TTP Media’s 600 and 940 stations go off the air

Damage to the transmitter caused by a wind storm caused TTP Media’s two Montreal radio stations to go off the air, and the need to order parts means it will be early in the new year before they’re transmitting again, co-owner Nicolas Tétrault tells me.

CFNV 940 AM and CFQR 600 AM have been on the air since 2016 and 2017, respectively, each taking five years to get on the air after getting their licences from the CRTC.

For nearly a decade, Montrealers unsatisfied with commercial talk radio stations have been eagerly anticipating what was promised. But that eagerness has faded as year after year brings no news about programming (except for a deal CFNV reached with the similarly-named CNV to provide mainly music programming).

Tétrault says talk programming is coming soon, and they are very proactive on setting it up. Talk programs on CFQR, the English station, could start as early as February, he told me.

Considering past promises of launching soon, it’s best not to hold your breath waiting for it.

Fall radio ratings: Could The Beat surpass CJAD?

Numeris released its quarterly ratings report for metered markets on Wednesday, and for Montreal the only surprising thing is how much The Beat continues to dominate over Virgin Radio. With a 21.5% share, it has more than twice the average listeners than Virgin Radio at 9.4%. And not only it it the fourth straight quarter that The Beat has been more than twice Virgin’s share, it’s the third straight where Virgin has fallen behind CHOM for third place among English music stations.

The 21.5% share is The Beat’s highest since it launched in 2011, and less than four points below perennial leader CJAD 800. Could we see a future where The Beat isn’t just the most popular music station and the most popular among that advertiser-friendly 25-54 audience, but among all ages and formats as well?

The book is more bad news for Virgin Radio, which tried to turn things around by letting go of program director Mark Bergman (he’s now at The Beat) and morning hosts Freeway Frank and Natasha Gargiulo and stealing Vinny Barrucco back from The Beat to lead its new morning show. The Beat’s morning show, headed by Vinny’s former co-host Nikki Balch, is still ahead. It’s still early — this is the first full book with Barrucco hosting the morning show with Shannon King — but they have a lot of ground to cover, and Virgin has lost a lot of ground that it has to make up.

TSN 690 is at the bottom of the anglo commercial radio pack, but it had its best share since 2017. CBC Radio One, meanwhile, which had good numbers from 2017 until this spring, has fallen back below 7% in market share.

On the francophone side, the top line hasn’t changed much, except for a rebound for CHMP-FM 98.5 (which always tends to dip in the summer with replacement hosts and less news), and a drop for CKOI 96.9.

Bragging rights

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The end of the free daily newspaper in (English) Canada

About 20 years after it first became a thing, the free daily commuter newspaper will cease to exist in English Canada.

Torstar announced on Tuesday that it will cease production of its StarMetro dailies (formerly Metro) in the five cities it currently operates — Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Halifax. The result will be more than 120 layoffs, according to Unifor, which is using the news to demand additional government help for print media.

The closure means Canada is left with only two free daily print newspapers, both of which are in Montreal: Métro and 24 Heures. Both were once part of nationwide chains but got split up from them.

Metro operated newspapers in:

  • London
  • Regina
  • Saskatoon
  • Ottawa
  • Winnipeg
  • Vancouver
  • Edmonton
  • Calgary
  • Toronto
  • Halifax

24 Hours operated in:

  • Gatineau
  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Ottawa
  • Vancouver
  • Toronto

There were also independent efforts, particularly in Toronto:

  • FYI Toronto and GTA Today, free papers launched by the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star, respectively, when the craze began in 2000.
  • Dose, the Canwest free daily that lasted just over a year in five cities
  • t.o.night, which tried to make an afternoon free daily a thing

Now they’re all dead.

So what about Montreal?

Montreal’s remaining free dailies have unique circumstances, but they aren’t immune from the same economic forces — a reduction in advertising revenue, an increase in expenses, as well as less attention from readers who can now spend their morning commutes checking Facebook on their phones.

Métro, formerly a Transcontinental paper, was sold along with Montreal and Quebec City community papers to Métro Média, a company owned by Michael Raffoul, an entrepreneur who owns a print media distribution company.

24 Heures, owned by Quebecor, is a de facto sister publication to the Journal de Montréal. It no longer has its own website, and its stories live on the Journal de Montréal’s site. It saves money by using stories from the Journal and TVA.

Neither newspaper has any guarantee of surviving in the long term. Quebecor could shut down 24H at any time, and few people would notice (it disappeared for a week this summer and nobody raised an eyebrow). Metro, meanwhile, is part of a larger group of newspapers that is increasingly codependent, and a shutdown there might be devastating for what’s left of the on-island community newspapers (though many of them are little more than advertising vehicles these days).

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tries something new in Toronto. It’s a city of millions and just seems a bit odd that it wouldn’t have at least one free news daily. But maybe it’s time to acknowledge that this method of getting news hasn’t kept up with technological progress.

Which isn’t all bad. It’ll mean fewer discarded newspapers clogging up subway systems.

Rick Moffat, Eramelinda Boquer among latest Bell Media cuts

Wednesday was another bad day at Bell Media, as the company made another round of cuts across the country for vague reasons that probably amount to wanting to cut expenses to increase profits.

The company refused to provide “specific numbers” or names but confirmed there were “departures” at “some Bell Media stations.”

“Our industry is changing fast, with growing international competition and new viewing and listening options impacting audiences and advertising across the Canadian media sector. We’re feeling the effects of rapid industry change in many parts of our business, including local radio. To ensure we remain competitive, we’re managing the impact on our bottom line while also investing in content and platforms,” the statement reads.

In Montreal, CJAD’s Eramelinda Boquer and TSN 690’s Rick Moffat were among the cuts, sources at Bell Media told me. There was also a job lost in the CTV Montreal mailroom.

Elsewhere, the biggest loss is CTV Winnipeg news anchor Gord Leclerc. Traces of him were quickly removed from CTV Winnipeg’s website and he wrote a message of thanks to his viewers.

Also gone are:

In possibly unrelated news, Énergie 98.9 in Quebec City, a Bell Media station, fired morning host Stéphan Dupont, and co-hosts Raynald Cloutier and Pierre Blais, on Friday. The firing comes after a controversial interview with RDS analyst Marc Denis, but people at the station say the two events are unrelated. Dupont’s contract was set to end Jan. 1.

Thanks to those who provided tips on the losses. I’ll update this post as I hear about more.

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Gregory Charles sells Radio Classique to Leclerc to be turned into pop music station

This post has been corrected.

Last year, when Quebec City’s Leclerc Communication agreed to buy two radio stations from RNC Media, fans of Montreal’s 91.9 Sports (CKLX-FM) were upset that the new owner planned to turn their sports-talk station into a popular music station with the same format as Quebec City’s WKND (coincidentally also at 91.9).

The transaction failed because the CRTC wouldn’t agree to Leclerc buying CHOI-FM in the provincial capital while holding on to WKND and Blvd 102.1.

Now, Leclerc is trying again, and this one will probably prompt even more upset listeners. It has agreed to purchase Radio Classique 99.5 from Gregory Charles, and will turn it into a WKND station instead.

The transaction does not include CJSQ-FM 92.7, Radio Classique’s sister station in Quebec City, which will remain in Charles’s hands, as will the radioclassique.ca website. Charles says in an interview with La Presse that he hopes to find a different buyer for that station to turn it into something else as well.

Shortly after the announcement, the CRTC published the associated application, which sets the purchase price at $3.88 million. That’s only 57% of the $6.78 million it was priced at when Charles bought it in 2015.

While there’s no Quebec City element that would cause competition concerns, CJPX is required by condition of licence to operate in a specialty format, and Leclerc is applying for a change in its licence to remove that requirement. The commission may or may not be crazy about replacing a specialty music station with a loyal audience with yet another pop station, as much as Leclerc promises its format is different.

In the meantime, it’s status quo at Radio Classique in Montreal, just as it was with 91.9 Sports.

Gregory Charles bought CJPX and CJSQ from founder Jean-Pierre Coallier in 2015. Charles admitted in the La Presse interview that he paid too much for the station at the time. But he also said he wasn’t looking to sell until Leclerc came to him with an offer.

Charles also seems to suggest that he thinks CJSQ can still be a success without its bigger brother, which would be quite a challenge, especially considering how much content is shared between the two stations. He says the Quebec City market is more stable, while most of the Montreal audience listens online.

For tangible benefits, Leclerc is proposing the usual 6% minimum, broken down in the standard way between music development funds, the Community Radio Fund of Canada and discretionary initiatives that haven’t been determined yet. The total comes out to $293,350 over seven years, but Leclerc is also proposing to take over $219,514 of the $340,121 remaining in tangible benefits from that 2015 transaction (the rest will stay with Charles and CJSQ).

The deal also includes $100,000 worth of advertising for Charles on CJPX in the two years after it closes.

Will the CRTC accept the transaction? It’s hard to tell, and will depend on the resistance it meets. Previous attempts to transform 91.9 Sports and TSN 690 failed not because of angry submissions by loyal fans, but because they were part of larger transactions that failed to go through.

The commission is also usually reluctant to replace a specialty station with a pop music station unless it can be demonstrated that the only alternative is the station shutting down.

With CJPX, that argument could be made. The application says the station has not made money since it was purchased (exact numbers are confidential) and “has no hope of recovery without a repositioning of the station.” Its already modest advertising revenues were $2 million in 2012-13 and $1.3 million in 2017-18.

Radio Classique CJPX-FM average minute audience 2015-17 (Source: Numeris)

And despite efforts by Charles, including bringing in celebrity hosts like Bernard Derome and Marc Hervieux, the station’s audience share has tumbled 20-30% in five years, depending how you count it. In 2017 it stopped subscribing to Numeris ratings.

If the commission can be convinced that there aren’t other options for the continued survival of a classical radio station in Montreal, or that a third player in the mainstream commercial music space is more important, then it would likely approve the transaction and licence change.

The application has been posted and the CRTC is accepting interventions until Dec. 19 (note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record). The application is being officially heard (though so far without the presence of the parties) at the same Feb. 12 hearing in Montreal when it is considering the proposed purchase of V by Bell Media.

See also: I summarize the application and provide more context in this story for Cartt.ca, available to its subscribers.

Correction: An earlier version of this post quoted La Presse as saying Gregory Charles wants to keep his Quebec City station. In fact, the story says he wants to sell that station as well.

Bell lays out its plans for $20-million purchase of V network

Bell Media is proposing to bring V’s local news broadcasts in-house, but otherwise isn’t putting much substantive on the table to convince the CRTC it should be allowed to acquire the V network of television stations in Quebec for $20 million.

The CRTC published the application on Tuesday, setting a hearing date of Feb. 12 in Montreal to hear the application. Bell is proposing to buy the five V stations (CFAP-DT Quebec City, CFJP-DT Montreal, CFRS-DT Saguenay, CFKS-DT Sherbrooke and CFKM-DT Trois-Rivières), plus digital assets like Noovo.ca, but leave the specialty channels Elle Fictions (formerly MusiquePlus) and MAX (formerly Musimax) to a yet-to-be-named company owned by the current owners of V.

V’s affiliate stations in Gatineau, Abitibi, Rimouski and Rivière-du-Loup, owned by RNC Media and Télé Inter-Rives, are unaffected by the transaction, and Bell says it intends to renew its affiliation agreements with them when they expire in 2020.

In the brief included in the application, Bell and V say the conventional TV network is continuing to lose money, despite the ratings gains it has generated and the synergies from owning two specialty channels (which Bell had to sell off to get its acquisition of Astral Media approved in 2013). Groupe V Média says it has lost almost $7 million in the past two years.

“For a small independent broadcaster in the Quebec market, these losses cannot be supported and have begun to have an impact on its other services,” the application says.

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CRTC questions Bell TV’s community programming practices

Four years after the CRTC found Videotron failed to comply with its obligations related to community television programming, the commission is taking a very critical look at Bell Canada’s community TV services, with questions suggesting it is concerned Bell is inappropriately redirecting funding that was supposed to go to community TV in small Atlantic Canadian communities toward large productions out of Toronto and Montreal that are essentially spinoff shows of commercial productions that air on Bell Media TV channels.

In a notice of consultation posted last month, the commission published applications for licence renewal for Bell Fibe and Bell Aliant TV services in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec. The applications, which include 42 documents, shows repeated rounds of questions over two years about Bell’s community TV operations, which operate under the Bell TV1 brand (formerly Bell Local).

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Highlights of Quebec’s $50-million media aid package

Today, the Quebec government announced tax measures to support print media companies, as the finance department’s publication titles it. It estimates the cost at about $50 million a year by 2023-24.

Here’s what it contains (I’ve bolded key terms):

New wage tax credit

The main measure is a new refundable 35% tax credit for “corporations that produce and disseminate print media that are recognized as eligible media.”

Calculated on employee wages, the credit is capped to a maximum of $26,250 per employee, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2019.

Eligible corporations

Eligible corporations are those that own eligible media at least a year old that “must consist in the production and daily or periodic dissemination (at least 10 times a year) — by means of a print publication, an information website or a mobile application dedicated to information — of original written information content” as described below.

The following are specifically not eligible for the tax credit:

  • Corporations exempt from income taxes
  • Crown corporations like the CBC
  • Broadcasting corporations (radio or television)

Eligible content

To be eligible, a publication must produce “original written information content, which must pertain to general interest news, be specifically intended for the Québec public and cover at least three of the following information topics”:

  • politics
  • municipal affairs
  • international sector
  • culture
  • business and the economy
  • local interest news
  • miscellaneous news items

Content that doesn’t meet that standard includes:

  • content from a press agency or another media
  • specialized content pertaining to a type of personal, recreational or professional activity and geared specifically towards a group, association or category of persons
  • content for which a compensation is paid by a third party or a partnership
  • content of an advertising or promotional nature, such as an advertorial
  • theme-based content on, for example, hunting and fishing, decoration or science

So publications that mainly consist of press releases or sponsored content, or are geared toward specific hobbies and consumers, are not eligible. But publications that have some of this content might still be eligible. It says only that this content must be “on an incidental basis” and provides no quantitative measure.

Eligible employee

To be eligible, an employee the tax credit is applied to must:

  • “report for work at an establishment situated in Quebec” or outside Quebec if 75% of employees work in Quebec
  • not be a shareholder of the company or partnership, or a member of a coop having more than 10% of voting rights
  • works at least 26 hours a week for at least 40 weeks
  • devote at least 75% of their time to “directly undertaking or supervising activities relating to the production of original written information content for dissemination purposes” or “the carrying out of information technology activities related to the production or dissemination of such content.”

Eligible work

Included:

  • research
  • information gathering
  • fact checking
  • photography
  • writing
  • editing
  • design
  • other content-preparation activities
  • management or operation of computer systems, application or technology infrastructure
  • operation of a customer relations management service
  • management or operation of a marketing information system designed to raise the visibility of the media and promote it to an existing or potential clientele
  • any other activity of a similar nature that could be called a management or operating activity for the purposes of the eligible media

Excluded:

  • tasks related to digital conversion activities of a print media
  • administrative tasks of an individual
  • operations management
  • accounting
  • finance
  • legal affairs
  • public relations
  • communications
  • contract prospecting
  • human and material resources management

Digital transformation tax credit

The refundable tax credit for digital transformation of print media, announced in 2018 under the Couillard government, will be extended a year until Dec. 31, 2023. The 35% tax credit, also applied to wages, has similar eligibility criteria for the corporations, and a maximum of $7 million a year.

Extension of aid programs

Existing programs to support written news companies will be extended to 2023-24 and enhanced. No details were provided.

Full exemption from recycling tax

Taxes imposed on newspapers to compensate for the costs of recycling what they print will be effectively eliminated by increasing support to RecycleMédias to completely offset those costs.

Advertising

The government is also announcing that its advertising placement policies will be reviewed to “better support regional media.” No details were provided.

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TTP Media seeks international investors for AM radio stations

Nicolas Tétrault appears in a video seeking investment in his company’s radio stations.

It’s been nine years since a pair of local businessmen came onto the scene and declared they wanted to change how commercial radio works in this city with an $81-million bid for Corus radio stations in Quebec that were being sold to Cogeco. Eight years since, with a third partner, they got a licence for a station on the clear channel of 940 AM. Seven years since they got a second licence for 600 AM. Three years since the first station went on the air. Two years since the second station joined it.

For all that time, we’ve been waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the Bell-Astral deal to conclude, in case they had to sell one of their stations (the transaction closed in 2013). Waiting for TTP Media to solve various technical problems with their transmission site. Waiting for them to build a studio and hire talent. Waiting for the launch of regular programming, that has been promised “soon” for three years.

As it stands, the French station, CFNV 940, has spoken word programming through an agreement with online radio station CNV. CFQR 600, the English station (no relation to the old CFQR-FM at 92.5), is still running an automated music playlist. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the owners.

But a few weeks ago, Nicolas Tétrault, one of the three partners, posted a video on LinkedIn apparently seeking foreign investment in the stations.

In the seven-minute video, Tétrault talks about the duopoly in commercial radio in Montreal, with Bell Media and Cogeco Media owning most of the market share here, how “extremely complicated” it is to enter the market when there is “no financing available for radio stations,” and how the company owns “millions of dollars of equipment” but has no debt.

“It is impossible to find financing in Quebec,” Tétrault said. “The banks, they don’t lend to media, private funds don’t lend, pensions … no funds are available.”

Tétrault’s invitation notes that foreign investors can own up to 30% of a broadcasting company, and he tags his post with the United States, United Kingdom, France, India, Israel and the Cayman Islands.

This is the first I’ve heard about TTP Media needing money. In its initial applications to the CRTC, the group said its partners were investing $4.5 million, added to a $21 million loan from James Edward Capital Corporation, to provide financing to launch the stations.

Two years ago, when I asked Rajiv Pancholy about finances, he reassured me that it wouldn’t be an issue because he has negotiated loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the past and “I have the credibility in Canada on Bay St. and Wall St.”

Tétrault might not have that kind of credibility though, since he just went through a personal bankruptcy. A judge discharged the bankruptcy trustee on Jan. 18.

Finally, it’s curious that Tétrault makes no mention of his other partner, Paul Tietolman, though he mentions Pancholy twice (using “partner” in the singular). Rumours abounded about a rift between Tietolman and his partners, which all three had denied. A change in ownership would require CRTC approval.

Neither Tétrault, Pancholy nor Tietolman responded to my requests for an interview.

TTP Media’s CRTC licences were renewed to 2023 for both the French and English stations.

Jeremy Zafran says his departure from CBC Montreal was a “staged elimination”

Jeremy Zafran

Since the announcement of the new afternoon show Let’s Go with Sabrina Marandola, some people have been asking what happened to Jeremy Zafran, who handled traffic updates for Homerun. With the new show and its “transportation columnist,” Akil Alleyne, who also does daily traffic, Zafran disappeared from the air.

It turns out Zafran has been dropped by the CBC. And he’s not happy about it.

“My staged elimination was set almost two months ago and much like the CBC Montreal staff, few people were aware of my contract non-renewal,” Zafran wrote to me. “The excuse was the job title change adding ‘the story of traffic’ responsibility to the existing job. That was smoke and mirrors. I was told that I was not ‘the strongest candidate for the new job,’ a ruse considering my replacement’s zero experience on radio let alone in traffic: a position on air that is a difficult art form to master. As a veteran announcer and host in Montreal, I worked the last two months with professionalism with my head held high.”

Though the public broadcaster wouldn’t call this “staged,” it did say the new position was “an open competition and anyone could apply” and Zafran was on a yearly contract that “did expire and was not renewed.”

Alleyne, whose previous job was as a reporter with CityNews Montreal, hired there only a year ago, is indeed pretty green. He studied law in the Washington, D.C. area before returning to Montreal. Before that he had brief stints reporting for CBC and The Suburban.

Having listened to his traffic reports a few times on air, he was quite rusty at first, missing the smooth flow that more seasoned traffic reporters have shown on commercial and non-commercial stations. But he’s gotten better as he’s gotten used to the position.

But why replace Zafran?

Here’s the official explanation:

Montrealers get around the city in so many ways and we wanted to tell those stories — beyond traffic updates on highways and cars. So we created a new position of a transportation columnist. While the columnist still does traffic updates, they are responsible for a regular transportation column.

In other words, in CBC’s eyes, it’s a columnist who also does daily traffic updates.

Zafran doesn’t buy that description, and though he doesn’t offer any theories on why exactly management has soured on him, he does offer this:

The CBC has free reign on hiring and without a ratings-based mentality, bosses can literally turn a mime into a weather person and no one in management will face any consequences. And yet here I am paying the price.

Harsh.

But he also makes a case for what he’s done in the position:

I built their traffic department from nothing, negotiated to gain full access to all the CGMU cameras — at no cost, on my own initiative and time — and was considered by (Transports Québec), the SQ, EXO, STM, Ville de Montreal, CN, other hosts who relied on my hits from competing stations, not to mention internally at CBC Montreal as the ‘go to expert’ for traffic and transportation. I created the @montrealdrive Twitter page leaving it at 3600 followers, a few hundred less than the Homerun program itself. This was a planned removal that was witnessed by all.

Zafran said he has received a “mass outpouring of support and disappointment” following the news, after having worked for CBC for eight years.

“On a bright note,” he wrote, “I’m not dead. I can eat dinner again with my young family and I am catching up on all that I have neglected at home. I will not accept a character assassination by those who attempt to discredit me or my work. They know what they did to me and in turn my family life, but if they can sleep well at night then rest assured so will I.

“The job doesn’t define the person, that’s up to me. I won’t lose another breath over this tragedy, Steve. Soon better things will arrive, I’m in my prime and I will return from these last 8+ years to a professional, respectful environment for my 30th year on air in 2020, all chez nous.”

Zafran was also once the weekend weather presenter on CBC Montreal’s local TV newscast, but that role has since been eliminated. Now the anchor, Sean Henry, does brief weather updates himself.

Besides broadcasting, Zafran also does acting and voice work, including various radio and TV ads, and you may have seen him pretending to be a pharmacist on posters at your local Jean-Coutu. Before joining CBC in 2011, he did various on-air roles for 940 News and Q92.

Canadian NHL TV broadcast schedules for 2019-20

With days to go before the first preseason games, the regional TV broadcasters for Canada’s seven NHL teams have released their schedules, and we now have an almost full accounting of where every game will be broadcast.

There are few changes from last year. The regional broadcasters for each team are the same (Sportsnet for the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, TSN for the Jets, Senators and Canadiens, and both for the Leafs) and the splits are about the same, with between 36 and 40 national games where Sportsnet also has the regional rights, and between 22 and 32 national games for teams where Sportsnet doesn’t.

Here’s the national/regional split by team:

  • Canucks: 36/46
  • Oilers: 40/42
  • Flames: 39/43
  • Jets: 22/60
  • Leafs: 40/42
  • Senators (English): 27/55
  • Senators (French): 30/52
  • Canadiens (English): 32/50
  • Canadiens (French): 22/60

In French, TVA Sports retains national rights and RDS still has the regional rights for the Canadiens and Senators.

But that could change next season. The Flames and Oilers TV and radio contracts are up in 2020. And though it would be a surprise if Sportsnet didn’t renew its TV rights, there might be a fight for the Oilers’ radio contract, currently held by Corus’s CHED, against Bell Media’s TSN Radio.

Here’s how it all breaks down per team.

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