Category Archives: Media

CityNews Montreal review: Taking content recycling to a new level

CityNews didn’t hide the fact that its local newscasts would be repetitive. In fact, they spun it as a design feature: few people will watch a full one-hour newscast, so it makes sense to make sure the top local stories are repeated so people get them whether they tune in at 6pm or 6:30pm.

Fair enough.

But it also means the news can be done on the cheap. With only two full-time reporters to start, plus a part-time reporter, BT’s news reporter and a guest contributor, they just don’t have enough staff to fill 14 one-hour newscasts a week.

To get an idea of what that means quantitatively, I recorded the first 14 episodes of CityNews Montreal’s newscast, the week of Sept. 3-9, at 6pm and 11pm, and timed its segments (705 segments total, with 13 attributes of each marked down). Here’s what stuck out to me:

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Quebecor’s QUB Radio could change the business, but it’s technically incomplete

If you’ve been watching TVA or LCN (Oct. 4, Oct. 6, Oct. 13Oct. 14, Oct. 15) or reading the Journal de Montréal (Oct. 4, Oct. 5, Oct. 6, Oct. 10, Oct. 14Oct. 15, plus this and this) you’ve been bombarded with news about QUB Radio, Quebecor’s new online radio station. It launched on Monday, providing live talk programming from 6am to 5pm on weekdays and filling the rest of the schedule with repeats, podcasts and rebroadcasts of TVA/LCN news programming.

On one hand, this kind of major effort from a large media company could be what pushes mainstream audiences into online radio. On the other hand, the QUB platform is missing basic features that make it unnecessarily frustrating to consume.

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Media News Digest: La Presse launches foundation, two new dramas at Citytv, HuffPost Québec axes editor

News about news

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Rogers expands Sportsnet Now with second tier that lifts some NHL blackouts

Sportsnet Now, the over-the-top service that Rogers is making available to people without a cable TV subscription, is expanding with a new premium tier called Sportsnet Now+.

At the same time, the price of the basic tier is dropping, from $25 a month to $20. It remains free for people who subscribe to Sportsnet channels through a TV provider that has a deal with Sportsnet (most of them do now). The higher tier is $28 a month.

Here’s the difference between the two.

Sportsnet Now (basic tier), $19.99/month

As before, this tier offers live programming you would normally get on Sportsnet regional channels, Sportsnet One (including the Canucks, Flames and Oilers overflow channels) and Sportsnet 360. It also includes Hockey Night in Canada games that air on CBC and Citytv on Saturday nights.

All nationally-broadcast NHL games are included, as well as regional NHL games where Sportsnet is the regional broadcaster (Canucks, Flames, Oilers and 16 Leafs games) for people in that region.

This service is free if you have a Sportsnet subscription to all the channels through a participating provider.

Sportsnet Now+, $27.99/month

The premium tier includes everything in the basic tier, plus additional European league soccer games and 64-125 more NHL games, depending on region.

Specifically, the tier removes blackouts on games broadcast by Sportsnet in another region, except where that game is also broadcast by another broadcaster (i.e. TSN) in that region.

It does not remove blackouts on TSN games, which means it won’t expand access to Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens games.

For example:

  • Tonight’s home opener where the Canadiens play the L.A. Kings isn’t available on either tier anywhere in the country
  • Tonight’s Oilers-Bruins game on Sportsnet West is available in Alberta on Sportsnet Now and in the rest of the country on Sportsnet Now+
  • The Oct. 23 game where the Canadiens (TSN2) play the Calgary Flames (Sportsnet Flames) is available in Alberta and Saskatchewan on Sportsnet Now and in B.C., Manitoba and most of Ontario on Sportsnet Now+. The latter will see only the Flames broadcast. People in the Canadiens’ region won’t be able to see the game at all on Sportsnet.

For U.S.-only matchups, only games broadcast on Sportsnet will be available on either tier.

In short, this new tier would be useful for, say, a Canucks, Flames or Oilers fan in Toronto, who would get access to all their games (except one Flames game against the Leafs, which TSN has rights to in Toronto).

For everyone else wanting out-of-market games online, Rogers NHL Live ($30 a month or $200 for the season) is still the only option. That includes national games and out-of-market games but not in-market games.

Sportsnet Now launched two years ago, becoming the first to offer a major sports subscription for people without cable. TSN followed with its of $25/month offer, and the basic tier price reduction may put pressure on TSN to lower its over-the-top price.

There does not appear to be any option for people with regular TV subscriptions to Sportsnet to get a discounted upgrade to Sportsnet Now+.

CRTC approves Cogeco acquisition of 10 RNC Media stations

The CRTC has approved the $18.5-million acquisition of 10 RNC Media radio stations by Cogeco, representing two thirds of RNC’s network of stations.

Affected stations are:

  • Planète 104.5 in Alma
  • Planète 93.5 in Chibougamau
  • Planète 99.5 in Roberval
  • Planète 100.3 in Dolbeau-Mistassini
  • Radio X 95.7 in Saguenay (repeater at 96.3 Alma)
  • Capitale Rock 104.3 in Val-d’Or
  • Capitale Rock 102.1 in La Sarre (repeater at 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda)
  • WOW 96.5 in Rouyn-Noranda (repeaters at 103.5 Val d’Or and 103.9 La Sarre)
  • Pop 104.9 in Lachute
  • Pop 102.1 in Hawkesbury

Of the remaining stations, two are being sold to Leclerc Communication:

  • CKLX-FM (91,9 Sports) in Montreal
  • CHOI-FM (Radio X) in Quebec City

The remaining three are presumably on the market with no sale announced yet (but I’m told there are talks with at least one potential buyer):

  • CHXX-FM (Pop 100.9) in Donnacona (serving Quebec City, repeater at 105.5 Lotbinière)
  • CFTX-FM (Pop 96.5) In Gatineau (repeater at 107.5 Buckingham)
  • CHLX-FM (Wow 97.1) in Gatineau

The acquisitions bring Cogeco’s radio network from 13 to 23 stations, and means Cogeco’s first expansion into the Saguenay and Abitibi regions. Of population centres over 15,000, the only ones that wouldn’t be within 100 kilometres of a Cogeco transmitter will be Rimouski and Sept-Îles.

A map of Quebec’s major commercial radio networks: Cogeco Media (purple), RNC Media (red, with approved sales in reddish purple), Bell Media (blue), Attraction Radio (black) and Groupe Radio Simard (gold). Retransmitters are in a lighter colour.

Notable aspects of this transaction:

  • Cogeco plans no immediate change to the “vocation” of the radio stations, which will remain local.
  • Cogeco plans to introduce local newscasts to the Lachute station. For other stations, the benefits come mainly through access to the infrastructure of Cogeco Nouvelles.
  • The commission has accepted Cogeco’s proposed tangible benefits of $1,184,217, based on a total transaction value of $19,736,958. The breakdown uses the standard formula for radio, with:
    • $592,109 (3%) to Radio Starmaker Fund or Fonds Radiostar
    • $296,054 (1.5%) to FACTOR or Musicaction
    • $98,684 (0.5%) to the Community Radio Fund of Canada
    • $197,370 (1%) to discretionary initiatives
  • The nature of the discretionary initiatives isn’t specified, but Cogeco said it would include six-week paid internships at its radio stations. The commission pushed back on this (tangible benefits are not allowed to be self-serving), and Cogeco responded by saying it would use $10,000 a year for bursaries instead. The rest of the discretionary money would go to local initiatives, broken down as follows:
    • $10,000 a year in the Saguenay region
    • $5,000 a year in the Abitibi region
    • $3,196 a year in the Lachute-Hawkesbury region
  • The contract includes a 36-month service contract for RNC Media to continue providing local news, office space, outdoor advertising, transmitters and technical support for the stations in the Abitibi region after the deal closes. Following that, Cogeco will rent space for three transmitters at two sites from RNC for $5,000 a year each for 10 years (indexed to the consumer price index), and two transmitters at a third site for five-year renewable leases for a price to be negotiated.
  • The radio stations (bought by Cogeco) and TV stations (retained by RNC Media) in the Abitibi region will continue to cross-promote for a period of 24 months after the acquisition. The exact value of these ads is confidential, but will be the same for both sides. A similar ad exchange deal is in place for Cogeco’s CKOF-FM (104,7) and RNC Media’s TV stations in Gatineau, even though those stations aren’t part of this transaction.
  • Cogeco acquires the WOW brand (used by CHOA-FM in Val-d’Or) and gives RNC Media a licence to continue to use the brand for its Gatineau station. Cogeco also acquires the Planète and Capitale Rock trademarks.
  • RNC Media holds on to the POP brand (used by CFTX-FM in Gatineau and CHXX-FM in Donnacona) but gives Cogeco licence to use it for the Rouyn-Noranda station.
  • RNC also keeps the Radio X brand, which is used by CKYK-FM in Saguenay. Cogeco can use the KYK logo, but without any mention of Radio X. There does not appear to be transition allowance here, which means it would have to change the branding as soon as the deal closes.
  • Cogeco says of the 220 on-air employees it will have if the transaction is approved, 92 (42%) are women, 4 (2%) people with disabilities, 2 (1%) visible minorities and 1 (0.5%) Indigenous person. (In the application, Cogeco gets the math wrong by two decimal places on the last three percentages there, making it look even worse.)
  • About 55 employees will move with the stations — 10 in Abitibi, 44 in Saguenay and one in Lachute. Three of those employees are currently on leave.
  • The deal will close on the first of the month after CRTC approval. This is listed as the only remaining condition for closing.
  • The deal includes a non-compete agreement for Val d’Or, La Sarre, Rouyn-Noranda, Lachute, Hawkesbury, Amos, Dolbeau, Roberval, Alma, Chibougamau and Saguenay, for a confidential period.

Media News Digest: BBC Kids to go dark, Time Out to launch in Montreal, Scott Moore leaves Sportsnet

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Review: A mostly flawless election night for 2/4 English TV networks

Election nights are always fun. All hands on deck, at night on the tightest of deadlines, working together to report on the story of the year.

Each medium has its own challenges, but TV has the highest stakes. Everyone’s watching — including the politicians — and seconds count. Make an early call that turns out to be right, and you get supreme bragging rights. Get it wrong, and you’re a laughingstock. And you have to fill hours of programming, usually without even the benefit of a commercial break.

Four TV networks broadcast live election specials during primetime on Monday night on their local TV stations and all-news networks — Radio-Canada, TVA, CBC and CTV. Two others had live wrap-ups at 11pm: Citytv and Global.

I checked in with all of them on election night (though I was busy with helping put out a newspaper), and reviewed recordings of the four English networks after the fact. (I’ll leave it to my francophone colleagues to review how RadCan and TVA did.) Here’s how they did:

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Why doesn’t TSN have Canadiens pregame and postgame shows? I asked them

The NHL season begins tonight, and that means yet another year of WTF-why-is-my-Canadiens-game-blacked-out pleas on social media and email.

So once again the Gazette asked me to put together a full 82-game schedule listing what channels each game is on (we’re also making printable letter-sized versions available). It was printed in Tuesday’s paper, which had a lot of other news content as well. The story next to it is mainly an interview with Bryan Mudryk, TSN’s new play-by-play man for (most of) their Canadiens games this season.

I also spoke with Paul Graham, TSN’s executive producer of live events. He was on the phone in Helsinki at the time, signing new agreements for international hockey. (He took the time to remind me that TSN airs far more hockey than ever before, even though it doesn’t have the Wednesday night national games and first-round playoff series that it did before the Rogers deal.)

Just before I hung up with him, I asked Graham about why we don’t see more pregame and postgame Canadiens programming during the TSN regional games, like we see on RDS and TVA Sports.

“In our minds for the most part we already have a pregame show, and it’s That’s Hockey,” he said. “It’s just not specific to one team.”

The exception is in Winnipeg, “mostly based on time zone.” Because it’s an hour behind and its home games generally start an hour later, it will have its own version of the program on TSN3.

But producing separate Leafs, Senators and Canadiens pregame and postgame shows wouldn’t be worth the cost because people don’t really care about that stuff, he said.

“What we found, quite honestly, from a research perspective, is that when you talk about post-game shows, they’re really there for the die-hard fans, that most people just watch the game and they’re done. And so what we try to do is we try to get to SportsCentre as quickly as possible. And still include key elements of what you would hear in a post-game show anyways, which would be comments from our broadcasters that did the game, dressing room post-game comments from, in this case, John Lu, and then our hosts on SportsCentre, if the story dictates it for that night, going a little bit longer on one particular item. So there’s no real plan to have a specific Montreal Canadiens pregame show or specific Canadiens postgame show. We think that we service that already with That’s Hockey before and with SportsCentre afterwards.”

RDS and TVA Sports go pretty hard with local pregame and postgame with the Canadiens (and almost nothing with their Senators broadcasts). But their ratings data shows it’s hard to keep fans tuned in. They’re lucky if even half of those who tuned in during the game stay for the postgame show. And with TSN’s Canadiens regional broadcasts getting less than 200,000 viewers (the average was 123,000 last season, but the Canadiens sucked really bad that year), there’s just not enough of a critical mass to warrant it.

Not much new, but a bit more Lu

I asked Graham if we should expect any other big changes for the Canadiens broadcasts this season. For the most part, it’ll be the same as last year. The supporting cast of analysts (Dave Poulin, Mike Johnson, Craig Button) and studio hosts (Tessa Bonhomme, Glenn Schiiler, Pierre LeBrun) will be the same. But “we’re looking to incorporate more TSN-specific programming in intermission” such as the Insider Trading segment with experts like Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger.

“(Reporter) John Lu will be front and centre at a lot of games that originate in Montreal,” Graham added.

I also asked him what he sees happening when TSN’s rights deal expires in 2022. While regional rights deals for Canadian NHL teams were quickly gobbled up following the national Sportsnet deal, the Canadiens’ English-language rights seemed to be of less interest. First Sportsnet grabbed it for three years (the first time all 82 Canadiens games were televised in English), then TSN for five.

Team English TV French TV English radio French radio
(National) Sportsnet (2026) TVA Sports (2026) N/A N/A
Vancouver Canucks Sportsnet Pacific (2023) None Sportsnet 650 (2022) None
Edmonton Oilers Sportsnet West (2020) None Corus/CHED (2020) None
Calgary Flames Sportsnet West (2020) None Sportsnet 960 (2020) None
Winnipeg Jets TSN3 (2021) None TSN 1290 (2021) None
Toronto Maple Leafs TSN4 None TSN 1050 None
Sportsnet Ontario Sportsnet 590
Ottawa Senators TSN5 (2026) RDS (2026) TSN 1200 (2026) Unique FM (via Bell)
Montreal Canadiens TSN2 (2022) RDS (2026) TSN 690 (2022) Cogeco (2019)
Laval Rocket (AHL) None RDS TSN 690 91.9 Sports (2022)

Graham pointed out that TSN shares resources with RDS, which allows them to make the broadcasts more efficient. And with Bell having a share in ownership of the Canadiens, they have an interest in keeping the relationship going.

“At the end of the day, along with our Bell ownership, we’re confident that Montreal will get better, and we’re confident that we’re going to be part of this for a long time,” he said. “I can’t see any situation in the immediate future, even when we get past the five years, where we wouldn’t be involved.”

Mudryk gives back

I didn’t have space to get into this in the story, but Mudryk is known for his charity work in addition to his on-air talents. The Bryan Mudryk Golf Classic has gone on for 15 years now, inspired by his own battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (i.e. the non-Koivu version). While he’s going to have a busy year with a lot of travelling (his life so far has been mainly going back and forth between his hotel, the Bell Centre and the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard), he’s ready for requests from charitable organizations to host their events, and he wants to help.

“I’m not just saying that to get a good quote in your paper,” he said, which is good because I didn’t get the quote in the paper. “I’m saying it because I mean it. If I have the time and it works out in my schedule I’m always there to help worthwhile causes.”

I could probably insert a joke here about the Canadiens being the biggest cause needing help right now.

Status quo on Sportsnet

As far as Sportsnet is concerned, not much has changed in their plans. Hockey Night in Canada (with the Leafs generally on CBC and the Canadiens generally on Citytv, it seems), Wednesday Night Hockey and Hometown Hockey on Sundays. It’ll be Bob Cole’s 50th and last season as a play-by-play announcer, and he’s starting it with the Habs’ game on Saturday.

Sportsnet is also bringing in the weekly Twitter broadcast Ice Surfing, after a pilot episode last season. The show will follow games playing that night with some live action but also commentary and conversation.

No more U.S. Super Bowl ads, but access to U.S. stations remains under USMCA trade deal

I was a bit busy yesterday in the middle of a Quebec newsplosion, but fortunately people in the rest of Canada (Globe and MailFinancial Post, CBCBNN, Michael GeistCartt.ca) had time to read the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and notice an annex that directly impacts the CRTC and Canadian TV viewers.

Annex 15-D of the agreement is very specific: “Canada shall rescind Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-334 and Broadcasting Order CRTC 2016-335.”

It doesn’t use the words, but that policy is about ad substitution during the Super Bowl. It’s the policy (originally announced in 2015) that said Bell could not require TV providers in Canada substitute its signal over those of U.S. border stations during the game because of Canadians’ strong demand for those high-profile U.S. commercials.

Bell has been trying hard since 2015 to get that decision overturned, going all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. The NFL has been on their side, because without simsub, the value of the Super Bowl rights in Canada plummets.

Now, thanks to the NFL’s lobbying of U.S. trade negotiators, the Canadian government will step in and solve the problem for them. The annex doesn’t specify a timeframe, but presumably it would happen when the treaty is ratified, which may or may not come before the next Super Bowl in February.

Putting this in the trade deal gives the Canadian government and the CRTC some cover. The Canadian government can say they were forced into this by the U.S. government, and the CRTC can blame the Canadian government when people go back to complaining to it that U.S. ads are blocked.

This also could have ended much worse for Canadian TV viewers. This trade deal could have ended the entire practice of allowing U.S. over-the-air stations to be rebroadcast in Canada without their consent. There was lobbying from a coalition of U.S. border stations in favour of requiring retransmission consent. Instead, the existing simsub regime will be maintained, and rebroadcasting through TV distributors allowed (but only when the signal is unaltered and simultaneous).

Assuming this deal is ratified, it could be decades before the simsub regime changes. And by then it could be completely irrelevant.

UPDATE (Oct. 6): Donald Trump amazingly brought up this clause in a campaign rally on Thursday night, saying a “big big problem” with Super Bowl ads was fixed when he told his negotiators to fix it. He said he got a phone call thanking him from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

And let QVC in, too

The annex also includes a provision related specifically to QVC: “Canada shall ensure that U.S. programming services specializing in home shopping, including modified versions of these U.S. programming services for the Canadian market, are authorized for distribution in Canada and may negotiate affiliation agreements with Canadian cable, satellite, and IPTV distributors.”

In 2016, the CRTC denied an application by TV provider VMedia to allow it to distribute the American shopping channel in Canada. It argued that since QVC would be doing business with Canadians, and that’s the very basis for that channel, “QVC would be carrying on a broadcasting undertaking in whole or in part in Canada” and for that it needed a licence (which it couldn’t get because it’s not Canadian-owned).

VMedia filed a request in court to overturn that decision, and the federal court sent it back to the CRTC. The commission opened a proceeding about its reconsideration, but has not published a decision.

Dozens of Quebec election debates you may have missed

Think there were only three debates during the Quebec election campaign? Not enough time to debate the issues? You probably weren’t looking hard enough then. Thanks to the efforts of local media, there were a bunch of multi-party debates during this election campaign to complement the three official debates by the party leaders.

If you’re still stuck on who to vote for tomorrow, here are links to other debates that took place during this campaign, some on specific issues, some more general, and many that included all candidates in a particular riding.

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Media News Digest: Broadcasting review begins, labour deals at TVA & Radio-Canada, Express d’Outremont shuts down

Editor’s note: In the interests of maintaining my sanity and reducing the amount of time I put into these things, I’m limiting their scope to news that directly affects Canada (though I may occasionally add international news of particular interest to journalism). If you’re interested in getting international media news, you can check out sources like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, the New York Post, Variety.

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Media News Digest: Union deals at Ottawa Citizen/Sun and CBC, new shows at MAtv, Torstar buys iPolitics

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Media News Digest: Lockout threat at Ottawa Citizen/Sun, strike threat at TVA, more hires at The Athletic

News about news

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Media News Digest: CRTC boosts TV quotas, more newspapers close, Postmedia buyouts

News about news

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