Posted in TV

Videotron applies to CRTC to make Canal Indigo pay-per-view bilingual

Less than a week after Bell Media formally announced that Viewers Choice pay-per-view would be shut down on Sept. 30 (though about a month after it was privately informed of the decision), Videotron has applied to the CRTC to modify the licence of its own Canal Indigo service to make it bilingual.

The application, which can be downloaded here but doesn’t say much more than it wants to make the service bilingual, is open to public comment until Aug. 21 (comments can be submitted here). Since pay-per-view services are now subject to standard conditions of licence, it’s unlikely the CRTC will oppose the application.

The only sticking point might be language. Currently the CRTC’s standard policy regarding bilingual pay-per-view services sets a ratio of 1:3 of French to English services

17. Finally, licensees of bilingual PPV services, in addition to being subject to the requirements for English- and French-language PPV services, must ensure a ratio of 1:3 French- to English-language channels in markets where a bilingual service is offered, with a minimum of five French-language signals as well as the French-language barker channel.

As Videotron points out, this ratio makes sense in English Canada, where special protections are needed to ensure francophones have access to PPV services, but they don’t make much sense for Videotron, which operates almost exclusively in Quebec. Instead, Videotron proposes a 4:1 ratio of French to English, with eight French channels and two English ones.

Videotron currently distributes 11 standard-definition and three high-definition Canal Indigo channels, and eight standard-definition and one high-definition Viewers Choice channels.

The application makes it clear that Videotron plans to go in-house to replace Viewers Choice rather than seek another provider of pay-per-view services. Bell and Rogers said it would work with other providers carrying Viewers Choice to ensure they would be provided with another service.

Posted in TV

CBC’s Absolutely Quebec documentary series begins tonight

For the third year, CBC Montreal will be airing six one-hour documentaries produced by people in Quebec on Saturday nights this summer. It begins with 100% T-Shirt, a documentary on the T-shirt industry and culture, by Kaveh Nabatian, Saturday at 7pm. (It will be CBC Montreal’s second textile-based documentary in a year.)

As Absolutely Quebec project head Carrie Haber explains in this story, the documentary looks at where T-shirts come from, how they’re sold, and who wears them and why. It includes interviews with stars like Sugar Sammy, Tegan and Sara, and American Apparel founder Dov Charney (whose position at the company has since changed dramatically).

The series continues in the coming weeks with:

  • Maple Mayhem (July 26), a documentary on maple syrup and the great Quebec maple syrup heist of 2012
  • In the Key of Claire (Aug. 2), a documentary on a social worker at the MUHC HIV Clinic. This was originally supposed to air last year, but was held back after the story developed and the filmmaker wanted to include that in the documentary.
  • Hi Ho Mistahey! (Aug. 23), a 2013 NFB documentary by Quebecer Alanis Obomsawin on teens from Attawapiskat fighting for First Nations education
  • Soccer City Montreal (Aug. 30), a documentary on Brazilian, Argentine, Spanish and Italian culture during the World Cup that just ended. “It’s really just a soccer-flavoured look at these communities,” Haber explains. This one-hour show in four acts (one for each community) is adapted from a series produced for the Bell Local community television service. The documentary is still being worked on, but a final cut is due Aug. 15. Haber said this was taking a chance on a first-time filmmaker, but she’s optimistic her risk will be rewarded.
  • In Search of Dan Cooper (Sept. 6), a documentary on “a long-lost Canadian war icon”, a Canadian comic-book hero popular in Europe but virtually unknown here.

The two-week break there is because of CBC TV commitments to air the Rogers Cup on Aug. 9 and the FIFA women’s U-20 World Cup on Aug. 16.

Unlike in previous years, it doesn’t look like these documentaries will get more than one airing on their debut weekend. But they will be available to watch online after they air, and some will likely get encore airings on CBC Montreal or nationally as part of the Absolutely Canadian series.

Meanwhile, an Absolutely Quebec documentary from last year, Legends of Magdalen, will get a national audience when it airs on CBC TV at noon on July 26. The well-produced documentary about searching for sunken ships near the Magdalen Islands was the highlight of last year’s crop. You can watch it online here.

Posted in Business

Videotron: We’re fibre too!

The latest indication that Videotron is feeling the heat from competition by Bell Canada is that it has rebranded its Internet packages to include the word “fibre”.

Now, rather than “High Speed” or “Ultimate Speed”, the packages are being referred to as “Fibre Hybrid”. This term reflects the fact that, while the telecom company has 30,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable, the cable that actually gets into people’s homes is still the same coaxial copper cable that’s been used for cable TV for decades.

Such a setup, in which the backbone is fibre-optic but that last connection to individual homes is a conventional line, is called fibre-to-the-node or fibre-to-the-neighbourhood. It contrasts with fibre-to-the-home, in which fibre-optic cable actually goes all the way to a person’s home, giving them access to very high data transfer rates and room to grow.

Bell Fibe, which isn’t even five years old yet, has been spreading in Montreal, offering for many the first non-satellite alternative for cable TV and high-speed Internet. We don’t know exactly how many customers it’s stolen from Videotron, but we do know that the powers that be at the Quebecor-owned company are very nervous.

Because fibre-optics is so central to Bell that it’s even in the name of the fibre-optic package, Videotron apparently decided it wanted to make sure everyone knows that it too uses fibre. Ads in newspapers boast that Videotron had a fibre network before Bell set one up.

But Videotron’s network, and much of Bell’s, isn’t really fibre. It’s FTTN, not FTTH. And both of them will need to come up with something even more buzzword-worthy when they do bring fibre right into people’s TVs. (Bell has some FTTH customers, but many with “Bell Fibe” don’t have fibre entering their homes.)

As these two companies continue their pissing contest, La Presse’s Jean-François Codère did a comparison between Bell and Videotron in terms of Internet packages. Bell comes out slightly better in some areas while for others you’re better off with Videotron (assuming Internet speed and download caps are all you care about.

It would be nice to say healthy competition is forcing both Videotron and Bell to put consumers first, but Bell just told clients it’s dramatically increasing its prices And Videotron booting its prices is a yearly occurrence.

Maybe we can just amuse ourself in the assumption that if it weren’t for competition, those price increases would be higher. But don’t hold your breath hoping for more. Cogeco just announced it’s abandoning its plans for an IP-based data link to residential subscribers, saying it’s too complicated.

Posted in TV

Bell Media to lay off dozens at Much, MTV

Despite its very profitable operation overall, Bell Media is making deep cuts to Toronto-based television production and cutting up to 120 jobs. On Wednesday, we learned that dozens of those jobs will come from Much, MTV Canada and related channels, and will have a big impact on in-house productions. We already know that indie music show The Wedge is being cancelled, as is Video On Trial and Today’s Top 10s. On MTV, we’re losing 1 Girl 5 Gays, After Degrassi, Losing It and MTV News, according to reports.

The notice of layoff, posted on the Unifor local’s website, list the 72 positions being made redundant. We (and they) won’t know exactly who’s being cut until the process is completed, including bumping of people with less seniority in other classifications.

Much aka MuchMusic, the biggest of the specialty channels in the group, had a decent profit margin, but from 2011 to 2013 experienced an $8 million drop in annual advertising revenue and a $7 million increase in programming expenses, conspiring to push the channel in the red, according to CRTC figures. This despite a significant increase in the number of subscribers. It reported an average staff count of 75, though Unifor’s seniority list has 100 full-time and eight part-time people at the Much production unit.

And in a bit of irony, one of Much’s iconic shows, Degrassi (formerly Degrassi: The Next Generation) was just nominated for an Emmy for outstanding children’s program. It’s the show’s third nomination in four years.

Posted in Radio, TV

CBC work forces overnight shutdown of FM, TV transmitters

UPDATE: More work will shut down transmitters from July 16 to 19, and July 21 to 25. See below.

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.

If you tuned in to FM radio at 4am on Monday and noticed that your favourite Montreal station is either noisy or missing completely, it wasn’t your imagination. CBC is doing work on the Mount Royal antenna tower and that has forced overnight shutdown of transmitting antennas on the city’s busiest transmission tower.

Stations were notified that the tower would be interrupting transmitters from 12am to 5am on July 7 and 8, though as far as I can tell only CKUT at McGill passed that message along to listeners.

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Posted in TV

Viewers Choice pay-per-view shutdown will force cable companies to scramble

Viewers ChoiceThere’s been no press release, and I haven’t gotten the company to confirm it, but Bell Media has been advising cable companies that Viewers Choice Canada pay-per-view is shutting down on Sept. 30. (UPDATE July 16: Bell finally confirmed it in an email to Canadian Press. It says there will be a single layoff, and it will work with other providers to find an alternative PPV service.)

As I explain in this story for Cartt.ca (subscription required), Bell became the majority owner of Viewers Choice when it acquired Astral Media last year. But Bell doesn’t use Viewers Choice for its own TV subscribers, instead preferring its own in-house service Vu! There has been speculation that something would happen to Viewers Choice, and those seemed partially confirmed in February when it turned in its now unused satellite distribution licence.

Dating back to 1991, Viewers Choice was once the exclusive PPV provider for eastern Canada. It’s no longer exclusive nor regional, but its history means it’s still the PPV service carried on many systems in eastern Canada, including the big ones — Videotron, Cogeco, Rogers, Eastlink and Bell Aliant.

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Posted in Radio

Former CBC journalist Ange-Aimee Woods dies suddenly

UPDATED July 9 with details of memorial service at the end.

Ange-Aimee Woods at a save-the-CBC union rally in 2009.

Ange-Aimee Woods at a save-the-CBC union rally in 2009.

Ange-Aimee Woods, who worked for CBC radio in Montreal for 10 years as a researcher, producer, journalist and occasional fill-in host before leaving for a “dream job” at Colorado Public Radio last year and then recently came back to the city, died suddenly on Wednesday of apparent heart failure. She was 41.

Obituaries have been published by CBC, The Gazette and CPR, and a more personal one from a friend. The CBC obit includes some clips from Woods, including her goodbye interview before leaving for CPR. The CBC radio show Homerun aired a tribute to her on Thursday afternoon.

CBC colleagues are shocked at the news. There was no indication that Woods had any health problems, and she was one of the nicest people you could ever meet.

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Posted in Radio, TV

CBC TV can (but shouldn’t) deny ads from commercial radio stations: CRTC

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission speaks through its decisions, and for the most part those decisions are straightforward. They’re written by a special team who ensure they’re as consistent, dry and clear as possible.

But a decision issued last week by the CRTC, while a victory for Canada’s public broadcaster, also takes a shot across its bow that almost seems snarky.

The decision responds to a complaint filed by Leclerc Communication, owner of radio stations CKOI and WKND in Quebec City. Leclerc argued that Radio-Canada was unfairly discriminating against it by refusing to air television ads for its radio stations, while running ads for Radio-Canada’s Première and Espace musique networks.

The CBC didn’t deny this. Instead, it argued that it is justified in having a policy that prevents running “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”

It also argued that Leclerc could easily advertise elsewhere, an argument Leclerc said was “as irrational as it is desperate.” And it invoked the idea of commercial freedom to argue that it shouldn’t be forced to run ads from anyone.

In the decision issued June 27, the CRTC sided with Radio-Canada. It determined that the public broadcaster did indeed put Leclerc’s radio stations at a disadvantage, but that this disadvantage was not “undue” and so did not break the commission’s rules.

It writes:

“The Commission is of the view that the CBC is not subjecting Leclerc to a material adverse impact by refusing to offer advertising opportunities since Leclerc has access to 72% of the local television advertising inventory by advertising on TVA and V and that it can therefore reach 93% of the television viewers in the market.”

This reasoning baffles me. Leclerc argued that it needed access to Radio-Canada TV because it wanted to reach a demographic of mature, affluent and well-educated listeners, which it felt would fit WKND. The CRTC argues that’s not necessary because there are other ways to get advertising (not including radio, of course, because those are direct competitors).

And if those other advertisers were to also refuse Leclerc’s ads for competitive reasons? The CRTC’s decision doesn’t address that rather obvious hypothetical. (Thankfully it’s not necessary. TVA, which owns no radio stations, was only too happy to take Leclerc’s money.)

Since return on investment is so hard to determine when it comes to traditional advertising, it’s nearly impossible for Leclerc to prove that the CBC’s policy has a material adverse impact on its business. And the commission seems to have given the benefit of the doubt to the CBC.

“The Commission questions the true motives of the CBC”

But the decision includes a paragraph that, while not binding, might force the broadcaster to rethink its policy:

“However, the Commission questions the true motives of the CBC, which continues to turn away a client that does not belong to a vertically integrated group on the grounds that it is in competition with its operations. The Commission takes this opportunity to suggest that the CBC focus less on viewing other players in Canada’s communications ecosystem as competitors and put more effort into fulfilling its public service mandate.”

Considering the drastic cuts facing the broadcaster in the years ahead, even the CRTC is wondering why it’s saying no to money from a small broadcaster in order to protect the market share of a network that doesn’t carry any advertising and should have nothing to fear from commercial radio.

Posted in Media

Alt-weekly death spiral spreads to Toronto

A little over a week ago was the second anniversary of the death of Mirror, the last of two alternative weekly newspapers in Montreal. That move came less than two months after the other, Hour, finally ceased production. It’s been five years since the death of ICI, and one year since Voir’s Montreal edition cut costs by going biweekly instead of weekly (it also killed editions in Mauricie, Saguenay, Gatineau and Estrie in the span of about a year).

Now, Canada’s largest city is feeling our pain. Word came out Wednesday that The Grid (a successor to Eye Weekly) is shutting down immediately after years of losing money for its parent Torstar. Thursday will be its last issue.

The shutdown leaves NOW as the only alt-weekly left in Toronto.

The Grid’s end is particularly painful for those who appreciated its award-winning design. While other papers were cutting back on the little things and going as cookie-cutter as possible to save money, The Grid put in the extra effort and created a paper that was as interesting to look at as it was to read.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

TVA Sports announces NHL broadcast details

With less than 24 hours until it becomes the official national French-language broadcaster of the National Hockey League, TVA Sports has announced details of its plans for the upcoming season, including which Canadiens games it will air nationally.

The schedule is much less complicated than the one Rogers announced last week. TVA Sports will carry the season opening game on Wednesday, Oct. 8, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And it will carry all 21 Canadiens Saturday night games, for a total of 22. All other games (including all preseason games) will be carried regionally on RDS. (A Saturday afternoon game on Super Bowl weekend is regional and so will be on RDS. It’s the only Saturday game that won’t be broadcast nationally.)

TVA Sports will also broadcast the NHL Winter Classic, all outdoor matches and all playoff games, including the Stanley Cup Final, as well as special programming like next year’s NHL Draft, the NHL Awards and the NHL All-Star Game.

The schedule creates an interesting situation where there are 10 games (mainly Wednesday and Sunday night games) that will air nationally on City and Sportsnet in English but only regionally in French. (We still don’t know how people outside the Canadiens’ region, which ends in eastern Ontario, will be able to watch the team’s regional games, in either language.)

In all, TVA estimates it will have 200 regular-season NHL games on TVA Sports and its soon-to-launch companion channel TVA Sports 2. Add about 75 playoff games and QMJHL games, and that’s lots of hockey

Séguin, Lalime lead broadcast team

TVA also announced the broadcast team for its Canadiens Saturday-night games. As previously announced, Félix Séguin (that one, not that one) will be the play-by-play man for those 22 matches. He’ll be joined by Patrick Lalime as an analyst. Also on the team are hockey insider Renaud Lavoie, who will take a position near the players’ bench, and Elizabeth Rancourt, who will recap other NHL matches (similar to what Andi Petrillo did at Hockey Night in Canada).

Dave Morissette will host TVA Sports’s postgame show.

Fans vote on games

Another thing TVA announced is that it will allow hockey fans to choose which games are broadcast on TVA Sports for some nights. It didn’t specify which nights, but assume it’s those in which it’s not obvious which team would be most popular among viewers.

TVA specifically notes that, when the Canadiens aren’t playing, it will focus on games involving the Canadiens’ rivals, particularly the Leafs and the Bruins, and those of particular interest to Quebecers, including the Colorado Avalanche (because of Patrick Roy) and Pittsburgh Penguins (because of Sidney Crosby). No mention is made of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was also popular in Quebec but much less so now that Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis are no longer on the team.

TVA says it will announce full details of its NHL schedule by the end of July. It had previously confirmed that it has no plans to put any NHL games on its over-the-air network, even though games will be free-to-air in English on Saturday nights.

Posted in TV

Shaw Media plans new national all-news channel called Global News 1

Buried deep within its 30,000-word submission to the CRTC as part of its Let’s Talk TV consultation process, Shaw Media dropped this little bombshell:

There are other means of fostering local programming through market-based innovations. Global News has been a market-leader in the adoption of news gathering and production practices that maximize efficiency while preserving local voices. Building on its leadership role as a local news service, Shaw will submit an application to the Commission for a new hybrid local/national, English-language, Category C specialty programming undertaking to be known as Global News 1, a service that will expand and diversify the amount of news and information-related programming in the Canadian broadcasting system. There is no specialty news service that currently provides such a service in this country, namely the provision of uniquely local reflection.

The submission provides no other details on this proposed service, including what exactly it means by “hybrid local/national”. I’ve asked to get more details, but everyone’s out of the office for Canada Day. (UPDATE: Canadian Press got an official no comment from Shaw.)

Category C is the category that the CRTC has established for all-news channels that compete directly with each other under common conditions of licence. CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, Sun News Network, RDI and LCN are all licensed under that category. (CP24, BNN and others are in a different category.)

Shaw Media already has a regional all-news channel, Global News BC 1, which operates in British Columbia, where Global has strong ratings and Shaw Cable is the dominant cable provider. It’s not clear if this new service would replace BC 1 or be complementary to it.

An application for such a channel would go through the regular CRTC process, which would take months at a minimum, so don’t expect this kind of channel on air this fall.

This channel, like CTV and CBC, would undoubtedly rely on sharing resources with the newsrooms of local television stations. Global’s TV network has stations in Vancouver, Kelowna, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, N.B., and Halifax, with an affiliate in Thunder Bay. Shaw also owns CJBN-TV in Kenora, Ont., which doesn’t brand itself as a Global station.

Add in the resources of Global National, The West Block and other national news programs, and this kind of channel makes sense, though it might be a bit western-focused (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). If it’s similar to BC 1, we could see a mix of national and local news presented on screen 24/7 along with local weather and other graphics.

(Hat tip to this Channel Canada forum post, which first spotted the paragraph in the submission.)

UPDATE (July 4): This story has gotten its first mainstream attention now that Canadian Press has spotted it. That story is being picked up by CTV, HuffPost, Toronto Star, Financial Post, La Presse and others.

Posted in Canadiens

A quantitative analysis of Canadiens draft picks

Friday is the beginning of the National Hockey League entry draft, when the 30 teams select young players, each hoping that they pick out a diamond in the rough and that their pick becomes the next superstar and doesn’t spend the next decade wallowing in minor leagues or get concussed and give up on hockey altogether.

And it’s the time when amateur general managers pontificate, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, on the failed choices of yesteryear, looking further down the list to find players who would turn out to be superstars, but failing to look up the list to find duds that weren’t taken.

I was curious about finding a more quantitative, non-subjective way of evaluating historical draft choices that takes into account both the overlooked superstars and the avoided mistakes. So I thought, why not just compare the Canadiens’ draft pick in a given year with the pick that came just before or just after?

With some help from Hockey DB, I took a look at the three picks before the Canadiens’ first-round selection, and the three picks after, from 1994 to 2013.

Needing some simple metric to determine success, I went with total games played. It’s an incomplete figure, sure, but it also serves as a pretty simple way to separate those who made long careers in the NHL from those who barely or never made it at all.

I score success and failure this way: if the player the Canadiens selected played more regular-season NHL games than two of the three players selected before him, it’s a success. If he plays fewer NHL games than two of the three players selected after him, it’s a failure. If it’s both (or neither), it’s neutral. (In case of ties, the number of career regular-season points breaks the tie.)

Here’s how it looks:

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