Posted in Montreal, Opinion, TV

The Alouettes parade and the two solitudes

A TV camera setup for live coverage of the Grey Cup parade and party in 2009.

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.

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.

You can re-watch the parade specials (or parts thereof) online from CFCF, CKMI, RDS (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10) and RDI

15 thoughts on “The Alouettes parade and the two solitudes

  1. Josh

    I actually completely believe that there’d be no coverage on any national outlets if the Argos won the next Grey Cup. I just don’t think the Grey Cup victory parade is a national event, no matter who wins it, and further, the Argos barely get any attention as it is inside Toronto.

    I think that the next Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup will get national coverage for its parade, but that’s about it.

    Reply
  2. Josh

    And I don’t see the resignation of a CFL team president as a national news event either, to be honest, unless it’s under some sort of cloud of controversy or intrigue.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I don’t see the resignation of a CFL team president as a national news event either, to be honest, unless it’s under some sort of cloud of controversy or intrigue.

      I think it’s national sports news if there’s nothing better going on, but you’re right, I wouldn’t interrupt something major to go with it. But RDI decided it was national news, while CBC News Network didn’t.

      Reply
  3. Fassero

    Steve – the crux of your article is right on the money. That being said, you shouldn’t be surprised. Now that CTV (Bell) and Global (Shaw) are even more converged, people better accept more than ever that local TV doesn’t “matter”. It’s an appalling state of affairs and, really, the CRTC really needs to look into something like allowing foreign ownership of TV outlets (or along the lines of the American model whereby networks can own stations in the three largest markets only). To some degree, the Alouettes have sort of become what the Atlanta Braves were for awhile – a team that constantly wins and constantly goes for to the point where an apathy sinks in and the provincial stations play along with it. Note I’m distinguish from Boston or New York, where fans are rapid and accept a win in anything as a good thing (and where, lord knows, local coverage of celebrations is saturated and then some.) I think the more interesting contrast would be when the Canadiens next win the Cup. I can’t speak for TSN, but I’ll bet there wouldn’t be a station in town (plus RDS) that wouldn’t be covering that celebration.

    By the way, Toronto isn’t much better. When the Argos last won in 2004, there was barely a parade, let alone a televised one (and it was on Bay Street yet). Even then, I think only CP24 (and possibly CITY from recollection – of course, both having same owners) carried anything of length. TSN had nothing. Now, what every outlet, local and national, would do if the Leafs ever won a Cup would be something to watch (in disgust for most.)

    Reply
  4. W G, Gatineau

    sure would have like to watch the game, but some brainiacs at the CFL decided not to air it on over-the-air tv. There oughta be a law… If all the people bitching about tax increases would look at how the cable-barons have robbed the public blind maybe I’d have some sympathy. But the media consumers sure do seem to bear a strong resemblance to mindless food tubes. You can break your programmed consumptions habits that the media and other retailers make their millions if you try.

    Reply
  5. ATSC

    I’m note sure your looking at the issue properly. Montreal’s English viewers got access to the parade free over-the-air thru CFCF-TV 12 and CKMI-TV 46. But, Montreal’s French viewers got nothing over-the-air, since the parade was shown on French speciality channels. Now, if the parade was on national english channels such as TSN, would the parade have not been on CFCF-TV 12 over the air for free as well?

    The parade was for fans of the Als. And Montreal viewers without cable got to see it for free. In English. I don’t see why fans of the BC Lions, or Blue Bombers would care. They may care to see the Grey Cup game. But the parade? Only Als fans would be interested in the parade.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Only Als fans would be interested in the parade.

      But not all Als fans live in Montreal.

      My point is this: Why was this on RDI, CBC’s national French all-news channel, and RDS, the national French all-sports channel, but not on their anglophone equivalents, CBC News Network and TSN?

      Reply
      1. ATSC

        Yes but… by having the french channels place the parade on their speciality channels, they actually deprive local francophone viewers without cable from actually watching the parade. TVA places it on LCN so that they can collect access fees and push their subscriptions to Videotron. They also own Videotron. SRC places it on RDI which they own, and thus get a access fees thru Cable. And CTVglobemedia also gets a access fee thru RDS which is also on cable. You look at the national access, but the core Montreal Als fans are actually in the Metro Montreal area.

        CFCF-TV 12 broadcast signal is very strong. It covers a large area of southern Quebec. And even reaches into the US, and eastern tip of Ontario. CKMI-TV 46 signal is not very strong, but still offers a secondary option to Montreal viewers. It does though have re-transmitters in Sherbrooke and Quebec City, thus even the viewers in those markets got to see the parade in English for free over the air.

        Your article is focused on a non-issue. Your article should be, why are the over-the air francophone TV stations in Montreal (CBFT-TV 2, CFTM-TV 10, CFJP-TV 35) forcing francophones to get cable in order to view local events in their own city.

        Whatever CFCF-TV 12 and CKMI-TV 46 did should be considered a responsible act towards making local broadcast TV better for all viewers in the Montreal area market.

        Focusing on TSN, CBC News Network, and any other National English speciality channel for not carrying the parade on their channels helps to deflect attention to the real issue.

        And while you’re thinking about that, perhaps you can do a follow up story as to why the digital transmitters on Mount-Royal have not been turned on yet. This past August the CBC/SRC where installing new digital transmitters so that their DTV signals could be turned on. It’s now December, and still no signal from the site. Is this another attempt to frustrate viewers who rely on over-the-air TV?

        Reply
      2. Jon

        There just aren’t ENOUGH Als fans outside of Montreal to justify a national broadcast. If they feel they can draw enough people to sell ad-time to sponsors, then they’ll broadcast it.

        If I was responsible for programming, there’s no way in hell I would force people in BC, Alberta, etc. to have to watch some other team parade the trophy down the streets of a city that most in those provinces don’t even care about.

        Sort of like saying “Why doesn’t Mahogany Rush tour Canada, vs. just playing in Montreal?”

        Reply
  6. AlexH

    You are seenig a few different issues, and I think mixing them up a bit.

    The french side is pretty easy to figure out. LCN and RDI as the “information” sides of TVA and RC. They have no reason to interrupt their high level broadcast channels to cover a long parade, no matter how important. After all, they are offering coverage on their sister stations. RDS is the “sports” channel, they were obliged, I guess – that and I have to think that they probably took advantage of certain camera assets being used by CFCF as well.

    On the english side, you have different issues. CTV and Global cover it because they have no alternative english media here. There is no “RDS in english for Quebec only” for CFCF, and Global is, well, Global. They didn’t have anywhere else to go, so they are on broadcast locally. CBC has no excuse for their absence, except perhaps that they are still feeling hurt for losing the Grey Cup all those years ago. That and they can’t afford it.

    For the rest of the english media, you have the proximity issue. If it had been a Grey Cup parade in Toronto, it would have been covered by TSN and probably Sportsnet as well, plus CP24, City, CFTO, etc. But that is mostly because they have the equipment, the staff, and most importantly, it is happening where the head office is located. It is one of the issues that has always existed, Toronto isn’t just a local market for most of the networks in Canada, it is also their doorstep.

    The Alouettes got about the same coverage nationally that the Riders would have gotten. It isn’t a French / English thing, it is much more to do with the monopolistic nature of broadcast media in Canada, and it’s centrist Toronto oriented nature. That isn’t about language, it’s just about where they are.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The Alouettes got about the same coverage nationally that the Riders would have gotten.

      Not on RDI.

      I agree with the point about proximity. And that’s the problem. These are national networks, but they make decisions based on geographic convenience.

      Reply
  7. JMcD

    When something is ‘national’ news on the French side of things, it doesn’t necessarily mean pan-Canadian news. In the real world, we all know that. RDI is for French-speaking Canadians, almost all of whom are either in Quebec, or snuggled up to its borders in limitrophic communities. When a team other than the Allouettes wins the Cup, French-speakers in this country, for the most part, s’en câlissent. And that’s just the way it is.

    Reply

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