Category Archives: TV

CityNews Montreal review: Taking content recycling to a new level

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

Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the difference between the two.

Sportsnet Now (basic tier), $19.99/month

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

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

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

Sportsnet Now+, $27.99/month

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not much new, but a bit more Lu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mudryk gives back

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

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

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

Status quo on Sportsnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let QVC in, too

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

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

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

CRTC renews all mandatory TV subscription orders

If the CRTC is trying to wean the broadcasting system off of free money, it hasn’t been showing it in the past couple of weeks as it has renewed mandatory distribution orders for most services that have that special status requiring all cable, satellite and IPTV subscribers to subscribe to those services.

Every service whose status was up for renewal on Aug. 31 was renewed, with three getting an increase in their per-subscriber fee and one getting a decrease. Overall, the total goes up by seven cents a month per subscriber.

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What to expect from CityNews Montreal, which launches Monday

Gazette photographer Dave Sidaway composes a photo of CityNews Montreal journalists Andrew Brennan, Akil Alleyne, Emily Campbell, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed and Giordano Cescutti at the Citytv Montreal studio on Friday.

A handful of young journalists have been spending a couple of weeks rehearsing for the launch of Montreal’s fourth English-language daily evening local newscast. On Labour Day, ready or not, it goes live.

CityNews Montreal is part of the second half of five local City stations that have decided to join Toronto in having local news at 6 and 11pm. Rogers has determined that these evening newscasts are worth investing in as part of meeting their new requirements for “locally reflective news” established by the CRTC as of last year.

To get an idea what we can expect from this newscast, I watched the existing ones in Edmonton and Winnipeg, and talked with Dave Budge, VP of news and information at Rogers, plus briefly with Melanie Porco, supervising producer in Montreal.

The result is this Montreal Gazette story, published in Saturday’s paper. It explains how the anchorless newscast works. But for the TV and policy nerds, a few extra tidbits here.

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“Expert reacts” videos and accuracy in TV and movies

I’ve recently stumbled on a new trend in YouTube videos: experts taking popular movies and TV shows and reviewing scenes from them for accuracy. Wired and Vulture have done several of them, and some educational YouTube channels have found that they’re very popular with viewers.

I’ve watched dozens of them over the past few weeks, and many of them are fascinating, not only for people who like to nitpick about fiction as presented on screen, but because they demonstrate how hard it can be to get things right, and how great it is to see when they do.

If this kind of thing interests you as well, I’ve compiled the ones I’ve found below, grouped by topic. Enjoy.

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Major cable TV companies’ licences renewed: What the CRTC decided

On Aug. 2, the CRTC renewed the broadcasting licences of most of Canada’s major cable TV companies, including Videotron, Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Eastlink, Telus, VMedia and Bell MTS.

Though it wasn’t technically a policy proceeding, the omnibus licence renewals allowed the commission to impose a bunch of de facto policies, or clarify existing ones, on everyone at the same time. (Licenses for Bell’s Fibe TV operations, Bell satellite TV, Shaw Direct and some other distributors weren’t part of this proceeding, and smaller distributors who are exempt from licensing aren’t affected.)

Here’s what was decided:

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Citytv to launch local evening newscasts in Montreal Sept. 3

More than a year after it was announced that Citytv is creating local evening newscasts in markets including Montreal, we finally have a launch date: Sept. 3.

On that date, CityNews launches newscasts at 6pm and 11pm in Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

Rogers has also announced staffing for those newscasts. In Montreal, the anchorless newscasts will be staffed by the following reporters (bios from the press release):

  • Akil Alleyne – Alleyne is a graduate of Princeton University and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where he studied constitutional and international law. His previous experience includes stops at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as a Research and Program Associate; and CBC where he assisted with production, and writing.
  • Andrew Brennan – A newly-minted reporter with Breakfast Television Montreal, Brennan will continue to engage Montrealers with the local buzz on CityNews. For the last five years, Brennan has been a news anchor and reporter at CJAD 800. He graduated from Concordia University with a double-degree in Communication Studies and Journalism. (He announced his move last week.)
  • Emily Campbell – Campbell is an experienced video journalist, most recently having worked in reporting and as an anchor with CJAD 800 News and her work has appeared on CNN.
  • Giordano Cescutti – With a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Concordia University, Cescutti is a recipient of the Sportsnet Scholarship in Sports Journalism for excellence in journalism and sports reporting. His previous experience includes MAtv, Montreal Gazette and CJLO 1690AM, where he was co-host and producer of award-winning sports talk show The Starting Rotation.

They will work under Supervising Producer Melanie Porco, who has been with Citytv Montreal since its launch in 2013. Two people have also been hired to work behind the scenes with the newscast in Montreal, which will be directed out of a centralized control room in Vancouver.

Last fall, Citytv hired two reporters in Montreal in preparation for the new newscasts: Tina Tenneriello and Cora MacDonald. MacDonald left Citytv recently to join Global Montreal. (UPDATE July 20: Tenneriello is also gone. She’s leaving to host a web series about “inspiring people transforming their communities through social initiatives”)

As previously announced, the newscasts will be an hour long, at 6pm and 11pm, seven days a week.

When the announcement was made, the plan was to have the newscasts running in the winter. Rogers wouldn’t say what caused the delay, beyond this: “The fall launch is reflective of our commitment to ensuring we are delivering a gold standard of local news in these markets.”

In Vancouver, the staff is:

  • Ashley Burr, formerly of CKPG in Prince George, Alta.
  • Kyle Donaldson, producer and on-air personality with Breakfast Television Vancouver
  • Travis Prasad, formerly a news writer at CTV Vancouver
  • Isabelle Raghem, formerly of CHEK News and CHCH
  • Tom Walsh, Breakfast Television reporter since 2017
  • David Zura, formerly of Roundhouse Radio in Vancouver
  • Mary Cranston, Thor Diakow and Greg Harper, existing Breakfast Television Vancouver reporters

In Calgary, the newly announced staff is:

  • Kristen Fong, formerly of Global News Radio
  • Kendra Fowler, formerly of 660 News
  • Crystal Laderas, formerly of 660 News.
  • Michael Lumsden, reporter for Breakfast Television Calgary since 2017
  • Jonathan Mumam, formerly of 660 News
  • Brittany Rosen, formerly of CTV Regina

CityNews launched in Edmonton and Winnipeg last fall (those stations had dropped their Breakfast Television programs, so launching newscasts became a requirement to meet new local news quotas). Once the new newscasts are running, City will be able to meet its local programming and local news conditions of licence with just the evening newscasts, meaning Breakfast Television will no longer be required.

“There will be no changes to BT as a result of the launch of CityNews Montreal,” Rogers spokesperson Michelle Lomack tells me, repeating what has been said previously. But that could always change as the decline of ad revenue puts more pressure to cut costs.

Télé Inter-Rives proposes bringing over-the-air TV back to Îles-de-la-Madeleine

There’s not much clearer evidence of the declining industry of over-the-air television than the lack of demand for new TV stations in the country. With some exceptions (ICI in Montreal, for example), there haven’t been applications for new over-the-air stations in about 20 years. Instead, major networks like CBC, TVO and CTV have been shutting down transmitters en masse to save money.

So it’s a bit surprising that someone has submitted an application for a new transmitter, in one of the most remote places in the country: the Magdalen Islands (Îles-de-la-Madeleine), the archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that belongs to Quebec but is actually closer to all four Atlantic provinces than it is to the Quebec mainland.

The application comes from CHAU, the TVA affiliate in Carleton on the Gaspé peninsula. It’s owned by Télé Inter-Rives, which also operates affiliates of the three major French-language networks (Radio-Canada, TVA and V) in Rivière-du-Loup. In addition to its main transmitter in Carleton, CHAU operates 11 digital retransmitters in the Gaspé peninsula and northern New Brunswick. This would be the 12th transmitter, CHAU-DT-12.

(CHAU, like other independent broadcasters, made the investment to convert their over-the-air transmitters to digital even though they were not required to do so by the government’s digital transition plan because they served small communities.)

Proposed transmission pattern of CHAU-DT-12 in Îles-de-la-Madeleine

CHAU-DT-12 would be a 100-watt station, with a transmitter on Channel 12 in Cap-aux-Meules on the local transmission tower operated by GAD E?lectronique. CHAU puts the cost of the new transmission facility at $37,572. That’s about $3 for each of the region’s 12,000 or so residents.

Because it’s a retransmitter, CHAU-DT-12 wouldn’t be a local station for the islands, but CHAU says it wants to provide local programming, working with independent producers on the islands and doing reporting using technologies like Skype and FaceTime. CHAU says in its application that the residents of the islands have a lot in common with those of the Gaspé peninsula and Acadian communities in New Brunswick, including an interest in fishing.

It promises to devote at least 20 minutes a week to local news relevant to the islands.

The islands haven’t had an over-the-air television transmitter since CBC/Radio-Canada shut down its extensive network of analog TV rebroadcasters in 2012. Before they were shut down, they had two retransmitters of the Radio-Canada station in Montreal (CBIMT and CBIMT-1) and one retransmitter of CBC Montreal (CBMYT).

“In today’s difficult environment for over-the-air television in Canada, the project to extend CHAU’s signal to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine represents an investment that is unexpected but achievable thanks to technical possibilities that reduce installation and operational costs,” the application reads.

The CRTC is accepting comments about CHAU’s application until July 5. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

CRTC report has fundamental but very vague suggestions to change our broadcasting system

One day before the deadline set by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, the CRTC on Thursday released a report into the broadcasting system that proposes major, fundamental changes to how broadcasting is regulated in this country. (The condensed backgrounder is here.)

Unfortunately, that report is also quite vague, even on the parts that should be specific.

It’s not the CRTC’s fault, really, because that’s not really its purpose. The original order issued back in September by Joly is just as vague, seeking a report on “the distribution model or models of programming that are likely to exist in the future; how and through whom Canadians will access that programming; the extent to which these models will ensure a vibrant domestic market that is capable of supporting the continued creation, production and distribution of Canadian programming, in both official languages, including original entertainment and information programming.”

In terms of assessing programming distribution models, the report is pretty clear, but is also repeating a lot of stuff we already know: conventional television and radio are mature industries and have no way to go but down, online audio and video streaming services are catching on with the population, and Internet delivery of content means more Canadians are getting that content directly from foreign sources who don’t have to contribute to Canadian content or answer to the CRTC.

What’s new is what the commission proposes to do about it, but that’s where the data and charts go out the window and we’re left with vague, obvious suggestions and what often sounds like one unnamed person’s opinion.

But let’s go through them and look at the issues in a bit more detail:

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Corus abandons plan to sell Séries+ and Historia to Bell after Competition Bureau says no

Updated with Corus calling off the deal.

Corus and Bell have dropped their plans for Bell to acquire Corus’s ownership of French-language specialty channels Séries+ and Historia days after Corus announced the Commissioner of Competition has decided not to approve the $200-million purchase.

Reasons weren’t given — the bureau itself has not released a statement, but a spokesperson points out to Cartt.ca that their agreement with Bell is that it wouldn’t try to acquire them within 10 years. Five years ago, when Bell sought to purchase Astral Media (which at the time co-owned Séries+ and Historia with Shaw), the bureau came to an agreement to approve that sale, under various conditions that included the sale of those two channels. To allow Bell to re-buy those channels now would mean that the bureau does not take its own demands seriously.

The fact that Bell would have more than half the subscription revenue of French-language television in Canada might also have something to do with it.

The sale had gone through a CRTC process and was awaiting a decision. Now that process will be abandoned.