City cancels Sportsnet Central Montreal

Sportsnet Central Montreal, hosted by Elias Makos, centre.

Sportsnet Central Montreal, the weekly half-hour sports panel discussion show on City Montreal, has been cancelled by Rogers Media. Thursday’s show will be its last.

(UPDATE: It looks like there’s a project to try to revive the show on ICI.)

Host Elias Makos dropped the first hint of the cancellation during last week’s show, describing it as the “penultimate” one. Rogers confirmed to me today that it has decided to end the show. It sent me this statement:

Rogers Media is evolving its local strategy to better serve the Montreal community. In doing this we’re deepening our commitment to local news with the launch of daily newscast CityNews in Winter 2018.   As a result of this re-focused strategy, SN Central will have its last broadcast this Thursday, August 31 at 6:30 p.m. We’d like to thank Elias Makos and all of our contributors for their smart and entertaining commentary on Montreal’s sports scene.

City will continue to provide coverage of Montreal sports teams and events on Breakfast Television, featuring Joanne Vrakas, Derick Fage, Catherine Verdon Diamond, Elias Makos and Domenic Fazioli as well as through our new CityNews newscast, launching Winter 2018.

Makos remains with City, as the new media producer and occasional fill-in host or weather presenter on Breakfast Television.

The last show will be broadcast mere hours before the condition of licence requiring the station to broadcast the show expires. As of Sept. 1, City Montreal (CJNT-DT) has standard conditions of licence regarding local programming.

The cancellation of the show makes sense since the new evening newscasts would take over all three of its timeslots. But that won’t happen until next winter.

The condition of licence

A weekly half-hour local sports show was Rogers’s idea when it acquired CJNT from Channel Zero. In order to convince the CRTC to approve the $10-million transaction, in addition to helping fund the launch of the ethnic station ICI, it committed to creating a local three-hour weekday morning show and a weekly sports magazine show.

Here’s how Rogers described the latter in its application to the CRTC:

(Rogers Broadcasting Ltd.) will also launch a weekly half-hour sports program, to be known as Connected Montréal, dedicated to covering the best in professional, amateur, university, CEGEP, and junior league sports in the Greater Montréal area. Currently, there are no programs on television that showcase the talented athletes and coaches that make-up this rich and diverse sporting community. We intend to focus on the positive influences sports bring to young people, community building, and the historical and cultural fabric of Montréal.

This show will include a mix of game highlights; team, athlete and coach profiles; and analysis from a wide variety of local sporting events. This program will be uplifting and motivational, providing Montréalers with the opportunity to celebrate their city’s athletic achievements.

When he appeared before the CRTC in person at a hearing, Rogers Broadcasting president Scott Moore underlined that it would be a mix of professional and amateur sports coverage, with the former bringing in viewers (“you would be crazy to do a sports show in Montreal without talking about the Montreal Canadiens,” he said) and the latter providing unique content. He compared it with Sports Pulse, a CFCF show hosted by Ron Reusch.

When the CRTC approved the sale in 2012, it put that promise in as a condition of licence:

Beginning no later than 1 September 2013, the licensee shall broadcast a minimum of 15.5 hours of original local programming per week. This programming will consist of a three-hour local, English-language morning program from Monday to Friday that includes a significant amount of local news, weather and traffic, interviews and community events. 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.

Normally the CRTC sets a minimum amount of local programming (14 hours a week in large markets like Montreal) and lets the broadcaster figure out how they’ll fill it. But the CRTC made these specific shows conditions of licence, which meant they had to be broadcast. (This is also why Breakfast Television would broadcast even on holidays, though they’re permitted to air repeats or best-of shows to meet the quota.)

City Montreal staff in summer 2013. Seated: Montreal Connected Executive Producer George Athans (left), City Montreal Executive Producer Bob Babinski (right). Standing, from left: Montreal Connected hosts Wilder Weir and Alyson Lozoff, New Media Producer Elias Makos, Montreal Connected Associate Producer Kelly Greig, Montreal Connected Director of Photography and editor Ian Graham.

Montreal Connected

The show launched on May 30, 2013 as Montreal Connected (it was changed to Sportsnet Central Montreal when Sportsnet changed its shows from Sportsnet Connected to Sportsnet Central). First hosted by Wilder Weir and Alyson Lozoff, its staff included producers Kelly Greig and Sean Coleman, then relatively unknown, who would quickly find themselves in front of the camera filing stories.

Those stories clearly fit the mandate of the show, but on top of that, they were just really good, especially when you consider the limited resources. The topics were offbeat, about sports far from the mainstream like armwrestling or even Quidditch:

The segments, two, three or four minutes long, about the length of a regular TV news story, were well produced. The edits were tight, the shots visually interesting. Rather than sit by the sidelines to film the action, cameraman/editor Ian Graham made liberal use of GoPros to get right into the action. They included music.

But most importantly they were fun.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before City realized it could do more with less. Within a year, the show started incorporating cheaper in-studio panel discussions. It brought in Stephen Brunt — on a video link from Toronto — to opine about and analyze sports news.

Lozoff was let go, followed eventually by Greig and Coleman, and finally Weir. The show was reinvented as a panel discussion show with occasional interviews with athletes or sports-related stuff rebroadcast from Breakfast Television. Sportsnet East stopped bothering to rebroadcast the show on Saturday afternoons. (These changes aren’t listed in chronological order, to be clear.)

Eventually it was just the panel, which although it provided the kind of forum we don’t see on television (not to mention some extra income for its panellists), was almost entirely focused on professional sports and did little to take advantage of television as a medium. Arguably, it was breaking its condition of licence by failing to discuss amateur sports on a weekly basis.

This year, when Rogers applied for licence renewals for all its TV services, it asked the CRTC to delete the special conditions of licence requiring this show. The CRTC complied, substituting standard conditions, and so as of Sept. 1, 2017, the station no longer needs to broadcast the show. Rogers wasted no time whatsoever in pulling the plug.

Poor ratings, worse publicity

Throughout its run, the show had trouble building an audience, but it was there. Numeris data from last year showed an average audience of 1,900 for the Thursday show and 4,600 for the Friday rebroadcast, which didn’t compete directly with CTV Montreal’s newscast. Not great numbers (though Breakfast Television only had 2,900 viewers in any average minute), and certainly not good enough to warrant spending money on if you’re looking to turn a profit.

But the numbers reflect the complete lack of marketing effort. Even in the early days as a magazine show, City didn’t advertise it outdoors, in newspapers, or even on its own channel, outside of occasional mentions on BT. They didn’t cut promo ads for the show. Had they tried to give it a boost, and not put it up against the most watched show in Montreal television, it might have done a lot better, at least in terms of viewers if not the bottom line.

The addition of a seven-days-a-week newscast is good news for City Montreal, and still a net gain even with the loss of this show. But it’s a sign that these networks of TV stations are centrally managed as cookie-cutter copies of each other, and when one local station has something of its own going on, that’s generally left to slowly rot until it’s time to amputate.

UPDATE (Sept. 1): The final episode ended with a nice speech by host Elias Makos:

The full episode can be viewed here.

 

Appreciation

5 thoughts on “City cancels Sportsnet Central Montreal

  1. rawalex

    It’s what happens when a show is created only to fulfill a condition of license and not to fulfill the publics’ needs or desires. The lack of promotion, advertising, or any other money spent is all about meeting the CRTC’s specific requirements and not about actually making the show work.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      It’s what happens when a show is created only to fulfill a condition of license and not to fulfill the publics’ needs or desires.

      Except that this was Rogers’s idea. They didn’t need to propose this show, but they did.

      Reply
      1. rawalex

        They proposed it to curry favor with the CRTC, and not to fill any real public demand. It continued to exist as the CRTC had written it into the terms of the sale / ongoing license.

        I don’t think there was ever a plan to make it anything more than obligatory content. Certainly there was no money and no attempt to market it, even on a channel that runs plenty of self-promotion ads.

        Reply
  2. Ben

    This is a real shame and not a brilliant decision considering CTV just eliminated its sports division. Penny-pinchers in Toronto must be patting themselves on the back.

    Reply

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