By Aldo Di Felice*
This is a short story about how TLN, a Canadian media company, opened its new headquarters and studios during the pandemic — and quickly learned that head space is more important than office space.
The year 2020 was supposed to be our year to finally “come out” with fabulous new headquarters in a storied multicultural venue in central Toronto. That was the plan, at least. For 30 years, TLN Media Group’s headquarters and studios had been tucked into a retrofitted industrial warehouse in the northwest corner of Toronto. It was all very functional but not particularly splashy.
As the year 2020 began, we could not have been more excited about unveiling our new midtown Toronto headquarters and studios in the Columbus Centre, a historically designated cultural center built some 50 years ago through the efforts of Toronto’s Italian-Canadian community, and sitting on a 20-acre campus that includes housing and care facilities for seniors.
We were overjoyed about plans to hold regular tapings, live events, screenings, and receptions in our fabulous new meeting spaces. In fact, as the year started, we were able to squeeze in a two-day open house for our hundreds of partners and collaborators, as well as a special VIP charitable fundraising reception with well-known TV chef-presenters Lidia Bastianich and David Rocco.
But the month of March certainly came in like lion, not a lamb. A lion named COVID-19. Suddenly, all of our best-laid plans for 2020 were cancelled or “indefinitely postponed.” And some 60 staff members needed to quickly prepare to work remotely and keep our seven TV channels, websites, and activities going uninterrupted. Incredibly, they did it, and we stayed on the air.
Even better, our production team quickly adapted to ramp up remote “touchless production” of a nonstop series of informative and entertaining COVID-19 segments as part of our Spanish-language Hola News, Italian-language Note Bene, and English-language TLN Connects programs. So we actually expanded our daily production activities during this pandemic due to our need to serve the public.
Since COVID-19 hit, TLN Media Group has produced over 150 reports, including interviews with numerous ministers and members of Parliament both at the federal level and in provinces, as well as local city officials, community leaders, business leaders, and unsung heroes. Segments run on our main TV channels, which include TLN-English, Mediaset Italia, and Univision Spanish, all of which quickly arranged to go on free-preview in more than 10 million homes across Canada. And our reports ran full-length for the world to see on our channels’ websites.
The goal of our daily production efforts is to inform, reassure, and inspire our communities, which include millions of Spanish–, Italian– and English-speaking Canadians.
Our teams of staff and collaborators quickly adapted to the situation. Not only are we surviving, we are in many ways thriving (advertising market collapse notwithstanding), with record audiences and followings in TV and digital. And as live sports restart we have successfully restarted broadcasting over 80 matches in the remaining weeks of the European Serie A Italian League.
We have also pivoted to create a virtual version of our annual summertime free street festival –– inviting Canadians to “Keep Dancing” with Canada’s largest celebration of Latin culture. This year’s TD Salsa in Toronto Festival will take place virtually on July 18 and 19, delivering a TV and digital festival experience for Canadians across the country.
*Aldo Di Felice (pictured above) is president of Toronto-based TLN Media Group. The original single–ethnic TV channel “Telelatino” has evolved into TLN Media Group (TMG), an independently-owned organization, with TMG’s flagship TLN TV becoming an English-language channel. TMG operates Canada’s foreign-language TV channels: Spanish-language Univision and Italian-language services Mediaset Italia and TGCOM24 news network. TMG also launched Canada’s only heritage-language channels for kids, Telebimbi and Teleniños, as well as EuroWorld Sport TV Channels.