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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Media News Digest: Election stuff, CHCH’s new late-night vanity show, Mike Boone retires from Habs blogging

News about news

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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.

Media News Digest: Lots of racism, TC buys Les Affaires, Gazette rehires Kalogerakis

News about news

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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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Radio ratings: The Beat still at twice Virgin’s audience

Numeris has released top-line numbers for its summer ratings period, and those figures show The Beat still at twice Virgin’s audience, while CJAD’s audience has continued to slip.

Here’s the market share for Montreal anglophones, ages 12+, for May 27 to Aug. 25, 2019:

  1. CJAD 800: 25.6%
  2. The Beat 92.5: 20.8%
  3. CHOM 97.7: 12.2%
  4. Virgin Radio 95.9: 10.7%
  5. CBC Radio One: 6.8%
  6. TSN Radio 690: 3.4%
  7. CBC Music: 2.4%
  8. Rythme 105,7: 2.4%
  9. 98,5fm: 2.3%

Remaining stations are below 2%.

Virgin has tried turning things around by replacing its morning team of Freeway and Natasha with Cousin Vinny and Shannon King. It’s too early to tell if that had any impact on ratings. But at least Virgin has climbed back above CBC, which it was below during the last ratings book.

Among Montreal francophones (also 12+, May 27 to Aug. 25, 2019):

  1. 98,5fm: 16.3%
  2. Rythme 105,7: 13.8%
  3. ICI Première: 12.0%
  4. 107,3 Rouge: 11.4%
  5. CKOI: 10.2%
  6. CHOM 97.7: 6.1%
  7. Énergie: 5.9%
  8. The Beat 92.5: 5.4%
  9. Virgin Radio 95.9: 4.3%
  10. ICI Musique: 2.6%
  11. 91,9 Sports: 1.7%

Remaining stations are below 1%.

Not much change here, with news-talk station 98,5 ahead and Rythme the top music station. Énergie’s numbers are very low, falling below CHOM. Expect some change there if the numbers don’t rebound soon. Their numbers were so bad they made a video making fun of the very idea of ratings.

The spin zone

Citytv cancels Breakfast Television Montreal

(Updated with social media posts from on-air talent)

Breakfast Television Montreal is no more. Staff were informed just after Thursday’s show that it was their last one.

Eight jobs will be lost as a result of the cancellation. It leaves 41 Rogers Media employees in Montreal — 21 at CityNews and OMNI, and 20 in sales.

“This decision was very difficult, but at the end of the day, the show was not sustainable,” an emailed statement quoted Colette Watson, SVP of Television & Broadcast Operations, Rogers Media, as saying. “We remain deeply committed to the local market in Montreal and are redirecting resources to our news presence in Montreal at CityNews and OMNI Television with Italian news and the launch of a national third-language newscast next year in support of our OMNI 9(1)(h) licence. We recognize and thank all employees who worked at BT Montreal over the years for their incredible work and commitment and making mornings brighter for our viewers.”

BT Montreal had just celebrated its sixth anniversary.

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Media News Digest: Quebec hearings, RIP Comedy Gold/CosmoTV/IFC, Bergman replaces McMahon at The Beat

News about news

News and the federal election

At the CRTC

Ethical reviews

TV

Radio

Print

Online

News about people

Obituaries

Good reads

  • A good breakdown of how the G7 leaders released photos that, for the most part, distorted reality to make it seem as if they were leading the other leaders.

Jobs

*Correction: I was off by one on the Canucks games’ regional/national split because of a typo on Sportsnet’s website.

Sportsnet, TSN, BeIN, DAZN — Is sports TV getting too expensive?

If you only follow the big North American sports and only care about your local team, you might not be familiar with DAZN. But if you watch the English Premier League, one of the top leagues of international soccer, you’ve had to become very familiar with them this month.

Though the deal was announced in April, it was only when the season started on Aug. 9 that Canadians started really noticing that their EPL games are no longer available on TV. Instead, they have to shell out $20 a month for DAZN, a two-year-old streaming service. And they have to figure out how to get that streaming service to work on their TVs.

For many people, it was complicated and expensive, so they wrote in to their local newspaper and asked it to write about the problem. And that local newspaper turned to me.

In Saturday’s Gazette, I have a story about DAZN’s new deal for the EPL, and talk to a bar owner and a stay-at-home fan about what it’s meant for them. I also talk to DAZN itself about how they’re keeping their fans satisfied after botching the rollout of NFL games in 2017.

You can read the story for all of that fun stuff. But I also asked Norm Lem, SVP of revenue at DAZN Canada, about what he sees as the future of sports broadcasting in general, as consumers have seen prices go up and the number of services they have to subscribe to increase. I also asked him if we should expect DAZN to bid for something bigger, like rights to Canadian NHL matches, Blue Jays, Raptors or CFL.

Here’s what he had to say.

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Deep dive: Exploring the features of Videotron’s new Helix platform

Videotron CEO Jean-François Pruneau and Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau pose for cameras at the launch of Helix at Videotron headquarters in Montreal on Aug. 27, 2019.

After 18 months of development and testing among 3,000 of its employees, Videotron launched its Helix IPTV platform on Tuesday.

Based on Comcast’s X1 platform, Helix joins the Ignite TV platform by Rogers and the Blue Sky TV platform by Shaw, also based on the same technology. Three of Canada’s four largest cable companies (Cogeco uses a TiVo-based system) now have products that can compete with Bell’s Fibe TV, offering features like restart (watch a currently airing or recently aired program that was not recorded) or cloud-based PVR.

I went to Tuesday’s launch event to report on it for Cartt.ca, and asked the people there a bunch of really technical questions. Here, based on their answers and my own opinions, is some analysis of the features in the new Helix system:

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CBC Montreal taps Sabrina Marandola for new Radio One afternoon show

Updated Aug. 30 with comments from Marandola.

CBC’s Sabrina Marandola.

CBC Montreal has found a permanent replacement for Sue Smith, who departed its afternoon radio show Homerun at the end of June. And not only a new host, but a new name and a new focus.

Let’s Go with Sabrina Marandola, which starts Tuesday (still 3-6pm weekdays), will focus on the local community, according to the CBC’s story on the subject:

This is going to be a show that will leave people feeling informed and upbeat about their city. I think many people are tired of being inundated with bad news. Let’s Go will delve into the important issues we all care about, but will bring you stories of people who are trying to find solutions and make a difference.

Part of that sounded like either a rebranding exercise or an attempt to replace hard news with more fluffy feel-good stuff, so I asked Marandola about it.

“I really feel people are really tired of negative news, and I speak to a lot of people (who say) I really tune out of the news, it’s really negative a lot of the time,” she told me. “I want to really leave people with an upbeat feeling about the place where they live.”

Marandola insists they will still be tackling the hard news, not just in the regular newscasts (which won’t change) but in the show’s segments as well.

“We’re still talking about the issues that matter to people. It’s really just the angle we choose to cover.”

She gave an example of spring flooding in Quebec. On Homerun, the instinct might be to find a flood victim to interview, to talk about the financial and emotional toll of the devastation. But with Let’s Go, Marandola prefers to talk to someone who can help listeners with information, on how to get compensation from the government, for example.

It’s more about solutions than problems.

“Homerun, it did a lot of that already,” she noted. “With this new show, I want that to be our focus. That is the thread throughout the show. With Homerun it kind of organically happened.”

Another focus of Let’s Go will be meeting new people and learning new things.

“One of the questions we’ll be asking ourselves in the morning meeting is: Are we meeting someone new? I want to meet someone new every day,” Marandola said.

She also wants to have more panel discussions, featuring people at a table who don’t normally talk to each other much. Like a millennial and a senior. Trying to find common ground between them.

And she wants to talk about Montreal beyond its anglo hot spots of the west end and West Island. Coming from the east end, she knows “there’s huge English-speaking communities there,” along with places like Châteauguay, Laval and Brossard.

“I want to bring stories from all different places of the Montreal area,” she said.

The basic structure of the show, with news, weather and traffic reports, and regular columnists including Duke Eatmon (music) and Douglas Gelevan (sports) won’t change. Nor will the people behind the scenes, including producer Allan Johnson.

But one addition to the team is a transportation columnist, Akil Alleyne. (He was one of the reporters that launched CityNews Montreal. Even though that was only a year ago, most of that group has already moved on. Andrew Brennan and Emily Campbell were recently hired by CTV Montreal.) Once a week, he’ll be filing a story about some transportation issue, talking to commuters or answering questions from them.

With the recent launch of electric Bixis, for example, Marandola said Alleyne would try them out and offer a perspective on how it works and whether it would be useful for listeners.

So why the name change? Marandola didn’t choose the name. That was higher up the chain.

“We researched a bunch of names,” explained Debbie Hynes, regional manager of communications for CBC. “One of the things we liked about this name, and the audience liked about it, it’s the idea of movement,” which works for the time of day when parents are picking up kids from school or heading home after work.

Marandola, who saw a list of potential show names during the process, said Let’s Go was, coincidentally, “kind of a catchphrase in our (very Italian) family,” and fits her well.

I talked to her shortly after she had a chance meeting with former Homerun host Sue Smith, who came into the office unannounced on Friday. She told me that while they’ve been in touch over the past few weeks, Marandola hadn’t gotten any advice from Smith (and of course, it’s her show, she’s not trying to replicate Smith), but she’d try to corner her before she leaves.

“I really already miss Sue. It’s so strange being here and not hearing her laugh or seeing her in the office.”

The new show has a Twitter account, @LetsGoCBC.

Let’s Go with Sabrina Marandola airs weekdays 3-6pm on CBC Radio One in Montreal, starting Sept. 3.