Posted in Media

Here are 13 articles in Le Devoir about changes at Le Devoir

I was going to do some interviews and put together a story about two major changes at senior management at Le Devoir, but it would be hard to top Le Devoir’s coverage of itself.

For those who don’t know yet, Bernard Descôteaux, whose title is “directeur” but basically meaning publisher, announced last summer he’s retiring after 42 years with the newspaper. That retirement took effect on Saturday. His replacement is Brian Myles, a former Le Devoir journalist and former president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec.

At the same time, the paper’s editor in chief, Josée Boileau, announced she’s also leaving the paper. Both La Presse and the Journal de Montréal report she was a candidate for the publisher job, suggesting not getting it was a reason for leaving. She would only say that the change at the top makes it a good time for her to go. No replacement has been announced yet.

For more on Descôteaux and Boileau, here’s stuff related to them leaving their jobs that has appeared in Le Devoir:

  1. (Aug. 12): Le directeur du Devoir annonce sa retraite — News story about Descôteaux announcing he’s retiring
  2. (Aug. 13): «Être le directeur du “Devoir” est un privilège» — Descôteaux’s announcement that he’s retiring
  3. (Jan. 19): Brian Myles à la tête du «Devoir» — News story about Myles’s nomination, with details on the selection process
  4. (Jan. 19): Same story, with the same headline, but by Presse Canadienne
  5. (Jan. 30): Bye bye, boss-e! — News director Marie-Andrée Chouinard’s homage to Boileau
  6. (Jan. 30): Message personnel — Boileau’s goodbye to readers, touching on the state of language, sovereignty and Quebec’s place in the world
  7. (Feb. 2): Merci Josée, merci «Le Devoir» — A letter from a reader thanking Boileau
  8. (Feb. 6): Rendre son «Devoir» — Q&A with Descôteaux
  9. (Feb. 6): Merci, Bernard! — A glowing homage to Descôteaux by Jean Lamarre, chair of Le Devoir’s board
  10. (Feb. 6): Plaidoyer pour l’avenir — Descôteaux’s final editorial, on the state of the French language, and a thank you to readers
  11. (Feb. 6): Garnotte’s caricature in honour of Descôteaux
  12. (Feb 8): Les patrons de presse — Stéphane Baillargeon on media moguls, in which he notes Le Devoir is not controlled by one
  13. (Feb. 8): Revenons à demain — Jean-François Nadeau’s homage to Descôteaux
Posted in My articles, Opinion, TV

Canada’s TV industry still needs to get its act together on streaming

Want to watch the Super Bowl tonight online or on mobile? No problem. You just have to prove you’re subscribed to CTV through a participating TV provider.

Now, that might sound a bit ridiculous, since CTV is a free-to-air television network and doesn’t collect subscription fees, but it’s nevertheless true. Bell Media is streaming the Super Bowl only on its CTV GO app, and that application works only if your TV provider has a contract with Bell Media to provide it.

Unfortunately, while English Canada’s big providers — Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Eastlink and of course Bell itself — are participating providers, Videotron and Cogeco are not. It doesn’t matter how many RDS or TSN channels you subscribe to, you can’t get mobile access to the Super Bowl or other Bell Media sports content until they make a deal. And there’s no word on when that’s going to happen.

I explore this frustration a bit in this business story, which appears in Saturday’s Montreal Gazette. It quotes Videotron saying they’re negotiating, and noting that they have Global GO, TMN GO and some other services, but that’s it.

There are gaps all across the compatibility chart. I can’t find one cable provider that offers all TV everywhere products, nor any broadcaster that’s available on all cable systems.

Quebecor seems to be the worst offender on both sides. Videotron subscribers don’t have access to most Bell Media, Rogers or Corus applications. Meanwhile TVA Sports has live streaming available only to Videotron and Cogeco subscribers.

Why is it like this? Because as Canada’s vertically integrated media companies get bigger, they’re more able to play hardball. Negotiations for carriage become more complicated, and a company like Quebecor trying to hold out for a better deal for itself and its customers ends up getting left out.

(Of course, since negotiations are secret, we have no idea which side is being unreasonable in its demands.)

Online streaming isn’t regulated directly by the CRTC, but vertically integrated companies have been told to play nice on TV everywhere products linked to licensed channels. The problem is that a deal can be considered “commercially reasonable” and still be a bad deal.

TV everywhere compatibility has gotten a lot better over the past few years, particularly as Bell, Rogers and Shaw signed deals to make their programming available on each others’ systems. But if the industry wants to show the CRTC and the government that the free market works better than government regulation, if it wants to show customers that cable is still better than over-the-top streaming, it needs to grow up, sit down together and make this work.

TV everywhere should work everywhere. If it doesn’t … well, just remember how easy piracy is these days.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Sportsnet admits it’s using Canadiens Saturday night games as subscription bait

If you’ve been paying attention to the scheduling of Hockey Night in Canada, you might have noticed that Canadiens games are more likely to be on Sportsnet this season, whereas last season they were more likely to be on City.

This season, of the 13 Saturday evening games that have aired so far, plus the next one (Feb. 27 against the Leafs) that has already been assigned, six were put on Sportsnet, two on City and six on CBC or CBC and City. Of those six, three are games against the Maple Leafs, and two were nights the Leafs weren’t playing. Only once, on Oct. 17 (in the middle of their season-opening hot streak) did the Canadiens go on CBC and bump the Leafs to another channel (in that case, City), which caused plenty of frustration from Leafs fans who had been used to just owning CBC on Saturday nights.

The Leafs’ dominance on CBC is nothing new. The same thing happened last season. And it makes sense. The Canadiens have stronger ratings overall, but if you discount francophones who will watch those games on TVA Sports, the Leafs are the more popular team on English television on Saturday nights. And so Rogers gives them the network with the largest overall reach.

But what’s changed this year appears to be the order of priority when it comes to channel assignments. It used to be CBC > City > Sportsnet > Sportsnet One or 360. But now it appears Sportsnet has moved to the No. 2 spot on Saturday nights, to the point where City has on some weeks had either simulcasts of the CBC game or an all-American matchup.

I asked Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet, about this during an interview I did for a Gazette story that appears in Saturday’s paper about the difficulty in finding live sports online.

“We want to put whatever games we can to the widest distribution,” he said.

But Moore, who noted he’s a Habs fan, admitted that the scheduling strategy has changed this year, and “the second best game has moved to Sportsnet and the third best game has gone to City.”

“That’s simply for a subscription play,” he said.

What does that mean? It means Rogers is putting that second-best game, whether it’s the Canadiens or Senators or Jets, on Sportsnet as a way of getting more people to subscribe to Sportsnet.

Sportsnet gets 72% of its revenue through subscriptions (75% if you also count Sportsnet One, 360 and World), and only 23% through advertising, according to figures from 2013-14 submitted to the CRTC. And as the CRTC mandates channels be offered on a pick-and-pay or small-package basis as of March 1 (and both as of Dec. 1), it’s in Sportsnet’s best interest to protect that subscription revenue.

It’s a balancing act from a capitalist perspective. Lock the games down too much on expensive specialty channels and you risk losing fans. Put too many games on free TV and occasional fans won’t bother subscribing to your sports channels because they don’t need them.

For a company that spent $5.2 billion on a 12-year deal with the NHL, finding that balance on the sport’s marquee night of the week is very important.

“It’s not so much a science as it is a feel,” Moore notes of how Saturday night games are assigned. That’s the big reason why channel assignments are only announced a week or two in advance, except where it’s a Canadiens-Leafs game, because that’s obviously going on CBC.

Had the Canadiens continued on their hot streak instead of plunging into the toilet with the rest of the Canadian NHL teams, we might have seen the Canadiens on CBC more often.

Will we see more subscription plays during the playoffs? The math changes then, with audience increasing and ad revenue becoming more important.

But at this rate they might not have to worry about it, because none of the seven Canadian teams are in playoff position (they’re all among the bottom nine teams in the league right now).

“It would be really interesting to see what happens between now and NHL trade deadline,” Moore said, a glimmer of hope in his voice that some miracle would save the postseason audience his company paid so dearly for.

Posted in Radio

Elliott Price returns to radio with Sunday night show on CFMB

Elliott Price (file photo, obviously)

Elliott Price (file photo, obviously)

Two and a half months after being shown the door by TSN Radio 690, Elliott Price announced Monday he’s getting back on the airwaves, though in a much less high-profile gig: A two-hour Sunday night show on multilingual station CFMB 1280 AM.

“That’s what’s available,” Price told me about the timeslot. “I was looking around for airtime and there were other options that didn’t fit what I wanted to do, so this is what we’re going to do.”

This isn’t a new job that Price has been hired for, it’s time that he’s brokered on the radio. This means if he wants to get paid, he needs to sell his own advertising. It’s something he hasn’t handled before, he said, but he’s been talking to a few potential advertisers and he’s confident he’ll be able to sell the show.

“I’m confident because it’s affordable,” he said, in a somewhat self-effacing manner. Ad rates for Price is Right won’t be nearly as high as those for the TSN morning show.

The new show, which begins on Valentine’s Day, will be mainly Price talking about sports. It’ll start with a rant from Price, and follow with interviews and other talk. He’s roped in Grant Robinson, a former TSN 690 intern and co-host of The Sports Grind on CJLO, to join him so he’ll have someone to interact with regularly.

“I have a lot to say and I’ve bottled it up for two months,” Price said.

There will also be a podcast, whose schedule isn’t set in stone but will be “more than once a week” as Price’s schedule allows and as there’s enough material to talk about. The plan is to put the best of the podcast on the show and vice-versa.

“We can branch out, we can do more, but I think our basic focus should be sports,” Price said about the shows’ content.

Price didn’t want to talk about what happened at TSN Radio. I suspect that might be because it’s only been two and a half months and they’re probably still paying him some severance. But he did say that after the time off “it’s time to get off my ass and get back to work.” He’s been a guest on City TV’s Sportsnet Central Montreal, but that’s not permanent nor enough to pay the bills.

“What do I do? I watch sports, and I talk about them and right now it’s just my son listening to me. He’s a fine audience but he only pays me so much.”

The shift to another station, whose programming is mainly not in English, will be a change for Price. But so will the schedule, after so much time hosting morning shows.

“I still get up early but not as early, think more 6 and less middle of the night,” he said. “Now if we can retrain the pets we’ll be so happy. They’re still on the 4 am shift.”

Posted in Opinion, Sports

NHL fans bullied John Scott, and blamed the NHL for it

January was quite the month for John Scott, a hockey player who started out as the butt of a joke and ended up as the National Hockey League All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.

There’s been no shortage of think pieces about Scott, especially over the past week. Most have decided to blame the NHL’s senior management for mishandling the issue, for holding a fan vote, for having Scott be eligible, for trying to convince him not to go and then for mysteriously engineering a trade that conveniently sent him to an American Hockey League team 5,000 kilometres away. (The league denies trying to prevent him from coming, but Scott himself said they tried to shame him out of it by invoking his kids.)

There’s no doubt the league mishandled the situation after Scott was chosen, and fumbled its way through trying to make good on it. But the NHL didn’t pick Scott for the all-star game. The NHL didn’t decide that humiliating a journeyman NHL player would be hilarious without caring what it would do to that guy. The fans did that.

So why aren’t they getting the blame from anyone (besides Don Cherry)?

I followed the John Scott story closely over the past little while, partly because he’s now in the Montreal Canadiens organization, but also because I related to him.

I was bullied in high school, pretty badly. There might have been one or two people in my high school who got it worse than me, but on the social hierarchy I was pretty near the bottom. I won’t bore you with details, but the torment was pretty standard for high schools in the 90s.

It was in my last year or two of high school, when during the lunch period there was some sort of vote on something. I don’t remember what it was, what the prize was, but I remember my surprise when one of my fellow students — one of the many who regularly bullied me — called out my name.

I didn’t get it. I hadn’t suddenly become popular. Why did these people vote for me? Why were they happy I won?

Then there was that time that a pack of girls brought me into an AV room and flashed me. (Well, not really, they were lightning fast and didn’t lift their shirts all the way, so I never saw anything.) What the hell was that about?

Had I become so uncool that I was now really popular? Like a reversal of coolness polarity?

No, I was still the butt of a joke. Things got better as people matured (including me), but my classmates didn’t look up to me, they were still looking down, and laughing.

I thought of that while following the John Scott story. He experienced something similar, but on a much larger and more public scale.

NHL fans decided to vote him in as a joke (and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s how this started), but Scott refused to bow out and instead approached the event with an enthusiasm that brought many more fans to his side. The love-in only got stronger through the events, culminating in him being hoisted on his teammates’ shoulders after scoring twice in the All-Star Game.

But that doesn’t shift responsibility for the fan vote that got him there. That doesn’t change the fact that John Scott was the victim of bullying on a massive scale.

Greg Wyshynski, the Puck Daddy blogger who first blurted out Scott’s name during a podcast, which sparked the campaign to vote for Scott, accepted some responsibility for starting it all. But while he spent a few seconds mocking Scott, he didn’t orchestrate the campaign to flood NHL all-star voting with votes for him. The Internet trolls on Reddit and elsewhere did that.

They need to accept responsibility for what they did, and not take the storybook ending as proof that the ends justified the means. They’re the villains of this story that Scott vanquished, not the fairy godmothers that gave him a happy ending.

The NHL has some responsibility here, too, of course. The idea of voting in someone as a joke has been around for years, since Rory Fitzpatrick almost got selected in 2007. And the selection of Zemgus Girgensons, while for positive reasons (Latvia wanted an all-star, and its citizens made it happen), should have reinforced the idea that fan voting can have unexpected consequences. And if it’s true that the league tried to pressure Scott or even forced the trade that may have banished him to the AHL, it needs to apologize for that.

And maybe there should be changes to the all-star selection process. Not a preselected list of qualified candidates, but some minimum qualifications, such as a minimum of NHL games played. The league might also consider measures to encourage more people like Scott, role players who never lead the league in scoring but are beloved by fans and teammates alike, to join the all-star festivities.

But the biggest change I’d like to see is in fans’ mentality. You’ve proven you have the power to manipulate the results of an online vote. Now maybe you’ll give it some more thought before making some poor hard-working guy you’ve never met the butt of your stupid joke.

In the meantime, congratulations John Scott. I hope you had as much fun participating as we did watching it. And I hope we’ll get to see you scoring some goals in Montreal soon.

Posted in Media, Opinion

Bell Let’s Talk: Are all of Bell Media’s newsrooms independently choosing to cover it?

On Monday, CTV News President Wendy Freeman appeared at a CRTC hearing in Gatineau looking into the future of local television, and she was asked about the editorial independence of Bell Media’s newsrooms, particularly in light of the Kevin Crull scandal, and journalistic independence code that followed it. Here’s what she said, from the transcript of that hearing:

It’s actually working out very well and what we have done is we’ve put a journalistic independence policy in place and basically so that there is never any interference from anyone that no one can ever influence our news division.

And if someone — anyone that works for CTV News feels that they are being pressured or influenced by someone, that they can come to me and that I now have a place to go if I feel that I am being pressured or influenced. And in the end, it is my choice on what we cover and what we do, and I have the final say.

But the independence policy was distributed across the company and in the end it basically says that no one has the right to interfere in our news gathering and in our news, and in our news editorial decision-making. And it has been going well. Thank you for asking.

Bell Media hasn’t published this independence code, but apparently its journalists can go straight to Freeman with any issues, and she reports directly to BCE CEO George Cope.

Two days later, there’s a test of this independence code as BCE does its annual Let’s Talk campaign to raise money and awareness for mental health. A laudable cause, to be sure, but it’s also an ad campaign with Bell’s logo all over it. (I first wrote about that aspect five years ago, and there was a followup counterpoint a year later.)

This year, as it has previously, Bell Media sent out a press release promising wall-to-wall coverage across its properties, including CTV News Channel, CP24, TSN, RDS, BNN, local CTV News stations and news-talk radio stations, plus newsy shows like eTalk and Innerspace. Everything under the Bell Media umbrella was going to talk about this issue.

So how does that square with the journalistic independence code? How are journalists supposed to feel independent if BCE is having them all report on a Bell campaign?

I put the question to Freeman, and here’s what she wrote back to me:

Thanks for checking in. I can confirm with complete certainty that all decisions to cover Bell Let’s Talk day and it’s mental health initiatives by CTV News outlets are made completely independent of corporate influence. CTV Newsrooms are unequivocally free to choose the news they cover.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is a news story every year that is of significant national interest.  It is being covered by a wide range of news outlets, including the CBC.

Millions of Canadians are engaged, making it Twitter’s #1 trending topic nationally and #2 worldwide. From politicians and the royal family to celebrities and athletes,  Bell Let’s Talk Day is clearly of interest to many, and as a result, newsworthy.

With regard to the press release cited in your note, we often announce in advance our coverage plans for news of national importance and of interest to viewers, always subject to change of course depending on the news of the day.

I’m still a bit skeptical about the influence Bell has over its newsrooms’ coverage. Here in Montreal, CTV News at noon had a five-minute remote interview with Mary Walsh near the top of the newscast (she did the rounds of CTV stations), and later another five-minute interview with a pro wrestler. During both, there was a graphic overlay of how many texts, calls and tweets were contributing to the campaign. That graphic, of course, used Bell’s logo, its colours and its fonts.

Mutsumi Takahashi interviews Shayne Hawke on CTV Montreal

Mutsumi Takahashi interviews Shayne Hawke on CTV Montreal

Does anyone believe CTV News would be doing this if this was a Telus campaign? Or a Manulife one? No, it would probably be covering it like CBC and others are covering today’s events: as an average news story about a trending topic, not a news event that requires special attention.

I certainly wouldn’t expect newsrooms to announce their coverage plans days in advance.

But who can be angry about more attention to mental illness, right? It’s a good cause, so why would a news director choose not to report on it, unless out of some malice? Is it so bad to hand over CTV News to Bell’s corporate PR people for a day for some joint venture for charity?

I’m a bit concerned that CTV News and other Bell Media news outlets are being a bit too passive about corporate interference, despite what Freeman says. I certainly wouldn’t expect any of their newsrooms to note the fact that Bell has many employees that don’t enjoy mental health insurance coverage, for example. (Though that’s a larger issue about freelancers and contract workers replacing permanent employees that’s affecting lots of sectors in the economy.)

But I’m more worried about the slippery slope. When CTV News, Bell Media and BCE see themselves as part of the same family, with journalists and corporate PR working so closely together, it’s easier for people to get the impression, like Crull did, that they have the same interests, or even that one is subservient to the other.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid. Maybe all of Bell Media’s newsrooms independently choosing to cover the same issue on the same day is normal and has nothing to do with the fact that the issue is being pushed by Bell Media’s parent company.

Or maybe I’m just being heartless because I’ve never had a mental illness and I should just shut up and let this one slide.

Posted in Media, Public transit

Métro goes back in the metro

Métro newspaper stands in 2010.

Métro newspaper stands in 2010.

Remember these? They’re coming back.

Well, not exactly. The new stands will be green and grey.

Métro, the free newspaper owned by TC Media, announced today it has signed a five-year deal with the STM to once again become the exclusive newspaper of the Montreal metro system, as of Feb. 1. It replaces 24 Heures, which stole the contract from Métro five years ago.

The deal with 24 Heures was for five years but included a five-year renewal option. It seems Métro’s offer was good enough for the STM to decline that option (or 24 Heures decided it could no longer afford the cost).

The deal also means that the Info STM page will return to Métro from 24 Heures.

The STM refuses to say how much Métro is paying it for this exclusive contract, or whether it’s more or less than what 24 Heures paid for it. (The press release notes that there were two bids.)

Comme il s’agit d’une entente de nature commerciale entre la filiale commerciale de la STM (Transgesco s.e.c.) et un partenaire privé (Transcontinental), les détails de cette entente ne sont pas de nature publique. Il en est de même pour l’entente précédente avec le journal 24 h.
— Isabelle Tremblay, STM

The deal is actually signed with Transgesco, a commercial subsidiary of the STM that deals with advertising and other commercial revenue. Though we know how much Transgesco gives to the STM each year (about $30 million), we don’t know how that breaks down in terms of revenues for the paper contract, metro and outdoor shelter advertising and other revenues.

metro-dans-le-metro

Despite getting the metro contract for 2011-15, the Quebecor-owned free paper lagged behind its competitor in terms of readership, according to figures from NADbank (now Vividata). The latest data show Métro with 446,000 print readers for the average issue, compared with 414,000 for 24 Heures. Maybe this means the deal doesn’t mean that much, because both papers are given out by human distributors outside metro stations during the morning rush hour. Or maybe it means that readers still prefer Métro, regardless of how they get it.

In addition to the 320 stands in the metro system, Métro has about 1,000 other stands, including in AMT train stations.

Posted in Media

Halifax Chronicle Herald strike begins with bitterness on both sides

It’s been a while since we had a good old-fashioned newspaper labour conflict in this country.

On Friday night, the Halifax Chronicle Herald entered one as the union and its 61 workers went on strike to avoid severe cuts the company said it would impose. This despite the fact that the union had offered concessions — including wage decreases — at the bargaining table.

J-Source has background on the issues here.

And today, as union members walked the picket lines and encouraged people to unsubscribe to the paper and boycott its advertisers, 18 of its members received layoff notices, and seven of them additional offers to return to work in non-union positions with different working conditions. (The CEO explains in this memo sent to those who weren’t laid off.)

The Herald plans to continue publishing, using managers, but also some more creative ways of getting around the union. It has an agreement with Brunswick News to provide copy that might appeal to a Nova Scotia audience, and it has reportedly approached students and others to act as freelancers during the strike.

The Halifax Typographical Union is active on its Twitter account, with bitter comments about the newspaper’s management. The newspaper also got a bit snippy today:

And Herald president and CEO Mark Lever has been responding to some critics on Twitter, though judging from the replies he’s getting he’s not a very popular person.

On the CH website, they’ve so far played it safe and posted Canadian Press coverage of the strike, which is a good practice in general for media reporting on themselves. (It might help if they posted that story anywhere on their homepage.)

You only need to look at the Journal de Québec and Journal de Montréal lockouts to know that they can lead to a lot of resentment. Even if a deal is reached here, the Chronicle Herald may never be the same.

UPDATE (Jan. 24): The layoff notices have been suspended.

Not just the big guys

One thing I should note about this: The Halifax Chronicle Herald is an independent newspaper. (It’s described as Canada’s largest independent daily, which is true only if you ignore the Globe and Mail, La Presse and the Winnipeg Free Press.)

Those who blame the media’s problems entirely on consolidation should remember that the Chronicle Herald, CHCH TV, the Hudson Gazette and other independent media are also feeling the squeeze.

Speaking of which, the Nanaimo Daily News, owned by the Black Press, just announced it’s shutting down next week.

Posted in Media, Navel-gazing

Another sad day at Postmedia

I don’t have much to say about the announcement Tuesday that Postmedia is cutting more than 90 jobs, particularly in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, the three markets where it owns both subscription daily newspapers.

Not because it’s not important. But because (a) Postmedia is my employer, which puts me in a conflict of interest, (b) I don’t have anything really to add that hasn’t been written by the Globe and Mail and others, and (c) aside from the details, it’s the same story that has been written about double-digit and triple-digit layoffs at large media companies over the past decade.

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Posted in Montreal, Radio

Community centre proposes new low-power station in St-Laurent at 90.7 FM

voix-st-lo-logo

Despite protestations that the FM band is full in Montreal and every last available frequency has been taken, more attempts to squeeze in new stations keep appearing.

The latest is an application by La Voix de St-Lo, an online radio station operated by the Centre communautaire Bon Courage de Place Benoit in St-Laurent. It proposes a French-language community radio station at 90.7 FM, with a 50-watt transmitter from right next to the community centre.

The station appears to have picked the callsign CHIL-FM, though it’s unclear if they will be able to use that if the application is approved.

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Posted in Opinion, TV

Does BazzoTV deserve a tax credit?

Marie-France Bazzo's BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

Marie-France Bazzo’s BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

The scandale du jour in Quebec media: The government has cut funding to BazzoTV, forcing the Télé-Québec current affairs show to shut down for good after this season.

Bazzo’s production company issued a statement, the show posted a page on its website, Marie-France Bazzo herself tweeted about it and there are plenty of news stories about the change, with Bazzo not being afraid to express her opinion on what this decision means for the future of television.

Reaction has been negative toward the government and supportive of Bazzo. One Journal de Montréal blowhard called it murder.

So what happened, exactly?

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Posted in Media

Dave Stubbs leaves Montreal Gazette to become columnist for NHL.com

Dave Stubbs, a veteran sports columnist for the Montreal Gazette who has been mainly covering hockey — with occasional sidesteps into auto racing and other sports where necessary — is leaving the paper, taking on a new job as a columnist for NHL.com.

The new job is pretty well a perfect fit for Stubbs, who has always had a thing for history and statistics and random bits of hockey trivia (particularly when it comes to goaltenders for some reason).

But it’s a loss for the Montreal Gazette, whose parent company Postmedia hasn’t had a lot of great news recently.

There’s no word yet on whether Stubbs will be replaced. The Gazette also counts on beat writer Pat Hickey and columnist Stu Cowan for Canadiens coverage, plus Herb Zurkowsky covering the Alouettes and boxing beats.

UPDATE: Stubbs writes his farewell column on the Professional Hockey Writers Association website, since he could not do so in the Gazette.

Posted in Media, TV

Corus buying Shaw Media is a big deal, but it’s not a Big Deal

The news broke as I was busy preparing for and going to the annual shareholders meeting of Cogeco: Shaw Media is being sold to Corus Entertainment for $2.65 billion. The people who own Teletoon and YTV will now also control Global TV, Showcase, Food Network and other channels.

But as huge as the purchase figure is, the deal itself is more of a corporate reorganization than a major media merger. Here’s why:

Corus was formed in 1999 as a Shaw spinoff company. Shaw put all its media assets in the Corus portfolio and created a separate, publicly-traded company. But through Corus and Shaw are publicly traded and have their own boards of directors, both are still under the control of the Shaw family.

For this reason, the CRTC considers that they’re related companies. That means they probably won’t oppose the deal. And it means Corus is probably not going to be asked to pay a tangible benefits package to secure the deal, so there won’t be millions of dollars going to various production funds or content development initiatives.

Here’s how the assets will break down once the deal is completed (assets changing hands in bold):

  • Shaw Communications:
    • Shaw Cablesystems
    • Shaw Direct satellite TV
    • Wind Mobile (once that transaction is complete)
    • Shomi (50%, with Rogers having the other half)
  • Corus Entertainment:
    • Global Television Network
    • Three CTV affiliates in Ontario
    • Specialty channels Action, BBC Canada (80%), DejaView, DIY Network, DTour, Food Network, FYI, Global News BC1, History, H2, HGTV, IFC, Lifetime, MovieTime, Crime + Investigation, National Geographic Channel (80%), Nat Geo Wild, Showcase, Slice
    • Kids specialty channels Disney Channel (fr/en), Disney Jr, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, Teletoon (fr/en), YTV, Cartoon Network, Treehouse
    • Specialty channels ABC Spark, CMT Canada, Cosmo TV, OWN Canada, Sundance Channel, W Movies, W Network, Historia, Séries+
    • Pay TV channels Movie Central and Encore Avenue (until Bell replaces them with a national Movie Network), including 50% stake in HBO Canada
    • Telelatino Network and its associated third-language channels
    • Production company Nelvana
    • 39 radio stations
    • Kids Can Press

 

There are some minor assets whose eventual owner is unclear right now (TV station CJBN in Kenora, Ont., is owned directly by Shaw and isn’t part of Shaw Media), but these are the basics. Notably, Shaw will have a 39% stake in Corus directly as a result of the stock portion of this purchase. That might make it easier down the road for Shaw to take over Corus and make it a real subsidiary.

Combined, Corus and Shaw have about a 35% share of viewing to English-language television in Canada, which is the same as Bell Media and about as much as the CRTC is comfortable giving any one group. Rogers and CBC have about 10% each, and the rest is everyone else.

What changes?

The big question is what changes as a result of this transaction. On one hand, the ultimate owner of these assets is the same. But on the other hand, because the companies are run separately, they haven’t taken advantage of centralization or things like collective bargaining with TV providers to get a better deal.

Practically, this will probably mean that:

  • Instead of ads for Shaw TV on Global, we’ll see more ads for YTV, Teletoon and OWN.
  • In markets where Corus will own both a Global TV station and a news-talk radio station (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto), there could be cross-promotion or even content partnerships of some sort. We could see a rationalization of news-gathering staff and people asked to report for both TV and radio.
  • Those three CTV affiliates in south/eastern Ontario (Peterborough, Oshawa and Kingston) will probably eventually become Global TV stations.
  • Maybe more programming aimed at children and families on Global TV.

Beyond that, the concentration of media ownership already happened (the biggest step was when Shaw acquired Canwest’s TV assets in 2010), and this is really only a minor step in that process.

Which is why despite a $2.65-billion transaction, my media ownership chart doesn’t change.

Posted in TV

Shaw wants to reduce Global Montreal’s local programming requirement

Later this month, the CRTC will hold a hearing looking into the future of local and community television. Included in that review will be a look at how much local programming local television stations should produce, and what that should be.

The proceeding has attracted thousands of pages of comments, including from Canada’s major broadcasters.

Shaw Media, which owns Global TV, filed comments in which it unsurprisingly defended its model for local news, which involves local newscasts not only being produced and directed outside of local markets, but anchored there as well.

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Posted in Media

Unanswered questions going into 2016

At the beginning of 2015, I did a wrapup of issues that remained unresolved from 2014 in the form of a list of unanswered questions. Looking back at them now, I find that many of them remain unanswered as we enter 2016. Since some issues continue at a glacial pace, I figure it’s useful to once again present to you a list of things someone, somewhere, will need to figure out.

We’ll start this year’s unanswered questions by revisiting those from last year. Here they are:

Television (national)

What decisions will come out of the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV process?

The commission’s long review of television policy resulted in rules that we expected. The big headline was about specialty channels, that will have to be available for individual purchase and in small packages by the end of 2016.

Less headline-grabbing but much more important was the complete removal of not only genre protection for specialty channels but the elimination of natures of service. This means that these channels will be able to broadcast whatever they want (with a limit only on live sports), regardless of what they were originally designed for. The History channel will no longer be limited to shows that have something to do with history. Book Television won’t have to talk about books. Travel + escape can be a channel about people staying in their beds.

On one hand, this means a lot more freedom for channels that have lost their way. On the other, it means a rush to the lowest common denominator, and fewer niche channels in favour of general entertainment stuff that captures a larger audience.

There’s also a lot of stuff that didn’t happen in the Let’s Talk TV decisions. Simultaneous substitution hasn’t changed, except for during the Super Bowl (starting in 2017) and the imposing of still-undetermined penalties if it’s done incorrectly. Decisions on local TV were kicked down the road and will be reviewed later this month along with community TV. And the commission hasn’t made any move to try to impose anything on Netflix.

Will Global’s all-news channel plan work?

We don’t know yet.

We learned about this plan for a hybrid national/local all-news network in the summer of 2014, but the CRTC still hasn’t posted the application. It could be waiting to handle local TV regulations first, or … who knows. The commission doesn’t talk about unpublished applications.

It’s an unusual application, and in the end the CRTC might decide that Global’s request for local advertising in exchange for a bit of local news isn’t worth it, but right now we’re just waiting.

Will OTA TV stations have to undergo another transition?

At this point, it doesn’t look like it yet. You might recall Industry Canada’s proposal to match a U.S. move to reallocate TV frequencies to wireless services. This issue is progressing in the United States, but Canada is mostly just waiting and seeing. It makes little sense for Canada to do anything other than follow the Americans’ lead on this.

What happens to Sun News Network?

Sun News Network shut down on Feb. 13 after attempts to sell it failed. Its talent has scattered, some heading to more traditional broadcast media, others to their other jobs at the Toronto Sun. Ezra Levant started his own website with the help of some of his Sun friends.

Will V send MusiquePlus and Musimax into the gutter?

A lot of people were upset at the cancelling of long-running shows like M. Net in 2014 after V bought the two music channels out of the Bell-Astral merger. In 2015, the transformation continued with the launch of programs like Lip Sync Battle, Pop de jam and Fabriqué au Québec. But the year ended with Claude Rajotte being let go. And they often feel like V2 and V3 with reruns of Éric Salvail’s shows and other programming from V.

What happens to Bio, G4, Book Television and other neglected specialty channels?

So far, nothing. But most of them have been freed from their nature-of-service obligations, which means they’re free to rebrand into almost anything. Rogers is expected to turn one of its channels into a Vice channel. Other rebrands should probably follow later this year. There’s no rush until the new CRTC packaging rules take effect and people start dropping the less popular channels, because right now they have no original programming, no employees and profit margins well above 50%.

Will Avis de recherche survive the year?

Despite a 2013 CRTC decision that the public safety information channel wasn’t worthy of mandatory funding after Sept. 1, 2015, the channel has stayed running through regulatory and legal manoeuvring. Bell and Videotron have both said they want to pull the channel, but ADR complained to the CRTC. The commission expedited the application so it can be dealt with quickly. We could see a decision soon, though ADR could continue fighting this through other legal avenues (that it will also eventually lose).

Will the English version of 19-2 break away from the French?

The second season of the Montreal-set cop show followed the original French version pretty well in the major plot line, though many of the specifics were changed. The third season, which airs this year on Bravo, is likely to diverge even further, to the point where it might continue for a fourth, even though the French version ended for good after three.

How long does analog cable have left?

Not long, but it’s still been a slow decline, at least around here. Videotron is down to about 10% of its subscribers who don’t have digital TV service yet.

Is radio-on-the-TV a fad, or a concept that’s here to stay?

CBC started airing its morning shows on local television in September. City is still doing the same in Winnipeg. Tim and Sid is still going strong on Sportsnet. And ARTV put a Radio-Canada radio show on TV.

Whether or not it’s great TV seems to have become largely irrelevant because it’s still cheap.

Television (local)

Will ICI’s business model work?

The little ethnic TV station that could is still going, with lots of original local programming. I don’t know how successful they are financially, but it’s still on the air.

Will MYtv see the light of day?

Yes, kinda. Videotron started airing English community programming in the fall, though the original plan to have a separate English-language channel was dropped. MAtv faces another complaint from an independent group alleging that it is failing to meet its regulatory obligations.

Who will win the battle of the morning shows?

Global’s Morning News and City’s Breakfast Television are still going. Both had host changes — Global dropped Richard Dagenais and City parted ways with Alex Despatie, replacing him with Derick Fage. But both are still going, in large part because of CRTC obligations. Ratings have suggested they’re doing about as well as each other, and far behind CTV’s Canada AM.

Will CBC Montreal’s newscast cut be another Canada Now-style disaster?

The drop from 90 to 30 minutes hasn’t made too many waves that I can see. And the hourly local news updates were a good move. We’ll see what the CBC does about improving local news and local programming with the extra millions it’ll get from the Liberal government.

Will the 12 job cuts at CTV Montreal affect the quality of its product?

This question is pretty funny considering how many Bell Media cuts were to come in the following year. The station ended up losing its general manager (though he was re-hired as a sales manager). Sean Coleman was hired to anchor weekends, replacing Andre Corbeil. The station is making due with fewer staff, though it escaped more serious cuts that affected other stations this year.

The cuts haven’t been that noticeable, except for sports coverage. With only Brian Wilde reporting (and that’s only when Randy Tieman isn’t on vacation), there’s no time for amateur sports, and when there’s news from more than one of the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, decisions have to be made.

Radio (national)

Will HD Radio take off in Canada?

Corus implemented HD Radio on a Hamilton FM station, and used its second channel to simulcast its Toronto AM talk station. Otherwise, there hasn’t been much open interest in the technology.

Will Jian Ghomeshi be convicted of assault? Will executives be forced to walk the plank? And will anything change?

Ghomeshi’s criminal charges are still pending, and it could be a while before they’re resolved. Executives did walk the plank in the wake of the scandal, and the corporation is undoubtedly more sensitive to workplace behaviour. But whether anything will change in the long term is still unclear.

Will NRJ go all-talk?

The network rebranded as Énergie, severing its ties with the radio brand from France. And it’s new programming in the mornings is more talk, less music. But it stopped short of a wholesale change to a talk format.

Radio (local)

Will TTP Media’s radio stations ever see the light of day?

Sigh. We’re still waiting. This group has a knack for making it seem to regulators that they’re doing something while not apparently doing anything. The next deadline is in May, when their first extension for 850AM ends. They’ll probably get another one, which means the next real deadline is November 2016. I’d like to say that if they’re not on the air by then it’s over, but that’s what I thought a year ago.

Will Evanov Radio become a major player in the Montreal market?

It’s a player, but still not a major one. CHSV-FM 106.7 The Jewel in Hudson/St-Lazare is running with familar on-air personalities Ted Bird and Tasso. Radio Fierté (CHRF 980 AM) had less success. The format has apparently been abandoned and after a couple of months of non-stop Christmas music it’s now airing something similar to The Jewel but in French, with no on-air staff. The sale of CFMB 1280 to Evanov went through, but Evanov hasn’t made any major changes to the station.

Will CJLO get permission to interfere with Vermont Public Radio?

No. It’s not that the CRTC wanted to protect VPR, but it felt CJLO could find better solutions than taking the last available FM frequency here. CJLO’s engineer disagrees, so we’re left at an impasse.

Will The Beat and Virgin remain in a deadlock?

Yes. The Beat has a larger anglo audience overall, but Virgin is better in the demographics.

Will new ethnic stations be a success?

Neither Radio Humsafar 1610 AM nor ITR 102.9 FM, approved in May 2014, are on the air yet. Radio Humsafar has requested a technical change, moving its transmitter site, and says it would be ready to broadcast soon after that’s approved.

Will AM music stations survive?

CJMS 1040 AM, which got a new owner, and CJLV 1570 AM, which is owned by Humsafar, are still on the air.

What will Gregory Charles do to Radio Classique?

He made the stations share just about all their programming with each other, gave himself a show, and hired Bernard Derome as his morning man.

Will Radio 9 succeed where Radio X didn’t?

Nope. The Radio 9 talk format was dumped in favour of an all-sports format that hasn’t made the ratings dial move much yet. Rumours persist of RNC Media being for sale.

Print

Will the Competition Bureau approve the sale of Sun Media to Postmedia?

Yes.

Whose tablet strategy will come out on top?

La Presse+ is still going strong, to the point where La Presse decided to drop the weekday print edition. Postmedia (my employer), which had an evening tablet edition strategy, dropped it this fall after a year.

Will TVA Publications rationalize its magazine portfolio?

The acquisition of magazines from Transcontinental did indeed lead to dropping some titles, including Le Lundi.

Is the Hudson Gazette gone for good?

No one’s heard from it since. It’s dead.

Online

Will Ricochet become a major media outlet or just another outlet for left-wing opinion?

Look at the website of the bilingual crowdfunded media outlet, and you see lots of opinions and columnists, but very little original news.

Other

Where will orphaned media personalities end up?

I listed four people a year ago: Mary-Jo Barr, Alyson Lozoff, Catherine Sherriffs and Andre Corbeil. Barr took a job at Pfizer, Corbeil is working for a livestock feed company, and Lozoff and Sherriffs have been off the radar the past year.

You can add to that list other names that got cut from or voluntarily left their jobs this year: Alex Despatie, Elliott Price, Suzanne Desautels, Rob Kemp, Ronny Mack, Angelica Montgomery, Peggy Curran, Sue Montgomery, and former employees of the West Island Chronicle and Westmount Examiner.

Others have been luckier. Abe Hefter is teaching at Concordia, and Richard Dagenais is hosting a show on MAtv and reading the news on weekends on CJAD.

New questions

Television

What’s the future of local and community television?

The CRTC has handled specialty channels, but other than deciding that transmitters must stay on the air, there’s been little decided for conventional TV. This month, the commission holds hearings on local and community television policy, and we’ll see things like how much local programming stations should be obliged to broadcast, how much of that should be local news, whether community stations should be run by TV providers or local organizations, and how to regulate how money is spent on community TV.

Will there be a rush to the middle among specialty channels?

The deregulation of most specialty channels means more freedom to stray from niches. But in a pick-and-pay universe, and with the availability of Netflix and other streaming services with large libraries, a channel devoted to Seinfeld reruns might not be successful either. So what will work? Channels like AMC and FX that have one or two must-have series but fill the rest of the schedule with reruns and crap? Channels like Family, Crime+Investigation and Food Network that still target a niche or demographic? Or will everything just become general entertainment programming, a mix of scripted dramas and comedies, reality TV shows and lifestyle shows?

Will we see more channels adopt American branding?

A lot of Canadian specialty channels share names and logos with American counterparts. The reasons are mainly economic. You don’t need to design your own logo, or create your own marketing campaign, or worry about confusion when people in the U.S. talk about a show being on some network when it has a different name north of the border. Canadian channels that keep a distinct brand tend to do so either because of their age (YTV, Much) or because they were stuck in their niche (G4, Bio, Book, Fashion). The latter issue becomes irrelevant now.

Does Vice succeed as a TV channel?

Rogers is bringing the brand to Canadian televisions, probably by rebranding a poorly performing channel like G4 or Bio. Vice gets attention online, but whether that translates to a 24/7 cable channel is still to be determined.

What will CBC do with its extra millions?

I put the question to you recently.

Radio

What happens to Radio Shalom?

The Jewish AM station’s owner says he’s no longer willing to financially support the station and is asking others to step up. If no one does, we could end up with dead air at 1650 AM.

Do community stations get enough money to survive?

Radio Centre-Ville came far short of its goal crowdfunding a new cultural space, but launched it anyway. CIBL is about a third of the way toward its crowdfunding goal to save the station. CKUT looks like it will be short of its annual funding drive goal. Radio Ville-Marie is always seeking donations, and I just told you about Radio Shalom. Will this reliance on direct donations to pay the bills result in a station going under?

How does the new ethnic radio station environment look?

Montreal has a lot of ethnic/third-language radio stations, and most are required to have programming in several languages, though they tend to focus on one or two. CFMB 1280 is mainly Italian, CKDG 105.1 is mainly Greek, CHOU 1450 covers the Middle East, the new Radio Humsafar 1610 will serve mainly South Asia, CJWI 1410 serves the Haitian community.

CKIN-FM, which was sold by Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio (owner of CKDG) to businessman Neeti P. Ray, has a new schedule that’s Arabic during the day and Spanish in the evenings.

Is that the way it will stay? Or will CKIN’s change and the emergence of Humsafar prompt other adjustments at other stations?

Print

Does La Presse succeed as tablet-only during the week?

It was a bold move to kill the weekday edition of La Presse. It cuts down a lot on cost, but is there something more intangible about being a daily newspaper that La Presse loses now, even if it’s publishing daily tablet editions? We’ll see. But there were already more people reading it on tablet than print before the change.

Does Postmedia shut down more papers?

Rumours persist about Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, where Postmedia owns the two subscription dailies. Postmedia denies any plans to shut down the Suns in those markets. And while it shut down publications in Muskoka, that’s an “isolated” situation. My employer isn’t in the best financial situation, but it’s still expected to survive in the short term overall.

Online

Do new online news outlets grow or contract in 2016?

Vice. Buzzfeed. Canadaland. iPolitics. The Tyee. Huffington Post. Online-only media in Canada have grown more serious in recent years, hiring professional journalists and tackling serious issues, while funding themselves using different models (crowdfunding, native advertising, paywalls, partnerships with big-money media). Will these new outlets with diverse funding sources and more targeted audiences fill the hole made by traditional media’s cuts, or will they find that their recent spending on professionals isn’t sustainable without a lot more revenue?

Will CraveTV and Shomi emerge as real competitors to Netflix?

Shomi, owned by Rogers and Shaw, just recently opened itself up to subscriptions from all Canadians. CraveTV, owned by Bell, has promised to do the same this year, but hasn’t set a date yet. That’s significant because providing all this content without requiring cable subscriptions could entice more people to cut the cord, and these companies make a lot of money from people who pay for TV.

We might also hit a wall with streaming services. Netflix is less than $10 a month, but if you add Crave, and Shomi, and other services like sports streaming and iTunes, or if Amazon or Hulu or others come to Canada, consumers might find their over-the-top bills about as high as what they were paying for the cord they cut in the first place — and a lot less live TV to show for it.

What questions will Fagstein forget to add to this list?

Next question.