CTV wants you to help save [insert local station name here]

Todd Van der Heyden wants to show you inside CTV Montreal

Todd Van der Heyden wants to show you inside CTV Montreal

CTV has gone on the offensive in its campaign to “save local television” by forcing cable companies through legislation to give them money. Ads have already started appearing on TV, and a website and online petition has been setup to get people to tell their MPs to approve a “fee for carriage” scheme that would give CTV, Global, Rogers and other conventional television broadcasters hundreds of millions of dollars, with very vague ideas of where that money would actually go.

I’m still kind of on the fence about fee for carriage or related schemes. On one hand, I agree that it’s unfair for cable broadcasters to be able to charge subscription fees and get advertising revenues while spending little money on original programming (and no expensive local programming whatsoever). I also think cable and satellite distributors like Videotron and Bell have profit margins that are way too high and more of that money should be going either to the broadcasters or back in the pockets of consumers.

On the other hand, as a consumer, I object to the idea that I could be forced to pay for a signal I get over the air for free. It’s like adding a surcharge on an air conditioning bill for the oxygen. My cable company doesn’t “take” or “sell” CFCF programming, it simply retransmits the station’s signal to my television set (should broadcasters also demand fees from antenna manufacturers?) And my solution to the disparity between cable channels and conventional broadcasters would have more to do with eliminating cable subscription fees altogether, except for channels like HBO that provide a large amount of original programming.

What is “local television”?

Besides, what exactly are we saving when we talk about saving local television anyway? There is no local television production besides the newcasts anymore, at least not in Montreal. Where once you could count on your local station to carry the Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day parades live, now they produce five-minute packages for the evening news. Current affairs, entertainment, consumer affairs and other programming has been merged into mid-day and weekend newscasts on shoestring budgets. Even local sports teams can’t get their games televised on local TV. They have to hope they can get a spot on the schedule of TSN, RDS or Rogers SportsNet.

So when we’re talking about “local television”, what we’re really talking about is “local newscasts.” That’s not necessarily so bad. Local newscasts are the most important part of local television, and it’s what people care about the most.

But what exactly do we get on local newscasts? We get:

  • two-minute package reports about issues that were reported in the morning newspapers
  • briefs about road accidents they could scramble a cameraman to get B-roll for
  • softball interviews with newsmakers, activists and politicians
  • whatever sounds good on a press release and can provide good visuals
  • reports on criminal court proceedings (reporter stands in front of courthouse cut with B-roll of lawyers and family members walking down hallways)
  • 20-second anchor voice-overs with B-roll from community events they didn’t want to send a reporter to
  • recaps of sports games with footage taken from other networks
  • entertainment listings
  • a weather presenter (usually female) showing us the latest fashions and waving her hands over forecast maps
  • silly banter between anchors to fill time
  • packaged reports taken from the national network, other regional stations or international sources like CNN.

This isn’t to bash CFCF, which produces the best of Montreal’s three anglo newscasts (and has the ratings to show for it). But they want us to pay for this in addition to seeing all the advertising?

Your friendly neighbourhood corporate conglomerate

CFCF12 logo

Former CFCF12 logo

This slick marketing campaign really rubs me the wrong way. It’s a giant corporate behemoth owned by an even more giant corporate behemoth, and it hasn’t exactly shown a commitment to local television in the past. What was once a member-owned collective of television stations across Canada has since been bought up by a corporate profit-seeking enterprise that has imposed its power on local stations. CFCF Television in Montreal was forced to dump its iconic logo and rename its signature newscast solely to please the whims of head office that wanted all the stations in the network to look identical.

Now, suddenly, it’s in CTV’s interest to get people to feel nostalgic about their local television station. So it created this campaign and setup this website, which has cookie-cutter versions for each CTV and A-Channel station (it even has a French version which is actually mostly English). They’ve produced 30-second ads where community leaders read from nearly identical scripts that give vague references to how important local TV is in promoting local events. They’re running ads on local television stations and even arranging one-sided fluff interviews with their news employees.

CFCF opens its doors

CTV Open House contact info

They’re also organizing open houses next weekend at all their stations. CFCF, which has offices at Papineau and René-Lévesque, will be open as of 9am on May 23. People who want to visit are asked to call or email to “reserve your tour.”

Whether or not you agree with or even care about this issue, this is a rare opportunity to see what it’s like inside a local television station and meet some of the people you see on air. I’d recommend against passing this chance up.

How to get me on board

Despite my reservations about their funding idea, despite how much they’ve destroyed local television so far through budget cuts and local brand suppression, despite how obviously self-serving it all is, despite the fact that they still made money last year (though not the hundreds of millions of dollars that they’re used to) and despite the fact that they want us to pay for the fact that they made unwise investments and couldn’t see that their business model was doomed, I’m willing to hear CTV’s case and even open to the idea of supporting their cause, on one condition:

I want to see their numbers. All of them.

While the CRTC releases so-called “aggregate” financial information about conventional broadcasters so we know how much money they make as a whole and how much they spend in total on certain types of programming. From that we learn that they’re spending more on licensing U.S. programming than creating Canadian programming (including news). The argument is that the advertising profits from simulcasting U.S. programming subsidize the Canadian programming and newscasts. But we have only their word that this is true.

The CRTC has moved to increase such transparency in reporting of financial information, but that has met resistance from broadcasters who argue it may expose trade secrets.

If CTV wants my support, they have to get over that paranoia and let the public see those numbers. How much are senior executives getting paid? How much does their Canadian programming cost? How much are they spending on public relations and marketing? How much of the cost of importing U.S. programming is shared with the cable channels that also broadcast it?

These are questions I’d like answers to before I start pressuring my MP.

UPDATE (June 1): CTV says “100,000 expressions of support“, with 30,000 visiting open houses.

32 thoughts on “CTV wants you to help save [insert local station name here]

  1. newironshapes

    CTV’s banter is the worst, and that’s when Mr. Todd isn’t complaining with some crotchety bastard about the evils of bike lanes.

  2. Horonymous

    CTV has make huge profits for years via mostly US programming and very little in Canadian production out side of news and a little bit of sports. Look at when CTV had the rights to the worlds series back in 92 & 93 all they did was take the CBS feed even though a Canadian team was in the World Series.

    Most private broadcasters eliminated all local production outside of news when the CRTC allowed the news to be counted towards their local production quota.

    CTV also has a huge stable of profitable speciality channels which repeat a lot of the programming the CTV airs on its regular TV channel.

    If the cable/satellite companies pass on any fees to watch local channels will the service providers let us pick which channels we want? Global & CTV will not be on my list.

    How will this impact conventional TV channels from outside of your local market? In the US you cannot import channels from outside your local broadcast area. I for one enjoy the US west coast feeds I have access to. I get to see the whole program as opposed to missing the several seconds that Global & CTV always seem to chop off when coming back to a show from a break.

  3. Horonymous

    A couple more points.

    I watched the hard hitting link to an interview with a CTV VP provided by Mr Fagstein.
    Here’s what I got out of it the cable satellite companies just re-broadcast CTV’s programming, there fore are evil. No mention of how CTV just rebroadcasts US TV. The VP also mentioned the perils of bringing in out of market signals, time shifting a feature I greatly enjoy.

    Why don’t some of the profitable specialty channels he subsidize the mother ship?

    CTV Toronto CFTO has just gone HD for their news casts. Unlike most Canadian news in HD, CTV field cameras are also HD not just 16 x 9 SD like CBC and City are providing. The only SD signals left on CFTO is when they go live from the field since the micro-wave at sat truck are still HD. Also some pool video is still in SD.

    Most newscast shooting in 16×9 only frame for 4×3

    The news is still in 4×3 on the SD feed and 16×9 on the HD signal. I wonder why the English language stations CTV, CBC, City who have 16 x9 newscaster only show us 4×3 in HD. Radio Canada shows a 16×9 picture on its SD feed

    This upgrade cost millions of dollars to a broadcaster who is crying the blues. Oh yeah CFTO also has a helicopter but that is still sending signals back in SD.

  4. Anonymous

    if ctv was hurting – they wouldn’t buy idol

    so i’m not buying it …

    ctv is still worth billions.

    i wanna see a fun debate about saving ctv with the ctv weather people .
    cause they sure know how to make things super happy when there is bad weather.

  5. Marc

    I’m starting to think that the only way to “save” CFCF is to grab it from the mega-conglomerate and return it to local ownership. Although it’ll probably never be like it once was. When Bill Merrill died, sadly, a lot of CFCF died with him.

  6. corinthian rick

    Nice summation of the crapola that local English TV has become, alas the print media is no better. I’d say the same of radio but CJAD still has a bit of feistiness that I reluctantly admire. There’s absolutely no way that cable consumers should be forced to give $75 a year so that these smug, self-satisfied TV news shows can become even more lazy and fatcatty than they already are.

  7. Jean Naimard

    For more than half a century, the TV broadcasting economic model is to sell eyes to advertisers.

    On pay-per-view, the customers are the viewers.

    In a nutshell, if you watch Discover, you are the customer. If you watch CFCF, you are the merchandise.

    Now, having cable operators pay TV stations for content would corrupt that business model.

    One thing for sure, advertisers would holler to have advertising rates lowered, for sure, sending everyone back to the drawing board.

  8. Clay Martins

    Unbelievable. CTV is now advertising this local station situation on their specialty channels (Discovery Channel etc.), radio channels (The Bounce etc.), and CTVglobemedia’s property more– effectively. And CTV’s homepage says that WE, consumers wouldn’t necessarily pay fee-for-carriage, but I don’t know if that is a lie or not… This is ridiculous… they are now advertising this on American Idol… I don’t know if it appears on CTV Edmonton too, I was watching CTV Toronto (CTVHE). So to them pushing their propaganda to a large audience is better than selling advertising that will be seen by a large audience…interesting..no wonder they need a bailout!

    I have to wonder, is The Comedy Network or CTV Newsnet etc charging CTV for airing ads on their network? Or is this being done out of the kindness of their “separate entity” heart.

    I think we all know the answer. What a disgusting misuse of their public broadcasting license, to spread such misinformation and lies to the Canadian public. Give them nothing, in fact, take away their sim-sub rights right now. Make basic cable $5. CBC Newsworld, YTV, APTN, all the rest, take them off of basic cable. Basic cable should be Canadian local stations and enough to cover the cable going to your house. After that, have an American network package/Canadian cable package. See how many people subscribe to those stations. APTN calls itself Canada’s fourth national broadcaster. Maybe if they broadcast OTA that’d be apt.

    If you remove U.S. channels from basic, you will be effectively discriminating against people that do not live close enough to the U.S. to pick up OTA network signals. If we are looking for intervention by the regulator perhaps they should interfere in the market and prevent the monopolization of U.S. content by broadcast conglomerates in Canada. Allow the BDU’s to pay for the signal(s) directly to the the U.S. content owners instead of CTV and Global.

    Both CTV and Global have the broadcast etiquette of pigs at a slop trough. When I’m watching 24, I want to ENJOY the broadcast. I don’t need a cover bug in 100% white (as opposed to Fox’s 25%) to know that Global (name your city) is lovingly providing this as a broadcast on Fox’s channel. I don’t need, 15 seconds after the show has resumed (after the lame Canadian commercials) to have the bottom 1/4 of my screen, with brilliant red and white, tell me that I’m now watching 24, and then tell me that what the next show is, and then tell me what the show after that will be. I’m trying to enjoy the drama of the bloody show. Yes, tell your boss that this does not enamour Global or CTV to me. It just makes me hate Global and CTV’s g.d. thinking even more. Global and CTV can shrivel up and dissolve, I won’t miss them one little bit. They contribute NOTHING to entertainment value or quality.

    IF they give local carriage, all of the above should be implemented at the very least. Those commercials really disgust me. Pure slimeballs. On one hand they say they are separate entities, on the other, they cross promote and now are brainwashing even more clueless viewers.

  9. Herman Gilles

    CTV and Global are in an oligopoly that is, thankfully, ending. There is a vast oversupply of Canadian television broadcasting, not in some small part due to ego-driven business “planning” by Global and CTV, which includes their past gobbling up of every possible independent stations, and outbidding each other for American programs.

    CRTC MANDATES that the BDU’s carry the local stations, as well as give them priority station numbers. Are you telling me that I MUST, not only receive these channels that I NEVER watch, but now, I MUST also pay via the BDU for these useless channels.

    This is bloody entertainment, not cancer research.

    What next? Can I not go bowling unless the pins and balls meet your approval? Should we close all theatres unless they only show Canadian movies? Must bookstores, online or brick-and-mortar, only sell Canadian books? Should supermarkets be prohibited from selling kiwis, bananas, and oranges, because they’re not grown in Canada?

    Should we jam all the signals from those filthy Americans (oh, unless, we can somehow simsub the signals) because, uh, just because, uh, well, just jam them anyways?

    The western world fought for decades to overcome the oppressive and repressive concepts of communism. Television is nothing but entertainment. Why are you making arguments that are nothing short of communist, for bloody entertainment? Both CTV and Global need to end their whining and be thankful that they have made billions by just buying and airing TV shows, something even a flippin’ monkey from the Toronto Zoo could do.

  10. Bill McMinn

    CTV expects me to same them from their outdated business practice of running the shows from the American broadcast networks that I can watch on basic cable? Maybe they should try picking up some of the shows that never even get a chance to be seen on Canadian TV. CTV can save themselves don’t do through a higher cable bill.

  11. DJC

    This is a joke – LIES upon LIES. Conventional tv is NOT going away.
    Television networks have become greedy, buying and merging tv stations. It’s not my fault, they want to buy up every single station in town, and when the deal falls through, CTV gets all winey about it because they have to carry stations, they don’t want.

    CTV puts very little back into Canadian Content (scripted programming) because the CRTC has allowed them to do so. (Cheap, non-union, specialty crap that adds to their CC bottom line does not count in my mind…CTV gets away with it though!!)

    Due to over expansion, and spending on the Olympics and U.S. programming, Operating costs are atrocious….then came the recession. Oops!

    I’m sorry, Mr Fecan…..it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who bought two houses side by side in Rosedale, only to tear down one, to grow a garden on their estate. Ugh!

    Canadians are not suckers. Of course, cable companies will increase fees! It’s expected, but I’m afraid if you get your way, it’ll only go to buy more U.S. crap and fill your coffers! CTV was bound to bust…..sooner rather than later. You’ve had 10 great years. Go back to the basics…close up some of these shops, and fire some of your over the top paid staff.

  12. no to hand out

    hasnt cable benefited local stations.

    if it wasnt for cable the stations would only have “antenna viewership” but cable provided them a chance to be seen.

    if you are seen you can sell advertising….

    considering there are fewer and fewer homes with antennas in canada hasnt local t-v owed a debt to cable the past couple of decades

    with out cable who would have watched.. and where would they be now?

    as for local news , i can live with out another trip to the local gas station by a psuedo-reporter to ask winter travellers how bad the snow is or summer drivers how bad the traffic is…

  13. Big Al

    CTV needs this money though.

    As DJC mentioned, Mr. Fecan has a massive garden on his estate… so keeping that filled and paying all the gardeners takes a lot of $$$$$$.

  14. Nigel

    CTV is telling us they are running out of money, so they want Canadians to sign a petition to allow them to charge cable and satellite companies to carry their signal:
    “Keep local TV news and programming available in your community. Take action online right now. Sign the petition. Write to the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Heritage, or contact your local MP and let them know you value local TV. Let your voice be heard before local television is silenced forever.”

    Over the past year or so CTV has been spending money left, right, and centre. A few things come to mind.

    They out bid CBC for the 2010 Olympics. (Why didn’t they just continue to do what they do best, simsub US programs?)

    They out bid CBC for “The Hockey Night in Canada” theme.

    They started showing CTV Toronto in high def.

    They bought A channel.

    They bought CHUM.

    Now, as for local programming, here in Atlantic Canada we lost that when CTV bought ATV. We have Regional programming, not local. Our Regional news covers Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI. Hardly local.

    I’m sure that there are many more examples out there as to why we shouldn’t feel sorry for CTV. What are your reasons?

  15. Roberio

    I feel zero sympathy for CTV in this whole debate… actually make that less than zero sympathy for CTV or any of the other networks. They were only too happy to milk the system via the CRTC when it suited them. Now the tables have turned and it’s wha wha wha we have no money we have to compete blah blah blah. I ask CTV what local news? The news from Ottawa hardly covers any thing up the valley where I live. Only A-channel did that and your board of directors decided A-cahnnel news should be shut down. So here is a big screw you to CTV and Bell and the Globe and Canwest.

    If CTV needs cash to pay it’s creditors then perhaps they should divest themselvs of some of their cable properties and return to core network broadcasting.

    They say the cable companies and satellite systems take their signals and sell it to us and they get NOTHING in return.

    They get viewers and probably alot more viewers than it they were only available by rabbit-ears. Let’s see how they would do without cable and satellite access. I personally think the CRTC made a bad decision on allowing all of us to see all local signals from all areas. I really don’t need access to 18 CBC stations, 12 CTV channels etc. Just give me my locals and maybe the westcoast feeds but the rest I really don’t need access to. Just don’t raise my satellite bill anymore.

    Bell doesn’t have the technology to sim-sub by area code, or postal code or morse code or whatever. Instead of the CRTC saying “Well, until you DO have the technology you can’t sim-sub” they say “Well, gee, that’s kinda tough eh! Ok, you can sim-sub the whole country then – that way you won’t have to invest any time and effort into creating the means to sim-sub properly” i.e. being able to sim-sub the EXACT same program with yours. Here (Maritimes) there are no HDTV OTA station and probably won’t be any time before the 2nd coming. But we still get our HDTV sim-subbed.

    This is what I mean when I say the CRTC almost never makes a ruling that benefits Canadians in general if it will. in any way, hurt a communications company – large or small.

  16. Rubix Cube

    These slimeballs at CTV say that their specialty networks are separate entities. But of course now they are running ads on Newsnet, TSN, Discovery to help save their conventional practice. They make millions off of speciality and they can’t use these funds for local news they claim because they are a different division, but when they feel the need to be “one company”, they are.

  17. Bob

    Great post. I agree it is a wonderful opportunity to tour the Montreal CTV station. I dont get the free tv stuff about air conditioners. The key for cable and satellite retransmission is with consent of local stations. If I want a portion of my cable bill to go to the local TV station, what’s the problem? Really? Cable and satellite companies pay these fees in the US, and it is working for consumers who get better bundles of channels, channels they want to watch. Look at your cable bill this month, and look at the bundle of channels you pay for, and consider the number of channels you actually watch. Right now we pay for crap we dont watch while we are loosing the stations that deliver the news and programming we do watch. Somethings not right in the way channels are being bundled together. Consumers should have more choice here and consumer choice should be respected in channel bundling and billing.

  18. Pip Squeek

    Bob, are you lost? What kind of programming on CTV is worth paying for? The local news I can get from elsewhere even. No way Ivan Fecalmatter and his coherts deserve a single penny!!!

  19. Pip Squeek

    Poor Bell (part owners of CTVgm) is so strapped for cash… Look at this recent acquisition.


    Bell bought out the rest of Virgin Mobile for a mere $142 million!!!

    To me this could have easily been reinvested into CTV Local TV and improving their Bell satellite and telecommunications systems, but no, let’s just keep piling it on. The more they spend the harder they’re going to fall, and it’s not going to look pretty… And who the heck keeps approving all these acquisitions, isn’t this creating a monopoly, or are we passed that?

    I just wish people would open their eyes and see the reality of this. Bell has one hand open begging for your money, and has the other hand full of cash buying up everything in sight!

  20. Quintos

    Baton Aldred Rogers Broadcasting Ltd. was originally formed in 1960 to operate Toronto’s first private TV station, CFTO-TV. The original investors included the Bassett and Eaton families, Joel Aldred and Ted Rogers, and Foster Hewitt in a much smaller role. Aldred sold his shares in 1961, followed by Rogers by 1970; with the Bassett and Eaton families firmly in control, the company went public in the early 1970s. CFTO became a CTV affiliate in October 1961, and soon after Baton became a part-owner in the network.

    >> And now Rogers is battling CTV over FFC, and it seems like it’s going to get very intense!!!

  21. Shawn Peterson

    I couldn’t agree with Jim Shaw anymore.

    Why bail out CTV when they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on US programming, acquiring other media companies, purchasing stakes in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, outbidding the CBC for the rights to the HNIC theme song, buying CHUM, upgrading CFTO to full HD… the list goes on and on.


    In hearings to discuss the financial future of conventional broadcasting in Canada, Ivan Fecan, President and CEO of CTVglobemedia and CEO of CTV Inc. told the CRTC last month that it would shut down its Over-the-air television (OTA) stations if the feds did not provide a “structural fix for conventional television soon.”

    One man who staunchly disagrees with CTV’s assessment is Jim Shaw, the outspoken CEO and Vice Chair of Shaw Communications who says that CTV’s recent demand for a Fee-for-Carriage demand is nothing more than a “tax rewarding broadcasters’ poor performance.”

    In a letter posted to Shaw websites, entitled “An important message to 10 million Canadian Households”, Mr. Shaw says that Canadians should not pay for fixing broadcasters’ problems which came about they spent billions of dollars acquiring foreign programs and media assets.

    Shaw believes that CTV and Global need to be held accountable for their poor business decisions and should not be bailed out by instituting a $720 million tax on consumers.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      CTV’s arguments, not that I necessarily agree with them:

      – The move to HD is necessary because the government requires digital television by 2011. Though it doesn’t specifically require high-definition digital television, it makes sense to make that transition at the same time. If anything, the question should be asked why all the other stations (like CFCF) haven’t made plans to upgrade yet.

      – Conventional television should be judged on its own, separate from other assets of the megacorporation. Otherwise, one part is subsidizing another, and it will make sense to shut conventional television down.

      – U.S. programming is expensive, but brings in a lot more money than they cost. The more U.S. programming, the more profit which is then funneled into Canadian programming (which makes a lot less money than it costs).

      As for Shaw, its arguments have to be taken with a truckload of salt. Shaw owns a cable and satellite service, and only stands to lose if fee for carriage goes through.

      Neither side of this debate is worthy of our support. They’re both just trying to game the regulatory system to maximize profits.

  22. Black Horizon

    This is pathetic, maybe we should hit them where it hurts, boycott their advertisers.
    Weren’t they (TV stations) recently granted more time per hour for commercials?
    This doesn’t seem very ethical either… using the airwaves to appeal to us for their own benefit
    Of course that opens a pandoras box of why they seem to show biasness for one politician over another.
    They run their American shows the same time as the American channels, defeating the whole reason for cable in the first place.
    The talkng heads (schmucks) that CTV has choosen to go on camera in each region should be ashamed of themselves.
    These individuals have “no credibility” in their profession, if they would sink to begging for money on behalf of their corporate masters.
    I would have a hard time with Bell Globe Media, as huge as they are, gettimg more money from me.

    1. Tom

      If they get this money it will only be passed on to us, small at first then milk us when ever they want, and cry to the CRTC who really, do not care about the little guy

      What about Compressed sound and those EXCESSIVE LOUD commercials.

      Do they want us to pay extra if we mute the next 10 minutes of commercials.

  23. Jean Naimard

    What’s wrong with US programming? It’s what people want, and to a diehard separatist, it looks just like canadian programming except that it’s often less boring.

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