télémagino operates under a separate Category B license.
Family Chrgd (pronounced "charged", stylized Family CHRGD) is a Category B digital cable and satellite television channel as a spin-off of Family Channel that features programs aimed towards children aged 6–12. It originally launched on June 1, 2011 as Disney XD. Its future lineup will feature new seasons of its original slate, in addition to new shows produced by DHX subsidiaries and other studios (such as the aforementioned Fangbone!), as well as new program supply agreements with Mattel. The re-branding took effect on October 9, 2015. Unlike Family Channel, Family Jr., and Télémagino, Family Chrgd operates solely as an advertiser-supported service.