At the beginning of 2015, I did a wrapup of issues that remained unresolved from 2014 in the form of a list of unanswered questions. Looking back at them now, I find that many of them remain unanswered as we enter 2016. Since some issues continue at a glacial pace, I figure it’s useful to once again present to you a list of things someone, somewhere, will need to figure out.
We’ll start this year’s unanswered questions by revisiting those from last year. Here they are:
What decisions will come out of the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV process?
The commission’s long review of television policy resulted in rules that we expected. The big headline was about specialty channels, that will have to be available for individual purchase and in small packages by the end of 2016.
Less headline-grabbing but much more important was the complete removal of not only genre protection for specialty channels but the elimination of natures of service. This means that these channels will be able to broadcast whatever they want (with a limit only on live sports), regardless of what they were originally designed for. The History channel will no longer be limited to shows that have something to do with history. Book Television won’t have to talk about books. Travel + escape can be a channel about people staying in their beds.
On one hand, this means a lot more freedom for channels that have lost their way. On the other, it means a rush to the lowest common denominator, and fewer niche channels in favour of general entertainment stuff that captures a larger audience.
There’s also a lot of stuff that didn’t happen in the Let’s Talk TV decisions. Simultaneous substitution hasn’t changed, except for during the Super Bowl (starting in 2017) and the imposing of still-undetermined penalties if it’s done incorrectly. Decisions on local TV were kicked down the road and will be reviewed later this month along with community TV. And the commission hasn’t made any move to try to impose anything on Netflix.
Will Global’s all-news channel plan work?
We don’t know yet.
We learned about this plan for a hybrid national/local all-news network in the summer of 2014, but the CRTC still hasn’t posted the application. It could be waiting to handle local TV regulations first, or … who knows. The commission doesn’t talk about unpublished applications.
It’s an unusual application, and in the end the CRTC might decide that Global’s request for local advertising in exchange for a bit of local news isn’t worth it, but right now we’re just waiting.
Will OTA TV stations have to undergo another transition?
At this point, it doesn’t look like it yet. You might recall Industry Canada’s proposal to match a U.S. move to reallocate TV frequencies to wireless services. This issue is progressing in the United States, but Canada is mostly just waiting and seeing. It makes little sense for Canada to do anything other than follow the Americans’ lead on this.
What happens to Sun News Network?
Sun News Network shut down on Feb. 13 after attempts to sell it failed. Its talent has scattered, some heading to more traditional broadcast media, others to their other jobs at the Toronto Sun. Ezra Levant started his own website with the help of some of his Sun friends.
Will V send MusiquePlus and Musimax into the gutter?
A lot of people were upset at the cancelling of long-running shows like M. Net in 2014 after V bought the two music channels out of the Bell-Astral merger. In 2015, the transformation continued with the launch of programs like Lip Sync Battle, Pop de jam and Fabriqué au Québec. But the year ended with Claude Rajotte being let go. And they often feel like V2 and V3 with reruns of Éric Salvail’s shows and other programming from V.
What happens to Bio, G4, Book Television and other neglected specialty channels?
So far, nothing. But most of them have been freed from their nature-of-service obligations, which means they’re free to rebrand into almost anything. Rogers is expected to turn one of its channels into a Vice channel. Other rebrands should probably follow later this year. There’s no rush until the new CRTC packaging rules take effect and people start dropping the less popular channels, because right now they have no original programming, no employees and profit margins well above 50%.
Will Avis de recherche survive the year?
Despite a 2013 CRTC decision that the public safety information channel wasn’t worthy of mandatory funding after Sept. 1, 2015, the channel has stayed running through regulatory and legal manoeuvring. Bell and Videotron have both said they want to pull the channel, but ADR complained to the CRTC. The commission expedited the application so it can be dealt with quickly. We could see a decision soon, though ADR could continue fighting this through other legal avenues (that it will also eventually lose).
Will the English version of 19-2 break away from the French?
The second season of the Montreal-set cop show followed the original French version pretty well in the major plot line, though many of the specifics were changed. The third season, which airs this year on Bravo, is likely to diverge even further, to the point where it might continue for a fourth, even though the French version ended for good after three.
How long does analog cable have left?
Not long, but it’s still been a slow decline, at least around here. Videotron is down to about 10% of its subscribers who don’t have digital TV service yet.
Is radio-on-the-TV a fad, or a concept that’s here to stay?
CBC started airing its morning shows on local television in September. City is still doing the same in Winnipeg. Tim and Sid is still going strong on Sportsnet. And ARTV put a Radio-Canada radio show on TV.
Whether or not it’s great TV seems to have become largely irrelevant because it’s still cheap.
Will ICI’s business model work?
The little ethnic TV station that could is still going, with lots of original local programming. I don’t know how successful they are financially, but it’s still on the air.
Will MYtv see the light of day?
Yes, kinda. Videotron started airing English community programming in the fall, though the original plan to have a separate English-language channel was dropped. MAtv faces another complaint from an independent group alleging that it is failing to meet its regulatory obligations.
Who will win the battle of the morning shows?
Global’s Morning News and City’s Breakfast Television are still going. Both had host changes — Global dropped Richard Dagenais and City parted ways with Alex Despatie, replacing him with Derick Fage. But both are still going, in large part because of CRTC obligations. Ratings have suggested they’re doing about as well as each other, and far behind CTV’s Canada AM.
Will CBC Montreal’s newscast cut be another Canada Now-style disaster?
The drop from 90 to 30 minutes hasn’t made too many waves that I can see. And the hourly local news updates were a good move. We’ll see what the CBC does about improving local news and local programming with the extra millions it’ll get from the Liberal government.
Will the 12 job cuts at CTV Montreal affect the quality of its product?
This question is pretty funny considering how many Bell Media cuts were to come in the following year. The station ended up losing its general manager (though he was re-hired as a sales manager). Sean Coleman was hired to anchor weekends, replacing Andre Corbeil. The station is making due with fewer staff, though it escaped more serious cuts that affected other stations this year.
The cuts haven’t been that noticeable, except for sports coverage. With only Brian Wilde reporting (and that’s only when Randy Tieman isn’t on vacation), there’s no time for amateur sports, and when there’s news from more than one of the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, decisions have to be made.
Will HD Radio take off in Canada?
Corus implemented HD Radio on a Hamilton FM station, and used its second channel to simulcast its Toronto AM talk station. Otherwise, there hasn’t been much open interest in the technology.
Will Jian Ghomeshi be convicted of assault? Will executives be forced to walk the plank? And will anything change?
Ghomeshi’s criminal charges are still pending, and it could be a while before they’re resolved. Executives did walk the plank in the wake of the scandal, and the corporation is undoubtedly more sensitive to workplace behaviour. But whether anything will change in the long term is still unclear.
Will NRJ go all-talk?
The network rebranded as Énergie, severing its ties with the radio brand from France. And it’s new programming in the mornings is more talk, less music. But it stopped short of a wholesale change to a talk format.
Will TTP Media’s radio stations ever see the light of day?
Sigh. We’re still waiting. This group has a knack for making it seem to regulators that they’re doing something while not apparently doing anything. The next deadline is in May, when their first extension for 850AM ends. They’ll probably get another one, which means the next real deadline is November 2016. I’d like to say that if they’re not on the air by then it’s over, but that’s what I thought a year ago.
Will Evanov Radio become a major player in the Montreal market?
It’s a player, but still not a major one. CHSV-FM 106.7 The Jewel in Hudson/St-Lazare is running with familar on-air personalities Ted Bird and Tasso. Radio Fierté (CHRF 980 AM) had less success. The format has apparently been abandoned and after a couple of months of non-stop Christmas music it’s now airing something similar to The Jewel but in French, with no on-air staff. The sale of CFMB 1280 to Evanov went through, but Evanov hasn’t made any major changes to the station.
Will CJLO get permission to interfere with Vermont Public Radio?
No. It’s not that the CRTC wanted to protect VPR, but it felt CJLO could find better solutions than taking the last available FM frequency here. CJLO’s engineer disagrees, so we’re left at an impasse.
Will The Beat and Virgin remain in a deadlock?
Yes. The Beat has a larger anglo audience overall, but Virgin is better in the demographics.
Will new ethnic stations be a success?
Neither Radio Humsafar 1610 AM nor ITR 102.9 FM, approved in May 2014, are on the air yet. Radio Humsafar has requested a technical change, moving its transmitter site, and says it would be ready to broadcast soon after that’s approved.
Will AM music stations survive?
CJMS 1040 AM, which got a new owner, and CJLV 1570 AM, which is owned by Humsafar, are still on the air.
What will Gregory Charles do to Radio Classique?
He made the stations share just about all their programming with each other, gave himself a show, and hired Bernard Derome as his morning man.
Will Radio 9 succeed where Radio X didn’t?
Nope. The Radio 9 talk format was dumped in favour of an all-sports format that hasn’t made the ratings dial move much yet. Rumours persist of RNC Media being for sale.
Will the Competition Bureau approve the sale of Sun Media to Postmedia?
Whose tablet strategy will come out on top?
La Presse+ is still going strong, to the point where La Presse decided to drop the weekday print edition. Postmedia (my employer), which had an evening tablet edition strategy, dropped it this fall after a year.
Will TVA Publications rationalize its magazine portfolio?
The acquisition of magazines from Transcontinental did indeed lead to dropping some titles, including Le Lundi.
Is the Hudson Gazette gone for good?
No one’s heard from it since. It’s dead.
Will Ricochet become a major media outlet or just another outlet for left-wing opinion?
Look at the website of the bilingual crowdfunded media outlet, and you see lots of opinions and columnists, but very little original news.
Where will orphaned media personalities end up?
I listed four people a year ago: Mary-Jo Barr, Alyson Lozoff, Catherine Sherriffs and Andre Corbeil. Barr took a job at Pfizer, Corbeil is working for a livestock feed company, and Lozoff and Sherriffs have been off the radar the past year.
You can add to that list other names that got cut from or voluntarily left their jobs this year: Alex Despatie, Elliott Price, Suzanne Desautels, Rob Kemp, Ronny Mack, Angelica Montgomery, Peggy Curran, Sue Montgomery, and former employees of the West Island Chronicle and Westmount Examiner.
Others have been luckier. Abe Hefter is teaching at Concordia, and Richard Dagenais is hosting a show on MAtv and reading the news on weekends on CJAD.
What’s the future of local and community television?
The CRTC has handled specialty channels, but other than deciding that transmitters must stay on the air, there’s been little decided for conventional TV. This month, the commission holds hearings on local and community television policy, and we’ll see things like how much local programming stations should be obliged to broadcast, how much of that should be local news, whether community stations should be run by TV providers or local organizations, and how to regulate how money is spent on community TV.
Will there be a rush to the middle among specialty channels?
The deregulation of most specialty channels means more freedom to stray from niches. But in a pick-and-pay universe, and with the availability of Netflix and other streaming services with large libraries, a channel devoted to Seinfeld reruns might not be successful either. So what will work? Channels like AMC and FX that have one or two must-have series but fill the rest of the schedule with reruns and crap? Channels like Family, Crime+Investigation and Food Network that still target a niche or demographic? Or will everything just become general entertainment programming, a mix of scripted dramas and comedies, reality TV shows and lifestyle shows?
Will we see more channels adopt American branding?
A lot of Canadian specialty channels share names and logos with American counterparts. The reasons are mainly economic. You don’t need to design your own logo, or create your own marketing campaign, or worry about confusion when people in the U.S. talk about a show being on some network when it has a different name north of the border. Canadian channels that keep a distinct brand tend to do so either because of their age (YTV, Much) or because they were stuck in their niche (G4, Bio, Book, Fashion). The latter issue becomes irrelevant now.
Does Vice succeed as a TV channel?
Rogers is bringing the brand to Canadian televisions, probably by rebranding a poorly performing channel like G4 or Bio. Vice gets attention online, but whether that translates to a 24/7 cable channel is still to be determined.
What will CBC do with its extra millions?
I put the question to you recently.
What happens to Radio Shalom?
The Jewish AM station’s owner says he’s no longer willing to financially support the station and is asking others to step up. If no one does, we could end up with dead air at 1650 AM.
Do community stations get enough money to survive?
Radio Centre-Ville came far short of its goal crowdfunding a new cultural space, but launched it anyway. CIBL is about a third of the way toward its crowdfunding goal to save the station. CKUT looks like it will be short of its annual funding drive goal. Radio Ville-Marie is always seeking donations, and I just told you about Radio Shalom. Will this reliance on direct donations to pay the bills result in a station going under?
How does the new ethnic radio station environment look?
Montreal has a lot of ethnic/third-language radio stations, and most are required to have programming in several languages, though they tend to focus on one or two. CFMB 1280 is mainly Italian, CKDG 105.1 is mainly Greek, CHOU 1450 covers the Middle East, the new Radio Humsafar 1610 will serve mainly South Asia, CJWI 1410 serves the Haitian community.
CKIN-FM, which was sold by Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio (owner of CKDG) to businessman Neeti P. Ray, has a new schedule that’s Arabic during the day and Spanish in the evenings.
Is that the way it will stay? Or will CKIN’s change and the emergence of Humsafar prompt other adjustments at other stations?
Does La Presse succeed as tablet-only during the week?
It was a bold move to kill the weekday edition of La Presse. It cuts down a lot on cost, but is there something more intangible about being a daily newspaper that La Presse loses now, even if it’s publishing daily tablet editions? We’ll see. But there were already more people reading it on tablet than print before the change.
Does Postmedia shut down more papers?
Rumours persist about Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, where Postmedia owns the two subscription dailies. Postmedia denies any plans to shut down the Suns in those markets. And while it shut down publications in Muskoka, that’s an “isolated” situation. My employer isn’t in the best financial situation, but it’s still expected to survive in the short term overall.
Do new online news outlets grow or contract in 2016?
Vice. Buzzfeed. Canadaland. iPolitics. The Tyee. Huffington Post. Online-only media in Canada have grown more serious in recent years, hiring professional journalists and tackling serious issues, while funding themselves using different models (crowdfunding, native advertising, paywalls, partnerships with big-money media). Will these new outlets with diverse funding sources and more targeted audiences fill the hole made by traditional media’s cuts, or will they find that their recent spending on professionals isn’t sustainable without a lot more revenue?
Will CraveTV and Shomi emerge as real competitors to Netflix?
Shomi, owned by Rogers and Shaw, just recently opened itself up to subscriptions from all Canadians. CraveTV, owned by Bell, has promised to do the same this year, but hasn’t set a date yet. That’s significant because providing all this content without requiring cable subscriptions could entice more people to cut the cord, and these companies make a lot of money from people who pay for TV.
We might also hit a wall with streaming services. Netflix is less than $10 a month, but if you add Crave, and Shomi, and other services like sports streaming and iTunes, or if Amazon or Hulu or others come to Canada, consumers might find their over-the-top bills about as high as what they were paying for the cord they cut in the first place — and a lot less live TV to show for it.
What questions will Fagstein forget to add to this list?