|Launched January 29, 2009|
Headquarters Toronto, Ontario
|Owned by Accessible Media|
Broadcast area National
|Picture format 480i (SDTV) 1080i (HDTV)|
AMI-tv is a Canadian, English-language, digital cable specialty channel owned by the non-profit organization Accessible Media. AMI-tv broadcasts a selection of general entertainment programming with accommodations for those who are visually or hearing impaired, with audio descriptions on the primary audio track and closed captioning available across all programming. Along with acquired content, AMI-tv also broadcasts original series on accessibility- and disability-related topics, and has occasionally broadcast simulcasts of news and sporting events in its open described video format—including, since 2012, the Paralympic Games, an offshoot of the Olympic Games for athletes with disabilities.
AMI-tv is licensed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as a Category A "must-carry" service; it must be carried on the lowest level of service by all licensed digital cable, satellite television, and IPTV providers in Canada. On December 16, 2014, AMI launched a French-language version of the network, AMI-télé, under a second Category A license.
On March 27, 2007, the CRTC held a public hearing to consider twelve applications from applicants requesting mandatory distribution for their television services in the basic package of all digital television service providers in Canada. Among those twelve applicants was the National Broadcast Reading Service (NBRS), a non-profit organization that operates the reading service VoicePrint, which is also a "must-carry" service. The NBRS proposed a service known as The Accessible Channel (TAC), a 24-hour English-language channel that would be devoted to providing programming of interest to those who are blind or visually impaired, in a format accessible to those individuals.
The NBRS believed that visually impaired viewers had difficulties locating television programming with described video due to a number of factors, such as the small amount of described programming on Canadian television at the time (an estimated 3%) and difficulties accessing the second audio program (SAP) on which described video is typically carried (either due to a lack of knowledge, or television service providers being unable to correctly deliver SAP feeds to subscribers). As such, the NBRS proposed TAC to be a consistent location for accessible programming; TAC planned to broadcast all of its programming in an "open format", with described video occupying the primary audio track—allowing viewers otherwise unable to use SAP to listen to programming with described video. In conjunction with the channel, the NBRS also planned to maintain online listings of programs with described video across all Canadian broadcasters.
On July 24, 2007, the CRTC approved the NBRS's application to operate The Accessible Channel; the commission recognized (as per an earlier report) that "television is a key tool for social integration for all citizens, including persons with disabilities" and that the low amount of described content on television (along with the technical issues NBRS cited) made it difficult for the visually impaired to find accessible television programming. The commission also considered TAC to be complementary with the Broadcasting Act, which called for the introduction of accessible programming into Canada's broadcasting system as resources become available.
At a gala coinciding with the United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, 2008, the NBRS announced that The Accessible Channel would officially launch in January 2009. The organization also announced that TAC would carry closed captioning on all of its programming: while the CRTC's standard conditions of license for digital services at the time only mandated that 90% of programming be captioned, the NBRS felt that committing to caption all of its programming was consistent with its goal to make TAC an "inclusive" service. The Accessible Channel subsequently launched on January 29, 2009.
To reflect its expansion beyond VoicePrint, the National Broadcast Reading Service was renamed Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) in 2010. On January 30, 2012, as part of an effort to unify AMI's services under one brand, TAC was renamed AMI-tv. VoicePrint followed suit on March 5, 2012, becoming AMI-audio.
On December 4, 2012, AMI-tv launched a high definition feed on the MTS Ultimate TV service in Manitoba.
In January 2013, when the CRTC opened a new round of applications for must-carry channels, AMI submitted an application for a French-language sister channel of AMI-tv known as AMI-tv Français, which would have a similar format to its English-language counterpart. AMI justified the need for the channel by noting that the three provinces which host the majority of Canada's francophone population—New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec—had above-average levels of vision loss and other vision-related conditions. On August 8, 2013, the CRTC approved the application; the commission recognized that given the impact of AMI-tv's English service, a French service would have an equivalent impact on Canada's francophone community.
The service launched on December 16, 2014 as AMI-télé.
AMI-tv carries a general entertainment lineup of programming including sitcoms, television dramas, films, talk shows, and documentaries. Although AMI-tv is primarily aimed at adults, a limited amount of programming broadcast during morning hours is aimed at children, including such programs as Little Bear and Franklin. The majority of programming on AMI-tv are Canadian productions supplied in conjunction with other major Canadian broadcasters such as the CBC and CTV; a smaller portion of programming is also sourced from foreign broadcasters and studios, but in any case, no more than 33% of its programming can be supplied by a single broadcaster, and at least 50% of its programming must contain audio descriptions produced by companies other than AMI. The network also airs four hours a week of programming in French. Like the English programming, the French programming is closed captioned and contains audio descriptions in French.
AMI-tv also produces and airs original programming, primarily dealing with accessibility- and disability-related topics. Examples have included its 2011 documentary A Whole New Light, which focused on Canada's contributions to the research of vision loss, Milestones of Champions: The Journeys of Canada's Paralympians, focusing on the stories of notable Canadian athletes in the Paralympic Games, the cooking show Four Senses, and the newsmagazine series Canada in Perspective.
AMI-tv has collaborated with other Canadian broadcasters to simulcast events on the network with open described video. In conjunction with CBC Television, the network provided audio descriptions and simulcasts of coverage of events such as the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the 2011 federal election, the 2011 Gemini Awards, Canada Day festivities in Ottawa in 2012, and the 32nd Genie Awards. In conjunction with coverage of the games carried by CTV and Rogers properties, AMI-tv also offered coverage of the 2012 Summer Paralympics, including simulcasts of daily highlight shows with described video, and a daily program featuring interviews with athletes. The latter was hosted by AMI reporters Carrie Anton (who was a member of Canada's gold medal-winning goalball team at the 2000 Summer Paralympics) and Gary Steeves, both of whom are blind. AMI-tv's involvement in the Paralympics continued for the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, this time in conjunction with CBC Sports and the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
In September 2012, AMI-tv partnered with Sportsnet to broadcast three Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball games with described video provided by Sportsnet 590 correspondent Sam Cosentino, which included additional commentary such as explanations of on-screen graphics. Blue Jays president Paul Beeston praised AMI's involvement, stating that "to our knowledge, we are the first sports organization to have our games provided through this revolutionary approach to accommodating the needs of the blind and low-vision community." AMI-tv Blue Jays coverage was expanded for the 2013 season, with Cosentino joined by veteran sportscaster Jim Van Horne.