Category Archives: Media

Posted in Opinion, TV

Is it ethical for TV news to shill for the network?

The Rogers Media upfront in Montreal on June 7.

The Rogers Media upfront party in Montreal on June 7.

The beginning of June is a big time for Canadian TV networks. They invite journalists and advertisers to fancy parties and announce what new programming they’re adding to their schedules for the next season. In the case of Canada’s big three English commercial networks, Bell Media (CTV), Shaw/Corus (Global) and Rogers (City), that’s mainly acquired U.S. programming.

They’re called “upfronts”, and their purpose is clear.

But these broadcasters also own news outlets, and it might come as no surprise that the news side, and shows that are news-like in function, tend to cover only their parent company’s upfront presentation, even though they all announce their programming within a week of each other.

CTV’s eTalk has an entire special section on its website devoted to CTV’s upfront, including interviews with Hollywood stars hawking their new shows. CTV Toronto devoted five minutes to a live report. On ctvnews.ca, the network posted a Canadian Press story about Bell’s announcement, but not the CP stories about Shaw/Corus and Rogers.

Global News added plenty of videos to its globalnews.ca website of interviews with big stars during the Corus upfront presentation, but these weren’t journalistic reports. They just dumped raw video from the advertising event on their website. Global News Toronto devoted a bit more than two minutes to a packaged report about Global’s fall lineup (starts at 29:49). ET Canada, of course, focused plenty of attention on Corus’s announcement and none on anyone else. Online, there was a report with a journalist’s byline, but that turned out to be a straight-up copy-paste of Corus’s press release with some light re-wording at the top. It was only after I pointed that out on Twitter that an editor’s note was added to explain that.

Rogers doesn’t have a national news network like CTV and Global, and I couldn’t find anything on CityNews about upfronts. On Rogers’s news radio station websites, there was only Canadian Press stories about the upfront announcements, mostly because those websites republish every Canadian Press story. (An exception was 570 News in Kitchener, which republished a Rogers press release and credited it to “news staff”)

None of this is new, of course. Lots of journalistic outlets downplay or ignore their competitors’ good-news announcements. But the bias is never as stark as it is during upfront week.

We all accept that this happens, but is it ethical?

Last year, Bell Media’s president was fired after he interfered in CTV News’s coverage of a CRTC decision affecting Bell Canada. The message sent was clear: CTV News’s journalistic standards have no exceptions, even when dealing with the parent company.

But are upfronts an exception?

To find out, I asked the heads of CTV News and Global News to comment about their one-sided coverage of upfront announcements.

In both cases, it was noted that the daily entertainment shows (eTalk for CTV and ET Canada for Global) do not fall under the news division, which I find interesting.

Matthew Garrow, Director of News, Local Stations, Sports, Discovery Networks & Community Investment at Bell Media, offered this statement:

We can assure you that at no point does CTV News suspend its journalistic practices under any circumstance. All CTV News staff are trained to follow the strictest editorial guidelines designed to ensure impartiality when making our editorial decisions, which are safeguarded by both the CTV News Policy Handbook and Bell’s Journalistic Independence Policy. These policies are designed to ensure that, at all times, CTV News upholds the highest standard of journalistic independence.

I asked him why, if this is true, did CTV News cover Bell Media’s announcement but not its competitors’. I got no response.

Troy Reeb, Senior Vice President, News, Radio and Station Operations at Corus, was a bit more forthcoming:

Global News was not invited to our competitors’ upfronts which, like the Corus Upfront, were private events by invitation only. That’s not to say we do not provide coverage of competing networks’ programs and events when they are in the broader public interest. We certainly do, and our archives are filled with many stories about CTV, CBC, Rogers and Netflix.

Our commitment to fairness and balance doesn’t translate into an obligation to cover everything that happens. Editorial integrity doesn’t mean you have to do a story on The Bay because you did one on Sears. Every media outlet makes choices daily about what it will cover and what it will not.

That the major networks are announcing their fall schedules is not exactly breaking news, and clearly falls into the category of discretionary coverage. That we would cover Global’s announcements and not CTV’s should surprise no one since we are in the business of serving Global viewers, just as CTV is in the business of serving theirs.

In keeping with our Global News journalistic principles and practices, I can assure you that at no time was our news division or our reporters given any directive on what to cover or how to cover it. Coverage decisions were made by Global News based on audience interest and the accessibility offered to key players in the fall shows.

The point about not being invited to competitors’ upfronts is valid. (Maybe that would change if they covered each other’s announcements more?) But that doesn’t stop news outlets from reporting what’s announced in press releases and posted online.

And while news organizations have been self-promoting since the dawn of time, in an era of vertical integration, it’s not just CTV talking about CTV and Global talking about Global. It’s about CTV News, eTalk and BNN talking about CTV, Space and Discovery Channel, while Global News and ET Canada talk about Global, Showcase and Food Network, and Breakfast Television talks about City, Viceland and Sportsnet.

And those independent broadcasters not owned by the big media companies? Don’t expect to hear about your programming on the evening news, because they’re only in the business of serving their viewers.

It’s nice that no official orders were given from on high to manipulate news coverage. But if you’re a journalist at one of these organizations, how much freedom do you really have to choose not to cover your parent company’s press event, or to cover your competitor’s?

I certainly wouldn’t want to test it.

Posted in TV

Jessica Laventure leaves Global Montreal for Club Med

Jessica Laventure has been spending a lot of this month crying on the air.

On Wednesday morning, a week after she bid an emotional goodbye to anchor Camille Ross, weather presenter Jessica Laventure announced she too is leaving the show. In her case, it’s to work for Club Med in Punta Cana on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic.

Her last day is Thursday.

Jessica Laventure

Like Ross, Laventure had been at Global Montreal since they relaunched the morning show in January 2013, but had also worked at the station years ago when it was Global Quebec. In between, she worked at MétéoMédia and Boom FM.

Laventure brought an infectious sense of fun to the morning show, at a level that should not be possible for someone who wakes up well before 6am every day. And while her personality will undoubtedly make her a good fit at Club Med, it also leaves big shoes to fill.

“We’re really very sad to see her go, she’s just so good but adventure is reaching out to her and she seized the moment,” explained station manager Karen Macdonald, who will now have to find not only a new host but a new weather person as well.

On one hand, she’ll have the summer to do it. But on the other hand, with Canada AM cancelled and CTV’s new national morning show to launch in the fall, this would have been an opportunity for Global Montreal to try to lure away some viewers who want a news-centric morning show that isn’t a straight newscast. Instead, the station has to deal with its own upheaval.

 

Posted in Radio

CKOI is moving its transmitter

The CBC's Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

The CBC’s Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

All major commercial FM radio stations in Montreal except one broadcast from antennas on a single giant transmission tower at the top of Mount Royal.

Soon, the sole holdout will be joining them.

CKOI's current antenna atop the CIBC building

CKOI’s current antenna atop the CIBC building

Last week, the CRTC approved (without any public process) an application to move CKOI-FM 96.9 from its current location atop the CIBC tower at Peel St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. to the Mount Royal tower.

Cogeco’s application explains that, with the move of television stations to digital, and the channel change of Radio-Canada and CBC TV transmitters from 2 to 19 and 6 to 21, respectively, the old VHF TV antenna used by them has become obsolete and is being removed. That will open up a space for a new antenna, and Cogeco wants to install it.

There are a few benefits to this. One, Cogeco’s other FM stations (CFGL-FM 105.7 and CHMP-FM 98.5) already broadcast from the Mount Royal tower, and moving CKOI would allow all three to be managed from one site, the company says. Also, because the antenna would be higher (277.6m instead of 220.8m above average terrain), its transmitter can reduce power but still cover the same area.

Finally, Cogeco says the new antenna will be compatible with HD Radio. It’s unclear if Cogeco has immediate plans for HD Radio or if it’s more of a long-term option, but other broadcasters are starting to use it now and CKOI would be ideal both because of its high coverage and because there are no stations close to it in frequency.

 

What makes CKOI unique in Montreal isn’t just its location, but also its power. According to the Canadian Communications Foundation, the station was authorized to use 307 kilowatts of power in 1962, when commercial FM broadcasting was just beginning in the country (at the time, the station was CKVL-FM, and was transitioning from being a mere repeater of CKVL to having its own programming). Because of grandfathered rights, it got to keep that power level even though FM stations are now limited to a maximum of 100kW. CKOI is one of only five stations in Canada allowed to go beyond 100kW, and it’s the second-most powerful transmitter in the country after Winnipeg’s CJKR-FM (310kW).

The grandfathered rights, however, don’t mean CKOI can move to the Mount Royal tower and blast out 307kW. When asked to approve the change, Industry Canada (or whatever it’s called now) said CKOI could continue exceeding the 100kW maximum provided its coverage area did not increase, that there was no increase in interference to existing stations or aircraft navigation, that the new installation respects safety regulations relating to transmission power, and that there is no objection from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

As a result, CKOI has proposed an effective radiated power of 147kW, which is as high as it can go without exceeding its previous coverage to the west. (This will drop it to fourth-highest power in Canada, after London’s CFPL-FM, 300kW, and Winnipeg’s CBW-FM, 160kW.)

Current (blue) and proposed (green) contours of CKOI-FM

Current (blue) and proposed (green) contours of CKOI-FM

The new pattern slightly reduces how far the signal goes toward the east and south, but probably won’t be too noticeable. (Cogeco estimates that 99.6% of the population in the previous coverage area will still be in the new one.) The higher antenna height will also mean the signal will face less disruption from the mountain and tall buildings.

(147kW might sound a lot higher than 100kW, but because of the way propagation works, the coverage area isn’t that much larger. Compare CKOI’s current pattern to CKBE-FM’s 100kW signal for an idea of how different it is.)

As a bonus, people going through central downtown won’t have their FM radios so overloaded by a 307kW transmission just above their heads that they hear CKOI all over the FM band.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Chantal Desjardins, P.J. Stock among cuts at Sportsnet

Rogers Media today finally confirmed what’s been reported, that George Stroumboulopoulos has been let go as host of Hockey Night in Canada and Ron MacLean will return to the big chair on Saturday nights.

But also changing is a lot of other jobs in Sportsnet’s hockey broadcasting team, both national and regional broadcasts. Among them, in-game analyst Glenn Healy, studio analysts P.J. Stock, Billy Jaffe and Corey Hirsch, and regional game studio hosts Leah Hextall (Flames) and Chantal Desjardins (Canadiens).

Desjardins mainly hosted the regional Canadiens broadcasts from the Toronto studio, but would also work as a rinkside reporter during some national broadcasts.

Desjardins and Stock worked together at CHOM before getting jobs at Sportsnet. In 2010, they hosted the morning show with Pete Marier after Ted Bird left the station. Marier was also let go this past week.

The Globe and Mail reports Sportsnet will be airing national pregame shows instead of regional ones before regional hockey games, which would reduce the need for staff.

Posted in TV

Bell Media proposes shutdown of 40 CTV and CTV Two retransmitters

It’s not quite as bad as the massacre of hundreds of analog over-the-air transmitters by public broadcasters in 2012, but Bell Media has proposed a major cull of its transmitters, removing a third of them from their licenses as part of its licence renewal application filed with the CRTC.

The cull affects mainly low-power retransmitters in small towns, some as little as 1 Watt of transmitting power, though some are as high as 260,000 Watts. All of the affected transmitters are analog (and so none broadcast in HD).

Bell Media explains its request thusly:

These analog transmitters generate no incremental revenue, attract little to no viewership given the growth of [cable and satellite TV] subscriptions and are costly to maintain, repair or replace. In addition, none of the highlighted transmitters offer any programming that differs from the main channels. The Commission has determined that broadcasters may elect to shut down transmitters but will lose certain regulatory privileges (distribution on the basic service, the ability to request simultaneous substitution) as noted in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-24, Over-the-air transmission of television signals and local programming. We are fully aware of the loss of these regulatory privileges as a result of any transmitter shutdown.

In short, Bell has determined that these transmitters cost far more to operate than they’re worth in viewership, even when you consider secondary benefits like simultaneous substitution.

As part of promises to the CRTC, including during the Astral acquisition, Bell promised to keep its TV stations on the air through 2016 or 2017. With its licence up for renewal on Aug. 31, 2017, that promise expires. Nevertheless, no local originating stations are pegged for shutdown here, and there’s no direct effect on local programming.

The list of transmitters Bell wants to delete from its licences is below. The CRTC counts 42, while I count 41 (not including the three already approved as part of separate CRTC decisions). In some cases, the transmitters are already off the air for a variety of reasons (“destroyed in a fire” comes up a few times, though the reasons can sometimes be quite strange).

A couple to note:

  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall, a retransmitter of CTV Ottawa, has a 260,000W signal that can be easily captured in the western part of Montreal and off-island suburbs. It’s the last analog television signal that reaches into the Montreal area, and it’s the reason why CTV Ottawa is carried on Montreal cable systems.
  • CKNX-TV Wingham was a CBC affiliate that launched in 1955, then became an A Channel station owned by CHUM, then was sold to CTV. In 2009, at the height of the battle over fee for carriage, CTV said it would have to shut down the station, prompting a ridiculous negotiation for a sale to Shaw via newspaper ads. Despite a $1 purchase price, Shaw reneged on its offer after due diligence. CTV converted the station into a retransmitter of CFPL-TV London, Ont., and it became part of the CTV Two network. (Since then, CTV was bought by Bell and Shaw bought Global TV, which effectively ended the fee for carriage debate.)

CTV stations (41/109 transmitters)

CJCB-TV Sydney, N.S. (1/6 transmitters):

  • CJCB-TV-5 Bay St. Laurence (1W)

CJCH-DT Halifax, N.S. (2/9 transmitters):

  • CJCH-TV-2 Truro (8W)
  • CJCH-TV-8 Marinette (10W)

CKCW-DT Moncton, N.B. (5/9 transmitters):

  • CKAM-TV Upsalquitch (already approved) (230,000W)
  • CKAM-TV-1 Newcastle (9W)
  • CKAM-TV-2 Chatham (9W)
  • CKCW-TV-2 St. Edward/St. Louis, P.E.I. (1,100W)
  • CKCD-TV Campbelton (1,800W)

CHBX-TV Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CHBX-TV-1 Wawa (66,400W)

CJOH-DT Ottawa (2/4 transmitters):

  • CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto (100,000W)
  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall (260,000W)

CICI-TV Sudbury, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CICI-TV-1 Elliot Lake (19,000W)

CITO-TV Timmins, Ont. (2/5 transmitters):

  • CITO-TV-3 Hearst (7,110W)
  • CITO-TV-4 Chapleau (1,550W)

CKY-DT Winnipeg (2/9 transmitters):

  • CKYB-TV-1 McCreary (already approved) (10W)
  • CKYS-TV Snow Lake (8W)

CICC-TV Yorkton, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CICC-TV-2 Norquay (69,000W)
  • CICC-TV-3 Hudson Bay (680W)
  • CIEW-TV Warmley (170,000W)
  • CIWH-TV Wynyard (140,000W)

CIPA-TV Prince Albert, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CIPA-TV-1 Spiritwood (46,900W)
  • CIPA-TV-2 Big River (205W)
  • CKQB-TV Melfort (15,500W)
  • CKQB-TV-1 Nipawin (11,600W)

CKCK-DT Regina (4/7 transmitters):

  • CKCK-TV-1 Colgate (84,800W)
  • CKCK-TV-2 Willow Bunch (52,700W)
  • CKCK-TV-7 Fort Qu’Appelle (241W)
  • CKMC-TV-1 Golden Prairie (229,000W)

CFCN-DT Calgary (4/9 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-1 Drumheller (80,000W)
  • CFCN-TV-6 Drumheller (9W)
  • CFCN-TV-16 Oyen (710W)
  • CFWL-TV-1 Invemere, B.C. (10W)

CFCN-DT-5 Lethbridge, Alta. (6/10 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-3 Brooks (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-4 Burmis (382W)
  • CFCN-TV-11 Sparwood, B.C. (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-12 Moyie, B.C. (5W)
  • CFCN-TV-17 Waterton Park (1W)
  • CFCN-TV-18 Coleman (9W)

CFRN-DT Edmonton (2/11 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-2 Peace River (4,300W)
  • CFRN-TV-8 Grouard Mission (10,000W)

CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer (1/2 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-10 Rocky Mountain House (1,600W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CKLD-DT Saint John (3 transmitters total)
  • CFCF-DT Montreal (1 transmitter total)
  • CFTO-DT Toronto (3 transmitters total)
  • CKCO-DT Kitchener, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CKNY-TV North Bay, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CFQC-DT Saskatoon (3 transmitters total)
  • CIVT-DT Vancouver (1 transmitter total)

CTV Two stations (2/12 transmitters)

CFPL-DT London, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CKNX-TV Wingham (260,000W)

CKVR-DT Barrie, Ont. (1/4 transmitters):

  • CKVR-TV-1 Parry Sound (7W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CHRO-DT-43 Ottawa (1 transmitter total)
  • CHRO-TV Pembroke, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CHWI-DT Wheatley, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CIVI-DT Victoria (2 transmitters total)

Other stations (1/5 transmitters)

Bell Media acquired two TV stations in northern B.C. from Astral Media. They have since adopted CTV Two programming, but are licensed separately from Bell Media’s other stations.

CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C. (1/3 transmitters):

No change is proposed for CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. (2 transmitters total)

CTV and CTV Two also have (de facto) affiliates in Lloydminster, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Peterborough, Oshawa and St. John’s. These are not owned by Bell Media and are unaffected by this application.

In a letter, the CRTC asks Bell for more information about this request, notably how many of these transmitters are still running and how many people will be affected. A response is requested for Monday, June 27, but the major broadcasters have requested an extension to that deadline because of the amount of information being requested of them.

The CRTC is accepting comments from the public on Bell Media’s licence renewals, which includes the deletion of retransmitters, until 8pm ET on Aug. 2 Aug. 15. You can submit comments here (choose Application 2016-0012-2). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record. Public hearings will be held in Laval and Gatineau in November to discuss the application.

UPDATE: This post is prompting some discussion on Reddit (here and here), and some of those comments seem to be based on some misconceptions:

  • Many point out that CTV/CTV2 is owned by Bell Media, which also owns a TV distributor, as if they’re doing this merely to boost TV subscription rates. The likelihood of a large number of people in these tiny towns switching to a pay TV service owned by Bell is pretty low. And if this was the purpose, wouldn’t they have shut down more transmitters? (Besides, CTV doesn’t get subscription fees from people who subscribe via cable companies.)
  • Some say in general CTV would have been better off if it wasn’t owned by a telecom company, or that this wouldn’t have happened if CTV was independent of one. That, of course, ignores several facts: (1) CBC and TVO also shut down hundreds of analog retransmitters years ago, (2) Global TV’s parent company actually did go bankrupt before the network was purchased by Shaw, and it might not have survived had that not happened, and (3) Conventional television as an industry is losing money or barely breaking even, and a lot of that is because the cable companies that own those networks are subsidizing them.
  • A couple say the channels or bandwidth should be given or sold to another company so they can put transmitters or TV stations there instead. But (1) Broadcast television allocations are not sold like that; (2) There’s zero demand for new television stations or transmitters; and (3) there is plenty of space on the television broadcast band for more transmitters, especially in these small markets.
Posted in Opinion, TV

Rogers throws desperate hail-Mary with OMNI mandatory distribution request

Rogers calls it a “win-win solution”. But it would be just as accurate to describe it as a request for a government-imposed bailout of a private broadcaster whose business model has failed.

In an application that is being considered as part of Rogers’s TV licence renewals, the company has asked the CRTC to impose mandatory distribution of ethnic TV network OMNI across Canada, and to impose a fee of $0.12 per subscriber per month (which is the same as Canadians currently pay for CPAC).

This will give OMNI $14 million a year from subscribers, and in exchange Rogers has made several commitments related to programming:

  • 4 daily, national, 30 minute newscasts 7 days per week, in each of Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese (produced in Toronto with contributions from Vancouver and reporters in Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Victoria) and Punjabi languages (produced in Vancouver with contributions from Toronto and reporters in Victoria, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal);
  • 6 daily, local 30 minute current affairs shows 5 days per week, in each of Mandarin, Punjabi and Cantonese language (produced in Toronto and Vancouver);
  • The creation of national cultural affairs series produced in Alberta that are designed to showcase important cultural and social contributions from Canada’s ethnocultural communities;
  • Original Canadian Scripted ethnic and/or third-language dramas and documentaries through a PNI commitment of 2.5%;
  • 10 hours of local independent production in Vancouver, Toronto and Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary combined) each week, measured on a monthly basis.
  • A commitment to devote 80% of OMNI Regional’s schedule to the exhibition of ethnic programming, while maintaining the requirement to devote 50% of the schedule to third-language programming;
  • A commitment to devote a minimum of 40% of OMNI Regional’s annual revenues to the production of Canadian programming;
  • A commitment to re-establish in-house production in all of the markets served by OMNI’s OTA stations;
  • The elimination of all U.S. “strip” programming that is not relevant to ethnic or third-language communities and a commitment to limit the amount of U.S. programming exhibited on OMNI Regional to a maximum of 10% of the schedule each month

A lot of this sounds good, but it also sounds a lot like just bringing back the services (like daily third-language newscasts) that OMNI cut recently as part of budget cutbacks, moves that its unions argued broke the spirit of its CRTC licence obligations.

The proposal is a bit complex. Rather than one national OMNI feed, the initial proposal called for three regional feeds, based on what OMNI stations broadcast in Vancouver, Alberta (Calgary and Edmonton have identical programming) and Toronto (which has two OMNI stations). Those living in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto would still be able to watch OMNI for free over the air, but would also be required to pay 12 cents per month through their cable or satellite company.

To complicate it even further, Rogers amended the application earlier this month to include a fourth feed for Quebec, which would carry OMNI’s newscasts but also local programming from ICI, the independent ethnic station based in Montreal. The additional commitments for this channel include:

  • 3 hours of original local ethnic programming in French each week;
  • 1.5 hours of original French-language programming and a half-hour original English-language programming each week; and
  • 14 hours of original local independently produced programming each week.

The law

My initial reaction to this application was there’s no way it’s going to be approved. The commission set a high bar the last time it reviewed mandatory channels in 2013.

Under its policy, it will only invoke article 9(1)h of the Broadcasting Act, allowing it to force TV distributors to require all subscribers add a particular channel, when that channel meets the following criteria:

  • It makes an exceptional contribution to Canadian expression and reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity;
  • It contributes, in an exceptional manner, to the overall objectives for the digital basic service and specifically contributes to one or more objectives of the Act, such as Canadian identity and cultural sovereignty; ethno-cultural diversity, including the special place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society; service to and the reflection and portrayal of persons with disabilities; or linguistic duality, including improved service to official language minority communities; and
  • It makes exceptional commitments to original, first-run Canadian programming in terms of exhibition and expenditures.

The commission has highlighted the word “exceptional” here, and has used lack of exceptionality to deny several applications for mandatory distribution.

Plus, there’s another complication. Asking TV distributors (and by extension their customers) to pay over-the-air TV stations (called “fee for carriage” or “value for signal” depending on what spin you want to put on it) has been discussed before. And in 2012 the Supreme Court weighed in on the matter, finding that the CRTC did not have the jurisdiction to impose this.

Does the fact that OMNI is ethnic somehow change the nature of this ruling? Or the fact that Rogers would be seeking mandatory carriage instead of negotiating deals with cable providers?

Tough choices

But just saying “no” wouldn’t solve the problem. OMNI is bleeding money, badly. CRTC data, which I can only get indirectly, suggest OMNI stations lost $33 million in 2014-15 on revenue of $24 million. When you’re spending more than twice the amount of money you’re bringing in, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Rogers states in its application that the OMNI business model has crumbled recently because their strategy of strip reruns of U.S. shows like Two and a Half Men and The Simpsons is no longer tenable in an era in which these programs are available on on-demand platforms like Netflix, both because viewers have a more convenient option for watching them and because their price has gone up as a result.

The application ends: “We believe this is the last opportunity for OMNI to adjust its business model so that its operations can become sustainable.”

The evidence points to that being true. Though Rogers did not state this explicitly, it seems very likely that without approval for this change, OMNI’s future could be in jeopardy. (Rogers did include separate licence amendment requests if the mandatory distribution request is denied, suggesting they’d at least be willing to try keeping it going.) “If this application for mandatory carriage as part of the basic service is denied, OMNI’s future viability is in question as we see no other long term solution other than our proposed national service and a new distribution model,” it writes.

If we assume that OMNI can’t survive without a de facto government bailout, the CRTC must decide whether ethnic over-the-air television in Canada is worth saving in its current form, or whether it should allow OMNI to die in the hope that someone else might take up the challenge. (Requests for new over-the-air television stations are virtually non-existent, but ICI presents a possible alternative — a family-run station that brokers programming using independent producers, running as more of a producers’ cooperative than a for-profit station.)

OMNI cutting its newscasts and replacing them with less expensive current affairs programming has made the case for bailing it out harder (even though a lot of those newscasts were mainly repurposing City News reports). But for many communities, particularly in Toronto, it remains a rare outlet for them to connect with their members.

The commission’s stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Say yes to OMNI’s demand, and you undercut the pick-and-pay policy you just started implementing, forcing people to pay for something they already get for free, and propping up a service that is already failing to meet people’s expectations. Say no, and OMNI risks going out of business, and you’ll be the one they blame for it. Ethnic communities across the country, but particularly in four of its largest cities, will lose access to programming that speaks specifically to them, and there’s no guarantee that someone else will come in and bring it back.

In the end, the debate could come down to a single, fundamental question: Is OMNI worth saving?

Comments on the OMNI application (which can be downloaded here), and licence renewals for OMNI and other Rogers television services, are being accepted until 8pm ET on Aug. 2 (it’s been extended to Aug. 15). Comments can be filed here (select application 2016-0377-0 for the OMNI mandatory distribution request). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (June 28): OMNI has launched a website to drum up public support for its application.

Posted in Radio

Pete Marier loses job at Boom 99.7 in Ottawa

Less than two years after being hired at the Corus-owned classic hits station in Ottawa, Pete Marier is out of a job again. He posted on Facebook that he was given the news over the phone on Thursday, and was told “corporate restructuring” was the reason.

“I am a big boy, with decades of radio experience under my belt, so I am not angry or entirely surprised,” he writes.

The news might be surprising considering just last month the station held a party to celebrate its ratings numbers. It had a 4.7% overall share among anglophones in that ratings report, up from 3.0% a year earlier.

Marier, who left CHOM over a contract dispute in 2011, and whose bridges there were pretty scorched at the time, did some part-time work at The Beat before getting the Boom FM job. Mark Dickie was general manager of Corus’s Ottawa stations when Marier was hired and had been at The Beat before that. Dickie himself left Corus in March.

Also gone from Boom FM, according to a Facebook post, is Sandy Sharkey. Jon “Gonzo” Mark is also not listed on the station’s website, but it says he’s “on vacation.”

For now, Boom’s website doesn’t list hosts for its morning show.

Posted in Media

Federal government fires CRTC commissioner amid legal battle

The stakes in a legal battle between CRTC commissioner Raj Shoan and chairman Jean-Pierre Blais have gone up significantly in the past week.

On Thursday, the government, on advice of Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, terminated Shoan’s appointment “for cause”, without explaining what that cause is.

Shoan announced Friday he would appeal the decision in federal court and seek an injunction to reverse it.

Raj Shoan statement

The only clue as to what caused this in the order is the sentence “certain of his actions brought to her attention called into question his capacity to continue serving as a Commissioner of the CRTC”, and that this happened at some point prior to Feb. 26, 2016. There’s no obvious event that would have triggered this.

But the timing is very suspicious. As Shoan notes, this week there was a hearing into another appeal by Shoan, to have a decision by Blais overturned by the court. Shoan objected to the acceptance of a report that he harassed a member of the CRTC’s staff in a series of emails.

The judge in that hearing seemed to be siding with Shoan, finding it problematic that Blais was both a witness interviewed for the report and the man in charge of accepting it. A decision on the matter was expected by September.

Now the heritage minister is directly involved, there is yet another legal process, the legality of future proceedings could be put into doubt, and all sorts of efforts are going to be focused on this rather than policy matters that could help improve Canada’s chaotically changing broadcast media and telecom industries. And all that because of what so far seems to amount to a personality conflict between two overly assertive men that has gotten out of control.

Posted in TV

Viceland channel to launch French-language sister

Viceland, the Rogers-owned TV channel carrying content from millennial magnet Vice Media, is still in (extended) free previews, but already there’s news of a French-language equivalent.

Vice announced deals in several markets including Australia and India. One of them is a deal with Groupe V Média in Quebec, the owner of the V television network and MusiquePlus and MusiMax, which it picked up from the Bell-Astral merger.

The press release is low on details, but does say there will be a French-language Viceland channel in the mix, along with a new TV studio, “an entity specializing in content marketing as well as the development of international distribution agreements.”

According to Guylaine O’Farrell, V’s general manager of communications and marketing, Vice content will air on V’s existing channels, and the Viceland channel is being planned for sometime in 2017. Asked if this is going to be a new channel or the rebranding of an existing one (Rogers rebranded The Biography Channel to create Viceland, and V is expected to do something drastic with MusiMax), she said that adding it as a new specialty channel “is what is foreseen for the moment.”

Financial details were not disclosed. Rogers’s content deal with Vice was worth $100 million when it was announced in 2014.

Vice has already started producing some content in French. There’s a French version of its daily Vice du jour digital newscast, and it has a bureau in Montreal (where Vice was founded as a magazine in 1994). But it’s unclear how much of Viceland en français’s programming will be original content from Quebec and how much of it will be translated content from English Canada and the rest of the world.

It’s probably a coincidence, but this announcement came the same day the CRTC approved an application by Rogers to sell a 29.9% stake in Viceland to Vice. (Vice has the option of increasing its stake up to 49%.) The price of the sale was not disclosed.

Posted in Montreal, TV

New AMI TV series explores living in Montreal with a disability

You know AMI, right? It’s that channel that you sometimes stumble on that has TV shows and movies you may be familiar with but quickly learn are being broadcast with open video description.

The channel, which gets 20 cents per TV subscriber per month in English Canada (its French-language sister channel AMI télé gets 28 cents per subscriber per month in French-language markets), is also producing more original programming. Among them is a reality TV series called Montreal Housemates, which began last week.

The premise of the show is simple: Three people with different disabilities and one person who has no limitations at all spend a couple of weeks in a house and go about their day, giving us some insight into what their lives are like.

The half-hour weekly series has 10 episodes, and each episode premieres Wednesdays at 7:30pm. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the episodes are available online yet. UPDATE: Full episodes are now being posted. Here’s Episode 1.

Full disclosure: One of the participants, Chris Kennedy, is a friend of mine. And because AMI doesn’t have the kind of marketing power of Bell Media or Corus Entertainment, I might not have learned about this show if it wasn’t for him.

The series isn’t the most exciting one ever. The first episode is pretty slow going. But if you want to learn a bit about how people deal with physical handicaps, and how inaccessible this city really is, without feeling like you’re in a classroom being lectured to, this is a good resource.

The series might have done better had it been held for six months though. Because it was recorded in January, every outdoor scene is in the freezing snow and cold. It’s a bit jarring to watch that when we’re at the end of June just getting over a heat wave.

Posted in TV

Singer/TV host Pierre Lalonde dies

Pierre Lalonde, a singer and one of the few truly bilingual TV personalities in Quebec history, has died. He was 75.

The news was announced just after noon on Wednesday in a brief press release by his agency. It does not say how he died, but he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

The official obituary notice is posted here.

Lalonde hosted series like Jeunesse d’Aujourd’hui, but anglophones might remember him more for his English series like Mad Dash and the Telethon of Stars. As part of its 50th anniversary in 2011, CFCF-12 posted a full episode of the Pierre Lalonde Show on its website.

Coverage from TVA Nouvelles, The Globe and MailCTV MontrealLa Presse and TC Media. The Gazette has a gallery of photos of Lalonde and his family.

The Journal de Montréal compiles reaction from the artistic community.

Tributes from:

Posted in TV

Camille Ross leaving Global Montreal to move to London, Ont.

Camille Ross

Camille Ross, who three and a half years ago launched Global Montreal’s morning show, is leaving the station and the city to move with her new husband to London, Ont.

Ross made the announcement on the show Wednesday morning. Her last show is Thursday.

She hasn’t announced what she’ll be doing in her new home, though she said she would stay in the broadcasting/journalism world. Global doesn’t have a station in London, though CTV does, and Ross worked at CTV before joining Global.

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Posted in Radio

Elliott Price upgrades to daily show on CFMB

Four months after Elliott Price launched his Sunday night sports talk show on CFMB 1280 AM in the aftermath of his layoff from Bell Media, he’s replaced it with a nightly two-hour talk show that begins tonight.

Price is Right will run 8-10pm weekdays, which is an awkward time for a sports talk show because, well, aren’t most people watching sports during those hours? (At least with the Stanley Cup awarded and the NBA championship about to be, the evening sports schedule gets a bit less busy.)

Price’s show replaces not much interesting. Since Evanov Radio purchased the station, the hours of 6pm to 10pm weeknights have been given to “Lounge”, a music show similar to those on Evanov’s Jewel radio stations. The station is still mainly Italian (5am-6pm weekdays), with programming for the Haitian and other ethnic communities after 10pm or on weekends.

The show has lined up several sponsors, which Price promotes during his show and podcast, including Portes Fenêtres Etc., Traiteur Mezza and real estate broker Terry Vlogiannitis. The 44 episodes of his podcast have 14,940 downloads as I write this (an average of 340 each), which isn’t too bad considering TSN 690 has about 2,000 listeners during the average minute.

Posted in Radio

Montreal radio ratings: The Beat gaining on Virgin

Numeris released its spring quarterly ratings report for metered markets this week, of which Montreal is one. The numbers for Montreal’s English market show little change from what we’ve seen for several years now: CJAD leads among all listeners, while Virgin Radio leads among adults age 25-54.

But digging a bit deeper into the numbers by Numeris and research from Bell Media Sales, there are a few things worth noting.

  • Virgin is losing young listeners. Among adults 18-34, Virgin dropped from 40% to 32%, putting it in a dead heat with The Beat.
  • CHOM is now #2 among adults 25-54. It’s tight, but CHOM edged out The Beat to take second place behind Virgin among this advertiser-friendly demographic. But only four percentage points separates Virgin (27%) from The Beat (23%)
  • Virgin is ahead because of men. Virgin and The Beat are neck and neck among women 25-54, but Virgin beats The Beat by five points among men 25-54. The Beat pulling ahead among women would be a big selling point to advertisers.
  • Mornings: Virgin dropped to third place from first in the 6am-10am time slot (adults 25-54). The Beat is well behind the three Bell Media stations, which may have been a factor in the station’s decision to drop Sarah Bartok.
  • Daytime: The Beat is still tops 9-5, but Virgin has dropped below CHOM in third place, losing between 20% and 30% of its average-minute audience since fall.
  • Afternoon drive: This was a good ratings book for Aaron Rand, who climbed CJAD into second from fourth in the 4-7pm block among adults 25-54. Not so great for Mitch Melnick and TSN 690, which lost 40% of its 25-54 audience since fall, probably at least in part because of the Canadiens’ poor season.
  • Weekends: Virgin is still way ahead here.

Naturally, both Virgin and The Beat declared victory, with The Beat boasting about its 2+ rating and high numbers from 9-to-5, and Bell Media boasting about Virgin’s 25-to-54 demo lead and the fact that it owns four of the five stations in this market.

More francophones than anglophones

Numeris’s charts split the audience into French and English markets, but Virgin, The Beat and CHOM all have more francophone listeners than anglophones. When you add up the two languages, these are the average-minute audiences for the stations in Montreal:

  • The Beat: 19,900 (8,800E + 11,100F)
  • Virgin: 17,100 (8,300E + 8,800F)
  • CJAD: 16,300 (15,100E + 1,200F)
  • CHOM: 14,800 (6,900E + 7,900F)
  • CBC Radio One: 3,700 (3,200E + 500F)
  • TSN 690: 2,000 (2,000E + 0F)
  • CBC Radio Two: 1,300 (800E + 500F)

And if you add in the French stations:

  • CHMP 98.5: 38,100 (500E + 37,600F)
  • Rythme FM: 36,500 (1,200E + 35,300F)
  • The Beat: 19,900 (8,800E + 11,100F)
  • Rouge FM: 18,900 (600E + 18,300F)
  • Virgin: 17,100 (8,300E + 8,800F)
  • CJAD: 16,300 (15,100E + 1,200F)
  • ICI Première: 15,300 (400E + 14,900F)
  • CKOI: 15,100 (700E + 14,400F)
  • CHOM: 14,800 (6,900E + 7,900F)
  • Énergie: 9,400 (500E + 8,900F)
  • CJPX Radio Classique: 5,600 (800E + 4,800F)
  • ICI Musique: 4,200 (100E + 4,100F)
  • CBC Radio One: 3,700 (3,200E + 500F)
  • 91.9 Sport: 2,400 (0E + 2,400F)
  • TSN 690: 2,000 (2,000E + 0F)
  • CBC Radio Two: 1,300 (800E + 500F)
  • CKAC Circulation: 300 (0E + 300F)
  • CHRF 980: 100 (0E + 100F)

 

Not only does The Beat have more listeners on average than any other anglophone station, it has more listeners on average than all but one of the francophone music stations as well. (Virgin can crow about its larger reach, breaking 2 million, but someone tuning in a minute or two a month isn’t very valuable, I’d think. And besides, The Beat has a slightly higher reach on a weekly basis among anglophones.)

CHMP 98.5 is still at the top, and its average minute audience of 38,100 continues to make it the most popular radio station not only in Montreal but in Canada. The highest-rated station in Toronto, CHFI-FM, has an overall AMA of 27,400. Most other markets don’t have a station above 10,000.

La Presse and the Journal de Montréal focused on drops for Radio-Canada’s ICI Première and morning man Alain Gravel, while Le Devoir picks a few highlights. La Presse notes that Paul Arcand at 98.5 has an average minute audience of 83,440 (and that’s down significantly), and that all 10 of the most listened-to shows on radio in Montreal are either at 98.5 or Rythme FM.

The news isn’t all bad for Radio-Canada, though. Its weekend evening show La soirée est encore jeune is its most popular among adults 25-54, beating even its weekday morning show.

At the bottom of the ratings, CKLX-FM, now 91.9 Sport, seems to be slowly finding its footing, going up from a 0.9% share to a 1.4% share in the past year. Radio Circulation CKAC is still down in the dumps, mainly because of its repetitive format that no one will listen to for more than a few minutes. But even if you judge it by its daily reach (how many people tune in for at least a minute a day), it’s pretty poor. More francophones will check in with CJAD once a day than this station.

And dead last again is CHRF 980 AM, which abandoned Radio Fierté last year after barely trying it out, and now seems to have adopted a French version of owner Evanov Radio’s Jewel easy-listening format. Its schedule shows it’s bringing back live morning and afternoon programming, and has a weekly show for the LGBT community on Saturday evenings. They’ll need more than that, and some serious marketing, if they hope to make a dent in the ratings.

Posted in Radio

CRTC approves new community radio station in St-Laurent borough

Montreal’s crowded FM band is about to get a little bit more crowded.

On Tuesday, the CRTC approved a new low-power French-language community radio station serving the eastern St-Laurent borough and not much beyond that.

Realistic pattern for new station at 90.7 FM, showing interference from CKUT (purple) and

Realistic pattern for new station at 90.7 FM, showing interference from CKUT (purple) and Ottawa’s CBOF-FM (blue).

The 50-watt station at 90.7 MHz (between CKUT at 90.3 and Radio Ville-Marie at 91.3) is called La Voix de St-Lo, and already operates online. It’s run out of the Centre communautaire Bon Courage de Place Benoit.

Its signal would reach eastern St-Laurent and the Town of Mount Royal, but not much beyond that before being wiped out by CKUT or the Radio-Canada station in Ottawa.

As I explained in January when the application was published, the station’s proposed programming would be mainly one- and two-hour programs, 94% in French but a bit of English, Spanish and Arabic. Music would take up a large part of the programming, but the application says that it would have 42.7% spoken word content, including 75 minutes a week of news. It only proposes broadcasting 70 hours a week (10 hours a day) to start.

The station proposed a high amount of third-language programming, but the CRTC notes in its decision that Montreal has several ethnic radio stations, so it is limited to 15% of programming in a language other than English or French.

It has two years from today to get on the air (but can ask for an extension), and its licence is up in 2022.