CRTC roundup: broken television

Canadian television network breakdown

The big news this week is the release by the CRTC of submissions from major Canadian private television broadcasters whose licenses are up for renewal in August. This includes CTV/A, Global/E!, TVA, Sun TV, Citytv and OMNI. (TQS is the notable exception since it had its own dealings with the CRTC after it went bankrupt).

The CRTC has suggested having one-year license renewals (instead of standard seven-year ones) and dealing with the TV financial crisis in the meantime. The networks have gone along with that and are recommending status quo until August 2010.

The private networks (especially CTV Globemedia and Canwest) are re-repeating all of the please-give-us-money talking points they’ve been sending toward the CRTC for years now, including bringing up their pet project of forcing cable and satellite companies to give them money for putting their free over-the-air channels on their systems, mainly because they can’t find a way to make a profit off advertising and say the system is broken.

Among their other money-grabbing and money-saving ideas:

  • More access to the new Local Programming Improvement Fund (deigned to help with local programming at small-market stations) by expanding them to larger markets (Canwest even argues that CJNT Montreal should have access to the fund even though it doesn’t provide any local news.)
  • Having the ability to own their own production companies instead of being forced to use independent production houses
  • That the proposed 1:1 ratio of spending on Canadian vs. non-Canadian programming is “not viable” because it would mean cutting back on the very thing that is generating the revenue to keep the networks afloat (and besides, CTV argues, they’ve already signed contracts for the 2009-2010 broadcast year)

Canwest proposes a “5 and 10” rule that would require 5 hours a week of local programming for stations serving markets of under a million viewers, and 10 hours a week for stations serving markets of over a million. Since most Canwest stations already have local programming requirements far in excess of 10 hours a week, this would save it a lot of money. (It counts only four stations as being in large markets – even Global Quebec is considered small because it only counts English-speaking viewers, which means it would drop from 18 hours a week of local programming to only five)

Even Quebec’s TVA, which does plenty of local (or at least regional) programming, wants to cut back. It’s asking to reduce the amount of local programming at its Quebec City station from 21 hours a week to 12 UPDATE: They now say they only want to cut it to 18 hours a week.

Canwest even proposes going further than its continued demand for money from cable companies, and throw out some new ideas that nobody has suggested before, including:

  • Non-simultaneous substitution, which would replace U.S. signals with Canadiens ones showing the same programming, even if they’re not being broadcast on both channels simultaneously.
  • Banning commercial advertising from CBC
  • Government assistance for digital conversion
  • Tax cuts

UPDATE: More coverage from the Globe and Mail, which also looks at how much the networks are spending on Canadian versus foreign content.

Canwest wants Global Quebec to become Global Montreal

As part of its submission to the CRTC on license renewal, Canwest said it wants to convert only primary transmitters of its 15 major stations to digital by 2011, and as part of that it wants to convert regional networks Global Ontario and Global Quebec into local stations in Toronto and Montreal, respectively. CKMI-TV is actually based out of Quebec City (and also serves the Eastern Townships through a transmitter in Sherbrooke), but all its programming, including its newscasts, originate in Montreal.

The change wouldn’t affect programming but would allow CKMI to attract local advertisers, even though Canwest says they would not be taking advantage of this much.

CTV wants to pull the plug on CJOH-8

In its submission to the CRTC, CTVglobemedia put forward a long list of television transmitters it said it would not apply for licenses to renew past August. Included in that list is a retransmitter for CJOH Ottawa in Lancaster, Ont., on Channel 8. Montrealers and off-islanders with good TV antennas will note that this transmitter serves southwestern Quebec since it is just across the border. Shutting the transmitter down means those near the Ontario/Quebec border will have to tune into CJOH’s Ottawa transmitter or CFCF-12 in Montreal.

The Obituary Channel?

The CRTC has granted approval for a regional Quebec cable channel called Je me souviens, which will be devoted essentially to obituaries and related public notices. The CRTC did not agree to a request to carry local advertising in addition to the obits, however.

The channel (which is a private venture unconnected to the major broadcasting companies) is interesting because it’s an original idea and because it’s a regional network (most cable networks are national in order to reach as broad an audience as possible).

But if Astral Media couldn’t keep its TATV shopping channel on the air, does a regional channel of nothing but obituaries stand a chance?

UPDATE: I see CJAD reads this blog.

Pay up, CFAV

The CRTC has denied a request from Laval radio station CFAV 1570 AM, which wanted to be excused from the $8,000 a year it has to pay to promote Canadian artists. Its excuse is that it’s not making a profit. The CRTC says rules are rules.

Rogers wants carte blanche on OLN

Rogers has asked for some very radical amendments to its license for the Outdoor Life Network (OLN). Among them, it wants to be able to use sitcoms, comedy shows and animated shows, reduce its restriction on televising live sports, and reduce requirements for Canadian content. The proposal was so radical it caught the eye of the Globe and Mail.

TVA wants carte blanche on specialty channels

Speaking of radical amendments, TVA has filed requests to add more programming categories for three of its specialty channels: Mystère (mystery), Argent (financial news) and Idées de ma maison (home/living). While some might make sense in a world where various forms of programming blend together (say, a game show about science), it’s hard to see some of these categories as being requested solely so that TVA can stretch the envelope and provide programming that has only a tenuous connection to the mandate of the channel.

Among the categories they’d like to add:

  • Religion programming
  • Professional and amateur sports, including live sporting events
  • Drama, sitcoms, comedy programming, animated programs
  • Music videos

I’m all for flexibility, but can you imagine a program that has music videos about mysteries? Or a sitcom about financial news?

The Weather/Emergency Network

Pelmorex, the strangely-named owner of the Weather Network/MétéoMédia, is asking for the CRTC to require that all cable and satellite companies operating in Canada have the networks as part of their basic digital services (it’s already required on analog cable). In exchange, the networks will act as “a national public alerting aggregator”, distributing emergency information.

To sweeten the deal, Pelmorex gives idle threats about how their existence will be in “jeopardy” if they can’t force that $0.23 per subscriber out of us, even though most Canadians already (happily) get the Weather Network by default.

Still, having the Weather Network distribute emergency information makes sense, if only because many such emergencies are weather-related and TWN already deals with emergency weather alerts.

The only problem is: Shouldn’t it be the broadcast networks (like, say, CBC/Radio-Canada) who distribute emergency information, so it’s over the air where everyone can receive it?

HD vs. SD

While Canal Évasion wants to start an HD version of the channel, the owners of three HD-only networks – Oasis HD, Treasure HD and Equador HD – want to distribute those channels in standard definition. This isn’t the first request of this kind I’ve seen, and is probably a reflection of the fact that while most Canadians have cable or satellite service, the number with HD service and sets is not as high as they had expected by now, and offering a downgraded SD signal will allow them to reach a larger audience.

And finally

The CRTC has approved a request to add five networks, all of third-language programming originating from east and southeast Asia, to the list of eligible channels for satellite providers.

9 thoughts on “CRTC roundup: broken television

  1. Jean Naimard

    This is stupid.

    If they can’t “make money with adversiting”, the solution is obvious: either cut expenses (in reality, jobs), increase advertising rates or simply shut down.

    Look at the “market pie”. This is ridiculous! How many “channels” are they? 100? 200?

    How could they ALL pretend to be profitable?

    Reply
  2. Tim

    That’s an interesting pie chart you have. Is that proportional to viewership? Availability/Subscription (cable + sat)? # of requests pending at the CRTC? :)

    If Canwest were to change only primary transmitters to digital, and the CRTC refused to move its base to Montreal, does that mean there would no longer be forced selection of Global and simulcast to Montreal cable subscribers?

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  3. DigiMan

    It’s time to get rid of Crapwest Globull and CrapTV. Two useless networks that ruin American programming. It’s been great hearing them suffer of late.

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  4. Fatty Acid

    Nice pie chart. It’s making me hungry. Maybe I should cut my slices that thin too as I’m getting fat.

    Reply
  5. Aaron Deville

    I think it’s high time that CTV and Global got out of the conventional television business and let these stations be run by independents who will keep the stations focus local and don’t whine and moan about every little thing. If OTA is not profitable then why do they still own OTA stations?!?!? There is no logic in their argument, if they are losing money why are they keeping these stations going, give back the license to the CRTC and go concentrate on your stupid specialty services!

    Enough with these conglomerates, hopefully this recession will bring down a few giant media companies, put them in their place. Content is king and you can find content on the internet, you don’t need stinking cable or satellite companies forcing big honking packages down our throats with channels that air the same crap over and over and watered down, pathetic excuse for local stations. Shows like ET Canada should NOT be considered Cancon when they largely deal with the US industry anyway.

    They are whining because right now they have it easy, they produce little to no primetime series as it is, relying solely on US productions and largely to simsub. They’ve done it for years, while other countries instead of focusing on importing US shows franchise a show, an example was “Who wants to be a millionaire?” .. this show was franchised around the world but in Canada we ended up having the US version imported, even though the applicant rules of the show forbid Canadians applying to be a contestant.

    Let’s not forget about some critically acclaimed series that have been shot in Canada but as soon as the US network cancels it none of our domestics even consider picking it up. “Dead Like Me” is a great example, Showtime canceled it because the head of the network didn’t like the show, it was shot in Vancouver and could have easily been carried on by a domestic broadcaster in our country, it would have found a new home in the US eventually as it reruns there still to this day. But no, the domestic broadcasters just sit back without the need to actually green light much in the way of production, they let the US do it for them and largely consider ratings from the US network.

    If they dislike this new proposal then let them get out of the broadcast industry and let someone who is willing to support our domestic productions give it a shot. English speaking countries like the UK seem to manage and have a thriving production industry in place without relying almost exclusively on US imports. CTV and Global still want to put thousands out of work by gutting local production but they still want to make money and the best method is for them to rely almost exclusively on US programming. Why is it the big Seattle TV stations we can all see on our BDU’s manage to maintain such a great news focus and yet they have about 1/2 the population of Calgary? Seattle population is around 600,000 .. throw in the surrounding areas and it is likely a bit over a million .. Calgary is over a million people but seemingly our broadcasters cannot manage to keep a 24/7 news crew going. What gives? Is it salaries are too high? Surely the workers would be willing to take a bit of a cut if it means they’d save their jobs. What is making this local news production too expensive to produce these days? Something doesn’t add up.

    What about all the jobs lost when CTV bought CHUM and Global bought Alliance Atlantis? What about all the recent layoffs, are we just conveniently brushing those job losses under the carpet?!

    As for the ‘way’ they found to make money- lowering local programming, hey that’s brilliant why not just get rid of all of it while we are at it?! This is pathetic and exactly what you would expect from media giants, all they care about is cutting costs and increasing profits. Sorry that doesn’t work for me, a local station needs local programming if you cut that back then what is the point of keeping the station on the air so they can fill it with crappy Cancon or the shows they acquired from the US?! This solution of fees and cutbacks in programming is a solution that benefits the broadcasters NOT the viewers therefore it is not acceptable IMO, so back to the drawing board…

    This 1:1 proposal sounds great (but it still may not be enough). They want to run a CANADIAN television station they have to air Canadian programming. No easy rides anymore, programming expenditures should be equal.

    I don’t understand why OTA television is doing well around the world including in the US and here in Canada it’s considered a money pit? There are many channels available in Europe over the air, be they terrestrially or via satellite, why are those systems making money and the Canadian one isn’t? I will tell you why, because thanks to Canada being situated next to the USA, the broadcasters here have gotten a free ride riding the coattails of the US broadcasters, buying programming on the cheap and raking in the $$ without having to do much in return. It’s a nice easy gig for the likes of CTV and Global, who to do virtually nothing to air these shows except buy the rights and sit back and relax, but all good things must come to an end at some point.

    There are the job losses, thousands have likely already been laid off as it is. Meanwhile the Canadian networks are buying more US programming than ever before. At the same time the ads are all usually for big ad purchasers, there aren’t a lot of true local ads being shown, likely because they’ve priced those out of reach for most local businesses.

    One of the problems is that Canadian content has been “sabotaged”. They fill-up their Cancon requirements with cheap garbage and put it mainly into timeslots when the fewest people are watching. This practice gives people the impression that Canadian content is, by default, garbage. They figure that if enough people want Cancon gone, it will be gone, and they’re trying to speed it up.

    The Canadian nets have ruined OTA TV on purpose thus driving people away from it and towards cable/satellite and now they are saying it’s not profitable and are sticking their grubby hands out and asking for a handout (fee for carriage) from the CRTC. I think it’s time CTV & Global got out of the OTA business. Why do they continue to hang on to these stations if they are not profitable? Corporations exist solely to make money, so if they are not making money on this business why do they keep it running… because they want the cash grab that will bring in more $$ and allow them to continue to buy American and fill the Cancon slots with filler crap!!! That’s it.

    With their addict-like dependence on U.S. shows (very much enabled and encouraged by the CRTC’s enforcing of simultaneous substitutions), – ‘Hey, just let us have even more of the U.S. stuff and less Cancon, we promise it will improve things this time’, CTV and Global seem incapable of doing anything else. It’s been obvious for years now that simsubbing is harmful, regardless of its alleged intent. It should not only cease but be outlawed. If money is to be earned in Canada from Canadians viewing American shows, with the intention of funding Canadian productions, let’s find a way to do it that does not involve the money going through CTV and Global, who have proven they can’t be trusted. Their simsub abuses need to be stopped altogether and CTV and Global have to be sent to rehab to help re-invent Canadian television.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      “Why do they continue to hang on to these stations if they are not profitable?”

      Well, they’re not. CTV just said they’re closing two unprofitable A stations and Canwest is trying to get rid of five stations that make up its secondary E! network.

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  6. Henry Frong

    CTVgm and Canwest Global want fee for carriage? Are you kidding me?

    CTV and Global suggest that their programming is attractive enough to Canadian viewers that it is driving significant growth in the subscribed customer base of the BDUs. They make this assertion without any empirical evidence to support it. Instead, they presume that Canadians find their programming compelling enough to explain the success of the BDUs in subscriber growth.

    The argument is arrogant and counter-intuitive. With the exception of the reasonable investment made by CTVgm and, in some communities Canwest, in local and national news programming, these companies offer virtually no original programming and next to no contribution to the Canadian experience or identity. Unlike CTVgm, I do not rely on intuition to make this argument, but rather, their programming line-up. Of the twenty-nine programs that CTV’s website lists as “Primetime”, exactly five (5) of these represent Canadian programming. Of these five (5), one is simply an entertainment magazine show (eTalk) and the other (So You Think You Can Dance Canada) is nothing more than a Canadian recasting of an American show. Certainly neither represents significant creativity and no one can realistically suggest that anyone would sign up for a BDU for either of these programs. That leaves exactly three (3) original Canadian programs (Degrassi: The Next Generation, Corner Gas, and Flashpoint) for which CTVgm can claim any credit before the Commission.

    The situation at Canwest is no different. For the sample week of March 29, 2009 through April 4, 2009, between the same “Primetime” hours as the CTVgm comment above, Canwest plans to air on its primary network exactly seven (7) hours of Canadian programming. Like CTVgm, this includes a Canadian recasting of an American show (Project Runway Canada) and an entertainment magazine (Entertainment Tonight Canada). That leaves a paltry three and one-half (3.5) hours of Canadian programming for the entire week, ninety (90) minutes of which is a one-off awards show.

    Do Canwest and CTVgm really expect the Commission to believe that anyone should find their argument that the BDU’s are reaping a benefit from this overwhelmingly substantive contribution to Canadian culture, identity, and consciousness? And yes, the comment is intended to be laced with sarcasm and derision. That is the least they should expect for their arrogance in making such specious and disingenuous arguments.

    CTVgm and Canwest claim that they require simultaneous substitution to support their efforts in original Canadian programming. I see no evidence of that in their programming line-ups. Of the $840,108,340 revenue that CTVgm discloses in support of their filing, they spend $75,476,342 on non-news and information Canadian programming. Are we, as viewers and BDU subscribers, supposed to be grateful for this 8.9% largesse on the part of CTVgm? Is that supposed to justify fee-for-carriage? We should not be grateful and it does not justify fee-for-carriage.

    The Canwest example is no better. Of the $548,775,067 revenue disclosed by Canwest in support of their filing, they spend $35,442,757 on non-news and information programming, or a mere 6.4%.

    Pathetic. Simply pathetic.

    Reply

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