Later this month, the CRTC will hold a hearing looking into the future of local and community television. Included in that review will be a look at how much local programming local television stations should produce, and what that should be.
The proceeding has attracted thousands of pages of comments, including from Canada’s major broadcasters.
Shaw Media, which owns Global TV, filed comments in which it unsurprisingly defended its model for local news, which involves local newscasts not only being produced and directed outside of local markets, but anchored there as well.
Multi-Market Content (“MMC”) is Global’s strategic, innovative response to these challenges. One of the principal benefits of MMC is to increase our local newsgathering capabilities. We have turned the traditional TV model on its head by creating a centralized production unit, moving away from building exclusively for broadcast times and instead focusing on sharing content as soon as it becomes available. The goal is to write, edit and produce a news story only once and share it on multiple platforms much sooner than in traditional model. We believe this model is a world first.
We have rolled out MMC in eight Global markets to date. Commencing September 2015, all late night and weekend newscasts in Halifax, New Brunswick, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Kelowna have been produced and anchored centrally in Toronto. Production has been shifted to a timeline-based model which allows for the insertion of live breaking news and sports updates when required.
Centralizing production of these newscasts has enabled the untethering of local news staff from the anchor desk, thus directing more resources to actual local stories as they unfold. We are also able to move MMC stories online and share them with other markets more quickly by ensuring that video news reports are packaged in edit suites. No longer are we waiting until the linear newscast ends before we publish individual items online. It is an innovative and necessary response that puts the viewer fully in charge of the content they watch.
Weekday dinner-hour newscasts in all Global markets continue to be produced and anchored locally using the traditional live linear model.
There are multiple benefits of this story-centric production model, including the following:
? less talent turnover, resulting in more predictability for viewers;
? maintaining the focus of local news rooms on generating local stories;
? allowing key talent to maintain and strengthen ties with communities;
? significant reduction in duplication of work;
? allocating resources to provide for the maximum “feet on the street” to cover local stories;
? sharing content sooner online and on social media; and
? significant savings in production costs.
While the model is still in its early stages, it is already having a positive impact with respect to fostering more local stories in the Global television station markets.
In view of the foregoing, Shaw submits that a minor modification to the definition of local programming would be sufficient to reflect the evolution in locally relevant and reflective programming. Shaw proposes the following revised definition (change in bold):
Local programming is defined as programming produced by local stations with local personnel or programming produced by locally-based independent producers or programming that reflects the particular needs and interests of the market’s residents.
Shaw’s proposed change would mean that local programming would not need to be produced locally so long as it is meant particularly for a local audience.
Is Montreal a small market?
Another proposal affects the Montreal market in particular. The CRTC sets two standard quotas for local programming at English-language TV stations depending on market size: 14 hours a week for “metropolitan” markets (“those television markets in which the population with a knowledge of the official language of the station (i.e., English or French), as defined by Statistics Canada, is one million or more”), and 7 hours a week in smaller markets. French-language local programming requirements are set on a case-by-case basis.
Montreal is considered a metropolitan market in both English and French, since more than 2 million Montrealers know both official languages. But most of those are francophones — only 375,000 report speaking only English at home, a further 198,090 English and some third language. If you count English as mother tongue, Montreal’s 439,000 sits between Winnipeg and London, Ont., both of which are non-metropolitan markets.
Shaw argues that CKMI (which has transmitters in Montreal, Sherbrooke and Quebec City, the latter two have anglophone populations around 10,000 each) should be subject to the lower programming requirement:
Another example can be found in the Montreal market. Shaw’s local station, CKMI, must adhere to the 14-hour requirement for metropolitan markets. Shaw submits that Montreal should not count as a large market for the purposes of the foregoing local programming requirements. Just as the French Ottawa market is less than a million people, so too is the size of the Montreal population whose first language is English. While we appreciate there are more than one-million Montrealers with knowledge of English, this does not mean they consume daily media in English, particularly local news, for which even bilingual Anglophones are often drawn to media serving the majority French population due to the significant resources at its disposal.
Shaw submits that it would be more appropriate, from a fairness and symmetrical treatment perspective, to reduce the local programming requirement for CKMI Global Montreal from 14 to 7 hours.
To be clear, lowering the local programming requirement would not automatically mean Global would reduce its programming to meet that minimum. But considering how few people watch Global Montreal’s local newscasts late nights and weekends, it would be surprising if it didn’t, eventually.
In an appendix to its filing, Shaw highlighted the advantages of its new “MMC” model, mainly reassigning anchors to reporting jobs or having them work during the day instead of nights.
Here’s what it said about Montreal:
MMC has greatly enhanced our news coverage of important overnight stories. We now have a full-time reporter working every evening of the week. That means we are able to provide complete coverage of events happening in and around our community in the evening hours.
For example, reporter Billy Shields covered a memorial service marking the 1st anniversary of the murder of Longueuil resident Jenique Dalcourt. Other late-breaking stories that we have covered thanks to our additional reporter included news that the MLB expansion could include Montreal, and a vigil to protect The Tannery Village archeological site. For the first time ever, we covered Montreal’s “Mardi’s Cyclistes”, a Tuesday evening cycling event that attracts professional cyclists from around the world.
During the election campaign, we attended numerous community debates with local candidates, providing a local, grassroots feel to our election coverage.
Ads on community TV?
Since Shaw is also a cable provider with community channels, it also has proposals for community TV: It wants to reduce the quota on “access” programming (i.e. programs produced by people in the community rather than the station itself) to 30% from 50%, and allow advertising.
Expect these issues to be debated during the CRTC hearing, which begins Jan. 25 in Gatineau.