Monthly Archives: March 2012

Posted in Media, Montreal, Sports

Montreal Stars are unfortunately anything but

A database search tells me it was Saturday, March 21, 2009. I was on the sports desk and putting together a package of hockey notes. Among them was an item about Montreal’s team in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League winning the inaugural Clarkson Cup, a trophy designed as the women’s hockey version of the Stanley Cup.

A hockey championship for a Montreal team, and it was essentially a brief.

I helped it a bit by taking a photo of the team with the cup that the league had put out through Canada Newswire. If there wasn’t going to be much text, there could at least be a nice photo. But there’s just so much an editor can do without copy.

Three years later, Montreal has won its third championship and women’s “professional” hockey is being taken a bit more seriously. The Gazette had a story advancing the tournament, and had a freelance story about the championship final afterward, though there wasn’t a photographer so we had to use a file photo to illustrate the story.

The championship game was televised. On TSN2. On tape delay.

Small steps.

Gazette hockey writer Pat Hickey wrote a column about the Stars, about how women’s hockey is still far from professional, and the players have to spend their own money to participate. But, as he points out, it’s getting better. They have to pay less, partly because more people are going out to see the games. As in more than 200, paying $5 a pop.

I wanted to go see a Stars match this season, but my work schedule didn’t give me an opportunity. By the time I could find the time, they weren’t playing any more home games.

Okay, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has a lot of work to do. It only has six teams, for one, and one of them doesn’t play a full season because it would require too much travel.

But if there’s any hockey team that deserves support, it’s them. A championship team with locally-bred stars (many Olympic champions) who play not because they get millions of dollars for it but because of their love for the game. A team who, despite having dirt-cheap ticket prices can’t draw a significant crowd at home games.

They are, in just about every sense, the anti-Canadiens.

But public support is tied with media support. The Stars and other CWHL teams are covered as much as amateur and university sports. Local media send dozens of people to every Canadiens game even after they’ve been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but nobody is seriously covering the Stars.

I’ve used this team as an example when talking to young people who want to get their start in journalism. When they say they want to cover the Canadiens, I wonder: Why? What could you possibly report about this hockey team that dozens of veteran professionals haven’t already dug up and rehashed ad nauseam?

Yeah, it’s cool to go to Canadiens games and sit in the press box (or so I assume – I’ve never been). But journalism is about finding out things everyone else doesn’t already know. And there’s little opportunity for that at the Bell Centre.

And yet, across town, there’s a team of dedicated hockey players who would be happy to grant you interviews, to talk at length about their games and their lives without resorting to sports clichés. There’s an opportunity for a young journalist to own a beat that nobody else seems to care about, to instantly become the expert in something rather than a forgettable also-ran in an overcrowded dressing room. An opportunity to uncover fascinating stories about real-life people who are at the height of athleticism while others celebrate the chance to be the seventh person to ask Mathieu Darche what his favourite food is.

It’s a golden opportunity, but nobody is taking advantage of it.

When I brought this up with one up-and-comer in the journalism industry, his response was that he doesn’t really care about women’s hockey, but he is very interested in the Canadiens.

I can’t tell him he’s wrong. I understand why a fan would feel that way. But I don’t understand how a journalist would.

UPDATE: The New York Times, of all things, has a story about the CWHL and the Stars along the same lines.

Posted in In the news, Media

Ici on parle English, mais n’inquiétez-vous pas

L'actualité cover from last Friday

“Ici on parle English” – “Quel avenir pour le français à Montréal?” – “Montréal français? It’s over!” – “Des unilingues anglais comme patrons? Get used to it!”

Kind of hard to imagine words that could infuriate language activists more. I won’t call it sensationalist, but when a magazine puts a picture of a frog on its front cover and tells a people sensitive about their language that their battle is essentially lost, I can’t really find a better word.

Last Thursday, L’actualité released results of a survey they did (with CHMP 98.5FM) of Quebec anglophones in which they asked them questions about language issues in Quebec. (The full results – with actual questions – are here in this PDF file)

The questions and answers were rather interesting, and I’ll summarize them here. Of Quebec’s anglophones:

  • 81% know enough French to carry on a conversation
  • 59% believe it’s possible to live one’s entire life in Quebec without having a single significant conversation in French
  • 63% believe companies should have the right to hire unilingual anglophones as managers, even if that means communicating with them at work would have to be done in English
  • 59% are “at peace” with the fact that Montreal will become predominantly English while the rest of the province maintains its French “charm”
  • 54% believe that because of globalization, most economic activity in Montreal will eventually be in English
  • 37% believe that the predominance of French is the key ingredient in Montreal’s originality and that without it the city would lose its soul
  • In the week before they were surveyed, about half used French in conversation for about an hour or less, the other half a few hours or more
  • 21% agree that as a Quebec resident, it’s their duty to help ensure that French remains the most important language here
  • 83% believe it’s important that their children grow up to be bilingual

The results appear in last Friday’s issue of L’actualité (or is it l’Actualité? Or L’Actualité? Even francophones have issue with capitalization of proper names), along with two stories analyzing them. One is by Jean-François Lisée, a former PQ adviser who hammers the panic button. The other is by Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies (or, more accurately, it’s a reporter’s Q&A with Jedwab), who highlights how things have improved. There were also some sidebars, including an interview with Sherwin Tjia, the unilingual anglophone whose appearance on Daybreak a few weeks back ignited a whole controversy because he dared say he’s okay being unilingual.

The magazine also asked Gazette columnist Josh Freed to blog for them, giving an anglo’s perspective (with his usual dose of humour).

Reaction to the poll and accompanying pieces seems to have fallen in one of three categories:

And there is a lot of contradiction. Apparently about half of anglo Quebecers have never had a significant conversation in French. But 80% of them are bilingual. This begs the question: How do this 30% know they’re bilingual if they’ve never spoken French?

One of the more surprising results is that for most of these questions, it’s the younger anglophones who seem to take the more anti-French stance. More young anglos think it’s okay to live life as a unilingual anglophone, despite the stereotype one imagines of the old West Island angryphone who grew up in the 50s being the most anti-French.

I wonder how much of that is more due to inexperience than a generational difference. I suspect many of these views might change as these people get older, become more familiar with francophone Quebec and try to make careers for themselves in this province.

I could go after the methodology. It was an online poll, which has issues in terms of accuracy. Some of the questions seemed a bit pushy. And some were based on false premises (the proportion of people on the island of Montreal whose first language is English is diminishing, not increasing, and there’s no risk of anglophones outnumbering francophones in Montreal or Quebec any time soon).

But one thing we can all seem to agree on is that more research is needed. These are complex issues and I suspect the answers given have complex reasoning behind them.

Of course, people who are paid to drum up controversy to fill column inches won’t be satisfied with waiting for more research.

Cultural solitudes

L’actualité’s survey also tested Quebec celebrity recall. Among anglophones:

It shouldn’t be particularly surprising that anglophone Quebecers don’t get much news from Quebec City, don’t watch much of Radio-Canada and TVA, and don’t listen to French-language radio.

Just like it’s not a surprise that francophones have little to no interest in English Canadian culture (what little of it there is). On a recent episode of Tout le monde en parle, Guy A. Lepage interviewed Jian Ghomeshi, and at the end he cited Jack Layton, saying once that English Canada doesn’t know Lepage and French Canada doesn’t know Ghomeshi.

This is a problem, and one I think we need the help of both sides to solve. (When was the last time Julie Snyder, Véronique Cloutier or Régis Labeaume reached out to the anglophone community in any significant way?)

There are all sorts of places to lay blame here. We could blame the CRTC, which requires broadcasters to have their programming in English or French but never both. We could blame French-language media, who consider anglos a community not worth trying to target. We could blame English-language media for not connecting its audiences with francophone culture. Or we could blame the two solitudes themselves for sticking to their ghettos and ignoring the other side.

Fortunately, simple demographics might be helping change this. Anglophones in Montreal are mostly bilingual, and many of them are in relationships with francophones. To some this might be assimilation (particularly since most of these couples choose English as their common language), but I like to hope that this assimilation goes both ways.

And there are people trying to do their part using new media. One blogger offering English summaries of Tout le monde en parle to try to get anglos to care about this important show.

With a bit of patience, a bit of tolerance, and a bit of effort from both sides, maybe we can get recognition of Véro and Guy A. among anglophones and Rick Mercer and Mutsumi Takahashi among francophones to the point where it’s clear that there is no more divide.

Then, we can hope, the next survey of anglophones by L’actualité won’t be whether they know who Julie Snyder is, but whether they preferred Mélissa, Andréanne or Andrée-Anne.

Un gars peut rêver, can’t he?

UPDATE (April 10): Jack Jedwab responds to L’actualité’s survey with one of his own. It shows:

  • 25% of anglophones and 48% of francophones believe “eventually the majority of Montrealers will work in English” when the question is not preceded by reference to globalization
  • 90% of anglophones have francophone friends, but only 60% of francophones have anglophone friends
  • 70% of anglophones 18-24 believe francophones don’t like anglophones
  • 55% of anglophones, 54% of allophones and 15% of francophones believe Bill 101 has contributed to the decline of use of English
  • 10% of anglophones, 13% of allophones and 44% of francophones believe English speakers are the principal threat to the French language in Montreal
  • 55% of young anglophones are not comfortable with English becoming the majority language in Montreal
  • 60% of anglophones believe relations between anglos and francos have improved over the past give years. 45% of francophones agree versus 38% who disagree
  • 54% of anglophones and 43% of francophones believe their community feels positively about the other
Posted in Media, Montreal, Opinion

St. Patrick’s: Montreal’s anglophone parade

The Beat gets some dance help for its entry into the St. Patrick’s parade.

This year was the first time I’ve gone to a St. Patrick’s parade in Montreal without volunteering in some way, either by working for the parade itself, or (as I did last year) taking pictures for a friend.

I figured out last year what a gold mine it is for taking photos of local media personalities. The local radio and television stations are well represented at the parade, each seeing it as a good opportunity to connect with their audiences, do some marketing in front of tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of people and in general have a good time. So long as I have a good view, I can pick a spot, attach the long lens on my camera and get shots of dozens of people as they slowly roll past. Now I have lots of photos to use as file shots when someone gets fired/promoted/arrested/quits/dies/etc., or just for people to caption.

CHOM's St. Patrick's parade float included live music performed by, among others, on-air personalities Bilal Butt, Jason Rockman and Sharon Hyland

CTV, CHOM, Virgin Radio and CJAD had floats on flatbed trailers (CTV’s was voted best media float, but I have to give CHOM credit for actually playing live music on theirs), CBC borrowed the Hurley’s float for their people (I missed that float, sadly, but their flags were everywhere), The Beat had a big ad truck that its personalities walked behind along with a dance troupe, and TSN Radio and Global had convertibles with personalities sitting in the back.

Stéphane Giroux gives a thumbs-up from the CTV St. Patrick's float, which also had live dancers

Virgin Radio had a live wedding on its St. Patrick's parade float, though the whole "leap year" thing is kind of old, and it's something you can only do once in front of a small part of the parade crowd.

But if you’re looking for Montreal’s francophone media personalities, you’re really out of luck.

Among francophone media, I counted all of two vans – one for CKOI and another for Rythme FM. Both are Cogeco stations and their vans were kind of thrown in along with the Beat’s entry. Unless they were travelling incognito, neither had on-air personalities present.

CKOI's parade presence: A van with balloons.

TVA, Radio-Canada, V, Télé-Québec, NRJ, Rouge FM, 98.5, CKAC, MusiquePlus, CJPX, the list goes on of francophone media who are based in Montreal who had no presence at the parade. I’ll exclude print media because anglo print publications weren’t present either. But I didn’t see any ethnic media present either.

I don’t want to point fingers at any individual broadcaster, but when all the anglo ones go through great efforts and the franco ones couldn’t seem to care less, you know there’s something going on. Clearly this parade is seen as being an anglo one, just like the St. Jean Baptiste parade is seen as being francophone, even though both at least pretend to reach out and welcome anyone who wants to participate.

Part of the blame lies at the feet of the United Irish Societies of Montreal, which organizes the parade. It’s clearly an anglophone organization. Its website isn’t even available in French, which is kind of surprising for something based in this city. I won’t go all Dutrizac over them for it, but it’s hard to pretend you’re welcoming to francophones when you don’t communicate in their language.

Hard work for volunteers

I asked UIS about this. Sharleen McCambridge, their VP of public relations, answered that they’re a volunteer organization and “there is certainly no target except for anyone interested in the Montreal St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Irish Community.” She said their newly redesigned website has a French version “in development right now and expected to be launched very soon,” presumably well in advance of next year’s parade.

“All media French and English are invited to all activities leading up to and including parade day. I think that if you check this out, you will find news releases, articles, websites, live interviews as well as printed publications. This takes a lot of coordination from our resources.”

She’s right. Francophone media did, in fact, cover the parade as a news story, even if they didn’t participate.

“We do not have language restrictions in the parade as we are not a business, we are not political and we are celebrating our Irish heritage in many languages including Gaelic, English, French and even Polish.”

I don’t know how much Polish there is, but it’s certainly very English.

I’m not going to come too hard on an organization made of volunteers, but for all the organization that went into the parade (including increased security to make sure nobody got too close to floats), it seems a bit strange that making even basic information available in French wasn’t considered a priority.

Does it matter?

Maybe I’m making an issue out of something that shouldn’t be one. I’ve never been particularly crazy about media being at parades in the first place. What do they have to do with Irish heritage? For that matter, what do Ukrainian dancers or Total Diving have to do with St. Patrick’s Day? But that battle has long been lost. The parade is less about showcasing Irish culture and more about local businesses getting free advertising by sticking giant shamrocks on the side of flatbed trailers and giving people of Irish descent an excuse to walk around in their top hats.

What gets me most about this is how little effort is required. Radio and TV stations have big marketing budgets. All they’d have to do is show up, put a few personalities in the back of convertibles and – if they’re a music radio station – play some of their music.

I’m not expecting big stars like Véronique Cloutier or Guy A. Lepage to be walking the parade route. And I’m sure Benoit Dutrizac and Richard Martineau wouldn’t have come even if they were paid generous overtime, but were Martin Grenier, Kim Rusk and Patrice Bélanger too busy to spend a few hours with a few thousand spectators? What about Julie Bélanger or the 12 people who do Rythme FM’s morning show? Pierre Pagé, Martin Lemay and Julie St-Pierre of NRJ? Anyone from TVA and Radio-Canada?

It’s hard to imagine an explanation about their lack of presence than these media just don’t care.

Hopefully that’s something that, with help from both sides, we can change. I’ve got plenty of photos taken with Mutsumi Takahashi, but it would be nice to have a few with Véro.

Posted in Montreal, TV

Should CBC and Global move their local newscasts?

When I was working on my story about Global Montreal, my editor suggested I write a companion story about the ratings for local newscasts, since it had been a while since The Gazette looked into that. (The last time was a year ago, when CFCF celebrated its 50th anniversary.)

I asked for basic ratings information from the three broadcasters, wanting to know what their estimated total average audience was for each of their local programs. BBM Canada, which does ratings measurements, doesn’t like too much detail about demographics being released, so I limited myself to asking for the total 2+ audience.

In the case of Shaw Media, that limitation wasn’t enough, and they wouldn’t give me their exact ratings for CKMI’s Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal, saying they couldn’t because of their deal with BBM. Fortunately, I was able to get some ballpark figures by looking at the detailed master planners that Shaw Media provides to advertisers, which breaks down by station, by time slot and by demographics. Shaw warned me that these are just “estimates”, but they’re the best I could get, and the numbers were similar to what was reported last year.

CFCF and CBMT had no trouble providing me with their audience numbers (though in the case of CBC Montreal there was apparently some confusion over whether it was numbers for the Montreal market or total, which led to a correction on the story.)

CFCF > everyone

The numbers for the weekday 6pm newscasts are unsurprising, and haven’t changed much. CFCF dominates with almost 200,000 viewers on average. CBMT is next with its newscast peaking at 34,000 during the 5:30pm block (which is ironically when it presents national and international news), and CKMI has numbers in the four digits, somewhere around 7,000 viewers.

It’s pretty well the same story as last year, and just about the same story as a decade ago, except that in 2000, when Global Montreal was still new and still making significant investments in local programming, the number of people watching its local news was about three times what it is now, and it was in second place ahead of the struggling CBC, which had only two years previously had an audience as high as 60,000, and was above 80,000 in the early 1990s.

We have decades of numbers showing that CBC isn’t going to beat CFCF at 6pm, and 15 years of numbers that show Global trying every trick in the book isn’t going to help it succeed at that goal either. CFCF’s newscasts have more resources, more staff, more experience, and much more loyal viewers.

Assuming that the other stations want to maximize viewership for their local newscasts (and there’s certainly an argument to be made that Global is doing the absolute bare minimum when it comes to CKMI – even their upcoming morning show is being done because of a CRTC commitment), what can they do?

Throwing money at the problem is one solution, though people who remember the best years of CBC’s NewsWatch would note that they still weren’t able to create serious competition for CFCF in the 1990s.

News at 5 … or 7

Another option is to move the newscasts out of the way and hand the 6pm hour over to CTV. In 2009, CBC made a big move expanding its local evening newscasts to 90 minutes and having them start at 5pm. CBMT is seeing strong ratings gains for that hour, and is seeing more viewers from 5-6pm than from 6-6:30pm.

On the French side, the reanimated corpse of TQS known as V based much of its programming schedule on counter-programming, putting entertainment programming in the 6pm and 10pm hours when Radio-Canada and TVA have newscasts. The idea has worked for one of V’s biggest successes, Un Souper presque parfait at 6:30pm.

Of course, this has been tried before. Global Montreal tried starting local news at 5:30 twice, the last time in 2000. That lasted two years until they went to the half-hour news at 6pm that they do now. CBMT also tried starting at 5:30pm in the 90s, but didn’t have much success.

But I think it’s time to try again. V’s successes and CBC’s stronger ratings in its 5pm hour show that counterprogramming is a strategy that can work for an underdog. And the number of people working 9-to-5 jobs that get home just before 6pm isn’t the same as it used to be. Many people are working earlier and later.

I’m not a big fan of CBMT’s repetitive 90-minute newscast, though I can understand the strategy of letting people tune in for one half-hour block of their choice. I think CBC should just get rid of the last half-hour, move to a one-hour newscast with less repetition and more original local news, and use that other half-hour daily to produce some other form of local programming. A current-affairs show or local culture show would be, I think, dearly welcome in this market, and something that would fit well with CBC’s mandate. Putting such a show at 7pm, when CTV and Global air vacuous celebrity gossip shows, would be brilliant counterprogramming and give people like me a reason to watch television at that hour.

Unfortunately for CBMT, decisions like this are made almost entirely at the national level. It was a national decision to have a 90-minute newscast that starts at 5pm, and a 10-minute late newscast after The National. For such a change to happen, it would either need to be made nationally (ignoring the variations in each market) or would require a decentralization of decision-making that we haven’t seen in a long while.

As for Global, when I met with station manager Karen Macdonald, I asked why they hadn’t considered moving the newscast out of CTV’s shadow. She pointed out that they have tried that in the past, but also said they didn’t try it for long. She said they might consider it again, but that if it would move it would probably go to 5:30.

I think 7pm is a better bet. The competition – CTV’s awful eTalk and the second half of Coronation Street on CBC – is weak, they wouldn’t be up against any other local news, and I think more and more Montrealers are working later shifts or having longer commutes and are more likely to miss the 6pm news at CFCF.

But Entertainment Tonight and ET Canada are big ratings draws for Global. And replacing ET Canada with local news at 7pm would be a sign of serious commitment to local programming that I don’t think Global is prepared to sacrifice ratings for.

The other newscasts

While a lot of attention is paid to 6pm weekdays, I was curious what the other newscasts during the week get in terms of audience. Those numbers are rarely reported.

CTV’s ratings show that the late-night newscast at 11:30pm gets 57,000 viewers on weekdays and 55,000 on weekends – so those tuning in to Tarah Schwartz on Saturday nights is about the same as those tuned in to Catherine Sherriffs on Monday nights.

It’s worth noting that these numbers are higher than CBMT’s at 5pm. So when Debra Arbec left her job as late-night anchor to jump to CBC, she saw her average viewership drop. But that’s compensated by being a bigger fish in the smaller pond, being one of the faces of her station, and having more airtime in a day (with SportsNight taking up much of CFCF’s late newscast, anchor screen time is very limited).

At noon, CFCF draws 50,000 viewers, which is pretty impressive for a time when most people are at work or doing important things.

And on the weekends, Tarah Schwartz gets 119,000 viewers on average at 6pm. (She’s supposed to be getting a co-anchor at some point, but one hasn’t been announced yet.)

The other late-night newscasts have pretty poor ratings. About 14,000 viewers for the 10-minute block of CBC sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos. Global’s ratings at 11pm are in the low four-digits, around 2,000 viewers (though that’s a seven-day average, and also includes the 11:30 slot).

Compare that to more than 80,000 Montrealers tuning in to CTV National News, and there really isn’t much competition here either.

I always found CBC’s late local news a bit awkwardly-scheduled, more as a continuation of The National than a standalone program. That’s great if you want a lead-in from Peter Mansbridge, but CBMT isn’t going to attract viewers who tune in to American dramas at 10pm. By the time the credits start rolling on those shows, the CBC late newscast is almost half done.

What do you think?

I’m curious what my loyal readers think of newscast scheduling. Would moving weeknight local news be a good idea for CBC and Global? Would you be more likely to watch if they were on at some other time? What should the other guys do to set themselves apart from CFCF? And what other kinds of local programming would you like to see in English Montreal?

Posted in Media, Technology, Video, West Island

“A credible delivery system”

It’s never not awkward selling yourself. It feels so vain, so self-important. And at times it can feel like you’re kidding yourself, giving yourself too much credit for minor accomplishments.

I take the humble route. When people praise me and my blog, I pretend they’re exaggerating. (But deep down we all know this is the greatest blog to have ever graced the Internet. Right?)

Anyway, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel in which some local radio people are selling themselves like they’re on an awkward video dating service. I don’t want to make them feel too embarrassed about it, but it’s too funny not to post:

Sharman Yarnell

Peter Anthony Holder

Andrew Peplowski (see him in action selling a USB drive)

The videos were done by KEMEdia, a West Island video production house run by Mike Reid, who judging from the website is trapped in the late 1990s.

(Note to KEMEdia: If you’re selling people as voice-over talent and yourself as a video production house, maybe don’t have their pitch videos done in the echo chamber of doom.)

Posted in Public transit, West Island

Analysis: STM’s new West Island express buses

On Friday, the STM finally gave details about its four new West Island express buses set to launch April 2, just over a week from now.

They were designed partly as a way to mitigate the coming traffic disaster that is the Turcot Interchange rebuilding, and partly to convince more West Islanders to start using public transit during rush hour.

As a West Island boy myself, and someone who commuted downtown for five years, I’m very familiar with the transit service there and understand the frustrations of people who live in that part of the island and work in the city. I had been waiting for years for a bus like the 470 Express Pierrefonds – a direct shuttle bus between the Fairview bus terminal and the Côte-Vertu metro station – and was very unsurprised when it turned into a huge hit with riders, quickly expanding from a rush-hour-only route to one that operates all day, seven days a week.

The Planibus schedules of the new routes are online. The 475 is here (PDF) and the rest are packaged together here (PDF). None of the buses run past 7pm or on weekends. But as we saw with the 470, if there is a lot of interest in these lines, the STM will eventually extend their service.

Here’s an idea of what each of the four new routes is like, and my feelings about them:

405 Express Bord-du-Lac

Route: From the MacDonald terminus near John Abbott College to Lionel-Groulx metro station. The route is virtually identical to the 211, so much so that I wonder what the point of it is. The only difference is that it takes Highway 20 non-stop from St. Charles Blvd. (it doesn’t stop at the Beaconsfield train station) to Dorval, except for a stop at St. Jean.

Schedule: Departures about every 20 minutes from 6am to 7pm in both directions.

Target clientele: People who live along Lakeshore/Beaconsfield west of St. Charles who find the 211 too slow.

Bottom line: The 211 is already an express bus east of Dorval, and it already has an express doubler in the 411 (formerly 221). The part of the 405 east of St. Charles is virtually identical to the 411, and the part west is identical to the 211. I have a hard time figuring out what this route offers that isn’t already available on the 211 or 411.

425 Express Anse-à-l’Orme

Route: From the Anse-à-l’Orme/Timberlea terminus down Chemin Sainte-Marie and Beaconsfield’s Sherbrooke St. to the Beaconsfield train station. East of Beaconsfield Blvd. and St. Charles, the route is identical to the 211, including the deviation through Carson St. in Dorval.

Schedule: Departures 20-30 minutes apart, eastbound from 5:40am to noon, westbound from noon to 7pm.

Target clientele: People who live in Kirkland and Beaconsfield between the two highways, in an area right now served only by the 217.

Bottom line: Because the 217 doesn’t go anywhere besides Fairview, this route should be a welcome addition for people who live near Chemin Sainte-Marie and Sherbrooke in Kirkland and Beaconsfield. But I don’t get the detour through Carson in Dorval, especially for an express bus (I don’t get why it’s done for the 211 either).

475 Express Dollard-des-Ormeaux

Route: From the Dollard Civic Centre near Lake and de Salaberry (where parking is being made available to commuters), along Highway 40 to the Côte Vertu metro station (south entrance, where West Island buses used to stop and Laval buses do now). The entire trip is 23 minutes.

Schedule: Every 15 minutes exactly from 6am to 9am eastbound and from 3:30pm to 6:30pm westbound.

Target clientele: People with cars who live in Dollard des Ormeaux near Sources Blvd.

Bottom line: Commuters who live east of St. Jean, and particularly near Sources, have had to either double back to Fairview to take the 470, or take buses like the 206, 208 or 209 or 214 and transfer at Roxboro or Dorval. An express network hasn’t really been built with them in mind. This new bus might prove to be more popular than the STM imagines, leading to a 470-like quick expansion (the schedule is rather disappointing, especially considering the service on the other new routes announced). But while the 470 stops at a major terminus, the only other bus serving the Dollard civic centre is the 208. Let’s hope the STM thought to put stops at Sources so there are transfer points with the 209 and 214.

485 Express Antoine Faucon

Route: From the new extension of Pierrefonds Blvd. past Château-Pierrefonds, via Antoine Faucon, St. Charles, Brunswick, de Salaberry, St. Jean (with a stop at Fairview), then non-stop along Highway 20 (except a stop at the Dorval terminus) until Lionel-Groulx.

Schedule: Varying from 10 to 30 minutes apart, from 5:30am to 7pm eastbound, and 6am to 7pm westbound. During the height of rush hour, only half the buses do the route west of Fairview.

Target clientele: People who live in western Pierrefonds but aren’t walking distance from the 470 on Pierrefonds Blvd. and/or who prefer a bus to a metro station closer to downtown.

Bottom line: The interesting part of this route isn’t the part west of Fairview, since the route is almost identical to that of the 218, but rather the fact that it’s the first time that the Fairview terminus is connected directly to a downtown metro station. Having often taken a 202/211 trip to Lionel-Groulx in the days before the 470, I can understand the benefit of this to people who work downtown. I could see this becoming very popular for that part (just like many people take the 470 only from Fairview to Côte-Vertu), which might encourage more people to take public transit and take some pressure off the 470 and 211/411. For people along the existing 218 route, and along St. Jean between the highways, this provides a transfer-less way downtown.

Reserved lanes

New routes are great, but of course they’re useless if everyone taking the buses just gets stuck in the same rush-hour traffic as everyone else. To mitigate that, reserved bus lanes are being installed:

  • St. Jean, from Pierrefonds to Highway 40: Buses and multiple-occupant vehicles (2+). Southbound in the morning and northbound in the afternoon. To be done this summer.
  • Pierrefonds, from Jacques Bizard to St. Jean: Buses and taxis only. Eastbound during the morning only. To be done this fall or spring 2013.
  • Highway 20, from 55th Ave. to 1st Ave.: Buses only. 24/7 in both directions. To be done this fall or spring 2013.

In addition, there’s existing reserved lanes on St. Patrick and Notre-Dame which will allow the buses serving Lionel-Groulx to avoid Highway 20 traffic east of 1st Ave.

The STM also says Lionel-Groulx will have a new terminus, that will accommodate these three new routes and make things easier (and maybe less confusing) for transit users.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Tietolman interested in buying CJAD

Paul Tietolman

Paul Tietolman, the son of former Montreal radio magnate Jack Tietolman and one of three partners in a new French-language talk radio station that received CRTC approval last fall, says that he would be interested in buying CJAD or any other station Bell Media is forced to put up for sale in Montreal to get approval for its takeover of Astral Media.

The $3.38-billion purchase announced last Friday would give Bell control of four out of the five English-language commercial radio stations in Montreal, which would go against a CRTC policy that no more than three commercial radio stations in a market with fewer than eight total can have a common owner. Unless the CRTC grants an exception, that would mean one of CJAD 800, CKGM 990, CHOM 97.7 or CJFM 95.9 would be on the block.

Tietolman and partners Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy received CRTC approval last fall for a French-language news-talk station on one of two clear channels available in Montreal – 940 kHz. But a similar application for an English-language news-talk station was rejected because the group would not accept the more restricted channel of 990 AM. The other clear channel, 690 kHz, went to CKGM, which plans to change frequency within the next few months (probably after the Canadiens’ season is over), with 990 going to Dufferin Communications for a French-language music/talk station targeted at the LGBT community.

Though the group said at the time that no other frequency would be acceptable and they would not proceed with one station unless it got approval for both, they’ve essentially folded on both those points. Plans are under way to launch the French news-talk station this fall, and the group is preparing a submission to the CRTC for an application for an English version that would use a frequency of 600 kHz. The only thing left is to find a transmitter site.

Tietolman said his group is in negotiation with Cogeco for use of their former CINF/CINW site in Kahnawake. The towers there have stood unused since Info 690 and 940 Hits went off the air in January 2010. A final transmitter site for their French-language station also hasn’t been chosen yet – they may want the two to use the same towers to save money.

Of course, Cogeco is also looking to submit an application for a new AM radio station in the Montreal area, to revive their plan for an English all-traffic station. At last report, Cogeco was still in discussions with the Quebec transport ministry to determine an agreeable frequency and coverage pattern to submit to the CRTC. I haven’t been told what frequencies they’re considering (a multiple-transmitter system may be among them), but 600 would be a strong contender. It’s the former frequency of CFCF AM and CIQC, and has adequate coverage in anglo areas, probably better than any other available AM frequency.

Tietolman said he’d be interested in any stations Bell would have to divest itself of, but seems to have a particular eye on CJAD, whose news-talk formula could easily be converted into the radio station they have in mind (and, of course, would provide instant listener loyalty as well as eliminating their proposed station’s main competition).

With the Bell-Astral deal having just been announced and no CRTC hearing even set yet, much less a decision on what if any stations they would have to sell, nothing formal is on the table yet.

But if CJAD is the station that goes on the table (and some insiders believe that will be the one they decide to get rid of), there’s at least one party interested in taking it over.

Posted in Montreal, Radio, TV

Managing Director Pia Marquard leaving CBC

Pia Marquard, managing director at CBC Quebec, is leaving her job at the end of the month for health reasons.

In a message to staff, which includes English television and radio in Montreal and Quebec City, Marquard said she was “very proud and happy that I’ve been part of the Quebec team during the last two years” but that breathing problems after failed operations on her vocal cords have made it difficult for her to continue in her position, and “this is not a job that can be done part time.”

CBC News Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire said she “accepted (Marquard’s) resignation with regret.” McGuire’s note to staff also said Marquard “intends to resume her consultant’s career in Montreal.”

Marquard became managing director at CBC Quebec in 2010, and is probably best known for a decision that was taken before she started. Marquard came into her new job amid a public backlash over the unceremonious removal of Nancy Wood from her job as host of CBC Daybreak. Marquard never commented publicly about the change, and to this day it remains unexplained.

Otherwise, her reign has been fairly uneventful, starting after the expansion of TV newscasts to an hour and a half and before the further expansion into weekends. There were two major on-air positions filled under her watch, with Mike Finnerty returning to Daybreak and Debra Arbec getting the co-anchor position with Andrew Chang on television. Also on her watch were technical upgrades, switching the transmitter to digital and upgrading the newscast to high definition.

Marquard’s replacement has not yet been named, but McGuire said one will be announced “within a few weeks.”

Marquard’s and McGuire’s messages to CBC staff are included below.

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Posted in In the news, Opinion

A proposal for the tuition debate

Gasoline prices

  • Colombia: $1.91
  • Tokyo: $1.83
  • Sydney: $1.50
  • Yellowknife: $1.49
  • Johannesburg: $1.40
  • London: $2.14
  • Stockholm: $2.18
  • Amsterdam: $2.37
  • Montreal: $1.39

Source: Globe and Mail, 2011

I don’t take a strong position for or against the tuition battle in Quebec. I think the issue is far more complex than either side is willing to admit. But the argument that Quebec students should shut up because their tuition is the lowest in Canada just bugs me, because it implies that accessibility to education should be just good enough, relative to other places. (And, of course, there are plenty of places in the world where tuition is a lot less than Quebec.)

So I propose a deal: Left-wing commie students will stop complaining about the cost of their tuition when right-wing redneck drivers stop complaining about gas prices.

It won’t happen, of course. People love to complain about the cost they have to pay for things.

Posted in Montreal, TV

Notebook from Global Montreal

Jamie Orchard at her desk in the Global Montreal studio

Saturday in The Gazette, I profile Global Montreal (CKMI), the station with Montreal’s third most popular local English-language TV newscast. With that piece is another about ratings for the local newscasts. Despite the generous space devoted to the stories in the paper, there’s plenty of detail I gathered over the past few weeks that didn’t end up in the story. Most is probably only of interest to people who really care about such things anyway.

So as a bonus for my blog readers, some things from my notebook and some meta-discussion about the story:

Global bashing

I have, in the past, been accused of bashing the local Global station, particularly by people who follow me on Twitter.

It’s true. I often use Twitter in particular to point out the errors of others. Not so much out of maliciousness, but out of interest. … Okay, sometimes out of maliciousness. But only when it really deserves it.

But I don’t have any particular beef with Global. I’m an equal-opportunity critic (except maybe when it comes to my employer). I’ve been accused of having crushes on the people I profile and having hate-ons for those I criticize. But my goal is to make everyone better, by recognizing hard work and making sure mistakes don’t go by unnoticed.

I first visited Global Montreal in the summer of 2009, shortly after it moved in to its new offices on the seventh floor of the Dorchester Square building that also houses The Gazette. Global is on the seventh floor (which was once used by The Gazette), The Gazette is on the second and third. The two were under common ownership at the time, and they invited us to a special open house. I went with my camera and had a look around.

I thought I would be incognito, and I was. (My blog was less than half the age it is now.) But near the end Jamie Orchard spotted me and engaged me in conversation, explaining the hard work she and her team do to put together a daily newscast. The things I had said about the station previously on my blog, about its plan to outsource local news production and use fake sets inserted via chroma key, weren’t particularly flattering. Not that it’s easy to sugarcoat when an organization fires three quarters of its staff.

What struck me about our conversation was that they didn’t think I understood the work they do on the daily basis, or might have thought I was blaming them for the quality of their newscast.

I don’t think Global offers Montreal’s best newscast, as the ads say. But that’s not the fault of the staff. The reporters are of high quality, and Orchard is a good anchor. Even Bill Haugland and a staff of Brian Britts couldn’t make a top-notch newscast with such few resources. My criticisms are directed at Global and its owners, who want to spend the bare minimum (I would argue less than that) on local programming so it doesn’t cut too much into the lazy profit it makes from rebroadcasting House, Family Guy and other popular American shows.

Considering the blog post I wrote after my last visit, I wasn’t sure if they’d agree to another one, this one to do a formal profile for The Gazette. I wanted to write something about them because of all the attention paid to their competitors recently, with CFCF getting its new studio and anchor, and CBMT announcing the coming arrival of weekend newscasts.

Global Montreal station manager Karen Macdonald

But Karen Macdonald, CKMI’s station manager, eagerly agreed, and in February I sat down with her in her little corner office for an hour to talk about stuff. After that, I was invited into the tiny studio (it’s about the size of two apartment bedrooms) to witness the broadcast of the half-hour evening news program live, with Jamie Orchard in the anchor chair.

It was a while until I could get the story done, partly because I had to track down a few people to interview, and partly because I had my actual job to do quite a bit.

Reaction to the published story has been positive so far. Jamie Orchard and Anne Leclair seem to think it’s positive, but I was more flattered when the latter referred to it as “accurate”. My goal was to give people a picture of what goes on there, and both sides of the argument about outsourcing production jobs.

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Posted in Radio, TV

Bell to buy Astral: But what about media concentration?

CORRECTION (July 14): Fixed list of stations to include an Astral one in Winnipeg that I had missed.

The HuffPost Québec and La Presse scoops ended up lasting only a few hours (most of which people spent asleep), but they were right: Bell has announced it will buy Montreal-based Astral Media in a deal worth $2.8 billion (or $3.38 billion, depending on how you count it).

The deal has serious implications in terms of diversity of voices in media, and has a pretty big regulatory hurdle before it can be approved. Astral owns 22 television services and 84 radio stations, many of which compete with Bell’s 30 specialty channels and 35 radio stations. In Montreal, notably, the deal would create a monopoly for English-language talk radio in Montreal, with CKGM (TSN 990) and CJAD both owned by the same company, and a near-monopoly for English-language commercial radio overall, with four of five stations owned by the same company.

Probably the most telling statement of the press release is this: “Astral products currently represent Bell’s largest single content cost.”

(Imagine that: Just going out and buying your biggest expense. If only I had a few billion dollars lying around, I could go out and buy Videotron and maybe Hydro-Quebec too.)

The competition bureau is obviously going to look into this. The CRTC must also approve the transaction, and could reject the deal or force Bell to sell off some assets if it believes they would harm competition. (The deal includes a $150-million payout from Bell to Astral if the CRTC rejects the purchase.)

Here’s a bit of a breakdown of how this might play out:

Television

Conventional (over-the-air) television: Astral has stayed out of the conventional television game so far, and owns only two stations in small markets in British Columbia, and both are CBC affiliates.

French-language specialty and pay television: Bell is selling this deal as a big push into the French-language Quebec market, and specialty channels will form a large part of that. Right now, Bell owns only a controlling stake in RDS and its related channels. Astral owns channels including Canal D, Canal Vie, MusiMax, MusiquePlus, VRAK.tv and Ztelé, but no sports-related channels. The CRTC shouldn’t have a problem here. Same for pay television, where Astral is the biggest (really, only) player with Super Écran. The deal would give the company a 26.8% viewing share among French-language specialty channels, but that would still be below Quebecor at 29.6%.

English-language specialty and pay television: Astral also has an interest in English-language specialty, with services including the Family channel and a 50% ownership of Teletoon (with Corus). But the big money is in pay television. Astral owns the Movie Network, Super Écran and related channels, and has a controlling stake in Viewers Choice Pay-Per-View. There isn’t much direct competition with Bell, though it does own channels like MuchMusic and MTV Canada (and related channels for both) which also target a younger audience. But the deal would give bell 41.4% viewing share among specialty channels in English Canada, twice its next-largest competitor (Shaw), which might concern the commission.

Radio

Bell is already the biggest player in commercial radio, with 31% of total listening hours among the big commercial radio players, according to the latest CRTC monitoring report. With Astral, that would go up to almost 45%, in both English and French-language radio. Revenue-wise, 31% of radio advertising revenue across the country would be going to Bell/Astral, which would be twice the next-largest player (Corus).

French radio: Astral has substantial radio holdings in Quebec, with the NRJ, Rouge FM and Boom FM radio networks that in many markets hit the limit of common ownership. But Bell has no French-language radio assets, which means there aren’t any big regulatory concerns here.

English radio: Here’s where the deal is going to run into some serious problems. Both Bell and Astral are major radio players, and the deal would put the combined company in violation of the CRTC’s ownership rules set in 1998 that state only two stations in one band/language/market can be owned by the same company in a market with eight or more stations, and a maximum of three total (and no more than two in one band) in markets with less than eight stations.

If we assume that the company would keep the highest-rated stations in each market/language/band and sell off the rest, that would put quite a few stations on the chopping block. Affected markets would include the following, with stations ranked according to BBM market share and stations in bold the ones the selling block (again, based on ratings alone – there could be any number of reasons for keeping a lower-rated station):

  • Montreal: Two FM and two AM (with only five commercial stations total, one would need to be sold)
    • #1 CJAD 800 AM (Astral)
    • #2 CJFM-FM Virgin Radio 95.9 (Astral)
    • #4 CHOM-FM 97.7 (Astral)
    • #6 CKGM TSN Radio 990 AM (Bell)
  • Calgary: Three FM and one AM.
    • #4: CIBK-FM Virgin Radio 98.5 (Astral)
    • #6: CJAY-FM 92.1 (Astral)
    • #14: CKCE-FM Kool 101.5 (Bell)
    • #16: CKMX Classic Country 1060 AM (Astral)
  • Ottawa: Four FM and two AM.
    • #2 CFRA 580 AM(Bell)
    • #4: CJMJ-FM Majic 100.3 (Bell)
    • #10: CKKL-FM BOB 93.9 (Bell)
    • #11: CKQB-FM The Bear 106.9 (Astral)
    • #13: CFGO Team 1200 (Bell)
    • #14: CJOT-FM EZ Rock 99.7 (Astral)
  • Toronto: Four FM and two AM. The AM situation, with a news-talk owned by Astral and a sports station owned by Bell, is similar to the situation in Montreal.
    • #3: CHUM-FM 104.5 (Bell)
    • #6: CKFM-FM Virgin 99.9 (Astral)
    • #7: CHBM-FM Boom 97.3 (Astral)
    • #8: CFRB NewsTalk 1010 AM (Astral)
    • #19: CFXJ-FM Flow 93.5 (Bell)
    • #21: CHUM TSN 1050 AM (Bell)
  • Vancouver: Four FM and three AM. Vancouver is the only market where the combined company might own more than two AM radio stations. Bell’s stations are in the unusual situation of being co-branded, with one as a secondary station to the other. It’s not clear whether that would be enough to bypass the CRTC’s ownership rules.
    • #1: CHQM-FM QM 103.5 (Bell)
    • #4: CFBT-FM The Beat 94.5 (Bell)
    • #5: CKZZ-FM Virgin 95.3 (Astral)
    • #10: CKST Team 1040 (Bell)
    • #14: CISL 650 (Astral)
    • #16: CHHR-FM Shore 104.3 (Astral)
    • #19: CFTE Team 1410 (Bell)
  • Winnipeg: Four FM and one AM

In Montreal, the CRTC would take note of the fact that the combined company would own both English AM talk radio stations here. Overall, Bellstral would own four of the five English-language commercial radio stations in Montreal, with only Cogeco’s CKBE-FM The Beat 92.5 as competition of any sort.

As you can see from the list, there aren’t many big national brands at play here. The company would probably keep its Virgin-branded stations from Astral, and its Team/TSN sports radio stations from Bell, and sell off stations that are weaker performers in their markets.

Telecom

Astral doesn’t own any cable or satellite companies, so there aren’t any issues directly here. But the fact that Bell sees this purchase as a benefit to its satellite and Fibe TV service by owning one of its biggest expenses will be looked at.

Other assets

Bell doesn’t have any newspaper holdings (aside from its interest in the Globe and Mail), which might also cause issues with regulators (the CRTC won’t allow a company to own a newspaper, TV and radio station in the same market). Astral doesn’t own any significant online assets that aren’t tied to other assets.

There’s also Astral’s huge outdoor advertising business, but I do my best to ignore that.

My take

I’m a bit surprised that Bell thinks it can get away with this. People are already worried about concentration of media ownership in Canada, and now one of our few big players is buying another. It’s not as significant as if, say, Bell decided to buy Shaw or Rogers, but it’s still very worrisome, especially in English radio and English specialty television. Even if the CRTC forces some assets to be sold off, they’d probably be sold to other major players.

In short, it’s a horrible day for diversity in voices in media.

I have a brief story in Saturday’s Gazette about what the deal means for Quebec, to go with the national story giving the overall picture.

Other coverage

Posted in Radio

CJLV can’t become an ethnic station, CRTC rules

Radio Laval (CJLV 1570AM) won’t be turning into yet another ethnic third-language radio station.

The station that has been mainly oldies music since it launched in 2003 had applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to modify its license to increase the amount of third-language programming it would be able to broadcast, from 15% to 40%. The goal was to change its format, pick up an ethnic audience and pull the station out of perpetual deficit.

But on Tuesday, the CRTC issued a decision denying the application. The denial was for two main reasons:

  1. While it agreed that CJLV was in a money-losing situation, it was unconvinced that the proposed change would rectify that, particularly because the request to change format came only months after the station changed ownership. It’s now owned by a subsidiary of Radio Humsafar.
  2. The CRTC has recently ruled that adding more ethnic stations in the Montreal area would be harmful to the five existing stations in the market. Last fall the CRTC rejected three applications for ethnic new stations, including one by Radio Humsafar, which said at the time it would run it along with CJLV.

In its application for the CJLV license change last August, which it qualified as “urgent”, owner Jasvir Singh Sandhu said he had invested “over $500,000.00″ in the station over the previous year, but that he was not prepared to throw more money away. The actual cost to acquire the station was only $200,000. Financial statements submitted with the application showed revenue of $182,251 and expenses of $438,255 (about half of which was salaries, benefits and commissions).

The proposed format would have been 60% local programming, with the remaining 40% third-language programming being half Spanish and the rest split between Creole, Chinese, Portuguese and Greek.

In the application, the station said if the proposed change was not approved, shutting the station down might be their only option.