Posted in Montreal

How to binge Just For Laughs on a budget

When I decided for the first time to book my vacation in advance this year, there wasn’t much soul-searching over which weeks I would take off. I like my comedy, and Just For Laughs is my favourite festival, and I wanted to get in as much of that as I could. So I took the last two weeks of July.

Just For Laughs is a pretty big festival. Most people are familiar with the big celebrity-hosted galas at Place des Arts, which later make it on TV. But there are dozens of solo shows, comedy club events, outdoor activities and lesser-known comics performing over three weeks in both languages. Even seeing as many as four shows a night, you won’t be able to catch everything.

More importantly for me, I’m kind of a frugal fellow, and those gala tickets can add up quickly when they’re $50 or $100 a pop.

So how do you keep the enjoyment up and the cost down?

"Ultra Zoøff" Zoofest pass

“Ultra Zoøff” Zoofest pass

The Zoofest pass

Start by getting one of these. The Zoofest passes cover shows that are part of the Zoofest and OFF-JFL series at Just For Laughs. These shows are an hour long, and normally go for $20 to $25 apiece. They feature up-and-coming comics and more experimental shows, so going to these involves taking more of a risk than going to a gala or an established comedian’s one-man show, but it’s well worth the money when you take advantage of the passes.

The Ultra pass is the highest level of this pass. It costs $120 (or the equivalent of about six Zoofest/OFF-JFL shows) and will let you book six shows during the festival. But its real power is that any Zoofest/OFF-JFL show that isn’t already sold out 48 hours in advance (and that’s the vast majority), you can get a ticket to for free. And you can do this for three one-hour shows a night. (The first shows generally begin at 7pm and the last ones at midnight. So it’s easy to do three in a night. I’ve done four in the past — 7, 8:30, 10 and midnight.)

(This pass also mentions 50% discounts on Alouettes tickets. That sounds exciting, but after I tried it I discovered it’s only for already cheap end-zone seats, and there seems to be no way to book tickets with it online. You have to go to the Alouettes ticket office in person — or maybe call them by phone — and they often have even better deals for better seats if you ask last-minute.)

If you don’t have time for three shows a night, you can get the lowest-level pass for $50. It’ll let you in one free show a night (booked less than 24 hours in advance), plus three reserved shows during the festival.

You can’t use these passes to get tickets to galas or the big solo shows, but they’re good for a lot of shows that have big-name comics. You can see a full list of the OFF-JFL shows here. Some worth noting:

  • Midnight Surprise, midnights at Théâtre Ste-Catherine from July 21-30. The ultimate risk-taking show, you won’t know who’s in it until they perform. This could mean a comic you’ve never heard of, but some big-name comedians have shown up here and done surprise sets, including Dave Chappelle and Louis CK. At worst, you get a mediocre one-hour show. At best, you get to tell everyone you saw an A-list comedian do a secret show in a 100-seat venue. (There’s also a special Sunday Surprise on July 31.)
  • The Alternative Show, midnights at Katacombes, July 26-30. The name might put you off, but this is actually pretty mainstream. Hosted by Andy Kindler, this show features a lineup of comedians doing 10-minute sets. Because a lot of the travelling comedians want to get in as much on-stage time as possible during the festival, you’ll often see them doing a solo show, a gala appearance and a set here all in the same night.
  • Best of the Fest, 8pm and 10:30pm at Comedyworks, July 26-30. It shouldn’t surprise you that actual comedy clubs are also busy during the festival. Often, big-name comics will stop by the comedy clubs before one of their big shows and test out material on a smaller audience. Maybe some jokes will flop, but you might have more fun here than at a gala, and for a much lower price.

If you do your banking with Desjardins, the company offers a 15% discount code on the Zoofest/OFF-JFL passes. Just put your access card number in here to get it. So instead of paying about $120 plus taxes, you’ll pay about $120 tax included.

Just For Laughs also has passes, which you should get if you’re planning to go to several galas or club shows, but the discounts aren’t as impressive, and there’s no unlimited-use pass of any kind here.

Predict the next big hit

A few years ago, I paid about $15 to take in a small show during the festival at the Katacombes bar. A young comedian I had seen on the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing was in town and used the occasion to test out some material for an upcoming Comedy Central roast she was participating in. (Some of the jokes bombed, and didn’t get used in that roast.)

That comedian’s name: Amy Schumer.

She came back and did a show at Metropolis that cost quite a bit more. In 2014 she was set to host a gala, but cancelled at the last minute because of scheduling conflicts. She’ll be back this year, but it’s in November at the Bell Centre, and tickets start at $60.

Just For Laughs is notorious for being a launching pad for previously unknown comedians. Many of them are doing low-budget one-hour general-admission solo shows during the festival. And this is your chance to say you saw them before they hit it big.

So if you see a comedian listed who you’re not familiar with, look them up on YouTube. And if you like what you see, book a ticket to their show.

Use the last-minute ticket booth

At the corner of Jeanne-Mance and Ste-Catherine Sts. is the festival’s last-minute ticket booth. Shows that aren’t selling well get deeply discounted here in the hours before they start, and you can find some sweet deals if you’re flexible with your plans. I got a ticket to a French gala for $10 once. Even the $25 Zoofest shows are often discounted to $15 or $10.

So head here, talk to the people with the clipboards and find out what kind of deals can be had for shows where the supply is exceeding the demand.

Follow the action on social media

So much of what happens at the festival happens at the last minute. A comedian might be in town completely unannounced and decide to perform a show. Maybe something that’s selling well gets dates added. Or maybe for some entirely different reason things are added or special deals announced during the festival itself.

Last year, Just For Laughs announced on Twitter with less than three hours of notice that Aziz Ansari was doing a show, and tickets would be $20 at the door. People who didn’t follow JFL on Twitter might have missed a great chance there.

So add these to your follows and likes:

Be flexible

The passes, the last-minute ticket booth and special deals announced on social media have one thing in common: They mean you’re not going to know more than a day or two in advance where you’re spending your evening. That might work for some people more than others. If you’re with a group of friends, it might not be practical. But if you’re like me and have no friends and no life, you can surf this wave of improbability for savings.

Always have a backup plan until you have tickets in your hand. Better yet, have two. If a Zoofest/OFF-JFL show you planned to use your pass for gets sold out quickly, you won’t get any free tickets. (In fact, the show doesn’t even need to be completely sold out for your pass to not work this way.) The risk inherent in operating this way is you might not get to see the show everyone’s talking about.

Take in the outdoor shows

Though much of the outdoor action during the JFL festival is more fun than funny, there are a few outdoor shows worth taking in. Most are in French, but one definitely worth marking on the calendar is the final performance of Sugar Sammy’s bilingual You’re Gonna Rire show, on the big stage at the Place des Festivals on July 28. You certainly can’t beat the price: It’s free.

You can see the full lineup of outdoor shows here. And wander around the festival grounds during the day to see all the other stuff going on, from the labyrinth to the board games to the circus acts.

Other tips

Some other things to keep in mind about shows at Just For Laughs, OFF-JFL and Zoofest that don’t pertain specifically to saving money. (Some of these are echoed by Gazette columnist Basem Boshra):

  • Be on time. If you arrive late to a show with assigned seating (like a gala), you end up disrupting a lot of people during the show and open yourself up to ridicule. Don’t be that person. Some shows might even refuse you entry (it happened to me last night when I was 10 minutes late, but fortunately I had a backup plan.)
  • Get there early. Aside from the galas and other shows at the Place des Arts theatre venues, most shows are general admission, so where you sit depends on how many people get in the venue before you. If you want to sit up front and risk being the victim of a crowd-working comedian, get there first.
  • Schedule travel time. Zoofest and OFF-JFL shows are about an hour long. But that doesn’t mean you can schedule a show at 7pm and another at 8. Give about 15 minutes of leeway in terms of the actual length of the show, and consider that you have to get from one venue to another between them. 75 minutes between show starts can work if the shows are in the same building (Monument National has several venues in the same building), 90 minutes if both shows are in the same neighbourhood, and give yourself more time if you have to get to a farther-away venue like Mainline Theatre or Comedyworks. For galas, the Ethnic/Nasty Shows or big solo shows, the show length can be longer, as much as two and a half hours. Err on the side of giving yourself an extra 20 minutes.
  • Don’t heckle. You’re not funnier than the people on stage, who have been working on material for a while in preparation for their shows. If a comedian asks a question to the audience, feel free to respond, but otherwise keep your mouth shut and avoid embarrassing yourself.
  • Don’t take pictures or video. Each show will begin with this reminder (though there are some shows that actually allow taking pictures discreetly — they’ll make this clear in the pre-show announcement). You’re here to enjoy yourself, not film the show for later broadcast using your crappy cellphone camera. Getting caught filming a standup act is grounds for a quick ejection, aside from being distracting to the performer and the audience. Instead, take a picture of the venue before the show, or of your ticket (don’t show the bar code if you’re posting to social media before the show begins). You’ll be able to see the gala performances and some other shows broadcast on Comedy Network in a few months, recorded and edited by professionals.
  • Don’t use your cellphones at all. These venues are dark, and the bright light of a cellphone screen is very distracting. Wait until after the show to text your friends. And make sure the ringer is turned off.
  • Spread the word about what you see. Help out those people looking for a good show, and those who are putting them on. If you liked something, write about it on Twitter or Facebook and spread the word. Use the hashtag #JPRMTL (French) or #JFLMTL (English). A lot of these smaller shows don’t have big marketing budgets and rely on word of mouth more than anything else.
  • Respect your comedians. It doesn’t take a PhD in mathematics to conclude that a comedian doing a one-hour show in a 100-seat venue where most people paid between $25 and $0 to attend isn’t making that much money from it. Keep that in mind when you check out a show. They’re there for the love of the craft, one they spend a lot of time and effort honing. They might also be on their third show of the night. So show them some appreciation, even if it’s just telling them they did a great show, but make it brief because they’re probably way busier than you are.

I probably forgot a few things. Hit me with questions in the comments. But don’t expect responses between 7pm and midnight, because I’ll be busy for the next week and a half.

Posted in Radio

Montreal’s radio industry mourns Merv Williams

Merv Williams, the former producer and announcer at Standard and Astral Radio in Montreal who contributed to CHOM’s morning show and CJAD’s Trivia Show until he was axed five years ago, has died.

The news was shared on social media by his former colleagues, but the official obituary notice was published Saturday in the Ottawa Citizen.

He died Sunday, July 10 at the Ottawa Heart Institute. He was only 39.

A memorial service for Williams will be held at the Yves Légaré Funeral home at 7200 Newman Blvd. in LaSalle on Saturday, July 30 at 11 am.

I never met Williams, but he appeared to be universally liked by his colleagues. I’ll let them offer tribute through their posts here:

Continue reading

Posted in TV

CBC’s Absolutely Quebec series starts tonight

As part of its mandate to offer local reflection beyond the daily newscast, CBC Television is airing a fifth season of its hour-long regional documentary series Absolutely Quebec, Saturdays at 7pm starting tonight.

First up is Cricket & Parc Ex: A Love Story, by Barry Lazar and Garry Beitel, about Montreal’s South Asian community and their love for this sport that’s much more popular in India and Pakistan than it is in this part of the world.

Carrie Haber, the producer of the Absolutely Quebec series, describes this documentary in more detail on CBC’s website, and the trailer is above. Mike Cohen at The Suburban also writes about it.

And it’s already online.

The series airs the first three episodes in the second half of July, then takes a break for the Rio Olympics. It returns at the end of August for the final three episodes.

Here’s the full lineup, with the descriptions provided by CBC:

 

Cricket & Parc Ex — A Love Story (July 16): A love story about Montreal’s South Asian community who live for their love of cricket. The documentary takes us onto the action-packed pitch and into daily life in Parc Extension – one of Canada’s poorest and most vibrant immigrant neighbourhoods.

Fennario — The Good Fight (July 23): This POV documentary captures the acerbic wit of David Fennario, a social activist and one of Canada’s great playwrights as he grapples with the devastating legacy of WWII on the men and women of his Verdun, Quebec neighbourhood. It originally screened at the 2014 RIDM festival, and Montreal Gazette reviewer T’Cha Dunlevy gave it three and a half stars.

The Shigawake Movie (formerly titled Barr Brothers in the Land of the Rising Sun) (July 30): The Shigawake Music and Agricultural Festival is one of Canada’s most remote music festivals, enjoying its 6th year at the tip of the Gaspé peninsula. Performances by Barr Brothers, Katie Moore & many others capture the Summer spirit of the Gaspé and highlight music’s ability to bring together isolated communities whose youth are reckoning with uncertain futures in the region.

Clay vs. Clay (Aug. 27): The story of Clay “Big Thunder” Peters, a 33-year old drug and alcohol addict, who hitchhikes across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal with the goal to become the world heavyweight boxing champion. Directed by Elias C. Varoutsos and edited by Alan Kohl.

In Vitro: Quebec’s New Fertility Frontier (Sept. 3): Following three stories of people at various stages of IVF treatment who are experiencing the impact of recent changes to Quebec’s formerly one-of-a-kind IVF program.

Mile-Enders (Sept. 17): TV Producer Lori Braun and her gay best friend, showrunner Adam Wanderer question the current state of their lives while exploring the food, drink, lifestyle and pop culture of their hometown in this coming of “middle” age docu-comedy.

Posted in Radio

Ken Connors leaves The Beat to take over weekend mornings on CJAD

Ken Connors

Ken Connors

Along with the news that Natasha Hall is hanging up her microphone for another mysterious job opportunity, The Beat 92.5 is also losing assistant program director Ken Connors. He made the announcement after the fact on Facebook Friday:

Connors has been with Corus/Cogeco for 11 years, and like Hall was one of the people who worked at AM 940 before that.

UPDATE (July 18): As expected, Bell Media has announced that Connors is taking over as host of the weekend morning show on CJAD, replacing the retiring Dave Fisher. Connors will also co-host the Home Improvement Show with Jon Eakes and the CJAD 800 Trivia Show.

Posted in TV

CRTC settles Videotron/RDS dispute, opening door to subscribers getting RDS GO

It’s not official yet, but a decision released by the CRTC this week will likely lead to Videotron subscribers soon finally getting access to RDS GO and being able to stream Canadiens games on smartphones, tablets and online.

The decision, released Tuesday, is what’s called a final offer arbitration between Videotron and Bell Media over the distribution of RDS and RDS2. The companies couldn’t come to an agreement over renewing the distribution contract, which expired last August, and so Videotron asked the commission to intervene.

In final offer arbitration, both parties present complete contracts to the commission, and it chooses one in its entirety (or, exceptionally, can refuse both).  This method of conflict resolution has the advantage of rewarding whichever side presents the most reasonable-seeming offer, and so encouraging both sides to be more reasonable in those offers.

In this case, the CRTC sided with Videotron, judging that its offer was better. The supporting documents in the case are heavily redacted to protect commercially sensitive information, so we don’t know any of the details of the contract, including what wholesale per-subscriber price Videotron will pay for RDS, what kind of volume discount it will get on that price, how long the term is or even how many RDS subscribers Videotron has.

But the documents do give plenty of insight into the relationship between Bell and Quebecor, and the tone of the many letters to the CRTC suggests there’s no love lost between these two organizations.

Videotron wants streaming

According to the documents submitted, Bell and Videotron managed to work out most of their differences on the new contract, including multiplatform rights, which Videotron has been trying to get a deal on since at least 2014. And it made it clear it sees these rights as essential:

Il est très important de souligner l’urgence de la situation puisque tant et aussi longtemps que le tarif multiplateforme n’est pas réglé, les abonnés de Vidéotron n’ont pas accès à ce contenu et sont désavantagés vis-à-vis les abonnés de Bell Télé. De plus, en retardant l’accès à ce contenu, Bell Télé continue de jouir d’un avantage concurrentiel important tout en désavantageant Vidéotron.

Though Videotron initially wanted to put multiplatform rights to arbitration as well, after failing to get the issue resolved in mediation in 2014, the companies solved that issue on their own, leaving only the wholesale price for the channels up to the commission.

With the CRTC’s decision, there’s now a new contract with RDS, one that includes multiplatform rights and will allow Videotron to meet new packaging requirements set by the CRTC to come into effect by Dec. 1.

So when do we get RDS GO?

Not quite yet, it seems. While the company told me in a statement that it’s happy with the decision and that there’s “agreement in principle” on multiplatform distribution, some aspects of the deal are still in discussion. “It’s impossible for us to make an announcement on this subject today,” the company said.

Hopefully this will be resolved by the time the Canadiens season begins again this fall.

Multiplatform distribution, and in particular “TV anywhere” apps, still have plenty of holes, particularly where they involve large vertically integrated companies. Few Bell services are available to Videotron customers this way, and few TVA services are available to Bell customers.

 

These issues will eventually be resolved as new distribution contracts are signed (in many cases probably involving a quid pro quo to avoid giving one distributor a competitive advantage), but they’re taking forever.

Because this deal concerns only RDS, it doesn’t affect distribution of other Bell Media services on Videotron (not even TSN). But hopefully this will help speed up discussions about getting those services on board as well.

The arguments

Since the CRTC arbitration in the end concerned mainly just the wholesale fee for RDS, the arguments presented by Bell and Videotron mainly concerned trying to set a higher or lower value on the channels. Though both offers increased the wholesale fee for RDS, Bell’s increased it more than Videotron’s did.

Much of those arguments centred on comparing RDS to TVA Sports, which of course is owned by Videotron’s parent company Quebecor.

Bell’s arguments for a higher fee included:

  • RDS maintains higher overall ratings than TVA Sports, even after losing national NHL rights.
  • RDS is more respected by viewers than TVA Sports.
  • RDS’s production and acquisition costs have increased dramatically.
  • Outside of hockey, RDS is by far more popular than TVA Sports, with many more marquee events.
  • Though Saturday night Canadiens games are popular, many more Quebec francophones are choosing to watch the games in English on CBC or Sportsnet than watch TVA Sports (they don’t say why, but this probably has to do as much with the fact that some people just don’t feel the need to subscribe to the channel as it may with people not liking its broadcasts).
  • Videotron is changing its packaging rules to come into compliance with the CRTC’s new rules. A higher per-subscriber wholesale fee should be expected when there are fewer subscribers.
  • RDS needs to compete not only with TVA Sports but with online sources of sports programming.
  • Bell’s offer is more in line with what other distributors in Quebec pay for RDS.
  • Videotron has done nothing in its packaging of RDS to warrant a “special discount”.
  • Videotron is treating RDS more harshly than TSN, because its goal is not fair market value but to punish RDS in order to support TVA Sports
  • Quebecor started TVA Sports and is aggressively bidding for sports rights, which is why RDS’s acquisition costs have increased so much in the first place

Videotron’s arguments for a lower fee (one closer to that for TVA Sports) included:

  • TVA Sports has higher peaks in ratings thanks to NHL playoffs and Canadiens Saturday night games
  • RDS has lost other important sporting events to TVA Sports, including some MLB, NFL, QMJHL and tennis rights
  • Bell offers RDS and TVA Sports at the same retail price, suggesting equivalent value to consumers
  • RDS lost a third of its ratings due to the loss of Saturday night NHL games, NHL playoffs, NHL special events and non-local NHL games
  • RDS’s subscriber revenues have already gone up considerably faster than its expenses, particularly jumping from 2011 to 2012, when it went from 44% of revenue to 62%. (This is mainly because until 2011, RDS’s wholesale rate was regulated by the CRTC.)
  • RDS’s profits continue to increase (though they were cut in half in 2014-15 after losing NHL rights).
  • There’s also RDS Info, which isn’t part of this contract but also collects subscriber fees while adding little original content
  • Television subscribers are already beginning to unsubscribe from some services or eliminate pay TV all together, citing cost as a major factor.
  • Comparing Videotron to other distributors in Quebec isn’t appropriate both because of Videotron’s high market power as a distributor and Bell’s high market power as a broadcaster. (Plus, of course, Bell TV is one of Videotron’s main competitors in Quebec.)

Comparing ratings is tricky, especially for this past season, since no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs. TVA Sports’s overall numbers would have been much higher had that happened. There were a lot of other issues with arguments on both sides, and of course plenty of other arguments were presented that were redacted in the public documents.

The decision

The CRTC found Bell’s offer reasonable on several points, like packaging, volume discounts, and how it compares to other rates. But it found RDS could not justify the rate increase it wanted when you look at historical rates, which it found more relevant to this case.

The other factor that swayed the commission was the variability of the rate. Instead of a fixed per-subscriber rate, both offers proposed a scale where the larger the number of subscribers overall, the lower the per-subscriber rate. But the CRTC found that Bell’s offer was too flat, and “would have the effect of insulating the programming service from the impact of subscriber choice at an unreasonable level.” In other words, if people dropped RDS from their packages, Bell would see only a small drop in their subscriber revenue and Videotron would be forced to pick up an unreasonable amount of that loss.

As a result, the CRTC picked Videotron’s offer. This may be good news for Videotron subscribers wanting to get RDS, particularly as a standalone service, but more importantly good news for Videotron’s bottom line.

Posted in TV

Renato Zane leaves City Montreal

Renato Zane

Renato Zane

The summer broadcasting staff shuffling continues.

The man brought in a year ago to take over from the departing Bob Babinski as head of City TV’s local operations in Montreal has left his post.

“Renato decided to leave us…we were sad to see him go :(” writes Rogers Media’s Michelle Lomack, emoticon and all.

Zane couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lomack said Rogers plans to replace the position and hire a new managing producer for Breakfast Television.

Posted in Radio

Natasha Hall leaving The Beat

Natasha Hall, Sarah Bartok and Kim Sullivan.

Natasha Hall, Sarah Bartok and Kim Sullivan in their Beat gear at this year’s St. Patrick’s Parade.

I’m thinking this picture might be cursed. Three of The Beat’s female personalities in pretty cool-looking purple coats, and within months they all leave the station.

Unlike Sarah Bartok and Kim Sullivan, though, Natasha Hall’s departure is voluntary. She’s leaving for another job, though she wouldn’t say what it is exactly. But she seems pretty excited about it.

Hall’s job, doing news and traffic for the morning show, was posted by Cogeco Media, open for only a week and a half, suggesting they may already have someone in mind to fill it.

The station declined to comment on Hall’s departure.

Cogeco also posted the assistant program director job at The Beat, to replace the also-departing Ken Connors. The job posting doesn’t include any on-air duties. It’s interesting to be hiring a new assistant PD because the program director job is still being filled on an interim basis by Martin Tremblay.

UPDATE (July 22): Kim Kieran, currently doing afternoon traffic in addition to promotions work, has won Hall’s former job. She starts Aug. 15.

Posted in Media

Journal de Québec columnist J. Jacques Samson dies suddenly

J. Jacques Samson, a former Le Soleil National Assembly journalist who since 2004 wrote for the Journal de Québec, died suddenly on Wednesday. He was 66.

The news was broken first by his own newspaper. But since then has spread all over Quebec media. It prompted tributes from provincial politicians, big city mayors and other members of the media, business leaders, and an editorial cartoon in his honour.

The newspaper also issued a formal statement.

Being a political columnist, Samson wasn’t universally loved. In 2013 he was subject to a successful complaint to the Quebec Press Council over a column about student protests. But the list of people mourning his passing is long.

Samson’s columns, the last of which was published June 26, can be found here.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Is it ethical for TV news to shill for the network?

The Rogers Media upfront in Montreal on June 7.

The Rogers Media upfront party in Montreal on June 7.

The beginning of June is a big time for Canadian TV networks. They invite journalists and advertisers to fancy parties and announce what new programming they’re adding to their schedules for the next season. In the case of Canada’s big three English commercial networks, Bell Media (CTV), Shaw/Corus (Global) and Rogers (City), that’s mainly acquired U.S. programming.

They’re called “upfronts”, and their purpose is clear.

But these broadcasters also own news outlets, and it might come as no surprise that the news side, and shows that are news-like in function, tend to cover only their parent company’s upfront presentation, even though they all announce their programming within a week of each other.

CTV’s eTalk has an entire special section on its website devoted to CTV’s upfront, including interviews with Hollywood stars hawking their new shows. CTV Toronto devoted five minutes to a live report. On ctvnews.ca, the network posted a Canadian Press story about Bell’s announcement, but not the CP stories about Shaw/Corus and Rogers.

Global News added plenty of videos to its globalnews.ca website of interviews with big stars during the Corus upfront presentation, but these weren’t journalistic reports. They just dumped raw video from the advertising event on their website. Global News Toronto devoted a bit more than two minutes to a packaged report about Global’s fall lineup (starts at 29:49). ET Canada, of course, focused plenty of attention on Corus’s announcement and none on anyone else. Online, there was a report with a journalist’s byline, but that turned out to be a straight-up copy-paste of Corus’s press release with some light re-wording at the top. It was only after I pointed that out on Twitter that an editor’s note was added to explain that.

Rogers doesn’t have a national news network like CTV and Global, and I couldn’t find anything on CityNews about upfronts. On Rogers’s news radio station websites, there was only Canadian Press stories about the upfront announcements, mostly because those websites republish every Canadian Press story. (An exception was 570 News in Kitchener, which republished a Rogers press release and credited it to “news staff”)

None of this is new, of course. Lots of journalistic outlets downplay or ignore their competitors’ good-news announcements. But the bias is never as stark as it is during upfront week.

We all accept that this happens, but is it ethical?

Last year, Bell Media’s president was fired after he interfered in CTV News’s coverage of a CRTC decision affecting Bell Canada. The message sent was clear: CTV News’s journalistic standards have no exceptions, even when dealing with the parent company.

But are upfronts an exception?

To find out, I asked the heads of CTV News and Global News to comment about their one-sided coverage of upfront announcements.

In both cases, it was noted that the daily entertainment shows (eTalk for CTV and ET Canada for Global) do not fall under the news division, which I find interesting.

Matthew Garrow, Director of News, Local Stations, Sports, Discovery Networks & Community Investment at Bell Media, offered this statement:

We can assure you that at no point does CTV News suspend its journalistic practices under any circumstance. All CTV News staff are trained to follow the strictest editorial guidelines designed to ensure impartiality when making our editorial decisions, which are safeguarded by both the CTV News Policy Handbook and Bell’s Journalistic Independence Policy. These policies are designed to ensure that, at all times, CTV News upholds the highest standard of journalistic independence.

I asked him why, if this is true, did CTV News cover Bell Media’s announcement but not its competitors’. I got no response.

Troy Reeb, Senior Vice President, News, Radio and Station Operations at Corus, was a bit more forthcoming:

Global News was not invited to our competitors’ upfronts which, like the Corus Upfront, were private events by invitation only. That’s not to say we do not provide coverage of competing networks’ programs and events when they are in the broader public interest. We certainly do, and our archives are filled with many stories about CTV, CBC, Rogers and Netflix.

Our commitment to fairness and balance doesn’t translate into an obligation to cover everything that happens. Editorial integrity doesn’t mean you have to do a story on The Bay because you did one on Sears. Every media outlet makes choices daily about what it will cover and what it will not.

That the major networks are announcing their fall schedules is not exactly breaking news, and clearly falls into the category of discretionary coverage. That we would cover Global’s announcements and not CTV’s should surprise no one since we are in the business of serving Global viewers, just as CTV is in the business of serving theirs.

In keeping with our Global News journalistic principles and practices, I can assure you that at no time was our news division or our reporters given any directive on what to cover or how to cover it. Coverage decisions were made by Global News based on audience interest and the accessibility offered to key players in the fall shows.

The point about not being invited to competitors’ upfronts is valid. (Maybe that would change if they covered each other’s announcements more?) But that doesn’t stop news outlets from reporting what’s announced in press releases and posted online.

And while news organizations have been self-promoting since the dawn of time, in an era of vertical integration, it’s not just CTV talking about CTV and Global talking about Global. It’s about CTV News, eTalk and BNN talking about CTV, Space and Discovery Channel, while Global News and ET Canada talk about Global, Showcase and Food Network, and Breakfast Television talks about City, Viceland and Sportsnet.

And those independent broadcasters not owned by the big media companies? Don’t expect to hear about your programming on the evening news, because they’re only in the business of serving their viewers.

It’s nice that no official orders were given from on high to manipulate news coverage. But if you’re a journalist at one of these organizations, how much freedom do you really have to choose not to cover your parent company’s press event, or to cover your competitor’s?

I certainly wouldn’t want to test it.

Posted in TV

Jessica Laventure leaves Global Montreal for Club Med

Jessica Laventure has been spending a lot of this month crying on the air.

On Wednesday morning, a week after she bid an emotional goodbye to anchor Camille Ross, weather presenter Jessica Laventure announced she too is leaving the show. In her case, it’s to work for Club Med in Punta Cana on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic.

Her last day is Thursday.

Jessica Laventure

Like Ross, Laventure had been at Global Montreal since they relaunched the morning show in January 2013, but had also worked at the station years ago when it was Global Quebec. In between, she worked at MétéoMédia and Boom FM.

Laventure brought an infectious sense of fun to the morning show, at a level that should not be possible for someone who wakes up well before 6am every day. And while her personality will undoubtedly make her a good fit at Club Med, it also leaves big shoes to fill.

“We’re really very sad to see her go, she’s just so good but adventure is reaching out to her and she seized the moment,” explained station manager Karen Macdonald, who will now have to find not only a new host but a new weather person as well.

On one hand, she’ll have the summer to do it. But on the other hand, with Canada AM cancelled and CTV’s new national morning show to launch in the fall, this would have been an opportunity for Global Montreal to try to lure away some viewers who want a news-centric morning show that isn’t a straight newscast. Instead, the station has to deal with its own upheaval.

UPDATE: Laventure opens up in a blog post about her decision to leave Global.

Posted in Radio

CKOI is moving its transmitter

The CBC's Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

The CBC’s Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

All major commercial FM radio stations in Montreal except one broadcast from antennas on a single giant transmission tower at the top of Mount Royal.

Soon, the sole holdout will be joining them.

CKOI's current antenna atop the CIBC building

CKOI’s current antenna atop the CIBC building

Last week, the CRTC approved (without any public process) an application to move CKOI-FM 96.9 from its current location atop the CIBC tower at Peel St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. to the Mount Royal tower.

Cogeco’s application explains that, with the move of television stations to digital, and the channel change of Radio-Canada and CBC TV transmitters from 2 to 19 and 6 to 21, respectively, the old VHF TV antenna used by them has become obsolete and is being removed. That will open up a space for a new antenna, and Cogeco wants to install it.

There are a few benefits to this. One, Cogeco’s other FM stations (CFGL-FM 105.7 and CHMP-FM 98.5) already broadcast from the Mount Royal tower, and moving CKOI would allow all three to be managed from one site, the company says. Also, because the antenna would be higher (277.6m instead of 220.8m above average terrain), its transmitter can reduce power but still cover the same area.

Finally, Cogeco says the new antenna will be compatible with HD Radio. It’s unclear if Cogeco has immediate plans for HD Radio or if it’s more of a long-term option, but other broadcasters are starting to use it now and CKOI would be ideal both because of its high coverage and because there are no stations close to it in frequency.

 

What makes CKOI unique in Montreal isn’t just its location, but also its power. According to the Canadian Communications Foundation, the station was authorized to use 307 kilowatts of power in 1962, when commercial FM broadcasting was just beginning in the country (at the time, the station was CKVL-FM, and was transitioning from being a mere repeater of CKVL to having its own programming). Because of grandfathered rights, it got to keep that power level even though FM stations are now limited to a maximum of 100kW. CKOI is one of only five stations in Canada allowed to go beyond 100kW, and it’s the second-most powerful transmitter in the country after Winnipeg’s CJKR-FM (310kW).

The grandfathered rights, however, don’t mean CKOI can move to the Mount Royal tower and blast out 307kW. When asked to approve the change, Industry Canada (or whatever it’s called now) said CKOI could continue exceeding the 100kW maximum provided its coverage area did not increase, that there was no increase in interference to existing stations or aircraft navigation, that the new installation respects safety regulations relating to transmission power, and that there is no objection from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

As a result, CKOI has proposed an effective radiated power of 147kW, which is as high as it can go without exceeding its previous coverage to the west. (This will drop it to fourth-highest power in Canada, after London’s CFPL-FM, 300kW, and Winnipeg’s CBW-FM, 160kW.)

Current (blue) and proposed (green) contours of CKOI-FM

Current (blue) and proposed (green) contours of CKOI-FM

The new pattern slightly reduces how far the signal goes toward the east and south, but probably won’t be too noticeable. (Cogeco estimates that 99.6% of the population in the previous coverage area will still be in the new one.) The higher antenna height will also mean the signal will face less disruption from the mountain and tall buildings.

(147kW might sound a lot higher than 100kW, but because of the way propagation works, the coverage area isn’t that much larger. Compare CKOI’s current pattern to CKBE-FM’s 100kW signal for an idea of how different it is.)

As a bonus, people going through central downtown won’t have their FM radios so overloaded by a 307kW transmission just above their heads that they hear CKOI all over the FM band.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Chantal Desjardins, P.J. Stock among cuts at Sportsnet

Rogers Media today finally confirmed what’s been reported, that George Stroumboulopoulos has been let go as host of Hockey Night in Canada and Ron MacLean will return to the big chair on Saturday nights.

But also changing is a lot of other jobs in Sportsnet’s hockey broadcasting team, both national and regional broadcasts. Among them, in-game analyst Glenn Healy, studio analysts P.J. Stock, Billy Jaffe and Corey Hirsch, and regional game studio hosts Leah Hextall (Flames) and Chantal Desjardins (Canadiens).

Desjardins mainly hosted the regional Canadiens broadcasts from the Toronto studio, but would also work as a rinkside reporter during some national broadcasts.

Desjardins and Stock worked together at CHOM before getting jobs at Sportsnet. In 2010, they hosted the morning show with Pete Marier after Ted Bird left the station. Marier was also let go this past week.

The Globe and Mail reports Sportsnet will be airing national pregame shows instead of regional ones before regional hockey games, which would reduce the need for staff.

UPDATE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman offers a tribute to his dismissed colleagues at the end of this column.

Posted in TV

Bell Media proposes shutdown of 40 CTV and CTV Two retransmitters

It’s not quite as bad as the massacre of hundreds of analog over-the-air transmitters by public broadcasters in 2012, but Bell Media has proposed a major cull of its transmitters, removing a third of them from their licenses as part of its licence renewal application filed with the CRTC.

The cull affects mainly low-power retransmitters in small towns, some as little as 1 Watt of transmitting power, though some are as high as 260,000 Watts. All of the affected transmitters are analog (and so none broadcast in HD).

Bell Media explains its request thusly:

These analog transmitters generate no incremental revenue, attract little to no viewership given the growth of [cable and satellite TV] subscriptions and are costly to maintain, repair or replace. In addition, none of the highlighted transmitters offer any programming that differs from the main channels. The Commission has determined that broadcasters may elect to shut down transmitters but will lose certain regulatory privileges (distribution on the basic service, the ability to request simultaneous substitution) as noted in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-24, Over-the-air transmission of television signals and local programming. We are fully aware of the loss of these regulatory privileges as a result of any transmitter shutdown.

In short, Bell has determined that these transmitters cost far more to operate than they’re worth in viewership, even when you consider secondary benefits like simultaneous substitution.

As part of promises to the CRTC, including during the Astral acquisition, Bell promised to keep its TV stations on the air through 2016 or 2017. With its licence up for renewal on Aug. 31, 2017, that promise expires. Nevertheless, no local originating stations are pegged for shutdown here, and there’s no direct effect on local programming.

The list of transmitters Bell wants to delete from its licences is below. The CRTC counts 42, while I count 41 (not including the three already approved as part of separate CRTC decisions). In some cases, the transmitters are already off the air for a variety of reasons (“destroyed in a fire” comes up a few times, though the reasons can sometimes be quite strange).

UPDATE: Bell has revised its list, and now has 40 transmitters listed, not including those already approved.

A couple to note:

  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall, a retransmitter of CTV Ottawa, has a 260,000W signal that can be easily captured in the western part of Montreal and off-island suburbs. It’s the last analog television signal that reaches into the Montreal area, and it’s the reason why CTV Ottawa is carried on Montreal cable systems. Bell estimates this transmitter reaches 73,823 people.
  • CKNX-TV Wingham was a CBC affiliate that launched in 1955, then became an A Channel station owned by CHUM, then was sold to CTV. In 2009, at the height of the battle over fee for carriage, CTV said it would have to shut down the station, prompting a ridiculous negotiation for a sale to Shaw via newspaper ads. Despite a $1 purchase price, Shaw reneged on its offer after due diligence. CTV converted the station into a retransmitter of CFPL-TV London, Ont., and it became part of the CTV Two network. (Since then, CTV was bought by Bell and Shaw bought Global TV, which effectively ended the fee for carriage debate.) Of all the transmitters proposed for shutdown, this one reaches the most people (235,984).

CTV stations (40/109 transmitters)

CJCB-TV Sydney, N.S. (1/6 transmitters):

  • CJCB-TV-5 Bay St. Laurence (1W)

CJCH-DT Halifax, N.S. (2/9 transmitters):

  • CJCH-TV-2 Truro (8W)
  • CJCH-TV-8 Marinette (10W)

CKCW-DT Moncton, N.B. (5/9 transmitters):

  • CKAM-TV Upsalquitch (already approved) (230,000W)
  • CKAM-TV-1 Newcastle (9W)
  • CKAM-TV-2 Chatham (9W)
  • CKCW-TV-2 St. Edward/St. Louis, P.E.I. (1,100W)
  • CKCD-TV Campbelton (1,800W)

CHBX-TV Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CHBX-TV-1 Wawa (66,400W)

CJOH-DT Ottawa (1/4 transmitters):

  • CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto (100,000W) (UPDATE: Bell says this transmitter was listed in error)
  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall (260,000W)

CICI-TV Sudbury, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CICI-TV-1 Elliot Lake (19,000W)

CITO-TV Timmins, Ont. (2/5 transmitters):

  • CITO-TV-3 Hearst (7,110W)
  • CITO-TV-4 Chapleau (1,550W)

CKY-DT Winnipeg (2/9 transmitters):

  • CKYB-TV-1 McCreary (already approved) (10W)
  • CKYS-TV Snow Lake (8W)

CICC-TV Yorkton, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CICC-TV-2 Norquay (69,000W)
  • CICC-TV-3 Hudson Bay (680W)
  • CIEW-TV Warmley (170,000W)
  • CIWH-TV Wynyard (140,000W)

CIPA-TV Prince Albert, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CIPA-TV-1 Spiritwood (46,900W)
  • CIPA-TV-2 Big River (205W)
  • CKQB-TV Melfort (15,500W)
  • CKQB-TV-1 Nipawin (11,600W)

CKCK-DT Regina (4/7 transmitters):

  • CKCK-TV-1 Colgate (84,800W)
  • CKCK-TV-2 Willow Bunch (52,700W)
  • CKCK-TV-7 Fort Qu’Appelle (241W)
  • CKMC-TV-1 Golden Prairie (229,000W)

CFCN-DT Calgary (4/9 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-1 Drumheller (80,000W)
  • CFCN-TV-6 Drumheller (9W)
  • CFCN-TV-16 Oyen (710W)
  • CFWL-TV-1 Invemere, B.C. (10W)

CFCN-DT-5 Lethbridge, Alta. (6/10 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-3 Brooks (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-4 Burmis (382W)
  • CFCN-TV-11 Sparwood, B.C. (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-12 Moyie, B.C. (5W)
  • CFCN-TV-17 Waterton Park (1W)
  • CFCN-TV-18 Coleman (9W)

CFRN-DT Edmonton (2/11 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-2 Peace River (4,300W)
  • CFRN-TV-8 Grouard Mission (10,000W)

CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer (1/2 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-10 Rocky Mountain House (1,600W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CKLD-DT Saint John (3 transmitters total)
  • CFCF-DT Montreal (1 transmitter total)
  • CFTO-DT Toronto (3 transmitters total)
  • CKCO-DT Kitchener, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CKNY-TV North Bay, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CFQC-DT Saskatoon (3 transmitters total)
  • CIVT-DT Vancouver (1 transmitter total)

CTV Two stations (2/12 transmitters)

CFPL-DT London, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CKNX-TV Wingham (260,000W)

CKVR-DT Barrie, Ont. (1/4 transmitters):

  • CKVR-TV-1 Parry Sound (7W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CHRO-DT-43 Ottawa (1 transmitter total)
  • CHRO-TV Pembroke, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CHWI-DT Wheatley, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CIVI-DT Victoria (2 transmitters total)

Other stations (1/5 transmitters)

Bell Media acquired two TV stations in northern B.C. from Astral Media. They have since adopted CTV Two programming, but are licensed separately from Bell Media’s other stations.

CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C. (1/3 transmitters):

No change is proposed for CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. (2 transmitters total)

CTV and CTV Two also have (de facto) affiliates in Lloydminster, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Peterborough, Oshawa and St. John’s. These are not owned by Bell Media and are unaffected by this application.

In a letter, the CRTC asks Bell for more information about this request, notably how many of these transmitters are still running and how many people will be affected. A response is requested for Monday, June 27, but the major broadcasters have requested an extension to that deadline because of the amount of information being requested of them.

The CRTC is accepting comments from the public on Bell Media’s licence renewals, which includes the deletion of retransmitters, until 8pm ET on Aug. 2 Aug. 15. You can submit comments here (choose Application 2016-0012-2). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record. Public hearings will be held in Laval and Gatineau in November to discuss the application.

UPDATE: This post is prompting some discussion on Reddit (here and here), and some of those comments seem to be based on some misconceptions:

  • Many point out that CTV/CTV2 is owned by Bell Media, which also owns a TV distributor, as if they’re doing this merely to boost TV subscription rates. The likelihood of a large number of people in these tiny towns switching to a pay TV service owned by Bell is pretty low. And if this was the purpose, wouldn’t they have shut down more transmitters? (Besides, CTV doesn’t get subscription fees from people who subscribe via cable companies.)
  • Some say in general CTV would have been better off if it wasn’t owned by a telecom company, or that this wouldn’t have happened if CTV was independent of one. That, of course, ignores several facts: (1) CBC and TVO also shut down hundreds of analog retransmitters years ago, (2) Global TV’s parent company actually did go bankrupt before the network was purchased by Shaw, and it might not have survived had that not happened, and (3) Conventional television as an industry is losing money or barely breaking even, and a lot of that is because the cable companies that own those networks are subsidizing them.
  • A couple say the channels or bandwidth should be given or sold to another company so they can put transmitters or TV stations there instead. But (1) Broadcast television allocations are not sold like that; (2) There’s zero demand for new television stations or transmitters; and (3) there is plenty of space on the television broadcast band for more transmitters, especially in these small markets.
Posted in Opinion, TV

Rogers throws desperate hail-Mary with OMNI mandatory distribution request

Rogers calls it a “win-win solution”. But it would be just as accurate to describe it as a request for a government-imposed bailout of a private broadcaster whose business model has failed.

In an application that is being considered as part of Rogers’s TV licence renewals, the company has asked the CRTC to impose mandatory distribution of ethnic TV network OMNI across Canada, and to impose a fee of $0.12 per subscriber per month (which is the same as Canadians currently pay for CPAC).

This will give OMNI $14 million a year from subscribers, and in exchange Rogers has made several commitments related to programming:

  • 4 daily, national, 30 minute newscasts 7 days per week, in each of Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese (produced in Toronto with contributions from Vancouver and reporters in Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Victoria) and Punjabi languages (produced in Vancouver with contributions from Toronto and reporters in Victoria, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal);
  • 6 daily, local 30 minute current affairs shows 5 days per week, in each of Mandarin, Punjabi and Cantonese language (produced in Toronto and Vancouver);
  • The creation of national cultural affairs series produced in Alberta that are designed to showcase important cultural and social contributions from Canada’s ethnocultural communities;
  • Original Canadian Scripted ethnic and/or third-language dramas and documentaries through a PNI commitment of 2.5%;
  • 10 hours of local independent production in Vancouver, Toronto and Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary combined) each week, measured on a monthly basis.
  • A commitment to devote 80% of OMNI Regional’s schedule to the exhibition of ethnic programming, while maintaining the requirement to devote 50% of the schedule to third-language programming;
  • A commitment to devote a minimum of 40% of OMNI Regional’s annual revenues to the production of Canadian programming;
  • A commitment to re-establish in-house production in all of the markets served by OMNI’s OTA stations;
  • The elimination of all U.S. “strip” programming that is not relevant to ethnic or third-language communities and a commitment to limit the amount of U.S. programming exhibited on OMNI Regional to a maximum of 10% of the schedule each month

A lot of this sounds good, but it also sounds a lot like just bringing back the services (like daily third-language newscasts) that OMNI cut recently as part of budget cutbacks, moves that its unions argued broke the spirit of its CRTC licence obligations.

The proposal is a bit complex. Rather than one national OMNI feed, the initial proposal called for three regional feeds, based on what OMNI stations broadcast in Vancouver, Alberta (Calgary and Edmonton have identical programming) and Toronto (which has two OMNI stations). Those living in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto would still be able to watch OMNI for free over the air, but would also be required to pay 12 cents per month through their cable or satellite company.

To complicate it even further, Rogers amended the application earlier this month to include a fourth feed for Quebec, which would carry OMNI’s newscasts but also local programming from ICI, the independent ethnic station based in Montreal. The additional commitments for this channel include:

  • 3 hours of original local ethnic programming in French each week;
  • 1.5 hours of original French-language programming and a half-hour original English-language programming each week; and
  • 14 hours of original local independently produced programming each week.

The law

My initial reaction to this application was there’s no way it’s going to be approved. The commission set a high bar the last time it reviewed mandatory channels in 2013.

Under its policy, it will only invoke article 9(1)h of the Broadcasting Act, allowing it to force TV distributors to require all subscribers add a particular channel, when that channel meets the following criteria:

  • It makes an exceptional contribution to Canadian expression and reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity;
  • It contributes, in an exceptional manner, to the overall objectives for the digital basic service and specifically contributes to one or more objectives of the Act, such as Canadian identity and cultural sovereignty; ethno-cultural diversity, including the special place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society; service to and the reflection and portrayal of persons with disabilities; or linguistic duality, including improved service to official language minority communities; and
  • It makes exceptional commitments to original, first-run Canadian programming in terms of exhibition and expenditures.

The commission has highlighted the word “exceptional” here, and has used lack of exceptionality to deny several applications for mandatory distribution.

Plus, there’s another complication. Asking TV distributors (and by extension their customers) to pay over-the-air TV stations (called “fee for carriage” or “value for signal” depending on what spin you want to put on it) has been discussed before. And in 2012 the Supreme Court weighed in on the matter, finding that the CRTC did not have the jurisdiction to impose this.

Does the fact that OMNI is ethnic somehow change the nature of this ruling? Or the fact that Rogers would be seeking mandatory carriage instead of negotiating deals with cable providers?

Tough choices

But just saying “no” wouldn’t solve the problem. OMNI is bleeding money, badly. CRTC data, which I can only get indirectly, suggest OMNI stations lost $33 million in 2014-15 on revenue of $24 million. When you’re spending more than twice the amount of money you’re bringing in, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Rogers states in its application that the OMNI business model has crumbled recently because their strategy of strip reruns of U.S. shows like Two and a Half Men and The Simpsons is no longer tenable in an era in which these programs are available on on-demand platforms like Netflix, both because viewers have a more convenient option for watching them and because their price has gone up as a result.

The application ends: “We believe this is the last opportunity for OMNI to adjust its business model so that its operations can become sustainable.”

The evidence points to that being true. Though Rogers did not state this explicitly, it seems very likely that without approval for this change, OMNI’s future could be in jeopardy. (Rogers did include separate licence amendment requests if the mandatory distribution request is denied, suggesting they’d at least be willing to try keeping it going.) “If this application for mandatory carriage as part of the basic service is denied, OMNI’s future viability is in question as we see no other long term solution other than our proposed national service and a new distribution model,” it writes.

If we assume that OMNI can’t survive without a de facto government bailout, the CRTC must decide whether ethnic over-the-air television in Canada is worth saving in its current form, or whether it should allow OMNI to die in the hope that someone else might take up the challenge. (Requests for new over-the-air television stations are virtually non-existent, but ICI presents a possible alternative — a family-run station that brokers programming using independent producers, running as more of a producers’ cooperative than a for-profit station.)

OMNI cutting its newscasts and replacing them with less expensive current affairs programming has made the case for bailing it out harder (even though a lot of those newscasts were mainly repurposing City News reports). But for many communities, particularly in Toronto, it remains a rare outlet for them to connect with their members.

The commission’s stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Say yes to OMNI’s demand, and you undercut the pick-and-pay policy you just started implementing, forcing people to pay for something they already get for free, and propping up a service that is already failing to meet people’s expectations. Say no, and OMNI risks going out of business, and you’ll be the one they blame for it. Ethnic communities across the country, but particularly in four of its largest cities, will lose access to programming that speaks specifically to them, and there’s no guarantee that someone else will come in and bring it back.

In the end, the debate could come down to a single, fundamental question: Is OMNI worth saving?

Comments on the OMNI application (which can be downloaded here), and licence renewals for OMNI and other Rogers television services, are being accepted until 8pm ET on Aug. 2 (it’s been extended to Aug. 15). Comments can be filed here (select application 2016-0377-0 for the OMNI mandatory distribution request). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (June 28): OMNI has launched a website to drum up public support for its application.