Review: Our Montreal is an embarrassing collection of recycled content

Our Montreal

In the spring of 2013, when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved a new licence for the CBC that set a minimum amount of non-news local programming for major markets, I was hopeful. Finally, the CBC would give us local programming that wasn’t tied to a newscast, filling a hole that has been here for years.

But when I asked the CBC what this new programming would entail, I was told they didn’t know yet. Which seemed odd to me, since it was the CBC that proposed this hour a week of programming. Surely they had something in mind.

Finally, on Oct. 12, 2013, a year ago this week, Our Montreal debuted on CBC Television. Hosted by Sonali Karnick, who is also host of CBC Radio’s All in a Weekend, Our Montreal was vaguely described, and I didn’t really know what to expect even after talking with its host and other people at CBC. Nor really why its first airing was Saturdays at 6am.

And then I watched it. And I was disappointed.

Not only is this weekly show a lazy repackaging of content previously aired on CBC, most of it is so obviously either not local or not non-news that I think a compelling argument could be made to the CRTC that the public broadcaster is violating a condition of its license in all its major markets.

Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick

Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick

Each episode starts off with Karnick basically introducing news packages prepared by journalists for daily newscasts during that week. She does her best to put them in a week-in-review context, but these packages are not re-edited for this program. They run as they were filed, even with the “CBC News” logo in the corner. At most, Our Montreal might awkwardly tack on an extended interview clip at the end as a bonus feature.

When you’re introducing packages that end with reporters saying “CBC News, Montreal”, it’s hard to argue that what you’re broadcasting isn’t news. And yet the point of this program is that it be non-news.

It gets worse.

With the exception of a 10-minute technology panel segment, each show is filled with recycled content that is either from the local newscasts or produced nationally for all the “our” shows on CBC TV. To give you an idea, here’s what was included in the second episode of Our Montreal, that aired on Oct. 19, 2013:

  • Five packaged local news reports that aired on local newscasts or The National during the previous week
  • A six-minute video of an interview that aired on All in a Weekend
  • Three national segments filmed in Toronto (on movies, music and fitness) that aired on all the local “our” shows, eating up about seven minutes total
  • A two-minute TV report from CBC News from 1977 about an event in Toronto (its relevance was unclear)
  • A 10-minute tech segment filmed in the CBC Montreal news studio
  • A promotional ad for CBC pre-Olympic coverage
  • A brief voice-over recap of a CBC Daybreak event

In the months since, not much has changed. There’s still very little original content, and mostly other stuff being repackaged to make it seem as if it is.

Eli Glasner with a national movie review segment

Eli Glasner with a national movie review segment. If it had been a made-in-Quebec one, it might have paid attention to the Quebec film industry.

It’s not that the content is bad. Eli Glasner (film), Tom Power (music) and others do a fine job with their weekly columns. But they’re not local, which is supposed to be the point of the show.

And if it wasn’t for the licence, I wouldn’t have a problem with a week-in-review show. Global has a best-of-the-morning-news show on Saturday mornings, which is fine because it’s useful in its own right instead of being used to cheat a regulatory quota.

The tech panel with Thomas Ledwell, Molly Kohli and Sonali Karnick

The tech panel with Thomas Ledwell, Molly Kohli and Sonali Karnick

The one exception, the one part of the show that does seem to fit its mandate, is the weekly tech panel, during which the host and two regular contributors chat for 10 minutes straight in front of a giant touch screen. The conversation happens in the CBC Montreal news studio, and often it’s about technology-related news, but I’ll let that slip and say it still fits the criteria.

The segment is a bit long, and the strange focus of late on crowdfunding projects puts me off a bit, because it feels like CBC is looking for companies to offer free advertising to. But it’s also something we don’t see much on other local shows, which are either news-focused or morning shows that take a breezy superficial look at the issues.

Limited resources

I’m not ignorant of the fact that CBC Montreal is functioning in a period of austerity and is running this show on a shoestring budget. Even its host isn’t full-time, sharing herself with the radio side.

Shelagh Kinch, managing director for CBC English services in Quebec, defended Our Montreal when I spoke to her about it this spring, saying it was “valuable” and “of general interest to people” and that national stories can be localized.

“We try as much as we can with the resources we have to put as much local content out as we can,” she said. “We do the best with what we’ve got.”

And indeed, they do. The failures of this show can’t be blamed on Karnick, producer Luise Massari or anyone at CBC Montreal. The proof is that I looked at Our Vancouver, and it has the same problems. The CBC thought it could produce something that looked good to the CRTC on paper but not require any additional human resources. The result is something that makes me ask: Why bother?

Again, it was the CBC that suggested this one-hour-a-week quota on non-news local programming. If it wasn’t prepared to deliver this, why did it propose it in the first place?

If CBC doesn’t have the budget to produce local programming that isn’t news, fine. Just say so. But to repackage other stuff and pretend it’s that seems more an insult to our intelligence than anything else, and takes away from whatever value it might have provided.

Our Montreal latitude and longitude graphic

Our Montreal latitude and longitude graphic

Oh, and by the way, these coordinates lead to the parking lot outside Central Station. Is that where the treasure is buried? If you wanted to round off for simplicity, why use four decimal places?

Our Montreal airs Saturdays at noon, and Sundays and Mondays at 11am on CBC Montreal.

16 thoughts on “Review: Our Montreal is an embarrassing collection of recycled content

  1. Jean Naimard

    Well, eventually one has to face the bald, plain, simple truth: there is just not enough english people in Montréal to warrant local english TV programming.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      there is just not enough english people in Montréal to warrant local english TV programming.

      And yet there seems to be enough to warrant four English TV stations.

      1. Dilbert

        That’s only because for three of the stations, there is enough US content to Simsub for cash.

        Otherwise, it’s would be a one horse town.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          for three of the stations, there is enough US content to Simsub for cash.

          Which means there’s an anglophone audience in Montreal (or at least an audience that understands English and watches TV in English).

          1. Dilbert

            Yup, and who could easily watch it directly from the US based stations…

            If they were tuning in for the uniquely Canadian and local Montreal content, there might be justification, but since most of them have to be forced by the CRTC to carry even a few hours a week… we already have the answer.

      2. Steve W

        Our Montreal has been cancelled? For second weekend in a row, there’s no Our Montreal for all the airings(from what I can see). The other Our CBC shows across the country are still airing as scheduled.

        1. Steve W

          After posting a comment very early this morning, I see Sonali Karnick tweeted on Twitter, that Our Montreal is not on this week, due to technical reasons(for second weekend in a row, replaced by repeat of Absolutely Quebec doc series). Any idea Fagstein(or anybody else) what ‘technical reason’ it could be?

  2. Joseph Alacchi

    Those coordinates are more than embarrassing.

    Someone probably went on Google and looked up coordinates for Montreal and found 45°30′ N 73°34′ W and then decided it would look cooler with 4 decimal places. Not only does it not look cool at all, but it’s horribly incorrect to convert that way.

    A minute of latitude is 1.85km in length (and longitude is shorter still), which is alrady way smaller than Montreal, a ten-thousandth of a degree is just 11m in length! So to include 4 decimal points of precision indicates that you know the coordinates to within 11m, which you don’t, since you just used a value that was given in minutes.

    These people are an embarrassing waste of public subsidies. Yes to CBC cuts! If you’re gonna be stupid, at least do it on non-taxpayer dollars!

    1. Matthew Ruddigan

      Am I missing something here? The coordinates lead to Central Station, period. This being Canada, that’s a pretty good assessment of the city’s center.

      I’m in general agreement with your review of the show, but getting angry over the use of decimal degrees is unreasonable.

      1. Fagstein Post author

        The coordinates lead to Central Station, period.

        Actually, they lead to the parking lot next to Central Station. Central Station itself would be 45.5005ºN, 73.5673ºW. And why Central Station as opposed to Place Ville-Marie, city hall, the geographic centre of the city, or the CBC building?

      2. Joseph Alacchi

        If precise coordinates were given pointing to the Radio-Canada building, or the transmitter on Mount Royal, then it’d be cool. But it’s not appropriate to have such precise coordinates otherwise. To add insult to injury, the Montreal coordinates they did find (on Google probably) were converted from deg-min to degrees incorrectly, adding extra significant figures, proving that whoever made that decision wouldn’t pass a Sec 4 science class.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          the Montreal coordinates they did find (on Google probably) were converted from deg-min to degrees incorrectly

          How do you know a conversion was made?

          1. Joseph Alacchi

            Because .5667 is 34/60 (when rounded to 4 decimals). What are odds that they just happened to pick 5667 (the parking lot at Central Station)? What are the odds that instead they might have gotten 34/60 from a different source and converted it? That’s how I can be certain that they converted 73deg34min to 73.5667 degrees.

  3. Steve W

    I’ve seen the other Our CBC shows across the country, yes the other Our CBC shows also recycle content, but Our Montreal takes it to the absolute extreme. The only original material with Our Montreal , the Tech panel is mildly interesting, but it’s been done before(Sonali Karnick constantly has to slip in her love for the Canadiens/hockey, that it’s annoying). Our Montreal got even more repetitive during the summer, with more repeats of segments, & as usual host Karnick takes good portion of summer off.

    I originally asked you if there would be national segments like with what happened several years ago CBC Living Montreal program. You told me ‘No.’ I suspected they would have national segments again.

  4. ATSC

    This is a terrible show. What a waste.

    I would recommend “Focus Montreal” on CKMI-DT 15.1 instead. The subject matters may not be always interesting, but they are interviewing people about local issues. Of late, they are bring in people running in the school elections, and holding debates. It’s a worth while show that adds something extra to there local presence as opposed this CBC re-packake almost week-old news stories.


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