Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC says Canadians will get to watch U.S. Super Bowl ads as of 2017

It’s a decision that surprises me somewhat, though it’s consistent with the more populist pro-consumer approach taken by chairman Jean-Pierre Blais: simultaneous substitution, the rule that allows Canadian TV stations to force cable companies to replace U.S. network feeds with their own when they air the same program simultaneously, will be eliminated — only for the Super Bowl, and only as of 2017.

It’s weird to make an exception for a specific event, but the Super Bowl really is an exception. It’s the only time during the year when people actually want to watch the U.S. ads, and every year it’s the most common complaint the commission gets from consumers.

But this decision comes at a cost. Bell Media pays big money for NFL rights. We don’t know how much, or how long those rights are for (it was a “multi-year” deal signed in 2013), but we do know that the Super Bowl had 7.3 million viewers on CTV last year, and the Globe and Mail says the network can charge up to $200,000 for a 30-second spot during the game. With about 50 minutes of commercial time available, that’s several million dollars in revenue at stake.

It’s hard to say what the fallout of this will be. Bell Media buys NFL rights as a package, so it’s not as simple as saying they’ll just give up rights to the Super Bowl. And the rest of the season, including the January playoffs, are still subject to substitution, and that still means a lot of money for the network.

Some people have suggested that CTV could get creative as a way of keeping viewers. Offering value-added content, or getting Canadian advertisers to improve their ads. The network has certainly tried the latter, but the economics just don’t work in its favour. A national Super Bowl ad in the U.S. costs 20 times as much as it does in Canada, which means advertisers’ budgets are 20 times higher. And as for value-added content, CTV can’t compete with the big U.S. networks. Plus, this whole exemption is so that we can watch the U.S. ads. How does CTV show the game and the U.S. ads and find space for its own advertising without cutting anything off?

Medium-term, it will be interesting to see how this changes the economics of NFL rights. Will Bell get a discount on its next deal (or does it have a clause that gives it a discount on this deal if it extends beyond 2016)? Will the U.S. network broadcasting future Super Bowls have to pay more to the NFL because their ads make it into Canada now? And will that result in higher rates on the U.S. broadcast?

Or will any of this even matter in a few years when we stop watching linear TV the way we used to?

Quality control — and red tape

For the rest of the year, the CRTC decided it would put in place measures to punish broadcasters and providers who screw up substitution, resulting in Canadians missing programming. We don’t care about the U.S. ads during these times, but we do care if Saturday Night Live comes back late or the Oscars cut out early.

Blais said the commission would adopt “a zero-tolerance approach to substantial mistakes” which sounds like an oxymoron. Broadcasters who make mistakes could lose the rights to substitute programs in the future. Distributors who make mistakes would be forced to provide rebates to customers.

Those both sound great, but how do you manage such a system? The CRTC suggests it would be done through its usual complaint resolution process:

To ensure procedural fairness to all broadcasters and BDUs, the Commission’s findings on such matters will be determined on a case-by-case basis and in the context of a process during which parties will have an opportunity to present any explanation for the errors, including whether the errors occurred despite the exercising of due diligence by a broadcasting undertaking.

In other words, if you lose 30 seconds of a Saturday Night Live sketch, you’ll have to complain to the CRTC, who will then launch a proceeding asking the two sides for comment. The broadcaster and the distributor will proceed to blame each other, and a few months later issue a decision that might result in three cents getting deducted from your next cable bill.

This sounds like an awful lot of red tape and extra work for everyone involved.

OTA stays

In its other decision on local television today, the CRTC said it would not allow local TV stations to shut down their over-the-air transmitters while retaining all the privileges of local stations, such as simultaneous substitution and local advertising. To emphasize the point, Blais gave his speech in front of large TV receiving antennas that consumers can use (but most are unaware of) to get local stations for free.

Beyond a takedown of arguments by Bell and the CBC, there isn’t much to this decision. It essentially keeps the status quo intact. But the CRTC says it will look more closely at the issue of local programming when it reviews its community television policy in the 2015-16 year. The scope of this review will be expanded to look at local TV in general, and the implication is that the commission may get more serious about forcing local TV stations to be more local.

More coverage of today’s decisions from the Globe and Mail and Cartt.ca. You can also watch the livestream of Blais’s speech here.

Posted in My articles, Radio

CRTC denies CJLO transmitter at 107.9 FM

Vermont Public Radio fans in Montreal can exhale. At least for now.

On Monday, the CRTC denied an application from Concordia’s CJLO to add an FM retransmitter at 107.9 FM, which would block out VPR in downtown Montreal and an arguable radius around it.

But the commission makes it clear that objections from VPR and its fans had nothing to do with the decision: “because VPR operates a U.S. station, its station was not considered in the examination of this application.”

This is consistent with a previous decision allowing CHLT-FM in Sherbrooke to move to 107.7 FM despite interference problems it might cause VPR listeners in the townships.

Instead, the CRTC determined that CJLO had not presented a compelling technical need to get the new allocation, particularly since 107.9 would be one of the last frequencies available for a station in Montreal.

More about this decision below and in this story in the Montreal Gazette.

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Posted in Media, Opinion

Nobody is above conflict of interest — but everyone thinks they are

What is a conflict of interest?

Simply put, it’s a situation where one person’s duty to an organization, a cause, a person or something else is in conflict with that person’s relationship to some other organization, person or cause, where the best interests of one might not be in the best interests of another.

It sounds a bit vague, but conflicts can be all sorts of things. You could sit on the boards of two companies doing business with each other. You could be in a relationship with your supervisor. You could be a police officer arresting a family member. Or you could be a journalist whose reporting might affect a company that is earning you income on the side.

This past week, two examples have come up of high-profile journalists being in potential conflicts of interest because of their side jobs, and of failing to disclose such conflicts to their audience. And in each case, the mentality of the person at the centre of it all seems to have been that since they would never allow themselves to be corrupted by money, they’re not in a conflict of interest.

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Posted in My articles, Opinion, Public transit

Crunching the numbers in the STM’s budget

A week ago, the STM hiked its fares yet again, making it more expensive to take public transit in Montreal. The hikes represent about a 50% increase over a decade, well above the rate of inflation.

Politicians, social activists and regular transit users complained, as they do every year, that this is unacceptable, making it harder for those who don’t have money to get to and from work. The STM and its defenders point to the fact that public transit in Montreal is still much cheaper than Toronto and other comparable cities. The other side comes back with the argument that income and costs of living are lower in Montreal, so you can’t compare cities like that.

A few weeks ago, I started wondering whether the STM’s rate increases were truly reasonable, so I started going through its budgets and plugging numbers into a spreadsheet. I also got some numbers from Statistics Canada, such as the consumer price index in Montreal, the population of the city, the median family income.

The result is a story published in Thursday’s Gazette that tries to give a quantitative picture of the situation. The headline is that the increase in fares, at least for the years 2005-2013 (we don’t have figures for 2014 yet), corresponds to an increase in service in both métro and bus service, all going up about 30% over that period.

But is that the proper way to measure whether it’s reasonable? The increased service came with an increase in the number of users, which means more fare revenues. Should that be taken into account? What about our ability to pay?

With the help of the Gazette’s data guru Roberto Rocha, we put together an interactive chart with the story that allows you to make comparisons for yourself of how things have changed since 2005. Fare price versus total trips. Total salaries and benefits vs. total bus service. Revenue per trip versus total passes sold. Total revenue versus population.

But even that’s only a subset of the data analysis that can be done. So I invite you to do your own: Download this spreadsheet and compare numbers to write your own story.

STM fares in context (.xls, 42kb)

The figures don’t all look good for the STM. Salaries and benefits are going up higher than the amount of work done to justify them. And the amount of subsidies from the Quebec government has gone up more than 200%.

But before you blame the unions or some other invented bogeyman, consider that the cost per hour worked at the STM went gone up about the same as the median family income in Montreal.

Missing numbers

There were some comparisons I wanted to make that I couldn’t. Reading the comments below the Gazette piece, people point to executive salaries. I wanted to include that, but it’s hard to quantify because of the changes in executive pay. For example, I could put in the salary for the director-general of the STM. But that salary went down significantly when Carl Desrosiers took over the position, and in the latest numbers were still lower than his predecessor (though not much).

Another is the price of oil. Including its value could easily give the impression that the fare hikes are more than reasonable. But the price of crude has plummeted in recent months, which would not be reflected on these charts because they end in 2013. So I asked Jeanine Lee, our graphic artist, to take it out of one of the charts we were using.

And there are numbers that can’t be easily calculated, like the number of overall users. Or numbers that are subjective, like customer satisfaction.

What metrics would you use to judge the STM’s performance? And what do those numbers show?

Posted in Media, Opinion

Logical arguments for and against publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

I woke up yesterday to horribleness. My Twitter feed was filled with people tweeting and retweeting breaking news about an attack on a publication in France that left many people dead. It didn’t take long to conclude that these people died because of things they drew.

Later, and again this morning, there was a lot of debate over whether other media should republish the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo created that so offended Muslims, particularly those that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Depicting the most revered figure in Muslim history is forbidden by many in that religion, because it could lead to idolatry.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo in particular, many of its cartoons have been denounced as racist toward Arabs and other races associated with Muslim countries. The publication regularly pushed the boundaries of good taste and respect, sometimes intentionally just for its own sake.

So is it appropriate to republish them? Arguments have been made on both sides. French newspapers in Quebec generally republished them out of solidarity with the people who lost their lives for the sake of satire. Media pundit Jeff Jarvis makes a passionate argument in favour. CBC’s Neil MacDonald makes a more eloquent argument:

English media, including my employer the Montreal Gazette, chose not to out of respect for Muslims who had nothing to do with this attack. The Globe and Mail’s editor-in-chief explained the decision, so did the New York Times and CBC, and the Gazette’s editor-in-chief has been doing the media rounds explaining its decision.

The rhetoric on social media has been particularly vitriolic, accusing those who published the cartoons of being racist, and accusing those who didn’t of caving to terrorists.

I’m not here to cast judgment, merely to lay out the arguments on either side. But before I do that, let’s lay down some things we all agree on:

  • No one deserves to die for making fun of someone else, for saying something discriminatory, or for offending anyone or anything.
  • Freedom of expression means the freedom to decide for yourself whether you will or will not publish something.
  • Denouncing a decision related to freedom of speech is an exercise of that same freedom of speech unless it somehow prevents the other person from expressing him or herself.

Now, onto the arguments. If you come up with good ones that aren’t on these lists, put them below in the comments and I’ll add them.

Arguments in favour of publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

  • This is what these people died for. Continuing self-censorship does a disservice to their memories.
  • The public can’t get a complete idea of the story without seeing the cartoons at the centre of it.
  • What about non-offensive cartoons depicting Muhammad? This isn’t about racism, this is about being scared of religious backlash.
  • Where does it end? If a religion finds the colour red to be offensive, would we be obligated to refuse to use that colour out of respect?
  • We talk about and publish all sorts of things that offend people, while explaining that they’re offensive. People are smart enough to understand that it’s not an endorsement.
  • Because regardless of everything else, we must stand on the side of free speech.

Arguments against publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

  • If publishing the cartoons would have been offensive before, that shouldn’t change because some people died.
  • The story can be explained without having to show the cartoons.
  • We don’t know which cartoons (if any) are the cause of this attack.
  • The cartoons are racist, and we should not propagate hate speech out of a sense of solidarity.
  • If this had been a similar story, but the offending images were signs that said “kill all [N-word]s”, would we be obligated to publish them uncensored or would simply describing them have been sufficient?
  • We could publish the less offensive cartoons, but that would be misleading, because it’s the most offensive ones that led to the attack.
  • The media routinely censor disturbing imagery, including video of a police officer being shot dead in this very story. How is that different?
  • Because Ezra Levant. (Seriously, what’s changed since the Jyllands-Posten affair that he’s no longer the only one who wants to republish the cartoons?)
Posted in Media

Questions that remain unanswered as we enter 2015

As I write this we’re a week into the new year. I’d do a recap of 2014, but I figure you’re tired of reading those by now, and it would be redundant. If you’re interested, spend a few hours reading old posts.

But it is easy to forget a lot of the stuff that happened, and in particular a lot of the stuff that hasn’t resolved itself yet. So here are some questions that haven’t been answered yet, and may or may not be by the time this calendar year finishes.

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Posted in TV

Industry Canada puts moratorium on new TV transmitters as it considers slashing its spectrum in half

It’s a long technical document released as part of a series of measures billed as supporting competition in Canada’s wireless industry, but the Canadian government is laying the groundwork for decisions that could radically alter the future of over-the-air television broadcasting … again.

It’s called “Consultation on Repurposing the 600 MHz Band“, and is a document seeking public comments on joining a U.S. plan to repurpose more television channels for use as commercial wireless frequencies, forcing remaining television stations to be packed into fewer available channels.

Re-allocation could affect as many as 24 channels used for television.

Re-allocation could affect as many as 24 channels used for television.

Depending on how the U.S. moves, it could mean as many as half of the remaining channels used for over-the-air television could disappear by 2017.

The U.S. is undergoing a two-step auction process to recapture frequency in the 600 MHz band, which is used by the higher-end television channels (up to channel 51). The first step is an “incentive auction”, in which TV stations using those channels name the price they have to be paid to move off of them and give up the spectrum — a figure that could be millions or even hundreds of millions, depending on the value of that spectrum. Then, based on how many stations participate, the government re-allocates the frequencies and auctions them off to wireless companies.

Industry Canada is basically proposing that Canada join that process, though the details are unclear.

What we do know is that if the maximum re-allocation plan is used, all TV channels above 26 would disappear, and stations on those channels, whether they’re full-power stations or low-power ones, would have to move off of them as new licensees begin deploying their networks. (Channel 37 is reserved for radio astronomy, and would remain so under the new plan.)

Canada and the U.S. went through a similar process a few years ago, reallocating channels 52-69 for mobile use (the 700 MHz spectrum) during the digital television transition. The subsequent auction gave Canada more than $5 billion in revenue.

Industry Canada points out that the number of television transmitters in Canada has been stable over the past few years. With over-the-air stations relying on advertising alone for revenue, there has been little growth there. Instead, anyone with a new idea has been pushing subscription cable channels instead.

Coordination issues

But squeezing existing stations into a smaller space will still present significant coordination problems. Stations on channels 27 and above would need to be moved over, and that would mean packing stations in tighter than was proposed in the DTV transition plan. Industry Canada has proposed basing coordination on existing transmission parameters instead of maximum parameters to help that a bit, which would mean stations that aren’t taking full advantage of the coverage of their class might lose the chance to expand later.

The ministry predicts most stations — even those not currently using those higher channels — would need to change frequency as a result of this new plan, though it predicts most stations would at least be able to stay in the same range of frequencies, and use the same antennas they do now.

In Montreal, for example, Canal Savoir (CFTU-DT 29), V (CFJP-DT 35), ICI (CFHD-DT 47) and City (CJNT-DT 49) might need to change channels under a new plan. And while there are channels available (Montreal has 10 over-the-air stations), it might mean being on the same channel as a station in a nearby market like Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke or Burlington. Over-the-air TV viewers who count on receiving U.S. stations would probably find it very difficult as they too would have to move to lower channels and either be on the same channel or immediately adjacent to a Montreal station.

Industry Canada says it would coordinate with the U.S. to make avoiding interference problems easier.

Low-power stations, and stations in remote communities, who were largely exempt from the DTV transition rules, could also be forced to change channels and/or replace their analog transmitters with digital ones. Industry Canada says there are 551 low-power stations in Canada. Most of them wouldn’t need to change channel.

Moratorium

In light of this, Industry Canada has imposed a moratorium on all new television transmitter applications and applications to modify existing stations so that they increase their coverage or change their channel.

An appendix lists only 11 applications for full-power stations and six for low-power stations that were in progress in October. Most of those are related to a promise Shaw made when it purchased Global TV to convert all its transmitters to digital by 2015 (and Global BC has a lot of transmitters to convert).

The fact that such a moratorium could be imposed without causing much disruption should say a lot about the future of over-the-air television. This policy change would make it much more difficult to start new stations, particularly in large markets. But as we’ve seen, there’s very little demand for that.

Industry Canada is accepting comments on the proposal until Jan. 26. People interested in making them can follow the procedure outlined on this page. All comments form part of the public record.

UPDATE (Jan. 15): If you have complaints, comments or other information you want to offer to Industry Canada on this subject, the department has asked that you email spectrum.auctions@ic.gc.ca.

Posted in Uncategorized

CRTC application would see HuffPost Live channel on cable TV

HuffPost Live’s studio.

 

We’ve got CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Al Jazeera and BBC World News, but could we see Huffington Post added to our cable channels in the near future?

Evan Kosiner, who’s described as a “serial entrepreneur” in his Wikipedia biography and has been behind many applications to the CRTC that ultimately went nowhere, has applied to add HuffPost Live to the list of foreign TV channels authorized for distribution in Canada.

The application comes with the blessing of HuffPost owner AOL, and Kosiner says there is interest from Canadian distributors to add HuffPost Live to their lineups.

HuffPost Live broadcasts eight hours live a day, mainly featuring interviews conducted by Skype about current events. Kosiner breaks down the broadcast as about 60% news and information and about 40% lifestyle. It doesn’t have shows per se, but rather a series of segments back to back. On the electronic program guide, it would be listed simply as “HuffPost Live” 24 hours a day.

Presumably the other 16 hours a day would be repeat programming.

What’s unclear is whether getting paid distribution in Canada would mean cutting off HuffPost Live’s free livestream to this country. Though it would be uncharacteristic for HuffPost to start geoblocking its content, and if that’s the case, I wouldn’t expect cable companies to pay high wholesale fees to carry an otherwise free channel.

The CRTC is accepting comments on the application (which you can download here) until Jan. 19. You can file comments here. Note that all information submitted becomes part of the public record.

Posted in Radio

Rythme FM expands with third new affiliate in six months

The network of Véro, Mitsou and Sébastien Benoit is continuing to grow.

Owner Cogeco Diffusion announced on Tuesday that it has added an affiliate in the Abitibi region to the Rythme FM brand, expanding it to seven stations throughout Quebec.

CHOA-FM, which operates at 96.5 FM in Rouyn-Noranda, 103.5 FM in Val-d’Or and 103.9 FM in La Sarre, is owned by RNC Média and operates under the Planète brand. The changeover is expected to happen on March 9.

Like other Rythme FM affiliates, the Abitibi station will carry the noon-hour show hosted by Mitsou Gélinas and Sébastien Benoit, and the afternoon drive show hosted by Véronique Cloutier. Its morning show and daytime programming before and after lunch, will be local. The station promises no reduction in local programming, and that announcers Isabelle Harvey, Amélie Pomerleau and Véronique Aubin will remain with the station.

CHOA is the third station in six months to add itself to the Rythme FM family. CHLX-FM 97.1 in Gatineau, another Planète station, became Rythme FM Outaouais in August. CKRS-FM 98.3 in Saguenay and CKGS-FM 105.5 in La Baie, owned by Attraction Radio, are also adding themselves to the Rythme FM network on Feb. 9.

CKRS, a station formerly owned by Corus but which wasn’t sold to Cogeco, had until recently been a talk station, but last month got approval for a licence amendment allowing it to switch to music.

The expansion gives the Rythme FM network a presence in most major regions of Quebec: Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Gatineau, Abitibi and Saguenay, plus CIME-FM in the Laurentians, which is part of the Rythme FM brand but doesn’t carry its network programming.

The big missing link here is Quebec City. CJEC-FM 91.9 used to be a Rythme station, but when Cogeco bought Corus it was forced to sell the station. New owner Leclerc Communication eventually rebranded it WKND. Convincing it to return to the Rythme FM brand would be the most obvious choice, since it’s the only adult-contemporary music station there not owned by Bell Media. Cogeco could also rebrand M 102.9, its classic hits station in Lévis. But since that station just adopted that brand, it’s probably not in their plans.

It might also look to expand in the Bas-Saint-Laurent (Rivière-du-Loup, Rimouski), Centre-du-Québec (Drummondville, Victoriaville) and Gaspésie regions. Attraction has other stations that might fit the bill, but others are owned by smaller companies that might be less interested in replacing local shows with Véro.

Posted in Radio, TV

CBC cutting local TV newscast from 90 to 30 minutes starting next fall

As the CBC continues finding ways to save money, the corporation announced today that it is making changes to local programming.

The biggest one is that evening TV newscasts are being cut from 90 minutes to 60 or 30, depending on the market. Montreal is one of the unlucky ones, being cut to 30 minutes, starting at 6pm. This happens to be CBC Montreal’s weakest half-hour, because it competes directly with CTV News at 6 and Global News.

Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Windsor and Fredericton are also getting cut to 30 minutes. Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s will stay at 60 minutes because there’s still a “business case” for longer newscasts there, and CBC North will have 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Inuktitut.

Evening and weekend news are unchanged, as are local programs on CBC Radio One.

On the French side, the weeknight local Téléjournal broadcasts will be cut to 30 minutes everywhere but Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa/Gatineau and the Acadian region.

There are also smaller changes. CBC Daybreak will be broadcast on television from 6-7am. Currently CBC Television airs a national CBC News broadcast at this time, surrounded by local news, weather and traffic graphics.

There’s also going to be new one-minute hourly news breaks throughout the afternoon and evening on CBC Television.

How this will affect jobs at CBC is unclear at this point. Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services says there are “no new cuts beyond those announced in June.” The CBC tells Canadian Press that it’s too early to talk about job cuts resulting from this, but not counting staff these changes will save $15 million a year.

Good news, too, kinda

If you want to ignore all that and pretend this is good news, as the CBC does in its press release, these “changes” are part of a transformation process that will focus more on digital. The corporation is vague on what changes are happening to the digital side, but apparently they will be improvements.

On the local side, the CBC will also be adding a videojournalist position in the Eastern Townships to expand coverage there. Right now there’s no private English-language TV or radio journalist permanently assigned to the townships. The CBC has a “researcher columnist” in the region covering it for radio, and occasionally supplements that with the travelling journalist who contributes to CBC Radio’s Quebec Community Network based out of Quebec City. This new position would be in addition to that, covering the townships for TV, radio and the web.

Fort McMurray, Alta., will also get a new news bureau.

See also:

Posted in Radio

CRTC approves purchase of CJMS 1040 AM

CJMS

CJMS 1040 AM St-Constant, Montreal’s French-language country music station, has been given the go-ahead for a new life.

On Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved a change in ownership of the station, from 3553230 Canada inc., a company owned by Alexandre Azoulay, to Groupe Médias Pam inc., owned by Jean Ernest Pierre. The latter also owns Montreal Haitian station CJWI 1410 AM, CPAM Radio Union.

The sals is for $15,000 plus an hour’s worth of advertising airtime a week for a year (52 hours total). Because it’s a purchase of a station that was losing money, and will require investments to bring it into compliance with its obligations, the CRTC did not impose additional tangible benefits on the transaction.

Much of what the station will look like under the new owners has already become evident. It launched new branding and a new website, and is simulcasting a news show from CJWI during rush hours (6-9am and 4-6pm weekdays). The new owners promise that the rest of the schedule will be unique to CJMS, that it will not air ethnic programming, and that it will continue to serve the community of St-Constant.

The new owner also told the commission that the plan is to modernize the music at CJMS and bring in more contemporary country.

The sale follows a bizarre hearing last year in which Azoulay blamed serious and repeated failures to comply with CRTC licence obligations on his father’s dementia, a statement that left commissioners dumbfounded.

The commission responded by imposing mandatory orders on CJMS requiring it to come into compliance with its licence, with the threat of contempt-of-court charges if they don’t. Those orders have been maintained under the new owner.

The change in ownership comes with a new licence and de facto renewal until Aug. 31, 2017. The three-year licence term reflects the fact that CJMS has repeatedly failed to meet its regulatory obligations.

Posted in TV

André Corbeil leaves CTV Montreal as job cuts reduce station’s workforce by 12

André Corbeil

André Corbeil

André Corbeil, a sports reporter/anchor at CTV Montreal, surprised a few people late last week announcing via Twitter that it was his last week at the station.

Corbeil’s job was eliminated as part of a series of cuts designed to reduce the station’s staff by about a dozen. We learned about those cuts over the summer, but the actual cuts are only happening now. Most of those leaving are in technical or behind-the-scenes positions, and most are leaving voluntarily.

Corbeil, who usually anchors on the weekends and reports three days a week, was offered a part-time position that would have kept him as the weekend anchor, but “he opted to leave,” general manager Louis Douville told me.

“He was an absolute gentleman, understood that it was a business decision,” he added later. “He was an important part of our family and we’re sad to see him go.”

Corbeil is originally from Timmins, Ont., and joined CTV Montreal in 2007 after four years at CTV in Sudbury.

“[I’m] not sure exactly where I will land in the coming months, but it most likely will not be on TV,” Corbeil told me. “Not suitable for a young family.” His wife works full-time and they have a two-year-old daughter. “So, nights and weekends make life pretty difficult.”

He said he’s going to try to “use this situation to my advantage and find an opportunity that will provide a better work/family balance.”

The loss of Corbeil will likely mean a drop in the amount of sports coverage on CTV Montreal, particularly of amateur sports. While Brian Wilde is the go-to guy for Canadiens coverage, and Randy Tieman covers the Alouettes, Corbeil was usually the reporter assigned to Impact games, and would often file reports about university sports. Douville said news reporters could cover events that straddle the barrier between news and sports, but it seems clear that there will be less than there used to be of stories in this category.

Net loss of 12 jobs

The positions being cut also include the late-night anchor position that was filled by Catherine Sherriffs before she left on maternity leave. But Corbeil is the only other on-air personality who’s leaving the station.

The exact fallout is still not known because it looks like a few positions may change as some laid off exercise a right to bump less senior people out of jobs in other classifications. That has some people (particularly those that would be bumped) concerned about unqualified or less qualified people occupying posts of young talented staffers.

Among the jobs that have been eliminated are the late weeknight lineup editor (the late anchor will instead line up his own show), one researcher position, the news archivist, an editor position and several other technical jobs.

In all, it’s a net loss of 12 jobs, with 12 people leaving voluntarily. Other cuts are being offset by the creation of new positions, usually with combined responsibilities. Susan Lea, the head of the union local, says a total of 15 positions have been eliminated.

“How this will impact (the station) remains to be seen,” she said. “Our product is news, that’s our one and only product. Every job is related to that. It definitely impacts the quality and our ability to cover news.”

“We don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none.”

The good news is that, besides Corbeil and the voluntary layoffs, Lea doesn’t expect anyone else to lose their job. “It will be more of an internal shuffling.”

Asked about concerns these cuts would affect the quality of the newscasts, Douville seemed confident viewers wouldn’t notice anything.

“We’re convinced we’re still going to be able to do exactly the same,” he said. “Our commitment to covering local sports remains unchanged. It’s just a reality that we have to do more with less. There are many people who are going to have more responsibilities. That’s a reality that all broadcasters are living with right now.”

“We have a 60 per cent share in the market and we intend to keep that.”

The unionized workforce at CTV Montreal has been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2013. Negotiations began this spring, but were put on hold either because of the layoffs or because everyone became busy, depending on which side you talk to. Douville said the employer is committed to resuming talks for a new contract.

Weekend sports anchor job available

Corbeil’s decision to leave ironically means a job has opened up at the station for a two-day-a-week sports anchor. Though someone with a young family is probably not crazy about working weekends, there’s no doubt and endless supply of eager young broadcasters who would jump at the chance for a job like this.

The most obvious choice would be Paul Graif, who has filled in as sports anchor many times over the years. But Graif works weekdays at K103 in Kahnawake, and might not be crazy about working seven days a week.

Chantal Desjardins would have been next on the list if she hadn’t taken a job at Sportsnet.

TSN 690’s Eric Thomas would be a good choice in light of his excellent debut in October. And there are plenty of people at the sports station who would probably make fine TV sports anchors.

Douville said the job would probably be filled early in the new year.

Posted in Radio

Gregory Charles agrees to buy Radio Classique from JP Coallier

The studios and offices of CJPX 99.5 Montreal, at Jean-Drapeau Park

The studios and offices of CJPX 99.5 Montreal, at Jean-Drapeau Park

Radio Classique, which operates classical music stations in Montreal (CJPX-FM 99.5) and Quebec City (CJSQ-FM 92.7), is being sold to Groupe Musique Greg, the company owned by Quebec personality Gregory Charles.

The acquisition price is unknown (the Journal de Montréal says it’s more than $10 million), but should be made public when the CRTC publishes the application to change the ownership of the stations. (The sale can’t be final until the commission approves it.) Legally, the two stations are owned by separate companies, Radio Classique Montréal Inc. and Radio Classique Québec Inc., both of whom are controlled 90% by Jean-Pierre Coallier and 10% by Pierre Barbeau.

Radio Classique launched in Montreal in 1998, and the Quebec station in 2007. I’d been hearing rumours for a few years now that Coallier, who turned 77 last month, was looking to find a new owner for the stations. Charles heard those rumours too, and told Les Affaires that’s why he initiated talks for a purchase. This transaction would keep one of Montreal’s few independent commercial radio stations in independent (and artistic) hands.

It’s unclear what Charles and his company plan to do with the stations (he wouldn’t tell the Journal if he plans to become an on-air personality at the station), but they are unlikely to change formats, at least in the near term. Charles says he acquired the stations because of their niche format, which the major broadcasters won’t touch. Getting rid of classical music and replacing it with Katy Perry would be disastrous for its reputation, and it would likely lose more listeners than it gained.

The stations operate as specialty-format stations, and CRTC approval would be needed before they could convert to pop, rock, dance or country music formats. CJSQ has a specific condition of licence limiting 90% of its content to “concert” music, defined as classical music, opera, operetta and musical theatre.

The latest ratings information from Numeris shows CJPX-FM in Montreal had a 2.7% share among francophones and a 1.8% share among anglophones, while CJSQ-FM in Quebec City had a 4.6% share total.

Posted in Media, My articles

What would you do if you were CBC’s president?

Découverte host Charles Tisseyre’s cri-du-coeur last week at the CBC Annual Public Meeting has already gotten more than 100,000 views on YouTube. Straddling the line between passionate and angry, it deplored the situation at the public broadcaster, how much it has seen its programming cut (his own show now has fewer episodes and more repeats as a result) and has been kicking its young talent out the door.

But while Tisseyre’s words got wild applause from the crowd assembled in the basement of the Maison Radio-Canada, and Tisseyre politely but firmly challenged CBC president Hubert Lacroix on the latter’s failure to answer a question about why he hasn’t done more to fight the federal government on CBC funding, the Radio-Canada personality doesn’t necessarily share the crowd’s animosity toward Lacroix.

A concerned citizen helps Hubert Lacroix out with the tedious resignation-letter-writing thing.

A concerned citizen helps Hubert Lacroix out with the tedious resignation-letter-writing thing.

“Animosity” is perhaps an understatement here. Many in the crowd wore T-shirts that seemed to directly blame Lacroix for the thousands of job cuts the broadcaster has seen since he took office. The second question of the event asked if he should resign. Later, someone handed him what he described as a pre-written resignation letter that needed only Lacroix’s signature.

But Tisseyre told me later in a one-on-one interview that Lacroix’s resignation would serve little purpose. “If the people who were there resigned, they would be replaced by others, who would be faced with the same cuts. I think the problem is much deeper,” he said.

You can read more about Tisseyre’s comments in this (paywalled) piece I wrote for Cartt.ca. It also includes my impressions about Lacroix’s problem with expressing the right emotions to relate to his employees and CBC fans among the general population.

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