CRTC renews OMNI for three years, rejects 6½ other proposals to replace it

The CRTC has reached a decision on what will replace OMNI. And it’s OMNI.

In a decision released Thursday, accompanied by a press release, the commission found that “Rogers’ proposed service, along with its associated commitments, best meets the needs and interests of Canada’s diverse population and the criteria established by the Commission, and is the most likely to ensure an exceptional contribution to the fulfillment of the objectives of the (Broadcasting) Act.”

The commission will therefore renew OMNI’s licence, but with “no expectation of renewal” beyond that, and only for three years, until 2023, when the mandatory distribution status of OMNI and other services with that status like CPAC, APTN and AMI, will be reviewed at the same time.

In its application, Rogers proposed that the new OMNI would have half-hour daily national newscasts in six languages: Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese, and local newscasts (for Toronto, Alberta and Vancouver) in Punjabi and Mandarin. Rogers told me it also planned to replace the current national Italian newscast, produced out of Montreal, with regional ones in Montreal and Toronto. The licence doesn’t specify the languages of programming, leaving that decision up to Rogers.

OMNI, which has TV stations in Toronto (two), Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, is broken up into four regions: B.C., Prairies, East (Ontario and Atlantic Canada) and Quebec. The Quebec feed is administered by ICI (CFHD-DT), an independent ethnic TV station in Montreal that was born out of Rogers’ conversion of CJNT into City Montreal. Though Rogers doesn’t directly control ICI, the two are closely connected.

Most of the other applicants didn’t propose regional feeds, over-the-air transmitters or local programming.

The commission has set the mandatory wholesale fee for the new OMNI, which begins Sept. 1, 2020, at $0.19 per month, up from its current $0.12 per month (but still less than some other applicants had proposed.) Rogers had requested a rate that started at $0.19 but ramped up to $0.21, but the CRTC found that $0.19 was sufficient. The decision states that the choice of OMNI was in part because of the proposed wholesale rate and the “balance” of that versus the programming commitments made.

OMNI’s commitments will be higher than they currently are, and higher than originally proposed as well:

  • Canadian programming expenditures: 60% of gross revenues (up from 50% originally proposed and 40% currently)
  • Canadian content on the schedule: 70% of the broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 70% from 6pm to midnight (up from 55% currently)
  • Programs of National Interest (scripted drama/comedy, documentary, award shows): 5% of revenues (up from 2.5% currently), all of which must go to independent production companies
  • Independent productions: 12 hours a week on each of the B.C., Prairies and Eastern feeds (including 2 hours produced from each of Manitoba/Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada), and 14 hours a week of local original independent productions on ICI.
  • 100% ethnic programming (up from 80% proposed and currently) on the Rogers-controlled feeds, and 90% on ICI.
  • 80% third-language programming (up from 50% proposed and currently) on the Rogers feeds, and 60% on ICI.
  • Programming for 20 different ethnic groups and 20 different languages a month (same as currently; 18 and 15 respectively on ICI), with a limit of 16% for any one foreign language.
  • Six hours a week of original local newscasts in Vancouver, Calgary/Edmonton and Toronto (an improvement off local current affairs show obligations).
  • Six daily first-run national half-hour newscasts, seven days a week, in six different languages (up from four languages currently).
  • At least 40% of gross revenues spent on news.
  • Provide for ICI: 3 hours of original, local, ethnic programming in French each week and 1.5 hours of original, local, French-language programming and 30 minutes of local original English-language programming each week.

The licence also requires Rogers to:

  • Limit U.S. programming to 10% of the schedule each month
  • Maintain advisory councils for each regional feed, and require they approve the programming schedules and independent producers
  • Spend $60,000 a year on “scholarship initiatives that support ethnic and third-language post-secondary students majoring in journalism,” as chosen by the advisory councils
  • Maintain operation of the five over-the-air OMNI stations throughout the licence period
  • Solicit local advertising only in markets where OMNI over-the-air stations operate
  • Derive no profit from OMNI, and reinvest any surplus back into OMNI

Rogers will have until Sept. 1, 2020, to put those increased commitments into place. Until then, the existing licence still applies.

Shockingly, the CRTC’s decision includes absolutely zero analysis of the seven other applications to replace OMNI with a different service. It merely states that it had to choose one and OMNI was the best one. Did the commission feel the Ethnic Channels Group’s idea of multiple audio feeds in different languages was feasible? Was it impressed by the ambitious goals set by Amber Broadcasting? Did it think the application from Montreal-based non-profit ICTV was realistic? We have no idea. The other applicants are only mentioned once, in a listing of the applications at the beginning of the decision.

With the increase in the wholesale rate, here’s how much of your monthly TV bill will go to mandatory services, starting in September 2020:

English-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-tv: $0.20
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • RDI: $0.10
  • TV5/Unis: $0.24
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.51

French-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-télé: $0.28
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • CBC News Network: $0.15
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • TV5/Unis: $0.28
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.68

Meanwhile, the CRTC has administratively renewed the licence for ICI until 2020, which will simplify things as far as new conditions of licence related to its agreement with OMNI.

UPDATE: Rogers has issued a statement saying it is happy with the decision and will announce more specific plans “in the coming months.”

Media News Digest: Reuters journalists freed, Leslie Roberts to CTV, and so. many. awards.

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CTV News tells reporters they will have to do their own camera and editing work

Updated with comment from Bell Media and Unifor.

Staff at CTV News departments across the country were called into mandatory meetings on Thursday, and told that they’ll have to tighten their belts a bit more.

I don’t have specifics or numbers (see below), but the headline is that journalists will be transformed into “videojournalists” who do not only their own reporting but also their own camerawork, editing and even writing for the web.

As a result, editors and cameramen will be offered buyout packages or laid off. Layoff notices have been issued in Montreal and Toronto, I’m told, but not everywhere. In Montreal, 15 jobs are being cut and an unspecified number of online jobs added.

CTV bills this as them “innovating” because they’re “expanding our digital news presence” and points out that they are also adding new jobs.

This is a significant project that will require enhanced training as well as job reclassifications for some members of the news team. While we will be creating a substantial number of new digital news positions, some traditional roles may be impacted by the changes. We cannot yet offer a specific number of how many, if any, departures may result.

There is some confusion about changes in our Montreal team. As part of the digital news expansion, we were required to notify Unifor that 15 existing union job classifications in Montreal would be eliminated. However, a similar number of new positions will be filled to support the enhanced digital focus of the newsroom. 

CTV News already employs some videojournalists (there are four at CTV Montreal), and they’re used at other networks as well, notably Citytv, which relies almost exclusively on them. Reporters shooting their own stories is more feasible with today’s equipment (some newsrooms are experimenting with reporting using iPhones), and obviously saves on human resources. But more time spent on the technical elements of producing stories means less time on the journalism behind it.

Plus, while younger journalists who are trained on shooting and editing out of school will easily adapt to the new reality, training more veteran journalists will be more difficult, and some might choose to simply retire early or find new jobs.

Because of various union rules, these layoff notices may spark a process of bumping, where less senior workers in jobs not affected by the layoffs get replaced by those being laid off (if those workers prove they can do the job they’re bumping into). So younger workers in these newsrooms will be feeling very nervous over the coming weeks.

And while CTV’s statement suggests it will save jobs, the reality is that the people affected will have to apply for them and be accepted for them. That’s not a given.

Unifor, which represents unionized workers at CTV, issued a statement:

“Today’s announcement from CTV of its shift to ‘digital-first’ airing of local news stories on the Internet was inevitable,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “Retooling local news for digital is necessary and, hopefully, a successful business plan because local TV is being starved for advertising revenues and anything that brings in a bigger audience and more ad revenue is welcome.”

The stations affected by restructuring include the CTV1 stations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Bell has told journalists and field technicians to expect a mix of retraining, layoffs, and new “digital” jobs, with a net reduction of staffing.

Dias cautioned Bell Media of its responsibility to guide news staff through the technological changes in job responsibilities, as it is expected that some journalists and field staff will need to acquire new digital skills.

“We are going to ensure no media worker is left behind,” said Dias. “Bell knows us pretty well and they know we mean it.”

Dias is also urging the federal government to accelerate its four-year long review of Canadian broadcasting in the Internet environment, scheduled to continue into 2020. “There are obvious actions the CRTC and the federal government can take to strengthen Canadian programming,” said Dias, referring to the CRTC’s own “Harnessing Change” report on Internet-broadcasting issued in June 2018.

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Leclerc abandons purchase of Radio X and 91,9 Sports after CRTC sets condition on transaction

The CRTC has said no to Leclerc Communication’s request to own three French-language FM radio stations in Quebec City, but approved the $19-million deal for it to acquire CHOI-FM (Radio X) in the provincial capital as well as CKLX-FM (91,9 Sports) in Montreal, for which it also acquired a licence amendment to convert from a sports format into a music one based off its WKND brand.

Though the overall deal has been approved, under the CRTC’s conditions, Leclerc would need to sell one of its other stations — WKND 91,9 or Blvd 102,1 — in order to buy CHOI and still comply with the ownership rules in Quebec City. The ownership rules limit an owner to two stations in one market in one language on one band.

And Leclerc has said it won’t sell its stations. So its own media are reporting that the entire deal is off, and its owner confirmed to La Presse that it won’t proceed with the transaction.

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CBC Quebec holding biennual consultation May 2

It’s an odd-numbered year, which means CBC is preparing its next public consultation with Quebec’s official language minority community, as required under its CRTC licence. (It also has a similar requirement for French-language communities in “Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Western Canada, and the North.”)

Like it did two years ago, the CBC is inviting people interested in expressing their views on its programming and services to a roundtable discussion on Thursday, May 2 from 10am to noon at Maison Radio-Canada.

For those who can’t make it in person, the event will be broadcast on CBC Montreal’s Facebook page and comments will be taken through online discussion as well.

Attendance is free, but registration is required. You can register here. Questions can be sent in advance or during the event to mtlcomm@cbc.ca or to the @CBCMontreal Twitter account.

The way it worked last time is that people are broken up into small groups, each one led by a CBC employee (generally a journalist, on-air personality, producer or manager), and asked to discuss and come up with ideas.

You can see the Facebook video from the 2017 event here.

In addition to Debra Arbec, who will serve as host, this year’s participants will include:

Sally Catto, General Manager, Programming, CBC Television
Meredith Dellandrea, Managing Director, CBC Quebec
Fred Mattocks, General Manager, Local Services
Susan Marjetti, Executive Director, Radio & Audio
Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief, CBC News

As public consultations go, CBC’s isn’t bad. It engages with the audience and seems to take their views seriously.

The report filed with the CRTC after the 2017 event glosses over the feedback a bit, but goes into detail about the various events that the CBC has organized to get it more in touch with the anglophone communities across the province and have Quebec anglophones reflected on TV, radio and online.

CRTC issues court order to force TVA Sports to keep signal on Bell TV, suspends licence if it cuts off again

Pursuant to Wednesday’s emergency hearing on Quebecor’s decision to pull TVA Sports of Bell TV, on Thursday the CRTC issued a mandatory order requiring TVA Sports to comply with regulations about dispute resolution and keep its signal on Bell TV. It also suspended TVA Sports’s licence, though that suspension only applies if it cuts Bell TV off again, and only for the period during which the signal is cut off.

The mandatory order is being registered with the federal court, which means if TVA defies it, it will be subject to contempt of court proceedings, and faces large fines.

The commission rejected TVA’s main legal argument, that the regulations imposing arbitrated settlements of carriage disputes are not allowed under the Broadcasting Act (emphasis in the original):

TVA’s position that the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to set terms and conditions of affiliation agreements is inconsistent with the broad power given to the Commission by Parliament to make regulations to resolve any dispute by way of mediation or otherwise. Given that terms and conditions, including rates, are fundamental to the resolution of carriage disputes, the interpretation urged on the Commission by TVA Group would render the regulation-making power set out in section 10(1)(h) empty of meaning, an absurd result that cannot have been Parliament’s intention.

Pierre Karl Péladeau’s arguments about how TVA isn’t getting enough carriage fees, or how Bell has been unfair, or how TVA Sports’s future is threatened, are not addressed in the CRTC decision, because they are outside the scope of the proceeding. They will be dealt with in the undue preference complaint and mediation or arbitration proceedings between the two groups.

(For more on the arguments for and against TVA, see this post.)

The commission stopped short of its more serious threats, to suspend or even revoke TVA Sports’s licence. Even a temporary suspension during the NHL playoffs would have been devastating to TVA Sports, and probably led to its shutting down.

But it did reprimand TVA for its behaviour in this case:

the Commission is gravely concerned with TVA Group’s disregard for the Commission’s authority. Given the inflexible behaviour displayed by the licensee in respect of its regulatory obligations and the lack of a firm commitment to correct the situation, the Commission cannot be assured that TVA Group will respect its regulatory obligations going forward.

Quebecor issued a statement saying it will respect the decision, but the problem remains and it will seek other legal avenues, including a legal challenge to the CRTC’s authority.

Bell issued a statement saying it was happy with the decision.

If you want to get the full content of Wednesday’s hearing, the transcript is here and CPAC’s video is archived here.

Meanwhile, a request for a class action lawsuit has been filed, seeking $100 million, or $250 for each subscriber of TVA Sports on Bell TV who was left without the service for 47 hours last week.

Media News Digest: Awards, DAZN gets Premier League, Bergman leaves Virgin 95.9

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TVA Sports defies CRTC, cuts off Bell TV customers as part of carriage dispute

Updated April 12 with court ruling and TVA Sports returning to Bell TV

Four days after it threatened Bell subscribers with on-air messages, TVA pulled TVA Sports from Bell TV on Wednesday at 7pm, as scheduled, the start time for the NHL playoffs.

Bell immediately announced that it would make Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360, which with CBC and City comprise all the channels carrying NHL playoff games, free for subscribers “temporarily.”

Quebecor, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it was disappointed it couldn’t reach a deal.

On Thursday, the CRTC announced that it was calling Groupe TVA to a hearing in Gatineau on April 17 to explain itself, and threatened to either issue a mandatory order (which would be enforceable in federal court) or even suspend TVA Sports’s broadcasting licence in light of the decision to ignore its warnings about pulling service during a dispute.

In court, as Bell tried to get a court injunction for TVA to stop what it’s doing, Quebecor lawyers offered a truce, to bring back the channel at 6pm and maintain it until April 23 as the two sides negotiate with the help of the CRTC. Bell accepted on condition that TVA Sports accept a court order requiring the re-establishing of the signal, but Quebecor refused that condition.

On Friday, the court granted Bell’s request for an injunction, ordering TVA Sports re-established on Bell TV by 6pm, but did not order Quebecor to cease its “Fair Value” campaign, which Bell says is false and defamatory. TVA complied with the request, and TVA Sports returned to Bell TV by 6pm.

In addition to ensuring Bell TV subscribers could get access to NHL playoff games, Bell Media acquired the rights to two additional Montreal Impact MLS games, another TVA Sports exclusivity, so they can be broadcast on TSN. That pushed the date of the next Impact game only broadcast on TVA Sports to April 28. Bell TV had said it would make TSN also available for free for Montreal Impact fans.

History

Bell customers got a pretty scary-looking message during the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game Saturday night on TVA Sports: The sports channel, which has the French-language rights to all NHL playoff games, will be removed from Bell TV as a way for Bell to “punish” those subscribers.

TVA also aired the graphic during La Voix, Quebec’s most popular TV show, on Sunday.

TVA airs a message attacking Bell during La Voix on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

Bell said not only is this message not true, it would be against CRTC regulations. The CRTC wrote to both parties twice to say that during their dispute, TVA is required to keep offering its channels to Bell and Bell is required to keep distributing them.

TVA said it doesn’t care, it’s pulling its signal anyway. Which means this dispute will quickly escalate in the legal and regulatory sphere.

Except it’s already escalated there, because this is a battle being fought on multiple fronts:

  • An existing CRTC process in which TVA complains of unfair treatment (currently in the reply phase)
  • A TVA lawsuit against Bell demanding compensation for its unfair packaging
  • A Bell request for injunction against TVA demanding the signal be returned
  • An emergency CRTC hearing called for next week in which TVA has been ordered to explain itself
  • Direct negotiations between Bell and TVA to reach a deal on carriage
  • TVA’s media campaign and Bell’s press releases in response, fighting in the public arena
  • Pierre Karl Péladeau’s lobbying of federal politicians to make changes to the CRTC’s dispute resolution process
  • Programming changes at Bell Media and packaging changes at Bell TV to mitigate the loss of TVA Sports for Bell customers

How long Bell customers will actually be without TVA Sports is anyone’s guess. But TVA says it’s prepared to do whatever it takes.

(You can read more about my interview with TVA chief operating officer Martin Picard in this story at Cartt.ca, but I have lots of details below about the conflict.)

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Andrew Scheer opens shelters for millions of Canadians left homeless by job-killing carbon tax

Saying he’s doing his duty as a patriot, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer opened up a series of shelters across the country to care for the millions of Canadians who have lost their jobs as a result of Justin Trudeau’s job-killing carbon tax.

The federal tax, which took effect on Monday, only applies to Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, and most of the shelters are in those four provinces, but Scheer said other provinces also have job-killing pricing on hydrocarbons, and people in Alberta and Quebec will also be able to make use of his party’s shelters when they inevitably get laid off from their jobs.

Scheer couldn’t say how much the shelters cost or how many people have taken advantage of them so far, but he noted the costs should be minimal because they’re only needed until October, when his removal of GST on home heating bills will turn the economy round. Enough food, mainly in the form of white bread and baloney, has been stockpiled to last that long.

Besides, he said, if the Liberal government could use taxpayer money to bring in cots for a late night marathon voting session at the House of Commons, surely that money could be better used on Canadian families.

“Be sure to use the words ‘Canadian families’ a bunch of times in your story,” Scheer said.

STM admits new underground construction at Côte-Vertu métro is just a giant Bitcoin farm

STM photo shows excavation of large tunnel near Côte-Vertu metro.

Though it was sold as a necessary infrastructure upgrade to allow more trains to be put into service on the Orange Line, the half-billion-dollar garage near the Côte-Vertu métro station is actually mainly a state-of-the-art Bitcoin mining operation, documents obtained through access to information reveal.Trains will still be circulating through the tunnels, but the main purpose isn’t to increase service as much as to provide air circulation to cool the thousands of Bitcoin mining machines lining the tunnel walls, explained STM chairperson Philippe Schnobb.

“At the current exchange rate of about $5,500 per Bitcoin, we expect this mining operation to pay for itself within eight years,” Schnobb said. “If Bitcoin goes even higher, which it obviously will when you look at its historical levels, we expect that number to go much lower. By 2025 we could be making a profit and by 2030 we could be getting most of our revenue through Bitcoin mining. By 2035 we should be able to drop fares to zero and actually pay dividends to the Quebec and municipal governments.”

This isn’t the first time the STM has gone into the blockchain game. It’s a common myth that the metro doesn’t need heating because enough heat is generated by braking and acceleration of the trains, but in fact it’s Bitcoin servers installed in the undercarriage of metro cars that generate most of the heat in the system these days. It’s the same on new hybrid buses. “We know what we’re doing,” Schobb said. “This is guaranteed to pay off.”

The new Côte-Vertu Bitcoin farm is set to begin mining in 2021.

Super fan of CBC’s 2017 series 21 Thunder anxious to find out when second season starts

Corey Kabongo has some unanswered questions. “Did Declan survive the stabbing? What happened with Junior’s long-lost brother? Are they going to come after Nolan? What’s going on with Lara and that match-fixing ring? Will the team find out what Davey tried to do?”

Kabongo says he’s been waiting since September 18, 2017, to get answers, after watching the first season finale of 21 Thunder, the sexy CBC Television drama about a Montreal under-21 soccer team filled with personal intrigues and tough moral choices.

CBC hasn’t announced a premiere date or even a start of production for the second season of the series, but Kabongo said he is keeping an eye out. “Since it went on Netflix last year, and Refinery29 called it ‘Canada’s answer to Gossip Girl‘, its popularity has only soared. Wikipedia says its reviews were ‘generally positive,’ which is high praise. I just can’t wait to be chanting ‘THUNDER!’ again with fans all over the world.”

Kabongo, who insists he’s not related to series star Emmanuel Kabongo and it doesn’t matter if he is because Manu is a great actor and even better guy, says he’s been in touch with some of the actors in the series and while they’re all busy on other projects, he’s hopeful production of the second season can be flexible enough to work around all their schedules.

The series says it’s working on getting a second season off the ground despite being cancelled by CBC a year ago.

Richard Martineau asks François Legault to reconsider his plan to solve reasonable accommodation debate forever

“I’m worried,” Richard Martineau said today. “This could have a major impact on my career.”

Martineau, the LCN host, QUB Radio host, Journal de Montréal columnist, Francs-Tireurs host and next season’s newest judge on La Voix, was referring to how Quebec premier François Legault is finally solving the reasonable accommodation debate after 12 years of it dominating Quebec politics.

Legault’s plan, which he laid out in a video published on Sunday, involves taking a hard line but also improvised compromises calculated to be the most grudgingly acceptable to the maximum number of uninformed people.

But while this new law is guaranteed to end public discussion about the impact of religious and cultural diversity on our society forever, ushering in a period of racial harmony and religious acceptance the likes of which this province has never seen, it will be devastating to the media angrytariat, of which Martineau is a major figure.

“Do you know how hard it is to write a column every day where I’m angry about something? And on top of that host daily TV and radio shows? I don’t have time to find other issues to gripe about,” Martineau yelled, in a voice that sounded sarcastic even though he wasn’t saying anything sarcastic.

“I’m not saying that I don’t have other things to talk about, I do. I can always whine about Radio-Canada or Québec solidaire or celebrities, but nothing brings in the audience like me putting on a burka. This issue is to me what classified ads were to newspapers in the 90s: a moneymaker.”

Martineau said he understands there’s a higher purpose, but he hopes Legault understands the need for us to continue to sarcastically mock each other’s opinions on this issue, and maybe insert a few loopholes into the bill that will cause the debate to flare up again in a few months.

“Not everything needs to be perfect,” Martineau said. “Please, just let me have this.”

Google and Facebook agree to give everyone $100 to just do their own local news reporting

Under fire for sucking up all the advertising money from the print media industry, Google and Facebook have agreed to a groundbreaking new program in which they simply give every Canadian citizen $100 each a year to report on their local communities.

The “Everyone’s a Journalist” program, which begins today, requires people receiving the money to report on at least one local news story per year, including going to town council meetings, interviewing old ladies complaining about something, promoting a bake sale for the children’s hockey team, or filing access to information requests and having secret meetings with dozens of sources to expose corruption at the police department.

“We believe this will be a revolutionary move toward hyperlocal journalism, one that has no real down side,” said Esteban Frobisher, who has been put in charge of the project. “We’re empowering millions of journalists here, and more is always better.”

The program is already having an effect. Frobisher says dozens of stories have already been submitted about how gas prices are rigged and how Jody Wilson-Raybould is a traitor to poor Justin Trudeau and do you want Andrew Scheer in charge of the country, come on.