TVA Sports to expand to three feeds during NHL playoffs

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When TVA Sports launched, people wondered if it could fill 24 hours. When it acquired NHL rights, it had to expand to two channels even though it only really had scheduling conflicts on Saturday nights.

Now, with the NHL playoffs coming, and TVA having rights to all playoff games, Quebecor has decided to add a third feed to the service.

TVA Sports 3 will come online on April 15 on Videotron, Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Telus Optik TV. It will be free to all subscribers who have TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 in their packages. (Some subscribers have TVA Sports but not TVA Sports 2, and probably won’t get this new channel.)

In the two weeks leading up to that, from April 2 to 14, TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 will have a free preview. (There’s only one Saturday night Canadiens game in that span, the season finale against the Maple Leafs.)

The most interesting thing about TVA Sports 3 is that it’s a temporary channel, and will be removed at the end of May, when the first two (three?) playoff rounds are over and there aren’t any more scheduling conflicts. That doesn’t mean it can’t return in the future, though. There’s a lot of sports out there.

If you only have TVA Sports, by the way, there’s probably no need to worry. They haven’t put any Canadiens games on TVA Sports 2, and there’s no reason they would start now. (RDS only moved a regular-season Canadiens game to RDS2 once, and that was during the World Series.)

Yes, it’s necessary

TVA Sports 3 is needed because there are situations, especially in the first round of the NHL playoffs, where two channels isn’t enough. Last year, TSN had to give away a playoff game to Sportsnet because it had the Raptors on the main network and it couldn’t put two simultaneous games on TSN2. (Now that TSN has five channels, that’s no longer a problem.)

The NHL tries to schedule the playoffs so there is as little overlap as possible, but when western conference teams play 8pm or 9pm starts (because many teams are in Central or Mountain time zones), you can have three going at once.

And jokes aside, TVA Sports does have rights to other sports. It has some Impact games, some Blue Jays games, some NFL games and some tennis events. It still has a long way to go to catch up to RDS, but it’s working on it.

Some context

Three channels might seem like a lot, but there’s a long list of sports channels in Canada owned by Bell and Rogers:

Bell (English): TSN1-5, ESPN Classic, plus minority stakes in NHL Network, Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and CTV and CTV Two can air sports programming

Bell (French): RDS, RDS2, RDS Info

Rogers (English): Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet One/Vancouver/Oilers/Flames, Sportsnet World, OLN, plus minority stakes in Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and City, OMNI and FX Canada can air sports programming, plus its deal with CBC for hockey

And on top of that there’s NFL Network, MLB Network, Golf Channel and others with English programming that TVA could pick up the French rights to.

Don’t expect Canadiens on TVA

Since the TVA NHL deal was first announced, people have been asking about Canadiens games on the main TVA network. Rogers even assumed it would happen in some early schedule mockups, and TVA never ruled out the possibility.

The press release isn’t clear, but seems to imply Canadiens playoff games will be on TVA Sports. Remember that Quebecor spent a lot of money securing these rights, and no NHL team draws francophone audiences nearly as much as the Canadiens. If they’d gotten all 82 Canadiens games, then a Saturday night free-to-air game might have made sense, but as it stands it needs Canadiens fans to subscribe to the sports channel.

Things might change if the Canadiens go deep in the playoffs. Most if not all Canadiens playoff games should be available for free in English on CBC or City, so casual fans jumping on the bandwagon might decide to forgo a TVA Sports subscription and just watch the games in English. If the Canadiens make the Stanley Cup final, TVA might decide that advertising revenue for such a huge audience outweighs the potential gains in temporary TVA Sports subscriptions.

23 thoughts on “TVA Sports to expand to three feeds during NHL playoffs

  1. Dilbert

    More proof of the concept of assuring that content people desire is not made available OTA. Things like this are the reasons why OTA can’t do better than breaking even most of the time – disloyal competition from channels which double dip, getting both subscription and advertiser revenue.

    How about a new rule: Cable channels which get paid by the subscriber should be forbidden to accept advertising. Simple deal – you pick one route or the other, but not both.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      How about a new rule: Cable channels which get paid by the subscriber should be forbidden to accept advertising. Simple deal – you pick one route or the other, but not both.

      Good luck convincing the CRTC that taking millions of dollars out of the broadcasting system would further the objectives of the Broadcasting Act.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “taking millions out”? Are you kidding? Perhaps you can ask the “retiring” business writers for a few tips on supply and demand.

        Take away the ability for channels which charge consumers for viewing (ie, cable channels with a subscription fee) to have external paid commercials, and what you do is you shrink greatly the amount of commercial airtime available in all of Canada. Lets say, to be nice, that it would bring in a 30% reduction in commercial airtime (it’s more like 60, but since many stations can’t seem to sell their airtime properly, let’s play with 30).

        So what happens? Well, the advertisers still want to get exposure to the marketplace. They still have the ad budgets and they still want to get the most demographically correct eyeballs that they can reach. So what happens? They shift their ad buys to where there is supply. If they want to stay on TV (via network TV, OTA channels, and non-subscription cable channels) they will buy ads there. Since there would likely be more demand than supply, the cost of those spots would go up. The result is the “millions removed” become “millions displaced” back towards OTA broadcasters and network TV.

        It would likely also push some advertisers towards other media to assure they get good exposure to the public. That could mean radio, billboards, and even (eek) buying ad space in local newspapers. There are plenty of other options, it’s not like the money will just disappear.

        It’s very likely that a change like this would in fact further the broadcast act by making a much clearer distinction between subscription services (cable channels) and regular network TV (with it’s OTA component). It might encourage some cable channels to drop their subscription model and move to an ad based only model, and the CRTC could encourage this by creating a “same as local” mandatory carriage for channels that choose to operate in this manner. At the same time, it might help to drive down cable bills.

        The situation might also help to promote Canadian programming. With more money coming into the OTA channels, and more demand for the advertising space, there may be better business models for locally produced programming.

        Moreover, I think this would burst the bubble of marginal or otherwise useless cable channels. Rogers in particular has been very heavy on creating new “services” which appear to be mostly an excuse to raise prices to consumers and to create advertising space to sell, without creating any real new programming. The current process by which the CRTC and the cable companies operate is just not productive for Canadian consumers, in the short or long run. Few if any of these channels would be grandly missed, especially if what little popular content they have was moved to OTA channels or network TV.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Since there would likely be more demand than supply, the cost of those spots would go up. The result is the “millions removed” become “millions displaced” back towards OTA broadcasters and network TV.

          Some money would undoubtedly go to OTA (more would probably go to the Internet and other new media), but the law of supply and demand does not mean that decreasing overall supply increases overall revenue.

          It’s very likely that a change like this would in fact further the broadcast act by making a much clearer distinction between subscription services (cable channels) and regular network TV (with it’s OTA component).

          That’s not one of the objectives listed in the Broadcasting Act.

          It might encourage some cable channels to drop their subscription model and move to an ad based only model, and the CRTC could encourage this by creating a “same as local” mandatory carriage for channels that choose to operate in this manner. At the same time, it might help to drive down cable bills.

          There have been suggestions in the past that specialty services without subscription fees should get mandatory carriage or other benefits. But it might have to come with some rules to prevent abuse.

          Rogers in particular has been very heavy on creating new “services” which appear to be mostly an excuse to raise prices to consumers and to create advertising space to sell, without creating any real new programming.

          Which services are you referring to? FX Canada? WWE Network? Sportsnet One? They all have programming that’s in pretty high demand.

          Few if any of these channels would be grandly missed, especially if what little popular content they have was moved to OTA channels or network TV.

          Most of their programming wouldn’t be moved to OTA channels or network TV. Most of these new channels (Canadian versions of American cable channels) are created because that programming isn’t shown here and people want to see it.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            “the law of supply and demand does not mean that decreasing overall supply increases overall revenue.”

            Well, there are those who believe that a glut of advertising space being sold for very cheap is part of the problem of the business these days. The cable channels are all aspiring basically to have enough viewers to get national account advertising, otherwise they sell to whoever and whatever comes along, often at silly low money. There are plenty of economists who point out that gluts in a marketplace often have a more significant impact downward on price, as many will sell “at any price”, which drags the entire market down.

            “Most of these new channels (Canadian versions of American cable channels) are created because that programming isn’t shown here and people want to see it.”

            Too often that is not the case. While some of the more recent channel additions are related to what people demand but cannot get (such as WWE), there are plenty of other channels which seem to have been created mostly to fill space. You can see it when you realize the same shows appears on multiple channels… channels created not from any great public demand so much as from a great need to meet the ratios to support the non-canadian option ratios.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              There are plenty of economists who point out that gluts in a marketplace often have a more significant impact downward on price, as many will sell “at any price”, which drags the entire market down.

              Sure, but my point is that the total advertising pie has gone up, not down, as the number of services has expanded. In 2007, the combined total advertising revenue of over-the-air TV, specialty channels and other services that accept advertising was $2.941 billion. In 2013, it was $3.241 billion. Advertising prices may have gone down when measured per minute, as much because of the fragmentation of the audience than anything else. But there’s nothing to suggest that if we ban advertising on specialty channels that ad rates on conventional TV are going to skyrocket.

              there are plenty of other channels which seem to have been created mostly to fill space.

              Can you give some examples? I’m not aware of any recent cases of distributors adding channels to their systems to “fill space”.

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                “But there’s nothing to suggest that if we ban advertising on specialty channels that ad rates on conventional TV are going to skyrocket.”

                There is nothing to suggest there there would not be. The problem they face is double dilution, the viewership is spread over so many more channels, and the amount of available advertising space on those channels vastly increases the availability of advertising.

                The thing that didn’t increase was demand, certainly not at the same speed as the amount of available airtime increased. Basic rules of supply and demand says that when the supply is too high, then the price drops to meet demand. Economics 101.

                As for the 2007 to 2013 numbers, the increase is pretty much nil when you think about it. 6 years gap, there is less increase than the rate of inflation even. I seem to remember 2007 the economy was in the toilet. Today the economy is much better and they haven’t barely managed a 10% increase in revenue overall. Add to that the significant increases in programming costs, and they are in fact well behind the 8 ball. All this with more and more airtime available to sell, and you can see how this goes negative pretty quickly.

                “Can you give some examples? I’m not aware of any recent cases of distributors adding channels to their systems to “fill space”.”

                They haven’t done it recently, mostly because they have run out of space to do so. However, for reference, you can see Book TV, Much Loud, and what was channels like “Treasure HD” to see what empty padding looks like. Those were channels created with no real audience for them, rather that net they would be profitable as part of cable packages sold. Many of the channels failed because they were in less popular packages that people did not choose. Those channels existed seemingly mostly to profit from cable packaging and forced US to Canadian ratios.

                Many of the newer “canadian version” channels are an attempt to get around the ratio issue by making the channels “Canadian enough” to pass muster. Those pushing them have perhaps come to realize that in a pick and play universe, their padding channels and replicating services channels are not going to work out in the future.

              2. Fagstein Post author

                I seem to remember 2007 the economy was in the toilet.

                I chose 2007 specifically because it was before the recession and before ad revenue plummeted.

                However, for reference, you can see Book TV, Much Loud, and what was channels like “Treasure HD” to see what empty padding looks like.

                Those channels have different issues. Book TV is a zombie channel that I’ve criticized before, and does survive mainly on subscription revenue because of packaging rules that exist for that type of channel — rules that may change in a couple of weeks. MuchLoud and the other Much video channels are cheap, ad-free music video channels that have low subscription rates (Bell doesn’t even carry them even though they own them) but work because they don’t require many resources. And Treasure HD (now HIFI) is owned by Blue Ant Media, which is struggling to compete against the big guys. Its number of subscribers isn’t disclosed but I imagine it’s very low.

                Many of the newer “canadian version” channels are an attempt to get around the ratio issue by making the channels “Canadian enough” to pass muster.

                I’ve never once seen anyone say they launched a Canadian version of a channel because of cable package ratios (an issue I think people overblow anyway because of how many Canadian channels are part of basic packages). It’s about getting popular U.S. programming in front of Canadian eyes and selling Canadian ads against them.

              3. Dilbert

                “’ve never once seen anyone say they launched a Canadian version of a channel because of cable package ratios (an issue I think people overblow anyway because of how many Canadian channels are part of basic packages). It’s about getting popular U.S. programming in front of Canadian eyes and selling Canadian ads against them.”

                They won’t say it because they aren’t being very honest about it. The cable companies (bell, rogers, shaw, etc) have been very aggressive about creating and owning these channels because they are literally free money. It’s why they are so reluctant to get away from packaging programming, because they have their own channels in the packages picking up subscriber dollars. Want CNN? Package! Only in Quebec at this point does bell allow a-la carte selections, and even then, they are limited by ratios.

                It should be noted that a-la carte was initially pushed in Quebec by Videotron… why? Because packages don’t help them out as much, as they don’t very many cable channels, and since they are all French, they have a small market which they can more easily sell to without competition.

                As you said, there is a chance that the CRTC may end some of these more abusive practices. However, if it’s done in a similar manner to everything else they do, the phase in period will be years and the end results controlled by the big players.

                Oh, I was surprised too: Two big stories (big fine for Bell, and Bell wants to ban US networks from canadian cable) and nothing on here. I think the banning of US channels call is pretty much a clear indication that Bell doesn’t want any competition – and that they think simsub is going away.

              4. Fagstein Post author

                The cable companies (bell, rogers, shaw, etc) have been very aggressive about creating and owning these channels because they are literally free money.

                FX Canada lost $4.7 million in its first two years. Fox Sports World Canada shut down because it was bleeding money. Buying and selling hit U.S. programming is a good way to make money, but it’s hardly “literally free”.

                It should be noted that a-la carte was initially pushed in Quebec by Videotron… why? Because packages don’t help them out as much, as they don’t very many cable channels, and since they are all French, they have a small market which they can more easily sell to without competition.

                If anything, Videotron would be more likely to push large packages, since Quebecor’s specialty channels are mainly Category B channels that don’t have carriage rights, compared to Astral (now Bell Media) channels that are mainly Category A.

                However, if it’s done in a similar manner to everything else they do, the phase in period will be years and the end results controlled by the big players.

                The decisions I’ve seen from the CRTC have had grace periods measured in months, not years. The Sun News Network packaging decision had two steps, one taking weeks and the other a few months. The longest I can think of is the decision on wireless contracts, which took two years to take full effect, but even then a lot of the changes were immediate.

                I think the banning of US channels call is pretty much a clear indication that Bell doesn’t want any competition – and that they think simsub is going away.

                It’s an indication that Bell wants its exclusive rights respected. The CRTC just ruled that simsub is here to stay.

              5. Dilbert

                “FX Canada lost $4.7 million in its first two years. Fox Sports World Canada shut down because it was bleeding money. Buying and selling hit U.S. programming is a good way to make money, but it’s hardly “literally free”.”

                In both cases, the issues are in great part because these channels don’t have the built up base of forced subscribers that other channels have. Fox Sports World had a very big problem, which was that it’s programming way (a) second rate, and (b) they didn’t get the preferential carriage that other sports channels get.

                FX’s issues can almost exclusively be tracked to the way it was packages (or lack thereof). The uptake on new channels is mostly low if those channels are not added into existing packages, and for a Rogers channel, Bell (or Shaw) is unlikely to want to put the new channel into a package that would cost them income with no return. Vertical integration means that Bell can give their own channels preferential placement without concern, and Rogers does the same within their own systems. It’s just that Bell has the bigger footprint, so Rogers loses out more in the deal.

                “If anything, Videotron would be more likely to push large packages, since Quebecor’s specialty channels are mainly Category B channels that don’t have carriage rights, compared to Astral (now Bell Media) channels that are mainly Category A.”

                Quebecor is in a very good position because they have a big chunk of the French market to themselves, and they can package or present french content to french customers in a manner where the uptake is higher as a percentage of viewers. However, since the majority of class B channels overall (french and english) are not owned by them, pick and play likely gives them a better bottom line (they pay for less class B stations people don’t subscribe to).

                You have to remember that generally they pay the same price per subscriber if the channel is in a package or not, but the package price is often lower. So net, individually selected channels are generally better for their bottom line. Pick and play 15 or 30 packs also can be profitable if people tend to pick the channels that cost the company less to carry. It would be very interesting to see what the average channel pick and cost is for the companies, versus income. I am guessing Videotron does better than most in this area.

                “The decisions I’ve seen from the CRTC have had grace periods measured in months, not years.”

                Really? How long until the Superbowl ad thing comes in to play? 2 years? How long did Avis De Recerche get? How long do they generally give a new licensee to start up? There is plenty of indication here that the CRTC plays a very slow and very long lead time game. If they try to go faster, Bell and such point to long term contracts signed “based on current regulations” as a reason not to move forward more quickly.

                Canadian broadcasting is like a petrified forest. Changes come about the same speed that glaciers move. Thankfully, global warming makes it slightly faster, but still way too slow for most of us. I am a big believer that cable TV and the artificial subsidies that are part of it will be OTBE within the next few years. People are tired of paying old school gatekeepers to get access to the content they know is readily available. People download, the put up OTA antennas and they slowly step away from those who seek to profit.

                It’s another reason they are so quickly moving things away from OTA – it’s their last hope of saving the good ship cable before it sinks.

              6. Fagstein Post author

                In both cases, the issues are in great part because these channels don’t have the built up base of forced subscribers that other channels have.

                Building up a base of subscribers and “literally free money” sound like different things to me. That’s the problem with launching new TV services, it’s more difficult to get TV providers to add them unless they already have programming that’s in high demand.

                Vertical integration means that Bell can give their own channels preferential placement without concern

                Vertical integration rules also put limits on the number of its own channels that Bell can put on its systems.

                You have to remember that generally they pay the same price per subscriber if the channel is in a package or not

                Actually no. The per-subscriber rate for specialty channels, particularly from the big media companies, is very dependent on packaging. There are lower rates for services that are added to the basic package.

                Really? How long until the Superbowl ad thing comes in to play? 2 years?

                It comes into effect with the 2016 season.

                How long did Avis De Recerche get?

                Until August 2015.

                How long do they generally give a new licensee to start up?

                Depends on the type of licence. Radio stations get two years, and many ask for extensions of up to four. But I don’t see what the downside is for consumers of a two-year window to launch a radio station or television service.

                There is plenty of indication here that the CRTC plays a very slow and very long lead time game. If they try to go faster, Bell and such point to long term contracts signed “based on current regulations” as a reason not to move forward more quickly.

                That obviously didn’t work with the Super Bowl decision. The CRTC’s lead time depends on the particular policy or service at play. In some cases lead time is required for technical or logistical reasons. In some cases it’s to give licensees enough time to prepare for a new way of doing things. But if these things aren’t necessary, decisions can take effect very quickly.

                People are tired of paying old school gatekeepers to get access to the content they know is readily available.

                And yet the vast majority of households still subscribe to pay television. And the big media companies like Bell and Rogers still prefer to work under a regulated television system because it works better for them too.

              7. Dilbert

                “Building up a base of subscribers and “literally free money” sound like different things to me. ”

                It’s only the difference between channels that have been around and in packages for years and new channels that are not yet in the best packages. They build up a subscriber base not by being a good channel that people are interested in, but rather by being in a package with another channel (or group of channels) people want. That is why many cable channels have high subscription / market penetration numbers and insanely low viewership. People are paying but not watching.

                “Vertical integration rules also put limits on the number of its own channels that Bell can put on its systems.”

                yes, but there are not limits to how they package them. So Bell can put it’s own channels inside the more popular packages, effectively creating a subscriber base where no real demand exists.

                “That obviously didn’t work with the Super Bowl decision.”

                I don’t see it. Bell gets two full years of lead time to deal with a one off, one day issue, that will possibly be used in the future in other cases. A 2 year lead time on something as simple as this tells you how long it will take to get anything else done. Now Bell is pushing to get the US networks removed from Canada. The Superbowl decision means they want to eliminate the competition altogether, by making simsub not an issue – just making it that they are the only ones providing the content at all. It’s one of the rare instances where they show their true colors without fluff to cover it up, and they look horrible and greedy for it.

                I am surprised you didn’t write about it, considering it’s one of the biggest changes put forward for Canadian broadcasting in probably 3 decades. Barring the US stations from cable would be a monumental shift (and one likely to drive OTA and other means for the public to get the content it really wants).

                “And yet the vast majority of households still subscribe to pay television. ”

                yes, but then again, the vast majority are either actively denied the right to OTA television (due to condo rules which forbid any form of outdoor antenna) and cable companies who actively buy rights to buildings in order to block competition and make it impossible for there to be a building owned OTA antenna in place. It creates the absurd concept of people having to pay for cable just to watch local channels. This is particularly an issue in all of those rebar and concrete buildings out there, where OTA signals often are blocked or diminished by all of the structure. You can’t receive the signal indoors, the building forbids outside antennas (even small ones on a balcony), and they don’t provide any OTA support.

                “the big media companies like Bell and Rogers still prefer to work under a regulated television system because it works better for them too.”

                It gets back to the issue of regulatory capture. The big companies always want to work within a system that they effectively control. The CRTC may take a few stabs at them from time to time, but really, the big companies run the show and so change is slow to come.

              8. Fagstein Post author

                So Bell can put it’s own channels inside the more popular packages, effectively creating a subscriber base where no real demand exists.

                If that was systemic, that could easily be challenged under the CRTC’s undue preference prohibition.

                A 2 year lead time on something as simple as this tells you how long it will take to get anything else done.

                Super Bowl advertising in Canada is worth millions of dollars. It’s simple, but it’s hardly minor.

                The Superbowl decision means they want to eliminate the competition altogether

                Bell wants to eliminate competition from U.S. stations that are being distributed in Canada without having paid for the rights to do so.

                I am surprised you didn’t write about it, considering it’s one of the biggest changes put forward for Canadian broadcasting in probably 3 decades.

                It’s also being put forward after the CRTC has already come to a decision, which means it’s not happening any time soon. I’ll write something on Kevin Crull’s speech if I have the time in the coming days.

                The CRTC may take a few stabs at them from time to time, but really, the big companies run the show and so change is slow to come.

                Why would the CRTC take a few stabs if Bell is running the show? Why would Bell be so angry with the CRTC in general if it was under their thumb? If anything, the CRTC has shown a strong bias against Bell in its decisions and new policies.

              9. Dilbert

                “Why would the CRTC take a few stabs if Bell is running the show? Why would Bell be so angry with the CRTC in general if it was under their thumb? If anything, the CRTC has shown a strong bias against Bell in its decisions and new policies.”

                The CRTC tries to act independent, but Bell, Rogers, and a very few others own the ball and can easily just take it and go home.

                The CRTC is very much under their thumb, however the CRTC from time to time takes action to (a) show that they still have some power, and (b) to keep it from looking like regulatory capture. The CRTC rarely if ever says an absolute no to they big players, sometimes saying “not now” or “not that way” and sending them back to refile in a different manner (see Astral deal). In the end, the big players almost always get exactly what they wanted in the first place, just a couple of years later.

                “It’s also being put forward after the CRTC has already come to a decision, ”

                The CRTC’s decision on the matter isn’t that solid. In part, the CRTC operates within rules and laws provided by Parliament, and could easily be overruled by changes in broadcast rules at a Federal level. Bell could also very easily move to the courts to attack the broadcasts on the basis of copyright and licensing, which appears more and more likely at this point. The CRTC could also easily reverse it’s own decisions without much issue, perhaps after the “superbowl experience” (there is that 2 year window again). The CRTCs decisions are not laws, they are rules which can easily be reversed.

                Quite simply, Bell doesn’t want to have to fight the simsub rules anymore. They just want to make it simple, ban the US networks so that 100% of the viewers have to watch Canadian channels, like it or not. Then the Superbowl thing becomes moot, because the US network signal wouldn’t be on cable anyway – so back to the Canadian commercials.

                This will go to court at some point, Bell has declared war.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      All those sports channels and no college basketball!! (No ESPN, either)

      ESPN is part owner of TSN, and many of its programs are carried on TSN’s channels, including college basketball. TSN2 has Kentucky vs. Georgia at 9pm tonight.

      Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Why can’t we have Tennis Channel available on cable TV in Canada?

      It would be up to a provider either asking the CRTC for permission to carry the channel or applying for a licence for a Canadian version of the channel and licensing programming from it. As it is now the sports networks carry major tournaments and most matches involving Canadians.

      Reply

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