Eight proposals to replace OMNI

Updated April 20 with a clarification from Rogers, and Nov. 4 with clarifications based on feedback from Ethnic Channels Group.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has released eight applications for national ethnic television services, and set a hearing for Oct. 15 Nov. 26 to discuss which of them would be the best candidate to replace OMNI.

Last year, the commission caved to OMNI’s demand that it be given mandatory subscription fees from all television subscribers, under the threat of surrendering the licence and leaving the country without a multilingual TV service offering newscasts. But in giving in, the CRTC also set a limit of three years (until Aug. 31, 2020) and said that it would ask other broadcasters if they had better proposals for such a mandatory ethnic service, and consider them at a future hearing.

On Tuesday, the CRTC released eight applications, seven for TV services (including OMNI’s proposal for renewing its status) and one for an ethnic described video guide. Each makes proposals for multilingual programming including national newscasts and proposes a mandatory monthly fee.

I analyzed the nearly 200 documents submitted for the eight applications and below present an analysis of the applicants, proposals and programming:

Name (Applicant) Monthly Fee Programming quotas Newscasts Notes
OMNI (Rogers) Years 1-2: $0.19

Years 3-4: $0.20

Year 5: $0.21

  • 20 languages a month (15 in Quebec)
  • 20 ethnic groups a month (18 in Quebec)
  • 80% ethnic
  • 50% third-language
  • 55% Canadian programming
  • 50% of revenues on Canadian programming, including 5% for Programs of National Interest
  • 10% limit on U.S. programming
Half-hour daily national newscasts in six languages:

  • Spanish
  • Tagalog
  • Arabic
  • Punjabi
  • Mandarin
  • Cantonese

Half-hour daily local newscasts in Punjabi and Mandarin in Vancouver, Alberta and Toronto

Four regional feeds
OurTV (Bell Media) $0.25
  • 20 languages a month
  • 20 ethnic groups a month
  • 100% ethnic
  • 50% third-language
  • 70% Canadian
  • 60% of revenues on Canadian programming, including 5% for Programs of National Interest
  • No more than 16% programming in any one language
One-hour newscasts each day in:

  • Arabic
  • Cantonese
  • Mandarin
  • Punjabi
  • Spanish
  • Tagalog
Two channels
CanadaWorldTV (Telelatino and Asian Television Network) $0.12
  • 20 languages a month
  • 20 ethnic groups a month
  • 100% ethnic
  • 60% third-language
  • 60% Canadian
  • 50% of revenues on Canadian programming, including 2.5% for Programs of National Interest
  • No more than 10% U.S. programming
  • No more than 16% of programming in any one foreign language
Weekly news and information programs in 20 languages
Voices (Ethnic Channels Group) $0.23
  • 25 ethnic groups a month
  • 90% ethnic
  • 90% third-language
  • 75% Canadian (85% in primetime)
  • 60% of revenues on Canadian programming, including 3% for Programs of National Interest
  • 80% news and information programming per week
  • 40 hours a week of local and regional programming
10 at first, 25 in fourth year, national, regional and local Three regional feeds: West, Central and East
CorrCan Media Group (Corriere Canadese) $0.20
  • 20 languages a month
  • 20 ethnic groups a month
  • 80% ethnic
  • 55% third-language
  • 55% Canadian (70% in primetime)
  • 50% of revenues on Canadian programming, including 2.5% for Programs of National Interest
Daily half-hour newscasts in:

  • Italian
  • Punjabi
  • Mandarin
  • Cantonese
Maintains OMNI newscasts
Amber News Network (Amber Broadcasting) $0.30
  • 25 languages
  • 100% ethnic
  • 100% third-language (except 1 hour a week)
  • 90% Canadian
  • 70% of revenues on Canadian programming
  • No U.S. programming
Daily half-hour newscasts in:

  • Mandarin
  • Punjabi
  • Tagalog
  • Arabic
  • Hindi
  • Cantonese
East and West feeds
TELE1 (Independent Community Television Montreal) $0.40
  • 45 languages
  • 45 ethnic groups
  • 100% ethnic
  • 50% third-language programming, including 3% Indigenous languages
  • 100% Canadian
  • 80% of revenues on Canadian programming, including 2.5% for Programs of National Interest
Daily half-hour newscasts in:

  • Mandarin
  • Cantonese
  • Punjabi
  • Tagalog
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • Italian
  • German
  • English
  • French
Combined with a free TELE2
Multicultural Described Video Guide  $0.04 23 languages “Custom news reports” of 1-3 minutes Audio only guide to shows with described video

Notes:

  • Programming quotas apply from 6am to midnight unless otherwise noted

OMNI (Rogers)

The proposal: Keep OMNI alive. The structure of the existing service wouldn’t change (four regional feeds based on its existing stations in Vancouver, Calgary/Edmonton and Toronto, plus a feed based on ICI in Montreal for Quebec), and it would keep its over-the-air transmitters running, but an increase in the number of newscasts, local independent production and a doubling of scripted drama and documentary funding in exchange for an increase in the wholesale rate from $0.12 per month to $0.19 and eventually $0.21. (The proposal would mean the end of Italian newscasts, produced out of Montreal.)

UPDATE: Rogers contacted me after this post was published to say “we are still committed to regional Italian news newscasts, which will continue to be produced from Montreal and Toronto.”

“In Canada, we have found the Italian community for OMNI is largely based in Ontario and Quebec, so having a national Italian newscast wasn’t best serving the needs of our multilingual audiences nationally,” explains Director of Communications Michelle Lomack. So instead of a national Italian newscast, they’ll have regional ones. (This is not mentioned in the application nor on the proposed programming schedules.)

The applicant: Rogers has been in this business since 1986, when it bought Toronto’s CFMT-TV out of bankruptcy. But its proposal for mandatory distribution for OMNI didn’t impress the CRTC very much, which is why it was given only three years and other applicants were invited to propose competing ideas.

Programming highlights:

  • National daily half-hour newscasts in six languages (Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin, Cantonese), plus local daily half-hour newscasts in Punjabi and Mandarin for the Pacific, Prairies and East feeds. Newscasts would air 6pm to 10pm, repeated 5am to 9am, except for Quebec, which would air news from 9pm to midnight, repeated 6am to 9am.
  • 12 hours a week of local independent productions for each feed
  • Bollywood and Chinese movies
  • Scripted dramas including new seasons of Blood and Water, Mangoes and Second Jen
  • 18 hours per week of locally reflective news programming
  • A minimum of 2 additional hours a week sourced from independent producers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and in Atlantic Canada
  • English sub-titling of third-language PNI programming
  • Programming sourced from Fairchild Television, CHIN Radio/TV International and ICI.

(Click for PDF for all four feeds)

Pros:

  • Experience: For better or worse, Rogers has been doing this for a while.
  • Minimal disruption: OMNI would simply continue to operate as it currently is, with new programming coming in as it’s ready. We wouldn’t have to deal with both winding down OMNI and starting up a new service.
  • Continued OTA broadcast: OMNI is the only proposal that involves dedicated over-the-air transmitters (though only in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal, plus presumably the existing retransmitters in Victoria, London and Ottawa).
  • Coordination with ICI: OMNI is one of only two proposals that integrate Montreal ethnic station ICI into its plans, as opposed to offering a new service that might compete with it.

Cons:

  • Low CanCon: The 55% Canadian programming commitment puts it at the bottom of the pack among competitors here. Despite the commitments to original programming, and the 10% limit on U.S. programming, a lot of its schedule will be foreign sourced.
  • Bad track record: Most of the stuff people don’t like about OMNI would continue. Cheaply-produced newscasts would still get a lot of their content from City.
  • Regional with some giant regions: The OMNI regional feeds are still based on the OTA stations rather than being based on the needs of Canadians. Manitoba and Atlantic Canada remain underserved, even though they would be more integrated in feeds originating more than a thousand kilometres away.

Bottom line: It’s the devil we know. But Rogers’s application spends a lot of time comparing itself to third-language specialty services, failing to anticipate the proposals it will actually be measured against. Rogers is throwing some extra money around (and charging us more for it), but the commission will likely feel underwhelmed by the improvements.

OurTV (Bell)

The proposal: Two feeds (OTV 1 and OTV 2), with newscasts in six languages in primetime (three on each channel) six days a week. English and French current affairs shows. Other programming sourced from Canadian and foreign sources.

The applicant: Bell Media needs no introduction. It’s Canada’s largest broadcasting company, but it has relatively little experience in ethnic and third-language broadcasting.

Programming highlights:

  • News that relies, at least in part, on the “news-gathering resources” of CTV News
  • Newscasts produced from different markets: Punjabi and Tagalog from Vancouver, Mandarin and Chinese from Toronto, Arabic and Spanish from Montreal
  • A weeknight national current affairs program in English, and a French current affairs program on weekends
  • Weekly community magazine programs licensed from independent producers (a total of 5% of revenues)
  • Feature documentaries and dramas (meeting a 5% PNI requirement)
  • Some specific show ideas:
    • etalk Bollywood: “will be Canada’s premiere destination for Bollywood entertainment, with a particular focus on developments here in Canada”
    • Much International: partnership with Much Music “to produce programs that bring viewers the best in music, and showcase burgeoning Canadian talent and popular local music events”
    • Fluent: Lainey Lui-hosted Cantonese language lifestyle program
  • Programming from Asian Television Network
  • Documentaries from Canal D and Discovery translated into foreign languages
  • Foreign-language programs from international HBO channels
  • Food and lifestyle programming from Bell’s Gusto channel
  • “Special live coverage of community events, festivals, elections”
  • “Third language broadcasts of major Canadian sports events”
  • Contributions from content creators signed with Much Studios
  • “a focus on digital, integrating video, audio and social media components to provide a multi-platform user experience”

(Click for full schedule in PDF form)

Pros:

  • Professionalism: This is Bell Media, and it knows what it’s doing. It has the financial, technical and administrative resources to get this off the ground, and the programming library to fill it.
  • Existing newsgathering structure: CTV News is Canada’s largest television news organization, and operates coast to coast. Our TV will not lack for video to create news out of.
  • Specifics: Bell has put some thought into its programming and even made specific suggestions about what it would air. It has already reached an agreement with ATN for programming (even though ATN is part of a competing application).
  • Two feeds: Bell’s proposal for two feeds means twice as much programming, and more viewers will be served. More feeds would be even better, but two is better than one.

Cons:

  • It’s Bell: You can call it synergies or efficiencies, but Bell Media has a reputation of heartlessly cutting costs to increase profits. There’s no reason to believe it would treat Our TV differently. If there are ways to do it cheaper, expect Bell to at least consider them. And if an ethnic show can be created that cross-promotes with Bell’s other assets, expect them to jump on it (its proposed programs already go in that direction).
  • CTV News repackaged: The references to CTV News means the newscasts may end up very similar to what OMNI News currently delivers: an original report or two and the rest consisting of anchor voice-overs of B-roll provided by the English-language news side.
  • Lack of experience: Bell has lots of experience as an English and French broadcaster, but little experience in other languages. It owns no third-language TV services or even third-language radio stations. And this application doesn’t show a commitment to rectifying that by reaching out to cultural communities.
  • Lots of English and French: Bell’s commitment to 100% ethnic programming but only 50% third-language programming should raise an eyebrow or two. While there are plenty of ethnic shows that should be in English or French (Haitian, Caribbean, Jewish, etc.), these quotas could eventually lead Bell to airing popular English-language programming it claims targets an ethnic group but is essentially going after a white anglo audience.

Bottom line: Bell’s application seems like less of a genuine desire to enter the ethnic television game and more of a counter-offer to Rogers in order to get some free money it can use to indirectly support the rest of its empire, even if Our TV isn’t profitable on its own. We might see some genuinely great things come out of this, like a Punjabi Grey Cup broadcast, but most of it will likely feel like translated content from its other properties, if it’s not literally that.

CanadaWorldTV (Telelatino, Corus and Asian Television Network)

The proposal: One national feed serving English, French and 20 other languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Farsi, Urdu, German, Russian, Italian, Korean, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Tamil, Polish, Gujarati, Hindi, Romanian and Bengali, representing the 20 most spoken languages in Canada other than English or French). Rather than daily newscasts, it proposes several weekly programs in each language.

The applicants: The licence will be controlled by Asian Television Network International Ltd. (33.3%), Corus Entertainment (which has a 50.5% stake in Telelatino) at 28.3%, the minority shareholders of Telelatino (Rita Rosati, Joseph Vitale and Romeo Di Battista) at 28.3% and Telelatino president Aldo Di Felice at 10%. ATN is one of the main third-language broadcasters in Canada, with more than 50 channels providing South Asian programming, including the country’s first South Asian TV channel, licensed in 1997. Telelatino owns Telelatino, TeleNiños, Univision Canada, EuroWorld Sport, Mediaset Italia and other Spanish and Italian language services.

Programming highlights:

  • Programming in English (20%), French (20%) and 20 other languages (60% total)
  • The 20 languages will each have three weekly news and information programs in “an egalitarian scheduling protocol”
  • 50% news, analysis, documentary and reporting
  • 15% drama and comedy
  • 10% music and music videos
  • 10% variety, game shows or reality
  • 5% sports
  • 1.5 hours a week each for English programming for Caribbean countries of origin and French programming for French-speaking countries of origin
  • 10 hours of current affairs programming a week, produced in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and Toronto.
  • At least 7 hours of cross-cultural programming a week
  • Service provider agreement with CBC, providing news syndication, current affairs programming (Power & Politics, On The Money, Marketplace and the Fifth Estate), and third-language library content. CBC could also offer promotion, over-the-air broadcast on digital subchannels, and international export sales
  • Companion video-on-demand channel offering programming in the 40 most-spoken languages in Canada with at least 100 program episodes added monthly

Pros:

  • Management experience and commitment: ATN and TLN are Canada’s oldest third-language broadcasters, and have decades of experience with such programming. As they note in their application, “CanadaWorldTV will not get lost in a vast corporate enterprise that has more pressing and profitable issues.  Our only business is ethnic broadcasting and it is our sole focus and passion.” They state that CanadaWorldTV will operate as a separate entity, but will share resources with ATN, TLN and Corus.
  • Equal time: The application mentions several times that each language group will get equal time, and none will be buried on weekend mornings or other low-audience time slots. (But there is no proposed condition of licence to enforce this.)
  • Programming availability: Because they already operate several third-language services, the group already has access to non-news programming to fill that part of its schedule, including original Canadian programs. TLN even provided a catalogue of series in Italian and Spanish that it has commissioned or acquired for its own use and would make available to this new service.
  • CBC partnership: Getting news from the CBC solves the problem of hard news gathering resources, and in a way that doesn’t make it seem like the parent company is imposing the repurposing onto the language groups. The idea of broadcasting the service on digital over-the-air subchannels (though the CBC has only said it would explore the idea) will make this application more popular among the digital OTA crowd.
  • Cheap: This is the only TV service to propose a wholesale fee under $0.20 a month.

Cons:

  • Language bias: ATN/TLN’s experience is also it’s Achilles’ heel. While it has a lot of experience in South Asian, Spanish and Italian programming, it lacks experience in other languages, and there may be a tendency, despite its repeated assurances, to push more repurposed ATN or TLN content to the detriment of Chinese, Arabic, Middle Eastern and other European languages. The application includes virtually no reference to where content from these other languages would come from, and the fact that they just picked the 20 most spoken languages suggests they haven’t looked into it very much.
  • Schedule vagueness: The proposed programming schedule above is virtually useless to get an idea of what will be on the air. Are these third-language blocks for newscasts, documentaries, current affairs shows? How will news work on this channel, anyway?
  • No local programming: The entire feed is national, and though they propose to produce programming out of several cities, everyone across the country gets the same content.

Bottom line: If they can convince the CRTC that they’re serious about providing programming in all languages (like bringing established Chinese, Arabic, German and other broadcasters to the hearing), they have a decent shot.

UPDATE (April 23): Corus has issued a press release about the application.

Voices (Ethnic Channels Group)

The proposal: A national service with three regional feeds (the application hints at a possible fourth in partnership with ICI, but the group tells me it has no such partnership). Each video feed will have audio feeds in several languages (10 to start with, and up to 25 by the end of the first licence term).

The applicant: Ethnic Channels Group is a large ethnic broadcaster internationally, with more than 80 television services in 20 languages, 60 of which are Canadian. It owns Zee TV Canada, a Hindi-language channel, and BeIn Sports Canada, an English-language sports channel. Most of the services it owns or distributes don’t have broadcasting licences in Canada, and are either exempt or foreign.

Programming highlights:

  • Two three-hour news programs daily, Monday to Friday that will feature the key issues of the day, using the multiple language feeds.
  • One three-hour program of news segments on Saturday and Sunday mornings
  • A one-hour daily current affairs and cultural magazine show that will be broadcast daily Monday through Friday
  • A program entitled Welcome to Canada that will assist new Canadians with their integration into Canadian society and Canadian life
  • 40 hours per week of local and regional news directed to each region — most in the form of The Desk, which “will provide news and information programming about key issues and events of the day relevant to Canada’s multicultural communities. It will also provide updates on cultural events that are taking place in the local communities and across the country. “
  • At least 170 hours of original Canadian programs broadcast each week
  • An annual multicultural awards show that will showcase excellence in multilingual and multi-ethnic broadcasting
  • Long-form documentaries, music and variety and children’s programming

Pros:

  • Linguistic balance: Ethnic Channels Group is the only applicant with experience in a wide variety of languages from around the world.
  • A good idea technically: Making use of multiple audio channels is a good way to solve the problem of wanting to offer content in multiple languages with a small number of video feeds.
  • Lots of news: Most of the schedule is original information programming including regional news.
  • Regional feeds and coordination with ICI: It’s the only applicant, other than OMNI itself, to keep the OMNI regional format and offer to work with ICI rather than compete against it.

Cons:

  • Too ambitious: ECG promises to have just about all its programming available in all its languages, which is unrealistic. They’re certainly not going to hire enough people to provide 24/7 simultaneous translation in 10, much less 25 languages. And even if successful, this will lead to a tendency for one-size-fits-all programming that will qualify as ethnic only because it’s translated into multiple languages.
  • Technical issues: Some television providers, particularly smaller ones, would require technological changes to implement the proposed channel mapping ECG is proposing where several channels share one video feed but their own audio feed.
  • Uncertain track record: ECG has lots of exempt channels that don’t require licenses, but it was also granted licenses for several services that never materialized. The commission might question whether the group is ready to tackle a project of this size. (ECG counters that it operates more channels than its competitors combined.)

Bottom line: It’s hard to judge this one. The ATN/TLN proposal has more meat behind it, but it’s not split regionally like this one is. It depends how much the CRTC values local programming over viability.

CorrCan Media Group (Corriere Canadese)

The proposal: A national one-feed channel that maintains OMNI’s four language newscasts, adds programs in other languages weekday afternoons, and includes a variety of other programming including some about specific regions of Canada.

The applicant: Corriere Canadese is Canada’s only Italian-language daily newspaper. The group is backed by it and other members of the Italian community.

Programming highlights:

  • National daily newscasts in Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi and Italian
  • 30-minute news segments, five days per week in 16 other languages
  • Main studio in Toronto, with offices and/or satellite studios in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal and possibly Halifax
  • “dramatic arts productions (stage or cinema), musical performances, dramatic / historical documentaries, “shorts”, and even feature length movies generated from the talent pool resident in the ethnic communities”
  • Children’s programming in the morning
  • Fashion and regional tourism shows
  • Provincial week in review programs for each of the 10 provinces

Pros:

  • Connections made: The group already has an advisory board representing a dozen languages.
  • Regional programming: Breaking it down by province may be a bit simplistic, but the application shows a commitment to make sure regions are represented.
  • Joe Volpe: The former federal cabinet minister will chair the board of this new enterprise, for what it’s worth.

Cons:

  • Lack of experience: Corriere Canadese is a well-established Italian-language daily newspaper, but the group lacks experience in television broadcasting, or newsgathering in other languages.
  • Unrealistic ad revenue projections: By the fifth year, the service expects more than $10 million a year in ad revenue, which is double what others are projecting.

Bottom line: This group needs to reassure the CRTC that it speaks a language other than Italian. The advisory board is a good start, and building a freelance network will help. But without TV experience, it’ll be a tough battle against more established broadcasters.

Amber News Network (Amber Broadcasting)

The proposal: A national service with East and West feeds, with newscasts in the evening and independent programming during the day.

The applicant: Amber Broadcasting is affiliated with Akash Broadcasting, which owns CJCN-FM Surrey, B.C., an Indian radio station that the CRTC only licensed in 2016. Both are owned by Herkiranjeet Kaur Mann.

Programming highlights:

  • Daily national 30-minute newscasts in each of Mandarin, Punjabi, Tagalog, Arabic, Hindi and Cantonese, each subtitled in English and French
  • Additional programming in Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Tamil, Polish, Ukrainian, Farsi, Vietnamese, Korean, Romanian, Japanese, Armenian, Turkish, Somalian, Croatian, Serbian and Greek, plus a program for the black community in Canada, in either English or French. 25 languages total.
  • Headquartered in Vancouver with bureaus in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Winnipeg and Victoria, each with reporters and editing systems.
  • 43% of schedule consisting of current affairs programming from independent producers
  • 10% international programming maximum with no U.S. programming whatsoever
  • A daily English educational program ESL Tonight
  • A $7-million documentary fund over seven years for independent producers to create documentaries for the channel
  • A $500,000 digital stream fund for web-based productions
  • Independent current affairs programs given four minutes per hour to sell local advertising and keep the revenue from it, in addition to a licence fee from the channel (no local advertising for other programming)

Pros:

  • The team: Amber has put together an extremely impressive list of consultants, most of which have direct experience with ethnic broadcasting and OMNI in particular (Ziniak, Forsyth, Dunlop and Cugini would also sit on the board though they are not shareholders):
    • Madeline Ziniak, former National Vice President of OMNI Television and 36-year veteran of Rogers
    • Andrew Forsyth, former manager at CFCF radio, CFQR-FM and CHOM-FM, co-founder of what is now The Shopping Channel, with lots of regulatory and management consulting experience
    • Melanie Farrell, former Director, Community Liaison, for Rogers Media and Director of Sales for Omni Television, with 15 years of experience in third-language ad sales
    • Malcolm Dunlop, former Vice President of Sales and Programming for OMNI Television and Executive Vice President of Programming and Operations for Rogers Media
    • Rita Cugini, former CRTC commissioner, former chair of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and former manager at CFMT-TV (OMNI Toronto)
    • Kelly Colasanti, former Vice President of Operations and Engineering at OMNI
  • Homework: Probably related to the above, the application includes an incorporated company with an established board of directors, letters from financial institutions confirming financing is available, and even proposed guidelines for independent producers
  • Independent producers: The proposal to allow producers of third-language programs to sell their own ads is a good one (Montreal’s ICI uses the same concept, and for that matter so does OMNI currently) and will likely help attract producers to submit programs.
  • Quotas: 100% ethnic programming and 100% third-language except for a block for the black community. I’m not sure how sustainable those quotas are (or even if they would be desirable over the long term), but they’re ambitious.

Cons:

  • Community connections: Amber’s team is about half people from B.C.’s South Asian community and half former OMNI managers, but there’s little representation from other ethnic communities, which will make it harder to cater to their needs.
  • Too OMNI? Having former OMNI execs is great, but OMNI wasn’t exactly the ideal model. The consultants will need to convince the commission that they’ll do a better job with Amber than with OMNI under Rogers (probably by blaming Rogers for overly aggressive cost-cutting)
  • Limited local reflection: Though Amber says it will have its eight bureaus produce local programming and local news, if they’re all part of a national feed it means they’ll have to squeeze everything into that same 24-hours-a-day channel, giving not much time for each market. If each produces content for the half-hour Punjabi newscast, for example, they’d each get maybe time for one story.
  • No synergy: Amber News Network would be Amber’s only television service, which means it would need to assume all the overhead costs.

Bottom line: A table filled with former OMNI execs with a plan for a better OMNI than OMNI will probably impress the commissioners. If they can get representatives from some other ethnic communities to commit to helping them they have a very good chance.

TELE1 (Independent Community Television Montreal)

The proposal: ICTV is actually proposing two related services: TELE1, which will fulfill all the CRTC’s requirements, and TELE2, which will be free of charge and offer sports and entertainment programming. The TELE1 channel will start off as a national channel, but by year 5 expects to split up into five regional feeds: “BC, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and the Northern and Eastern provinces and territories.”

The applicant: ICTV, whose members have connections to McGill’s CKUT and Concordia’s CUTV (but is not formally linked with either institution), is a very left-wing activist group whose leader, Laith Marouf, made headlines as a Palestinian rights activist at Concordia University in the early 2000s (about the same time I covered student politics for Concordia’s student newspaper The Link). ICTV was formed to take on Videotron’s MAtv community channel, and successfully got the CRTC to declare MAtv in non-compliance with its mandate. But ICTV’s request to replace MAtv with its own channel was denied. It does not own any other television services.

Programming highlights:

  • Daily national half-hour newscasts in English, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Tagalog, Spanish, Arabic, Italian and German, representing 25% of the schedule. Another 18% for half-hour current affairs shows six days a week in those same languages.
  • 18 weekly one-hour community shows in Urdu, Portuguese, Persian, Russian, Polish, Vietnamese, Korean, Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, Greek, Ukrainian, Dutch, Cree, Inuktitut, Ojibwe, Oji-Cree (Anishinini), and Mi’kmaq
  • 19 weekly half-hour community programs in Romanian, Bengali, Creole, Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian, Japanese, Somali, Armenian, Turkish, Albanian, Amharic, Czech, Telugu, Slovak, Sinhala, Macedonian, Latvian, and Maltese
  • 21 hours of Live Music weekly (3 hours a night starting at midnight), “programming Indigenous, European, East Asian, West Asian and North African, South and South-East Asian, African and Caribbean, and Spanish/Latin music”
  • Children’s and drama programming “programmed from both Canadian and international productions”
  • “Live sports coverage in ethnic and Indigenous languages” — including live NHL games on the TELE2 channel
  • “Cross-cultural exchange programming in multiple languages that promotes understanding between Indigenous Peoples and new immigrant communities.”
  • “More than 6.5 hours of original, French-language content from Quebec each week” (same for English)
  • A two-hour weekly block for “a weekly Afro-Caribbean Current Affairs show, in English and French”

Pros:

  • Ambitious: Proposes to serve more languages and ethnic groups than any other applicant, with a wide variety of programming, almost all of which is original to the channel.
  • Representative: The board of directors has representation from various ethnic groups, and it has proposed staff quotas of 50% women and 15% Indigenous people.
  • Democratic: ICTV is a non-profit governed by a board of directors made up of representatives of various communities, it has an advisory board of experts and proposes a “viewer’s club” to allow direct input from viewers. It promises journalistic independence from its news department.
  • Off-air services: “ICTV will create an equipment co-op that will offer production equipment and studio services at cost value along with the collective power of centralized distribution services.”

Cons:

  • Too ambitious: ICTV’s application includes a laundry list of projects, programming ideas and revenue-generating schemes that are poorly thought out. It wants to sign exclusive agreements with music festivals, set up a Netflix-like subscription streaming service, commission original dramatic and children’s programming, sell its content internationally and even get the rights to live broadcasts of NHL and other major sports leagues, despite having no one with any experience doing any of those things.
  • Financial improvisation: The ambition extends to financial projections, which are very generous: $10 million from production funds like the CMF and Independent Local News Fund (even though TELE1’s news will not be local), $18 million in advertising revenue (or maybe $8 million? It depends which part of the application you read), $1 million from international distribution, $2 million from streaming library subscriptions. One proposed revenue source is a $10-million loan, but it has gotten a commitment from the Caisse Desjardins only for them to hear a more detailed pitch when one is ready. It’s unclear where the startup money will come from if this loan doesn’t come through.
  • Lack of experience in broadcasting: ICTV’s governing board has representation from various ethnic groups, but few of these people have any experience in broadcasting, and of those most are either as journalists or with community radio. None of the biographies listed experience managing a television station.
  • Montreal-centric: 12 of its 18 directors live in and around Montreal, as does its chief executive officer. Directors in other provinces were added for the purpose of this application.
  • No synergy: Unlike most other applicants, ICTV has no other services to help with overhead costs and sharing of programming and other resources. They’ll have to build this entirely from scratch.
  • Regulatory inexperience: The application is professional in some ways, but it’s clear that no one with sufficient CRTC experience put it together. The application included some real head-scratchers like “viewers in Russia may tune-in to NHL broadcasts in their language” (as if NHL games were not already available in Russia, or the NHL would allow them to broadcast live games online without restricting it geographically)

Bottom line: It’s an unrealistic project that would almost certainly collapse under the weight of its own ambitions before it ever got off the ground. The chances of it being approved are poor. If by some miracle it does get picked, expect it to launch much later than planned, and with a much reduced scope and/or with poor-quality programming.

Multicultural Described Video Guide

The proposal: A series of 20 audio-only channels in 23 languages (including English, French and Indigenous languages) listing television series on other channels that have described video available.

The applicant: Evan Kosiner of Kosiner Venture Capital Inc. is behind this application. Kosiner is a serial entrepreneur who has had many applications before the CRTC, including one in 2013 to have a described video guide similar to this one be made a mandatory channel. The CRTC declined to do so.

Programming highlights:

  • Each channel would have a prerecorded loop of clips:
    • about 1-5 minutes listing TV shows with described video available in that language in the current half-hour block
    • about 1-5 minutes listing shows in the next half-hour block
    • short news updates of 1-3 minutes, either produced in-house or in partnership with ethnic radio stations
    • “Potentially audio based PSAs for the community”

Pros:

  • Cheap: Only $0.04 per month per subscriber.
  • Independent: Kosiner isn’t beholden to the Bells and Rogers of this world.

Cons:

  • Not a TV channel: This won’t replace OMNI. So if this is approved, it would have to be approved along with some other service listed above.
  • Inelegant: The ideal solution to the problem of people not being able to find DV shows would be to have more accessible set-top boxes (an issue the industry is working on). Tuning into another channel and waiting up to 10 minutes to find out what’s on TV is not the most convenient option.
  • Lack of content: How much Polish-language described video is there in Canada? It seems this application is more of a revisit of the 2013 one, which the CRTC turned down, with a bunch of other languages added to get it through the door under this hearing.
  • Poor planning: The additional languages were selected without much thought and it’s far from clear that Kosiner could find staff to record guides in each of those languages.
  • Conflicts: Kosiner and Accessible Media, which runs AMI TV, AMI télé and AMI Audio, appear to have had a falling out (I don’t know why and won’t try to explain at this point). Kosiner makes clear that in his view this service would replace AMI audio and/or AMI TV (saving distributors “millions” of dollars), and Kosiner is in fact suing the CRTC for publishing comments by AMI that Kosiner considers libellous. While we expect commissioners to be dispassionate and not punish someone for asserting his rights, it’s hard to believe that Kosiner’s actions won’t have a negative impact on the commission’s impression of him.

Bottom line: If the 2013 application failed, it’s hard to see how this one would succeed. Kosiner doesn’t have the best record getting competitive applications approved at the CRTC. But the commission has had turnover in five years, and there’s an outside chance that this application could be approved along with another one for an actual TV service.

The CRTC is accepting comments on the above applications until 8pm ET (5pm PT) on May 17 June 7. You can file comments here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

10 thoughts on “Eight proposals to replace OMNI

  1. dilbert

    What impressed me in all of this was Bell promising to produce 42 hours a week of news, for what are often very tiny niche markets, on a channel that will likely have very low ratings.

    It makes me think that it’s going to be nothing more than the same newscast, 6 times, with voice overs.

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  2. Halvah

    Interesting that OMNI would kill local Cantonese and all Italian news. I think perhaps they don’t want to step on toes at CHIN and Fairchild. Probably a handshake deal to stop them from pitching to CRTC as well.

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  3. Anonymous

    The market seems to suggest that there is no longer a need for a dedicated Multilingual TV channel service. So,no all these proposals are trying to force a cable charge on subscribers for something most people don’t want. I would suggest the CRTC accept reality. If they want to license a service, no problem. But, no forced carriage fee. Then we’ll see how many of these proposals step away.

    OMNI : If Rogers wants to shut down their OMNI OTA stations, let them. If their business model no longer works, who cares. Its their problem.

    Ethnic Language TV Shows : I remember in the old days when CFCF-TV 12 use to run a Hellenic (Greek) language program, and Italian language program on Sunday mornings. They where purchased hours on CFCF. This model I think is a much more practical solution than having these dedicated 24hr services nobody cares about.

    CFHD-DT 47.1 : As I remember, this station was suppose to have sold blocks of time to ethnic producers much in the same way that CFCF-DT 12.1 use to do. But, the only problem I see is that they want to offer a 24hr a day service. Sorry folks. This doesn’t work. The station needs regular programming in either English or French to make money. And to have a steady audience. Dedicating a 24hr channel to Ethnic language programs repeated 3 to 4 times a week is just plain stupid. And then when it doesn’t work, get involved with OMNI to request a cable carriage fee as if they’re a specialty channel. They have a bad business model.

    Radio: Most of the major cities have multiple ethnic language radio channels, and or programs.
    This seems much more practical for this type of programming. And the market seems to support a lot of these stations. So, for anybody complaining about not having a Ethnic language TV service, its would seem Radio is doing a much better job.

    TV Subchannels : In this day and age that multicasting is available with OTA HDTV you would think that somebody would be smart enough to sell blocks of time to ethnic language producers. Let’s face it, any O&O (owned & operated) CITY stations, could place OMNI as a sub-channel. No need for full transmitters for OMNI.1 or Omni.2. CFCF 12.1 can add a 12.2 sub channel and offer CTV Two, and then sell some time blocks once a week to several ethnic producers just like the old days. CKMI 15.1, and CJNT 62.1 can also do the same. But they don’t want to do that, because they would rather collect specialty carriage cable fees. And the CRTC supports this type of nonsense.

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    1. Brett

      I agree sub channels would be the way to go. Would be better the what CKMI 15.2 does, it’s just a SD feed of the main channel. Could be pjt to better use.

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    2. Richard G

      Agree with your comments especially the forced carriage fee . With the same logic , I hope that one day APTN will no longer receive this mandatory boondoggle.

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    3. Phil M.

      Anonymous,

      You are clearly not an immigrant. I am, and “a dedicated Multilingual TV channel service” was essential to our household. I have a somewhat detailed post about that, in another comment below. It may help you understand the immigrant experience with such a service.

      Your idea of “selling blocks of time to ethnic language producers” & “radio doing a better job” again reveals complete ignorance. I experience both those ideas in my day-to-day life. City TV here in Toronto does such a thing on Sundays. And we have a South Asian radio station called “CINA Radio” which my parents put on during the day.

      In both cases, what actually ends up airing are basically stealth infomercials. The ads are not enough for these people. They spend most of their air-time hawking furniture deals or jewelry. Just to maintain the charade, they will throw to a music video (TV) or song (radio)…and perhaps air a generic news/traffic segment in-between. The only thing these “purchased air time” TV shows or “great job” radio stations offer their audiences is a host that converses in their language.

      To actually educate & integrate these various ethnic groups, a “dedicated Multilingual TV channel service” is essential. It creates a central destination (among a sea of otherwise useless channels) for immigrants to gain valuable information, enjoy the fruits of other cultures, and reconcile their own culture with the new Canadian reality that surrounds them. Ironically, it helps reduce “balkanization” (which is what a “multilingual” TV service is sometimes accused of fostering).

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  4. Phil M.

    There’s a major nuance that you (and likely the CRTC) will overlook when it comes to the Omni proposal. You categorized the following as a negative: “a lot of its schedule will be foreign sourced.”

    First some quick background: I came to Canada as a young child, with my South Asian parents. Omni & its predecessor have been in our house from the start. And we still use it after 20 years in Canada.

    But how I use it…is different than how my parents use it:
    – My mother & father religiously watch the South Asian newscasts (as downgraded as they are) and the afternoon South Asian dramas.
    – I, on the other hand, mainly watch the evening Italian & Chinese drama content – that’s English-subtitled.

    But you’ll also notice, what unites our two different generations is: “foreign-sourced” content.

    My parents use the South Asian “foreign-sourced” dramatic content to explain their cultural backgrounds to their grandchildren. And I personally use the “foreign-sourced” content to enjoy the dramatic fruits of other cultures. It’s just a fact that the “foreign-sourced” drama content is high-quality & engaging. The stories are more original. The production values are unparalleled.

    I don’t see the logic in Rogers or Bell asking a third-generation Asian to create a Canadian-produced drama…which is meant to appeal to first-generation Asian immigrants. The generational difference is too much to overcome, and the result will likely be unsatisfactory to both groups.

    And leave aside drama. Omni was actually airing a two-hour long Italian talk show called “Detto Fatto” back in 2017. My South Asian mother came home from work and watched it every night…because she loved the beauty, fashion, and food segments. She had no idea what they were saying, but was absolutely mesmerized watching the hair-cutters & cooks on the show.

    Even in this case, no “Canadian-produced” Italian talk-show could match what a “foreign-sourced” talk show like “Detto Fatto” does. That show features the most skilled Italian hair stylists, cooks, and fashion designers. These are guests a local Canadian-produced show could never land.

    In my opinion, the “Can-con” criteria should be focused on news & local event coverage. That’s where it’s most required. It certainly isn’t required in dramatic & lifestyle programming, where audiences are more than satisfied with “foreign-sourced” imports.

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