TVA pulls the plug on Argent

argent-logoArgent, the only French-language business specialty channel in Canada, is being shut down on April 30, owner Groupe TVA announced on Tuesday.

The television and cable industries are in turmoil and TVA Group has concluded that, despite the marketing efforts made in recent years to support Argent, it would be difficult if not impossible to achieve the profitability to continue operating the economic and financial channel.

I’m not sure what those “marketing efforts” were exactly (I’ve never seen an ad for the channel, beyond the branded business pages of the Journal de Montréal), but questions can certainly be raised about TVA’s commitment to the channel, which for one thing was never distributed in high definition, even on Quebecor’s Videotron cable system.

After taking its usual unnecessary swipe at Canada’s public broadcaster (which doesn’t have a business news channel), TVA said the decision would affect an unspecified number of employees. La Presse reports its nine permanent employees will stay with TVA, but their shift to other jobs might affect temporary employees at LCN and elsewhere.

The channel launched in 2005.

According to data submitted to the CRTC, Argent’s financial situation has been in significant decline since 2010-11, going from $4.2 million in revenue to $2.4 million in 2013-14. (Data for the year ending Aug. 31, 2015 should be out within the next month or two.) This is largely because of a decline in subscription revenue (advertising makes up only 2% of revenue), which in turn is because of a decrease in the number of subscribers, from a high of 957,000 in 2010 to 552,000 in 2014.

In the three years from 2012-14, the channel lost almost $2 million, and nothing indicates that 2015 or 2016 would have been any different.

The news of Argent’s shutdown has interesting timing since Canada just added its second English-language business channel (Bloomberg TV Canada) and the first one, Business News Network, is still doing quite well financially, with a 40% profit margin.

And the suggestion that this decision comes out of the CRTC’s recent pick-and-pay TV decision also doesn’t jive with the fact that its financial troubles started long before then and that Videotron, also owned by Quebecor, has been offering custom channel packages for many years now.

But these days it makes more sense for a Canadian business channel to be based in Toronto than Montreal. The only place I remember seeing Argent on TV was at my local Caisse Desjardins bank. I guess they can switch to LCN.

Cuts in QMI’s investigative bureau

UPDATE (April 21): Meanwhile, there were cuts to the investigative reporting team at Agence QMI, Quebecor Media’s shared journalism outlet.

Andrew McIntosh is an investigative reporter who’s been in the business more than 30 years, working for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and National Post before joining QMI in 2010 as their top investigative reporter. His awards include three National Newspaper Awards.

You can read some of his reporting for QMI here.

The other high-profile departure is Michel Morin, who was a journalist with Radio-Canada until he became a CRTC commissioner. After his term at the broadcasting regulator ended, he joined QMI’s investigative team. You can read some of his stories here.

12 thoughts on “TVA pulls the plug on Argent

  1. Stéphane

    I wonder if they had studied the possibility of selling the channel Argent to another group like Remstar who acquired Musique Plus and Musimax from Astral?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I wonder if they had studied the possibility of selling the channel Argent to another group like Remstar who acquired Musique Plus and Musimax from Astral?

      It would be surprising if they didn’t. But there is no obvious buyer for such a channel. Remstar, Bell and other broadcasters don’t have French-language news services which means a business channel would really need to be stand-alone. And if Quebecor couldn’t make it work, it’s hard to see how anyone else could. One exception might be Radio-Canada, which has RDI and does some business reporting, but a Quebecor-Radio-Canada deal would be pretty unprecedented.

      Reply
  2. Dilbert

    “And the suggestion that this decision comes out of the CRTC’s recent pick-and-pay TV decision also doesn’t jive with the fact that its financial troubles started long before then and that Videotron, also owned by Quebecor, has been offering custom channel packages for many years now.”

    It’s trying to dismiss the obvious.

    Argent was born mostly out of the package cable universe. The hope always is to get your new channel into an popular existing package, and to drive a subscriber base who generally have no interest in your channel. You push that number up high enough, and all of those cents per month per subscriber add up.

    The problem is that the french marketplace isn’t large enough. So even if the channel ended up on the most basic of packages, it would not make enough income from that source alone to pay all the bills, it would need ad dollars. That requires that some of your subscribers actually turn the channel on often enough to register big enough ratings to justify a reasonable ad cost and to attract bigger name advertisers. Argent has a narrow market focus, it’s not really a populist channel but rather a small market product.

    The rapid loss of subscribers says that something important happened in 2011. Did they lose package position, did they fall out of default franco packages? One way or another, they shed more than half of their subscribers and way more than half of their ad revenue in a very short period of time, this one was circling the bowl no matter what.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Argent was born mostly out of the package cable universe. The hope always is to get your new channel into an popular existing package, and to drive a subscriber base who generally have no interest in your channel.

      If that was true, Videotron would have put it in a popular package. It didn’t.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        The problem for Videotron was that they had no package to put it in without raising rates. Yet, they still managed to foist it onto a whole bunch of people, and 50% of them dropped the channel in 2011, it seems. So what was the difference? if you find that, then you will find your answer as to why it is dead.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          50% of them dropped the channel in 2011, it seems. So what was the difference?

          Actually it was a 31% drop in 2012 and a 16% drop in 2013. The other years were flat. I’m unaware of any major packaging change during that time that would have made the difference, but suspect it was mainly people choosing custom packages that didn’t include Argent.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            The reasons I mention 2011 is because generally most people pre-2010 were on packages of channels. and those are one and two year deals. So a change in 2011 might only trickle down in the year or two years following it.

            A little look in your own history shows that 2011 was the point that Bell joined into the a la carte system similar to the one Videotron had for a little while before that. The potential here is that the two major players in the game shifted their sales technique and a marginal channel like Argent gets caught in the squeeze.

            The potential is that Bell may have taken Argent out of it’s default french package, and made it a pay extra optional channel. Their current offerings don’t have Argent in either their basic a la carte starter kit or the “good” package, you have to get to their midline package before you get it. Otherwise, it’s $7 a month / $84 a year. I was trying to find the packages from 2009 or so to see what was different, couldn’t find them. That might be the key right there.

            Certainly any channel that loves half of it’s subscribers in 4 years has a problem. Perhaps the problem was that it existed at all.

            Reply
  3. Mario D.

    From wherever they broadcast it will not change the fact that nobody listened to Argent and nobody will either to whatever channel replaces it s content.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      nobody listened to Argent and nobody will either to whatever channel replaces it s content.

      Quebecor says it’s handing back the licence. So this isn’t a rebranding.

      Reply
  4. Bob

    I subscribe to BNN, Bloomberg, CNBC, and I would subscribe to Fox Business if it were available here. I would not watch Argent if it were offered for free. Would you want to watch an Apple CEO interview conducted in delayed translated French?

    Reply

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