As I write this we’re a week into the new year. I’d do a recap of 2014, but I figure you’re tired of reading those by now, and it would be redundant. If you’re interested, spend a few hours reading old posts.
But it is easy to forget a lot of the stuff that happened, and in particular a lot of the stuff that hasn’t resolved itself yet. So here are some questions that haven’t been answered yet, and may or may not be by the time this calendar year finishes.
What decisions will come out of the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV process?
The hearings happened four months ago, but in a way they seem like a distant memory. We’ve only seen a minor decision come out of the process so far (banning the practice of requiring 30 days notice for a cancellation of TV service), but the new year should have several more that could dramatically change the way TV works in Canada. Among them:
- Whether regulation should require all television services be available for sale individually
- Whether specialty channels should still benefit from genre protection
- Whether local television stations should be allowed to shut down their transmitters but still keep all the benefits of being a local TV station
- Whether simultaneous substitution should continue to happen, or some other alternative (like blacking out distant signals) should be adopted instead
- What regulations if any should be imposed on online services like Netflix
- Whether all-news channels should be held to a minimum standard of coverage in exchange for a license that gives them certain rights
- Whether ratings information should be collected from set-top boxes and how that information should be collected and used
- Whether higher quotas should be established for described video programming
These decisions could have profound impacts on what TV channels look like in the coming years.
Will Global’s all-news channel plan work?
After a passing mention in a CRTC filing in the summer, Global TV gave some details last fall about its proposal for Global News 1, a national 24-hour news channel that would actually be composed of up to 28 regional feeds that would be a mix of national and local content.
The CRTC has yet to publish the application. Usually for a major application there’s a lot of back and forth correspondence with the applicant to answer questions and clear up any inconsistencies before the complete application is published.
The CRTC opened up national news channels to competition years ago, but as part of that policy it didn’t allow multiple feeds of those news services as it did to sports channels like TSN and Sportsnet. The commission will have to decide if it wants to make an exception for this inventive proposal, or if it wants to rethink that policy. Global has said that for its plan to work it needs to be able to accept local advertising, which is usually not allowed on national specialty channels. It has promised to work with local independent TV stations instead of competing with them, which may also sway the decision.
Then, of course, even if it is approved, Global has to make it work as a business. The channel probably wouldn’t launch in 2015 but maybe in 2016.
Will OTA TV stations have to undergo another transition?
I spent a good deal of the holidays arguing with people in the comments section of a post about Industry Canada’s proposal to match a U.S. move to reallocate TV frequencies to wireless services. I don’t necessarily support the move, but it seems inevitable since there’s been no demand for more television stations and a big chunk of valuable spectrum has gone unused for many years. It could be a couple of years before we see this happen, but stations like City and ICI might have to change channels (and possibly antennas) if this reallocation happens.
What happens to Sun News Network?
The Postmedia/Sun Media deal (see below) doesn’t include the Sun News Network, which is closely tied to the Toronto Sun and Sun chain. Quebecor said the channel was not for sale, but it turns out they’re in discussions with Moses Znaimer, owner of Vision TV, for a sale to him. If that happens, what would the channel look like? Would it keep its right-wing political stance? Would it be turned into Zoomer News, consistent with Znaimer’s focus on the boomer-but-we’ll-call-them-something-more-fun demographic? Zoomer has some television properties, but no newsgathering facilities to speak of. It’s hard to see how this could turn into serious competition for CTV and CBC’s news channels (or even Global’s), so what else could they do with it?
Will V send MusiquePlus and Musimax into the gutter?
The purchase of the former Astral French-language “music” channels by V could be seen as a positive move from a youth-focused independent broadcaster who could revitalize the money-losing services. Or it could be seen as a devastating blow to these services by a company that completely eliminated the TQS news department in a desperate move to reach profitability.
The cancellation of shows like M. Net gave a boost to the latter interpretation. I heard from quite a few people who said they removed MusiquePlus from their cable packages after the last episode of the technology show hosted by Denis Talbot. Maybe that’s anecdotal, and the changes won’t make a big difference. Maybe there’s some short-term pain needed for long-term gain, such as there was with V. We’ll see. But V needs to give people reasons to subscribe to these channels, and I don’t think subtitled American reality shows will be it.
What happens to Bio, G4, Book Television and other neglected specialty channels?
I’m on press release lists for the major media companies, and I haven’t seen anything announced for any of these channels. They might, like in the case for Book Television, just sit there, zombie-like, collecting subscription fees from people who happen to have them in their packages but never watch them. But that loophole might be closed in a pick-and-pay world. Rogers’s Bio faces the additional challenge that its U.S. counterpart rebranded to FYI (and Shaw has the Canadian rights to that brand). I’ve been trying to get some news on what their plans are for the channel, but no response yet.
Will Avis de recherche survive the year?
The public security channel that lists people wanted by police and those who are missing got a guaranteed revenue stream thanks to an order requiring mandatory distribution in Quebec, and a mandatory per-subscriber fee. That expires at the end of August, thanks to a 2013 CRTC decision that decided it no longer met the criteria for such mandatory distribution. A year ago, the channel’s owner tried a hail Mary and applied for a three-year extension of the mandatory distribution. The CRTC pulled that application, saying there was “no material change in circumstances” that would warrant reopening the file. As of Sept. 1, 2015, ADR.tv will get no guaranteed income, and its owner has said there’s no chance of surviving without it.
Will the English version of 19-2 break away from the French?
The cop series set in Montreal, originally produced for Radio-Canada and adapted into English for Bravo, begins its second season this month, as the French original begins its third. The first season seemed to be almost a shot-by-shot remake, and the second season begins the same way, with a realtime scene of a school shooting.
But there have been hints that the English 19-2 might take on a life of its own, and change the plot a bit. Will the spy, who French audiences already know the identity of, be different in the English version? Will there be other surprises from people like me who have already seen dix-neuf-deux?
How long does analog cable have left?
I heard a few complaints from some Videotron analog cable subscribers that the provider cut the number of PBS stations distributed on the analog system from two to one. That’s nothing compared to what’s going to happen when analog cable disappears entirely. Videotron has already started eliminating the service in some sectors near Montreal — like Laval. Places like the West Island might last longer, but by the end of this decade, and likely long before then, analog cable will disappear to give more room to digital channels and data services.
Is radio-on-the-TV a fad, or a concept that’s here to stay?
It’s not new. We have Tim and Sid and Bob McCown on Sportsnet. We have Dave Naylor on TSN. Both concepts basically involve setting up TV cameras in a radio studio and broadcasting in both media simultaneously.
But we’re seeing more of it. TSN proposed adding cameras to more stations to provide programming to its five feeds, but we haven’t seen that done yet. CBC is going to air local radio shows on local television for an hour in the mornings, to compensate for the drop in local TV newscasts (after trying it out in Calgary). City has killed Breakfast Television in Winnipeg to replace it with a hybrid show that’s part radio simulcast, part TV talk show.
There’s no denying that the main advantage of this is reduced cost. But will it find an audience, or is it just a transparently pathetic attempt to meet CRTC quotas with the fewest resources possible?
Will ICI’s business model work?
The little ethnic TV station that could just marked its first anniversary on the air. It now boasts a schedule filled with local weekly ethnic TV shows in a variety of languages, most of which are produced on a virtual set. It’s very low-budget, but it’s more local programming than any other TV station out there, and for many of these communities it’s the only local TV programming they have.
The station’s business model is based on selling airtime to independent producers, who create the shows and sell their own advertising. It offloads the financial risk of running a station, but in exchange requires finding enough independent producers who can either make enough advertising revenue to make a profit or be willing to bankroll losses. So far, enough have stepped up to the plate, but if they’re not making money, their patience might start being tested after a year and a half.
Will MYtv see the light of day?
Videotron’s application for an English version of its MAtv community channel has been put on hold while the CRTC deals with a complaint from an independent group that says MAtv is not meeting its mandate. Nothing has happened on the file since the spring, but the commission is going to have to decide sooner or later. It plans to review community television policy in 2015-16, so it could also decide to kick the can down the road until then, officially or unofficially.
Who will win the battle of the morning shows?
We’ve gotten to the point where Global’s Morning News and City’s Breakfast Television have hit their stride. Each has their benefits and drawbacks, but both have a long way to go to catch up to CTV’s national Canada AM. Will the Montreal audience start moving toward getting more local information in the morning, or will their habitual preference for the slicker Toronto-based morning show continue to take precedence?
Will CBC Montreal’s newscast cut be another Canada Now-style disaster?
You could see the corporation’s decision to cut local newscasts as a common-sense way to shift the focus from evening newscasts to new technology. Or you could see it as slicing into one of its most important mandates. What’s clear is that this is a money-saving move and CBC Montreal doesn’t have that much of an evening newscast audience to begin with anyway, though it’s still the closest thing that CTV Montreal has to direct competition.
Will the 12 job cuts at CTV Montreal affect the quality of its product?
Management says no, the union says yes, I say I’m not sure. Aside from the loss of Andre Corbeil, there isn’t much of an obvious change as a result of the voluntary retirements that decimated the station’s workforce. Jobs like evening assignment editor and news archivist won’t make a difference in the short term, but what about in the long term? And even if it does, will it be enough to matter?
Will HD Radio take off in Canada?
The CRTC decided to continue a wait-and-see approach to using the digital technology here. There’s some interest from broadcasters in using it, but after their experience with DAB, they’re not eager to jump on it. Will there be more of a movement from the industry to adopt it, or would it make more sense to focus on Internet-based ways of delivering content, which will probably make traditional radio more and more obsolete in the future anyway?
Will Jian Ghomeshi be convicted of assault? Will executives be forced to walk the plank? And will anything change?
Ghomeshi faces criminal charges of assault because of allegations he abused women. The prosecutor has to prove he’s guilty, which is a high bar. The CBC, meanwhile, is in the middle of an independent investigation, but has put two executives on leave as an apparent result of how they handled the affair early on. And it’s unclear if we’ve learned any real lessons from what happened here. More women have come forward to make allegations against men in power, but what concrete steps will be taken to ensure our workplaces are safer? How will we prevent men in power from abusing their positions in the future?
Will NRJ go all-talk?
Rumours have run wild that Bell could turn the NRJ network into an all-talk network similar to Cogeco’s. In Quebec City, which already has CHOI Radio X and FM93 talk stations, the NRJ station has brought in former CHOI shock jocks Stéphan Dupont and Jeff Fillion to host their morning and noon shows, respectively. These are talk shows and contain no music.
The addition of Fillion led to a huge ratings spike for NRJ.
The Montreal NRJ station hasn’t gone this route yet, though it did reduce the number of songs being played this spring to give more place for talk.
On the flip side, CKRS-FM in Saguenay went from talk to music to become a Rythme FM affiliate. There doesn’t seem to be much of a trend either way.
Will TTP Media’s radio stations ever see the light of day?
An organization that first surfaced half a decade ago proposing to take over Corus’s radio stations in Quebec instead of Cogeco, TTP Media has since applied for and been granted licenses for three new talk radio stations in Montreal, none of which has gone on the air. The first station, a French news-talk station on the clear-channel frequency of 940 AM, has until November to begin broadcasting, and the company cannot seek another extension beyond that. If it fails to get the station on the air, the license becomes void and the frequency available.
In its latest extension request, the company has said the two news-talk stations are six to nine months to launch, which would put it somewhere around April to July. I’m skeptical, but we’ll know for sure by the end of 2015 whether their years-long silence is just about protecting competitively sensitive information or if it was more about shielding some serious organizational issues.
Will Evanov Radio become a major player in the Montreal market?
2015 will be the year in which this Toronto-based company goes from having no radio stations in the Montreal area to having three — CHRF 980 AM (Radio Fierté) and CHSV-FM 106.7 Hudson/St-Lazare (The Jewel), both in on-air testing mode, plus the proposed purchase of CFMB 1280 AM. Evanov has experience in urban LGBT radio, small-market easy-listening radio and ethnic radio, but these will be its first stations in Quebec, and the Montreal market has some very entrenched players in both languages. We’ll see what kind of splash gets made then the two new stations go on the air officially.
Will CJLO get permission to interfere with Vermont Public Radio?
The Concordia radio station’s application for a low-power retransmitter on 107.9 FM caused a firestorm from Montrealers who listen to Vermont Public Radio on that frequency. But while the U.S. station comes in quite strong here thanks to its antenna position atop Mount Mansfield, it doesn’t benefit from protection across the border.
Going strictly by policy, the CRTC would likely rule in CJLO’s favour, deciding that a Canadian station has more of a right to a frequency in Canada than an American station. But could public pressure over a non-profit public radio station be enough to force an exception?
Will The Beat and Virgin remain in a deadlock?
The past few ratings periods have shown that The Beat has a larger audience among anglophones, but Virgin is better among the key demographic that brings in advertising revenue. Both claim to be No. 1, but the reality is that they’re effectively tied.
The Beat brought in a new program director, Sam Zniber, who might turn things around. On-air personalities, many of whom his predecessor hired away from Virgin thinking that they might bring some listeners with them, are being heard less on the air as break times are shortened. The numbers certainly seem to show that music is what people care about on a music station. Will Zniber’s changes put The Beat ahead?
Will new ethnic stations be a success?
In addition to the commercial music and talk stations, there are also newly approved ethnic stations serving the south Asian community that haven’t launched yet: Radio Humsafar on 1610 AM, and ITR on 102.9 in Ahuntsic, both of which currently broadcast using other methods. They will have loyal audiences within their communities, but will suffer from reception problems because of their imperfect signals.
Will AM music stations survive?
CJMS 1040 AM has a new owner who promises big things but has already raised eyebrows by simulcasting rush-hour programming from the Haitian station. CJLV 1570 AM in Laval has been on the air two years since the CRTC refused a demand from its owner to make it an ethnic station, calling its bluff that the station might shut down. (The owner, Radio Humsafar, has since said it plans to keep it running and make it successful.)
What will Gregory Charles do to Radio Classique?
The change in ownership of Radio Classique stations in Montreal and Quebec still requires CRTC approval. Prospective owner Gregory Charles says he doesn’t plan to take away what makes those stations unique, and there’s no reason to doubt him. But questions still linger. Will he be a personality on his own radio stations? Will he make any changes or leave it as status quo? Does he have any ideas to revitalize the stations?
Will Radio 9 succeed where Radio X didn’t?
RNC Media delared the Radio X Montreal project a failure when it rebranded CKLX-FM 91.9 as “Radio 9”, complete with new personalities. By looking at the ratings through the year, we should get an idea of whether the rebranding worked, and whether this station can suck away some of the audience of market leader CHMP 98.5.
Will the Competition Bureau approve the sale of Sun Media to Postmedia?
Some year-in-review stories have described the $316-million sale of the Toronto Sun and other Sun Media papers outside Quebec as a done deal, but it’s anything but. The Competition Bureau must approve the sale, and a major stumbling block will be the fact that this will create monopolies on paid daily newspapers in cities like Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.
Will the bureau do like it did with the Quebecor-Transcontinental newspaper deal, and force Postmedia to offer at least one newspaper for sale in each market? Or will it side with Postmedia’s argument that newspapers compete with all media and there will still be plenty of competition?
Whose tablet strategy will come out on top?
April will mark two years since La Presse launched La Presse+ and deemed the tablet app to be the main publication. Going on a hiring spree while other newspapers were cutting staff was a bold move that drew a lot of attention. And though it caused readership numbers to soar, other publications weren’t quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Recently, the La Presse+ model got a major boost with the Toronto Star’s decision to duplicate it, including hiring 60 new staff.
But other publications have decided to go their own way. Le Devoir recently launched a paid app that essentially duplicates the print paper. Postmedia has developed apps for the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald that are part of a four-platform strategy, each platform having its own team. Sun Media doesn’t seem to have a strategy yet, beyond the e-reader that replicates the print edition.
The La Presse+ model is popular, since it’s free and it looks nice. But it’s also expensive, and whether it can be successful will depend on whether it can sustainably demand print-level ad prices on the tablet.
Will TVA Publications rationalize its magazine portfolio?
While it sold major dailies and community newspapers, Quebecor also acquired magazines, through a deal that still needs approval. As a result of this and other deals, the company has a lot of magazines that seem to have the same or similar mandates, such as celebrity gossip or lifestyle. Does it make sense to keep so many different titles?
Is the Hudson Gazette gone for good?
The newspaper, which changed its name to the “Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges“, stopped publishing in October, and nobody knows why. Global’s Tim Sargeant tried to track down the owner and staff to find out, but was unsuccessful. The website makes no mention of anything. It’s like time just stopped.
Will Ricochet become a major media outlet or just another outlet for left-wing opinion?
When the bilingual media site launched its fundraiser in the spring, I expressed skepticism that it would be effective in a way that Rabble, The Tyee and other left-wing media outlets aren’t. I worried that by having serious news mixed in with opinions, columns and blogs, the opinion would drown out the news.
The site launched in the fall, and perusing the front page of the English and French versions, I’m seeing a lot of stories marked “op-ed” or “column” or “blogue”. It’s actually a bit hard to figure out what in there is opinion and what is news. And the stories that do seem newslike tend to be one-sided.
A few major scoops would go a long way to establishing their credibility. But it has failed to generate much buzz that I can see. Maybe 2015 will be the year the website gets itself noticed outside of the activist community.
Where will orphaned media personalities end up?
A bunch of people have been fired, resigned or otherwise left unemployed by their jobs, and many of them seem to have disappeared since, at least as far as the Internet is concerned. Mary-Jo Barr, Alyson Lozoff, Catherine Sherriffs, Andre Corbeil and a whole bunch of other people who are unemployed or underemployed. Some could end up back in media. Others could decide to pursue careers in other fields if they haven’t already.
Stuff I forgot
I went back over the past year, but I’m sure there are other developing stories that I either forgot about or was unaware of. And there are always surprises. I doubt very much I’ll be struggling to find story ideas in the new year.