Category Archives: TV

Posted in TV

Review: New Global Morning News is a mess of disconnected hosts

When Global announced last month that there would be yet more centralization of local programming in eastern Canada, I didn’t exactly have my hopes up. They promised the centralization of resources would only affect non-local stories, and that the amount of actual local stuff would remain the same or even improve.

This week was the first under the new system for Global Montreal Morning News. And my analysis of the episodes that have aired so far suggest that Global has not lived up to that promise.

Not only that, but the melding of local and national elements creates this confusing mess of different on-camera personalities that is no better than someone switching channels at every commercial break.

Two shows in one

Co-host? What co-host? (Please pay no attention to that Twitter handle in the ticker)

Co-host? What co-host? (Please pay no attention to that Twitter handle in the ticker)

Like other morning shows, Global’s Morning News is broken up into six half-hour blocks, which are in turn broken up into three segments separated by commercial breaks. Here’s how the average half-hour block breaks down, rounded to about the nearest minute:

  • :00 Welcome/coming up plus quick weather hit
  • :01 Traffic
  • :02 Local news (including one packaged report)
  • :08 Local weather
  • :10 Commercial break
  • :12 National segment
  • :19 Commercial break
  • :21 Local weather
  • :23 Traffic
  • :24 Local interview segment (or two packaged reports)
  • :27 Commercial break

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Posted in TV

Montreal TV station ICI launches free livestream

Without the benefit of a well-staffed PR machine, Montreal’s ethnic television station ICI has been quietly launching new local programs and improving its service since it launched a year and a half ago.

Today, the station launched a free high-definition livestream on its website.

Free livestreams of TV stations aren’t very common because of the difficulty securing online streaming rights to content. And livestreams of specialty services are even less so because distributors and consumers complain when they have to pay for a TV service that’s given away for free online.

ICI doesn’t have to deal with those problems, because most of its content is original or acquired cheap from foreign countries, and as an over-the-air station it broadcasts for free.

Posted in My articles, TV

How local is Global’s plan for local news?

Shaw Media calls it innovative and transformative. Critics and the union calls it cost-cutting at the expense of local programming. What the CRTC calls it might become an issue.

Earlier this month, Global announced changes to the way it does local news across the country. The biggest one is that 11pm and weekend newscasts will no longer be anchored locally. Instead, an anchor or anchors in Toronto will produce local newscasts for the various local stations, customized for those stations and containing local news.

I get into the details of what’s changing in this story for the Montreal Gazette.

This is a step beyond what they did in 2008, when they centralized newscast control rooms in four broadcast centres (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto) so that one team could produce several newscasts in a day instead of just one or two.

What we’re left with are newscasts that feature reports from local journalists and are presumably lined up by local staff, but where the anchor, weatherman, director and just about all technical staff are in another city. Can that really be considered local programming?

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month. (File photo)

There are also changes to the morning show, which will soon feature eight-minute segments every half-hour produced nationally that will be identical for all markets. As a result, the morning show is losing three employees, including co-host Richard Dagenais.

The promises

The union representing Global Montreal employees isn’t happy. It sent out a press release last week (later corrected) that condemned the loss of local programming. Except for a couple of tweets, no one paid attention.

CUPE/SCFP tells me they will be watching the new shows with a stopwatch to see if Global is meeting its obligations to the CRTC, and will complain if they’re not.

Like all commercial television stations, Global Montreal has to ensure a minimum amount of local programming is aired. For stations in large markets like Montreal, that’s 14 hours a week.

Shaw also made a separate promise to create morning shows at least two hours long when it purchased Global from Canwest in 2010, and to keep them running until at least 2016-17, contributing $45 million to that cause ($5 million for Montreal). Because that’s a tangible benefit as part of a major acquisition, those 10 hours a week have to be in addition to the usual 14 hours a week of local programming.

If we consider Morning News, Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal as local programming, including their repeats and best-of shows, Global is meeting that obligation of 24 hours a week.

But are they really local?

As far as I can tell, the CRTC only really got around to establishing a definition of local programming in 2009, when it established the since-terminated Local Programming Improvement Fund. In Paragraph 43, it decided on the following definition:

Local programming is defined as programming produced by local stations with local personnel or programming produced by locally-based independent producers that reflects the particular needs and interests of the market’s residents.

Are these late-night newscasts produced by local stations? Do they use local personnel? It depends how you define “produced” and “personnel”, I guess.

When Global first outsourced technical production in 2008, the unions complained then too, saying these newscasts were not really local. The CRTC didn’t see it that way,

In 2009, the commission decided that there was no evidence that Global was contravening its licence requirements by outsourcing production of local news. It confirmed this later that year in renewing the licences of Global stations, but said it “will continue to monitor the situation.”

There’s also a separate definition of “local presence”, which has three criteria:

  • providing seven-day-a-week original local news coverage distinct to the market;
  • employing full-time journalists on the ground in the market; and
  • operating a news bureau or news gathering office in the market.

Global’s new plan fits all three of these criteria, though the first might be arguable depending on how distinctive the newscasts really are.

Global points out that it’s not unprecedented to anchor local newscasts outside of the local market. Its New Brunswick newscast is anchored out of Halifax. Other small stations owned by Global and CTV have their local news produced out of neighbouring markets. And the CRTC hasn’t seemed to have a problem with that.

The CRTC will be reviewing its local television policy in the coming year, and this could become a central issue.

What the new Global Montreal will look like

So how will this affect what actually goes on air? Here’s what we know:

  • The 6pm newscast is unchanged. It will still be anchored locally by Jamie Orchard, and produced out of Edmonton with a weatherman in Toronto. Its news will still be local, since it’s followed directly by Global National at 6:30.
  • Focus Montreal is also unchanged.
  • The late-night and weekend newscasts will have a Toronto anchor, and 11pm newscasts will be expanded to a full hour.
  • The morning show will have more nationally-produced content.

Many details are still unclear, but here’s some things I’m predicting will happen:

  • The morning show will have national news, world news and entertainment segments that are nationally produced, but still have the local anchor doing local news. There may be a temptation to do sports nationally, but unless they do something like City where the national sports segment is customized to the local market, it would probably be better to leave that local. We might also see some national lifestyle segments produced for all markets, or special all-markets broadcasts like we’ve seen on City.
  • The quality of the morning show will decrease thanks to its staff cuts.
  • Late-night weeknight and weekend newscasts anchored out of Toronto will no longer be live. Which is fine because they’ll be mainly rehashes of the 6pm news anyway, with maybe a report from an evening reporter thrown in. The hour-long 11pm newscast will be heavy on national segments, including some sports content. The ability to make late changes because of breaking local news will be significantly diminished.

One thing that’s unclear is who will be running the show locally nights and weekends. Global says it will commit to having a local person exercising editorial control over those newscasts, but setting aside how hard it is to effectively use that control when everyone is in another city and there’s enormous pressure to not be different from other markets, who will be the person doing this?

Under the current system, the only person in the newsroom for most of the night or weekend is the anchor. They’re handling assignment duties, lining up the newscast, and even calling the cops to get updates. Will there still be a reporter doing this? And if so, why not just have that person still act as anchor?

Global’s plan is clearly to focus on content over its container. But I think the company is underestimating the contributions that anchors make to their newscasts. It’s not a job that involves only 30 minutes a day of work.

How will the viewers react? Well, when your late-night newscast gets a couple of thousand viewers, you might ask if it even matters. And will they even recognize that their anchor is in Toronto, with little or no knowledge of the city he’s describing every night?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, TV newscasts are so 20th century. And Global is looking toward the future. Its plans for Global News 1, which ironically involve hiring a bunch of staff instead of laying them off, is a similar blend of national and local where the local resources are all gathering news instead of producing newscasts. But we’re still waiting for the CRTC to publish the application for that proposed service.

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Posted in TV

UPDATED: Global to have late local newscasts anchored out of Toronto

Updated April 21 with new details. See also this Gazette story.

global-studio

You’d think that Global couldn’t go any further in centralizing the production of their regional newscasts. As it is, stations like Montreal have their control rooms in hubs thousands of kilometres away. All that’s left are the newsroom, the journalists, some ad sales and marketing people, and a small green studio with a desk and an anchor.

But they’ve managed to find a way to take it even further. On Thursday, Shaw Media announced that in eastern and central Canada, late-night and weekend newscasts will be done out of Toronto. Like what they did with control rooms, now even the anchors will produce multiple newscasts for different regional markets in one shift.

It’s part of what Global News boss Troy Reeb describes as a move to “a story-centric production model and that means moving past some of the traditional ways we’ve produced television newscasts.” In other words, the focus is on having local people work on the content, while saving as much money as possible on the container for that content.

This won’t be the first time Global has had people from Toronto do local news. Evening news weather man Anthony Farnell is based in Toronto, a fact that’s never made obvious to viewers.

But it’s odd that Global thinks that local anchors aren’t important. After all, they’re not just pretty faces that sit at their desks until they’re ready to go on air: They’re writing scripts and checking up on local news, work that presumably would need to be taken up by someone else if the anchors are taken out of their jobs.

In Montreal, the jobs affected would be those of late-night anchor Elysia Bryan-Baynes and weekend anchor Peter Anthony Holder. Bryan-Baynes is staying on as a reporter, but Holder, who’s technically a freelancer, is out of a job this fall.

Also gone are morning co-host Richard Dagenais, morning show associate producer Gloria Henriquez, and morning show control-room director Jim Connell. Connell is already gone, the others leave May 15.

Connell says he plans to return to freelancing. The others either declined to comment or didn’t respond when I asked them to.

“While we can’t comment on specific individuals, many of the impacted studio positions will be converted to field reporting which should help provide more local content not only for the late and weekend shows but for online and mobile,” Reeb told me.

Montreal station manager Karen Macdonald referred comment to national PR in Toronto.

Reeb put the cuts at less than 30 nationwide, which suggests maybe four or five on average per market affected.

No changes are planned for the evening newscast at 6pm, which will still be anchored locally, or for the weekly interview show Focus Montreal.

And on the plus side, the late-night news will be extended to an hour from the current half-hour when the change happens sometime over the summer. Late weeknight newscasts in New Brunswick and Halifax are also being extended to an hour.

National segments in local morning shows

The other major change is centralizing content for the local morning shows. Shaw promised to create local morning shows as part of its acquisition of Global in 2010. That promise included $5 million of total funding for Montreal’s morning show until 2016-17.

While the morning shows will still be three hours, still feature local anchors and still be produced locally, segments that are the same in different regions will be produced on a national level.

Reeb explains:

“Each half hour, an eight-minute segment covering national and international content will be produced centrally and will air in all shows. This is approximately equal to the amount of national content covered currently in each local show. Again, the goal is to eliminate the duplication that occurs when multiple anchor teams in multiple studios discuss the same trending stories, and to focus our local newsrooms on distinct, local content.”

I’m not sure how true it is that eight minutes each half-hour is of non-local content. There’s entertainment and sports news, sure, but in Montreal at least most of the morning show’s time is spent on local headlines and in-studio interviews.

This change is expected to roll out by the end of May.

The Global News 1 model

The strategy of centralizing news production and leaving local news to local journalists is nothing new. CTV makes use of its media empire to put business news from BNN and sports news from TSN on its newscasts. City TV’s local morning shows have sports updates from Sportsnet, personalized for each market.

But Global is taking it a step further with outsourced anchoring, giving us something a bit closer to what they have planned for their Global News 1 project. Submitted to the CRTC in September, the plan is to have news feeds for each market contain a mix of local and national news without requiring their own control rooms.

Global is still waiting for the CRTC to process and publish its application for the unique all-news service.

UPDATE (April 15): The Canadian Union of Public Employees has sent out a press release decrying the loss of local programming on Global Montreal. The statement says that the morning show will also be anchored out of Toronto, which contradicts the information I have above. I checked with Global, and a spokesperson responded by calling CUPE’s statement “inaccurate and misleading.” The way I describe the situation above is correct, Global says.

April 16: CUPE has sent out a correction, claiming it was given incorrect information from management the first time. The two stories are now consistent.

Posted in TV

Videotron appoints advisory council for MAtv

Two weeks after the fact, Videotron announced today that it has met the March 15 deadline set by the CRTC in February to set up an advisory committee for community channel MAtv in Montreal. The commission made the requirement in response to a complaint that MAtv was not properly representing the community it serves.

The nine-person committee, which will serve in an advisory capacity but won’t be making the decisions about what goes on air, is composed of members of the arts, business and cultural communities, as well as a member of the English-speaking community, which presumably means we should start seeing English programming on the channel some time soon.

The members are as follows:

  • Fortner Anderson, English-Language ARTS Network (ELAN)
  • Éric Lefebvre, Director of Development, Quartier des spectacles Partnership
  • Annie Billington, Coordinator, Communications and Community Relations, Culture Montréal
  • Martin Frappier, Director of Communications, Chantier de l’économie sociale
  • Marie-Pier Veilleux, Director, Strategic Forums, International Leaders, and Special Projects, Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal
  • Cathy Wong, President, Conseil des Montréalaises (consultative body on gender equality)
  • Philippe Meilleur, Executive Director, Montreal Native Community Development Centre
  • Aïda Kamar, CEO, Vision Diversité
  • Vanessa Destiné, student, Université de Montréal; regional coordinator, Communautique; volunteer, MAtv
Posted in Media, Radio, TV

Another wave of cuts at CBC will mean 9 jobs lost in English services in Quebec

The cuts just keep coming at the CBC. The latest wave, announced today, affects local services across the country in both English and French, with 144 and 100 jobs cut, respectively.

J-Source has a copy of the memo outlining the regional breakdown for English services, which says nine jobs will be cut in Quebec.

We don’t know which jobs those will be yet. “Affected people will be informed in the coming weeks,” says communications manager Debbie Hynes.

The cuts relate to changes in the way local programming is managed, including the reduction of evening TV newscasts from 90 to 30 minutes this fall. Local radio programming is not being cut.

On the French side, Louis Lalande give some details about the cuts, including shows on ICI Musique that will be cancelled.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

TVA Sports to expand to three feeds during NHL playoffs

tvasports3

When TVA Sports launched, people wondered if it could fill 24 hours. When it acquired NHL rights, it had to expand to two channels even though it only really had scheduling conflicts on Saturday nights.

Now, with the NHL playoffs coming, and TVA having rights to all playoff games, Quebecor has decided to add a third feed to the service.

TVA Sports 3 will come online on April 15 on Videotron, Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Telus Optik TV. It will be free to all subscribers who have TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 in their packages. (Some subscribers have TVA Sports but not TVA Sports 2, and probably won’t get this new channel.)

In the two weeks leading up to that, from April 2 to 14, TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 will have a free preview. (There’s only one Saturday night Canadiens game in that span, the season finale against the Maple Leafs.)

The most interesting thing about TVA Sports 3 is that it’s a temporary channel, and will be removed at the end of May, when the first two (three?) playoff rounds are over and there aren’t any more scheduling conflicts. That doesn’t mean it can’t return in the future, though. There’s a lot of sports out there.

If you only have TVA Sports, by the way, there’s probably no need to worry. They haven’t put any Canadiens games on TVA Sports 2, and there’s no reason they would start now. (RDS only moved a regular-season Canadiens game to RDS2 once, and that was during the World Series.)

Yes, it’s necessary

TVA Sports 3 is needed because there are situations, especially in the first round of the NHL playoffs, where two channels isn’t enough. Last year, TSN had to give away a playoff game to Sportsnet because it had the Raptors on the main network and it couldn’t put two simultaneous games on TSN2. (Now that TSN has five channels, that’s no longer a problem.)

The NHL tries to schedule the playoffs so there is as little overlap as possible, but when western conference teams play 8pm or 9pm starts (because many teams are in Central or Mountain time zones), you can have three going at once.

And jokes aside, TVA Sports does have rights to other sports. It has some Impact games, some Blue Jays games, some NFL games and some tennis events. It still has a long way to go to catch up to RDS, but it’s working on it.

Some context

Three channels might seem like a lot, but there’s a long list of sports channels in Canada owned by Bell and Rogers:

Bell (English): TSN1-5, ESPN Classic, plus minority stakes in NHL Network, Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and CTV and CTV Two can air sports programming

Bell (French): RDS, RDS2, RDS Info

Rogers (English): Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet One/Vancouver/Oilers/Flames, Sportsnet World, OLN, plus minority stakes in Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and City, OMNI and FX Canada can air sports programming, plus its deal with CBC for hockey

And on top of that there’s NFL Network, MLB Network, Golf Channel and others with English programming that TVA could pick up the French rights to.

Don’t expect Canadiens on TVA

Since the TVA NHL deal was first announced, people have been asking about Canadiens games on the main TVA network. Rogers even assumed it would happen in some early schedule mockups, and TVA never ruled out the possibility.

The press release isn’t clear, but seems to imply Canadiens playoff games will be on TVA Sports. Remember that Quebecor spent a lot of money securing these rights, and no NHL team draws francophone audiences nearly as much as the Canadiens. If they’d gotten all 82 Canadiens games, then a Saturday night free-to-air game might have made sense, but as it stands it needs Canadiens fans to subscribe to the sports channel.

Things might change if the Canadiens go deep in the playoffs. Most if not all Canadiens playoff games should be available for free in English on CBC or City, so casual fans jumping on the bandwagon might decide to forgo a TVA Sports subscription and just watch the games in English. If the Canadiens make the Stanley Cup final, TVA might decide that advertising revenue for such a huge audience outweighs the potential gains in temporary TVA Sports subscriptions.

Posted in TV

CBC greenlights English adaptation of Radio-Canada’s Nouvelle adresse

On the same day it holds a public consultation in Montreal asking its audience how it can best represent English-speaking Quebec in its programming, CBC announced it has green-lit an English-language drama set in Montreal.

The new series is an English adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, the Radio-Canada drama written by Richard Blaimert and starring Macha Grenon as a journalist whose extended family is turned upside down after she learns that she has an incurable cancer. The series, which began last fall, is already in its second season, and though it faces tough competition from TVA’s Lance et compte in the Monday 9pm timeslot, it’s seen its audience steadily grow over the past few weeks.

New Address, for which Blaimert will be a consultant but not the writer, will begin production this summer and could be on air as early as this fall, CBC says. We don’t have too much detail (no cast announcement yet), but we know that the series will be set in Montreal, and that the family name is being changed from Lapointe in the French version to Lawson in the English.

Both the French series and its English adaptation are produced by Sphère Média Plus, which is responsible for several attempts to turn its French-language hits into English versions, with mixed success:

  • Sophie, the English adaptation of the comedy Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin, about a talent agent whose life goes nuts, which lasted two seasons and 32 episodes on CBC before being cancelled because of poor ratings. (That series was also written by Blaimert, though he defends it a bit to La Presse.)
  • Rumours, the adaptation of the half-hour comedy Rumeurs about a group of magazine employees, which lasted 20 episodes on CBC.
  • And, of course, 19-2, the adaptation of the Radio-Canada cop drama of the same name, which is now in its second season on Bravo, where it is both a critical and popular success. It landed there after CBC passed on the chance to pick up the series.

The company was also commissioned by NBC to create a pilot that adapted the dramatic comedy Le monde de Charlotte. It never got picked up.

UPDATE (Feb. 26): Now comes news that it’s going to adapt Mémoires vives in English for Rogers, which could put it on City or FX Canada.

Can this be the one that works?

The success of 19-2 compared to the lack of same from Sophie and Rumours probably leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the programming decision-makers at CBC Television. But it doesn’t change the fact that these Sphère Média Plus adaptations are more likely to fail than succeed.

Nouvelle adresse is a good series, well-written, well-acted, and will probably pick up several awards come awards season. But then again Sophie and Rumours were based on series that picked up more than a dozen Gémeaux awards, so that’s not a guarantee of anything.

I’m a fan of Nouvelle adresse, even though it, like 19-2, is pretty heavy. But while 19-2 has police officers with guns patrolling gritty streets, Nouvelle adresse is about middle-class families dealing with disease, divorce and drama. I’m not sure how well that will translate.

A big difference will probably be the cast chosen for the English version. Though I doubt it would happen, Grenon is bilingual and could theoretically reprise her role in the language of Shakespeare. Among anglo Quebecers, she’s still remembered best as the lady from the Pharmaprix commercials of the 90s:

On jase, as they say in French. Sphère Média Plus’s success with 19-2 has earned it another chance at turning a Radio-Canada hit into a CBC one. Let’s be cautiously hopeful that it succeeds, if only because it’s nice to see another series set in Montreal on English-language television in Canada.

UPDATE: Brendan Kelly has more on the adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, including quotes from the creators.

No Unité 9 en anglais

Richard Therrien at Le Soleil tells us that CBC couldn’t come to an agreement to adapt the Quebec mega-hit Unité 9 into an English series. Apparently the CBC’s desire to cut down on the number of episodes was a problem for author/producer Fabienne Larouche.

Posted in Media, My articles, Radio, TV

CBC holding its first public consultation for English-language minority in Quebec

The CBC wants to hear from you, not just because it wants to, but because it’s required to by a condition of licence.

In fact, it’s the very first condition of licence for CBC’s English and French-language services in a new CRTC licence approved in May 2013: The public broadcaster has to consult with minority-language communities: Francophones in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Western Canada and the North, and anglophones in Quebec. It has to happen once every two years and it has to be reported to the CRTC.

As CBC Quebec Managing Director Shelagh Kinch explains in this story I wrote for the Montreal Gazette, this is merely a formalizing of regular consultations the CBC did with anglophone community groups in Quebec and collection of audience feedback.

The consultation takes place Tuesday (Feb. 24) from 6:30pm to 8pm at Salle Raymond David of the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal. You can also tune in via live webcast and participate on Twitter using the hashtag #CBCconsults.

In addition to Kinch and a panel of local journalists (All in a Weekend/Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick, C’est la vie host and political columnist Bernard St-Laurent, Shari Okeke and Raffy Boudjikanian, plus travelling journalist Marika Wheeler), there will also be two bigwigs from CBC who can make a real difference: Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief of CBC News (who is also responsible for local radio across the country) and Sally Catto, general manager of programming for CBC Television. (Sadly, there isn’t anyone from national CBC radio, nor is CEO Hubert Lacroix on the panel.)

The CRTC imposed this condition of licence among several changes in the last licence renewal to ensure CBC is fulfilling its mandate toward minority language communities that aren’t large enough to have commercial broadcasters catering to them. And while Montreal is big enough that we have four English TV stations and several commercial radio stations, the rest of Quebec is pretty underserved. The only major broadcaster catering to them directly is the CBC Radio One station in Quebec City.

So if you have some beef with CBC’s programming, or feel as though it needs to better reflect your reality, whether you live on the Plateau or in Gaspé, this is your chance to make yourself heard.

And yeah, the just-shut-down-the-CBC suggestion has already been made.

The Facebook event for the discussion is here.

I can’t make it because of a meeting I have to be at, so I won’t get a chance to ask why our public broadcaster took a pass on the only English-language Canadian scripted drama series that’s actually set in Montreal.

Posted in TV

CRTC finds MAtv failed to fulfill its community TV mandate, denies additional funding for English-language channel

In a victory for those who feel community TV channels run by cable companies are using loopholes to get around the spirit of the rules, the CRTC has ruled that Videotron’s MAtv community television channel has not complied with its obligations, but will be given a chance to do so.

In short, the CRTC agreed with the complaint by Independent Community TV, an independent group that wants to replace MAtv with its own grass-roots service, that MAtv isn’t providing enough community access programming, and instead counting shows created and hosted by professionals as access programs.

It also found some programs MAtv counted as “local” aren’t specific enough to Montreal.

The regulations require community channels to be 45% access and 60% local, but found MAtv was, during a sample week studied, only 30% access and 39% local.

The CRTC held up an application for an English-language version of MAtv in Montreal as it dealt with this complaint. That decision was also released today, and it allows Videotron to start up the service but denies the additional funding necessary to do so.

Cable companies start community channels because the CRTC allows them to deduct that funding from the 5% of gross revenues that they must spend on Canadian programming (mainly contributions to the Canada Media Fund). The rules allow up to 2% of gross revenues to be used for a community channel. But recently the CRTC has been allowing some companies to deduct a further 2% to create a second channel in another language — Rogers has this in Ottawa, Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, while Bell has this for its Bell Local service in Montreal.

But because of the non-compliance, and because it felt MAtv already had enough funding, the CRTC says Videotron must start this new service without any additional funding. That severely lessens the chances of it happening.

In addition to a general requirement to come into compliance by the time its licence is up for renewal in August, Videotron must establish a citizen advisory board for MAtv by March 15.

The commission notes that the community TV policy will be reviewed in the coming year, and presumably the discrepancy between Videotron and Bell will be addressed through that.

I have reaction from the parties in a story in the Gazette. La Presse also has a story, as does Le Devoir, with commentary from ICTV.

You can read more background on this issue here and here.

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Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC says Canadians will get to watch U.S. Super Bowl ads as of 2017

It’s a decision that surprises me somewhat, though it’s consistent with the more populist pro-consumer approach taken by chairman Jean-Pierre Blais: simultaneous substitution, the rule that allows Canadian TV stations to force cable companies to replace U.S. network feeds with their own when they air the same program simultaneously, will be eliminated — only for the Super Bowl, and only as of 2017.

It’s weird to make an exception for a specific event, but the Super Bowl really is an exception. It’s the only time during the year when people actually want to watch the U.S. ads, and every year it’s the most common complaint the commission gets from consumers.

But this decision comes at a cost. Bell Media pays big money for NFL rights. We don’t know how much, or how long those rights are for (it was a “multi-year” deal signed in 2013), but we do know that the Super Bowl had 7.3 million viewers on CTV last year, and the Globe and Mail says the network can charge up to $200,000 for a 30-second spot during the game. With about 50 minutes of commercial time available, that’s several million dollars in revenue at stake. (UPDATE: Bell puts it at about $20 million for each year until its contract runs out in 2019.)

It’s hard to say what the fallout of this will be. Bell Media buys NFL rights as a package, so it’s not as simple as saying they’ll just give up rights to the Super Bowl. And the rest of the season, including the January playoffs, are still subject to substitution, and that still means a lot of money for the network.

Some people have suggested that CTV could get creative as a way of keeping viewers. Offering value-added content, or getting Canadian advertisers to improve their ads. The network has certainly tried the latter, but the economics just don’t work in its favour. A national Super Bowl ad in the U.S. costs 20 times as much as it does in Canada, which means advertisers’ budgets are 20 times higher. And as for value-added content, CTV can’t compete with the big U.S. networks. Plus, this whole exemption is so that we can watch the U.S. ads. How does CTV show the game and the U.S. ads and find space for its own advertising without cutting anything off?

Medium-term, it will be interesting to see how this changes the economics of NFL rights. Will Bell get a discount on its next deal (or does it have a clause that gives it a discount on this deal if it extends beyond 2016)? Will the U.S. network broadcasting future Super Bowls have to pay more to the NFL because their ads make it into Canada now? And will that result in higher rates on the U.S. broadcast?

Or will any of this even matter in a few years when we stop watching linear TV the way we used to?

Quality control — and red tape

For the rest of the year, the CRTC decided it would put in place measures to punish broadcasters and providers who screw up substitution, resulting in Canadians missing programming. We don’t care about the U.S. ads during these times, but we do care if Saturday Night Live comes back late or the Oscars cut out early.

Blais said the commission would adopt “a zero-tolerance approach to substantial mistakes” which sounds like an oxymoron. Broadcasters who make mistakes could lose the rights to substitute programs in the future. Distributors who make mistakes would be forced to provide rebates to customers.

Those both sound great, but how do you manage such a system? The CRTC suggests it would be done through its usual complaint resolution process:

To ensure procedural fairness to all broadcasters and BDUs, the Commission’s findings on such matters will be determined on a case-by-case basis and in the context of a process during which parties will have an opportunity to present any explanation for the errors, including whether the errors occurred despite the exercising of due diligence by a broadcasting undertaking.

In other words, if you lose 30 seconds of a Saturday Night Live sketch, you’ll have to complain to the CRTC, who will then launch a proceeding asking the two sides for comment. The broadcaster and the distributor will proceed to blame each other, and a few months later issue a decision that might result in three cents getting deducted from your next cable bill.

This sounds like an awful lot of red tape and extra work for everyone involved.

OTA stays

In its other decision on local television today, the CRTC said it would not allow local TV stations to shut down their over-the-air transmitters while retaining all the privileges of local stations, such as simultaneous substitution and local advertising. To emphasize the point, Blais gave his speech in front of large TV receiving antennas that consumers can use (but most are unaware of) to get local stations for free.

Beyond a takedown of arguments by Bell and the CBC, there isn’t much to this decision. It essentially keeps the status quo intact. But the CRTC says it will look more closely at the issue of local programming when it reviews its community television policy in the 2015-16 year. The scope of this review will be expanded to look at local TV in general, and the implication is that the commission may get more serious about forcing local TV stations to be more local.

More coverage of today’s decisions from the Globe and Mail and Cartt.ca. You can also watch the livestream of Blais’s speech here.

Reaction

Kevin O’Leary says this decision is “completely insane”, for what it’s worth, saying the CRTC is working against Canadians and Canada is like North Korea or Cuba. You know, his usual understated style.

Michael Hennessy of the Canadian Media Production Association looks at the downside of this decision for the industry, both directly and indirectly.

Diane Wild of TV Eh? says the CRTC should eliminate simsub entirely so Canadian broadcasters are encouraged to create their own content.

Michael Geist defends the decision, pointing out that simultaneous substitution is on the out anyway and the Canadian television industry is already too reliant on the government.

Meanwhile, Bell apparently sought a private meeting with the commissionners to get them to reverse their decision, a request the CRTC turned down.

And at Cartt.ca, suggestions that this could be the beginning of the end of vertical integration in Canada.

Posted in TV

Industry Canada puts moratorium on new TV transmitters as it considers slashing its spectrum in half

It’s a long technical document released as part of a series of measures billed as supporting competition in Canada’s wireless industry, but the Canadian government is laying the groundwork for decisions that could radically alter the future of over-the-air television broadcasting … again.

It’s called “Consultation on Repurposing the 600 MHz Band“, and is a document seeking public comments on joining a U.S. plan to repurpose more television channels for use as commercial wireless frequencies, forcing remaining television stations to be packed into fewer available channels.

Re-allocation could affect as many as 24 channels used for television.

Re-allocation could affect as many as 24 channels used for television.

Depending on how the U.S. moves, it could mean as many as half of the remaining channels used for over-the-air television could disappear by 2017.

The U.S. is undergoing a two-step auction process to recapture frequency in the 600 MHz band, which is used by the higher-end television channels (up to channel 51). The first step is an “incentive auction”, in which TV stations using those channels name the price they have to be paid to move off of them and give up the spectrum — a figure that could be millions or even hundreds of millions, depending on the value of that spectrum. Then, based on how many stations participate, the government re-allocates the frequencies and auctions them off to wireless companies.

Industry Canada is basically proposing that Canada join that process, though the details are unclear.

What we do know is that if the maximum re-allocation plan is used, all TV channels above 26 would disappear, and stations on those channels, whether they’re full-power stations or low-power ones, would have to move off of them as new licensees begin deploying their networks. (Channel 37 is reserved for radio astronomy, and would remain so under the new plan.)

Canada and the U.S. went through a similar process a few years ago, reallocating channels 52-69 for mobile use (the 700 MHz spectrum) during the digital television transition. The subsequent auction gave Canada more than $5 billion in revenue.

Industry Canada points out that the number of television transmitters in Canada has been stable over the past few years. With over-the-air stations relying on advertising alone for revenue, there has been little growth there. Instead, anyone with a new idea has been pushing subscription cable channels instead.

Coordination issues

But squeezing existing stations into a smaller space will still present significant coordination problems. Stations on channels 27 and above would need to be moved over, and that would mean packing stations in tighter than was proposed in the DTV transition plan. Industry Canada has proposed basing coordination on existing transmission parameters instead of maximum parameters to help that a bit, which would mean stations that aren’t taking full advantage of the coverage of their class might lose the chance to expand later.

The ministry predicts most stations — even those not currently using those higher channels — would need to change frequency as a result of this new plan, though it predicts most stations would at least be able to stay in the same range of frequencies, and use the same antennas they do now.

In Montreal, for example, Canal Savoir (CFTU-DT 29), V (CFJP-DT 35), ICI (CFHD-DT 47) and City (CJNT-DT 49) might need to change channels under a new plan. And while there are channels available (Montreal has 10 over-the-air stations), it might mean being on the same channel as a station in a nearby market like Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke or Burlington. Over-the-air TV viewers who count on receiving U.S. stations would probably find it very difficult as they too would have to move to lower channels and either be on the same channel or immediately adjacent to a Montreal station.

Industry Canada says it would coordinate with the U.S. to make avoiding interference problems easier.

Low-power stations, and stations in remote communities, who were largely exempt from the DTV transition rules, could also be forced to change channels and/or replace their analog transmitters with digital ones. Industry Canada says there are 551 low-power stations in Canada. Most of them wouldn’t need to change channel.

Moratorium

In light of this, Industry Canada has imposed a moratorium on all new television transmitter applications and applications to modify existing stations so that they increase their coverage or change their channel.

An appendix lists only 11 applications for full-power stations and six for low-power stations that were in progress in October. Most of those are related to a promise Shaw made when it purchased Global TV to convert all its transmitters to digital by 2015 (and Global BC has a lot of transmitters to convert).

The fact that such a moratorium could be imposed without causing much disruption should say a lot about the future of over-the-air television. This policy change would make it much more difficult to start new stations, particularly in large markets. But as we’ve seen, there’s very little demand for that.

Industry Canada is accepting comments on the proposal until Jan. 26. People interested in making them can follow the procedure outlined on this page. All comments form part of the public record.

UPDATE (Jan. 15): If you have complaints, comments or other information you want to offer to Industry Canada on this subject, the department has asked that you email spectrum.auctions@ic.gc.ca.

Posted in Radio, TV

CBC cutting local TV newscast from 90 to 30 minutes starting next fall

As the CBC continues finding ways to save money, the corporation announced today that it is making changes to local programming.

The biggest one is that evening TV newscasts are being cut from 90 minutes to 60 or 30, depending on the market. Montreal is one of the unlucky ones, being cut to 30 minutes, starting at 6pm. This happens to be CBC Montreal’s weakest half-hour, because it competes directly with CTV News at 6 and Global News.

Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Windsor and Fredericton are also getting cut to 30 minutes. Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s will stay at 60 minutes because there’s still a “business case” for longer newscasts there, and CBC North will have 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Inuktitut.

Evening and weekend news are unchanged, as are local programs on CBC Radio One.

On the French side, the weeknight local Téléjournal broadcasts will be cut to 30 minutes everywhere but Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa/Gatineau and the Acadian region.

There are also smaller changes. CBC Daybreak will be broadcast on television from 6-7am. Currently CBC Television airs a national CBC News broadcast at this time, surrounded by local news, weather and traffic graphics.

There’s also going to be new one-minute hourly news breaks throughout the afternoon and evening on CBC Television.

How this will affect jobs at CBC is unclear at this point. Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services says there are “no new cuts beyond those announced in June.” The CBC tells Canadian Press that it’s too early to talk about job cuts resulting from this, but not counting staff these changes will save $15 million a year.

Good news, too, kinda

If you want to ignore all that and pretend this is good news, as the CBC does in its press release, these “changes” are part of a transformation process that will focus more on digital. The corporation is vague on what changes are happening to the digital side, but apparently they will be improvements.

On the local side, the CBC will also be adding a videojournalist position in the Eastern Townships to expand coverage there. Right now there’s no private English-language TV or radio journalist permanently assigned to the townships. The CBC has a “researcher columnist” in the region covering it for radio, and occasionally supplements that with the travelling journalist who contributes to CBC Radio’s Quebec Community Network based out of Quebec City. This new position would be in addition to that, covering the townships for TV, radio and the web.

Fort McMurray, Alta., will also get a new news bureau.

See also:

Posted in TV

André Corbeil leaves CTV Montreal as job cuts reduce station’s workforce by 12

André Corbeil

André Corbeil

André Corbeil, a sports reporter/anchor at CTV Montreal, surprised a few people late last week announcing via Twitter that it was his last week at the station.

Corbeil’s job was eliminated as part of a series of cuts designed to reduce the station’s staff by about a dozen. We learned about those cuts over the summer, but the actual cuts are only happening now. Most of those leaving are in technical or behind-the-scenes positions, and most are leaving voluntarily.

Corbeil, who usually anchors on the weekends and reports three days a week, was offered a part-time position that would have kept him as the weekend anchor, but “he opted to leave,” general manager Louis Douville told me.

“He was an absolute gentleman, understood that it was a business decision,” he added later. “He was an important part of our family and we’re sad to see him go.”

Corbeil is originally from Timmins, Ont., and joined CTV Montreal in 2007 after four years at CTV in Sudbury.

“[I’m] not sure exactly where I will land in the coming months, but it most likely will not be on TV,” Corbeil told me. “Not suitable for a young family.” His wife works full-time and they have a two-year-old daughter. “So, nights and weekends make life pretty difficult.”

He said he’s going to try to “use this situation to my advantage and find an opportunity that will provide a better work/family balance.”

The loss of Corbeil will likely mean a drop in the amount of sports coverage on CTV Montreal, particularly of amateur sports. While Brian Wilde is the go-to guy for Canadiens coverage, and Randy Tieman covers the Alouettes, Corbeil was usually the reporter assigned to Impact games, and would often file reports about university sports. Douville said news reporters could cover events that straddle the barrier between news and sports, but it seems clear that there will be less than there used to be of stories in this category.

Net loss of 12 jobs

The positions being cut also include the late-night anchor position that was filled by Catherine Sherriffs before she left on maternity leave. But Corbeil is the only other on-air personality who’s leaving the station.

The exact fallout is still not known because it looks like a few positions may change as some laid off exercise a right to bump less senior people out of jobs in other classifications. That has some people (particularly those that would be bumped) concerned about unqualified or less qualified people occupying posts of young talented staffers.

Among the jobs that have been eliminated are the late weeknight lineup editor (the late anchor will instead line up his own show), one researcher position, the news archivist, an editor position and several other technical jobs.

In all, it’s a net loss of 12 jobs, with 12 people leaving voluntarily. Other cuts are being offset by the creation of new positions, usually with combined responsibilities. Susan Lea, the head of the union local, says a total of 15 positions have been eliminated.

“How this will impact (the station) remains to be seen,” she said. “Our product is news, that’s our one and only product. Every job is related to that. It definitely impacts the quality and our ability to cover news.”

“We don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none.”

The good news is that, besides Corbeil and the voluntary layoffs, Lea doesn’t expect anyone else to lose their job. “It will be more of an internal shuffling.”

Asked about concerns these cuts would affect the quality of the newscasts, Douville seemed confident viewers wouldn’t notice anything.

“We’re convinced we’re still going to be able to do exactly the same,” he said. “Our commitment to covering local sports remains unchanged. It’s just a reality that we have to do more with less. There are many people who are going to have more responsibilities. That’s a reality that all broadcasters are living with right now.”

“We have a 60 per cent share in the market and we intend to keep that.”

The unionized workforce at CTV Montreal has been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2013. Negotiations began this spring, but were put on hold either because of the layoffs or because everyone became busy, depending on which side you talk to. Douville said the employer is committed to resuming talks for a new contract.

Weekend sports anchor job available

Corbeil’s decision to leave ironically means a job has opened up at the station for a two-day-a-week sports anchor. Though someone with a young family is probably not crazy about working weekends, there’s no doubt and endless supply of eager young broadcasters who would jump at the chance for a job like this.

The most obvious choice would be Paul Graif, who has filled in as sports anchor many times over the years. But Graif works weekdays at K103 in Kahnawake, and might not be crazy about working seven days a week.

Chantal Desjardins would have been next on the list if she hadn’t taken a job at Sportsnet.

TSN 690’s Eric Thomas would be a good choice in light of his excellent debut in October. And there are plenty of people at the sports station who would probably make fine TV sports anchors.

Douville said the job would probably be filled early in the new year.