Category Archives: Media

How a simple change to NAFTA could dramatically change how Canadians view television

One of the consequences of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States is that now Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are meeting to discuss amendments to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has threatened to pull out of entirely if he doesn’t get his way.

Canada has made clear that it plans to keep cultural exceptions to the free trade agreement, allowing it to continue to protect its cultural institutions from its much larger neighbour. So it might be tempting to think there won’t be any change here.

But there is one change being proposed that could make a huge difference to the Canadian television industry, and its one that proponents on both sides of the border would argue strengthens rather than weakens cultural protection.

It’s called retransmission consent.

CUSFTA, NAFTA and copyright law

When it comes to broadcasting law, NAFTA defers to the earlier Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, whose text is posted online in a PDF. Article 2006 of the CUSFTA lays out requirements and exceptions to copyright law when it comes to retransmission of distant television signals. Under its rules, each country must prohibit non-simultaneous retransmission, or altered retransmission, of signals that aren’t meant for over-the-air broadcast, without the consent of the copyright owner.

But the rules intentionally leave a big hole for simultaneous transmission of over-the-air stations without that consent. As a result, Canadian television distributors can distribute U.S. over-the-air stations (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and PBS) without those stations’ consent or compensation to them, following only the rules set by the CRTC.

This exception to copyright law dates back to the early days of cable TV, when providers picked up the cross-border stations over the air and distributed them to their customers. The rules have been codified since then (generally, providers can distribute two sets of what are called 4+1 stations — PBS is the +1 — and choose to take a group of Eastern time zone stations and a group in the Western time zone) but the essence remains in place to this day, enshrined as section 31 of the Copyright Act.

Some people want to change that, on both sides of the border.

Cross-border unity

On the Canadian side is Bell, which owns CTV stations. Appearing before a parliamentary committee hearing on Sept. 20, Rob Malcolmson, Senior Vice-President, Regulatory Affairs, suggested eliminating section 31 of the Copyright Act entirely, which would mean television providers would need to negotiate carriage of distant signals both Canadian and American. CTV and CTV Two stations being carried outside their markets would get some compensation as a result. (Current copyright law requires TV providers distributing distant stations to compensate rights holders, both Canadian and American, through a fund that taxes them at about $1 per subscriber per month, but that compensates the creators of the programming, not the stations broadcasting them, and it’s not optional.)

Requiring retransmission consent would change a lot for U.S. border stations. Giving them negotiation power would mean they too could get compensated, and just as important, they could set conditions on carriage, which could include things like blackouts for programs they don’t have the Canadian rights to. A content provider (like, say, the NFL) could make this a condition for being broadcast on border stations, and those border stations could make it a requirement for being rebroadcast in Canada.

Or the U.S. stations could simply decide not to be carried in Canada. And that’s exactly what some of them want.

Some U.S. border stations carried in Canada have formed the U.S. TV Coalition, a group that has been actively lobbying the Canadian government to change its laws so those stations have bargaining power or can take themselves out of Canada entirely. Its members include WXYZ-TV and WDIV-TV in Detroit, WIVB-TV and WNLO-TV in Buffalo, and KSTP-TV in Minneapolis.

KSTP in 2015 tried to ask the CRTC to remove its station from the list of those authorized for rebroadcast in Canada. The CRTC refused, saying their consent isn’t needed.

Making simsub moot

So what would happen if this simple but substantial change went through? It’s hard to say exactly, because the Canadian television system has been so reliant on the current scheme. But here are some things that could happen.

First, some U.S. stations could refuse to be carried in Canada, either because they don’t want to deal with getting Canadian rights to programming or because they don’t think they’re being compensated enough. Canadian TV providers would probably find others that would be game for replacing them, since for many U.S. markets (like Burlington/Plattsburgh or Buffalo), the Canadian market is a big source of their audience.

Then, U.S. rights-holders, probably starting with major sports leagues, could start demanding that signals be blacked out in Canada during their programming to protect the rights of their Canadian broadcast partners. The U.S. stations, which now have bargaining power, could impose this requirement on cable companies carrying their stations.

As new carriage agreements are signed with U.S. stations, they could demand direct fees for carriage (which would undoubtedly depend on whether their programming is subject to blackouts). Those fees would be passed on to the consumer, and the days of TV providers including U.S. stations for free in basic cable packages would be gone.

This doesn’t get much attention in Canada, but as Cartt.ca points out, there are also U.S. border communities where Canadian stations are carried on cable TV. Canadian stations could start making similar demands of U.S. cable providers.

If blackouts take hold during primetime series and sporting events, Canada’s simultaneous substitution system becomes moot. (Though an alternative would be to expand simsub so Canadian ads are seen on U.S. stations regardless of when the program airs or where.) If simsub is no longer a major factor in Canadian TV stations’ revenue, they suddenly get a lot more programming flexibility. Rather than CTV, CTV Two, Global and City building their schedules around having as many simultaneously broadcast U.S. network shows as possible, they could schedule their shows whenever they want.

Original Canadian series would no longer get bounced around the schedule. Programs that follow live sports (like NFL games) would no longer have to be delayed so they sync up with the U.S. network’s delay. Sports programming carried on U.S. network stations (particularly NFL games) could be moved to TSN or Sportsnet so local stations could continue to carry local news. Conversely, Canadian sports like the CFL’s Grey Cup could be moved to local stations because the Canadian over-the-air networks would no longer be reserved for simsubbable programming.

It could be a seismic shift in how English Canadians watch television, giving a lot more power and flexibility to Canadian TV networks.

Don’t hold your breath

Or maybe it won’t. Neither government has indicated it wants to press this as an issue, and though the U.S. TV coalition is pushing it, there isn’t much public support.

The reality is that Canadians like being able to watch ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS, and any move that would risk taking those channels away (or subjecting them to blackouts) would be deeply unpopular, no matter how much it might benefit the Canadian system. And it’s not like Canadians are desperate to make the lives and bottom lines of Bell, Corus and Rogers any better.

So this is more of an academic exercise than anything else. Realistically, the system will mostly stay the same until the point where Internet-based video consumption takes over from regulated TV distribution as the main source for popular video content. And the Internet has a separate scheme for ensuring that video doesn’t cross the border when a producer or broadcaster wants to protect their rights.

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News about news

Harvey Weinstein fallout

I won’t begin to try to compile all the news reports, opinion pieces, hot takes and takedowns that came out of the Harvey Weinstein case (except the head of Amazon Studios being sacked for similar reasons), but I will point out a couple of things locally:

At the CRTC

  • The commission has begun its public hearing on the renewal of cable companies’ licences. The oral portion of the hearing focuses on three topics: how they’re dealing with new channel packaging rules, how they’re working toward a system to use set-top box data for ratings purposes, and how they’re supporting their community TV services. The latter part is getting a lot of attention as groups complain about community TV channels owned by cable companies. Transcripts of the hearing, which concludes Thursday, can be found here.
  • The CRTC has announced a hearing April 30, 2018, to discuss the renewals of most mandatory distribution orders, which require all TV subscribers to have certain channels in their basic service. Most services are requesting the status quo, but three are seeking increases to their per-subscriber wholesale rate: CPAC, from $0.12 to $0.13 a month, APTN from $0.31 to $0.36 a month, and audio service Canal M from $0.02 to $0.04 a month. APTN is also requesting a reduction in its CanCon quota from 75% to 70%. Other services requesting renewal are AMI, The Weather Network/MétéoMédia, TV5/Unis, and the Nunavut and NWT legislatures (whose distribution comes with no wholesale fee). Others, such as CBC NN, RDI, TVA and OMNI, will have theirs reviewed at a later date. In all, mandatory services would represent $1.63 in French-language markets (slightly less in English-language ones) if all the increases are approved, which in a world of $25 a month basic cable makes a big difference to distributors’ bottom lines.
  • The CRTC has published two complaints against OMNI over its decision to outsource the production of its Cantonese and Mandarin daily newscasts to Fairchild, which owns Canada’s Chinese-language TV channels. The main complaint by the Unifor union says that OMNI’s licence clearly says OMNI must “produce” the newscasts in question. Comments on the complaints are due Nov. 16.
  • The commission is suspending a proceeding involving a dispute between EBox and Bell Media while it determines how much of the information provided by Bell should be part of the public record.

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Corus agrees to sell Séries+ and Historia to Bell Media for $200 million

Bell Media, Canada’s largest television broadcaster, is getting even bigger by acquiring two French-language services from its closest English-language competitor.

Bell and Corus Entertainment announced Tuesday that they have a deal whereby Bell acquires Séries+ and Historia for a price Corus values at about $200 million, subject to closing costs.

The deal requires approval by the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

That could be difficult, because of the history of the two services. The two were launched in 2000 as a joint venture between Astral Media and Alliance Atlantis. Alliance was then bought by Canwest, then Canwest’s television assets were bought by Shaw. Astral held on to its half of the ownership stake until it was bought by Bell in 2013. As part of its (second) proposal for the acquisition, Bell and Shaw each agreed to sell their half of Séries+ and Historia to Corus.

Now Bell wants to buy it all back. And at a discount, too. When Corus bought them in 2013, each half was valued at about $140 million, for a total price of $280 million. This transaction would be a savings of 29%. PBIT earnings for Historia and Séries+ were $29,881,221 in 2013 and $21,427,553, or a 28% decrease. The change was due mainly to a sudden surge in Séries+’s programming expenses in 2015-16 and a slow decline in ad revenue for both channels.

Corus is selling primarily to cut down its debt, as it says in its statement, but also because the channels are “not core to advancing Corus’s strategic priorities at this time.” The main reason for that is language. Other than these channels, Corus’s only French-language assets are the bilingual channels Teletoon and Disney.

“In the 18 months since Corus acquired Shaw Media, we have demonstrated a resolute commitment to de-lever our balance sheet to 3.5 times net debt to segment profit by the end of fiscal 2017 and 3.0 times by the end of fiscal 2018,” said Doug Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer. “We have successfully accomplished the first step in our journey through the disciplined execution of our integration plan and ongoing advancement of our strategic priorities in fiscal 2017.  As we reviewed our portfolio of assets this year, we determined that while Historia and Séries+ are excellent channels, they are not core to advancing Corus’ strategic priorities at this time. Furthermore, the increased financial flexibility this transaction provides will enable Corus to accelerate our transformation into an industry-leading integrated media and content company.

Corus was embroiled in controversy recently after news came out that Séries+ and Historia would no longer be commissioning original series. It’s unclear if that decision was made in anticipation of this announcement (La Presse first reported on Corus negotiating this deal back in May 2016). Corus remains in control of the channels until the deal is closed, which Bell predicts will happen in mid-2018.

From Bell’s statement:

“The addition of Séries+ and Historia perfectly complements our broad slate of French-language channels, further enhancing our competitiveness in the vibrant Québec media landscape,” said Randy Lennox, President, Bell Media. “We look forward to taking Séries+ and Historia further than ever before, reinforcing our commitment to invest and grow in Québec, and deliver even more opportunities for francophone viewers, producers, and advertisers.”

“Bell Media has had a proven track record of investing in original French-language production, commissioning over 530 original productions from more than 70 francophone producers, and representing nearly 2,700 hours of new programming,” said Gerry Frappier, Bell Media’s President, French-language TV and RDS. “Now with the addition of Séries+ and Historia, we look forward to bolstering our commitment to both francophone viewers and the Québec television production community even more.”

The CRTC’s common ownership policy says generally that deals where a company gets control of more than 35% of the viewing share will be reviewed to determine if it’s in the public interest, and anything higher than 45% would generally be denied. According to the CRTC’s latest Communications Monitoring Report, Bell’s English-language services represent about 37% of viewing hours outside Quebec’s francophone market, and 21% in the Quebec francophone market. Corus’s French-language services (which also include Teletoon) represent only 0.4% of Quebec francophone viewing share. So mathematically, the deal would seem to meet the CRTC’s criteria for approval.

But expect those who came out against the Bell-Astral deal, particularly Quebecor, Cogeco and Telus, to argue that this deal calls into question the integrity of the CRTC’s 2013 decision and that it should be denied as being against the public interest.

Since this is a change in ownership, the deal would also be subject to the CRTC’s tangible benefits policy, which requires 10% of the value of television ownership transactions be spent on funds and projects that benefit the broadcasting system. Under this policy, Bell would be expected to spend $20 million on new projects over the next seven years. No tangible benefits proposal has been released yet, but will become public when the CRTC publishes the application for change in ownership.

Media News Digest: Journalists shielded, CRTC launches consultation, TVA president retires

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What TSN broadcast tonight instead of the Canadiens’ home opener pregame show

The Canadiens aren’t the best hockey team in the world. After losing most of their preseason games and all but one* of their regular season games so far, that much is obvious. But where the team excels is in its ceremonies. And the biggest one of those (at least when there’s no obituary or jersey retirement) is the home opener.

TSN, in the first year of its five-year regional rights deal and only the second broadcast under this deal, had a great few minutes of go-Habs-go content they didn’t even have to produce.

Except they didn’t air any of it. A couple of short clips of two player introductions (one without audio) and the national anthems. I’m not sure if there was a technical problem (more on that later), but there were 10 minutes of player introductions that didn’t make it to air. Instead, here’s what TSN2 showed tonight:

7:00-7:30 pm: An episode of TSN’s That’s Hockey. Mostly panel discussions, but includes some pregame hits from reporter John Lu, including a quick chat with Karl Alzner. Ends with a 20-second wide view of the Bell Centre with no audio — instead we hear host Gino Reda saying the Canadiens game is next.

7:30: Promo IDs, intro montage and intro theme.

7:31: Tessa Bonhomme begins the regional broadcast over video of players in the dressing room and introduces Pierre LeBrun.

(Meanwhile, pregame ceremony at Bell Centre begins with introduction of Canadiens staff.)

7:32: TSN airs pre-recorded discussion with the broadcast team of John Bartlett and Dave Poulin.

7:34: Bonhomme presents graphic showing Canadiens lineup.

(Pregame ceremony introduces head coach Claude Julien.)

7:35: Prerecorded video of Lu interviewing Claude Julien.

(Pregame ceremony begins introducing players.)

7:36: More discussion between Bonhomme and LeBrun in studio.

7:38: Bumper to commercial break with five-second video of Charles Hudon coming onto the ice during player introductions as Bonhomme mentions puck drop coming next. Ads.

(Pregame ceremony ends with introduction of captain Max Pacioretty.)

7:40: Return from commercial break with 25-second video of Jonathan Drouin being introduced “just moments ago”. Video switches to live shot of Bell Centre as Bonhomme awkwardly throws it to Poulin. What follows is 25 seconds of no one speaking until Brigitte Boisjoli begins singing the national anthems. (There’s no graphic or announcer statement to identify her to TSN’s audience, just muffled audio of arena announcer Michel Lacroix.)

7:41: This.

The audio switches a few times between sources that are obviously not in sync, resulting in echoes and jumps during both anthems. Throughout it all you hear booth audio, including some breathing sounds.

7:43: Starting goaltender introductions, listing of officials.

7:44: Puck drop.

Considering what happened with the anthems, maybe it was a technical issue that prevented TSN from getting proper audio from the ceremony. But either way, we expect better from TSN. A lot better.

RDS, of course, broadcast the entire ceremony.

*Correction: I forgot about their win against Buffalo. The Canadiens are 1-3, not 0-4.

How would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada?

Hockey Night in Canada begins its 2017-18 season tonight. And that means another 26 Saturday nights where fans complain about what channel their team’s game is being shown on.

When Rogers acquired national rights to the NHL in 2014, the plan was to give Canadians more choice on Saturday nights, to make use of the multiple Sportsnet channels as well as CBC and City to let a Canadiens fan in Moose Jaw, a Leafs fan in Corner Brook and a Flames fan in Sarnia watch their team’s games. This differed from the previous system, where CBC split its network geographically and decided for each station which NHL team it wanted viewers to see.

The downside to this new system is that not all games are free. With as many as seven Canadian teams playing on a Saturday night (though the HNIC schedule never has more than five games on any night this season), only three broadcasts are on free over-the-air channels: early games on CBC and City, and a late game on CBC. And generally Rogers respects a pecking order: Leafs almost always get priority on CBC, and the Canucks generally get the 10pm game if they’re playing then.

Though it has in the past put Habs games on Sportsnet to try to drive subscriptions, so far this season it looks like the Canadiens are headed to City on Saturdays, except when they’re playing the Leafs. Mind you, Sportsnet is busy with baseball playoffs, so it may not be an entirely altruistic move. But even if it stays that way, that means the Senators and Jets get moved to Sportsnet channels, along with the Oilers and Flames.

Scheduling Saturday nights is so delicate that Rogers doesn’t pick channel assignments before the season except for the first month. Instead, the assignments are chosen a week or two in advance. That way, a team that is getting popular later in the season, or faces a highly anticipated matchup, might get a more prominent channel than one that’s fading.

So, confident in the knowledge that you know better than they do, how would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada? Give it a shot below.

The rules

Create your own procedure for scheduling Hockey Night in Canada games. The rules have to involve all seven Canadian teams, and should be applicable to as many as three early games (7pm) and two late games (10pm).

The rules are subject to the following technical abilities and limitations:

  • The CBC network can be split geographically, but only with 14 stations: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton, Charlottetown Halifax, St. John’s and Yellowknife. If you split the network, assign a game to each station.
  • The City network can also be split geographically, with stations in each Canadian NHL market except Ottawa, which is a retransmitter of City Toronto and can’t carry a different game.
  • OMNI, which carries Hockey Night in Punjabi, has stations in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. If you ask nicely maybe you can convince Montreal’s ICI to join.
  • Most people don’t get out-of-market CBC, City and OMNI stations, or if they do, it’s not in high definition.
  • Sportsnet can be split up between East (Montreal, Ottawa), Ontario (Toronto), West (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton) and Pacific (Vancouver). Most people now do get the four channels, but some still only have their local one, or just the local one in HD.
  • Sportsnet can’t always be monopolized for hockey. The baseball playoffs are on right now, and the main Sportsnet channels are showing that tonight, so they’re not usable for HNIC. There are also Toronto Raptors games to consider.
  • Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One are also available, but can’t be split geographically. They have fewer subscribers than the main Sportsnet channels.
  • The Sportsnet One overflow channels, Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Oilers are also available, though they’re not distributed outside their teams’ regions and not everyone gets them inside their regions either.
  • FX Canada is available (Rogers’s original plan was to use it for a U.S. team matchup), but it doesn’t have many subscribers and its audience doesn’t overlap with sports lovers very much.
  • Any channel with both an early game and a late game has to have a plan in case the early game goes past 10pm. Do you stick with the early game and join the late in progress? Do you start the late game on a backup channel?

There are also economic considerations to take into account:

  • Like it or not, the Maple Leafs are the biggest draw on English TV. Your biggest ad revenue will come from the Leafs game.
  • As someone who spent $5.2 billion on NHL rights, you want to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet, particularly for teams like Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal where you don’t have the regional rights to those teams’ games.

And finally, you need to keep it relatively simple. If you split the CBC, City and Sportsnet networks and what channel a team’s game is on varies by city, you risk making it so complicated for people to watch that they just give up.

So how would you make it work?

My suggestion

Here’s one plan I would offer for consideration:

  • Go back to splitting the CBC network geographically. All seven NHL markets get their local NHL team. The other seven stations could have viewers decide which team they want. (Windsor getting the Red Wings would be great if possible.) Markets where the local team plays at 10pm ET get an early Leafs or Canadiens game but cut to the local team when their game begins.
  • Put the Canadiens on City coast to coast. Just cuz. Consider putting a late game on City, too, if there’s more than one that night.
  • Split Sportsnet: Senators on Sportsnet East, Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario, Flames, Oilers or Jets on Sportsnet West and Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. Offer local pregame and postgame shows on those channels.
  • Sorry, Jets, you get bumped to Sportsnet One if there aren’t any free channels up the food chain.
  • If you don’t need it to show a full game, turn Sportsnet 360 into an on-the-fly channel checking in on various games at key moments. Maybe even do split-screen. See what works. It can also be used for pregame and postgame shows while the other channels are showing early and late games.
  • Use the Canucks/Flames/Oilers SN1 channels for alternative feeds of some sort when those teams are in action. Star cam, goalie cam, shaky ref cam? Go nuts.
  • Keep HNIC Punjabi going, but don’t limit it to Leafs and Canucks games. Mix it up a bit. Consider translating into other languages (Mandarin, Italian, Arabic) through partnerships with Canadian broadcasters in those languages.

So for tonight, it would work out like this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • OMNI 7pm: Leafs. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet: MLB playoffs.
  • Sportsnet One: Leafs, followed by Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet 360: Senators, followed by combined Sens/Leafs/Habs postgame show.

If Sportsnet were available, it would be this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • Sportsnet East: Senators, followed by Senators postgame
  • Sportsnet Ontario: Leafs, followed by Leafs postgame
  • Sportsnet West: Jets/Flames pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet Pacific: Oilers/Canucks pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet One: Other programming until 9:30pm, followed by Montreal postgame
  • Sportsnet 360: Live look-ins across the league

The big advantage is that every market gets their local team. The big disadvantage is that it’s more complex, and there’s duplication. (Montreal gets the Habs on both CBC and City, for example.) I’m not sure it’s much better than Rogers’s current system for anyone living outside their local team’s market.

But maybe you have a better solution. Go ahead and try. Offer your suggestions in the comments below.

Videotron customers can finally livestream TSN and RDS

The day we’ve been waiting years for has finally arrived: Videotron customers can finally stream TSN and RDS online and on mobile apps.

The news was just announced via text message. Not only can people watch both Bell Media services through the Videotron website and Illico app, but Videotron customers can also login through TSN.ca and watch the network there. And it’s available through the RDS Go app.

Both of these systems are authenticated, which means you need to be a subscriber to the channels you want to watch, and whether you’re watching through a Videotron platform or a TSN/RDS one, you need to login with your Videotron username and password when prompted. But otherwise there’s no additional fee for watching them online or on mobile (except mobile data charges if you’re using mobile networks).

But it means if you want to watch the Canadiens this season (and what a coincidence, their season starts tonight), you can finally do so on the go legally as a Videotron subscriber.

(For whatever reason, Videotron is offering livestreaming of only TSN2 and TSN5 through its platforms, but all TSN’s Canadiens games are on TSN2.)

Unfortunately, the deal doesn’t include Sportsnet, which still isn’t available this way. Maybe someday…

Options for watching TSN and RDS live

Luc Lavoie and the old boys club

Dec. 18, 2011: North Korean state television announces the death of its dear leader, Kim Jong-Il. On a Sunday evening past 10pm, LCN anchor Melissa François announces the news on air, but (probably in part because of how much a lowercase L looks like an uppercase I) she pronounces his name as “Kim Jong Deux”. A clip of this is posted online and spreads around the French-speaking world, much to LCN’s ridicule.

François was pulled off the air and reassigned to a desk job. Her union defended her and asked TVA to put her back on the job, which in turn caused the president of the union to be suspended. She eventually left and got another job at Radio-Canada.

Oct. 3, 2017: On the LCN politics show La Joute, the three hosts are discussing a less serious story than most: Petitions to the National Assembly about the hunting of squirrels. One petition calls for it to be banned, the other for it to be protected.

Luc Lavoie tries to add a joke about legalizing such hunting (with firearms) in urban areas, because they’re a nuisance. He adds:

In fact, I would have liked to be able to hunt separatists, but it seems it’s not possible.

His cohosts, Paul Laroque and Bernard Drainville, immediately tell him he shouldn’t joke about that, as Lavoie lets out a laugh, apparently amused by his own joke.

It’s too late. A few of the people watching hit rewind on their PVRs, record the exchange and post it to social media, where it goes viral.

Lavoie later posts an apology on Facebook (saying he did so without being asked), and the 11pm rebroadcast of the show is spiked, replaced by a rebroadcast of the 10pm newscast.

The next day, the statement becomes even bigger news. La Presse reports the SQ is investigating. Politicians issue statements condemning the remarks.

Groupe TVA issues a statement that says the comments are unacceptable and Lavoie has apologized. But it mentions no sanction, despite calls from various directions that Lavoie be fired. Three hours later, it issues another statement, saying Lavoie is being removed from the air because of the SQ investigation. The existence of a complaint to the SQ seems like less of a triggering factor than TVA perhaps realizing that people are reacting negatively to their earlier non-firing of him.

Deux poids, deux mesures

So what’s the difference between these two cases? Well, a lot. One was an honest mistake that resulted in mockery. The other was a bad joke that resulted in condemnation. Both were mistakes made by people who should have known better.

But the difference in reaction doesn’t have to do as much with what happened or the amount of reaction to it. Rather, it’s who they are. François was a junior anchor, hired only the previous year, doing a weekend shift. Lavoie is one of the faces of LCN, a former executive vice-president of Quebecor, a deputy chief of staff to Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister, and a friend and sometimes spokesperson for Pierre Karl Péladeau.

One is an expendable employee (who couldn’t be dismissed outright because she was in a union). The other is one of the boys-will-be-boys boys, who gets the benefit of the doubt when he jokingly suggests shooting separatists two days after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

(And, as has been pointed out, this isn’t the first time Lavoie has had to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth on the air. Or the first time he’s said something stupid.)

So it’s entirely understandable in this context to expect that Lavoie’s suspension will be temporary. Maybe he’ll need to find another job, lay low for a while and do something less in the public eye, but his friend PKP won’t abandon him unless he has no other choice.

I generally don’t believe in firing people for single mistakes like this. I find the punishment over-the-top, and ineffective as a deterrent. I’d rather people be required to make some form of restitution and learn from the experience.

So I don’t necessarily want Lavoie to lose his job. But he owes people a more serious explanation than what he posted on his (since-deleted) Facebook page. He needs to explain what he could have been thinking that would lead him to believe that hunting separatists with guns was funny.

And maybe the producers of La Joute can consider that having three well-paid middle-age-or-older white guys hosting a political discussion show comes with an inherent lack of perspective that leads to people being comfortable with speaking before they think.

UPDATE: Lavoie is back on the air.

Media News Digest: Global Montreal hosts municipal debates, Groupe Capitales Médias cuts ties with La Presse

News about news

  • Tom Petty died, then undied, then died again within 24 hours. The confusion began when CBS News reported Petty’s death, citing the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD later apologized for “inadvertently” presenting false information to journalists. Petty had suffered a heart attack, but was technically still alive. The error prompted the usual holier-than-thou handwringing scolding journalists to get it right (without of course setting any standard for when you consider something “right”). The lesson to take out of this, once again, is that even official sources can be wrong.
  • The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has come out with decisions against Global News BC and CTV News Vancouver over their decisions to air video of a stabbing at a school in Abbotsford, B.C. Though both broadcasters were aware of the sensitivity of the video, issued warnings about their broadcast (though Global failed to do so in one instance) and even blurred parts of it, the CBSC found that “the video, even in its edited form, did not contribute to the story and therefore showed inappropriate editorial judgment on the part of the broadcaster” on top of being disrespectful to a young victim. Both were required to issue on-air apologies.
  • In a decision that is for some reason undated, the National Newsmedia Council has dismissed a complaint against the National Post that accused it of stealing a Blacklock’s Reporter story without credit. The council found that both organizations reported the same story independently, with the Post publishing a day after Blacklock’s.
  • TVA has suspended Luc Lavoie after he made a joke on LCN about hunting separatists with guns.
  • The Assemblée francophone de l’Ontario has made propositions to protect francophone media in the province, among them requiring the provincial government to devote 5% of ad spending to francophone media.
  • The heads of francophone media outlets in Quebec gathered for a panel discussion about the future of media. Le Devoir summarizes how it went.

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Media News Digest: CBC Montreal open house, EBOX complains about Bell Media, Mercer Report starts final season

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At the CRTC

  • The Globe’s Christine Dobby sits down with new CRTC chair Ian Scott.
  • Michael Geist points out an order in council issued last week that requires the CRTC produce a report about how programming is distributed and how that will change in the coming years. This sounds a lot like work the commission has already done in its Let’s Talk TV process and discoverability conferences.
  • EBOX, an independent Internet provider in Quebec and Ontario, has decided to enter the TV distribution industry in Quebec’s major cities, but has run into a wall negotiating a distribution deal with … oh, go ahead, guess … yup, Bell Media. According to EBOX’s complaint of undue preference at the CRTC, Bell cut off negotiations, citing something about EBOX’s behaviour, and said it was no longer interested in allowing any Bell Media channels (TSN, RDS, Discovery, Space, Bravo, D, Vie, Investigation, CTV News Channel, Comedy, Much, Z, TMN, HBO) to be distributed by EBOX. Bell’s initial response says it has done nothing against the rules and will explain its dealings with EBOX.
  • Michael Geist notes (and CBC picks up) that Bell argued at a committee hearing into NAFTA renegotiations that there should be criminal provisions to prevent piracy and a CRTC-managed list of websites that Canadian ISPs should block for piracy violations.

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MAtv season begins with new interview series Montrealers

In the spring of 2016, a young eager TV producer named Leah Balass asked me out to coffee to pick my brain about finding a way to sell a series she was working on that featured long-form interviews with interesting people. It was called Curiosity Craves.

Unfortunately there aren’t too many places to sell those things to these days. Local commercial television stations don’t commission local TV series for local broadcast anymore (City’s short-lived Only in Montreal was the last series done this way). So I suggested, since her interview subjects were in Montreal, that she try going to community television, either Videotron’s MAtv or Bell’s TV1, which have budgets for local community productions.

More than a year later, her project has been repackaged as Montrealers, an eight-episode half-hour series that debuts today on MAtv. (Its first broadcast was actually this morning, but its advertised debut is at 7:30pm).

Here’s what the official description of the show says:

MONTREALERS focuses on the art of conversation, creating an environment of open dialogue; for both the interviewee and the interviewer. With characters from an array of backgrounds, including Greek, Indian, Brazilian, Japanese, Egyptian, Iranian, and French – MONTREALERS is an all-inclusive show that gives all voices meaning. In this intimate interview series, the most inspiring stories can be found in the lives of everyday people. Leah Balass sits down with Montreal’s most colorful personalities to uncover their captivating life stories and to celebrate the various cultures that make up this unique city. Each episode features personal stories on immigration, love, identity, struggle, culture  and tradition.

The series is well shot and the interview subjects interesting. (One of the people featured in the first episode, Dave Arnold aka Mr. Sign, was also featured on an episode of Only in Montreal.) It goes for being touching and uplifting with calm sit-down interviews.

Mike Cohen at the Suburban talked with Balass and co-producer Christos Sourligas.

Also this fall are new episodes of Urban Nations by Lachlan Madill and CityLife hosted by Richard Dagenais. Returning in December is Culture Zone, a bilingual program featuring stories produced by volunteers, and an English version of the magazine show Ma curieuse cité (My Curious City).

The programming for this year, which also includes existing series Studios, Lofts & Jam Spaces, The Street Speaks and Jazz Yoga Ayurveda, doesn’t change the linguistic balance of the station, which is 21% anglophone.

But with a 25% budget cut, it means less money overall, and the Montrealers-making-a-difference series Montreal Billboard had to pay the price for that.

 

Tootall’s last day

It’ll be weird not hearing Tootall’s voice on the radio. You won’t notice it at first — after all, everyone takes vacations — but eventually, a subtle void will develop, a silence where there used to be this calm voice welcoming you to the Electric Lunch Hour and

The man who never tells you his real height or his real age said his final goodbye on the air yesterday. The video is above and the audio is posted on CHOM’s website. It features thank-yous from music director Picard and Bell Media executive and former CHOM boss Martin Spalding.

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Media News Digest: Bad Blood debuts, Randy Renaud replaces Tootall, The Bridge replaces Cinq à six

News about news

At the CRTC

  • Evanov Radio has proposed a way out of its Toronto problem: A station licensed to the suburb of Orangeville (CIDC-FM Z103.5) that’s being prevented from formally expanding into Toronto, and another licensed in downtown Toronto (CIRR-FM Proud FM 103.9) that for technical reasons can’t expand its signal beyond 225W. Under the proposed changes, Z103 increases power but adopts a directional lemon-shaped signal that avoids Toronto, while Proud FM goes from 225W to 10,000W and changes frequency from 103.9 to 103.7 to greatly expand its reach in Canada’s largest city. The applications are posted here and accepting comments until Oct. 16. The CRTC has screwed over Z103 by on the one hand preventing it from offering a better signal in Toronto because it’s licensed to Orangeville, but on the other hand licensing another station in Orangeville because it determined that Z103 was too Toronto-focused.
  • Maclean’s has a story about how RT (Russia Today) is still available on Canadian TV providers, usually for free or at very low cost. (Videotron is not one of those providers.) The CRTC says its status is not under review. But as Greg O’Brien notes, someone could file a complaint.
  • The commission has denied a request from Canal Évasion to lower its Canadian programming expenditure quota from 46% to 32%. The commission found holes in its reasoning (comparing Évasion to Astral channels without taking into account changes since their purchase by Bell Media) and determined it would be better to ask for such changes when their licence is up for renewal.
  • The commission has denied a request from the CBC to offer an analog subchannel of CBL-FM (CBC Radio Two Toronto) to a Tamil-language service. The commission felt such a service would compete with a recently-licensed ethnic station and an existing Tamil subchannel service.

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TSN to air 50 Habs games on TSN2, hires John Bartlett for play-by-play

With just three days to go until the first preseason game, TSN has finally announced broadcasting details for the Canadiens this season, the first after re-acquiring regional rights from Sportsnet.

TSN will air five of the eight preseason games, and all 50 regular-season games it has rights to, on TSN2*, which solves the issue of possible scheduling conflicts on TSN5, which is the main channel in the shared region of the Senators and Canadiens.

The remaining 32 regular-season games, including all Saturday night games, are national games that will air on Sportsnet-controlled channels.

TSN2 is a good solution to scheduling, offering a consistent channel without having to expand to a sixth feed. It does mean that anyone in eastern Canada who only has one TSN channel won’t see the games, though the number of people in that situation is pretty small these days. And it means TSN2 will be blacked out in the rest of Canada for 56 three-hour periods of the season, mainly in primetime on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that’s not the end of the world. TSN has four other channels and the Jets, Leafs and Senators won’t all be playing at the same time very often.

*Two of those preseason games are against the Senators, and will air on TSN5 instead for both markets.

Bartlett is back

After spending weeks, even months, choosing not to comment about his future, even after stripping Sportsnet from his Twitter profile, John Bartlett can finally announce he will continue to be the voice of the Canadiens on television. Bartlett, who used to be the voice of the Habs on TSN 690 until he was hired by Sportsnet, goes back to TSN to call its regional games this season.

Assisting Bartlett are three analysts:

  • Dave Poulin, former NHL player for the Flyers, Bruins and Capitals, and former VP of Hockey Operations for the Maple Leafs
  • Mike Johnson, a one-season Canadiens player and analyst who was one of the cuts at Sportsnet last year
  • Craig Button, a Montrealer and veteran TSN and NHL Network hockey analyst

The broadcasts will be hosted by Tessa Bonhomme, star women’s hockey player and TSN broadcaster, and Glenn Schiiler, host of TSN’s That’s Hockey 2night.

The full schedule is here.

Also announced today are the regional schedules for TSN’s other teams. TSN will broadcast:

Media News Digest: Complaints about OMNI, Global Quebec turns 20, L’Actualité changes format

News about news

At the CRTC

  • New chairman Ian Scott has issued a statement as he begins his mandate. It’s brief, but seems to focus on the consumer-oriented mandate of his predecessor Jean-Pierre Blais. It also continues Blais’s tradition of referring to himself as “chief executive officer”, though not his tradition of beginning every statement by paying tribute to the elders of the closest indigenous people.
  • Unifor has announced it will file a CRTC complaint against Rogers’s OMNI over its decision to outsource the production of its Mandarin and Cantonese newscasts to Fairchild, which owns Canada’s biggest Chinese television channel and runs the main competitor in providing Canadians with news in these languages. Unifor argues this goes against the licence granted to OMNI and the accompanying must-carry order, which says “the licensee shall produce and broadcast” daily newscasts in the four languages (it produces the Punjabi and Italian newscasts in-house). The commission may have to split hairs on what the word “produce” means in this context.
  • Speaking of OMNI, Rogers filed a request to amend the licence for its new OMNI regional feeds to correct what it saw as a typo: It required ICI in Quebec to produce 14 hours of original local programming a week for the Quebec OMNI feed, when Rogers says it meant to say 14 hours a month. But intervenors including Quebecor, Cogeco and the Community Media Advocacy Centre strongly objected to this, saying it amounts to getting a licence under false pretences. Complicating matters is that the conditions of licence first imposed on ICI in 2012 contain an inconsistency between French and English versions. The French version says “le titulaire doit, au cours de chaque semaine de radiodiffusion, diffuser 14 heures d’émissions locales originales à caractère ethnique, calculées mensuellement”, while the English version says “in each broadcast month, the licensee shall broadcast 14 hours of original local ethnic programming, calculated monthly.” (Emphasis mine.) The preamble in both languages makes clear that ICI’s commitment was 14 hours a week of local ethnic programming, but didn’t specify that this commitment was for original programs. It’s also redundant to say “each broadcast month” and “calculated monthly.” Until this application is approved, ICI’s original condition of licence remains.
  • The commission has approved a request by CHOD-FM Cornwall, a francophone community station serving eastern Ontario, for another transmitter farther north in Dunvegan (I first reported on this in April). The new transmitter is on the same frequency, 92.1 MHz, so they’ll either need to synchronize the two (which is tricky) or there’s gonna be interference for people between the two transmitters.

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