Monthly Archives: January 2018

Community station FM 103,3 being forced to move transmitter off Olympic Stadium tower

The government agency that runs the Olympic Stadium has been active the past few years in trying to modernize it. A new really expensive roof was approved by the Quebec government. The tower was renovated into offices for 1,300 employees of the Desjardins group.

But another plan, to open the roof of the tower as an observation deck, means having to remove several radio transmitters, and the Régie des installations olympiques has given at least one of them an eviction notice.

CHAA-FM 103,3, the community station serving the south shore of Montreal, broadcasts from the Olympic Stadium tower, with a signal directed toward Longueuil. In an application to the CRTC, it says it received a notice in 2016 that it must vacate the tower by Dec. 31, 2017. The RIO later offered a three-year lease because work to renovate the roof was delayed, but that lease contained an option to cut it short with 12 months notice.

On top of that, work currently taking place on the tower has interfered with proper operation of the transmitter, due to all the vibration and dust being created. The station, owned by Radio communautaire de la Rive-Sud inc., finally decided it had enough, and has applied to move the transmitter to the CBC/Radio-Canada tower on Mount Royal, which houses almost every commercial FM and TV transmitter in the market.

The application was published Monday by the CRTC, and is accepting comments until Feb. 19, a shortened comment period the commission agreed to so it could expedite the application process.

Current (pink) and proposed (black) transmitter locations and signal patterns for CHAA-FM 103,3

The new transmitter would be higher (284m vs 192m), and slightly more powerful, with a maximum ERP of 1700W instead of 1400W. But its signal pattern would be similar (slightly better toward Brossard and the west), and impacts on nearby stations on the same or adjacent frequencies would be minimal, its engineer asserts.

This move won’t be cheap, though. CHAA estimates a moving cost of $200,000 for new equipment on the new site, and says its rent will double. It’s seeking a loan to cover the costs.

The Mount Royal Antenna is the tallest in Montreal, and the home of transmitters for CBMT, CBFT, CFCF, CFTM and CFJP television transmitters (plus CJNT that broadcasts from a building next to the tower), and CBME, CISM, CKUT, CIRA, CKBE, CBM, CKMF, CBF, CJFM, CHOM, CHMP, CJPX, CBFX, CFGL and CITE FM transmitters, and will soon be joined by CKOI. As a result of its ideal position on top of the mountain, it’s also the most expensive place to put a transmitter, so some stations have used alternate sources, like a nearby Bell-owned tower on the other side of Remembrance Rd. But Olympic Stadium was another option.

Besides CHAA-FM, only one other broadcast transmitter remains on the stadium: CIBL-FM 101,5. And that station is in the middle of a major financial crisis. The last thing it needs is a forced transmitter relocation, even if it had been aware of it for some time.

Correction: This post originally said Télé-Québec’s CIVM-DT transmitter was operating from Mount Royal after moving from the Olympic Stadium. I don’t know where I got that from, but the Industry Canada database shows it still listed as transmitting from the Olympic Stadium tower.

Global Montreal’s Morning News turns 5, and Corus will keep it going

Laura Casella and Kim Sullivan on a recent episode of Global News Morning

As recently as 2012, Montreal did not have a local English-language morning show on television. Now we have two — three if you include the radio-on-the-TV Daybreak broadcast on CBC. Global Montreal was first out of the gate on Jan. 28, 2013, and so today celebrates its fifth anniversary.

Or it would if today wasn’t Sunday.

Nevertheless, there’s cause for celebration, because Global’s parent company Corus Entertainment is keeping the show on the air past its original mandate, even though it’s under no obligation to.

Creating local morning news shows in markets that didn’t already have them was a promise made by Shaw Communications in 2010 when it acquired Global and the other Canwest television assets from the bankrupt company (that also used to be my employer). As part of its $180 million “tangible benefits” commitment to get the deal approved by the CRTC, Shaw promised $45 million toward adding local programming in the mornings — above the requirements in its standard licence conditions — in six markets: Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon. Toronto would get the largest slice of that pie, but Montreal was promised $5 million — or about a million dollars a year.

It took a while to get the Montreal show off the ground — the premiere two years and three months after the acquisition was approved. And even then it had some glitches, with a minimal technical staff, two anchors and a weather presenter.

The original Global Montreal morning show cast, from left: Richard Dagenais, Jessica Laventure, Camille Ross. All three have since moved on to other jobs (Dagenais is at MAtv, Laventure works at Club Med and Ross is an instructor and consultant in London, Ont.)

Tangible benefits are spread out over seven years, which means they should have been all paid out by Aug. 31, 2017. We don’t have Global’s financial report for that year yet, but the 2016 report showed $1,234,800 in spending remaining from that $5 million fund for the 2016-17 year, the largest pool of money remaining for a market.

With the expiry of the tangible benefits, the obligation of Shaw (now Corus) to continue Morning News in Montreal and the other markets ceased. If they could meet their local programming and local news requirements with remaining programming, they could shut the morning shows down.

But they haven’t.

“We’re proud of our morning show in Montreal, which continues to do well and is providing improved results in the market,” Corus told me in a statement. “We also produce more local news content (above our condition of license) above our English language competitors.”

Shaw had told the CRTC in 2010 that it expected the morning shows to keep going past the end of the commitment. Troy Reeb, VP of news for Shaw Media and now head of local news for TV and radio for Corus, told me the same at the time, saying they were striving for a sustainable model.

But it’s nice to see that they’re actually following through with the commitment, at least for now.

Global Montreal’s Morning News doesn’t have a huge audience. According to the 2016-17 season average that Corus is using to tell advertisers what to expect, the show has an average minute audience of 5,500. That’s higher than the 3,500 that City’s Breakfast Television is reporting, or the 1,000 that CBC is reporting for Daybreak on TV.

And then there’s the fact that it’s not all that local. The middle segment of every half hour comes out of Toronto, which continues to give viewers the idea that they’re watching two programs switching back and forth.

The nationalization of local news was also applied to late-night and weekend newscasts, which are anchored out of Toronto. But Global Montreal also added a local noon-hour news, becoming the first station to try challenging CTV Montreal’s noon newscast.

It’s a mixed bag. We can be furious that Global is cutting so many corners and passing off nationally-produced programming as local news, or we can be happy that making such broadcasts as lean as possible has kept them on the air.

As much as I think Morning News isn’t as good as it could be with more resources, I’d rather that than nothing.

So happy birthday.

UPDATE: Morning News marked its anniversary on the air on Monday.

Media News Digest: Bell deals with Starz, The Hockey News sold, CTV suspends reporter

News about news

At the CRTC

  • The Super Bowl will not be substituted. The Supreme Court has denied Bell’s request for an emergency stay of the CRTC’s Super Bowl ad substitution decision in advance of next week’s game. But the decision doesn’t dismiss the case entirely, and allows an expedited determination of whether the court will take the case, which means it might be heard in the fall and a decision reached before the 2019 Super Bowl. Barring some miracle, this year’s game will be the same as last one: CTV ads on CTV and U.S. ads on the U.S. network (in this case, NBC). CTV will once again run its watch-to-win contest during the game.
  • Juicebox, Loud, Vibe and Retro, four channels that used to be part of the Much family but were sold to Stingray, have been re-licensed after losing enough subscribers to qualify for licence-exempt status, and then gaining enough to lose that status (200,000 is the magic number). Stingray had asked for a below-normal Canadian content spending quota, and interest groups like ADISQ and the directors and writers guilds asked for higher quotas or special music-related conditions. The CRTC threw out all those requests, noting that the channels are not tied to their formats and deserve no special treatment either way. They are required to spend 10% of revenue on Canadian content.
  • Vintage TV, a 24-hour music network, has similarly applied for and received a licence after passing the 200,000 subscriber mark. Its licence conditions are standard, but the commission was worried about foreign control since 33% of voting shares are held by a U.K. parent company. The licensee must inform the commission of any changes related to its control bylaws.
  • TVA Sports got a minor licence amendment, allowing it to average out the 12-minutes-per-hour advertising limit over a day instead of having to meet it every hour. RDS got a similar condition. This will allow TVA more flexibility when airing content that has fewer chances for commercial interruption (for example, during soccer games).
  • The commission has approved acquisition of CHLW-FM Barriere, B.C., and a new ownership structure for CKOV-FM Strathmore, Alta.

TV

Radio

Print

Online

  • TC Media is shutting down its mobile news application on Jan. 31, directing users to its remaining newspapers’ websites. TC Media is in the process of divesting its newspaper holdings, which once measured in the hundreds, and now amount to a few dozen in Quebec.
  • CNN is shutting down Beme, and ending its relationship with Casey Neistat. If you know what those things are, you know more than me.

Telecom

Other

News about people

Obituaries

Jobs

Rogers pulls the plug on Viceland

The news was a long time coming, but was finally made official today: Rogers is ending its $100-million content deal with Vice Media and shutting down the Viceland television channel on March 31.

Vice, though it will regain control of its content, will face layoffs as a result. The recently formed union isn’t sure how many.

Vice still has other deals, notably with Rogers competitor Bell Media for Vice News Tonight on HBO and Much and a documentary deal with CTV’s W5. And of course it still has its online content.

Viceland Canada, formerly the Biography Channel, required significant startup investment after it launched on Feb. 29, 2016, which led to a $2.5-million loss in the 2015-16 broadcast year. In financial projections filed with the CRTC, Rogers expected a further $8-9 million loss each year for the next three years.

Presumably this means the licence for the channel would be turned in (that’s what Rogers is telling Cartt.ca), though Vice is suggesting that Viceland could continue. Another possibility might be that Bell decides to take over the rights to Viceland and rebrand one of its zombie channels like Book Television or incorporate it into a related channel like Much or MTV/MTV2. Or someone could ask the CRTC for permission to allow the American Viceland to be distributed in Canada.

More coverage from the Globe and Mail and CBC News.

UPDATE (Jan. 27): The end of the Rogers-Vice deal means job losses. The Canadian Media Guild says 23 people were given layoff notices. The fact that they’re now in a union means they have some protections.

Nirvanna the Band the Show, one of the Canadian Viceland originals, will still be produced because its deal with Vice is still valid.

Meanwhile, InfoPresse asked V about its plans for a French Viceland. V has abandoned the idea of a full-time channel, but will still produce content with Vice.

UPDATE (Feb. 15): Rogers has indeed requested the CRTC revoke the licence for Viceland.

Cogeco is ready for HD Radio, but isn’t eager to jump on it

Richard Lachance, president of Cogeco Media

At Cogeco’s annual general meeting recently, I managed to borrow Cogeco Media president Richard Lachance for a brief conversation about the company’s plans in radio. At an earlier meeting with Cogeco CEO Louis Audet, the focus was on the cable and telecom side, and the radio division didn’t come up until I asked at the very end if there was anything new there.

The truth is there isn’t. Cogeco hasn’t bought, sold or shut down a radio station in years, or even rebranded or reformatted. Its Rythme FM network has gained — and lost — some affiliates, but otherwise there has been little change in the past five years, following realignments that came from the Cogeco acquisition of Corus’s radio stations in Quebec.

There was discussion about Cogeco helping out community station CIBL, but here are a couple of other things I got out of him:

HD Radio: Cogeco’s FM transmitters are ready, or soon will be, to broadcast using HD Radio, a hybrid system that adds digital streams on top of the analog signal. Major broadcasters have been experimenting with it, mostly by simulcasting AM radio stations on FM HD (such as Bell is doing with CJAD and TSN 690 on their 107.3 signal). But Lachance was lukewarm on its appeal. Outside of cars, receivers are hard to come by, and demand isn’t that significant. And activating an HD signal has a negative effect on the power of the analog signal. Cogeco has experimented with an HD signal on CFGL-FM (Rythme FM 105.7), just rebroadcasting a digital version of the analog signal, but that’s no longer running.

If Cogeco followed the path of its competitors, it could rebroadcast its AM station (CKAC Circulation 730) on an FM HD transmitter like 98.5 or 105.7, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge rush to do even that.

CKOI’s current antenna atop the CIBC building

CKOI: The days of Montreal’s most powerful radio transmitter are numbered. The 307,000-watt signal, grandfathered at that power when the federal government imposed a 100kW limit on FM stations in the 1960s, is being replaced by a new transmitter on the Mount Royal Antenna, that will be higher up but lower power (147kW) so its pattern doesn’t extend beyond its current one.

Lachance said the plan is to make the move this year, probably around June. After that, the existing transmitter and antenna on the CIBC building at Peel St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. downtown will likely be torn down. CKOI’s backup transmitter, and others for Cogeco stations and some Bell stations, is in Laval’s Auteuil district.

Most people won’t notice a change. But Cogeco believes the higher antenna will mean less interference from large buildings and the mountain itself.

Other Cogeco stations have applied for and gotten permission to increase to the maximum 100kW. The transmitter for CHMP 98.5 has already been increased. The Beat 92.5 (CKBE-FM) remains at 41kW and its upgrade, though approved, isn’t scheduled in the short term.

Former Gazette hockey columnist Red Fisher dies — here are some obituaries to read

Red Fisher died on Friday. The legendary writer (one of the few people I don’t hesitate to use that overused term for) covered the Montreal Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette from 1955 until he retired in 2012, covering 17 of the team’s 24 Stanley Cups and earning the admiration and respect of an entire industry.

He comes from another era of sports journalism, when a reporter could talk directly with the players outside of well-managed availabilities authorized by the PR department, when they could exchange information off the record, and players would even ask advice from an encyclopedia of hockey.

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Media News Digest: Debra Arbec gets CSA nomination, Spike becomes Paramount, Kim Sullivan wants to be a mom

News about news

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CIBL has saviours, but it needs a business plan

Montreal community radio station CIBL-FM 101.5 is in a financial crisis. On Jan. 5, it laid off all 13 of its employees and cancelled all programming, replacing all its shows with an automated music playlist.

Its board of directors has launched a committee to try to figure out how to get the station back on track. Its now-former employees, meanwhile, are mobilizing to save the station. Their efforts can be seen on the Facebook page they’ve started. More than 200 people have signed up for memberships, and other groups have raised money or attention for their cause.

But while there’s plenty of nostalgia and compiling lists of famous people who got their start there (RBO, Marie-France Bazzo, Jean-René Dufort), and lots of talk about the importance of the station and community radio in general, there aren’t a lot of concrete proposals for how to get CIBL out of its financial mess, one that is in large part its own making.

Fortunately, CIBL still has a lot of good will, and people with the power to do something are stepping up and offering to help, like entrepreneur Alexandre Taillefer (who is on the board of directors of the Société de developpement Angus, which owns the building housing CIBL) and Cogeco Media president Richard Lachance.

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Media News Digest: BNN partners with Bloomberg, TSB releases Lapierre crash report, Métro buyer drops out

News about news

At the CRTC

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Review: CTV’s The Launch is an interesting concept with some implementation issues

Contestant Logan Staats with mentor Shania Twain (photo: Bell Media)

If you haven’t heard about this new music competition series on CTV called The Launch, then there are some heartbroken people at Bell Media, because they’ve been pulling out all the stops promoting it.

The six-episode series (with a special seventh episode added to revisit the artists) tries something new with the singing competition format that has been tried and toyed with a dozen times. Rather than just having singers compete against each other for a record contract at the end of the series, each episode ends with a contestant’s career being launched with a new single (that’s available for download or streaming, and gets generous airtime on Bell-owned radio stations).

Based on the first episode, which aired on Wednesday, the show is divided into three roughly equal parts: the auditions, in which five artists compete to be among the two selected to record a song; the recording, in which the two finalists record a sure-to-be-a-hit pop song provided to them by a guest writer/producer; and the performance, in which both finalists perform the song live in front of an audience, and one is selected to launch with that song.

Julia Tomlinson’s audition was cut from the first episode of The Launch. (photo: Bell Media)

Those who paid attention during the first episode might be asking themselves why I said “five” above, since they only saw three auditions. Two artists, Julia Tomlinson and Alex Zaichkowski (aka Havelin), had their entire auditions cut from the episode (presumably for time), which really really sucks for them. They’re on the website, listed among the artists, and the post-episode press release even says they were in the episode, but all you saw of them was a 10-second voiceover during which it’s explained that they didn’t make it through. Their auditions are posted online at the links above if you want to see them.

In these kinds of shows, at least you can say the artists that don’t make it got some national television exposure. These two didn’t even get that.

UPDATE: I asked Bell Media about the cuts, and whether we should expect the same for future episodes. The answer, unfortunately, is yes:

THE LAUNCH is an entirely new format that has been evolving since it was greenlit. During the editing process which began after the show was shot in August, September, and October, it became obvious to our original production team that there was so much amazing footage we knew it would not fit into a conventional hour-long TV show. But we still wanted to showcase and promote all of the talent who were chosen for the series. So we made the decision to make the show a full 360 experience with audition footage of each episode’s five artists featured on ctv.ca and on YouTube and in the extended cut on CraveTV.

Alex Zaichkowski, who performs under the name Havelin (Photo: Bell Media)

Laura Heath Potter, Director of Communications for CTV, said the affected artists were advised prior to broadcast. She also noted that all the artists got to promote themselves as they promoted the series:

Bell Media has supported all 30 artists that participated in the series through interviews on national, local and radio outlets, as well as in our on air promotion campaign and digital extras on ctv.ca and paid digital promo over the past few months. We are building a new format and are grateful to have 30 Canadian artists act as ambassadors to the series and what it is attempting to accomplish — creating new original singles by Canadian artists that resonate with music fans and viewers.

Episodes are still being edited and finalized, but for all the upcoming episodes that have been through a final cut, each of the artists that have auditions being offered exclusively as part of the extended directors’ cut and separately on ctv.ca and YouTube have been informed already.

The song

One of the strengths of this series is that you see how the sausage is made. Not all pop stars write and compose their own songs. Many of them have the music and lyrics handed to them and just add their voice for a producer to mix together. That’s the case here — the song is written and ready before the panel even meets the contestant at the audition. The discussion afterward is about whether the producer can make the song work with that artist. And they have 48 hours to do so.

The song for the first episode is called The Lucky Ones, and you hear it throughout the episode so it gets stuck in your head by the end. It’s a pop song, with uninspiring lyrics like “close your eyes and hold me close tonight” (to say nothing about the misogynistic objectifying parts like “I never want to see your heart happy with another”), and a melody that doesn’t really set it apart from anything else you’ll hear on Virgin Radio. It has six writers and four producers listed for it, and … well, it sounds like a song created by committee.

As much as I’m critical of the song, it might have been good if the episode spent some more time actually introducing us to it. All we got was 15 seconds of producer busbee saying it’s about how much he loves his wife as we listened to a production demo performed by an unnamed artist.

The experts

The series has lined up a long list of music industry professionals to help the artists through the process, and each episode has its own mentor (Fergie, Alessia Cara and Boy George are among the others) and producer (most of which are Grammy … nominated). The constant presence is Scott Borchetta, one of the executive producers of the show, whose claim to fame is having discovered Taylor Swift. Having real experts gives the series some authenticity. Unfortunately Borchetta is a bit stiff on camera.

Though there’s no Simon-Cowell-type bad guy, the feedback from the panel is interesting and productive. Particularly in the middle segment in the studio, you get to see a real producer working with real artists, making sure they have the tempo right, that they’re on the right note, that they make sure to pronounce the lyrics well. It’s played up a bit for drama, but it’s interesting to watch.

The narration

Hopefully it’s just a first-episode-introduction thing, but the hour was overly narrated by a voice we’re not introduced to. (If she sounds familiar, that’s because it’s former Virgin Radio 96 announcer Andrea Collins.) There’s a lot of stating-the-obvious and repetition here that could be considerably cut down, and the narration is done in an announcer’s tone that works for a 10-second TV promo but less so for a full hour.

The format

The Launch doesn’t have gimmicks. There are no swivelling chairs, no coloured lights to indicate success or failure, there isn’t even an audience vote component. The experts choose who gets to record the song, and they choose which artist to launch at the end of the episode. (The live performance is in front of an audience, which looks odd because not one of them is holding a cellphone.) This is good for people who want to see a show about music and artists, and works to The Launch’s advantage. It’s not as glitzy and expensive as The Voice, America’s Got Talent or American Idol, but it owns that.

The editing (less oh-gosh-who-do-we-pick and more studio time and performance) and narration could use a bit of work, and the songs could be a bit more original, though these things don’t prevent us from enjoying the show.

But for goodness sake, if you’re a show about respecting artists, don’t cut entire artists out of it and make them feel stupid for promoting the episode that has so unceremoniously cut them out of it.

The Launch is an original format, and one of the big ways Bell Media head Randy Lennox has made his musical mark on CTV. I think it has some potential as a format that could be exportable elsewhere, despite its flaws. And I’ll be tuning in for the rest of the season.

The Launch airs Wednesdays at 9pm on CTV and can be watched on demand at ctv.ca.

Videotron decides AMC isn’t worth the cost

UPDATE (Feb. 9): Videotron has reached a last-minute deal to keep the channel.

It didn’t take long after Videotron started informing clients that it was dropping AMC as of Feb. 12 for those clients to start complaining.

I contacted Videotron and asked them why they’re dropping the channel, and their response was about what I expected: They just can’t meet AMC’s carriage demands.

I wrote a short story about the decision for Cartt.ca. For non-subscribers, the previous sentence summarizes Videotron’s reasoning.

It’s too expensive, AMC’s carriage demands (which aren’t just about the per-subscriber fee) are too onerous, and all this for a channel that most of its clients aren’t interested in and whose viewership has been trending downward.

We don’t know exactly what AMC’s demands are, because negotiations and carriage contracts are secret, but it’s likely there was something along the lines of a minimum penetration guarantee or penetration-based rate card, which effectively force a provider to make sure a large number of its clients subscribe to the channel.

For national providers like Bell (Videotron’s main competitor), Rogers and Shaw, AMC’s demands may be more acceptable (though I doubt any of them are happy with the conditions). But for Videotron, which operates in Quebec and has mainly a francophone audience, it looks like it just became too much.

We’ve been here before. Before Videotron finally added AMC in 2013, it was among the most requested channels by subscribers. This was back in the day when AMC’s original series were very hot: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead. Because of AMC’s contract requirements, Videotron had to add it to its most popular large packages — Anglo, Telemax and Mega — despite its high cost.

Five years later, AMC’s biggest shows are The Walking Dead, a Breaking Bad spinoff and Mad Men reruns. Not terribly impressive.

Does it make sense for Videotron to jump through so many hoops to keep this channel in their lineup?

For some customers, this will no doubt be a deal-breaker. Combined with the usual price hikes, they’ll jump ship to Bell, which still carries AMC. Videotron has taken that into account with its decision, and it still makes more sense to let AMC go.

And don’t think this is some negotiation tactic, either. AMC has all the power in this relationship, with a billion dollars in annual revenue and more than 90 million subscribers to its flagship channel in the U.S. It won’t care that much about losing a few thousand subscribers in Quebec. And besides, subscribers will blame Videotron for this, not AMC, unless Videotron says exactly what AMC was demanding, which it can’t because of confidentiality agreements.

Ideally, it wouldn’t have to be this way. In 2015, with its Wholesale Code, the CRTC made it illegal for broadcasters to impose abusive penetration-based rates or minimum revenue guarantees. But AMC is an American channel, and doesn’t have to answer to the CRTC. Though the commission said it “expects” foreign channels to abide by the same rules, and said it could use its powers to, for example, make authorization for distribution in Canada conditional upon accepting the same rules, it has yet to step in when it comes to a foreign channel’s distribution agreement.

(AMC Networks also owns IFC and the Sundance channel, but the versions of those distributed in Canada are actually Canadian channels owned by Corus, which must follow the CRTC’s rules.)

It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this. We’ll see if other Canadian providers decide they too are fed up with AMC. The same year Videotron finally added AMC, Telus was so annoyed by their negotiation tactics that it sued in a U.S. court, and negotiations with Rogers got so bad that AMC started a campaign aimed at Rogers customers. If enough of them reject it, and AMC risks being shut out of Canada, it might change its demands. But what are the chances of enough Canadian providers being willing to alienate their own customers?

Media News Digest: RIP 2017, La Presse’s paper edition, and Ralph Noseworthy

Here’s what you missed over the holidays.

News about news

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