Videotron applies to create English-language community TV channel for Montreal

Videotron wants to finally create an English version of MAtv.

On Thursday, the CRTC published an application from the cable company to amend its licence to allow for a second community television channel, this one in English, in greater Montreal.

You can read the application here (.zip) or my Gazette story here or Videotron’s press release here.

Called MYtv, the English channel would, like the French one, be a linear high-definition channel with 24/7 programming and available for free to all Videotron customers in the greater Montreal area (analog and digital). As a community channel, it would not be permitted to air advertising (except for sponsorship messages), and at least half of its programming must originate from the community (as of September 2014). Videotron said the plan is to produce 21 hours of original programming a week, with a paid staff of 30 and a budget of $6 million a year.

As La Presse notes, the money being spent on MYtv will come out of the money being given to the Canada Media Fund and the Fonds Quebecor every year.

To get an idea of what this channel might broadcast, you can check out MAtv’s schedule.

Under the CRTC’s rules for cable distributors, the larger companies must spend five per cent of their gross revenues on Canadian programming. But they can devote two of those five to a community television channel, which most do. Videotron is seeking to devote an additional two to an English community channel, following a precedent set by Rogers in Ottawa and Moncton. Bell is also asking to fund its proposed English community television service in Montreal the same way.

In other words, this wouldn’t really be new spending by Videotron, nor would it take away from MAtv’s budget. It would simply re-allocate funds that went to Canadian programming to create a new channel that would be exclusive to its customers.

The application takes a bit of a shot at Bell, whose Fibe community channels are only available on demand (emphasis theirs):

Contrairement à la demande effectuée par Bell visant de la programmation communautaire disponible seulement via la vidéo sur demande, la TCLA [télévision communautaire de langue anglaise] est une chaîne linéaire avec un canal dédié en haute définition, en plus d’être disponible sur la vidéo sur demande, conformément à la PR 2010-622 [the CRTC’s community television policy] dans laquelle le Conseil encourage les EDR [entreprises de distribution de radiodiffusion, i.e. cable TV companies] à rendre la programmation de leurs canaux communautaires accessibles sur leur service de vidéo sur demande. Bien entendu, la programmation de la TCLA sera aussi disponible sur Internet via illico web. Vidéotron offrira donc une fenêtre de diffusion optimale à la communauté visée.

In June, two Quebec anglophone community groups, the English-Language Arts Network and the Quebec Community Groups Network, said they would ask the CRTC to require Videotron to launch an English-language community channel as part of its licence renewal (which was supposed to come by Aug. 31, but Videotron’s licence has been extended a year to Aug. 31, 2014, to give the CRTC more time to process it).

Isabelle Dessureault, president of MAtv, posted on Twitter that the plan is to launch the English channel next spring. She will be in charge of both channels, to reduce administrative costs, but each side would have separate creative teams including separate content directors. The English channel would run out of a separate floor in the Montreal TVA building from the French one, with separate editing facilities, but the two would share some technical resources, she said.

Dessureault said there are no plans for English community channels elsewhere in Quebec, because she’s “not sure it would be viable” for smaller communities. But the Montreal channel could be distributed to those areas for the benefit of anglophones there.

The CRTC is accepting comments on this application until Oct. 7. You can file them on CRTC’s website here. Note that all information provided, including contact information, goes on the public record.

UPDATE (Oct. 7): Three Gazette opinion pieces about MYtv by various interest groups: The Quebec Community Groups Network, the English-Language Arts Network, and the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations.

26 thoughts on “Videotron applies to create English-language community TV channel for Montreal

  1. Jon P.

    I remember back in the CF Cable TV days, they had a bilingual community channel. When Videotron bought CF, they plainly dumped Access-Vision 9 programming, imposing their french-only TCV9 to the West-Island.

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  2. Steve W

    Faguy, in reading your last updated piece in Gazette(online about 2.5 hours ago) on this Videotron announcement, you mentioned that English community TV programming hasn’t appeared in Montreal since about 2000. That can’t be the case. I remember the Videotron community channel had some English programming going back to maybe 6-7 years ago. In their final years, Joanne Vrakas(now BT Montreal co-host) hosted one or two English language programs on Videotron’s community channel. Another one was hosted by Suzanne Desautels(now at CJAD radio). One of her contributors to Suzanne’s English language Videotron program was Patrick Charles. There was a local Montreal music program in English on Videotron community channel hosted by another person(can’t remember her name now, but she use to write in The Gazette, & most recently writes occasionally for The National Post newspaper). All these Videotron communtiy shows in English was about 6-7 years ago(by my quick count).

    BTW, just looked back at your recent Gazette profile of Joanne Vrakas. I don’t think she hosted any radio shows on The Beat(she did co-host however a Sunday new music show with Mark Bergman on CJFM(might of been still known as Mix-96)). She did some sub work at The Beat replacing Natasha Hall & All Access Weekend show replacing Anne Marie Withenshaw.

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    1. Steve W

      Shortly after submitting this comment, I checked further. The last Videotron English community programming went back to 2004(maybe till 2005). The local music program in English on Canal Vox(Videotron’s TV community channel) was hosted by Simona Rabinovich, & it was titled Backstage. It aired in 2004(maybe it continued to 2005).

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    2. Neil K.

      Steve W,

      There was a local Montreal music program in English on Videotron community channel hosted by another person(can’t remember her name now, but she use to write in The Gazette, & most recently writes occasionally for The National Post newspaper).

      Are you thinking of Elizabeth Bromstein? She freelanced for the Gazette and then relocated to Toronto in the late 90s or early 00s.

      I don’t think she hosted any radio shows on The Beat…. She did some sub work at The Beat replacing Natasha Hall & All Access Weekend show replacing Anne Marie Withenshaw.

      Isn’t that what Fagstein said? He never said she was there full time, or permanent. He said she hosted some shows, which you yourself just confirmed.

      …(might of been still known as Mix-96)…

      Would HAVE been known, Steve, not “would OF been known”…

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      1. Steve W

        No it was Simona Rabinovich(almost 100% certain). I have several of the Backstage tv episodes on videotape somewhere. Another TV show in English on Canal Vox around same time(approx. 2005) was a financial advice show hosted Andrea Howick. OK, with regards to Joanne Vrakas on The Beat(that she actually hosted shows there). I thought Fagstein might have been thinking of her Sunday CJFM new music release show with Mark Bergman(that was just before she joined MusiquePlus).

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      2. Steve W

        Couldn’t be Elizabeth Bromstein, if she freelanced for the Gazette & then relocated to Toronto in the late 90s or early 00s. The Backstage program aired on Canal Vox in 2004-2005. I remember Bromstein a little bit at The Gazette.

        Going back to Joanne Vrakas to my knowledge she only worked at The Beat when they were short of staff(she already had a full-time gig at CBC Montreal). Just like when years ago, you were still CHOM music director, Caroline Van Vlaardingen or Ann Shatilla from CFCF TV would sometimes fill in doing the news at CHOM on their morning show. I wouldn’t consider them CHOM news anchors.

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  3. Dilbert

    What I don’t get is this: The only people who will see this channel are Videotron subscribers. On the other side, the only ones that will see the Bell channel are Bell subscribers. Would it not be a better thing to have these two companies give the money into an independent third party channel that could provide programming to both of them? If Videotron creates 21 hours per week, and Bell creates a similar amount, it would be a pretty decent community channel with enough programming to fill all of the hours from 6 to 11 every night with new, community based programming.

    Instead, we get competition that is not competition. WTG CRTC!

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      Would it not be a better thing to have these two companies give the money into an independent third party channel that could provide programming to both of them?

      That pretty well summarizes the argument from former CRTC Commissioner Michel Morin during the last review of the community television policy in 2010. He was overruled by the rest of the commission.

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      1. Fagstein Post author

        I doubt Videotron would be creating this channel if it wasn’t due to competition from Bell.

        The timing is certainly suspicious, though Videotron says it had made the decision to do this years ago, and it was only the pressure from ELAN and QCGN that prompted them to move on this. Honestly I’m not sure how many people are going to make their TV distributor decision based on a community channel in their language, and Bell putting its community programming on VOD only means people aren’t really going to stumble on it. It all depends on the quality of the programming.

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  4. Marc

    There’s no reason for this channel that no one will watch. Will take up valuable bandwidth from bringing in more HD channels.

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  5. Dilbert

    I had to read the application and the implications a couple of times to get why they are doing it, and it’s pretty laughable.

    Basically, they spend 2% on a french community channel, and they want to spend another 2% (out of the total 5) on an english community channel. It seems odd to do so… until you think about it.

    Guess who gets to keep a bunch of the money? Videotron.

    You can imagine that the setup will be a community channel inside video, which will have to “rent” office space, “rent” studio space, “rent” equipment… and so on down the line… all from Videotron services. So they end up turning a third to a half of that Canadian content cost back to the company, as “services”, which pretty much all goes directly to the bottom line because they company already had all of those things, already being paid for by other services. Done right, they can even get 30 people who already work in the company to transfer to this new channel, and not replace them in their existing jobs, making for an even bigger saving without have to reduce staff to get it.

    The real pain is the Canadian content producers who use to get that money suddenly losing some or all of their funding, which leads to layoffs and such in those areas – far away from Videotron.

    Seems like “the rich get richer” to me.

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      Guess who gets to keep a bunch of the money? Videotron.

      That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but yes, distributors see more of an upside for themselves in setting up community channels than handing that money to the Canada Media Fund.

      Done right, they can even get 30 people who already work in the company to transfer to this new channel, and not replace them in their existing jobs, making for an even bigger saving without have to reduce staff to get it.

      Considering this is for an English-language television channel, and Videotron (or Quebecor for that matter) doesn’t produce much English-language television programming, I don’t see much of this happening.

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      1. Dilbert

        “Considering this is for an English-language television channel, and Videotron (or Quebecor for that matter) doesn’t produce much English-language television programming, I don’t see much of this happening.”

        Yeah, like they would absolutely staff the station with nothing but anglos, who by Quebec law would have to communicate in french internally! Come on Steve, you can bet that in the thousands of people working for Videotron, they would have 30 people who speak english at least well enough to do the work. I didn’t realize you had to be english to be an accountant or run a camera. Is that a new technical requirement?

        “That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but yes, distributors see more of an upside for themselves in setting up community channels than handing that money to the Canada Media Fund.”

        Tell me then where it is too simple. 6 million budget, 30 people… do you think they will rent brand new offices, build new studios, buy all new equipment… or do you think they will get jammed into a corner somewhere in existing space, and “rent” existing Videotron facilities at top dollar?

        I know, no press released, this one actually requires that you think about it!

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        1. Fagstein Post author

          like they would absolutely staff the station with nothing but anglos, who by Quebec law would have to communicate in french internally!

          Actually, broadcasting is regulated federally, so Quebec laws about language in the workplace don’t apply. I’m sure they’ll communicate in French anyway because they’re part of Quebecor, though. And I didn’t say they would hire “nothing but anglos”.

          do you think they will rent brand new offices, build new studios, buy all new equipment

          They don’t need to rent new offices because they own the building. They will be building new studios, and buying some new equipment, though much of it will be shared between MAtv and MYtv.

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          1. Dilbert

            At the end, language is a red herring, don’t you think? It’s unlikely that Videotron will hire 30 NEW people to work there, and instead can just transfer from other departments and areas, so they create few if any new jobs. On the other side, that same money disappearing from the content fund means that other Canadian companies who were producing before might end up laying people off. Net, it means fewer people working – but a nice pickup on the bottom line for Videotron.

            But on language, thanks Neil K for the comments… you don’t have to be English to produce english TV.

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            1. Fagstein Post author

              At the end, language is a red herring, don’t you think? It’s unlikely that Videotron will hire 30 NEW people to work there, and instead can just transfer from other departments and areas, so they create few if any new jobs.

              You seem to be under the impression that Videotron has a bunch of people working for it doing nothing who can easily be removed from their jobs and not replaced. If that was the case, wouldn’t they have been let go long ago? Also: Videotron is a cable and Internet provider. Aside from MAtv, it doesn’t really do much broadcasting. So I don’t think there are too many jobs that they can fill internally. They certainly aren’t going to take random customer service representatives or telecom technicians and give them on-air roles on an anglophone community channel.

              On the other side, that same money disappearing from the content fund means that other Canadian companies who were producing before might end up laying people off.

              This is true. The Canada Media Fund will no doubt miss the money and be able to produce less as a result.

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              1. Dilbert

                “You seem to be under the impression that Videotron has a bunch of people working for it doing nothing who can easily be removed from their jobs and not replaced. ”

                Actually, you seem to be having a problem understanding basic business concepts here. Videotron has well more than 6000 employees, and parent Quebecor a bunch more yet. In all of that number, you don’t think that there are perhaps 0.5% of the employees who have a little less to do, or a job that has become redundant (like people working the analog cable side), or perhaps have a job that has been rendered slightly moot because of technology?

                You seem to think that companies have absolute effeciency at all times, that there is never a chance that an employee might not be working up to full potential, or that a job shared by two people could be done by one with a little more technology. Where you work, a half a dozen people left, and yet the paper still is produced. Yet if I had asked you the day before, you would have likely said the staff was about at minimum. Today there will still be a newspaper, so perhaps for a given period of time the paper was somehow not efficient and actually did have excess staff.

                Also remember, the 30 people being hired for the channel aren’t 30 on air people – it might not even be ANY (or maybe only 1 or two) as the rest of the on air people may come from community projects. MAtv doesn’t have 30 on air people, does it?

                The whole point here Steve is that a company the size of Videotron can move people around to a new project without having to do outside hiring, they have the techinical people (including people who do broadcast) either in Videotron or within the Quebecor family that can do the jobs without having to hire new people. It means that the money allocated to salaries on this project will be pretty much a direct saving somewhere else in the business, a direct to the bottom line boost.

                Meanwhile, as you said, the media fund will miss the money, less will be produced – and that likely means less people working. Net of a move like this: Fewer jobs, but certainly more profit for Videotron.

              2. Fagstein Post author

                Videotron has well more than 6000 employees, and parent Quebecor a bunch more yet. In all of that number, you don’t think that there are perhaps 0.5% of the employees who have a little less to do, or a job that has become redundant (like people working the analog cable side), or perhaps have a job that has been rendered slightly moot because of technology?

                I’m not sure what jobs you think will become redundant with the switch away from analog cable. I don’t think there are that many people who wouldn’t be trainable on digital cable.

                I’m not arguing that Videotron couldn’t cut staff if it wanted to. I’m arguing that excess service technicians and customer service representatives are not necessarily the best suited people to run a community television channel. But hey, if the people they hire are all taken from other divisions of Videotron, I’ll eat my words.

                Where you work, a half a dozen people left, and yet the paper still is produced. Yet if I had asked you the day before, you would have likely said the staff was about at minimum. Today there will still be a newspaper, so perhaps for a given period of time the paper was somehow not efficient and actually did have excess staff.

                I guess you could come to that conclusion if you don’t care at all about quality, and if you see no practical difference between The Gazette and a Publi-Sac. The truth is that just about every job cut where I work has some effect on the quality of the paper. They do their best to minimize it, but it’s definitely there.

                Also remember, the 30 people being hired for the channel aren’t 30 on air people

                I don’t have the breakdown of how many jobs will be doing what, but I expect most of them are either on-air or technical jobs like camera operators and editors. Remember that administrative functions are being shared with MAtv, so they won’t need to hire new jobs in those functions.

                MAtv doesn’t have 30 on air people, does it?

                It has about that. You can see a list of their shows here.

                a company the size of Videotron can move people around to a new project without having to do outside hiring

                I don’t get how moving unqualified people who already work at Videotron around is better than hiring new people for the job.

                Net of a move like this: Fewer jobs, but certainly more profit for Videotron.

                I won’t argue this isn’t a net benefit for Videotron. They wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. But I don’t have any data to show that this is a net loss of jobs. I suspect the net effect will be near zero, but with the notable difference that temporary jobs at productions funded by the CMF will be replaced with permanent jobs at MYtv.

              3. Dilbert

                “I don’t get how moving unqualified people who already work at Videotron around is better than hiring new people for the job.”

                Quite simply, in any company the size of Videotron, you can always find a few positions or posts that can just sort of disappear, or perhaps a slightly overstaffed. So there is always a little flex in the system that allows you to cover new projects without a bunch of new hires.

                Now, this is perfect example of found money – Videotron would get to take 2% of it’s income that it’s currently throwing away, and instead keep it in house. By shuffling people and hiring no (of few) new people, all of the money in that 2% that would go to staff instead goes right to the bottom line – you didn’t increase staff costs, but you did increase money available to pay for them. Net gain.

                The technical and physical space is the same thing: Videotron won’t build or rent new space for the project, but they can charge the project for the space, so a part of that 2% goes right to the bottom line as found money: More income, no extra expense. Same applies for any technical services or equipment that the company many already own – they “rent” it to the new channel with no additional cost, money falls right to the bottom line.

                “It has about that.”

                They have than many people who appear on air, but how many of them are actually full time Videotron employees, and how many are “community” people who either get paid a small amount to appear or do it for nothing (or self promotion)? The 30 jobs I gather are much more to do with putting the channel on air, from accounting staff to editors, writers, schedulers and the like. I don’t think they have 30 full time on air people for the new channel, do you?

                ” I suspect the net effect will be near zero, but with the notable difference that temporary jobs at productions funded by the CMF will be replaced with permanent jobs at MYtv.”

                That is only true if Videotron hires all new people and doesn’t reassign staff or lower staffing elsewhere. It’s much more likely that they will keep the money and shuffle people, it makes much more economic sense. 2% is a lot of money to keep.

  6. Neil K.

    Back in the glory days of CFCF-TV/Champlain Productions up on Ogilivie Ave., about 95% of the behind-the-scenes staff was francophone. About the only anglos working there were the on-air talent, the control room staff (directors, switchers, tape ops as the control room language was English), the floor manager and some management and sales staff. Everyone else, from engineers. technicians, carpenters, painters, hair and make-up, etc. were all francophones who could speak decent English.

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