Posted in Media

La Presse+ turns 1: Has the gamble worked?

La Presse spent $40 million to develop its iPad app.

La Presse spent $40 million to develop its iPad app.

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of La Presse’s $40-million gamble that its future lies in an iPad app.

La Presse marks the occasion with a press release (reproduced below) in which it lauds the fact that it’s now installed in more than 450,000 tablets, making it the most popular Newsstand app in Canada. It also reminds people that it’s about to launch its first Android app, which will be available on some Samsung Galaxy and Nexus tablets starting next week.

The company does a lot of self-congratulating, throwing out some statistics to suggest how successful it has been with this giant gamble. It points out how much time people spend with the app (44 minutes on weekdays, 50 minutes on Sundays and 73 minutes on Saturdays) as well as favourable demographics (58% are in the 25-54 demo, compared to 50% for a paper like the Globe and Mail), and even a stat suggesting people like the adds on the app.

The most interesting statistic is that “nearly 30% of La Presse’s overall ad revenue” comes from the iPad app. Even if we assume that print ad revenue is falling sharply, that’s still an impressive stat.

Because La Presse+ is free, its business model is entirely based on advertising. As I explained six months ago in my analysis, La Presse has priced its iPad ads along the lines of print ads, figuring that it can create an environment where the ads are noticed like print ads are, instead of ignored like most online ads.

We don’t have access to much financial information from La Presse, because the company is privately held by Gesca, which is in turn owned by Square Victoria Communications Group, which is in turn owned by Power Corporation. But even if some bad-news figures are being held close to the vest, that 30% ad revenue figure is pretty impressive.

We can also compare the 450,000 figure to La Presse’s goals. The company had hoped to reach 200,000 readers by September, but got that in May. It hoped to get 400,000 by December, and announced in January that it had surpassed that mark in installations.

When I met with La Presse last year, the estimate was an average of 1.5 readers per tablet, since many families share them. That estimate was later confirmed by a CROP survey. But when you consider the number of people actually reading at least one issue a week (versus those who download the app and rarely use it), the ratio is closer to 1:1. Late last summer, it gave a figure of 250,000 tablets installed and 196,000 people consulting at least one issue a week. At the end of November, it was 340,000 tablets and 250,000 weekly readers. That gap will probably increase as time goes on.

At 250,000 people a week reading at least one edition of La Presse+, the tablet has a bit less than a third of the reach of the print newspaper, or about half that of the printed Gazette.

From her on out, the road gets more difficult. There will be a surge once the Android app version comes out, but then with all the geeks and early adopters already on board, and a big chunk of the general population, it will be up to convincing the hundreds of thousands still sticking with print to shift over to the iPad. And then, eventually, the big decision of what happens to the print paper.

I was handed a free copy of La Presse — on a Saturday morning — at a metro station last week. So clearly they’re not planning on shutting it down any time soon.

La Presse+ is still not perfect. It’s improved its live-news system, even while the iPad edition itself remains a once-a-day thing. It’s also added crosswords and other missing pieces since it launched.

For online readers without tablets, it remains a bit annoying. Its pages can be shared online, but videos aren’t, and dossiers with multiple articles aren’t linked to each other, making it pointless to share many major stories from the app.

Unfortunately much of this is apparently by design. The environment of the iPad app is the reason they can charge so much to advertisers. Put those same stories on a website, and you’re back to the ignorable banner ads that get pennies on the dollar. If this is the future of newspapers, it’s going to be kind of an awkward one for people who read news on anything but a tablet.

So far I haven’t heard of any major media organizations making big changes as a result of La Presse+. But if it continues gaining readers and ad revenue, that may change in the near future.

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Posted in TV

Former CTV sales manager Tony Ecclissi hired at TVA Sports

Tony Ecclissi

Tony Ecclissi, who found himself without a job at CTV Montreal when his position of general sales manager was eliminated last summer, has found a new job, doing sales for TVA Sports.

Described in a TVA Sports memo filled with hockey metaphors as “our new top-line player”, Ecclissi spent more than 20 years on the sales team at CFCF and before that with CBC in Montreal. At TVA Sports, he’ll be part of a new dedicated (but small) team that will be trying to make money off all the NHL games that the network will add next season.

“I have been recruited as a sales consultant / representative to help generate sales, introduce new clients and use my experience to help the Sales Director build an effective, knowledgeable and enthusiastic sales team,” Ecclissi tells me. “This is an exciting challenge, it’s like starting up a new company.”

Posted in Media

The desperate struggle to save Canadian University Press

Canadian University Press, a 75-year-old cooperative of post-secondary student newspapers across Canada, might not live to see its 80th birthday.

Erin Hudson, its current president, is doing everything she can to keep it running, including launching a public fundraising campaign seeking $50,000 in donations. That month-and-a-half campaign ended on Monday, having failed to reach even one fifth of its goal. But the struggle to keep it alive continues.

What is CUP?

Canadian University Press started in 1938, and is a national association of student newspapers (despite its name, it also includes papers at other post-secondary schools like technical institutes and CEGEPs, though the vast majority are universities). In exchange for a yearly membership fee, which is on a sliding scale based on a paper’s overall budget — for most it’s a few hundred or a few thousand dollars — CUP provides a range of services.

The biggest one, which many members have historically believed is the only one, is a newswire service. It takes stories submitted by member papers, as well as some original stories written by a national bureau chief and until recently regional bureau chiefs, and distributes them to members so they can be republished in their papers.

But probably the most important one — and the most intangible — is a resource network that can help in times of need. There’s a lawyer that can provide legal advice in case of the threat of a libel suit. There’s a president at a national office in Toronto that can write letters of condemnation if a student union or university administration is trying to stifle freedom of the press. And there’s an email list where members can seek out advice or otherwise communicate with each other.

CUP also organizes a national conference every year, hosted by a different member paper each time. Attendees pay to enter, and it’s open to non-members, but members get a significant discount on entry fees. The national conference, as well as regional conferences, provide workshops and lectures from experts who give invaluable advice to student journalists. The conferences are also how the cooperative organization makes important decisions through a democratic process.

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Posted in Radio, Sports

TSN 690 picks up rights to Alouettes games for 3-4 years

To the surprise of absolutely no one, TSN 690 announced Friday morning that it has acquired the rights to Alouettes games from now sister station CJAD, completing the trifecta of Montreal major sports rights.

The deal is for three years, starting this one, with an option for a fourth, Bell Media tells me. It includes the two preseason games, all regular season games and all postseason games, including the Grey Cup. TSN said it would also air special events like the CFL draft, training camp and Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductions.

Rick Moffat and Dave Mudge will be the broadcast team, as they were at CJAD.

The station also announced that it is moving The Als This Week to Mondays at 7pm, and that Alouettes general manager Jim Popp will be a guest every week on the show.

The Alouettes’ first game is June 14.

The regular-season schedules of the Alouettes and Impact this season includes three conflicts where both teams are playing simultaneously: July 19, Aug. 16 and Oct. 18, all Saturdays. In those cases, expect Impact games to move to CJAD.

We’ll see what happens when the Alouettes conflict with fall Canadiens games. TSN has said it plans to broadcast all games from both teams.

Financial terms of the deal were not discussed on air and are usually not disclosed.

As silly as it is for TSN 690 to wrestle rights away from a station it now shares not only an office but a program director with, this deal more importantly represents a renewal of the broadcasting rights, which expired after last season.  It ensures that Alouettes games will continue to be carried on English radio through the end of 2016, and likely 2017 as well.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Election night projections the networks got wrong

Rigueur, rigueur, rigueur.

Those words were uttered by TVA’s Pierre Bruneau on election night in 2007, after Radio-Canada had earlier incorrectly projected that Liberal leader Jean Charest had lost his seat in the election that swept the Action démocratique du Québec to official opposition status and ended the political career of André Boisclair. TVA held off on calling the race for that seat, and reaped the benefits.

The TV networks make big deals of their “decision desk” teams, the computers, political analysts and experts who wait until they’re absolutely sure that a race can be called before making a decision. That care is counteracted by the race to be the first to declare the result of the election.

But surely the chance of being embarrassed, as Radio-Canada’s Bernard Derome was in 2007, by calling even a single seat wrong would be enough to ensure that they always get it right.

Not so much.

On Monday night, all three local English TV stations with elections specials made more than one incorrect call. And, to their shame, I caught them on my PVR.

8:33: CBC calls Lévis for Liberals

CBC Lévis

Simon Turmel was one of a few Liberals to steal seats away from the CAQ in the Quebec City region. Or at least that’s what CBC seemed to think, announcing the gain with Turmel sitting in a seemingly comfortable lead of more than 1,100 votes.

But not quite. When the night was over, the CAQ’s Christian Dubé won the riding by 1,943 votes.

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Posted in Montreal, Radio

CRTC says Radio X Montreal can remove jazz music programming

Planète Jazz is no more.

Two years after RNC Media first requested that CKLX-FM 91.9 in Montreal be relieved of its conditions of licence requiring a specialty jazz format, and a year after an initial denial, the CRTC approved the request on Tuesday as part of the station’s licence renewal.

Under the new licence, the station would remain under a specialty format, but one that requires at least 50% of its programming to be spoken word.

The new licence, which is for a short term because the CRTC found that the station failed to comply with terms of its existing licence (including incorrectly classifying some popular music as jazz to meet its specialty licence requirements), takes effect on Sept. 1. But a CRTC spokesperson tells me that the change relating to format takes effect immediately.

When it denied the same application a year ago, the CRTC cited two main reasons: the fact that the station appeared to be failing to meet its current licence, and the fact that it has approved another French-language talk station in Montreal (TTP Media’s news-talk station at 940 AM) and that granting this request could threaten the financial viability of that station.

So why the change of heart? Two reasons: One, since this is a licence renewal decision, the CRTC is more open to changes to that licence. The commission doesn’t like rewarding non-complying stations by changing their licence conditions during their licence term. And it says in this decision that it monitored programming last fall and found the station had rectified its licence compliance issues.

As for competition with TTP Media, the CRTC said that “the Commission’s standard practice is to not consider applications for new stations intended to serve the market in question within two years of the publication of its decision to approve a new station when it was licensed following a call for applications.”

The French TTP Media station was approved on Nov. 21, 2011. It was supposed to launch two years later, but was granted a one-year extension to Nov. 21, 2014. But there’s no similar extension to a de facto moratorium on new competing formats. So the CRTC felt it no longer had to consider that issue. The commission also notes that TTP Media did not write to the commission to oppose this application.

Those issues dealt with, it came down to the basic question: Is there an economic need to justify this change?

The CRTC found a year ago that there was one. And that situation hasn’t changed.

CKLX-FM was first approved by the CRTC in 2003, along with others including CJLV 1570 AM in Laval, CKDG-FM 105.1 in Montreal, and the 104.7 FM transmitter for CBC Radio One.

The logic at the time was that because the Montreal International Jazz Festival was so popular, a jazz music radio station would also be so, or at least popular enough that it could be profitable. So Spectra, the company that runs the festival, partnered with broadcaster RNC Media and applied for a licence for a radio station, which was later approved.

But it didn’t work that way. Jazz music simply wasn’t that popular. Some fans have argued that’s because the station’s music was poorly programmed, but after a decade, it was clear it could not be made profitable. Spectra was bought out as a partner, and RNC made the decision to change Planète Jazz to Radio X, copying its mega-successful programming format in Quebec City.

That decision hasn’t been that successful either. The station has only a 1% market share among francophones in the latest BBM ratings, and 3% among francophones age 25-54. The station has argued that it’s growing, but it still has a long way to go.

The new CRTC licence means that now Radio X Montreal must have at least 50% talk programming, and has no requirement at all for jazz. It would likely mean a more CHOI-like programming schedule, with more talk in the evenings and more rock music on weekends. Right now, the station switches to jazz music at 7pm every day, and runs jazz all weekend except in the afternoons when it has a rock music show.

In an on-air discussion after the decision was published, station management said there would be an evaluation of programming options over the coming weeks, and no changes would be announced right away.

Radio X has posted photos of staff drinking champagne after the decision.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Radio X’s licence change takes effect Sept. 1. Though RNC Media apparently believes this to be the case, the CRTC tells me that it actually takes effect immediately.

UPDATE (April 15): Jazz was removed from Radio X’s schedule over the weekend. It now airs rock music all weekend and repeats overnight.

Posted in Opinion

Strategic voters’ guide to the Quebec 2014 election

The Parti Québécois posted this video ad on Friday, featuring former voters of Québec solidaire and Option nationale who have decided to vote for the Parti Québécois this time. The message is simple and explicit: Don’t split the vote by voting for the other left-wing sovereignist parties.

The ad bugged me. Not because it’s a PQ ad, or because it’s trying to discourage people from voting for other parties. Or even because it’s a two-minute ad that has 27 seconds of another party’s campaign video.

No, it bugged me because if the PQ’s strategy is really anyone-but-Couillard don’t-split-the-vote, then it should have told 34 of its candidates to withdraw from the race and endorse another candidate.

Based off these riding-by-riding projections from Too Close To Call, which I use only because there isn’t any better way to project what the likely numbers are where, there are 29 ridings where the Coalition avenir Québec candidate is ahead of the PQ candidate, and another five where the Québec solidaire candidate is ahead of the PQ candidate. But in all these cases, the PQ candidate is still in the race (though perhaps keeping quiet). Only in one riding has the PQ decided not to run in order not to split the vote: La Pinière, where former Liberal Fatima Houda Pepin, who left the party over disagreements about the PQ charter of values, is running as an independent.

But whatever, it wouldn’t be the first time a desperate party threw up a bucket of hypocrisy at the end of a campaign.

So if the PQ wants people to vote strategically, how would you do it? Not just anyone-but-Liberals, but anyone-but-party-X?

Here, Québec solidaire is right, if exaggerated. It is actually complicated in any riding where more than two parties have a chance. And there are a lot of those. The TCTC projection shows seven ridings where three parties have a 10% or more chance of winning, and 20 ridings total where there’s a reasonable chance that any of three parties could win.

Based on that projection, I’ve created the chart below. It’s a chart with numbers to use to determine how to vote strategically. The first five columns give the riding-by-riding projections (the fifth is for independents, but the only one worth noting is Houda Pepin). There are no ridings where Option nationale, the Green party or others make any sense to vote for strategically, so I’ve excluded them.

The next four columns are the anybody-but-X columns telling you who to vote for based on who you have decided is the embodiment of pure evil. Generally, it means voting for the party most likely to win the seat, unless that’s your anybody-but party, in which case you vote for the next-most-likely candidate.

The final two columns assume your sole issue is sovereignty, and would either be fine with one of the two sovereignist parties, or fine with either the Liberals or CAQ. (If you don’t think the CAQ is federalist enough, then your only strategic choice is to vote for the Liberals.) Again, neither ON nor the Greens have enough support to be worth considering in any riding.

There are five cases where one of the four main parties isn’t running a candidate. Besides the aforementioned case where the PQ isn’t running a candidate in La Pinière, there were three CAQ candidates and one Québec solidaire candidate (all in Montreal-area Liberal strongholds) whose nomination papers were rejected. Those cases are marked N/C or “no candidate” since there’s no reason to vote against a candidate who doesn’t exist.

Feel free to complain that the polls are wrong, or the projections are wrong, because your gut feeling tells you otherwise. You can repeat the exercise with numbers from ThreeHundredEight.com or your back-alley pollster or party strategist of choice.

And if you think this whole strategic voting thing is nonsense, you could vote for a party that supports some form of proportional representation or alternative voting method. Unfortunately, none of that is in the PQ’s platform.

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Posted in Montreal, TV

Bravo renews English version of 19-2 for second 10-episode season

The cast of 19-2. (Photo: Bell Media)

The cast of 19-2. (Photo: Bell Media)

So it looks like 19-2 is as much of a success adapted in English as it had in the original French. Bell Media announced on Tuesday that the Montreal-set cop series will be renewed for a second 10-episode season.

The French series, created by and starring Réal Bossé and Claude Legault, debuted in 2011 on Radio-Canada to critical and ratings success. It was praised in particular for the realistic portrayal of police officers. Bossé and Legault spent time with Montreal police to learn what life is really like on the job.

Fans of the French series have had to show patience, though. Because of various delays, the series has only aired 20 episodes (two 10-episode seasons) in three years. A fourth season is only slated to air in January 2015.

Bell’s press release doesn’t give an idea of when Season 2 of 19-2 would air.

The English 19-2 was originally ordered as a pilot for CBC, but was picked up by Bravo when CBC passed on it, a decision the public broadcaster is hopefully regretting. It’s basically a shot-by-shot remake, with nearly identical plot, the same characters (except for Bossé’s Nick Berrof, who becomes Nick Barron, played by Adrian Holmes), same music and same cinematographic style. The actors are different (with the exception of Benz Antoine, who plays the alcoholic cop Tyler), and Podz, the director whose mark is so clearly felt in the French version, is not behind the camera in the English one. Still, the English version is as compelling as the French one, and worth watching even for those of us who already know what’s going to happen next.

19-2 is the first English drama in forever that is clearly set in Montreal. This leads to some odd things we just have to accept, such as the fact that even though Montreal is a French city and French signs are everywhere, nobody ever actually speaks the language or even has a strong accent. There are also the occasional geographical head-scratchers.

But it’s fun to see our fair city on the small screen in English without the producers trying to tone down its character so it can pass for any American city.

Bell has qualified 19-2′s first season run on Bravo as a big success, reaching an average of 190,000 viewers a week, making it the No. 3 show on the network. The series got a boost the first week with a day-after airing on CTV, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the season rerun on the main network similar to what it did for Space’s Orphan Black.

Assuming Season 2 of the English series goes the same way the French one does, it’ll be a roller-coaster plot-wise, starting the first episode with a school shooting (in the French version, the school shooting scene was done as a 13-minute continuous take, though it’s not clear if the English version will repeat that experiment and Podz is going to direct it again in English) and ending with a big reveal where … well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Bell also notes that the English series, produced by Sphère Média Plus and Echo Media, will be going to Cannes to be shopped to international broadcasters around as part of the MIPTV conference there next week.

The first nine episodes of 19-2 are available for viewing at Bravo.ca. The first season finale airs Wednesday, April 2, at 9pm on Bravo.

Posted in Uncategorized

Desmarais family buys Tampa Bay Rays, moves them to private ballpark in Sagard


raysHopes that Major League Baseball could return to Montreal by relocating the struggling Tampa Bay Rays franchise were dashed this morning when it was announced that the Desmarais family, which owns Power Corporation and various companies including newspaper publisher Gesca, has purchased the team and will be moving it to their exclusive private ballpark in their 76.3-square-kilometre estate in Sagard, Quebec, after this season.

The Desmarais family did not provide any further details, such as what they would name the team, but did say that the ballpark would remain private and games would be attended on an invite-only basis.

Buying the Rays (the cheapest valued MLB team, but still a hefty $485 million) simply to provide some entertainment to a handful of VIP guests a couple of times a year seems a bit excessive. But I think it’s best to wait until we get a better idea of their plans before we make judgments.

Many questions remain unanswered, such as what television rights would look like, or whether the team would try to build a fan base in Quebec City or Montreal. Perhaps a few home games could even be moved to Olympic Stadium.

All we can say for sure is that geographically speaking, there aren’t too many Montrealers who will make the six-hour one-way drive to Sagard to see a weeknight game.

Posted in Uncategorized

New radio station Emo FM proposes songs-to-make-you-want-to-kill-yourself format

EMO FM

Tired of upbeat pop music on the radio? Maybe you should give Emo FM a try.

An application was filed with the CRTC recently for a new English-language radio station in Montreal with an all-depressing-music format.

It’s not clear what kind of music exactly will air, but the application hints at a playlist that includes songs by Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and lots and lots of Coldplay.

“People have been telling us that the music they hear on Virgin and The Beat make them want to cut themselves,” said prospective owner Everil DaPwasson. “So we’re proposing an innovative new format that connects those disaffected radio listeners with the kind of songs they want: the ones that they can listen to after they make that one last, deep cut or wait for the pills to kick in.”

DaPwasson sees a large untapped market of depressed teenagers out there. He believes he can sell that audience to advertisers, who are constantly looking for ways to reach younger audiences. But he says it might be a challenge “keeping them alive long enough to buy our advertisers’ products.”

The station would have a transmitter on Mount Royal, transmitting at a symbolic 666 watts, which would give it a moderate signal similar to that of Mike FM.

The CRTC is accepting public comment about the Emo FM application until May 1.

Posted in Uncategorized

Legault’s wife seizes control of CAQ in overnight bloodless coup

Isabelle Brais is now leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec.

Brais, the wife of previous leader François Legault, seized control of the party early Tuesday morning after her troops stormed the party bus and headquarters in what is being referred to as a bloodless coup. Forces loyal to Legault laid down their arms, deciding not to fight back to avoid the negative publicity.

Brais has been very visible on the campaign trail even though she’s not a candidate, and has been playfully teasing Legault all along. Analysts say a takeover was inevitable, though they are surprised it happened in the middle of the campaign like this.

Legault’s candidates quickly lined up to pledge loyalty to Brais, wanting to avoid the appearance of a civil war so close to voting day. Legault himself has not been seen or heard from and is believed to be living in exile in Cornwall. It’s not clear what will happen to his seat in the National Assembly if he wins it on Monday.

Posted in Uncategorized

Quebec tells Marois it’s ready for a referendum now

Jean-Pierre Ferland delivers the news on behalf of Quebecers

Jean-Pierre Ferland delivers the news on behalf of Quebecers

After repeating several times that she would not hold a referendum on sovereignty until Quebecers are ready, PQ leader Pauline Marois was visibly emotional when she was told on stage during a campaign event that Quebec has decided it is ready.

“We thought we were against it,” Jean-Pierre Ferland said of Quebec’s attitude, “but in the end all we want to do is make you happy. And if a referendum is what it takes, we’re ready to make that leap with you.”

Ferland’s message came a day after all eight million Quebecers gathered at a local bar with their buddies and had a long talk about their future. There, they decided that it had to be now or never, and so they went for it. The referendum proposal was a surprise, and quickly brought the Quebec premier to tears when it happened live on stage on Monday night.

Friends of both Marois and the province said it was about time they stopped talking about the referendum and finally made it official. “I could swear she’s been planning ballot formats for years now, and figuring out which dress she’s going to wear,” said Bernard Drainville. “We can’t wait until the big day.”

Marois and the province haven’t set a date yet. “I don’t want to wait forever, that’s for sure,” Marois said. “But there’s so much planning to do. This will be the biggest day of my life, so I want it to be absolutely perfect.”

Posted in Uncategorized

PQ outraged after learning about secret anglo-only expressway

Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois says she plans to call a public inquiry after learning about anglo Quebec’s best-kept secret: an exclusive expressway that avoids traffic jams and brings anglo drivers from the West Island to downtown in under 20 minutes.

News of the secret expressway, known to all Quebec anglophones but to no one who speaks French, leaked out on Monday evening after former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said he heard someone talk about it while he was at CTV Montreal’s studios for an interview on the election campaign. He said he was horrified to learn that this secret road had existed for years and that anglo drivers had been using it, all the while “laughing at Quebec’s francophone majority every morning and evening.”

The expressway’s route isn’t entirely clear, but appears to go from just west of Highway 13 and Highway 40 all the way to downtown Montreal through a tunnel that emerges in an out-of-the-way spot near the Ville-Marie Expressway.

“This is unacceptable,” Marois said.

It’s unclear how, if the Quebec transport ministry is unaware of this passage, how it’s maintained. Some people who had used it regularly said it was self-financed, charging tolls to the anglos who drove through it, as well as rent to a few businesses set up inside (gas stations, coffee shops and the like).

Marois said the passage should be immediately shut down until it can be determined that it’s safe. She worried in particular about its structural soundness and whether it had proper ventilation.

A preliminary report is expected within the month.