One of Rogers’s attempts to use its $5.2-billion NHL rights purchase to drive subscriptions to its telecom services has prompted competitor Bell to file a complaint with the CRTC.
The complaint is about GamePlus, a feature of the new Rogers NHL GameCentre Live online streaming app. While GameCentre Live is available to anyone for purchase (though free for Rogers customers until the end of the year), GamePlus is exclusive to Rogers Internet, TV, home phone and wireless subscribers. It offers additional camera angles like the ref cam (a camera mounted on a referee’s helmet), sky cam (a wide-view camera that goes up and down the length of the ice at the Air Canada Centre) and star cam (a camera always focused on an individual player).
Two months after TSN expanded from two to five channels, and after a bunch of complaints from subscribers missing programming that didn’t air on TSN2 or TSN5, Videotron is joining all the other major TV providers in the country and offering all five feeds.
That problem, which generated a flood of complaints to both Videotron and TSN, has apparently pushed the former to move up the launch date of TSN1, which will now be added on Monday, in time for the next MNF game (even though that game will also air on TSN5, the main TSN feed in Quebec).
TSN3 and TSN4, whose main feature will be blacked-out Jets and Leafs games, and occasionally a different Premier League soccer match or college football on weekends, will be added on Oct. 29.
Some information for Videotron customers:
All five channels are free with TSN. And selecting TSN1-5 will count for only one channel in custom packages. So you won’t be paying any extra for these other channels.
All five channels will be in high definition. And they will be available in all regions.
The TSN channels will be moving to keep them together. Starting Oct. 29, they will be at 186-190 in SD and 786-790 in HD.
Analog subscribers will continue getting just TSN5, which includes regional Ottawa Senators games.
About the same time, TSN and RDS will be pulled from Videotron’s Illico TV mobile service. Videotron blames blackouts for making these channels less desirable. Though it is looking at alternatives.
A first live newscast is usually a nervous, error-filled affair but Thomas barely missed a beat, looking like he’d been doing this for years. And really, he has, just not in front of a television camera.
Thomas’s debut earned quick and unmitigated praise from colleague Brian Wilde:
Been doing this job 30 years. That was best first cast I have ever seen from @ATL2MTL Congrats Eric. A bright TV career is yours to seize.
But when I asked the CBC what this new programming would entail, I was told they didn’t know yet. Which seemed odd to me, since it was the CBC that proposed this hour a week of programming. Surely they had something in mind.
Finally, on Oct. 12, 2013, a year ago this week, Our Montreal debuted on CBC Television. Hosted by Sonali Karnick, who is also host of CBC Radio’s All in a Weekend, Our Montreal was vaguely described, and I didn’t really know what to expect even after talking with its host and other people at CBC. Nor really why its first airing was Saturdays at 6am.
And then I watched it. And I was disappointed.
Not only is this weekly show a lazy repackaging of content previously aired on CBC, most of it is so obviously either not local or not non-news that I think a compelling argument could be made to the CRTC that the public broadcaster is violating a condition of its license in all its major markets.
Like much of the city, I spent Wednesday evening sitting in front of the TV welcoming the official return of NHL hockey, curious how it would look in the new TV environment. Unlike much of the city, I constantly switched between Rogers Sportsnet and TVA Sports to try to evaluate both networks at the same time. Here are some thoughts on how it went.
Note that I’m not a hockey expert, or an expert on hockey broadcasting. I can’t tell you which panelist’s comments were more insightful, or which play-by-play guy described the game better. I look at this with the eyes of the casual fan, and that’s how I’m evaluating this.
Both networks are just starting off 12-year deals that are costing them a nine-figure number. So naturally the season opener pregame started months ago. I only tuned in for the last 45 minutes or so, and both networks took advantage of this time to sell themselves and their plans for the coming season. Sportsnet was a mix of old faces from Hockey Night in Canada, new faces from Sportsnet that were less familiar to Canadiens fans, and faces from elsewhere like Darren Pang. There was Elliotte Friedman with his sit-down interview. And the $4.5-million studio and its bells and whistles saw some use, though not as much as we might have expected.
On TVA Sports, a new set that actually looked quite professional, and a panel of experts that when it comes down to it doesn’t strike me as much different from the panels you’ll find on Sportsnet or RDS.
At 7pm on Saturday nights was when CBC would give us a hockey montage to set the mood. Sportsnet didn’t go that way on this night, instead going with a monologue from Marc Messier about how great hockey is. It fell a little short to me, lacking emotion.
TVA Sports also had the better computer-generated graphics that followed, though everything repeatedly exploding and coming back together may have been a bit too much.
Rogers’s big new studio in the CBC building in Toronto didn’t get much use after the pregame show, and seemed to be limited to a desk with four chairs behind it. Maybe that will change on Saturday, but I felt they weren’t using it to its fullest potential.
TVA Sports’s studio looked quite nice. Not spectacular, but nice enough that it looks like they know what they’re doing and they’re doing it professionally.
Sportsnet viewers were treated to the recognizable voices of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, who have done this countless times before and just picked up where they left off.
On TVA Sports, it was the first big night for Félix Séguin and his partner Patrick Lalime. Though Habs fans have gotten used to hearing Pierre Houde calling their team, I don’t think it’ll take that much getting used to the new voice.
Or at least I thought that until the first time Séguin said “lance … et COOOOOMPTE!” That’ll take some getting used to after years of Houde’s “et le but!” (Even Séguin needs to get used to it apparently. He let out an “et le but” when the Canadiens scored a surprise goal in the last minute of play.)
Sportsnet and TVA Sports clearly based their scoreboard graphics off the same software, with just the logo and the language different between them.
The graphics are block-ish, but they present the necessary information.
I should note that neither channel uses its own graphics for less important games. The late game on TVA Sports 2 just used the same Sportsnet feed with the same English graphics. Sportsnet One showed a late U.S. matchup that just piped in NBC Sports Network. It goes without saying that they don’t supply their own broadcast team either.
The giant Sportsnet hockey studio seemed pretty small during the intermission report, which mainly focused on a few talking heads around a table. Maybe it’ll be more impressive on Saturday nights, but I felt as though a first impression was wasted here.
TVA Sports didn’t wow me with its Coach’s Corner-style first-intermission starring Michel Bergeron. But it was better for the second, featuring Paul Houde talking about how many points the Canadiens should need at key points of the season if they expect to make the playoffs, and Joel Bouchard with a brief on-ice segment about goalie strategy. This is the kind of stuff I’d like to see more of.
Sportsnet didn’t have much of a postgame. Five minutes after the end it had to tee up the late Canucks-Flames game. But the panel took a few minutes to discuss what happened and what it means for both teams.
At TVA Sports, the late game was moved to TVA Sports 2, allowing it to run Dave Morissette en direct, the postgame analysis show. It was fine, but talking heads who are experts on the NHL don’t wow me, especially when the same thing was happening on RDS and TSN.
But there were some odd moments. Like Sébastien Benoit in a bar in Boucherville passing the microphone around asking people what they thought of the game and getting two-word answers of approval. By all means show us reaction shots from Montreal bars, but no need to shove a microphone in their faces if they have nothing intelligent to say.
Overall, I’m hoping Sportsnet shows more pizzazz on Saturday and Sunday, but if not I think we can live with its broadcasts. TVA Sports clearly showed it put in the effort, and had some strong points that Sportsnet didn’t have, even though it has a smaller audience and budget.
But I’m just some guy on the Internet with an opinion. What did you think of the broadcasts?
Tonight, the new era of NHL broadcasting in Canada dawns, as Rogers presents its first regular-season games under its new $5.2-billion, 12-year deal with the league. As is tradition, the first match in Canada will be Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs. But while in past years this match was on CBC and RDS, tonight it will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.
The change in TV channels is only part of the new reality. For the first time in a decade, RDS will be blacked out west of Belleville, Ont., during its 60 regional games (as it was, or should have been, during the preseason games). This has annoyed not only Habs fans in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, but places like northern Ontario, which has a lot of francophones. (I discussed the blackouts in a radio interview with Radio-Canada aimed at that audience.)
And the new rules for the NHL GameCentre Live streaming service have even me confused.
For NHL Centre Ice, which fans in southern Ontario and western Canada will need to watch Canadiens games, we’re learning that most providers in those areas are offering a $60 RDS-only package, which means Habs fans in Toronto and Vancouver will get to pay just $10 a month or $1 a game to watch the 60 games that are being blacked out on RDS.
And the regular TV schedule has changed slightly, with two more games being moved from Sportsnet East to City Montreal to accommodate the baseball playoffs on Sportsnet.
There are other things that are still unclear, though. And I’ve just sent Rogers another list of questions that I’m hoping they can answer. It seems late in the process for such information to be unclear, and if I’m not entirely sure about some of it, you can imagine how confused your average fan must be.
The good news is that this situation shouldn’t repeat. Most of the rules will be the same next year as they were this year, and people should be used to the new reality relatively quickly. We’ll have another 12 years until this system dramatically changes again.
In the meantime, for tonight, the game is broadcast nationally in both languages, and the game begins at 7pm. On Thursday, the Canadiens play the Capitals at 7pm, and that game is national in English on Sportsnet 360 and regional in French on RDS. (Don’t ask me to explain that logic.)
The reasoning didn’t relate to interference with other stations, but rather the commission finding the station did not meet the requirement of showing a compelling technical need for a second transmitter. The commission found that many of the complaints about poor coverage came from areas at the edge or outside of CHOU’s secondary service contour, which were never expected to receive the station well, and that local interference to AM signals is to be expected.
The application only had one opposing intervention, from CHCR, the owner of FM ethnic stations CKDG 105.1 and CKIN 106.3. That group warned that the new transmitter would cause interference to CKDG and would impact their advertising. Both those arguments were essentially ignored by the commission because the two stations are far enough in frequency to not have any interference problems and because CHOU is already a licensed station and market issues have already been dealt with.
Interesting, though, is that the CBC, which owns CBME-FM-1 at 104.7, did not intervene in this case, even though there was a big potential for interference. This could open the door to another application for 104.5, provided it only interferes with 104.7 in the eastern part of the island where people could hear CBC Radio One better on 88.5 anyway. (Such a transmitter would still have to protect Boom FM at 104.1 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Espace Musique at 104.3 in Trois-Rivières.)
The transaction includes the big Sun papers in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, plus the 24 Hours papers in Toronto and Vancouver, the London Free Press, and a lot of community newspapers.
The transaction does not include the Journal de Montréal or any other French-language papers. It also does not appear to include the Sun News Network, which will make for an interesting situation there because of how that network and the Sun are tied together.
If I had to guess, I’d say this situation would be similar. The Bureau probably won’t allow the two major paid dailies in cities like Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton to be owned by the same company, and would force Postmedia to sell them (or their existing broadsheets). Similarly for areas where both have community papers. And in Vancouver, where it would own three of four papers, and Toronto, where it would own three of six, it might be forced to make sales there too.
And breaking up the Sun chain sounds like it would be a disaster. Those newspapers share a lot of resources, not to mention branding. So it’s hard to see the Ottawa/Toronto/Winnipeg/Calgary/Edmonton Sun not ending up with the same owner.
We’ll see how it works out. The Transcontinental/Quebecor deal took almost a year to work through the system, and I suspect it will probably be next summer before we know who owns what as a result of this.
The $316-million value is about 1/5 of what Quebecor paid for Sun Media ($989 million in 1999) and Osprey Media ($576 million in 2007) to acquire those newspapers, though subsequent moves means there are some adjustments to that comparison.
From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media
Every now and then people ask me about the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group, which has licenses for three high-power AM talk radio stations in Montreal, the first one granted in 2011, but hasn’t made any announcements in more than a year.
Now we have some more news. On Sept. 19, the CRTC approved applications from the group for extensions on the deadlines to launch its two news-talk stations, a French one at 940 AM and an English one at 600 AM, for another year.
The service would meet all of the regulatory requirements for bilingual pay-per-view systems, with one notable exception: Rather than adhere to a 3:1 ratio of English to French channels that is clearly designed for bilingual pay-per-view services operating in English Canadian markets, Indigo would reverse that ratio, offering four French channels for each English one, not including barker/preview channels. And it would offer at least two English channels. Videotron said in its application it planned to operate eight French-language and two English-language channels, which would fit its proposed ratio.
Since Videotron operates almost exclusively in Quebec, having more French channels makes sense for its pay-per-view service. The CRTC agreed, implementing the exception.
But it didn’t like the idea of reducing the number of channels that much. Indigo currently offers 11 standard-definition and three high-definition channels, while Videotron carries eight SD and one HD channel of Viewers Choice. Under Videotron’s proposal, the total number of PPV channels would drop from 23 to 10.
“So to maintain a number of signals comparable to that currently offered, the Commission requires that Indigo offer at least 3 English-language signals. With this minimum of English-language signals, Videotron must offer at least 12 French-language signals to meet the ratio. Accordingly, Videotron will be able to maintain a level of service comparable to that currently offered by its French-language service.”
(This whole system seems to be unnecessarily rigid. It’s one thing to impose minimum ratios to protect minority-language markets, but the ratio as it’s worded isn’t just a minimum, but a maximum as well. And setting a minimum number of English channels on top of that means the CRTC has imposed a minimum of 15 channels for Videotron’s pay-per-view service.)
English channels could start “very quickly”
The CRTC’s alteration of Videotron’s application is a bit of a curve ball. Videotron had already begun trimming Indigo, taking away six of its 11 SD channels. With this decision, it will need to start four of them back up (or start up four new HD feeds).
But adding English service to Indigo won’t take that long, Videotron president and CEO Manon Brouillette told me. For movies, “we already have all the rights in English,” she said. It’s just a question of getting deals done for PPV events like wrestling and UFC events. But “it wouldn’t be that complicated.”
With the rise of paid video-on-demand services on digital cable, the appeal of pay-per-view for events that aren’t live has diminished significantly. “When we look at the tendencies of consumption of cinema, it’s much more on demand,” Brouillette said. “So the Indigo channels, the rate of orders is not very high, it’s a segment in decline.”
“The potential for us, and the reason the channel is doing well financially, is because of events, sports, concerts, etc.”
Brouillette pointed to the Quebec City amphitheatre, which Videotron has a management contract for once it opens next year, with everyone hoping it will one day be home to an NHL team.
“There won’t just be sports in this theatre,” she said. “There will be concerts, events. We’d like to broadcast live shows on Indigo like we did for Céline Dion (on the Plains of Abraham in 2008). It’s an event channel.”
Videotron has a bit of time to get its English service running. It’ll be about three weeks until the next major UFC and WWE pay-per-view events.
Viewers Choice goes out with a whimper
There’s no big fanfare for the end of Viewers Choice, which began in 1991 and is being replaced by in-house services run by Bell and Rogers. On its straight-from-the-90s website, a simple notice is posted:
Dear Viewers Choice Customers — As of September 30, 2014 Viewers Choice Pay Per View will no longer be broadcasting.
Thanks to all of you for allowing us into your homes for so many incredible events and making the last 23 years successful and memorable
Sincerely, The Viewers Choice Team
The service’s programming will go dark starting around 10:30pm, and the last movies will end at midnight. Those final movies include Winter’s Tale, The Quiet Ones, The Grand Seduction, The Other Woman, Rise of an Empire and, of course, porn.
Even though I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the subject of NHL regional rights and in particular how Canadiens fans have to deal with them for the first time, there’s still a flood of questions, usually the same ones, from people who suddenly find themselves staring at a screen saying a hockey game is not available in their region.
The situation hasn’t changed dramatically, except for broadcasts on RDS. Until this season, the network had a special deal with the Canadiens and the National Hockey League that allowed all 82 regular-season games to be broadcast nationally without restriction. This is the exception rather than the rule. Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators games in English have been subject to regional blackouts for years now.
The Canadiens broadcast region. Regions in green can will not experience blackouts on RDS, TSN5 or Sportsnet East. (Map via Shaw Direct)
If you’re used to watching Canadiens games on RDS, you’ll no longer be able to do so if you live west of eastern Ontario (officially, a line connecting Pembroke and Belleville). This is the Canadiens/Senators broadcast region. It includes that corner of eastern Ontario, plus all of Quebec and all four Atlantic provinces. In Toronto, the Prairies, B.C. and territories, you’re out of luck. Because RDS carries only the regional games, you won’t see a single Canadiens game — or any NHL game at all for that matter — on RDS this year.
During the first preseason game on Tuesday night, some people reported being able to get RDS un-blacked-out outside the Canadiens region. Some had the HD feed blacked out but the SD feed not. This should not be relied upon as a stable loophole.
If you’re not sure what region you’re in, you can put your postal code into this website, which will show which teams’ region you’re in. Any team not on that list will (or at least should) be blacked out in your region.
For fans of other teams, this post explains their broadcast regions and how many games will be broadcast regionally and nationally.
Who is to blame?
The big change isn’t so much that Rogers has spent $5.2 billion on a wide-ranging deal for NHL rights in Canada. It’s the emergence of a competitor to RDS, TVA Sports, which has sublicensed the rights to national games from Rogers. RDS picked up the regional rights, but that doesn’t give them the rights to broadcast these games nationally. They’d love nothing better than to do so, but they can’t.
So who is to blame? Rogers? Quebecor? Bell? The Canadiens? Your cable company?
No, it’s the National Hockey League.
The NHL, like other sports leagues, sets the framework for television rights deals. And part of that framework forces most of the regular-season games of any team to be broadcast only within that team’s designated region. Or, looking at it the other way, it prevents other team’s broadcasts from entering that team’s region.
The purpose is simply to protect that team’s territorial rights and market. Basically, if you live in southern Ontario, the Leafs own you, and they want you to be a Leafs fan, not a Canadiens fan. You might think that’s ridiculous, but that’s nevertheless the logic.
(Be glad that the NHL doesn’t also follow the NFL’s rule that blacks out local games when a team has not sold out a home game. Though since the Canadiens always sell out, that wouldn’t affect them.)
What can I do about it?
So, you’re a Canadiens fan in southern Ontario, Calgary or Vancouver who wants to watch all 82 Canadiens games, and you don’t mind what language it’s in. Well, here are your options:
Learn to live with watching only half the season. Rogers is broadcasting 40 of the 82 Canadiens games nationally in English, plus all playoff games, including all Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday night games, and all games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins. (The 22 games broadcast nationally in French on TVA Sports are included in those 40.) You’ll also see when the Canadiens play the team that owns your broadcast region. I break down which games are which here. If you live in the Jets, Oilers or Flames regions, you’ll see the games against those teams too. People in Saskatchewan will get a total of 44 Habs games all told.
Buy NHL Centre Ice. This is the official way to get around the regional blackouts, and it’s what distant fans of other Canadian teams have had to do for years. Details of this service haven’t been announced yet, but it will be offered by your cable or satellite provider for about $200 for the season or $35 a month. They might also offer a special deal for just the French Canadiens and Senators games from RDS for $60. NHL Centre Ice blacks out any game that is otherwise broadcast in your region, so you’ll need to get Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 to watch national games on those channels. Contact your TV provider for details.
Buy NHL GameCentre Live. Similar to NHL Centre Ice, GameCentre offers a way for people to watch out-of-market games. GameCentre is a streaming service, to watch the games online or on mobile or tablet apps. Because it’s delivered on the Internet, it’s offered directly by Rogers, not by your TV provider. You can subscribe to it here. It’s $200 for the season (with a $180 early bird special). Rogers has also promised a special deal for $60 with just the RDS Senators and Canadiens regional games. GameCentre Live used to have the same rules as Centre Ice, blacking out any game available to you on TV. But Rogers is making all of its nationally broadcast games available on this service. It’s also making in-region regional games available, but only if they’re on Sportsnet and you’re a Sportsnet subscriber. This requires authentication with your TV provider, which means they need to be on board as well. This means that Senators games, French Canadiens games, Jets games and some Maple Leafs games that air on TSN and RDS are not available in-region on GameCentre Live.
Get an illegal bootleg stream online. There are various ways to get access to Canadiens games through third parties that illegally rebroadcast the games online. I won’t provide instructions here, but you can find them.
Move to Montreal. I’m just saying, that’s an option.
One thing that won’t help is to start a petition, yell at your TV provider or insult Rogers, Bell or anyone else on Twitter. Believe me, the broadcasters would love nothing better than to do away with blackouts that annoy viewers, deprive them of advertising revenue and complicate scheduling. But they can’t, because despite those billions of dollars, the NHL is still the boss.
In a press release issued Monday, Shaw Media says it has submitted its application for the new all-news channel to the CRTC (which hasn’t published it yet, so we don’t have details). The timing is deliberate, coming just after the commission concluded its Let’s Talk TV hearing. Reeb said the submission was made several weeks ago, but Shaw wanted to wait until the proceeding was over to respect that process.
Shaw explains its unique blend of national and local news this way:
Global News 1 will feature a national newsfeed bookended by local news segments tailored specifically for each of the markets it serves. Using next-generation technology, the service will be framed by a continuous data feed of hyper-local headlines and community events. With the ability to cover live, breaking news at the local, regional or national level, Global News 1 will be like no other service on the dial.
Shaw says that each of the 12 markets with owned-and-operated Global stations (Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, Halifax) will have its own feed, but there will also be eight additional communities getting “local newsrooms” — places with “either no local television news or limited competition”:
Fort McMurray, Alta.
Red Deer, Alta.
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Quebec City, Que.
And on top of that, “Shaw Media is also proposing to open the channel to eight small-market, independent broadcasters who would have the opportunity to add their own local content to the service and retain all local advertising in their markets.”
Troy Reeb, senior vice-president of Global News, tells me these stations are:
CKPG in Prince George, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
CFJC in Kamloops, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
CHAT in Medicine Hat, Alta. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
CKSA/CITL in Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. (Newcap) — CBC and CTV affiliates, respectively
CHFD in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Dougall Media) — already a Global affiliate
CHEX in Peterborough, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
CKWS in Kingston, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
CJON in St. John’s, N.L. (NTV)
(An earlier version of this post also listed CHEK in Victoria, B.C. Reeb actually referred to CHEX, the Corus station. CHEK is not on the list because it competes directly with Global B.C.)
Reeb specifies that there has been no discussion with these stations. Rather, the offer is being made because Global does not want to compete with them. “We didn’t want to threaten any of the small stations that are already struggling,” he said. “We didn’t want to go in and say hey we’re going to open up a competitor. We’re looking for a solution not just for us but for the system overall.”
Assuming it adds all of these stations, that would mean up to 28 different markets getting a hybrid national/local news channel.
Notably absent from this list is CJBN, a station owned by Shaw (but separate from Shaw Media, its acquisition predated the Global purchase) in Kenora, Ont. Its tiny market and limited local programming means it doesn’t have the resources to contribute to this service, Reeb said.
Reeb told me that, if the proposal is approved, Global would add about 100 journalists across the country, between those working at the regional newsrooms and those working nationally. This would mean about a half-dozen people working in each regional newsroom.
TSN host Mitch Melnick confirmed Bartlett’s departure on Thursday. On Friday, Bartlett was interviewed on Melnick’s show (where a “gag order” prevented them from saying where he’s going, but it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together). Audio from that interview is posted here.
The decision to hire Bartlett, who was the voice of the Toronto Marlies AHL team before joining TSN 690 (more on his history here at YorkRegion.com), wasn’t unanimously praised at first, with all the talent at the station who would have loved to take a crack at the dream job and the bad optics of not only bringing in an import, but one who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm team. But as Melnick explained on his show, Bartlett quickly earned the respect of staff and listeners who are now sad to see him go.
I met Bartlett only once. It was at a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game in Montreal. Just his presence there said a lot about how much this guy cares about hockey.