Published Mar 28, 2011In 1986, a new Toronto band called the Pursuit of Happiness were still finishing their first independent EP when a budding filmmaker friend offered to make a video for one of the tracks. The song chosen was "I'm An Adult Now," mainly for its descriptive lyrics, and the clip was shot guerrilla-style over a single day at several outdoor downtown Toronto locations. It was sent to MuchMusic ― then still a fledgling national channel ― almost on a whim, and within weeks of the video going into rotation, the Pursuit of Happiness were one of the most talked about bands in Canada. Within a year, the band had signed an international recording contract.
Today, TPOH's leader, Moe Berg, can be seen co-hosting his own show, Master Tracks, on AUX TV, the upstart music channel that has brought a lot of that early MuchMusic renegade spirit back to the airwaves. And while the TPOH model for success has become more commonly associated with YouTube, it's still foremost in the mind of AUX's founder, Raja Khanna, and one of his primary goals for the channel.
"We said to ourselves when we launched [AUX TV] that we would open a bottle of champagne on the day that we could take credit for breaking a band," Khanna says. "That's the mark of success for all of us. I don't think we're there yet, but I like to think that we've helped in some cases."
It's been almost 18 months since AUX officially became available to Rogers cable subscribers ― and more recently Shaw cable subscribers ― with a 24-hour schedule of music videos, in-house programs, music-themed movies and imported shows. Khanna says that ratings have reached modest targets, although he is most impressed by how well the channel has complemented aux.tv, the website that set the template for the channel and also broadcasts much of its content. "To borrow a slogan from a popular beer, the people who like us really like us," Khanna says. "We're thrilled by how the brand has so quickly established itself within the music industry and with music fans, and how well the online business is doing. But we're not kidding ourselves that these are early, early days and we have a long way to go to make this a fully sustainable business."
Khanna knew that AUX TV would immediately appeal to the astute music fan, but his biggest revelation to this point has been just how broad that audience is. "We started with the concept of appealing to 18-to-34 year-olds, but we quickly realized that our audience is more like 18-to-49," he says. "This is the crowd of music fans that feels most neglected because they do remember the 'golden era' of music television, so we have been doing more to appeal to them.
"What we're not trying to do is compete with anyone," he continues. "The more mainstream, Top 40 stuff is well covered by other outlets, so there's no need for anyone else to try to get what would be a thin slice of that pie. We will talk about that music, but I think from a different perspective ― the perspective of the music fan, not the pop culture fan. I think there's a big difference, and anyone who loves music should love watching our channel, regardless of what specific kind of music they're into."
Khanna grew up not far from AUX's Mississauga, ON headquarters and is quick to say that this is the job he has always dreamed of. He started his first company, Snap Media, in 1994 while earning a law degree at York University. That company's initial breakthrough came through designing the first Degrassi website, which included a social media component that pre-dated MySpace. From there, Khanna created QuickPlay, one of the first mobile video services in North America. In 2008, he became co-CEO with Jeffery Elliott of Glassbox Television, which had launched its first channel, Bite, in 2005. Khanna's task was to transform AUX from a website into a full-fledged channel, something that had not been done before in Canada.
What has driven the station's rapid evolution has been what Khanna calls the explosion of Canadian music onto the international scene over the last several years, "despite a total lack of support from mainstream media." He says that this has provided the ideal opportunity to bring music television back to its roots in music journalism, allowing for extended artist profiles and reportage not seen since the heyday of CityTV's The New Music.
Needless to say, fulfilling Canadian content regulations has not been a concern. "We're way beyond what our minimum Can-Con requirements are," Khanna says. "The only reason why I want to create a Canadian star system and support Canadian acts is because there are so many good ones. I don't say that from a patriotic point of view, I say it from a music lover's point of view."
It's all the more perplexing, then, that AUX TV was recently denied its application to the CRTC to increase the amount of videos it can broadcast, while at the same time MuchMusic was told it could not decrease its music video content. "On all practical levels, it should be a slam-dunk," Khanna says. "The only reason we were denied our application was a technicality that we're not allowed to become too competitive with MuchMusic. That's fine, and that's why we proposed a 35 percent cap on our videos to begin with. The reason we applied to change that was because Much applied to lower their video content to 50 percent minimum. Our logic was pretty solid: they don't want to play videos, so we'd love to pick up the slack, and when I discussed our position with the guys at Much, they supported it."
Khanna is confident that a future application to raise AUX's video content will be approved, and he admits that now may not have been the right time to embrace such a drastic change anyway. He says that his immediate plans, aside from breaking that elusive first artist internationally, is to put the AUX brand on every media platform used by Canadian music fans.
"The channel is just one spoke in the wheel," Khanna explains. "You're going to see mobile applications coming from us, as well as tablet services. We already treat our online business as an equal to our TV business, and our team of journalists and contributors on that side is going to get bigger. AUX, moving forward, is not going to be recognized as just a channel or a website, but a great music media brand."