Canada’s English-language private TV broadcasters announced their fall schedules this week. In case you couldn’t keep up with all the press releases, here’s what was sent out.
There’s not much clearer evidence of the declining industry of over-the-air television than the lack of demand for new TV stations in the country. With some exceptions (ICI in Montreal, for example), there haven’t been applications for new over-the-air stations in about 20 years. Instead, major networks like CBC, TVO and CTV have been shutting down transmitters en masse to save money.
So it’s a bit surprising that someone has submitted an application for a new transmitter, in one of the most remote places in the country: the Magdalen Islands (Îles-de-la-Madeleine), the archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that belongs to Quebec but is actually closer to all four Atlantic provinces than it is to the Quebec mainland.
The application comes from CHAU, the TVA affiliate in Carleton on the Gaspé peninsula. It’s owned by Télé Inter-Rives, which also operates affiliates of the three major French-language networks (Radio-Canada, TVA and V) in Rivière-du-Loup. In addition to its main transmitter in Carleton, CHAU operates 11 digital retransmitters in the Gaspé peninsula and northern New Brunswick. This would be the 12th transmitter, CHAU-DT-12.
(CHAU, like other independent broadcasters, made the investment to convert their over-the-air transmitters to digital even though they were not required to do so by the government’s digital transition plan because they served small communities.)
CHAU-DT-12 would be a 100-watt station, with a transmitter on Channel 12 in Cap-aux-Meules on the local transmission tower operated by GAD E?lectronique. CHAU puts the cost of the new transmission facility at $37,572. That’s about $3 for each of the region’s 12,000 or so residents.
Because it’s a retransmitter, CHAU-DT-12 wouldn’t be a local station for the islands, but CHAU says it wants to provide local programming, working with independent producers on the islands and doing reporting using technologies like Skype and FaceTime. CHAU says in its application that the residents of the islands have a lot in common with those of the Gaspé peninsula and Acadian communities in New Brunswick, including an interest in fishing.
It promises to devote at least 20 minutes a week to local news relevant to the islands.
The islands haven’t had an over-the-air television transmitter since CBC/Radio-Canada shut down its extensive network of analog TV rebroadcasters in 2012. Before they were shut down, they had two retransmitters of the Radio-Canada station in Montreal (CBIMT and CBIMT-1) and one retransmitter of CBC Montreal (CBMYT).
“In today’s difficult environment for over-the-air television in Canada, the project to extend CHAU’s signal to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine represents an investment that is unexpected but achievable thanks to technical possibilities that reduce installation and operational costs,” the application reads.
The CRTC is accepting comments about CHAU’s application until July 5. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.
One day before the deadline set by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, the CRTC on Thursday released a report into the broadcasting system that proposes major, fundamental changes to how broadcasting is regulated in this country. (The condensed backgrounder is here.)
Unfortunately, that report is also quite vague, even on the parts that should be specific.
It’s not the CRTC’s fault, really, because that’s not really its purpose. The original order issued back in September by Joly is just as vague, seeking a report on “the distribution model or models of programming that are likely to exist in the future; how and through whom Canadians will access that programming; the extent to which these models will ensure a vibrant domestic market that is capable of supporting the continued creation, production and distribution of Canadian programming, in both official languages, including original entertainment and information programming.”
In terms of assessing programming distribution models, the report is pretty clear, but is also repeating a lot of stuff we already know: conventional television and radio are mature industries and have no way to go but down, online audio and video streaming services are catching on with the population, and Internet delivery of content means more Canadians are getting that content directly from foreign sources who don’t have to contribute to Canadian content or answer to the CRTC.
What’s new is what the commission proposes to do about it, but that’s where the data and charts go out the window and we’re left with vague, obvious suggestions and what often sounds like one unnamed person’s opinion.
But let’s go through them and look at the issues in a bit more detail:
Updated with Corus calling off the deal.
Corus and Bell have dropped their plans for Bell to acquire Corus’s ownership of French-language specialty channels Séries+ and Historia days after Corus announced the Commissioner of Competition has decided not to approve the $200-million purchase.
Reasons weren’t given — the bureau itself has not released a statement, but a spokesperson points out to Cartt.ca that their agreement with Bell is that it wouldn’t try to acquire them within 10 years. Five years ago, when Bell sought to purchase Astral Media (which at the time co-owned Séries+ and Historia with Shaw), the bureau came to an agreement to approve that sale, under various conditions that included the sale of those two channels. To allow Bell to re-buy those channels now would mean that the bureau does not take its own demands seriously.
The fact that Bell would have more than half the subscription revenue of French-language television in Canada might also have something to do with it.
The sale had gone through a CRTC process and was awaiting a decision. Now that process will be abandoned.
We’re getting into upfront season in Canadian television — the time of year when the networks set their fall schedules and present teasers to advertisers to try to drum up excitement for the coming season.
It’s also the time when we find out what’s not coming back. This week, Bell Media told staff that it’s pulling the plug on on daily news magazine shows on two of its most popular specialty channels: Daily Planet on Discovery Channel and InnerSpace on Space.
Daily Planet was born @discovery.ca in 1995, and has been with Discovery since its launch. It was hosted for the longest time by Jay Ingram, and now by Dan Riskin and Ziya Tong. The hour-long daily series includes several documentary segments visiting factories, builders and scientists doing cool stuff. Its final show is June 5.
InnerSpace, hosted by Ajay Fry, Teddy Wilson and Morgan Hoffman, originally started as HypaSpace in 2002, though that was itself the natural progression of short-form videos about sci-fi news that had been on the channel in various forms through the years. Even as InnerSpace, the show was a bit of a hype machine for sci-fi shows that aired on Space or other Bell Media channels. (They were also responsible for the Orphan Black after shows.) But there were segments on comic books, interviews with authors and a lot of other segments that showed a staff that cared about what they were doing. Its final show was May 23.
The number of independent commercial television broadcasters in French Canada can be counted on one hand, and soon that number will decline even further as Bell and Quebecor gobble up whatever they don’t already own.
As Bell’s proposed purchase of Corus’s Historia and Séries+ awaits CRTC approval, TVA announced Tuesday it has agreed to purchase Serdy Media’s specialty channels Évasion and Zeste for $24 million.
The transaction requires CRTC approval, and we’ll learn more when that application is posted. Generally the purchase of TV assets requires a tangible benefits package of 10% of the value of the transaction, which means at least $2.4 million going to production funds or other independent initiatives that benefit the broadcasting system.
Évasion is profitable, with almost $10 million in subscription revenue, $2.6 million in ad revenue and $10 million in expenses in the year ending Aug. 31, 2016. But in 2015 and 2016 it lost bout 5% of subscribers a year. Zeste does not have full financial information published by the CRTC, but had $6.6 million in revenue and $3.8 million in Canadian programming expenses in 2016, which suggests a similar level of profitability.
This is yet another step in the consolidation of French-language television in Canada in two hands: Bell and Quebecor. Each is bulking up to compete with the other, convincing the CRTC that their purchases are necessary because the other has gotten bigger. If the Corus and Serdy sales go through, it would leave only V, children’s channels, non-profit services, some local stations and a handful of others (MétéoMédia and Frissons TV) not controlled by the two giants.
Here’s what Canada’s French-language television landscape looks like:
Quebecor (Groupe TVA):
- Moi & Cie
- Prise 2
- TVA Sports
Bell Media (*former Astral channels):
- Canal D*
- Canal Vie*
- RDS Info
- Super Écran*
- Historia (pending sale to Bell)
- Séries+ (pending sale to Bell)
- Chaîne Disney
- Évasion (pending sale to TVA)
- Zeste (pending sale to TVA)
- DHX Media: Télémagino
- Frissons TV
- Pelmorex: MétéoMédia
- RNC Media (regional affiliates)
- Télé Inter-Rives (regional affiliates)
- TéléMag (Quebec City)
- ICI Radio-Canada télé
- ICI ARTV
- ICI Explora
- ICI RDI
Other public and non-profit broadcasters:
- AMI Télé
- Canal Savoir
- Community channels
Global Montreal this week made a small change to its weekday schedule, swapping the second half-hour of its evening newscast with Global National. So as of this week, the evening news works like this:
- 5:30: Local news
- 6:00: Global National
- 6:30: Local news
- 7:00: ET Canada
As far as I can tell, this is the only Global station to do this so far. Okay, there are some counterexamples in the comments.
I watched three of the five newscasts this week to see how the new format works. The two newscasts are virtually identical, with the same stories (sometimes repackaged differently), same weather segments (literally the same prerecorded segments played again for the second newscast), and same stories taken from other Global stations to fill the schedule.
A typical 5:30 or 6:30 newscast comes down to roughly this:
- A minute-long intro
- 10-12 minutes of local news (four packaged or live reports, plus 2-5 briefs)
- A minute-long weather segment (pretaped with the weather presenter in Toronto)
- Commercial break
- One or two stories from another Global station or a U.S. news source
- Commercial break
- A three-minute weather segment
- Closing market numbers
- Teaser to a local story being discussed on Facebook
- Commercial break
- More briefs, a promo for Morning News, and either a promo for Global National (during the 5:30 newscast) or a two-minute ET Canada promo that doubles as entertainment news (during the 6:30)
- 12m15s local news
- 3 min non-local news
- 4m15s weather
- 15 sec business
- 2m30s promos, bumpers and other filler
There’s no duplication with Global National, so this new schedule means you can sit down for an hour starting at 5:30, or an hour starting at 6. It also means that people who get home after 6pm can still catch a local newscast (though CTV’s newscast does a top stories recap at the top of the half-hour).
The Global Montreal news team has also expanded by two, hiring away Kalina Laframboise from CBC as a web producer and Cora MacDonald from City as a photojournalist. MacDonald had been hired at City Montreal for their new newscast, but that hasn’t even launched yet. No news about it has been announced.
Updated April 20 with a clarification from Rogers.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has released eight applications for national ethnic television services, and set a hearing for Oct. 15 to discuss which of them would be the best candidate to replace OMNI.
Last year, the commission caved to OMNI’s demand that it be given mandatory subscription fees from all television subscribers, under the threat of surrendering the licence and leaving the country without a multilingual TV service offering newscasts. But in giving in, the CRTC also set a limit of three years (until Aug. 31, 2020) and said that it would ask other broadcasters if they had better proposals for such a mandatory ethnic service, and consider them at a future hearing.
On Tuesday, the CRTC released eight applications, seven for TV services (including OMNI’s proposal for renewing its status) and one for an ethnic described video guide. Each makes proposals for multilingual programming including national newscasts and proposes a mandatory monthly fee.
I analyzed the nearly 200 documents submitted for the eight applications and below present an analysis of the applicants, proposals and programming:
The Toronto Maple Leafs are Canada’s team. Or at least the CBC’s.
That much has been made abundantly clear this season. Every Saturday night, if the Leafs are playing, they’re on CBC (except when CBC was broadcasting the Olympics). With a market that encompasses a third of Canada’s population, it makes sense that this team would get more attention, but the one-sidedness has been particularly striking.
Habs fans too cheap to pay for Sportsnet have been complaining the past couple of seasons that Canadiens games on Hockey Night in Canada have been punted to Sportsnet rather than broadcast on free TV channels CBC or City. Sportsnet has admitted this was done mainly to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet.
And as the NHL playoffs begin tonight, and CBC devoting its entire primetime schedule to hockey, it seems they’re doing it again, this time to the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets and Leafs are the only two Canadian teams to make the playoffs, and even though their games both start at 7pm ET (6pm in Winnipeg, but in the playoffs you need to be either an early game or a late game), not a single one of the up to 14 games involving the two teams overlap — they’re all scheduled on different nights.
But there won’t be any Jets games on CBC, at least not until Game 5 and likely not until next round at the earliest. Instead, all Leafs games will be broadcast on CBC but all Jets games are on Sportsnet. And while the Jets are on Sportsnet, CBC viewers will get to watch the all-American Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series instead. Even those in Winnipeg.
I asked Sportsnet about the decision, and this was the response I got:
As you can imagine, there are numerous factors taken into consideration when coordinating the broadcast schedule for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In this case, with two series featuring Canadian teams in the first round, the decision was made that Sportsnet and CBC would each have the opportunity to broadcast one of those two series. Winnipeg is a key priority for Sportsnet and Sportsnet is thrilled to be broadcasting the entire Jets series to Canadians from coast-to-coast.
In other words, the Jets are on Sportsnet because Sportsnet wanted a Canadian series. Which sounds reasonable (similar to how CBC and TSN split playoff series before the Sportsnet/NHL deal) until you remember that Sportsnet controls the CBC broadcast as well.
So why keep the Jets off CBC during a time when lots of casual fans might tune in, and Sportsnet is looking to maximize ratings?
Because of money. Of the 82 regular-season Jets games, 60 are on TSN3. Casual Jets fans in Manitoba don’t have much incentive to subscribe to Sportsnet if they’re not otherwise interested in sports. So Sportsnet is hoping to drive subscriptions from those potential fans, even if it means many fans just won’t watch the games and they’ll lose potential ad revenue.
But, of course, that logic doesn’t apply to the Leafs. The Leafs are so popular that ad revenue is more important than subscription revenue. So the Leafs get CBC.
On one hand, Manitoba Jets fans should just subscribe to Sportsnet (it’s available over-the-top for $25 a month). On the other hand, this definitely does feel like a middle finger to a market that has had to suffer for a long time, and hasn’t seen a playoff game win in more than 20 years.
TVA Sports, by the way, is also not giving priority to the Jets. Of the first four matches, three will be broadcast on TVA Sports 2 because of conflicts with Flyers-Penguins or Capitals-Blue Jackets.
The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday with the Jets and Wild playing at 7pm on Sportsnet. The Leafs and Bruins play Game 1 on Thursday at 7pm on CBC. For channel assignments for these and other series, see sportsnet.ca/schedule.
I watched Sunday’s Canadian Screen Awards. Not because I was really excited by it, but because I felt some sort of civic (and professional) duty to do so.
I’ve seen several of these, so I know what to expect. Hosts trying their best with not very good comedic material. Nominees and winners that most of the audience is unfamiliar with. Quebec movie stars feeling like fish out of water in this very English Canada environment. And overall a gala and broadcast that tries to be like the Oscars or the Emmys or even the Screen Actors Guild Awards but with much fewer resources.
The budget issue won’t change unless the CSAs become as big a spectacle as the American awards shows, and we’re pretty far from that.
Well, it’s over. After 16 days of competition, 29 medals for Canada and dozens of stories of triumph, heartbreak and fun (and only one DUI that we know of), the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games are over.
It was a good year for Canada. The number of total medals was a record, though when you take event inflation into account we did about as well as Sochi and Turin and a bit behind Vancouver.
There were great stories about medallists like Kim Boutin, Ted-Jan Bloemen, Alex Gough and of course Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. There were equally great stories about athletes who didn’t make the podium. And, thanks to the hard-working team at CBC Sports, we got to see as many of those stories as they could cram into their coverage.
I was glued to the Olympics, sacrificing sleep to wake up at 6am to watch competitions live. It was fun to be so caught up in it, cheering every victory and feeling for every defeat. The Olympics are big money, and for the athletes involved it’s their entire lives, but for the rest of us, it’s two weeks of entertainment before we go back to our regular day-to-day.
It might come as cold comfort to those who were expected to win and didn’t, but the Olympics are a crapshot. For most sports, the level of competition is so high that the margin for error is virtually nonexistent. And, frankly, if the results could be so well known in advance, there wouldn’t be much fun doing it in the first place.
So while not every Canadian could finish on the podium, or in the top 10, the more that achieve that level of greatness, the more chances the country has of finding success in unexpected places.
Anyway, based on my experience watching these games, here are some top (mostly Canadian) moments, in chronological order, that got me right in the feels.
Barry Wilson said he wasn’t ready to retire when he was laid off in November. And on Friday he showed it by launching a YouTube version of his Postscript political opinion series.
The first video, which tackles the same subjects he did weekly on CTV Montreal, albeit shot at home and illustrated with still photos instead of video, is well produced, thanks mainly to Dave Maynard, former chief director and operations manager at CFCF.
“I think the English speaking community of Quebec needs as many voices as it can get and I’m so happy to be part of the dialogue,” he explains on the website. “Quebec politics never ceases to surprise me. It is never boring. And the challenges it presents to our community are sometimes formidable. I hope my voice can continue to be part of the conversation because as I have said so many times, ‘This is our home’.”
What happens now is a good question. Can this gain a large enough audience to be viable economically? Will someone take notice and offer him a paying gig out of it? Or will it just be a side project that keeps his name in the conversation, perhaps supplemented by some freelance work that can keep the money flowing?
“This is more of a sideline than anything,” Wilson tells me. “I realized after I had been laid off that Postscript was more popular than I had even believed. It really struck a nerve with a lot of people. Bringing back an online version was Dave’s idea and we will see how it goes. Not expecting to make money with this. But it’s nice to know that (there) can be life after corporate media. It’s nice to have another voice out there for English-speaking Quebecer, especially in an election year.”
Wilson’s new Postscript, like its TV incarnation, is planned to be published every Friday, and he says he’ll try to keep to that schedule. In the meantime, he says he’s “still open to other opportunities.”
Of Montreal’s three English-language local TV stations, CTV is the only one without any local programming. Starting Monday, they fix that with the addition of local news updates to the Toronto-based Your Morning show.
Caroline Van Vlaardingen will anchor the segments, which will be inserted into the show just before each half-hour except the last.
Your Morning, the Canada AM replacement hosted by Ben Mulroney and Anne-Marie Mediwake out of Toronto, has a segment each half hour that, in Toronto, is filled with a brief local newscast anchored by Lindsey Deluce. In other markets that don’t have local cut-ins, and on CTV News Channel, it has a local news story taken from a CTV newscast somewhere in the country. (Originally it was an additional national weather update — if you wondered why there seemed to be so much weather on Your Morning, this was why). These segments last two and a half minutes, including pre-recorded intro.
Starting Monday, Montreal adds its own local cut-ins during this segment.
It’s a far cry from a local morning show like you see on City’s Breakfast Television, and not even the two-thirds-local morning show on Global, but it’s better than nothing, or the local ticker updates that Canada AM had after CTV Montreal last had a local morning newscast or local cut-ins.
CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane didn’t want to comment beyond the press release, but I’m told that the newscast’s staff was hired internally, giving a bit more work to existing part-timers, and that the newscast will run for a three-month trial period. There is no dedicated morning reporter (though there is an overnight cameraman chasing fires and car accidents), so any overnight updates will be the anchor’s job.
This move comes just under six months after CTV Montreal and other local stations added 5pm weekday newscasts, which similarly tried to produce more local news without making significant additions to staff.
UPDATE (Feb. 20): I watched the first two episodes of Your Morning with the new local inserts, and here’s how it breaks down:
Each insert is a firm two and a half minutes:
- The Newsbreak intro graphic that you’ve seen during afternoon commercial breaks on CTV
- A live shot from the roof camera as the anchor begins talking about weather
- Current weather conditions graphic (temperature, humidity, pressure, wind)
- Between four and six local news briefs, usually about 15-20 seconds each. Almost all consist of an anchor voice-over with B-roll
- A live shot from a remote camera showing a traffic location (it changes each day but stays the same throughout the morning), with anchor voice-over about traffic conditions
- A five-day forecast, and if there’s time, a daily planner forecast and/or current temperatures map
- A quick goodbye
Generally, one new brief will be inserted in each half-hour break. Often the briefs are quick recaps of news from the previous day, and sometimes new briefs that come from overnight emergencies. In one case there was a short sound clip, but otherwise it’s all voice-over and there are no packaged reports.
A month after telling subscribers it is being forced to drop AMC because it couldn’t reach a deal on renewing its contract, Videotron announced on Friday that it has reached a new deal with the popular American channel on the last business day before the channel was to be dropped.
Videotron tells me that “thanks to much effort and perseverance” it has managed to “make the voices of our clients heard.”
Details are confidential, and Videotron declined to tell me even how long their new deal is, but it says the deal “responds to the reality of our regional market” and is satisfactory to both parties. Videotron had previously suggested that AMC’s previous offer was unreasonable because it’s in a francophone market where a smaller fraction of its subscribers would be interested in such a channel.
Videotron tells me that there will be no change to AMC’s packaging. The channel is in some grandfathered theme packages, the Movie Network package, build-your-own packages (with a $2/month surcharge), or completely à la carte for $10 a month.
Thanks to the new deal, there will be a free preview for all digital cable subscribers, from Feb. 12 to 28.
AMC isn’t quite as popular as during the days of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but it still has The Walking Dead, whose new season begins Feb. 25, as well as series like Better Call Saul and Halt and Catch Fire.
UPDATE (Feb. 10): Videotron’s press release is here.
As recently as 2012, Montreal did not have a local English-language morning show on television. Now we have two — three if you include the radio-on-the-TV Daybreak broadcast on CBC. Global Montreal was first out of the gate on Jan. 28, 2013, and so today celebrates its fifth anniversary.
Or it would if today wasn’t Sunday.
Nevertheless, there’s cause for celebration, because Global’s parent company Corus Entertainment is keeping the show on the air past its original mandate, even though it’s under no obligation to.
Creating local morning news shows in markets that didn’t already have them was a promise made by Shaw Communications in 2010 when it acquired Global and the other Canwest television assets from the bankrupt company (that also used to be my employer). As part of its $180 million “tangible benefits” commitment to get the deal approved by the CRTC, Shaw promised $45 million toward adding local programming in the mornings — above the requirements in its standard licence conditions — in six markets: Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon. Toronto would get the largest slice of that pie, but Montreal was promised $5 million — or about a million dollars a year.
It took a while to get the Montreal show off the ground — the premiere two years and three months after the acquisition was approved. And even then it had some glitches, with a minimal technical staff, two anchors and a weather presenter.
Tangible benefits are spread out over seven years, which means they should have been all paid out by Aug. 31, 2017. We don’t have Global’s financial report for that year yet, but the 2016 report showed $1,234,800 in spending remaining from that $5 million fund for the 2016-17 year, the largest pool of money remaining for a market.
With the expiry of the tangible benefits, the obligation of Shaw (now Corus) to continue Morning News in Montreal and the other markets ceased. If they could meet their local programming and local news requirements with remaining programming, they could shut the morning shows down.
But they haven’t.
“We’re proud of our morning show in Montreal, which continues to do well and is providing improved results in the market,” Corus told me in a statement. “We also produce more local news content (above our condition of license) above our English language competitors.”
Shaw had told the CRTC in 2010 that it expected the morning shows to keep going past the end of the commitment. Troy Reeb, VP of news for Shaw Media and now head of local news for TV and radio for Corus, told me the same at the time, saying they were striving for a sustainable model.
But it’s nice to see that they’re actually following through with the commitment, at least for now.
Like I said on air we don’t take a moment for granted. Thank you #Montreal for welcoming us into your home. Here’s to many more mornings spent together! ???? #globalnewsmorningturns5 #birthday #grateful pic.twitter.com/EIRpmf1udc
— Laura Casella (@La_Casella) January 29, 2018
Global Montreal’s Morning News doesn’t have a huge audience. According to the 2016-17 season average that Corus is using to tell advertisers what to expect, the show has an average minute audience of 5,500. That’s higher than the 3,500 that City’s Breakfast Television is reporting, or the 1,000 that CBC is reporting for Daybreak on TV.
And then there’s the fact that it’s not all that local. The middle segment of every half hour comes out of Toronto, which continues to give viewers the idea that they’re watching two programs switching back and forth.
The nationalization of local news was also applied to late-night and weekend newscasts, which are anchored out of Toronto. But Global Montreal also added a local noon-hour news, becoming the first station to try challenging CTV Montreal’s noon newscast.
It’s a mixed bag. We can be furious that Global is cutting so many corners and passing off nationally-produced programming as local news, or we can be happy that making such broadcasts as lean as possible has kept them on the air.
As much as I think Morning News isn’t as good as it could be with more resources, I’d rather that than nothing.
So happy birthday.