It’s not that Bell Media, which owns CTV, is opposed to adding a third private English-language station to the Montreal market. But it tells the CRTC it thinks such an application should be done in a straightforward way with a call for new applications, rather than the roundabout two-step process that Rogers is proposing with CJNT.
Normally, when an application is made for a new commercial television or radio station, the CRTC responds by evaluating the market to see if it can sustain an additional station, and if so issuing an open call for applications. The various applications are evaluated and the commission chooses the best one.
With the Rogers acquisition of CJNT, which it proposes to convert into an English station, and a related application for the new ICI ethnic station, which would take over the ethnic programming responsibilities from CJNT, the new application isn’t technically for Citytv, but for an ethnic station to replace an existing one. In comments filed to the CRTC, Bell’s vice-president of regulatory affairs Kevin Goldstein says Rogers is “looking for an extraordinary result from this process” and the CRTC should reject the application, instead issuing an open call for applications for a new English television station in Montreal. Indeed, he questions why it wasn’t the group behind ICI that didn’t seek to acquire CJNT, and Rogers issue the new application.
Even under an alternative proposal, in which CJNT remains an ethnic station but with relief from rules like the one requiring 75% of its programming between 8pm and 10pm to be bilingual, Goldstein says “its commitment to local ethnic programming hours will be drastically reduced and much lower than what is required by other ethnic stations. This would represent a significant loss of diverse programming for Montreal’s ethnic audiences, particularly during the prime time hours when they tune in the most.”
Other Bell concerns include:
Timing: Bell points out that if the two applications are approved, the ICI service would take some months to launch, while Citytv could be converted into an English television station “essentially overnight.” In the interim, Montreal would be absent any ethnic programming on local television.
Programming: Though it doesn’t object to Rogers’s proposed English programming grid per se, Bell does suggest that it might not be the best option in terms of local programming. It points out that the station would have “limited local news” which would be done within a morning show and a weekly sports show. Goldstein suggests that, with an open call for applications, another proposal could offer a better option that would have more or better local programming.
Bell’s main objection, that Rogers seems to have structured this plan as a clever way to get around normal CRTC process for a new television station, makes a lot of sense. But it’s also kind of an academic argument to make, for the simple reason that there’s little demand for new conventional television stations. I’d be surprised if an open call for applications for a commercial English station would result in an application from anyone other than Rogers for the simple reason that there’s no other large mainstream commercial Canadian television network that doesn’t already have a station in Montreal. The only other networks in Canada are the small, mainly religious Joytv and CTS.
In 1996, when Canwest applied to acquire Quebec City station CKMI-TV and convert it into Global Quebec, CFCF objected strongly, saying the market could not sustain a second television station. Ownership of CFCF has changed a few times since then, though.
Shaw: Rogers exaggerates market’s health
Shaw Media, which owns the Global television network, also submitted comments about this proposal. Shaw senior vice-president of regulatory affairs Jean Brazeau says the company doesn’t directly oppose the applications, but that a study Rogers included from Strategic Inc. is unrealistic in its glowing predictions about the future of local television in Montreal.
“Since 2005, audience to English-language Canadian conventional television stations in the Montreal Anglo market has declined significantly – a pattern that holds for the overall schedule (down 40%) and for primetime (down 45%). Over the same timeframe, market leader CFCF-TV (CTV) has experienced marked audience erosion (down 53% during primetime), while already small audiences to local CBC and Global stations have remained flat or declined.”
“According to TVB Timesales Survey, between 2004 and 2009, total spot advertising in the market fell from $62.9 million to $49.2 million – a 22% decline across the market.”
Shaw uses figures from CKMI as an example, allowing us to get some insight into the station’s overall performance. As one might expect for one of Global’s weaker stations, it’s not good:
“Our own experience illustrates the challenges facing this market. As evidenced by the Annual Returns filed with the Commission, and despite initiatives to contain costs while remaining viable, CKMI-TV has posted significant operating losses over the past thirteen (13) years. In the most recent broadcast year (2011/12), CKMI-TV’s advertising revenues declined by 10% while operating losses grew significantly. Shaw assigns only 4% of its overall foreign programming costs to CKMI-TV, so the station’s financial performance is in no way a function of arbitrary foreign program cost allocations.”
That last sentence reflects a common complaint about large broadcasters playing with the books by downloading more costs for national programming onto local stations in order to make their financial situation seem more dire than it really is.
Nevertheless, rather than oppose the application outright, Shaw says that if the CRTC approves bringing Citytv to Montreal, it should allow “and even encourage” other stations to apply for “regulatory relief — especially from onerous local programming obligations that result from the Commission’s designation of the Montreal Anglo market as a metropolitan market.”
According to CRTC policy, in general stations in large metropolitan markets (population over 1 million) are required to broadcast 14 hours a week of local programming. Stations in non-metropolitan markets are required to broadcast only 7 hours a week. The markets are split by language, but the CRTC considers language proficiency, not mother tongue. So both Montreal’s English and French markets qualify as metropolitan (it’s the only market that does so). The other metropolitan markets are all English-language ones: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa-Gatineau.
Not on this list is Winnipeg, which Shaw argues Montreal’s English market is similar to, as part of its argument that Montreal’s English market should be considered non-metropolitan. It’s true that both cities have a similar population of anglophones (700,000), but that’s by mother tongue, not language proficiency.
The argument is also kind of moot since there aren’t many practical differences for Global, which runs reruns of its news broadcasts at 6am in order to meet local programming requirements. Once its morning show launches, it will be producing 17.5 hours of original local programming a week (assuming it doesn’t cancel Focus Montreal or its late newscast, which I wouldn’t count on).
Winnipeg, by the way, has all three English commercial broadcasters, as well as a Joytv station.
Shaw argues that reducing the number of hours of local news for each station would not have an adverse effect overall if combined with a new station.
Finally, Shaw calls Rogers on its statement (repeated in many supporting interventions) that Citytv would have Montreal’s “only” morning show, by reminding Rogers that it is planning to launch its own. “We anticipate launch of CKMI-TV morning news within the next 150 days,” Brazeau writes, putting the launch before March 4, 2013.
Both Bell and Shaw filed their comments on the last day to do so. Rogers will be given an opportunity to reply in writing. Neither Bell nor Shaw said they wished to appear at the hearing into these applications, scheduled for Nov. 7 in Gatineau.
CMPA calls foul on benefits plan
While most of the interventions filed by individuals and interest groups favoured the plan, the Canadian Media Production Association wrote to the CRTC to oppose a specific part of the proposal – using $1 million in tangible benefits to create programming for ICI.
The CMPA quotes CRTC policy regarding tangible benefits, a 10% tax on the purchase of television stations that is supposed to be used on programs or funds that benefit the broadcasting system as a whole, saying that it specifically forbids such money from being “dependent upon approval of an application yet to be considered by the Commission.”
Of course, since the application for ICI is being considered at the same hearing, this would not seem to apply directly in this case, at least by my reading of it.
A similar argument was used by various groups to oppose a proposal by Bell Media to use some tangible benefits from its proposed purchase of Astral Media to help fund the launch of a new French-language all-news television channel.
In general, the CMPA opposes the plan because CJNT and the new ICI station are two separate entities “and the Commission must therefore consider the ici application on its own merits.”
“Moreover, under the policy, the benefits from this transaction must flow primarily to the community to be served by a Rogers-owned CJNT-TV; they are not to flow to an entirely different community served by another, entirely different broadcaster.”
This brings up a good question: Under this acquisition plan, should the benefits money go primarily to the local ethnic broadcasting system (because it’s the purchase of an ethnic television station) or to the local English broadcasting system (because it would result in the creation of a new English television service)? The CRTC will need to determine this.
The CMPA says allowing this plan would create a “dangerous precedent” of broadcasters proposing similar deals in order to make it more likely for the CRTC to approve them.
The association says the funds should be instead given to “a new self-administrated fund to independent producers based in Quebec, for English-language programming to be broadcast on CJNT-TV/CityTV Montréal.”
QELPC: Quebec’s English community is underserved
The Quebec English-language Production Council had one of the longer interventions. It wrote that the CRTC should take a more broad view of how broadcasters are serving the English minority in Quebec. It’s issues include that Videotron does not offer an English-language community channel, and that English stations in Montreal are not eligible to receive funding from the Local Programming Improvement Fund (which is being phased out anyway).
In regards to this application, the council supports bringing Citytv to Montreal, which it says will “help stabilize this fragile undertaking.” But it’s not happy with the lack of independent production, saying the $200,000 a year budgeted to independent productions is “inadequate.”
It proposes that Rogers be required as a condition of licence to spend 3% of its national Citytv independent programming budget in (English) Quebec, which is the same as Rogers currently spends, increasing to 6% after the first three years.
It also takes issue with reduced Canadian programming budgets (due in large part to reduced local programming at various stations), combined with leaps in foreign program acquisition budgets. “We do not want to see CJNT simply become another channel simulcasting U.S. programming,” it says.
Under the alternative plan of CJNT becoming an OMNI-like ethnic broadcaster, the council says it supports the plan, but still wants 3% of independent programming for Citytv to come from Quebec’s English minority, increasing to 6% after three years.
As for benefits money going to ICI, the council says it opposes spending all the money this way, and wants at least 40% of tangible benefits to be spent on English-language production “whether ICI is licensed or not.”
Other comments about CJNT, Citytv and ICI
- English Language Arts Network: Supports the plan, particularly because of the increased exposure of Quebec’s anglophone cultural community that Citytv would bring. Also supports the alternative proposal of an ethnic CJNT with reduced ethnic programming requirements during prime time, if Rogers makes a commitment to produce “a minimum amount of Quebec-produced English-language content on the Citytv network”. The alternative proposal for CJNT would have it air local ethnic programming, but not any local English programming.
- David Birnbaum, Quebec English School Boards Association: Supports bringing Citytv to Montreal as an addition to the number of voices in English media in Quebec. (He expressed similar comments about CKGM at the CRTC hearings in Montreal last month).
- Montreal School of Performing Arts: Sees Citytv Montreal as “an opportunity to grow more Montreal talent in the entertainment industry, specifically in the English sector.” Name-drops Montreal Alouettes player Brandon London, who’s studying to become an actor.
- Griffintown Media: Wants more local programming. “Specifically, locally-focused shows that celebrate and support the efforts and achievements of the community.” President Jim McRae says that “every opportunity to bolster (the voice of Montreal’s English community) should be taken. The proposed acquisition represents just such an opportunity.”
- Valerie Smith: Supports bringing a local morning show back to Montreal. Also supports ethnic programming.
- Youth Fusion: A charity that has as its goal to reduce the high school dropout rate, says Rogers is “a key partner in supporting our programs” and sees Citytv as an “opportunity for visibility of our program activities and to showcase our students’ accomplishments.”
- Urban Diversity Forum: Worried that Rogers is essentially dictating a course of action to the CRTC. Feels an open call for applications – both for an English station and for an ethnic station – would be advisable. Also calls for all of Rogers’s OMNI stations to increase their ethnic programming minimum to 70% of the broadcast day. (The CRTC will likely reject this as being outside the scope of this hearing.)
- Anaïd Productions
- Buck Productions
- Cream Productions
- Force Four Entertainment (supports benefits package, but says comments subject to CMPA’s position)
- Galafilm (but echoing concerns raised by the CMPA about benefits spending)
- KBS+P (marketing)
- Retail Communications
- Rezolution Pictures International
- Rotating Planet Productions
- Thunderbird Films
- Worldwide Bag Media
- Jean D. Codère
And others who look like they just filled out the form letter calling for Citytv to come to Montreal:
- Bruce Hills of Just for Laughs
- Boys and Girls Club of Dawson Community Centre
- Generations Foundation
- Linda Leith Publishing
Other supporters of ICI
Most of these are simple letters of support, explaining the need for local ethnic programming in Montreal. They are in addition to the letters of support ICI included in its own application.
Festivals, cultural institutions and ethnic media:
- Vues D’Afrique
- Festival Nuits d’Afrique
- Le trait d’union d’art et de la culture
- Média Arabe au Canada Inc.
- FOUNOUN Events
- Canadian Asian News
- Bharat Times
- Accent Montreal (Romanian community newspaper)
- Italian Cultural Center of Quebec
Consulates and ethnic associations:
- India-Canada Association of Montreal
- Communauté hellénique du Grand Montréal
- Hellenic Congress of Quebec
- Hindi Quebec Association
- Communauté Angolaise de Montréal
- Armenian Community Center of Montreal
- Armenian Community Center of Laval
- Association des retraités d’origine haïtienne du Québec et du Canada
- Bharat Bhavan Foundation
- St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral
- St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral Sisterhood
- St. John of Suchawa Greek Orthodox Parish
- Consulate General of Egypt in Montreal
- Consulate of El Salvador in Montreal
- Consulate of Bolivia in Montreal
- Consulate of the Dominican Republic in Montreal
Former TEQ/CJNT shows:
- Images de l’Inde
- Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos
- Mary Deros, City of Montreal executive committee
- Dominique Anglade, president of the Coalition avenir Québec
- Shield of Athena Family Services
- Wilhelmina Fredericks
- Francine Gagné
- Nelly Nlonda
- Costantinos Papachristou
- Elizabeth Platonow
- Howard Riback
- Tatiana Schicharew
- Bemvindo Woollams
- Joujou Turenne, Flaubert Chéry, Frantz Lafontant, Félicidade Jacques Joseph and Joseph Jean-Gilles, in various roles with the local Haitian community