Videotron doesn’t want to add ICI to analog cable, asks CRTC for exemption

Sam Norouzi in the control room at ICI's studios in Ahuntsic

Sam Norouzi in the control room at ICI’s studios in Ahuntsic

Analog cable. Remember that? According to the latest statistics from the CRTC, only 11% of television subscribers get their TV that way. For Videotron, that number is higher. According to Quebecor’s latest quarterly report, 82.9% of its television customers were digital, leaving 17.1% of them using analog-only setups.

Since about 2000, the groundwork has been built for the phasing out of analog cable. The CRTC has since licensed new television specialty channels as digital-only. In 2012, Videotron stopped selling new analog cable subscriptions. And it’s expected that within the next few years it will be phasing out its analog cable network, much as other providers are, in order to free that bandwidth for more data and high-definition channels.

I bring all of this up because of an interesting situation that’s come up. The Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, the rules that apply to cable, satellite and other television providers, have a priority list of which channels must be distributed on the basic service. At the top of that list is CBC/Radio-Canada, then educational channels, then all other local television stations, then those special services like CPAC and APTN that the CRTC requires everyone receive and pay for.

The lineup of analog cable channels hasn’t been added to in the past decade. The last new channels added to it here were APTN and Avis de recherche, because of distribution orders for those channels. And with a virtual ban on new channels being forced onto analog, it seemed destined to stay that way.

But in December, a new television station launched in Montreal. ICI, an ethnic station, began broadcasting on Channel 47. And according to the rules, it needs to be added to the systems of all cable distributors operating in Montreal, on both analog an digital.

This issue doesn’t come up often because it’s so rare that a new over-the-air television station starts up. The last real expansion of over-the-air television through new stations was in 1997, which was when Global Quebec and CJNT (what is now City Montreal) went on the air. So cable companies haven’t had to add many new services to analog cable since they started the slow move to digital.

But the rules say that Videotron needs to distribute local stations, and so it needs to put ICI on its analog grid somewhere, at least in the Montreal area.

Except Videotron says it doesn’t have the room to do that. So it has applied to the CRTC for an exception to the distribution rules that would allow it to not have to carry ICI this way.

In its submission, Videotron’s owner Quebecor Media says the commission’s clear intention is to move away from analog television distribution, and that its recent decisions have made it clear it doesn’t want to add new services to analog.

“The analog programming grids for the greater Montreal region are at their maximum capacity and no space is available to add a new station to the basic service,” Quebecor’s Peggy Tabet writes. “In fact, any additional analog channel would require the removal of a channel that’s currently distributed in this format. This type of change has important consequences at the client level and on a financial and technical level. Adding ICI to the analog basic service would result in depriving our subscribers of a service they have always had access to.”

Moreover, Videotron says, removing a service from analog cable would require a 60-day notification period, and its contracts with broadcasters do not allow Videotron to remove those channels from its analog service.

Finally, Videotron says that 93% of its customers in the greater Montreal region have digital set-top boxes, and those subscribers receive ICI in standard and high definition.

Videotron’s explanation is mostly half-true. It definitely has space limitations on its network, and adding a new analog channel would take up a lot of space. And it’s right that removing analog channels is tricky because of customer complaints as well as contractual obligations.

But Videotron isn’t absolutely prevented from adding ICI to its analog network. Assuming there was no analog channel that it could part with to make room for ICI, it could repurpose a digital channel and make it analog again. That might mean fewer HD channels, or more compressed HD channels, but it’s doable.

It would probably be more accurate to say that Videotron simply doesn’t want ICI on its analog network because it would add to its bandwidth management problems and won’t be that popular among its customers.

That kind of explanation usually doesn’t sway the CRTC. But should the commission force Videotron’s hand, requiring it to start fiddling around with an analog network it’s in the slow process of dismantling? Videotron hasn’t set a date for bringing down the analog network in Montreal. It may be a small minority that still has analog cable, but many of them do for a reason, and it will be quite a process to transition all of them at the same time. Plus there are all the people who might have a digital box on their main television but analog cable going into other TVs in the house. Those will also need to be dealt with.

I suspect the CRTC will deny Videotron’s application. But it may grant the exception if it feels that the reins of analog cable need to be let loose so the format can be put out to pasture.

ICI hasn’t commented on the application. Its general manager Sam Norouzi said it will be filing a response opposing it, but didn’t want to comment further.

Videotron’s application can be downloaded here (.zip). It’s open to comment until 8pm ET on Monday. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information provided, including contact info, goes on the public record.

UPDATE (Sept. 3): The CRTC has granted Videotron’s request, despite ICI’s objections.

30 thoughts on “Videotron doesn’t want to add ICI to analog cable, asks CRTC for exemption

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Why doesn’t Videotron get rid of City TV Toronto, which is not needed since Montreal has a City TV station now?

      That’s a good question, and one I asked Videotron about. (They said they haven’t made a decision.) It could be that some people want access to local Toronto news. Or Videotron doesn’t want to rock the boat and get rid of something that people have chosen to add to their packages, even if it may seem redundant.

      In any case, City TV Toronto isn’t distributed on analog cable, so they couldn’t just replace it with ICI to solve the problem.

      Reply
  1. James Alexander

    Even if only one person still has analog cable, all of the free tv channels should be on it…it’s part of the bargain that allowed cable companies a monopoly for years!
    I want ICI!

    Reply
  2. Dilbert

    I guess what I don’t get here is that if the “juggling” is such a hassle, why isn’t Videotron working harder to get those customers off of analog? They seem to be creating their own hell by not dealing with it more directly. You have to think that the amount of money spent to work up the legalese to petition the CRTC would pay for at least a couple of set top boxes to move some clients over.

    I would hope that the CRTC would grant them an exemption only if they agree to convert the last of the analog customers within 12- 18 months. That would resolve the bigger issue that Videotron seems to be avoiding.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I guess what I don’t get here is that if the “juggling” is such a hassle, why isn’t Videotron working harder to get those customers off of analog?

      Because most of the people still on analog are happy to be there, or they would have switched by now. And forcing them to switch to digital runs the risk that they might either switch to Bell or abandon cable TV entirely.

      You have to think that the amount of money spent to work up the legalese to petition the CRTC would pay for at least a couple of set top boxes to move some clients over.

      The “legalese” consists of a three-page letter, a form and a list of analog cable channels. That’s not a lot of work. “A couple” sounds about right. That still leaves more than 300,000.

      I would hope that the CRTC would grant them an exemption only if they agree to convert the last of the analog customers within 12- 18 months.

      That would be an interesting idea. It would ensure that Videotron doesn’t drag its feet on something it has just told the CRTC is imminent.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “That still leaves more than 300,000.”

        Since they have to be moved at some point anyway, it’s sort of moot. Paying people to file these requests with the CRTC, to manage the channel shuffling to keep analog working, and so on… it all costs money. At some point, it’s gotta get cheaper to move these people onto digital, and moreover, it’s gotta be way more effecient for Videotron as well.

        “That would be an interesting idea. It would ensure that Videotron doesn’t drag its feet on something it has just told the CRTC is imminent.”

        I think that if they are claiming they can’t find space for the station because, well, the end is near, then they should be forced to define near. I would even go further as to say they might be required to financially compensate the station for not giving it coverage. I am guessing the CRTC isn’t going to be thrilled to violate one of the basic rules of cable just to make Videotron happy, it would seem reasonable that any exemption granted would come with some pretty interesting clauses.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          At some point, it’s gotta get cheaper to move these people onto digital, and moreover, it’s gotta be way more effecient for Videotron as well.

          Indeed. But we’re not at that point yet.

          I would even go further as to say they might be required to financially compensate the station for not giving it coverage.

          The CRTC doesn’t really have the authority to impose such a requirement. In practice, the commission either approves or denies applications. It doesn’t try to get creative with compromises, and it certainly won’t start imposing unprecedented ones without calling a hearing.

          Reply
  3. Apple IIGS

    Here’s a potential solution…

    Videotron drops “Canal info Vidéotron” (channel 18) and replaces it with ICI. From my recollection, it’s just a looping infomercial telling you how to set up and use your Illico digital service, which is ironic since this is being broadcast on analog service.

    There’s also the possibility of removing either National Assembly and CPAC, which I can’t imagine being popular, but I’m guessing the CRTC mandates these channels must be included.

    Nevertheless, if it comes down to being forced to add this channel and literally cannot do so without screwing with the digital side of things, then they should use this opportunity as a excuse to finally shutdown analog cable.

    Speaking of ICI, I’ve still yet to pick up CFHD with my antenna in NDG. It’s one of the only digital channels I cannot get in my area. Surprising if they’re broadcasting from the large antenna array atop Mount Royal.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      There’s also the possibility of removing either National Assembly and CPAC, which I can’t imagine being popular, but I’m guessing the CRTC mandates these channels must be included.

      It does, though they’re lower on the priority list than local channels.

      Nevertheless, if it comes down to being forced to add this channel and literally cannot do so without screwing with the digital side of things, then they should use this opportunity as a excuse to finally shutdown analog cable.

      That would require sending out technicians to service almost 20% of their customers. It would be hugely expensive, a logistical nightmare, result in the loss of thousands of clients, or all of the above.

      Speaking of ICI, I’ve still yet to pick up CFHD with my antenna in NDG. It’s one of the only digital channels I cannot get in my area. Surprising if they’re broadcasting from the large antenna array atop Mount Royal.

      They’re not. They’re broadcasting from another tower nearby.

      Reply
      1. Apple IIGS

        That would require sending out technicians to service almost 20% of their customers. It would be hugely expensive, a logistical nightmare, result in the loss of thousands of clients, or all of the above.

        I was thinking more in terms of starting a gradual shutdown, and at least setting a deadline.

        I think the big issue is so many people with analog cable split the signal to multiple TV’s around their house or apartment. Telling people they now need to purchase a box for EACH television set isn’t going to go over well, or the fact they can no longer record one channel while watching another with their VCR’s.

        At least they’ve started phase 1 of the shutdown, they no longer sale analog service. Hmm, I wonder if you’re allowed to keep your analog cable TV when you move… any idea?

        Well, I still think swapping out “Info-Illico” (channel 2 and 18) for ICI would be their best bet, though I’m betting they’d want to keep it to make people aware Illico exists.

        They’re not. They’re broadcasting from another tower nearby.

        Ah, probably the same tower that Tele-Quebec (17.1) and TQS/V (35.1) are on, other channels I have reception problems with.

        Any chance they plan on moving to the main tower in the future?

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          I think the big issue is so many people with analog cable split the signal to multiple TV’s around their house or apartment. Telling people they now need to purchase a box for EACH television set isn’t going to go over well, or the fact they can no longer record one channel while watching another with their VCR’s.

          Indeed. And there are plenty of people with mixed analog/digital setups who count as digital subscribers because they have a digital box. So the issue is even bigger than it appears. The second problem is solved with a PVR.

          I wonder if you’re allowed to keep your analog cable TV when you move… any idea?

          I suspect not.

          Ah, probably the same tower that Tele-Quebec (17.1) and TQS/V (35.1) are on, other channels I have reception problems with.

          V actually does transmit from the Mount Royal tower, though at lower power than its competitors. When it switched to digital, it moved to a tower on top of an apartment building downtown (I’m guessing to save money) but it later moved back to the tower, presumably after everyone complained about the poor signal.

          Télé-Québec broadcasts with 269,000 watts from the top of the Olympic Stadium tower. That location gives it great coverage east of Mount Royal, but not so great west of the mountain.

          Any chance they plan on moving to the main tower in the future?

          No. Getting ICI onto its current tower was a logistical nightmare, and there’s a reason it’s there. The station’s management is trying to focus on programming now, and then promotion. It doesn’t have the means to setup a CBC-like superpower signal.

          Reply
          1. Lorne

            The second problem is solved with a PVR but it adds a substantial amount to the cable bill each month with the rental fee.

            Reply
    2. DraicKin

      The problem with using the Info Illico channel is that it is use by apartment building to show the hall / laundry room.

      Reply
  4. Apple IIGS

    An addendum to the above…

    Looking at Videotron’s application form, channel 18 (channel 2, east) is actually called “Info-Illico”. Yep, a channel about how to use your digital cable. If ever there were a channel on ANALOG cable that could be eliminated, Info-Illico is it. Can’t imagine people being convinced to switch from analog to digital based on watching this channel, or needing it to help them install their Illico receiver.

    And if anyone is going to complain about losing a single channel, let’s compare Videotron West (nee CF Cable) and Videotron East in that same PDF document. Wow….if you’re unlucky enough to live in the wrong area and happen to subscribe to analog cable, you lose at least **10** English specialty channels (which your neighbors across the street may have access to!). Some of these include: Space, History Channel, A&E, Showcase, CTV News, Teletoon, Home & Garden, Weather Network, Much Music and The Movie Network (TMN) Encore.

    I don’t understand how all these years later, you’re still limited by channel selection by what part of the city you live. Sure this becomes moot with digital cable but the point is 17% of people out there are still being served by analog cable and unnecessarily ripped-off limited.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Could Videotron remove one of the 2 PBS stations on analog overnight and replace that with ICI?

      It could. Though I’m sure there would be people complaining that the station they kept doesn’t carry the programming they want.

      Reply
      1. Marc

        I had heard that Videotron is to replace (early this year) WCFE and WETK with WTVS Detroit. Same thing for the other US networks, from either Detroit or Boston. They’re all carried by Shaw Services.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          I had heard that Videotron is to replace (early this year) WCFE and WETK with WTVS Detroit. Same thing for the other US networks, from either Detroit or Boston. They’re all carried by Shaw Services.

          I’ve heard this rumour a few times. I don’t know who started it or why, and have no reason to believe it’s true.

          Reply
  5. UnWeirdo

    When Shopping TVA was shut down on August 1st, 2012, Videotron moved down Canal Savoir from 47 to 10, freeing a QAM.

    TATV has shut down on August 19, 2008, they waited until july 2011 to move National Assembly down from 49 to 12, which was static all this time and couldn’t be used for a broadcast channel until August 31 2011 due to analog interference with CFCF-TV.

    For the east Montreal, analog Telemax will someday be eliminated, including optional Vrak (16) and Canal D (20), mass-replacing filters to 7-22, consequently moving down PBS-57, CBC News, CPAC and APTN to 23-26 positions.

    But until then, the Info-Illico barker channel has to go.
    When is english MATV supposed to launch ? Due to its nature of “user’s bill percentage financed”, it’s also supposed to launch on analog, and if it does, ICI will have serious questions to ask Videotron the CRTC…

    And if CFCF, CKMI or CJNT launches a sub-channel with original content ?

    Reply
  6. Carlito

    The best option for consumers, is to get off the grid and get an over-the-air digital antenna.
    I cancelled my Bell satellite service last year, and now watch about 20 channels — mostly in HD, and including CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and about 8 PBS channels — for free.
    Best thing we ever did. Screw paying for TV!

    Reply
  7. ATSC

    Having CFHD-DT (47.1) off of analog cable is probably effecting the station a lot. I would guess that most older ethnic viewers are still using Videotrons analog cable service. But, at the same time, I haven’t seen anything on the stations auto promos indicating that the station is available over the air on channel 47. Videotron is not exactly helping, but then again neither is the station helping itself by burning the message to potential viewers that CFHD-DT is channel 47 on air.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I haven’t seen anything on the stations auto promos indicating that the station is available over the air on channel 47.

      It’s right there on its website. It’s not in the on-air promos, though if you’re watching it on air then you probably don’t need to know. They’re also still trying to secure more distribution on cable and satellite, so the list of places it’s available isn’t complete yet (they hope).

      Reply
      1. ATSC

        If they need to watch ethnic programming, then it a pretty good chance that they don’t read a website in English or French. Nor would they be tech savy enough to be using the net if they still have analog cable.

        The point is, to put their channel number on the station promos so that other people can refer to it as such, and look for it at that position on the air. It’s called word of mouth. Not everybody goes to a blog.

        Also, I just checked the Gazette today (print edition). No indication of Channel 47 on their TV grid. Doesn’t help a start up station.

        Reply
        1. Dilbert

          “Also, I just checked the Gazette today (print edition). No indication of Channel 47 on their TV grid. Doesn’t help a start up station.”

          It’s okay, because “If they need to watch ethnic programming, then it a pretty good chance that they don’t read a website in English or French.”

          Clearly, they wouldn’t be reading an English newspaper either, right?

          Reply
  8. Apple IIGS

    I had heard that Videotron is to replace (early this year) WCFE and WETK with WTVS Detroit. Same thing for the other US networks, from either Detroit or Boston.

    That would be problematic if I were a Videotron TV subscriber. There is a noticeable difference in programming comparing one PBS station to another, particularly Vermont and Plattsburgh PBS which I and many others find preferable.

    Of course this is yet another reason I prefer free over-the-air antenna selection to pay cable. Not only do I continue to receive WETK and WCFE for a lifetime, I receive their sub-channels too. As another bonus, I’m able to pick up New Hampshire (NHPTV 11.1), with 1 main channel and 4 sub-channels. Vermont and Plattsburgh only give you 2 sub-channels.

    On another note, I spoke with Videotron. If you currently have digital Illico with the analog combo package included, they WILL let you keep the analog service when you move, you do not lose it. They still cannot say when analog itself will be phased out though…

    Reply
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  10. JP

    I have noticed that channel 6 (33 WETK PBS) out of Vermont on analog cable has not been available since early November 2014. Is this a Videotron decision or a tech problem?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I have noticed that channel 6 (33 WETK PBS) out of Vermont on analog cable has not been available since early November 2014. Is this a Videotron decision or a tech problem?

      It’s Videotron’s decision. It’s in the process of dismantling its analog TV distribution network, and has apparently decided that having two PBS channels on analog was an inefficient use of bandwidth.

      Reply

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