Monthly Archives: September 2011

CBC open house this weekend

As part of its 75th anniversary, and on the weekend of Culture Days/Journées de la culture, CBC and Radio-Canada stations across the country are opening their doors to the public and showing them around.

Among locations in Quebec are:

Pretty well everywhere that creates programming.

Specific crowd-pleasers are planned in various large cities, though on the English side it’s mostly in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

At Maison Radio-Canada, where understandably most of the interesting stuff will be in French, there’s still plenty of interest for anglos. Besides the tours and personalities, a Hockey Night in Canada display is promised, as well as opportunities for kids who are fans of CBC Television’s children’s programming.

The Montreal building on René-Lévesque Blvd. will offer guided tours, one a short one of about an hour and another a longer one of an hour and 45 minutes. The CBC Montreal and Radio Canada International portions are included only in the longer tour. (See a full list of attractions in this PDF flyer)

Doors are open from 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. On-air TV stars like Debra Arbec, Andrew Chang and Amanda Margison have said they’ll be around for about lunch time on Saturday.

You might recall that CTV Montreal held open houses in 2009 and 2010. In both cases the studio considered the events a huge success, and though there is definitely a desire to repeat the process in the future, there aren’t any specific plans yet for another one.

Mike Le Couteur is going to Ottawa

Mike Le Couteur, Global's new Ottawa correspondent (Global News file photo)

They may have an inferior hockey team, but there’s something about Ottawa that is seducing our anglo TV journalists. CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian a year and a half ago and CBC’s Amanda Pfeffer earlier this month have both headed west for new jobs with their networks in the nation’s capital.

In hindsight, the trifecta was inevitable. Global National announced via Twitter on Friday night that Mike Le Couteur will become its new Ottawa correspondent. Le Couteur effectively replaces Peter Harris, who left in August to become executive producer of Power and Politics at CBC.

“There’s not too much behind the move except for the cookie-cutter response of I wanted a new challenge,” Le Couteur wrote to me in an email, displaying the matter-of-fact honesty he’s been known for. “I’ve been at Global Montreal for about 13 years (almost the start of the station).”

“Every reporter’s goal is to do the big stories and work on the national scene. So when Peter Harris left about a month ago, I saw it as a great chance to move up but not move too far from home. I had spent seven weeks in Ottawa replacing Harris in 2010, so I have a good idea of the challenge which awaits me, and I’m really excited!”

Le Couteur doesn’t have a start date yet. He’s still in Montreal, doing stories based on opinion polls as part of Global’s “Canada’s Pulse” series. He’ll also be filling in for Montreal-based national reporter Mike Armstrong over Thanksgiving.

“So I figure that I’ll be heading down (or up, I never really know) the 417 in about 3 weeks or so,” Le Couteur says.

I asked him if I could relay a message to his viewers (insert joke here about Global Montreal’s ratings). His response was this:

“If there’s one thing I’d love for you to tell our viewers (across the province), it would be thank you. It’s extremely cliché to thank people for allowing me into their homes as the 11pm anchor and reporter, but it really has been an honour.  And you can bet I’ll be bringing my Habs jersey with me to bug all those Senators fans!”

You can follow Mike Le Couteur on Twitter at @MikeLeCouteur

Behind the scenes at CTV Montreal

Last week, I scored an invitation to be inside CTV Montreal as the station inaugurated a new set they had spent about a year preparing for and months constructing. I spent a day there and watched the noon and 6pm newscasts from the control room, and the time in between getting an idea what goes on between the newscasts.

Above is a video that shows the beginning, middle and end of the first newscast in the new studio as seen from the control room. (I’ve included a graphic to show when what you see is live and when it’s pretaped).

Below is a timeline with photos of my day there. Thanks to CTV Montreal for letting me hang around.

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Specialty channel war is screwing customers

UPDATE (Nov. 23): We have a truce! RDS2 has come to Videotron, while TVA’s channels including TVA Sports and Sun News are coming to Bell TV.

This fall, two new all-sports networks are being launched. One, RDS2, is owned by Bell Media. The other, TVA Sports, is owned by Quebecor’s Groupe TVA.

Personally, I think this is good news. Competition for viewers will do good things, like bring Montreal Impact games to the TV screen. And the CRTC has determined that sports channels – currently the most profitable format – are healthy enough that they shouldn’t be restricted from competition. (Not healthy enough for Radio-Canada and Rogers to jump in the fray, but still healthy).

But you can’t get TVA Sports if you’re a subscriber to Bell TV. And it’s not clear if you’ll be able to get RDS2 if you subscribe to Videotron (it has deals with only Bell and Shaw so far). That may change (RDS2 is most likely doomed to failure if it can’t get Videotron carriage), but even if it’s just a delay, this is yet another example of two companies whose affiliated television distribution services are giving undue preference to their affiliated specialty channels.

Another example in the sports sphere is TSN Habs, a part-time regional offshoot of the TSN channel that has regional English-language broadcast rights to some Canadiens games. It’s available on Bell TV, but not on Videotron, despite Videotron’s huge subscriber base in Quebec, where I understand the Canadiens are popular – even among anglophones.

Sports isn’t the only type of channel where this problem exists. In the past few years, broadcasters have applied for and received dozens of licenses for unregulated specialty channels – the so-called “Category 2” channels that aren’t protected from competition and have low requirements for Canadian and original content. In exchange for some liberties in programming, the channels have no guaranteed carriage, so cable and satellite companies can choose whether or not to include them in their lineups, and the broadcasters can choose to charge whatever they would like.

Quebecor has been particularly active in this field, launching a bunch of new channels (including TVA Sports), many of them in high definition. In all cases, those channels are immediately carried on Quebecor-owned Videotron’s cable system, but few of them are on Bell TV.

To give you an idea of what’s going on here, I’ve compiled a table below of specialty channels owned by the big cable and satellite companies (Cogeco is included for reference, but doesn’t own any specialty channels). I’ve limited the list to those channels that are either Category 2 (unregulated, with no guaranteed carriage) or that have high-definition feeds available.

I’ve marked in bold where a service is offered by the affiliated distributor that is not offered by at least two of its competitors, suggesting undue preference. I’ve marked in red where the opposite is true, where a service is not offered by the affiliated company but is offered by at least one competitor.

Channel Owner Bell TV Videotron Shaw Direct Cogeco Rogers Cable
Discovery Bell Media (64%) SD/HD SD* SD SD SD*
Space Bell Media SD/HD SD SD SD SD
MuchMusic Bell Media SD/HD SD SD SD SD/HD
MuchMoreRetro Bell Media X SD X SD(O) SD
MuchLOUD Bell Media X SD X SD(O) SD
Much Vibe Bell Media SD SD X SD(O) SD
PunchMuch Bell Media SD SD X SD(O) SD
Comedy Gold Bell Media SD SD X SD(O) SD
Investigation Discovery Bell Media SD SD X SD(O) SD
Discovery World Bell Media (64%) HD HD HD HD HD
ESPN Classic Bell Media (80%) SD SD SD SD SD
NHL Network Bell Media (17%) SD SD SD SD SD
TSN2 Bell Media (80%) SD/HD SD/HD SD/HD SD/HD SD/HD
TSN Habs Bell Media (80%) SD/HD X SD/HD X X
LCN Groupe TVA SD SD/HD SD SD/HD(Q) SD
CASA Groupe TVA SD SD SD SD(Q) SD
Prise 2 Groupe TVA SD SD SD SD(Q) SD
Mlle Groupe TVA Dec. 15 SD/HD SD SD/HD(Q) X
TVA Sports Groupe TVA Dec. 15 SD/HD SD/HD X X
Sun News Groupe TVA Dec. 15** SD/HD SD SD/HD(O)** SD**
Yoopa Groupe TVA Dec. 15 SD/HD SD SD/HD(Q) X
Showcase Shaw Media SD/HD SD SD/HD SD/HD(O) SD/HD
Showcase Diva Shaw Media SD SD SD SD SD
Action Shaw Media SD SD SD SD SD
BBC Canada Shaw Media (80%) SD SD SD SD SD
DejaView Shaw Media SD SD SD SD SD
DIY Network Shaw Media (80%) SD SD SD SD(O) SD
Dusk Shaw Media SD SD SD SD SD
Fox Sports World Canada Shaw Media (58%) X SD SD SD SD
Global Reality Shaw Media X X X X SD
Food Network Shaw Media SD/HD SD SD SD SD
History Television Shaw Media SD/HD SD SD/HD SD/HD(O) SD/HD
HGTV Canada Shaw Media SD/HD SD SD/HD SD SD
Movietime Shaw Media SD SD SD SD/HD(O) SD/HD
Rogers Sportsnet One Rogers SD/HD X SD/HD SD(O)/HD(O) SD/HD
Sportsnet Sens/Flames/
Oilers/Vancouver Hockey
Rogers SD/HD X X SD(O) SD/HD
OLN Rogers SD SD SD SD SD/HD
Setanta Sports Rogers SD/HD SD SD/HD SD(O) SD/HD

(Q)/(O): Denotes channels that Cogeco carries in Quebec or Ontario only.

*Discovery World HD, a separately licensed channel, is available on Videotron.

**The situation with Sun News is complicated by the fact that a conventional TV station was broadcasting its content. Rogers, Cogeco and Bell carried the conventional signal, but Sun News asked Bell to pull the channel or start paying for it.

You can see in the chart 12 instances among the 37 channels where there is evidence of undue preference. This does not necessarily prove such a thing – there could be all sorts of reasons to choose whether or not to carry a channel – but it’s annoying nonetheless for customers who want a certain channel and can’t get it for no apparent reason other than it’s owned by the wrong cable company.

You’ll also see four (UPDATE: five) instances where a service isn’t offered by the affiliated company. It’s worth noting that all of those services predate their ownership by the affiliated cable/satellite company.

The CRTC actually has a rule against this sort of thing. It’s called “undue preference”, and it is supposed to prevent just this sort of thing. The problem is that it’s hard to prove. Negotiations between broadcasters and distributors are secret, and we don’t know how much each distributor is paying for each channel.

Still, this may come to a head soon. Sun News has filed a complaint with the CRTC alleging undue preference on the part of Bell when it pulled the station’s signal and refused to pay for it.

Hopefully the CRTC will take a close look at this issue and do something about it before the flood of new channels makes the problem – and viewers’ frustrations – even worse.

Quebecor begins hypocritical outrage campaign

UPDATE (Sept. 20): QMI Agency has published a joke of a news article by Raphaël Gendron-Martin. It quotes only TVA’s Pierre Dion bashing Bell and Cogeco for not carrying TVA Sports, and makes no apparent attempt to contact Cogeco or Bell for comment. The hit piece appears in the Journal de Montréal (on the front page), 24 Heures, TVA Nouvelles and Argent (twice). Dion also appeared on LCN and TVA’s Salut Bonjour, where again no apparent attempt was made to contact Cogeco or Bell for comment, no mention was made of RDS2 or TSN’s Habs channel not being on Videotron, and Dion went unchallenged on anything he said. (In the case of Salut Bonjour, it’s clear host Gino Chouinard is being fed his questions and even refers to Dion as “boss” at the end.)

Despite what I am unfortunately forced to conclude (to use Dion’s logic) was an organized misinformation campaign from Quebecor that abused its media power, Cogeco did respond by way of an open letter (PDF) that was also published on Facebook. Cogeco said it was interested in carrying TVA Sports and even made an offer that TVA refused.

No (public) word yet from Bell.

I sent an email to Gendron-Martin asking him about his article. He responded by pointing to full-page piece in Tuesday’s paper by Danny Joncas, which quotes representatives of Bell and Cogeco. Gendron-Martin did not respond to questions about why he didn’t contact Bell or Cogeco before writing his piece, nor why he didn’t mention Videotron not carrying RDS2, nor whether he was ordered by his employer to write this article in this way.

Joncas’s reaction piece was not posted online, either by the Journal or by any other QMI website. The original article from Gendron-Martin still appears on those websites unaltered, with no indication that there has since been a response.

Joncas’s piece quotes both Bell and Cogeco saying these negotiations should be conducted privately instead of in the media, and that both are negotiating with TVA. It also says TVA rejected Cogeco’s offer because it wanted better placement in Cogeco’s specialty channel packages.

UPDATE (Sept. 23): The CRTC has released new rules concerning this issue (press release, decision, Globe and Mail story). It offers some specific rules (no mobile/Internet exclusivity deals for TV programs), but also includes a lot of rules barring things that are “unreasonable” or “excessive”, which leaves a lot of room for disagreement over what qualifies as unreasonable.

It also pushes off a lot of decisions until later, including whether cable and satellite companies should be required to offer à la carte subscriptions (though they seem to be moving in that direction).

Whether those new rules will change how these big telecom companies deal with each other is to be seen.

Highlights from the CRTC’s 2011 Communications Monitoring Report

A few weeks back, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission released its regular Communications Monitoring Report. It’s a long list of tables and charts and graphs created from data it gathers about the industries it regulates (broadcasting and telecommunications), compiled from surveys, studies and information reported from the companies themselves.

You can read the report here (PDF), but it’s about 200 pages. I went through it looking for tidbits of interesting information, and here are some highlights that caused me to raise an eyebrow or two, presented Harper’s Index style.

Radio

  • Number of new AM stations approved by the CRTC in 2008, 2009 and 2010: 1
    • Number of existing AM stations approved for conversion to FM by the CRTC in those same years: 19
  • Satellite radio listening hours per week for anglophones and francophones in 2007: 11
    • Listening hours in 2010: Anglophones 8.4, francophones 5.6
  • Rank of Canada among eight developed countries (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia) for radio revenue per capita: 8
    • Rank of Canada for radio listening minutes per day per person: 7

Television

  • Percentage of French-language television viewers who watch Canadian-made television shows: 99%
  • Profit margin for conventional television in 2010: 1%
  • Profit margin for specialty and pay television in 2010: 25%
  • Spending on sports programming by private conventional television in 2010 (includes Vancouver Olympics): $141 million.
    • Spending in the previous four years combined: $29 million
    • Increase in 2010: 3,608%
  • Percentage drop in spending on non-Canadian programming by private conventional television in 2010: 8.2%
    • Spending on non-Canadian programming as a fraction of revenues in 2009: 42.9%
    • In 2010: 36.19%
  • Percentage of Canadian households using antennas to receive television signals in 2007: 8%
    • In 2010: 8%
    • Proportion of households worldwide receiving analog over-the-air signals: 38%
    • Proportion worldwide, when including digital: 46%
    • Proportion worldwide receiving over-the-air signals in 2005: 59%
  • Rank of Canada among eight developed countries (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia) for subscription TV revenue per user: 8
    • Rank of Canada for TV viewing minutes per day per person: 4
    • Rank of Canada in proportion of households who pay for TV service: 1
  • Price the average household pays for television service, compared to 2002 (not including bundle discounts): 143%
    • Price of Internet service: 96%
    • Consumer price index over the same period: 117%

Internet

  • Average weekly hours spent online by anglophone Internet users: 17.1
    • Average by francophone Internet users: 12.7
  • Number of anglophones who have listened to a podcast in the past month: 17%
    • Number of francophones: 7%
  • Average download per month of a Canadian residential Internet customer, in 2010: 14.8 GB.
    • Average in 2009: 12.0 GB
  • Revenues from dial-up, nationwide, in 2010: $96 million. Growth in revenues from dial-up from 2009 to 2010: -31.7%
  • Rank of Canada among eight developed countries (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia) for mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 7
    • Rank for fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2
    • Rank of Canada among the same eight countries for average fixed broadband speeds in 2010: 2
    • Rank for average mobile broadband speed in 2010: 3
    • Rank for average revenue per mobile user in 2010: 1 (tied with Japan)

Wired telephony

  • Change in telecom revenues from wireline long distance charges and calling cards between 2009 and 2010: -11%
  • Change in telecom revenues from wireline long distance charges to businesses, between 2007 and 2010: -30%
  • Change in number of residential phone lines using alternative providers (excluding cable companies), from 2007 to 2010: 200%
    • Change for cable companies between 2006 and 2010: 248%
  • Percentage of residential phone lines using incumbent providers (Bell, Telus, Rogers, etc.) in 2006: 80%
    • Percentage in 2010: 65%
  • Rank of Quebec among Canada’s 10 provinces for lowest use of major incumbent telephone providers in 2010: 1

Wireless

  • Amount of telecom revenues from wireless in 2002: 23%
    • Amount in 2010: 43%
  • Percentage of Canadian households with only wireless telephone service in 2009: 10
  • Best region in terms of market share for wireless providers:
    • Bell (and related companies): The territories (90%)
    • Rogers: Ontario (47%)
    • Telus: Alberta (50%)
    • Other: Manitoba (MTS Allstream): (78%)
    • New entrants: Quebec (Videotron) (3%)
  • Increase in total number of text messages sent in 2010 vs. 2009: 50%
  • Estimated savings from switching to a new entrant in the wireless business (in this case, Wind Mobile, Primus or Mobilicity) for high-volume users (1,200 minutes, 1GB data) in Toronto and Vancouver: 49%
    • Estimated savings from switching to a new entrant (in this case, Videotron) for high users in Montreal: 0%
  • Savings for mobile data use in general for new entrants in Toronto and Vancouver: 24%
    • Savings in Montreal: 34%
  • Rank of Canada among six studied countries (U.S., U.K., France, Australia, Japan) for average price of mobile data plans, most expensive first: 3rd
  • Rank of Canada among eight developed countries (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia) in mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 8
  • Mobile advertising revenue in 2008: $12 million
    • Revenue in 2009: $32 million
  • Pager subscribers in 2010: 187,500
    • In 2006: 504,600

Multiple services

  • Percentage of subscribers to telecom services with two or more services bundled, in 2006: 15
    • In 2010: 48

CKAC Circulation 730: First impressions

Les Justiciers masqués predicted how all-traffic radio would work. Are they that far off?

I should start this off by pointing out that I don’t drive. Never have, and don’t have any plans to soon. I take public transit to get where I want to go most of the time. So for the most part an all-traffic radio station is useless to me. And I can’t offer my thoughts on whether or not it’s useful to a driver. I’d like to hear thoughts from other drivers, though, about whether and how they would make use of an all-traffic station like CKAC 730.

Though it had been rumoured for days, the formal decision came down last Friday that CKAC Sports would become Radio Circulation. It went all-music over the weekend, with only this announcement from VP Richard Lachance (MP3) explaining why sports talk had been replaced by Céline Dion et al.

The station went live at 4:30am on Tuesday morning, the day after Labour Day. It cut off Ginette Reno’s Fais moi la tendresse in mid-song as the clock hit 4:30 exactly, as you can hear in this excerpt of the first four minutes of Radio Circulation 730 (MP3).

From there, it took on its all-traffic format. It might be a bit harsh to judge it so quickly, considering the speed at which it was setup (announcers were hired less than a month before launch). Cogeco’s application for a CRTC license for an all-traffic station came out in May, and might have gotten one in time if it wasn’t for competitors arguing that there should be an open call for applications for the former frequencies of CINF Info 690 and CINW 940 News.

The CRTC set an Oct. 17 hearing date for those applications, but Cogeco decided it couldn’t wait that long (mainly because the government money tap would only open when an all-traffic station was on the air). So CKAC Sports, Cogeco’s only AM station (and the only francophone AM station, for that matter) was sacrificed to get Radio Circulation on the air.

Cogeco is going on with its 940 application for an English all-traffic station, but will have to fight with Tietolman-Tétrault for that channel. Three applications are still pending for 690, including a frequency change for CKGM (The Team) 990, which wants to move to a clear channel and improve its coverage.

Traffic every five minutes

I’ve listened to the new station on and off since it launched. It seems to run on a schedule that gives the traffic report every five minutes. In one five-minute block, it’s a four-minute traffic report followed by a minute of advertising. In another, it’s a two-minute traffic report focusing on the “points chauds” and two minutes of weather, followed by ads.

As a point of comparison, a commercial music or news-talk station will give traffic reports that last about 30 seconds, or 45 if you include all the sponsor info. And all those traffic reports tend to sound the same – rushed, fast-talking, and with its own special vocabulary designed to refer to locations as quickly as possible (“the two 15s” for example, referring to that area where Highway 15 and Highway 40 intersect and become the same road for a short stretch, or “the whiskey trench”, that area of Highway 138 in LaSalle formerly known for the overpowering smell of the adjacent brewery distillery).

In contrast, Radio Circulation is slow. There’s a lot of umms and ahhs. Sometimes it feels less like back-to-back traffic reports and more like a talk show whose subject is traffic. But it’s also comprehensive. It will talk about traffic on Taschereau Blvd. on the South Shore. It’ll talk about traffic on city streets. It doesn’t have to limit itself to five or six things in its traffic report.

During the evenings, when traffic is just about non-existent, the subject material switches. Instead of traffic jams, the announcers talk about road closures for overnight construction work. (I’m not quite sure what they’ll talk about overnight during the winter – snow clearing schedules?) Between 1am and 4:30am, the station runs recorded information about overnight construction and safety messages.

There were promises made about information on public transit service, but I have yet to hear any of those things while tuning in.

Some comparisons

I suppose the best thing to compare this station to would be the Weather Network, which has a simple function and doesn’t expect its viewers to tune in for more than a few minutes at a time (obsessive masturbating teenagers notwithstanding). They also operate on a schedule that minimizes the wait between the critical information (local forecast), while allowing some time to do something else, like talk about weather-related issues.

Of course, being television, the Weather Network can have nearly constant on-screen graphics showing the local short-term forecast while the rest of the screen discusses something else. There isn’t an easy way to do this in radio.

I also spent a bit of time listening to CHMJ AM730, Vancouver’s all-traffic station (coincidentally on the same frequency). The biggest difference between the two is that Vancouver’s station is privately-owned and has to actually earn its revenue.

The stations sounded about the same – a similar five-minute schedule for traffic, though Vancouver’s announcers were clearly a bit more comfortable, having been at their jobs for more than two days. The similarity shouldn’t be surprising – Cogeco mentions it specifically as a model to follow in its CRTC application.

One thing I noticed is that Vancouver’s station splits its traffic reports for bridges from the main traffic reports. This makes sense because bridges are less vital to Vancouver’s traffic scene than to Montreal’s. Vancouver’s station also offers reports on wait times for ferries (which doesn’t really apply here) and waits at the U.S. border (which might be useful here, but probably less so than in Vancouver).

And then there’s the fact that CHMJ provides information on police radar traps. That raised a question for me: Is a radio station that gets $1.5 million a year from the transport ministry in a position to do the same? The agreement between Cogeco and the MTQ obviously doesn’t require the station to provide radar warnings to drivers, but it doesn’t forbid it either. And while it’s true that the police forces don’t work for the transport ministry, it might be a bit embarrassing if the provincial government was funding an operation that undermined the provincial police force.

To me, this underlines once again why having a government-funded all-traffic radio station is a bad idea.

Nevertheless, it’s here, and if Cogeco is successful with the CRTC, we’ll get an English one within a couple of months. Radio Circulation’s website is running. Right now it’s just a live stream of the station audio and a Google map with Google’s traffic info overlay.

And just because I think the government funding is a bad idea doesn’t mean I don’t think we should have an all-traffic station in Montreal. We have enough free space on the AM band that if someone wanted to start a private station up that provides a useful service, there’s no reason we shouldn’t let them.

But I’m not sure if drivers will use it, either. So I put the question out to you drivers: Would you switch to an all-traffic radio station, which has a comprehensive traffic report every five minutes, or just listen to your favourite music/talk station and get the major traffic points every 10 minutes?

Is there a market for all-traffic radio in Montreal? And if so, does CKAC do a good job of capturing it?

The Beat is on – but is 92.5FM* any different?

New logo for CFQR "The Beat"

Commercial radio stations spend all sorts of money on focus groups, surveys, branding specialists, PR firms, promotions and consultants to find ways to connect with audiences, target demographics and maximize their ratings (and, hence, advertising revenue).

But as CFQR* general manager Mark Dickie tells it, The Beat owes much of its new brand’s success to random thoughts from Program Director Leo Da Estrela.

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Inside CFCF’s new Studio 12

The new anchor desk in Studio 12

After a year of planning and months of construction, CFCF’s newscasts officially moved into their new Studio 12 home today. The noon newscast was the first to inaugurate the studio. CTV Montreal has been doing its newscasts from a temporary set in their newsroom since early July.

The new studio was designed from scratch, is larger (or at least it feels that way) and has plenty of new features. The most striking change besides the design is the fact that it has windows. This studio was designed as a storefront, allowing cameras to see out and potential viewers to see in. (Management there isn’t sure how this will work out – they don’t expect any Today Show-style sign carrying, but you never know.)

The studio is also “HD-ready”, which means cabling is HD-compatible and great attention has been made to detail that wouldn’t have mattered in standard-definition days. But the word is that getting high-definition cameras and editing equipment is still a year or two away.

I got a chance last week to tour the new studio as final preparations were being made to launch it, under the condition that I wait until now to show you photos.

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STM to renumber bus routes in January

The STM’s fall bus schedule starts next Monday (Labour Day). The Planibus schedules are on its website, as are various press releases touting improvements to service.

But the biggest change to come out of this won’t take effect on Sept. 6. Instead, the STM is giving advance notice that 26 of its routes will be changing numbers in January, when the winter schedule takes effect.

The change, according to an internal publication that was posted to the metrodemontreal.com forum, is to make things easier for users to understand, by having the number indicate the type of bus route. Express and reserved-lane buses will be numbered 4XX, where XX matches the last two digits of the associated all-day route on the same axis. The 221, for example, is being renumbered 411, so people will see it as the express version of the 211. The 182, an express bus to Pointe aux Trembles, becomes the 486, or the express version of the 186.

The changes will also carve out a spot for seniors’ shuttles, which have awkwardly been given numbers mixed in with West Island routes. (The 261 is a West Island route, but the 260 and 262 are both seniors’ shuttles.)

Roughly speaking, here’s how the numbering system works now:

  • 1-9: Reserved for metro lines
  • 10-199: Regular bus routes
  • 200-299: West Island bus routes (and seniors’ shuttles)
  • 300-349: Unused
  • 350-399: Night bus routes
  • 400-499: Express (limited-stop) routes
  • 500-599: Reserved-lane routes (545 is used for special shuttles)
  • 600-699: Unused
  • 700-799: Special routes (so far only 747 is used, for the airport shuttle)
  • 800-899: Unused
  • 900-999: Unused

In January, the system will be reworked so it becomes more like this:

  • 1-9: Reserved for metro lines
  • 10-199: Regular bus routes
  • 200-249: West Island bus routes
  • 250-299: Seniors’ shuttles
  • 300-349: Unused
  • 350-399: Night bus routes
  • 400-499: Express, Metrobus, Trainbus and reserved-lane service
  • 500-599: Unused
  • 600-699: Unused
  • 700-799: Special routes (particularly those marketed to tourists)
  • 800-899: Unused
  • 900-999: Unused

Bus routes being reassigned into the 400 range:

Current route New number Matching route*
77 Cégep Marie-Victorin 444 44 Armand Bombardier
120 Lachine/LaSalle 495 195 Sherbrooke/Notre-Dame
143 Métrobus Charleroi 440 140 Fleury
148 Métrobus Maurice-Duplessis 448 48 Perras
159 Métrobus Henri-Bourassa 469 69 Gouin
173 Métrobus Victoria 496 196 Parc Industriel Lachine
182 Métrobus Sherbrooke 486 186 Sherbrooke Est
184 Métrobus Bout-de-l’Île 487 187 René-Lévesque
190 Métrobus Lachine 491 191 Broadway/Provost
194 Métrobus Rivière-des-Prairies 449 ???
199 Métrobus Lacordaire 432 32 Lacordaire
210 John Abbott 419 219 Chemin Sainte-Marie
214 Des Sources 409 209 Des Sources
221 Métrobus Lionel-Groulx 411 211 Bord-du-Lac
261 Trainbus Saint-Charles 401 201 Saint-Jean/Saint-Charles
265 Trainbus Île Bizard 407 207 Jacques-Bizard
268 Trainbus Pierrefonds 468 68 Pierrefonds
505 R-Bus Pie-IX 439 139 Pie-IX
506 R-Bus Newman 406 106 Newman
535 R-Bus Du Parc/Côte des Neiges 435 None

* Some of these are best guesses. There is no official list.

There are a few other changes as well. Three buses are being added to the 7xx range:

  • 167 Casino becomes 777 Casino (get it? Triple-sevens?) (No word on its alternate routes toward the Casino and beach)
  • 169 Île Ronde becomes 767 La Ronde (supposedly in reference to Expo 67)
  • 515 Vieux-Port/Vieux-Montréal becomes 715

As well, some routes are changing numbers so they fit in better with this scheme:

  • 132 Viau becomes 136 Viau, so there can be an express bus at 436 (the 432 is being used for the Lacordaire express, matching 32). a rapid bus transit system is being conceived along Viau.
  • 251 Sainte-Anne becomes 212 Sainte-Anne so the 250+ block can be reserved for seniors’ shuttles. The 251 is a special minibus that carries regular passengers through the narrow streets of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. The number it takes used to belong to the 212 Lakeshore, which was a rush-hour double of the 211 that took Lakeshore Rd. all the way to Dorval Ave.
  • 480 Pointe-Nord/Île des Soeurs becomes 178, presumably because they will no longer consider this route an express bus

As the 132 case shows, this new system of numbering has a simple flaw: There are more than 100 regular bus routes, which means there isn’t enough space in the 4xx range to accommodate them all. We’re adding 20 to the eight existing routes, which means a quarter of the numbers are already taken.

Plus, a lot of these 400-series express routes aren’t exact matches to the regular ones, which could confuse users. And then there’s the cost of replacing hundreds of bus stop signs.

Still, it’s not necessarily such a bad idea. It makes it easier to see at a glance whether a bus is a local or express bus, and giving reserved-lane buses their own category makes less sense now that we’re adding reserved bus lanes all over the island.

But some of these numbers have historical significance. The 210 has a special place in John Abbott lore. The 167 and 169 are no doubt on a lot of tourist information, and the 132, 182 and 184 have existed for many years.

But I guess people will just get used to it.

More evening service on three routes beginning Sept. 5/6

There are some changes, though most are minor, that are taking effect now. They are:

  • 77 Cégep Marie-Victorin gets 5 new departures northbound and 5 new departures southbound added to the end of its day, extending its service from 3pm to 7pm northbound and from 6:15pm to 9:45pm southbound. This represents an increase of 1,000 hours a year to this route, according to an STM press release. The route remains a school-day-only route.
  • 173 Métrobus Victoria gets evening service, now going to 10pm instead of 7pm in each direction. Nine new departures eastbound, with service about every 20 minutes during that span. Westbound, service during rush hour drops to every 15-20 minutes from every 10-15, so the total number of departures actually only goes up by one. Still, the STM says these changes will add 2,800 hours of service a year.
  • 194 Métrobus Rivière des Prairies gets evening service, running until 10pm weekdays instead of 7pm, in both directions. Six new departures in each direction will add 4,000 hours of service a year to the line, the STM says. It remains Monday-to-Friday only.

West Island routes to synchronize with trains

The STM has announced additional departures for West Island buses serving the Roxboro-Pierrefonds and Sunnybrooke train stations, so they are better synchronized with trains to and from Montreal during rush hour. As far as I can tell, these are not reflected in the posted schedules for these buses. Changes that are marked are noted below:

  • 205 Gouin gets two new departures eastbound – one in the morning and one in the early afternoon – so wait times are reduced. It gets a single new departure westbound at exactly 6pm (other departures remain unchanged), five minutes after the 5:25pm train from Central Station arrives. The STM says departures are being synchronized with the train, but if that’s the case it hasn’t been reflected in the fall schedule yet.
  • 206 Roger-Pilon gets three new departures eastbound in the morning rush-hour, and the times synchronize well with the Deux Montagnes train inbound, with buses arriving 5-10 minutes before the scheduled departure. Those taking this bus for the 9:12am departure are screwed though, as it comes in the middle of a bizarre 48-minute gap in service (otherwise it’s about every 20 minutes). Those people will have to take a bus that leaves Fairview at 8:04am (16 minutes earlier than the one they’d currently take) and wait about 45 minutes at the station.
  • 208 Brunswick gets two new departures westbound in the afternoon rush-hour and three new departures eastbound in the morning rush-hour. They don’t appear to be properly synchronized with train departures and arrivals.
  • 209 Des Sources gets three new departures southbound before 8:30am, dramatically reducing time between departures in the morning rush from about 30 minutes to about 15. Northbound schedule is identical. The route remains Mondays to Fridays only.

Major changes to seniors’ shuttles

Route changes, more stops and additional departures are some of the changes for seniors’ shuttles, which are minibuses that take zigzag routes to serve residences, shopping centres and other points of interest a senior might choose to go to.

  • 252 Navette Or Montréal-Nord will serve Place Bourassa and the local Wal-Mart with stops in their parking lots, reducing the distance seniors will have to walk. Otherwise the route is unchanged. (Press release)
  • 254 Navette Or Rosemont gets a major route change, so much so that it’s barely recognizable. Now instead of a circular route with service in one direction, it’s a linear route with two. Gone is service to the Viau metro station, the borough office on Iberville and the mall (and other stops) on Jean-Talon. Added are the CLSC Rosemont, Loblaws and Angus Square on Rachel St., and the Galeries d’Anjou. The number of departures also goes down, from 10 departures in one direction to eight departures in two (four in each direction). Departures are now two hours apart instead of about 45 minutes, though it will mean less of having to go round in an hour-long circle to get from Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital to Beaubien and Lacordaire. (Press release)
  • 256 Navette Or LaSalle has its route made a bit more complex, adding stops. It will also see an additional departure – westbound at 3:30pm – and the schedule changes a bit. (Press release)
  • 257 Navette Or Rivière des Prairies sees a route change, adding stops along Maurice Duplessis, and cutting the detour that takes it to the CLSC. It adds one departure eastbound at 3:35pm, making four in each direction. The departures are also a bit less predictable, no longer exactly two hours apart and leaving each terminus on the hour. (Note someone screwed up the Planibus, marking eastbound as westbound and vice-versa, and referring to its terminuses as Angrignon Blvd. and Jean-Milot St., which are the end points of the 256) (Press release)

Also of note

The Villa-Maria metro station reopens Tuesday.

Government pays for Cogeco to shut down CKAC Sports

Following two days of rumours (thanks mainly to Pierre Trudel), Cogeco this morning confirmed that it is switching formats for CKAC 730AM, Montreal’s only major commercial French-language AM station. It will go from being an all-sports station to an all-traffic station effective Tuesday morning. After the announcement, Cogeco immediately pulled the plug on sports broadcasting, and is running music until then, interrupted every half hour by a three-minute announcement by Cogeco VP Richard Lachance.

Listen to the announcement running on CKAC during the weekend (MP3)

Live sports broadcasts will be carried on Cogeco’s news-talk 98.5FM, and some (but not all) personalities will move there as well. Lachance tells LCN that seven employees will be affected, four of whom will find new functions at 98.5. Michel Villeneuve and Ron Fournier, notably, will have shows on 98.5, in the evening (when the station currently rebroadcasts shows from earlier in the day).

In a bitter and ridiculous press release, Cogeco mainly blamed its competitors, who opposed a fast-track process for Cogeco’s all-traffic licenses to be approved by the CRTC. It complained that nobody was interested in the vacant 690 and 940 frequencies formerly held by Corus’s all-news stations and purchased by Cogeco when it bought Corus Quebec, without addressing the claims by competitors like Bell Media that Cogeco was unwilling to negotiate selling the former stations’ transmission towers and other facilities.

But mostly it stresses that it had to establish an all-traffic station by the day after Labour Day, when supposedly the fall traffic season will begin. Waiting until October (or later) would be unacceptable. It’s “urgent” that it has to be up by September, Cogeco says. People relying on traffic reports every 10 minutes just isn’t enough.

What’s not said in the press release is that this is all about money. Cogeco’s not in a rush to get this all-traffic station on the air because it cares about Montreal drivers. It’s in a rush because it cares about the $1.5 million subsidy from the Quebec government. The agreement between Cogeco and the Ministry of Transport says the stations must be operating by Oct. 31, but the contract actually begins Sept. 1. (It doesn’t make clear what happens if Cogeco misses its deadline.) Once that happens, the station begins collecting $125,000 a month from the government to pay its staff.

Thankfully Cogeco doesn’t own a popular English-language AM station, so it can’t shut that down to turn it into an all-traffic station. Instead, it will wait for the CRTC to decide on 940AM, and is asking them to hurry in making a decision (they are hurrying, and had already tightened deadlines for applications for that frequency).

When this all-traffic station idea was announced in May, I panned it as a waste of $9 million of government money over three years for something that just about every radio station already provided for free ad nauseam. Cogeco’s competitors agreed, and demanded an open call for applications for those frequencies, which the CRTC granted.

Now it seems even more obvious how bad an idea it is. Cogeco has compared its $1.5-million subsidy against the ad revenue from CKAC and decided it would rather the government subsidy. The Quebec government is essentially using public money to push Cogeco into shutting down a popular all-sports radio station and replace it with something that is redundant to every other station in the market.

(One might ask if Cogeco didn’t want to shut down CKAC, why not apply for an all-sports radio station on 690AM and bring it back? The press release is silent on this.)

It’s a sad day for Montreal radio, and an even sadder day for common sense and government spending.

CKAC 730AM will go all-traffic Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 4:30am. The CRTC hears applications for 690 and 940AM (Cogeco has withdrawn its application for 690) on Oct. 17.

UPDATE: Similar commentary from Stéphane Laporte.

A Facebook page has been setup to protest the decision. CKAC Sports’s Facebook page has a brief note from the station: “Merci à chacun d’entre vous de nous avoir suivi, lu, et d’être venu commenter ainsi que partager votre passion pour le sport”, followed by a lot of angry comments.

You can also watch video of CKAC’s empty studio while listening to Céline Dion and other awful music.

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