After nearly 40 years, the credits are set to roll on one of the most successful careers in Canadian broadcasting history.
Bell Media announced Monday that Rick Brace, president of specialty channels and CTV production, is retiring at the end of the year. He exits having played a central role in the evolution of Canada’s specialty TV industry from a bit player to a marquee star.
“I’m looking forward to spending a little bit of time other than sitting in the office,” Brace, 61, told Marketing from Montreal on Tuesday. “When I look around my office, I’m kind of 10 years older than the next oldest person. I thought ‘maybe it’s time to hand over the torch and move on.’ I’ve had a great run.”
The veteran executive plans to transition into retirement slowly, continuing to work with Bell in an advisory role. He will serve as the company’s representative on the board of directors of Discovery Canada, CTV Specialty Television Inc. and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“When you go from running flat out to stopping, there’s a real fear that it’s too quick a transition and that you’re going to be bored,” he admitted. “I’m a little bit worried about that, I guess, but having said that there are also some interesting things out there. This is going to give me a chance to focus on specific parts of our business as opposed to the bigger picture, and I think that will be kind of interesting.”
While his career was largely focused on programming and production, Brace said it has been fascinating to watch the industry transform from a “dollar a holler” approach to advertising sales to one encompassing tactics like brand integration and cross-platform sales. “It’s a totally different world out there,” he said.
Brace departs having mentored several prominent Canadian media executives, including current Rogers Media president Keith Pelley and Phil King, who will assume responsibility for Bell’s English-language specialty channels in his new role as president, CTV, sports and entertainment programming.
“It’s one of the greatest legacies I’ve left,” said Brace. “There are a lot of people that I helped work and helped develop that have really done well, like Keith Pelley, like Phil King and [Bell Media’s current SVP, specialty channels] Catherine McLeod.”
Brace was among the pioneers of Canadian specialty television, joining the sports network TSN in 1986 and helping transform the two-year-old channel into a sports and specialty TV powerhouse through its acquisition by CTV and later by Bell Media.
More recently, he played a role in the development of Bell Media properties such as the entertainment show e-Talk and CTV’s new afternoon talk show The Social. He also played a lead role in Bell’s recent refresh of its specialty portfolio, including the Comedy Network, Space and Bravo.
“We’ve gone from a situation where our specialty channels were really suffering from a lack of investment and maybe a lack of attention to having new life through investment and strategic programming and focus,” he said. “It’s really made a difference and I’m really pleased that I’m leaving that in good hands.”
He said that strong brands will be a key differentiator for the specialty industry in the future, particularly as the CRTC ponders allowing consumers to adopt a “pick-and-pay” approach to their TV services, paying only for the channels they wish to receive.
“I think everyone sees that customer choice is becoming more of a reality,” he said. “The safety of being in a [channel] package is something that’s not going to exist for the long haul. I think our reaction to that has been the right one and hopefully it’s going to pay dividends and give us some longevity.”