CRTC approves making Videotron’s Canal Indigo bilingual as Viewers Choice PPV shuts down

Only 13 hours before Viewers Choice Pay-Per-View shuts down for good, the CRTC has approved an expedited application from Videotron to convert its Canal Indigo into a bilingual pay-per-view service to replace it.

The service would meet all of the regulatory requirements for bilingual pay-per-view systems, with one notable exception: Rather than adhere to a 3:1 ratio of English to French channels that is clearly designed for bilingual pay-per-view services operating in English Canadian markets, Indigo would reverse that ratio, offering four French channels for each English one, not including barker/preview channels. And it would offer at least two English channels. Videotron said in its application it planned to operate eight French-language and two English-language channels, which would fit its proposed ratio.

Since Videotron operates almost exclusively in Quebec, having more French channels makes sense for its pay-per-view service. The CRTC agreed, implementing the exception.

But it didn’t like the idea of reducing the number of channels that much. Indigo currently offers 11 standard-definition and three high-definition channels, while Videotron carries eight SD and one HD channel of Viewers Choice. Under Videotron’s proposal, the total number of PPV channels would drop from 23 to 10.

“So to maintain a number of signals comparable to that currently offered, the Commission requires that Indigo offer at least 3 English-language signals. With this minimum of English-language signals, Videotron must offer at least 12 French-language signals to meet the ratio. Accordingly, Videotron will be able to maintain a level of service comparable to that currently offered by its French-language service.”

(This whole system seems to be unnecessarily rigid. It’s one thing to impose minimum ratios to protect minority-language markets, but the ratio as it’s worded isn’t just a minimum, but a maximum as well. And setting a minimum number of English channels on top of that means the CRTC has imposed a minimum of 15 channels for Videotron’s pay-per-view service.)

English channels could start “very quickly”

The CRTC’s alteration of Videotron’s application is a bit of a curve ball. Videotron had already begun trimming Indigo, taking away six of its 11 SD channels. With this decision, it will need to start four of them back up (or start up four new HD feeds).

But adding English service to Indigo won’t take that long, Videotron president and CEO Manon Brouillette told me. For movies, “we already have all the rights in English,” she said. It’s just a question of getting deals done for PPV events like wrestling and UFC events. But “it wouldn’t be that complicated.”

With the rise of paid video-on-demand services on digital cable, the appeal of pay-per-view for events that aren’t live has diminished significantly. “When we look at the tendencies of consumption of cinema, it’s much more on demand,” Brouillette said. “So the Indigo channels, the rate of orders is not very high, it’s a segment in decline.”

“The potential for us, and the reason the channel is doing well financially, is because of events, sports, concerts, etc.”

Brouillette pointed to the Quebec City amphitheatre, which Videotron has a management contract for once it opens next year, with everyone hoping it will one day be home to an NHL team.

“There won’t just be sports in this theatre,” she said. “There will be concerts, events. We’d like to broadcast live shows on Indigo like we did for Céline Dion (on the Plains of Abraham in 2008). It’s an event channel.”

Videotron has a bit of time to get its English service running. It’ll be about three weeks until the next major UFC and WWE pay-per-view events.

Viewers Choice goes out with a whimper

There’s no big fanfare for the end of Viewers Choice, which began in 1991 and is being replaced by in-house services run by Bell and Rogers. On its straight-from-the-90s website, a simple notice is posted:

Dear Viewers Choice Customers — As of September 30, 2014 Viewers Choice Pay Per View will no longer be broadcasting.

Thanks to all of you for allowing us into your homes for so many incredible events and making the last 23 years successful and memorable

Sincerely, The Viewers Choice Team

The service’s programming will go dark starting around 10:30pm, and the last movies will end at midnight. Those final movies include Winter’s Tale, The Quiet Ones, The Grand Seduction, The Other Woman, Rise of an Empire and, of course, porn.

UDPATE (Oct. 23): Videotron has re-applied to the CRTC to reduce the minimum number of channels from three English channels to two (and hence French channels from 12 to 8). It argues that information the commission used in its decision was erroneous. The CRTC quoted Videotron’s website saying there were 14 French-language Indigo channels, but in fact there were only eight in use. This new application is open to comment until Nov. 21.


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