This was actually published by the CRTC in late August, but hasn't been publicized much. It's Bell's response to comments filed with the commission against its application to transform TSN Radio 990/690 from an English station to a French one to meet its common ownership limits after the purchase of Astral Media (which owns CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio in Montreal).
There were hundreds of comments filed, many from individual listeners (so much that the CRTC put up a special link on its home page to guide people through the process), but Bell responded to three.
- Why didn't Bell request an exemption to keep four English stations? Bell doesn't answer this very well, repeating that it has to follow the common ownership policy. But, of course, the point of an exemption is to get around that policy. It would be more sensical to point out that an exemption would give Bell four of the five English commercial radio stations in Montreal, and the commission is unlikely to grant that without a very good reason.
- Why can't Bell run a bilingual station? The CRTC wouldn't allow it, Bell says. And they're right. For various reasons, the commission does not licence bilingual English/French commercial stations.
- Why doesn't Bell sell the station? They could. They're doing that to 10 other stations in markets where they're going over the limit. But since they want an RDS radio station, they're trying this so they don't lose that key frequency. The official response is that "there is no certainty that a purchaser would commit to the all sports format over the long term; nor is there any way to enforce such a commitment, even if made, as the Commission does not regulate radio formats." This is true, though it's also true that Bell itself would not be committed to such a format.
- Shouldn't 690 be reserved for an English station? There's nothing tying this frequency to a particular language. It was the Radio-Canada station for decades, then Info 690. Last November, the CRTC issued a decision turning the historically French channel English and the historically English channel of 940 French. The two are coveted clear channels, with no special restrictions on nighttime power. The only other such channel here is 730, being used for all-traffic at CKAC. That said, Bell's application to move CKGM from 990 to 690 was based in large part around how poorly the signal reached its core West Island anglo audience at night, when the Canadiens games are on. The commission could decide that this, combined with the fact that the other two clear channels are French-language, would be enough to either reject the application or issue an open call for applications to use this frequency.
The entire response is republished below. Bell makes its presentation in the CKGM licence change Tuesday at 8am in Room 518 of the Palais des congrès, at which point it will release a separate document making its case for the change. The commission will hear from intervenors in favour and opposed until Friday, and then a response from Bell.
The hearing is streamed live at cpac.ca, and on the CPAC TV channel as of 10am.
2012 08 20
To: Mr. John Traversy
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Subject: Application 2012-0573-2 - CKGM Montréal (the CKGM Application)
Dear Mr. Traversy,
This letter is filed by Bell Media Inc. (Bell Media) in response to the comments by Messrs. Pacetti and Scarpaleggia, the MPs for Saint-Léonard/Saint-Michel and Lac-Saint-Louis, respectively, and by Dufferin Communications Inc. (Dufferin) (collectively referred to as the Interveners).
In the CKGM Application, Bell Media seeks the Commission's authorization to convert our English-language AM sports talk radio station (currently operating as TSN 990) into a French-language sports talk radio station (to be known as RDS Radio). As set out in the Supplementary Brief filed with the CKGM Application, this Application is dependent on the Commission's approval of the application filed by Bell Media for the acquisition of control of Astral Media Inc. (the Astral Application). In the event the Astral Application is approved, the CKGM Application is the necessary means by which Bell Media will ensure that it is fully in compliance with the Commission's Common Ownership Policy.
Before addressing the concerns of the Interveners, Bell Media would like to thank the many groups that filed interventions in support of the CKGM Application. As described in their comments, these interveners recognize that the conversion of CKGM from an English- to a French-language sports radio station will result in several distinct benefits to the Montréal radio market. With the Commission's approval, CKGM will become Montréal's Francophone sports authority, offering fans a radio option not currently available in the Montréal market.
In his intervention, Mr. Pacetti, the MP for Saint-Léonard/Saint-Michel, asks the CRTC to permit Bell Media "to operate both a Francophone and Anglophone all sports radio station simultaneously" or "allow for the possibility of creating a bilingual station" so that "one community's loss should not be another community's gain". While we sympathize with Mr. Pacetti's desire for two sports radio options in each official language, this is simply not possible given the strict limits set out in the CRTC's Common Ownership Policy.
The Common Ownership Policy imposes a strict cap on the number of stations that Bell Media may own in Montréal and the conversion of CKGM is the means by which compliance with the policy can be ensured in light of the Astral acquisition.
Another potential option would be the divestiture of the station to a third party. However, in a divestiture scenario, there is no certainty that a purchaser would commit to the all sports format over the long term; nor is there any way to enforce such a commitment, even if made, as the Commission does not regulate radio formats.
Under these unique circumstances, we believe that transforming CKGM into a French-language sports talk radio station is the best option available to Bell Media at this point in time, as it will ensure that the Montréal market has the benefit of at least one all sports radio station, rather than leaving both the francophone and anglophone communities in Montréal without a sports talk radio station. It is also important to highlight that Montreal's anglophone community will continue to receive coverage of sports in English as sports programming shifts from TSN Radio 990 to CJAD.
Mr. Scarpaleggia, the MP for Lac-Saint-Louis questions why Bell Media has not applied to the Commission for an exemption to the Common Ownership Policy, noting that the English-speaking community's interests are better served by having CKGM serve anglophone communities in Montréal.
As set out above, Bell Media's decision to convert CKGM from an English-language to a French-language sports talk radio station is required to ensure that Bell Media is in compliance with the CRTC's Common Ownership Policy, which set outs very clear, unequivocal caps on the amount of radio stations that can be owned in one market. In the past, exemptions have been granted very sparingly.
In its intervention, Dufferin argues that approval of the CKGM Application would call into question the integrity of the Commission's licensing process with respect to the use of the 690 kHz frequency, which was awarded to Bell Media in 2011.
In Decision 2011-721, the Commission approved our application for a technical amendment to move CKGM from 990 kHz to 690 kHz as a means of addressing severe reception problems caused by a defective signal. The primary purpose of the 2011 application was to rectify a severe signal problem by eliminating the need for CKGM to switch to a low-power night-time contour, which significantly reduced the signal's coverage area. The technical amendment that was granted rectifies the signal problem, regardless of the language or format the station operates in. Thus, approval of the technical amendment, followed by a change in the station's language of operation does not, in our submission, call into question the integrity of the Commission's licensing process.
We note that following approval of the technical amendment, CKGM could have changed formats and there would have been no basis for claiming that such a change affected the integrity of the Commission's process. Moreover, should the Commission approve the CKGM Application, French-language listeners in Montréal would benefit immensely from the enhanced night-time coverage and signal quality that will be realized as a result of the previously approved technical amendment, especially in light of the fact that there are currently no French-language radio stations dedicated to sports news and information in Montréal. Thus, regardless of the outcome, Montréal listeners will benefit from CKGM moving from a defective to a clear signal.
To support its position, Dufferin argues that approval of the CKGM Application and the Astral Application would allow Bell Media to operate six radio frequencies in Montréal and that this substantial concentration of ownership would redefine the playing field envisioned by the Commission in Decision 2011-721. We note that under the Common Ownership Policy, Bell Media is permitted to own the six commercial radio stations that would result from approval of the Astral Application and the CKGM Application. Thus the conversion of CKGM is entirely in compliance with the Common Ownership Policy and it is disingenuous for Dufferin to claim that ownership of a number of stations that is expressly permitted under the policy somehow constitutes excessive concentration of ownership. In fact, one party could technically own seven stations in Montréal (four French and three English) and still be in compliance with the policy.
Dufferin also argues that approval of the CKGM Application would result in a major financial impact on the Montréal radio market. This claim is simply not credible. As is evident from the financial projections filed with the CKGM Application, Bell Media is projecting that it will experience a cumulative loss of over $12.6 million over the first licence term if the CKGM Application is approved by the Commission. Further, as set out in the Supplementary Brief filed with the CKGM Application, a comparison of the total retail sales and radio advertising revenues in the Montréal and Vancouver CMAs indicates that Montréal radio is underperforming relative to retail sales. Thus, there is upside potential for radio advertising sales in the Montréal French-language market if more radio format choices are offered. Therefore, contrary to Dufferin's assertion, the CKGM conversion would not have a major financial impact. Instead, all indications are that it would have a stimulative effect on the French-language radio market by increasing hours tuned to radio.
The decision to convert CKGM from an English-language to a French-language sports talk radio station has been a difficult one. Unfortunately, the limits imposed by the Commission's Common Ownership Policy are such that the conversion of CKGM appears to be the best option available to Bell Media at this time, as it will ensure at least the ongoing presence of a sports radio format in Montréal. We are committed to continuing to provide Montréalers with a dedicated sports radio station and creating a vibrant Montréal radio market, while working within the parameters of the Common Ownership Policy.
We trust this responds to the Interveners' concerns. A copy of this letter has been served on the Interveners, in accordance with the CRTC's Rules of Practice and Procedure.
Vice President - Regulatory Affairs
UPDATE (Sept. 11): Bell presented its case in person to the commission Tuesday morning. You can read its prepared notes here (PDF), and my story summarizing the hearing for The Gazette here.