Corus Entertainment, which owns Global TV, and Rogers Media, which owns City TV, have each decided that in light of recent changes in local television policy, they are willing to accept the requirement that their stations in Montreal produce the standard 14 hours per week of local programming, and have withdrawn requests that their quota be reduced to 10 or seven hours a week.
The requests came as part of a proceeding to renew licences for Canada’s major television broadcasters. The large groups all have their licences expiring in 2017, and the CRTC is holding a public hearing in November to discuss what conditions should be in their renewed licences for over-the-air television and specialty channels.
Bell Media proposed no such changes for CFCF-DT, which is the market leader in the city and whose local newscasts often have a market share above 50%. But even the #1 broadcaster warned about the failing business model of local television, and said that for its network “at this time, we can only commit to the current local programming requirements and even these regulatory minima may need to be revisited once the Commission’s decision on local programming is released.”
Normally, television stations in “metropolitan” markets of more than 1 million people are required to broadcast 14 hours of local programming every week, while stations in smaller markets are required to broadcast seven.
City: “quality over quantity”
Rogers, whose station CJNT-DT is reaching the end of its first licence term under that ownership, wanted to reduce local programming not just in Montreal but Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg as well, dropping Winnipeg from seven to five hours a week and the others to 10. Toronto and Vancouver would remain unchanged. Rogers had argued for a “quality over quantity approach”, wanting to concentrate the money on fewer hours of programming so the quality of that programming would be better and more popular.
But in June, the CRTC released its new policy on how local programming is funded, allowing vertically integrated companies to shift funding from community TV channels to local television stations. Rogers changed its mind after that decision was released:
After reviewing this Decision and taking into consideration the expectation that local stations make commitments to exhibition and expenditures on locally reflective news programming in each of the markets they serve, Rogers proposes to adhere to the standard COLs related to locally relevant programming for commercial English-language stations as set out in BRP 2016-224.
But Rogers is still requesting a change to the licence for City Montreal. The original licence approved in 2012 when Rogers bought the station from Channel Zero had specific conditions requiring a three-hour local morning show on weekdays and a weekly half-hour sports magazine show. Rogers is requesting that this be replaced with the standard condition of licence, requiring 14 hours a week of local programming without specifying what that should be.
It’s actually very unusual for a television station licence to specifically lay out what local programming it should air. But both the morning show and the weekly sports show were what Rogers proposed to the commission when it applied to acquire the station, and the commission decided to make sure Rogers kept to its promise.
Replacing the specific condition of licence with a standard one could mean the death of Sportsnet Central Montreal, which has been little more than a half-hour sports chat show since it let go of star freelance journalists Kelly Greig and Sean Coleman and replaced their tightly packaged off-the-beaten-path local sports features with half an hour of five people on stools talking about P.K. Subban.
I have no specific information suggesting that this would be a consequence of such a licence change, but it would be possible. Breakfast Television is 15 hours a week, and so already exceeds the local programming requirement by itself. And the City network still isn’t making money, so an unnecessary low-rated local show would be an easy cut.
Specifically asked about City Montreal, Rogers noted its precarious financial situation:
Rogers further notes that City Montreal is not profitable and its local programs lose close to $3 million dollars annually. Accordingly, Rogers submits that any restriction or obligation over and above the baseline requirements set by the Commission for locally relevant programming and locally reflective news programming would impact the future viability of the station.
Then again, there can be legitimate questions raised whether City is even complying with its existing licence. The licence awarded in 2012 required the broadcast of a sports show that featured amateur as well as professional sports:
The original local programming will also include a weekly half-hour local sports program dedicated to professional, amateur, university, CÉGEP and junior league sports in the greater Montréal area.
Since the format change to a panel discussion show, it has been focused almost exclusively on professional sports, with the occasional amateur athlete interview thrown in.
Because the existing licences continue until Aug. 31, 2017, any changes coming from the new licence wouldn’t happen until then.
In response to CRTC questions, Rogers said it would be prepared to accept a minimum of six hours per week of locally reflective news programming (as part of that 14 hours a week of local programming) and spend 11% of City’s gross revenues on that programming as part of its required Canadian programming expenditures.
Bell Media also proposed six hours a week of locally reflective news programming and 11% of gross revenues being spent on it.
Global: Montreal isn’t a large market
Corus, which acquired Global from Shaw Communications (but has the same controlling shareholder) had argued in its original application in April that Montreal’s English market should not be considered large, and so should instead be subject to the smaller seven hour requirement.
Corus operates CKMI-Montre?al (and its transmitters in Que?bec and Sherbrooke). Initiatives taken by this station have resulted in significant improvements in the reflection of English-language minority communities on its station.
There are particular challenges with respect to the English-language minority communities in Montreal, in that a significant proportion of the Anglophone community in the station’s contour are bilingual. Therefore a significant degree of their viewing is directed to French- language television stations in the community. In order to ensure that diversity of viewing options are presented to the English-language minority communities served by CKMI, in the last two years, Global Montreal had consciously shifted its programming strategy from “serving Quebec in English”, to “serving the English-speaking community in Quebec.” Today’s digital and mobile offerings provide Anglophone Quebecers, many of whom are bilingual, immediate and constant news about the province, the country and international events. Our niche is to provide news that is unique to the English communities of Quebec.
For example, the English-speaking community views school board elections as crucial to self-determination. Over the last two years, Global News organized debates with prospective school board commissioners and planned and executed special coverage of school board elections. We have provided in-depth coverage on issues of access to health-care in English, including in potentially life- threatening situations. During the most recent provincial and federal elections, our coverage focused primarily on the ridings and issues central to the English-language minority community, and indeed held riding-specific debates on our public affairs program, Focus Montreal.
This more targeted approach to serving the English OLMC (Ed: official language minority community) in Quebec has been successful: CKMI truly offers a diversity of programming to a viewing segment that is not served by any other station in the community. However, the consequence of this programming focus has been a significantly smaller audience dollar, which in turn has had a significant impact on CKMI’s revenues. This presents a challenge to meeting CKMI’s requirement to broadcast no less than 14 hours of Canadian local programming in each broadcast week. This level of local programming is difficult to achieve in view of the targeted English-language minority community that CKMI is now serving.
The Montreal market in which CKMI operates should not count as a large metropolitan market for the purposes of the local programming requirements. Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-100 – Regulatory frameworks for broadcasting distribution undertakings and discretionary programming services defines a metropolitan as one in which the population with a knowledge of the official language of the station is one million or more. While we appreciate there are more than one million Montrealers with knowledge of English, it is the mother tongue of less than 440,000, as compared to the over 2.4 million Montrealers whose first language is French. Therefore it is unlikely that anywhere near to one million residents consume their 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.
As a result, 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.
CKMI is already broadcasting an additional 10 hours of local programming pursuant to tangible benefit commitments from the CanWest acquisition. This means that the current requirement is effectively 24 hours each broadcast week.
In view of the foregoing, we will provide comments to the updated Standard conditions of licence, expectations and encouragements for conventional television stations, Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2011-442 as to why CKMI should not be subject to the current local programming requirements governing local metropolitan markets.
The number of Quebecers whose first language is English is actually 600,000 according to Statistics Canada, or about 460,000 if you count just Montreal, Quebec City and Sherbrooke, but the point is valid: the real anglo market here is not that large.
But since Corus has backed away from that argument, it looks like it won’t be really tested. The only place it has requested lower than usual local programming requirements is in Atlantic Canada, where CHNB-DT (Global New Brunswick) and CIHF-DT (Global Halifax) are required to have 2.5 hours a week of programming distinct from each other, in addition to regional programming common to both stations. Corus is clear that if the New Brunswick station is required to produce 7 hours a week of distinct local programming, “we would have to consider whether to return the licence.”
The big thing the CRTC is likely to focus on at the public hearing in November is the way Global produces local news, particularly for smaller markets like Montreal and Atlantic Canada. In its new local TV policy, the commission said it would not only require a minimum amount of local programming from TV stations, but a minimum amount of local news, and of “locally reflective” news that is specific to that market. There’s no standard minimum because the commission said it wants to base it on historical levels and provide more flexibility.
How the CRTC defines “locally reflective” is up to interpretation:
News programming will be considered locally reflective if it meets all of the following criteria:
- the subject matter relates specifically to the market a station is licensed to serve;
- it portrays an onscreen image of the market by, for example, including its residents or officials or featuring coverage of its municipal or provincial government; and
- it is produced by the station’s staff or by independent producers specifically for the station.
Global has made a big deal of what it calls “multi market content”, in which news stories and other content are used by multiple local stations to save money. Newscasts, aside from the flagship 6pm one, are produced out of Toronto by splicing together a national newscast with pretaped local news. Similarly, the morning shows are a strange national-local hybrid where you go to commercial in Montreal and come back in Toronto with a new set and new hosts.
Even though Global started centralizing local newscast production almost a decade ago, the CRTC hasn’t stepped in to do anything about it yet, and has continued to count everything as local programming. It’s unclear how Global’s strategy fits in with the local reflection requirement, or what it will mean if the CRTC decides that it doesn’t. (Does a news show that is directed, controlled and anchored out of another city, but contains mostly locally produced stories, count as locally reflective?)
Similar questions will be asked of TVA after it was revealed some functions of regional stations would be centralized in Montreal, which angered the union.
Another question of how Global will deal with local programming is what happens after 2017, when the promise — originally given by Shaw as part of its acquisition of Global from Canwest — to create local morning shows in markets that didn’t have one before expires. After that, Corus no longer has to provide special funding for the morning shows, and they will no longer be required if the stations can meet their local programming requirements through other programs.
Global had said at the beginning that it wanted these morning shows to be sustainable so they could continue long after the special benefits funding expired. But that was when the TV industry was in less precarious a position.
Unlike Bell and Rogers, Corus said it was “not able at this time” to suggest minimum levels of locally reflective news programming or an expenditure quota for it.
All three major broadcasters said keeping track of locally reflective vs. locally relevant news, and breaking down parts of each local newscast into those categories, would require a prohibitive amount of manpower. They suggested instead that the CRTC order after-the-fact reviews of sample weeks to monitor how much TV stations are producing locally reflective news programming.
The CRTC will hold hearings Nov. 22-24 in Laval (for French-language groups) and Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 in Gatineau (for English-language groups) to review licences for the major broadcasters. If you want to be part of that, you’ll need to file comments by Monday.
Comments about TV licence renewals from Bell Media (CTV/CTV2 et al), Corus (Global et al), Rogers Media (City et al), Québecor Media (TVA) and V Média (V) are being accepted until Monday, Aug. 15, at 8 p.m. ET. They can be filed here. Remember that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.