Last year, when the Alouettes won the Grey Cup with a spectacular last-second field goal against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (though TSN's placement of it as the #1 wacky CFL moment of all-time was a bit over-the-top), I went down to Ste. Catherine St. and the new Place des Festivals and joined in the party, taking a few photos of the assembled media. It was fun being in such a large crowd celebrating a pro sports championship.
This year, the Grey Cup wasn't as exciting. (I barely noticed it was over, looking up from my copy editing station.) And with the same parade-and-party planned, and the weather not looking too hot, I reluctantly stayed home to watch the coverage on TV.
Thankfully, there wasn't a lack of live parade coverage on television, but where it was covered and where it wasn't made it clear to me how geographically biased Canada's English and French-language networks are.
On the English side, both CFCF (CTV) and CKMI (Global) aired live parade specials, as they had last year. Some kudos are due to Global here, which has awfully few resources and doesn't even produce its own newscast. I've criticized the station for barely meeting CRTC minimums on local programming (and even then by airing repeats of their newscasts at 6am and 6:30am), for outsourcing their production and using a fake, misleading green-screen set, and even having a weatherman who's based in Toronto (but pretends he's in Montreal). So to be able to put together a two-hour live special, with Mike Le Couteur in studio, Richard Dagenais at the Place des Festivals and Domenic Fazioli along the parade route, must have been quite the feat for this tiny group. CFCF's special may have been technically better, but was half an hour shorter and replaced their noon newscast.
CBMT (CBC Montreal) didn't air a parade special. I can't remember the last time this once-great station aired a live local special event. A CBC camera was on site with local sports reporter Sonali Karnick, but it was only used to give some live hits for CBC News Network. Online, they had a webcast of the parade and party without any commentary or interviews.
I went over to the all-news and all-sports networks: CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. I figured they all had good reason to cover this parade. It's not like anything else breaking was going on at noon on a Wednesday.
You know what I found? Nothing.
CBC and CTV's news channels were going through the motions, recapping the latest headlines. TSN was recapping the previous night's Maple Leafs game, followed by a broadcast of competitive darts.
TSN, which two days earlier had been crowing about how it had 4.94 million viewers for the Grey Cup game (a further 1.1 million was watching on RDS), just short of the previous year's record, apparently thought that showing SportsCentre and darts was more interesting than a Grey Cup victory parade.
What annoys me most was how little effort would have been required to give this a national audience. Nothing important would have to have been pre-empted. And because CTV owns CFCF, CTVNC and TSN, they could have simply had the national news and sports channels take the CFCF feed for an hour and a half and shown the parade nationally as Montreal viewers were watching it. There are anglophone Montreal expats across the country, not to mention simple fans of the Canadian Football League (surely that 4.94 million wasn't all Roughriders fans, considering Saskatchewan's total population is just over 1 million).
CBC would have needed more effort, but even then it already had plenty of resources in place. RDI was covering the parade live, and Sonali Karnick was in place with a CBC camera and live feed. Would it have really been that much more difficult to just air the common parade feed and provide some colour commentary?
Montréal = français, Toronto = English
On the French side, it was the opposite problem: The cable channels had parade specials, but the local channels didn't air them. LCN, RDI and RDS all had specials lasting more than two hours. Radio-Canada and TVA stuck with regular programming, which at noon means newscasts. Brief stories about the parade, but no live special. V and Télé-Québec, well, they don't have news departments so I didn't exactly expect much from them.
Part of me wants to see the Toronto Argonauts win the next Grey Cup so I can contrast the coverage plans. Does anyone seriously believe that CTVNC, CBCNN, TSN, CP24, Sportsnet and the rest wouldn't give this wall-to-wall coverage if it was in Toronto? And, conversely, that LCN, RDI and RDS would all ignore it completely if it was anywhere other than Montreal (or maybe Quebec City)?
LCN, RDS and CTV are privately-owned networks, so they can do whatever they want. If they want to be homers for the cities their broadcast studios are located in, if they have little interest in covering any event that's not happening within 50 kilometres of their offices, if they want to be de facto regional news networks, that's up to them.
But CBC is publicly-financed, and their geographical bias really annoys me, particularly with RDI, which can often be mistaken for an all-Montreal-news channel. I realize that a large part of its market lives within the greater Montreal area, but as a national French-language news channel it has a mandate to cover the entire country, not just wherever they can get to on a tank of gas from the Maison Radio-Canada.
CBC should have been there. And if the Roughriders had won, RDI should have been in Regina.
You might think this is a silly discussion to have over something as trivial as a Grey Cup victory parade, but it's a symptom of a larger problem. We see the same decisions being made during municipal and provincial elections, or provincial budgets, or just about any other prescheduled major local news events. During the last municipal election in 2009, the local anglo stations couldn't be bothered to cut into their American programming, so updates were limited to their websites, the 11pm newscasts and the occasional news break during commercials. The last provincial election was better, but there was more national interest in that vote. That press conference of Alouettes president Larry Smith announcing his resignation? Live on RDI and LCN, but all but ignored by CTV News Channel and CBC News Network.
As local stations get gutted of their resources and national networks continue to figure out ways of centralizing the basic functions of broadcasting, the ability to do special event programming is severely reduced. And as those same network bigwigs continue to put competitive interests above their duties to serve national populations, these geographical biases from our national news and sports networks will only get worse.