Category Archives: TV

Posted in Opinion, TV

Does BazzoTV deserve a tax credit?

Marie-France Bazzo's BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

Marie-France Bazzo’s BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

The scandale du jour in Quebec media: The government has cut funding to BazzoTV, forcing the Télé-Québec current affairs show to shut down for good after this season.

Bazzo’s production company issued a statement, the show posted a page on its website, Marie-France Bazzo herself tweeted about it and there are plenty of news stories about the change, with Bazzo not being afraid to express her opinion on what this decision means for the future of television.

Reaction has been negative toward the government and supportive of Bazzo. One Journal de Montréal blowhard called it murder.

So what happened, exactly?

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Posted in Media, TV

Corus buying Shaw Media is a big deal, but it’s not a Big Deal

The news broke as I was busy preparing for and going to the annual shareholders meeting of Cogeco: Shaw Media is being sold to Corus Entertainment for $2.65 billion. The people who own Teletoon and YTV will now also control Global TV, Showcase, Food Network and other channels.

But as huge as the purchase figure is, the deal itself is more of a corporate reorganization than a major media merger. Here’s why:

Corus was formed in 1999 as a Shaw spinoff company. Shaw put all its media assets in the Corus portfolio and created a separate, publicly-traded company. But through Corus and Shaw are publicly traded and have their own boards of directors, both are still under the control of the Shaw family.

For this reason, the CRTC considers that they’re related companies. That means they probably won’t oppose the deal. And it means Corus is probably not going to be asked to pay a tangible benefits package to secure the deal, so there won’t be millions of dollars going to various production funds or content development initiatives.

Here’s how the assets will break down once the deal is completed (assets changing hands in bold):

  • Shaw Communications:
    • Shaw Cablesystems
    • Shaw Direct satellite TV
    • Wind Mobile (once that transaction is complete)
    • Shomi (50%, with Rogers having the other half)
  • Corus Entertainment:
    • Global Television Network
    • Three CTV affiliates in Ontario
    • Specialty channels Action, BBC Canada (80%), DejaView, DIY Network, DTour, Food Network, FYI, Global News BC1, History, H2, HGTV, IFC, Lifetime, MovieTime, Crime + Investigation, National Geographic Channel (80%), Nat Geo Wild, Showcase, Slice
    • Kids specialty channels Disney Channel (fr/en), Disney Jr, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, Teletoon (fr/en), YTV, Cartoon Network, Treehouse
    • Specialty channels ABC Spark, CMT Canada, Cosmo TV, OWN Canada, Sundance Channel, W Movies, W Network, Historia, Séries+
    • Pay TV channels Movie Central and Encore Avenue (until Bell replaces them with a national Movie Network), including 50% stake in HBO Canada
    • Telelatino Network and its associated third-language channels
    • Production company Nelvana
    • 39 radio stations
    • Kids Can Press

 

There are some minor assets whose eventual owner is unclear right now (TV station CJBN in Kenora, Ont., is owned directly by Shaw and isn’t part of Shaw Media), but these are the basics. Notably, Shaw will have a 39% stake in Corus directly as a result of the stock portion of this purchase. That might make it easier down the road for Shaw to take over Corus and make it a real subsidiary.

Combined, Corus and Shaw have about a 35% share of viewing to English-language television in Canada, which is the same as Bell Media and about as much as the CRTC is comfortable giving any one group. Rogers and CBC have about 10% each, and the rest is everyone else.

What changes?

The big question is what changes as a result of this transaction. On one hand, the ultimate owner of these assets is the same. But on the other hand, because the companies are run separately, they haven’t taken advantage of centralization or things like collective bargaining with TV providers to get a better deal.

Practically, this will probably mean that:

  • Instead of ads for Shaw TV on Global, we’ll see more ads for YTV, Teletoon and OWN.
  • In markets where Corus will own both a Global TV station and a news-talk radio station (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto), there could be cross-promotion or even content partnerships of some sort. We could see a rationalization of news-gathering staff and people asked to report for both TV and radio.
  • Those three CTV affiliates in south/eastern Ontario (Peterborough, Oshawa and Kingston) will probably eventually become Global TV stations.
  • Maybe more programming aimed at children and families on Global TV.

Beyond that, the concentration of media ownership already happened (the biggest step was when Shaw acquired Canwest’s TV assets in 2010), and this is really only a minor step in that process.

Which is why despite a $2.65-billion transaction, my media ownership chart doesn’t change.

Posted in TV

Shaw wants to reduce Global Montreal’s local programming requirement

Later this month, the CRTC will hold a hearing looking into the future of local and community television. Included in that review will be a look at how much local programming local television stations should produce, and what that should be.

The proceeding has attracted thousands of pages of comments, including from Canada’s major broadcasters.

Shaw Media, which owns Global TV, filed comments in which it unsurprisingly defended its model for local news, which involves local newscasts not only being produced and directed outside of local markets, but anchored there as well.

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Posted in TV

Shows to check out during the Débrouillage des Fêtes

Every year over the holidays, most of Canada’s French-language entertainment specialty channels offer themselves for free to entice people to check them out and hopefully subscribe.

Unlike in the rest of the country, which will only be moving away from big everything-included packages this year as new CRTC regulations take effect, in Quebec a lot of TV subscribers choose their channels à la carte, which makes the importance of such free previews even larger.

Bell Media, Groupe TVA (Quebecor), Groupe Serdy and Radio-Canada are all offering their entertainment/lifestyle channels for free from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14. News and sports channels are not offered, and other channels offered differ by provider.

Videotron is offering these channels, and Bell is also offering most of them:

  • AddikTV
  • Canal D
  • Canal Vie
  • Casa
  • Évasion
  • ICI ARTV
  • ICI Explora
  • Investigation
  • MOI&cie
  • Prise 2
  • Vrak
  • Yoopa
  • Z
  • Zeste

I don’t usually subscribe to most of these channels, so I made it a point of checking them out during the holidays. A lot of their content is dubbed series imported from the U.S. Those series that are created here tend to be low-budget reality TV, which can be very hit and miss.

I haven’t gotten close to seeing everything, but here are some series I’d recommend from what I did watch, in order of what channel they’re on:

Monsieur Homme (ICI Explora)

If you were a fan of the Radio-Canada series Les Pieds dans la marge, and star Mathieu Pichette, you’ll probably enjoy this self-deprecating faux educational series about things that affect men. Pichette brings out his silly fake gravitas and has fun with guests as they try to get us to pay attention to real issues (like the causes of death that are more likely to affect men than women).

Dis-moi (MOI&cie)

Talk shows are a dime a dozen, but they usually involve host and subject sitting in a studio together. Host Mitsou makes things a bit more interesting by taking her guests (all of them women) outside and doing stuff. The setting, combined with the it’s-just-between-us-girls feel results in some interesting revelations and emotional moments.

Le coeur a ses raisons (Prise 2)

Prise 2 is a rerun channel, with lots to choose from among American and Quebec series. This parody of a soap opera, starring Marc Labrèche and Anne Dorval, is deliciously over-the-top in costumes, makeup and prosthetics, music and, of course, acting and writing.

Vedette Inc. (Canal Vie)

How do you manage a personal brand? It’s one thing if you’re just an actor or musician or blogger, but what if you have a real business, with real employees, whose work is based at least in part about how the public feels about you as a person? This documentary series tries to answer that with interviews with celebrities about the business side of what they do. It’s a bit fluffy — in French they’d call it a “docu-feuilleton” — but it’s nice to see these personalities shed their public entertainment persona for a bit to talk business. The part of the episode where the vedette is given the results of a public survey about them — and inevitably are shocked to discover they’re not as well known as they think they are — is worth the price.

On efface et on recommence (Canal Vie)

What’s the easiest way to get someone to break down with emotion on camera? Take someone who’s had a personal drama, and do something for them that would cost a lot of money, then record their reaction when you show it to them with a big reveal.

That’s basically the concept of this series, hosted by Chantal Lacroix (who’s kind of a veteran of these types of shows). She gets people in the community to contribute to rebuilding a home or otherwise putting someone’s life back together (and plugs their mom-and-pop companies in exchange) and we watch as the subject cries with gratitude at the end.

Code F. (Vrak.tv)

Sit girls on stools in front of green screens and have them talk about girl stuff. It’s better than it sounds, mainly because the women on screen (and sometimes men) are mostly comedians and they don’t hold back when making jokes about various aspects of life. The editing means it’s fast-paced with quick one-liners, and it really looks like the people on screen are having fun.

Les Testeurs (Vrak.tv)

This series is mainly worth watching because of the chemistry between Patrice Bélanger and Étienne Boulay as they test ideas, consumer goods and random stuff they found on the Internet. What works and what doesn’t? Who cares really when they’re hitting each other with rulers.

Carol, bar de danseuses (Z)

What happens when you put Le Gros Cave, Jean-François Mercier, in a strip club? A surprisingly interesting peek into this world that most of us are too prudish to enter. Mercier doesn’t ogle and demean, but rather lets the women speak for themselves for the most part, about why they do what they do, the challenges of doing it, and what happens afterward.

Gang de malades (Z)

Get people with physical disabilities to exploit their differences for cheap laughs? How could that possibly end well?

Well, if it’s done right, it can. The joke isn’t on them so much as us. Hosted by Pierre Hébert, this hidden-camera series puts its visibly different stars in ridiculous situations (a doorman with no arms, a blind person driving a car) and filming unsuspecting strangers as their fear of offending prevents them from pointing out the obvious.

Hébert does a good job of making sure his co-stars are in on the joke, and what comes out of the show seems to be as educational as it is funny (for those of you who think awkwardness is funny, anyway).

This is just a sampling of shows available on these channels. I know there are plenty of shows that I would like that I haven’t had a chance to check out yet. Do you have a favourite original series that airs on a French-language specialty channel? Offer your picks in the comments. And if you have cable TV, take a bit of time over the next week and a half to check these channels out.

Posted in TV

The best song parodies on TV this new year’s eve

It’s an annual French-Canadian media tradition: Criticizing a 75-minute sketch comedy show because it doesn’t meet our insanely inflated expectations.

So I’m just not going to partake. I could laud Bye-Bye 2015’s spot-on impersonations, impressively transformative makeup and prosthetics and expertly-done song parodies. Or, more likely, I could point out that it’s hit-and-miss on the laughs, occasionally politically insensitive or downright racist, and had a Montreal-centric (and certainly Quebec-centric) view of the year’s issues. I could declare Infoman the better of the New Year’s Eve specials, which is apparently de mode, or I could crap all over the Air Farce (and deservedly so).

But everyone else is doing that, so instead I’ll focus this post on something more enjoyable.

As a fan of Weird Al, you won’t be surprised to learn I’m big on song parodies. And there were a bunch of them on TV on New Year’s Eve. Some of them were lazy and unfunny. But some were very clever, and I feel they deserve more attention.

Here are my picks from the Canadian New Year’s Eve specials this year, in both official languages:

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Posted in TV

Derick Fage hired as Breakfast Television Montreal co-host

Derick Fage (Rogers Media photo)

Derick Fage (Rogers Media photo)

Less than three weeks after officially announcing the departure of Alexandre Despatie, Rogers Media has announced his replacement: Derick Fage, a host on the Rogers TV community channel in Ottawa who has filled in as host at BT Montreal this year.

He starts Jan. 4. Wilder Weir, who has been co-hosting with Joanne Vrakas in the interim, returns to his role as Live Eye reporter, in addition to being the host of Sportsnet Central Montreal.

“Derick’s contagious energy makes him a perfect fit for the Breakfast Television format. We believe Montreal viewers will look forward to waking up with Derick and Joanne for their daily dose of entertainment, news, and lifestyle information.”
— Jordan Schwartz, Vice President, In-House Productions, Rogers, in their press release

Posted in TV

CTV, Global appoint Quebec City bureau chiefs

It’s not just the Quebec government that pushed through some labour deals just before Christmas. This week both CTV and Global filled their vacant Quebec City bureau chief positions.

Maya Johnson (CTV News photo)

Maya Johnson (CTV News photo)

CTV’s choice is Maya Johnson, who has been at CTV Montreal for a decade now, and was working on Quebec politics while the position was vacant following Max Harrold’s move back to Montreal (he’s now an assignment editor at CTV Montreal). The choice was, frankly, obvious and you wonder what took them so long.

As a result of the Bell Media cuts, Johnson’s Montreal reporter job won’t be filled.

Hopefully this will give CTV’s Quebec City bureau the kind of stability it hasn’t seen since John Grant held the position.

Raquel Fletcher (Global News photo)

Raquel Fletcher (Global News photo)

Global News, meanwhile, went with Raquel Fletcher, who was the anchor of Focus Saskatchewan at Global TV in Regina. Before that she was at CTV Regina. Fletcher was born and raised in the rectangular province, which means she’ll have a steep learning curve in Quebec City. But she won’t be the first child of Saskatchewan who’s now reporting on Quebec.

Fletcher’s career path is similar to that of Global Montreal morning host Camille Ross, who worked at CTV in Yorkton and Global in Regina.

Fletcher succeeds Caroline Plante, who was hired by the Montreal Gazette this summer.

The National Assembly is recessed for the holidays and resumes on Feb. 9. That gives these reporters a bit of time to get settled in their new positions.

Daigle heading to London

Thomas Daigle (CBC photo)

Thomas Daigle (CBC photo)

Not to be outdone, there’s staffing news at CBC as well. Thomas Daigle, originally from Quispamsis, N.B., but based for several years now in Montreal, will be the new CBC News correspondent in London.

Daigle, 28, worked at CJAD, Global Montreal and Radio-Canada Acadie before joining CBC Montreal. He was named the anchor for weekend newscasts when CBC Montreal added them back to its schedule, then he was moved to the National Assembly and eventually into the position of national reporter in Montreal.

 

Posted in TV

The day local TV died

CHCH, the superstation in Hamilton, Ont., was Canada’s last best hope for the idea of truly local television.

It failed.

On Friday at 4pm, the station aired a 90-second statement from Channel Zero CEO Romen Podzyhun, explaining that the station would be undergoing a major restructuring and would eliminate a large part of its local programming, and the jobs that go with that. The amount of local programming would reportedly drop from 80 hours to 17.5 hours a week, a little more than most large-market local TV stations in Canada. (Its licence requires a minimum of only seven.)

Rather than have local original programming from 4am (they prided themselves on being the first on the air weekday mornings) to 7pm weekdays, they’ll be left with 6pm and 11pm newscasts starting Saturday, and the morning show starting Tuesday.

Other, non-news programming gets cancelled.

The human cost: 129 full-time jobs, and 38 part-timers, according to the Hamilton Spectator. Of them, 58 full-time employees and 23 part-time will be offered new jobs. The cuts include the Niagara bureau, apparently in its entirety.

Channel 11 LP, the company that Channel Zero created to do its local news, and which technically employed CHCH’s news employees, has declared bankruptcy, with $1.6 million owed to employees. (This is being erroneously reported in the media as CHCH itself or its parent company declaring bankruptcy, which is not the case.) The consequence of this is that the company can wash its hands of its union obligations, and the union is not happy, though it focuses its blame on the CRTC and the government.

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Posted in TV

Avis de recherche using desperate legal measures to stay on the air

Control room and studio at Avis de recherche

Control room and studio at Avis de recherche

Avis de recherche, the specialty channel devoted to listing missing people and wanted suspects and talking about other aspects of public safety, got a punch to the gut two and a half years ago when the CRTC decided to end its special status as a must-distribute service that every TV subscriber in Quebec was forced to pay for.

Without that mandatory distribution, providers would no longer want to carry the channel, it would lose its subscription revenue and would cease to exist. Owner Vincent Geracitano knows this well because before ADR got that status, he had to pay Videotron to distribute the channel.

Knowing the channel had value as a public service, the commission gave ADR a two-year grace period to find a new business model. That grace period ended on Aug. 31, 2015, despite ADR’s ill-fated request for another extension.

Now, ADR is using every trick in the book to stay alive:

  • It has politicians writing letters to the federal government asking it to order the CRTC to review and reverse its decision.
  • It filed an application to the federal court seeking a judicial review of the decision.
  • It filed a complaint with the RCMP, alleging political interference in the CRTC decision (based mainly in hearsay evidence).
  • It took Videotron to court, arguing it had a distribution agreement until Dec. 31 and got a temporary injunction keeping it on Videotron’s system.
  • For Bell, ADR has gone to the CRTC and filed for dispute resolution. (A standstill provision says Bell must continue distributing the channel while the dispute resolution process proceeds.) ADR also filed a complaint of undue preference, arguing that Bell’s decision to pull ADR benefits its similar service Canal D Investigation. (I find that hard to understand. ADR is a news and information channel, while Investigation is entertainment. It’s like saying the Weather Network competes with a channel that shows nothing but Sharknado movies.)
  • UPDATE (Jan. 31): ADR has also filed an undue preference complaint against Videotron, arguing ADR is similar to LCN.

ADR proposes some solutions to Bell’s actions, which basically involve ordering Bell to keep the channel. It suggests the commission use its power to order Bell to keep distributing the channel until 2018, when all specialty channels will have lost their protections as a result of decisions taken in the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV process.

Even if ADR is successful at keeping Bell and Videotron from pulling the channel, it’s just kicking the can down the road. Both distributors have made clear they have no desire to keep distributing the channel because there’s no demand for it.

A survey ADR provided in its application seems to confirm that. It shows only 16% of the 1,000 Quebecers surveyed had ever heard of the channel, and after being told what it was only 18% said they’d ever watched it.

Nevertheless, respondents said public security is important, and after some very leading questions about the value of such a channel, respondents expressed support for it and disagreement (69% vs. 18% support) with the CRTC’s decision to remove its mandatory status.

Respondents were asked how much they’d be willing to pay for it at four price points:

  • At its current 6 cents per month: 89% in favour
  • At 25 cents per month: 73% in favour
  • At 75 cents per month: 52% in favour
  • At $1 per month: 43% in favour

ADR makes it clear that without an order keeping it on some form of mandatory distribution, it would go off air “within days.”

The channel notes it is in a unique position as an independent service that once had mandatory distribution and has since lost it. And Geracitano has devoted his life to public service and this channel. It’s entirely understandable that he’s doing everything he can to keep it going.

But the CRTC has determined the public doesn’t absolutely need Avis de recherche, and it’s not about to change its mind on that. Rather than seek a way to offer programming that might generate demand, ADR is going all in on lawyers. I doubt it will work.

The CRTC is treating ADR’s complaint about Bell seriously but expeditiously, allowing only three days for comment. You can download the complaint here (.zip) and file comments here before 8pm ET on Friday, Dec. 11. Note that all information filed with the CRTC, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (Dec. 14): This proceeding has resulted in dozens of interventions, almost all of them from politicians, public safety agencies and non-profit groups lined up behind ADR.

One group definitely not on ADR’s side is Quebecor. It notes in its intervention that ADR is a Category B specialty service, which means distributors are free to drop it if they want. It suggests allowing ADR to stay on Bell’s system this way would open the door to abuse of process:

ADR doit se rendre à l’évidence qu’elle n’a pas d’autre choix que d’assumer sa part des risques liés aux différentes politiques du CRTC et d’accepter la perte de son statut de distribution obligatoire.

UPDATE (Dec. 17): Bell’s reply has been published by the commission. Among the key quotes (with my highlights):

  • ADR has known since 24 September 2015 that their service would be removed from carriage on 1 December 2015.  Yet they waited two months to file their second standstill request and to file the Application.
  • ADR has already had two years to adjust to the lack of access rights.  In particular, Decision 2013-372 extended ADR’s 9(1)(h) status for two years to allow the licensee time to adapt its business plan. Bell has not seen any evidence of ADR changing its business plan; rather its plan appears to be to argue for continued carriage at its existing wholesale rate.  Bell does not consider this to be adapting to new distribution circumstances.
  • Given that ADR’s programming is a public benefit for law enforcement agencies, it could attempt to obtain sponsorship from various levels of government. … If such an attempt was made and rejected, then it would appear that law enforcement agencies do not see the value in ADR.
  • At mediation, there was a good exchange of information between the parties, but in the end, Bell’s position did not change. Our subscribers see little or no value in receiving this service as evidenced by the viewership chart for the service provided further below.
  • There is no regulatory requirement for BDUs to make reasonable attempts to ensure that programming services remain viable if they do not believe the service appeals to their subscribers.
  • The Wholesale Code does not afford independent services, such as ADR, penetration guarantees; rather, it only allows them the ability to negotiate for one.
  • There is no similarity between the programming offered by ADR and Canal D/Investigation.
  • The programming on Canal D/Investigation takes the form of documentaries, dramas and reality television shows related to justice and forensic science. It is an entertainment service that broadcasts programs on resolved criminal stories of national and international scope, it is not interactive, nor is it a “Crimestoppers” channel.
  • ADR’s viewership pales in comparison to Canal D/Investigation.
  • There is no evidence on file of their ability to solve crimes.
  • ADR suggests … there is no evidence that Bell plans to rebate its customers for the loss of service of ADR. … We do not make rate adjustments each and every time the cost of a programming service increases or decreases or when a service is added or removed from a package.
  • This Application is simply another attempt to have the Commission extend its mandatory-to-basic 9(1)(h) distribution order; a proposal that has already been rejected.

Bell makes reference to viewership data for ADR above. Because ADR does not subscribe to Numeris, Bell instead used set-top box viewership data from Fibe TV customers. The figures it uses are redacted from the public record, because Bell argues that information is commercially sensitive. So we don’t know what ADR’s actual viewership is among Bell customers, either in real numbers or compared to Investigation, other than it being lower.

Posted in TV

Concordia students get $650,000 out of a Rogers acquisition

Sportsnet records its president announcing its donation at Concordia University's journalism building on Wednesday.

Sportsnet records its president announcing its donation at Concordia University’s journalism building on Wednesday.

Concordia University journalism students will be getting a financial boost in the coming years thanks to a $650,000 donation from Rogers Sportsnet.

 

More than half of the donation will be used for scholarships for students over five years:

  • Six scholarships of $3,000 each to undergraduate students
  • Seven scholarships of $4,000 each to graduate diploma students
  • Two scholarships of $6,000 each to masters students
  • Two prizes of $8,500 each to students based on sports journalism portfolios

This works out to $75,000 a year, or $375,000 over the five years of the program. The rest of the money will be used for things like new equipment purchases and other stuff whose details haven’t been finalized, said Concordia journalism department chair Brian Gabrial.

Other than the $8,500 prizes listed above, the scholarships are not specifically sports-related.

Students and staff at Concordia celebrate their donation with Sportsnet president Scott Moore (third from left).

Students and staff at Concordia celebrate their donation with Sportsnet president Scott Moore (third from left).

The donation, the largest in the department’s history, was celebrated with a wine-and-hors-d’oeuvres event at Concordia’s journalism and communications building on the Loyola campus on Wednesday, with Concordia president Alan Shepard Sportsnet president Scott Moore in attendance.

But while this is great news for the university, it’s worth noting where this money is coming from. It’s not something Rogers is doing spontaneously out of the kindness of its heart, but rather a mandatory funding initiative linked to Rogers’s 2013 acquisition of The Score (which it turned into Sportsnet 360).

When the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved the acquisition of the sports news television channel in 2013, it mandated that 10% of its purchase price (valued at $172 million) be spent on tangible benefits, or donations to programs and initiatives that benefit the broadcasting system as a whole. This is the CRTC’s way of mitigating the loss of diversity that comes from consolidation of ownership.

Rogers had originally proposed more than half of that going to something called the “Sportsnet Winter Games”, an annual amateur sports event. But the commission rejected that, saying it was worried that this would be self-serving. Instead, Rogers broke down the proposed benefits as follows:

  • $5 million for a Sportsnet Independent Production Fund
  • $5 million for a Canadian University Sports Initiative
  • $2.5 million for digital media produciton scholarships
  • $4.7 million for amateur independent sports production

Moore confirmed that the $650,000 donation to Concordia comes out of this tangible benefits package, which has to be paid out over five years. He said internal bureaucracy at Rogers, combined with some major distractions, caused them to get a slow start on this.

Gabrial credits Bob Babinski for helping get this done. Babinski worked with Moore at CBC Sports, and after Moore moved to Rogers Media, he hired Babinski to launch City Montreal. Moore said he called up Babinski and asked about Concordia’s journalism program, and then Sportsnet approached Concordia asking them to put together a proposal.

Moore referred to the donation as an “investment” in the future of journalism. That’s a nice sentiment, though the CRTC rules prevent any quid pro quo.

Other Sportsnet university initiatives include the Sportsnet U Recruited program. Its first recruit is Julian McKenzie, a Concordia journalism student, former sports editor at The Link and producer at CJLO 1690 AM. After the event, McKenzie had lunch with Moore.

A fake Concordian front page announcing the donation.

A fake Concordian front page announcing the donation.

Posted in Radio, TV

Bell Media rehires Louis Douville as regional sales manager

Louis Douville

Louis Douville

Two months after he lost his job as general manager of CTV Montreal, Louis Douville is back at Bell Media. It was just announced internally that he is taking on the new job of regional sales manager for local TV and radio in Quebec, starting Monday.

In his new job, Douville will be responsible for advertising sales managers at CTV Montreal and Bell Media’s radio stations in both languages throughout the province. He reports directly to Toronto.

Douville tells me he considers the change a lateral move, with “a more focused responsibility” but with a wider scope.

He says he had no hard feelings about being cut as part of hundreds of job cuts at the company this year. “I never took it personally. I was a victim of economic times,” he said. “To be able to stay with a company that I’ve invested in for 33 years is pretty fabulous.”

Advertising is a big challenge, especially for a company like Bell Media, which is looking to increase or at least maintain its revenues while operating with fewer staff. Douville said he has ideas for strategy but wants to discuss them with his staff first. And as for taking on that daunting task, he offered advice he heard from a wise man once:

“If you take a challenge that doesn’t terrify you, you’re not taking on enough of a challenge.”

Posted in TV

Alex Despatie leaves Breakfast Television

Alexandre Despatie

Alexandre Despatie, the former world champion diver who was a surprise hire as one of the first hosts of Breakfast Television Montreal, has left the show.

The show has been co-hosted by Wilder Weir the past few weeks, but Despatie’s departure was only announced on air this morning, at the end of the show.

“Alex is moving on to different and exciting projects, so it’s a start to a new chapter in Alex’s life,” co-host Joanne Vrakas said before reminiscing about her screen test with him before they were hired.

The use of boilerplate, combined with the fact that Despatie wasn’t there to offer his own goodbye message certainly raises an eyebrow, but statements offered from both parties suggest an amicable departure. Here’s statements that Rogers PR emailed me afterward:

Colette Watson, VP of Broadcast & Operations, Rogers Media :

“Alex was a big part of our launch in Montreal and we are appreciative to have had the opportunity to work with him.  He is a true professional and we wish him all the best as he moves on to his next venture.”

Alexandre Despatie:

“From a young age I have been motivated by challenges, and the chance to participate in the launch of a new station in such an important role was quite a big one. I want to thank City for offering me this extraordinary opportunity and the viewers who let me into their homes every morning. I was privileged to share the show with a great team both in-front of and behind the camera and I wish them all the best. I would have loved to continue this wonderful experience, but I’m looking forward to my next exciting endeavour.”

It’s unclear what happens now as far as on-air staff. Weir would be the obvious choice to replace Depatie since he’s been doing it as a fill-in. But that opens up Wilder’s position as the “Live Eye” reporter.

To complicate matters further, Vrakas is pregnant, which means she’ll be going on maternity leave soon.

Despatie is the latest major figure to leave City Montreal after only two and a half years of local programming. He follows Montreal Connected host Alyson Lozoff, executive producer Bob Babinski (who hired Despatie), supervising producer Jeffrey Feldman, plus some behind-the-scenes people like news producer Levon Sevunts.

Posted in TV

ICTV files new CRTC complaint against MAtv

In February, following a complaint by an independent group that wanted to start up their own community TV station in Montreal, the CRTC gave Videotron a deadline of Aug. 31 to put MAtv in compliance with its conditions of licence.

According to the group that filed the original complaint, Videotron has failed to do so. And so it has filed another complaint.

Dated Nov. 5 and posted today, the complaint by ICTV (Independent Community Television) alleges that MAtv fails to meet the requirement of 50% community access programming, and not just in Montreal but in eight of nine zones that MAtv operates in. It also notes that Videotron has no programming for an aboriginal audience, which is expected of community services (though there’s no quantitative quota for it).

It also cites the lack of advisory boards outside of Montreal, and the fact that the Montreal advisory board does not include any representatives of ICTV. (“This exclusionary behaviour by Videotron crossed the line when MAtv General Manager we quoted by the press to have implied his station is at war with ICTV, and by extension the communities we represent,” the application states, without giving a source. While it’s true that Videotron has made no effort to approach ICTV, I am unaware of any effort from ICTV to approach MAtv in a constructive way either.)

ICTV comes to its conclusions by studying the program grids posted online over a sample week (Oct. 8-15 for Montreal, Oct. 21-27 for the other eight zones). By looking at where the program was produced, and by whom, it calculates the amount of access programming per region. According to its analysis, these are the levels of access programming for the various regions:

Montreal: 36.61%
Bas-Saint-Laurent: 35.41%
Cap-de-la-Madeleine: 11.89%
Granby: 50.51%
Outaouais: 15.78%
Quebec City: 27.98%
Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean: 45.98%
Sherbrooke: 38.89%
Sorel-Tracy: 9.03%

Only Granby meets the 50% minimum, and even then only barely, ICTV says.

The complaint includes a spreadsheet showing the number of hours devoted to each program and how ICTV has categorized it. No doubt Videotron will take issue with some programs being categorized as not being public access.

ICTV asked the CRTC to seek logs from MAtv to confirm its accounting, and the CRTC has in turn asked Videotron to supply those logs.

If the CRTC confirms what ICTV has claimed, it could take serious measures against Videotron, including revoking the licence for MAtv. At that point, an independent community TV service operating in the same region could replace it and get access to its funding. ICTV wants to be that service, though there is also Télévision communautaire Frontenac, which also operates in Montreal and unlike ICTV has a licence.

The CRTC gave Videotron an August deadline because that was when Videotron’s distribution licence was to expire. In July, the commission renewed that licence for a year to give it more time to deal with it.

You can download the application here (.zip file). Comments from the public are being accepted until Dec. 17. You can file comments online here. Note that all information provided, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Posted in Media, Radio, TV

Bell Media cutting hundreds of jobs, including 110 in Montreal

Updated Nov. 23: Here are the cuts we know so far, broken down by region:

Victoria

Vancouver

Most of the above names from this Vancouver Sun blog post

Edmonton

CTV Edmonton noted on air that the first four departures noted above are all voluntary.

Calgary

Saskatchewan

From Unifor:

In Saskatoon a Tech and Administrative Assistant took early retirement, two vacant part-time positions won’t be filled and a temporary contract employee was let go a year early. In Prince Albert, two operations positions were eliminated. In Yorkton, a part-time camera operator position was eliminated. As far as out of scope employees are concerned The Traffic Department manager has retired, and a financial manager was let go.That’s a total of 10 union positions and 2 out of scope positions. Regina is not unionized but I had heard 13 layoffs.

Winnipeg

  • CTV: Operations manager, promo manager, payroll manager, shooter, editor, floor director, feed and play operator, web producer, manager of traffic and receptionist.
  • Radio: 9 in total, including in production, sales, street team, and engineering.

Above information via ChrisD.ca.

Windsor, Ont.

London, Ont.

  • CJBK 1290 AM host Steve Garrison
  • CTV Two health reporter Jan Sims
  • Three news editors, two cameramen, and engineer and technical director at CTV Two
  • Several managers in both TV and radio

Toronto

In addition, TSN is downgrading Off the Record from its own show to a regular segment on SportsCentre. TSN spins this as a positive.

Barrie, Ont. (CTV Two)

  • Weatherman Bob McIntyre (retirement)
  • Creative Service Writers – 2
  • Creative & Promo Editors – 2
  • Promotion Producers – 2
  • ENG/EFP Camera -1
  • Librarian – 1
  • Receptionist – 1
  • Announcer – 1
  • News director, accounts Manager, salesperson and P.T. Executive Secretary

The union says the Barrie station lost a quarter of its workforce with this cut.

St. Catharines, Ont.

Ottawa

Stories in the The Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun. The Sun also reports that CFRA will have its newscasts read by CTV Ottawa personalities. And Unifor says CTV Ottawa will no longer have a local sports segment at 11:30pm weekdays.

UPDATE (Dec. 4): The Ottawa Sun has an interview with Meehan. As does the Ottawa Citizen. And CBC.

Montreal

Sherbrooke

Quebec City

The Journal de Québec has a roundup of cuts at Énergie and Rouge FM stations, including Marie-Josée Longval at Rouge in Quebec City and Patrice Henrichon at Énergie in Sherbrooke.

Atlantic Canada

Two positions affected at 21-M in Halifax/New Brunswick/Cape Breton. One each in TV and radio.
A swing traffic/receiptionist was lost in TV, and an on-air person in radio.
Two might not seem like a lot, but in TV for example 21-M is down to fewer than 20 members.

This is a very incomplete list, based on names reported so far. It doesn’t include probably scores of behind-the-scenes staff like cameramen, producers, editors, support staff and more. If you have names to add to this list, or to confirm, or links to other reports, send them my way.

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Posted in My articles, TV

A community television renaissance in Montreal

You ever tried pitching a local TV show to a local commercial station?

Don’t bother.

It’s not that they wouldn’t love the idea. But over-the-air television isn’t what it used to be. Their audience isn’t as captive, their advertising revenue not as robust. Their owners keep them going by centralizing as much as possible, including programming, to keep costs down.

But there is a place that might accept your proposal. In fact, there are two. Both Videotron and Bell now run bilingual community television services in Montreal, offering money and resources to people who want to create shows that reflect the city and its various communities. A third independent community TV service was recently given a licence by the CRTC to operate on independent providers, and its plan is to offer some English programming too in a couple of years.

I wrote about these community TV services and the issue in general in a recent story for the Montreal Gazette. But I collected far more information than I could cram into that article, so here are some additional things I’ve learned.

MAtv (Videotron Channel 9/609)

Those of you following the MAtv saga might remember that it had planned to launch a separate English channel, and Videotron asked the CRTC to double the money it could deduct from its required payments for Canadian programming and redirect to community television. The CRTC said OK to the second channel, but no to the additional money (even though it said yes to a similar request from Bell). So Videotron decided to just add English programming to MAtv.

In September, it launched that programming: Five shows, of which two are English versions of MAtv-produced French shows (Montreal Billboard, hosted by former Global anchor Richard Dagenais, consists of interviews with people from local organizations, and is a French version of Montréalité; and City Life, hosted by former CJAD staffer Tina Tenneriello, is a current affairs show modelled after Mise à jour).

Of the other three shows, two are actually from the same group, though that fact is disguised a bit in the promotional material. There’s Living 2 Gether, a series hosted by Vahid Vidah that lets amateur filmmakers explore the social fabric of the city, and StartLine, hosted (kinda) by Henri Pardo, that profiles small businesses. StartLine was submitted by Gregory Vidah, Vahid’s brother.

To understand how they got involved in this, you have to learn about a guy I didn’t have room to talk about in the Gazette article: Ely Bonder.

Bonder worked at CFCF-12/CTV Montreal for 35 years as a video editor until he retired in January. But he’s had projects on the side for most of that time. In 1984, he was part of a group headed by Roger Price that proposed a youth-oriented television channel to the CRTC. It was later withdrawn because of a lack of funding, the CRTC decision says. In 1987, the commission would finally give a licence to a new specialty programming service called YTV.

Bonder went on to create an organization called Youth eMage Jeunesse, which helped young people, particularly those who are disadvantaged, get access to video equipment to create their own productions. It was one of several organizations to get financial benefits — $200,000 — from the transaction that saw Quebecor buy TVA in 2001.

Fast-forward to last year, and Bonder is at an event called Je vois MTL, which is designed to get people involved in proposing and launching innovative projects that make Montreal a better city. “There I met Vahid, who was coming up with a concept of empowering artists,” he said. “We put our heads together and talked.”

This is where I appear in the story. They came across articles I’d written about Videotron’s MYtv project. “Lo and behold the opportunity fell from the sky to do TV,” he said. They met with MAtv people, and “they suggested that we pitch a couple of shows.”

They came prepared, more so than MAtv anticipated. With the help of Collective Community Services, they reached out to volunteers, and got so many people interested they had to turn many of them away.

“You could tell there was a real sense of community that needed to be fulfilled,” Bonder said.

“We walked into the office of the general manager of MAtv and we wowed them,” Vidah explained. “They ate us like cupcakes.”

As a result, this group has two shows on the air, with a third slated for winter.

“I’m not a TV producer, I’m a musician and a social activist,” Vidah says. “I see myself as a social aggregator.”

Vidah, the son of an African father and French-Canadian mother, has a kind of hippie look at society, but that isn’t in any way insincere.

“We have so much things in common, that it’s kind of useless for us to focus on differences,” he says.

Bonder was so impressed by Vidah that he decided to give him the company. “I felt that he should actually own the entity that he was working for for free,” he said. “I got my freedom and he got the company.”

Vidah is resurrecting it as Zenzoo.TV.

The other independent production is The Street Speaks by Paul Shore. It’s an extension of a project he started online called Quelque Show (he changed the name Quelque Show was used by CBC Montreal back in the day and “I didn’t want the CBC to send me a cease and desist order”).

Ask him about the show and he’ll tell you that when he asked people on the street when was the last time a journalist asked their opinion about something, “97 out of 100 said never.”

The Street Speaks is a kind of everyman’s soapbox, in which people on the street give their opinions about issues. But unlike the man-on-the-street interviews you see on the nightly news, these discussions are more open-ended, about bigger issues than the divisive political issue of the day. “I don’t talk to people about news or pop culture, ever,” he explains. “I don’t have canned questions. I’m not looking for sound bites, I’m looking for people to have the opportunity to express themselves.”

Shore conducted long interviews with his subjects, and broke up their responses into themes to create 12 episodes of 28 minutes, with two themes per episode.

“It wasn’t that hard to get people to talk to me,” he explained. “I gave people the opportunity to express themselves even though they didn’t know they wanted one. Everyone has such rich stories to share.”

He does the interviews himself, without a production team. “It’s much easier for me to get really authentic interviews when I’m one on one with them,” he explains. The professional help comes in the postproduction process, particularly editing.

MAtv has changed a lot since the slap on the wrist from the CRTC. It makes much clearer now that it’s a place for people from the community to pitch programming, and airs a short intro before each episode of an access program pointing out where it came from. It has also launched a programming advisory committee, with input from many communities.

“I’m impressed with what we did over the past few months,” said Steve Desgagné, MAtv’s general manager, at the September programming launch. “We did the job and we’re really happy with the result.”

But there’s still a long way to go. The CRTC highlighted MAtv’s deficiency in presenting programming for an aboriginal audience. Desgagné said a project is in the works, but “we don’t know if it’s going to happen” yet. It all depends on the group that proposed it.

Even English programming was a bit hard to attract. He said they got “maybe 20 or so” submissions for English shows, while there are hundreds of proposals for French shows every year.

“We have to make more of an effort. The response was not what we expected,” he said. But “the projects we got are quality projects.”

The issues aren’t limited to programming, though. Videotron still faces a lawsuit from a group called ICTV that proposed its own grassroots community TV station to replace MAtv, which it successfully argued to the CRTC wasn’t respecting its mandate. In the meantime, ICTV isn’t proposing projects to MAtv, and MAtv hasn’t reached out to ICTV.

TV1 (Bell Channel 1)

Bell beat Videotron to the punch on English programming, mainly because Videotron’s application was stalled for a year by ICTV’s complaint.

Unlike MAtv, TV1, launched as Bell Local, is a video-on-demand channel instead of a linear one. Since Bell Fibe has no analog subscribers or other legacy issues to deal with, it can exploit the system’s technology to its full potential. This also means that episodes don’t have to fit into half-hour blocks.

Some of the shows it’s produced so far:

TV1 also has shows with obvious Bell Media tie-ins. A show about Amazing Race Canada auditions, an eTalk TIFF special, and a 24CH quiz show. Those don’t count as community access.

Discussing with Nicolas Poitras, VP Residential Services at Bell, who’s the big boss of TV1, the word “quality” came up a lot.

“There’s a perception that community TV is of lower quality,” he said. “Our desire was really quality. Our first preoccupation was to make sure that the quality was there.”

Poitras said Bell surveyed its customers and determined four broad themes that they wanted programming on: food, people, places and events. But if there’s quality stuff that doesn’t fit into those categories, they’ll still go for it.

“The only criteria is: Is it going to make interesting TV?”

While MAtv prefers series with 10 or 12 episodes, TV1 is much more flexible. Some are one-offs, some have just a few episodes, and others already have multiple seasons done. And because there’s no weekly schedule, deadlines aren’t as tight.

“We load assets when they’re ready, and people can consume them when they want,” Poitras said.

Another difference between Bell and Videotron is that the former gives more freedom to the producer to do what they want with the content. “We pay for the production and once we’ve aired it, the content is theirs, so they can broadcast the content on other channels,” Poitras said. Many producers have taken advantage of that to put their shows on YouTube (TV1 also puts stuff on YouTube, but it’s segments, not complete episodes.) MAtv, meanwhile, demands exclusivity for two years.

Both TV1 and MAtv are exclusive to their subscribers, and don’t offer full episodes online. That means for someone without a cable TV subscription, it’s easier to watch the latest episode of a hit U.S. drama than a community television show.

Télévision Communautaire Frontenac

There’s a third player in town. In August, Télévision Communautaire Frontenac was approved as Montreal’s first independent community television service. According to CRTC rules, all licensed terrestrial TV providers (cable or IPTV) must now offer TCF unless they have their own community channel.

So far this means only two small providers: Colba.Net and Distributel (Zazeen), both telecom companies that have recently added IPTV service in some areas of the city.

TCF dates back to 1995, and its home is in an office that was very clearly designed to be an apartment on the ground floor of the Tours Frontenac, a nonprofit housing complex across the street from the Frontenac metro station. It’s as bootstrappy low-budget as you can get, with only seven people on salary (not all of them full-time) but producing 200 hours a year of original content, soon going up to 300.

“We put money on the screen,” explains program director Louis-Martin McArdle.

Recently, an empty commercial space was given to the station to use as a studio, but before then it shot all its studio programs inside its cramped offices. For much of its life, TCF served only the towers of the complex, though that’s still about 800 units, or 2,000 people.

“There are community television services in Gaspésie that have fewer subscribers than there are people here,” McArdle said.

TCF eventually became the official community channel of VDN, a cable provider specializing in large apartment complexes. When VDN was bought by Bell, that came to an end, though there was an arrangement to share programming with Bell’s community channel.

TCF is distributed as an analog service inside the building (it’s watchable through cable boxes by choosing the channel reserved for building cameras), though it produces content in high definition and recently updated its editing equipment. It also posts content online.

McArdle said they hope to be running on Colba.Net and Zazeen in the coming weeks. The plan is to add English programming in the third year of operation, 2017-18.

A change in policy?

The fact that Videotron and Bell subscribers can’t access each other’s community programming is one of the things about the CRTC’s community television policy that irk independents.

Soon they’ll have an opportunity to change that. The CRTC is in the process of reviewing its community television policy, in a hearing to take place in January. Community TV, and certain aspects of local TV, were carved out of the recent Let’s Talk TV process so they could be dealt with separately.

Though the fact that community and local TV are being lumped in together also irks Cathy Edwards, executive director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). She’s worried that community TV concerns will be overshadowed by debates over local commercial TV.

Edwards wants to take community TV away from the cable companies and give it to independent groups.

“Canada is the only country in the world that recognizes a community media sector where it’s not defined automatically by nonprofit citizen media ownership,” she told me earlier this year.

“I get complaints all across the country we can’t get on our community channel or our community channel is closed.”

The fact that community channels are tied to cable companies is more historical than anything else. Back when cable was analog and there was only one cable company for every region, that was the only technical way that made sense.

But now, distribution isn’t the problem. People can use YouTube for that. What matters more is access to equipment and funding. And besides, the introduction of new competitors to cable means there isn’t just one company offering pay TV anymore.

A grassroots system like Edwards has in mind would be a challenge to set up. Not every community has a group ready to take the reins of a TV station. And even with money from cable companies, it still requires a lot of volunteer work. But the CRTC could start by requiring community TV services in a local area be carried by all providers in that area, and breaking down the silos that limit community programs to the cable company that funded them.

Comments on the CRTC’s local and community television review are due by 8pm ET Nov. 5 Nov. 6 (it was extended again). More than 1,100 comments have already been filed. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information submitted, including contact info, will be made public.

Submissions for new programs on MAtv and TV1 are welcome. Start by going to their website and filling out a form.