Category Archives: TV

Posted in Opinion, TV

24 myths about the CRTC, TV and Netflix

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has had to answer for decisions that the CRTC hasn't made or positions it hasn't proposed.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has had to answer for decisions that the CRTC hasn’t made or positions it hasn’t proposed.

Over two weeks of CRTC hearings over the future of television in September, I monitored discussion over Twitter. And I saw a lot of crazy ideas being thrown out about the commission, some of which I might simply disagree with, but much of which is just plain inaccurate or misinformed. Since then, the volume has died down, but the same points keep getting brought up.

So to try to clear things up, here are some things people are saying about the CRTC and how television is regulated in Canada that could use a reality check.

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Posted in TV

Radio-Canada shutting down its costume department

Here’s a story that’s getting very little attention in the anglophone media: Radio-Canada is shutting down its costume department at the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal, which will cease activities on Dec. 7 and shut down entirely at the end of March.

It’s a cut that’s expected to result in three job losses.

What’s upsetting about this to people like C’est juste de la TV’s Dave Ouellet, seen in the video above, is that the costume department isn’t just a closet of dresses. It’s a tool used by television and theatre productions, whether associated with Radio-Canada or not (Les Appendices, a Télé-Québec show, makes use of it), and it’s a cultural archive with many pieces that are historic because they were worn by important figures in Quebec’s cultural history.

And because it rents out costumes, but few people seem to know about this, there’s an argument that it could be made to pay for itself or even make a profit for the CBC if properly managed.

There’s a Facebook page and a petition to save the costume department, but it looks like the decision is made and unlikely to be reversed.

The good news is that heritage costumes won’t be thrown into the garbage. Radio-Canada has identified 72 of the more than 90,000 costumes that would be saved. The rest would be auctioned off, given to the highest bidder — presumably a private costume company — who can continue to make them available to Quebecers.

That wouldn’t be the worst outcome. If the CBC can’t make a collection of 90,000 costumes profitable, then maybe it should go to a private company who can. But taking this collection out of the public control and leaving it to the whims of a private company is a big risk.

I can only hope that Radio-Canada structures its tender for bids and eventual contract so that our cultural institutions can still make use of these costumes without paying through the nose for them.

More from La Presse and Radio-Canada.

Posted in TV

Bell files CRTC complaint over GamePlus feature on Rogers NHL GameCentre Live

One of Rogers’s attempts to use its $5.2-billion NHL rights purchase to drive subscriptions to its telecom services has prompted competitor Bell to file a complaint with the CRTC.

The complaint is about GamePlus, a feature of the new Rogers NHL GameCentre Live online streaming app. While GameCentre Live is available to anyone for purchase (though free for Rogers customers until the end of the year), GamePlus is exclusive to Rogers Internet, TV, home phone and wireless subscribers. It offers additional camera angles like the ref cam (a camera mounted on a referee’s helmet), sky cam (a wide-view camera that goes up and down the length of the ice at the Air Canada Centre) and star cam (a camera always focused on an individual player).

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Posted in My articles, TV

Videotron adding TSN1, TSN3 and TSN4 after customer complaints

Two months after TSN expanded from two to five channels, and after a bunch of complaints from subscribers missing programming that didn’t air on TSN2 or TSN5, Videotron is joining all the other major TV providers in the country and offering all five feeds.

I wrote this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette, after a regional Senators game in Florida meant that Videotron customers couldn’t get the Monday Night Football NFL game on TV.

That problem, which generated a flood of complaints to both Videotron and TSN, has apparently pushed the former to move up the launch date of TSN1, which will now be added on Monday, in time for the next MNF game (even though that game will also air on TSN5, the main TSN feed in Quebec).

TSN3 and TSN4, whose main feature will be blacked-out Jets and Leafs games, and occasionally a different Premier League soccer match or college football on weekends, will be added on Oct. 29.

Some information for Videotron customers:

  • All five channels are free with TSN. And selecting TSN1-5 will count for only one channel in custom packages. So you won’t be paying any extra for these other channels.
  • All five channels will be in high definition. And they will be available in all regions.
  • The TSN channels will be moving to keep them together. Starting Oct. 29, they will be at 186-190 in SD and 786-790 in HD.
  • Analog subscribers will continue getting just TSN5, which includes regional Ottawa Senators games.
  • About the same time, TSN and RDS will be pulled from Videotron’s Illico TV mobile service. Videotron blames blackouts for making these channels less desirable. Though it is looking at alternatives.

For details, read the Gazette story or this previous post on TSN’s expansion.

Posted in TV

Eric Thomas is the newest face on CTV Montreal sports desk

Eric Thomas's first show on-air at CTV Montreal on Friday, Oct. 10. (via CTV)

Eric Thomas’s first show on-air at CTV Montreal on Friday, Oct. 10. (via CTV)

The hiring of Chantal Desjardins as Sportsnet’s Montreal correspondent has shortened the depth chart at CTV Montreal’s sports desk, so someone at the station had the brilliant idea to just grab the guy doing sportscasts at TSN 690.

Eric Thomas brought his slick voice and a look to match across the street and made his debut as a CTV Montreal fill-in sports anchor on the late-night news Friday. You can watch the newscast on CTV’s website, with Thomas starting around 14:15.

A first live newscast is usually a nervous, error-filled affair but Thomas barely missed a beat, looking like he’d been doing this for years. And really, he has, just not in front of a television camera.

Thomas’s debut earned quick and unmitigated praise from colleague Brian Wilde:

Expect the Atlanta-born Thomas to be seen as well as heard a lot more in the years to come.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Review: Our Montreal is an embarrassing collection of recycled content

Our Montreal

In the spring of 2013, when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved a new licence for the CBC that set a minimum amount of non-news local programming for major markets, I was hopeful. Finally, the CBC would give us local programming that wasn’t tied to a newscast, filling a hole that has been here for years.

But when I asked the CBC what this new programming would entail, I was told they didn’t know yet. Which seemed odd to me, since it was the CBC that proposed this hour a week of programming. Surely they had something in mind.

Finally, on Oct. 12, 2013, a year ago this week, Our Montreal debuted on CBC Television. Hosted by Sonali Karnick, who is also host of CBC Radio’s All in a Weekend, Our Montreal was vaguely described, and I didn’t really know what to expect even after talking with its host and other people at CBC. Nor really why its first airing was Saturdays at 6am.

And then I watched it. And I was disappointed.

Not only is this weekly show a lazy repackaging of content previously aired on CBC, most of it is so obviously either not local or not non-news that I think a compelling argument could be made to the CRTC that the public broadcaster is violating a condition of its license in all its major markets.

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Posted in TV

Quickie review: Rogers Sportsnet and TVA Sports on the NHL season opener

Like much of the city, I spent Wednesday evening sitting in front of the TV welcoming the official return of NHL hockey, curious how it would look in the new TV environment. Unlike much of the city, I constantly switched between Rogers Sportsnet and TVA Sports to try to evaluate both networks at the same time. Here are some thoughts on how it went.

Note that I’m not a hockey expert, or an expert on hockey broadcasting. I can’t tell you which panelist’s comments were more insightful, or which play-by-play guy described the game better. I look at this with the eyes of the casual fan, and that’s how I’m evaluating this.

Pregame

Both networks are just starting off 12-year deals that are costing them a nine-figure number. So naturally the season opener pregame started months ago. I only tuned in for the last 45 minutes or so, and both networks took advantage of this time to sell themselves and their plans for the coming season. Sportsnet was a mix of old faces from Hockey Night in Canada, new faces from Sportsnet that were less familiar to Canadiens fans, and faces from elsewhere like Darren Pang. There was Elliotte Friedman with his sit-down interview. And the $4.5-million studio and its bells and whistles saw some use, though not as much as we might have expected.

On TVA Sports, a new set that actually looked quite professional, and a panel of experts that when it comes down to it doesn’t strike me as much different from the panels you’ll find on Sportsnet or RDS.

Opening


At 7pm on Saturday nights was when CBC would give us a hockey montage to set the mood. Sportsnet didn’t go that way on this night, instead going with a monologue from Marc Messier about how great hockey is. It fell a little short to me, lacking emotion.

TVA Sports picked up the torch, though, and presented a musical montage of recent and ancient hockey footage set to Imagine Dragons’s Radioactive. It didn’t have the emotional punch of HNIC’s best Habs-Leafs montages, but it was still nicely done.

TVA Sports also had the better computer-generated graphics that followed, though everything repeatedly exploding and coming back together may have been a bit too much.

Studio

Rogers’s big new studio in the CBC building in Toronto didn’t get much use after the pregame show, and seemed to be limited to a desk with four chairs behind it. Maybe that will change on Saturday, but I felt they weren’t using it to its fullest potential.

TVA Sports’s studio looked quite nice. Not spectacular, but nice enough that it looks like they know what they’re doing and they’re doing it professionally.

Play-by-play

Sportsnet viewers were treated to the recognizable voices of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, who have done this countless times before and just picked up where they left off.

On TVA Sports, it was the first big night for Félix Séguin and his partner Patrick Lalime. Though Habs fans have gotten used to hearing Pierre Houde calling their team, I don’t think it’ll take that much getting used to the new voice.

Or at least I thought that until the first time Séguin said “lance … et COOOOOMPTE!” That’ll take some getting used to after years of Houde’s “et le but!” (Even Séguin needs to get used to it apparently. He let out an “et le but” when the Canadiens scored a surprise goal in the last minute of play.)

Sportsnet graphics tvagraphics

Graphics

Sportsnet and TVA Sports clearly based their scoreboard graphics off the same software, with just the logo and the language different between them.

The graphics are block-ish, but they present the necessary information.

I should note that neither channel uses its own graphics for less important games. The late game on TVA Sports 2 just used the same Sportsnet feed with the same English graphics. Sportsnet One showed a late U.S. matchup that just piped in NBC Sports Network. It goes without saying that they don’t supply their own broadcast team either.

Intermission

The giant Sportsnet hockey studio seemed pretty small during the intermission report, which mainly focused on a few talking heads around a table. Maybe it’ll be more impressive on Saturday nights, but I felt as though a first impression was wasted here.

Michel Bergeron

TVA Sports didn’t wow me with its Coach’s Corner-style first-intermission starring Michel Bergeron. But it was better for the second, featuring Paul Houde talking about how many points the Canadiens should need at key points of the season if they expect to make the playoffs, and Joel Bouchard with a brief on-ice segment about goalie strategy. This is the kind of stuff I’d like to see more of.

Postgame

Sportsnet didn’t have much of a postgame. Five minutes after the end it had to tee up the late Canucks-Flames game. But the panel took a few minutes to discuss what happened and what it means for both teams.

At TVA Sports, the late game was moved to TVA Sports 2, allowing it to run Dave Morissette en direct, the postgame analysis show. It was fine, but talking heads who are experts on the NHL don’t wow me, especially when the same thing was happening on RDS and TSN.

But there were some odd moments. Like Sébastien Benoit in a bar in Boucherville passing the microphone around asking people what they thought of the game and getting two-word answers of approval. By all means show us reaction shots from Montreal bars, but no need to shove a microphone in their faces if they have nothing intelligent to say.

Overall, I’m hoping Sportsnet shows more pizzazz on Saturday and Sunday, but if not I think we can live with its broadcasts. TVA Sports clearly showed it put in the effort, and had some strong points that Sportsnet didn’t have, even though it has a smaller audience and budget.

But I’m just some guy on the Internet with an opinion. What did you think of the broadcasts?

See also: A review from Bill Brioux for Canadian Press

Posted in Canadiens, TV

The NHL season begins, and fans are just as confused as ever

Tonight, the new era of NHL broadcasting in Canada dawns, as Rogers presents its first regular-season games under its new $5.2-billion, 12-year deal with the league. As is tradition, the first match in Canada will be Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs. But while in past years this match was on CBC and RDS, tonight it will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

The change in TV channels is only part of the new reality. For the first time in a decade, RDS will be blacked out west of Belleville, Ont., during its 60 regional games (as it was, or should have been, during the preseason games). This has annoyed not only Habs fans in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, but places like northern Ontario, which has a lot of francophones. (I discussed the blackouts in a radio interview with Radio-Canada aimed at that audience.)

And the new rules for the NHL GameCentre Live streaming service have even me confused.

In an effort to help clear up some confusion about NHL games on TV, Saturday’s Gazette included a full-page calendar of all 82 Canadiens games and where they will air in English and French. That page is reproduced as a PDF on Hockey Inside/Out. I also created a printable version that fits on three 8.5/11-inch sheets of paper. And there’s a separate schedule for out-of-market viewers, which provides information on NHL Centre Ice and GameCentre Live availability.

And on top of all that, there’s this downloadable electronic calendar of Habs games listing their TV channels. (Once it loads, just go File -> Save As and save it to your computer, then use your preferred calendar program’s import function.)

This big chart was in the same paper as Brendan Kelly’s big feature on the new way to watch the Canadiens on TV, which includes Rogers admitting that getting programming information to fans will be a big challenge for this first year.

Rogers has recently posted a page on its website that gives some information about regional blackouts for GameCentre Live for the seven Canadian teams and the Buffalo Sabres, whose region extends into Niagara. It provides some additional information about shared broadcast regions and how many games will require Sportsnet subscriptions. And it has a page about the special $60 deal that offers just the French-language regional Canadiens and Senators games that air on RDS on its online streaming service.

For NHL Centre Ice, which fans in southern Ontario and western Canada will need to watch Canadiens games, we’re learning that most providers in those areas are offering a $60 RDS-only package, which means Habs fans in Toronto and Vancouver will get to pay just $10 a month or $1 a game to watch the 60 games that are being blacked out on RDS.

And the regular TV schedule has changed slightly, with two more games being moved from Sportsnet East to City Montreal to accommodate the baseball playoffs on Sportsnet.

There are other things that are still unclear, though. And I’ve just sent Rogers another list of questions that I’m hoping they can answer. It seems late in the process for such information to be unclear, and if I’m not entirely sure about some of it, you can imagine how confused your average fan must be.

The good news is that this situation shouldn’t repeat. Most of the rules will be the same next year as they were this year, and people should be used to the new reality relatively quickly. We’ll have another 12 years until this system dramatically changes again.

In the meantime, for tonight, the game is broadcast nationally in both languages, and the game begins at 7pm. On Thursday, the Canadiens play the Capitals at 7pm, and that game is national in English on Sportsnet 360 and regional in French on RDS. (Don’t ask me to explain that logic.)

Posted in TV

CRTC approves making Videotron’s Canal Indigo bilingual as Viewers Choice PPV shuts down

Only 13 hours before Viewers Choice Pay-Per-View shuts down for good, the CRTC has approved an expedited application from Videotron to convert its Canal Indigo into a bilingual pay-per-view service to replace it.

The service would meet all of the regulatory requirements for bilingual pay-per-view systems, with one notable exception: Rather than adhere to a 3:1 ratio of English to French channels that is clearly designed for bilingual pay-per-view services operating in English Canadian markets, Indigo would reverse that ratio, offering four French channels for each English one, not including barker/preview channels. And it would offer at least two English channels. Videotron said in its application it planned to operate eight French-language and two English-language channels, which would fit its proposed ratio.

Since Videotron operates almost exclusively in Quebec, having more French channels makes sense for its pay-per-view service. The CRTC agreed, implementing the exception.

But it didn’t like the idea of reducing the number of channels that much. Indigo currently offers 11 standard-definition and three high-definition channels, while Videotron carries eight SD and one HD channel of Viewers Choice. Under Videotron’s proposal, the total number of PPV channels would drop from 23 to 10.

“So to maintain a number of signals comparable to that currently offered, the Commission requires that Indigo offer at least 3 English-language signals. With this minimum of English-language signals, Videotron must offer at least 12 French-language signals to meet the ratio. Accordingly, Videotron will be able to maintain a level of service comparable to that currently offered by its French-language service.”

(This whole system seems to be unnecessarily rigid. It’s one thing to impose minimum ratios to protect minority-language markets, but the ratio as it’s worded isn’t just a minimum, but a maximum as well. And setting a minimum number of English channels on top of that means the CRTC has imposed a minimum of 15 channels for Videotron’s pay-per-view service.)

English channels could start “very quickly”

The CRTC’s alteration of Videotron’s application is a bit of a curve ball. Videotron had already begun trimming Indigo, taking away six of its 11 SD channels. With this decision, it will need to start four of them back up (or start up four new HD feeds).

But adding English service to Indigo won’t take that long, Videotron president and CEO Manon Brouillette told me. For movies, “we already have all the rights in English,” she said. It’s just a question of getting deals done for PPV events like wrestling and UFC events. But “it wouldn’t be that complicated.”

With the rise of paid video-on-demand services on digital cable, the appeal of pay-per-view for events that aren’t live has diminished significantly. “When we look at the tendencies of consumption of cinema, it’s much more on demand,” Brouillette said. “So the Indigo channels, the rate of orders is not very high, it’s a segment in decline.”

“The potential for us, and the reason the channel is doing well financially, is because of events, sports, concerts, etc.”

Brouillette pointed to the Quebec City amphitheatre, which Videotron has a management contract for once it opens next year, with everyone hoping it will one day be home to an NHL team.

“There won’t just be sports in this theatre,” she said. “There will be concerts, events. We’d like to broadcast live shows on Indigo like we did for Céline Dion (on the Plains of Abraham in 2008). It’s an event channel.”

Videotron has a bit of time to get its English service running. It’ll be about three weeks until the next major UFC and WWE pay-per-view events.

Viewers Choice goes out with a whimper

There’s no big fanfare for the end of Viewers Choice, which began in 1991 and is being replaced by in-house services run by Bell and Rogers. On its straight-from-the-90s website, a simple notice is posted:

Dear Viewers Choice Customers — As of September 30, 2014 Viewers Choice Pay Per View will no longer be broadcasting.

Thanks to all of you for allowing us into your homes for so many incredible events and making the last 23 years successful and memorable

Sincerely, The Viewers Choice Team

The service’s programming will go dark starting around 10:30pm, and the last movies will end at midnight. Those final movies include Winter’s Tale, The Quiet Ones, The Grand Seduction, The Other Woman, Rise of an Empire and, of course, porn.

UDPATE (Oct. 23): Videotron has re-applied to the CRTC to reduce the minimum number of channels from three English channels to two (and hence French channels from 12 to 8). It argues that information the commission used in its decision was erroneous. The CRTC quoted Videotron’s website saying there were 14 French-language Indigo channels, but in fact there were only eight in use. This new application is open to comment until Nov. 21.

 

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Why is RDS/TSN/Sportsnet blacked out? NHL regional TV rights explained

TSN blackout

Even though I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the subject of NHL regional rights and in particular how Canadiens fans have to deal with them for the first time, there’s still a flood of questions, usually the same ones, from people who suddenly find themselves staring at a screen saying a hockey game is not available in their region.

The situation hasn’t changed dramatically, except for broadcasts on RDS. Until this season, the network had a special deal with the Canadiens and the National Hockey League that allowed all 82 regular-season games to be broadcast nationally without restriction. This is the exception rather than the rule. Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators games in English have been subject to regional blackouts for years now.

It’s caused so much rage that RDS has posted a page — in both French and English — explaining how the blackouts aren’t its fault.

Am I affected?

The Canadiens broadcast region. Map via Shaw Direct

The Canadiens broadcast region. Regions in green can will not experience blackouts on RDS, TSN5 or Sportsnet East. (Map via Shaw Direct)

If you’re used to watching Canadiens games on RDS, you’ll no longer be able to do so if you live west of eastern Ontario (officially, a line connecting Pembroke and Belleville). This is the Canadiens/Senators broadcast region. It includes that corner of eastern Ontario, plus all of Quebec and all four Atlantic provinces. In Toronto, the Prairies, B.C. and territories, you’re out of luck. Because RDS carries only the regional games, you won’t see a single Canadiens game — or any NHL game at all for that matter — on RDS this year.

During the first preseason game on Tuesday night, some people reported being able to get RDS un-blacked-out outside the Canadiens region. Some had the HD feed blacked out but the SD feed not. This should not be relied upon as a stable loophole.

If you’re not sure what region you’re in, you can put your postal code into this website, which will show which teams’ region you’re in. Any team not on that list will (or at least should) be blacked out in your region.

For fans of other teams, this post explains their broadcast regions and how many games will be broadcast regionally and nationally.

Who is to blame?

The big change isn’t so much that Rogers has spent $5.2 billion on a wide-ranging deal for NHL rights in Canada. It’s the emergence of a competitor to RDS, TVA Sports, which has sublicensed the rights to national games from Rogers. RDS picked up the regional rights, but that doesn’t give them the rights to broadcast these games nationally. They’d love nothing better than to do so, but they can’t.

So who is to blame? Rogers? Quebecor? Bell? The Canadiens? Your cable company?

No, it’s the National Hockey League.

The NHL, like other sports leagues, sets the framework for television rights deals. And part of that framework forces most of the regular-season games of any team to be broadcast only within that team’s designated region. Or, looking at it the other way, it prevents other team’s broadcasts from entering that team’s region.

The purpose is simply to protect that team’s territorial rights and market. Basically, if you live in southern Ontario, the Leafs own you, and they want you to be a Leafs fan, not a Canadiens fan. You might think that’s ridiculous, but that’s nevertheless the logic.

(Be glad that the NHL doesn’t also follow the NFL’s rule that blacks out local games when a team has not sold out a home game. Though since the Canadiens always sell out, that wouldn’t affect them.)

What can I do about it?

So, you’re a Canadiens fan in southern Ontario, Calgary or Vancouver who wants to watch all 82 Canadiens games, and you don’t mind what language it’s in. Well, here are your options:

  • Learn to live with watching only half the season. Rogers is broadcasting 40 of the 82 Canadiens games nationally in English, plus all playoff games, including all Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday night games, and all games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins. (The 22 games broadcast nationally in French on TVA Sports are included in those 40.) You’ll also see when the Canadiens play the team that owns your broadcast region. I break down which games are which here. If you live in the Jets, Oilers or Flames regions, you’ll see the games against those teams too. People in Saskatchewan will get a total of 44 Habs games all told.
  • Buy NHL Centre Ice. This is the official way to get around the regional blackouts, and it’s what distant fans of other Canadian teams have had to do for years. Details of this service haven’t been announced yet, but it will be offered by your cable or satellite provider for about $200 for the season or $35 a month. They might also offer a special deal for just the French Canadiens and Senators games from RDS for $60. NHL Centre Ice blacks out any game that is otherwise broadcast in your region, so you’ll need to get Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 to watch national games on those channels. Contact your TV provider for details.
  • Buy NHL GameCentre Live. Similar to NHL Centre Ice, GameCentre offers a way for people to watch out-of-market games. GameCentre is a streaming service, to watch the games online or on mobile or tablet apps. Because it’s delivered on the Internet, it’s offered directly by Rogers, not by your TV provider. You can subscribe to it here. It’s $200 for the season (with a $180 early bird special). Rogers has also promised a special deal for $60 with just the RDS Senators and Canadiens regional games. GameCentre Live used to have the same rules as Centre Ice, blacking out any game available to you on TV. But Rogers is making all of its nationally broadcast games available on this service. It’s also making in-region regional games available, but only if they’re on Sportsnet and you’re a Sportsnet subscriber. This requires authentication with your TV provider, which means they need to be on board as well. This means that Senators games, French Canadiens games, Jets games and some Maple Leafs games that air on TSN and RDS are not available in-region on GameCentre Live.
  • Listen to blacked out games on the radio. Blackout rules don’t apply to the radio, so you can listen to the livestream of TSN Radio 690 from anywhere in the country.
  • Get an illegal bootleg stream online. There are various ways to get access to Canadiens games through third parties that illegally rebroadcast the games online. I won’t provide instructions here, but you can find them.
  • Move to Montreal. I’m just saying, that’s an option.

One thing that won’t help is to start a petition, yell at your TV provider or insult Rogers, Bell or anyone else on Twitter. Believe me, the broadcasters would love nothing better than to do away with blackouts that annoy viewers, deprive them of advertising revenue and complicate scheduling. But they can’t, because despite those billions of dollars, the NHL is still the boss.

But if it helps you emotionally, go ahead.

Posted in TV

Global News 1 would add 100 journalists, 8 new local newsrooms including Quebec City

Updated with a correction about stations being offered to participate.

After being tight-lipped about it for months, Shaw Media has made the first announcement about its plan for a new national news channel called Global News 1, first mentioned in a CRTC filing in June.

In a press release issued Monday, Shaw Media says it has submitted its application for the new all-news channel to the CRTC (which hasn’t published it yet, so we don’t have details). The timing is deliberate, coming just after the commission concluded its Let’s Talk TV hearing. Reeb said the submission was made several weeks ago, but Shaw wanted to wait until the proceeding was over to respect that process.

Hybrid format

Shaw explains its unique blend of national and local news this way:

Global News 1 will feature a national newsfeed bookended by local news segments tailored specifically for each of the markets it serves. Using next-generation technology, the service will be framed by a continuous data feed of hyper-local headlines and community events. With the ability to cover live, breaking news at the local, regional or national level, Global News 1 will be like no other service on the dial.

Shaw says that each of the 12 markets with owned-and-operated Global stations (Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, Halifax) will have its own feed, but there will also be eight additional communities getting “local newsrooms” — places with “either no local television news or limited competition”:

  • Fort McMurray, Alta.
  • Red Deer, Alta.
  • Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
  • Niagara, Ont.
  • Mississauga, Ont.
  • Ottawa, Ont.
  • Quebec City, Que.
  • Charlottetown, P.E.I.

And on top of that, “Shaw Media is also proposing to open the channel to eight small-market, independent broadcasters who would have the opportunity to add their own local content to the service and retain all local advertising in their markets.”

Troy Reeb, senior vice-president of Global News, tells me these stations are:

  • CKPG in Prince George, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
  • CFJC in Kamloops, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
  • CHAT in Medicine Hat, Alta. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
  • CKSA/CITL in Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. (Newcap) — CBC and CTV affiliates, respectively
  • CHFD in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Dougall Media) — already a Global affiliate
  • CHEX in Peterborough, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
  • CKWS in Kingston, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
  • CJON in St. John’s, N.L. (NTV)

(An earlier version of this post also listed CHEK in Victoria, B.C. Reeb actually referred to CHEX, the Corus station. CHEK is not on the list because it competes directly with Global B.C.)

Reeb specifies that there has been no discussion with these stations. Rather, the offer is being made because Global does not want to compete with them. “We didn’t want to threaten any of the small stations that are already struggling,” he said. “We didn’t want to go in and say hey we’re going to open up a competitor. We’re looking for a solution not just for us but for the system overall.”

Assuming it adds all of these stations, that would mean up to 28 different markets getting a hybrid national/local news channel.

Notably absent from this list is CJBN, a station owned by Shaw (but separate from Shaw Media, its acquisition predated the Global purchase) in Kenora, Ont. Its tiny market and limited local programming means it doesn’t have the resources to contribute to this service, Reeb said.

Reeb told me that, if the proposal is approved, Global would add about 100 journalists across the country, between those working at the regional newsrooms and those working nationally. This would mean about a half-dozen people working in each regional newsroom.

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Posted in Canadiens, Radio, TV

John Bartlett leaves TSN 690 to be regional voice of Habs on Sportsnet

John Bartlett, who has been the play-by-play voice of the Canadiens on TSN Radio 690 ever since the station won the rights to the team’s games in 2011, is leaving it to join Rogers as the play-by-play man on regional Canadiens games that will air on Rogers Sportsnet East and City Montreal.

TSN host Mitch Melnick confirmed Bartlett’s departure on Thursday. On Friday, Bartlett was interviewed on Melnick’s show (where a “gag order” prevented them from saying where he’s going, but it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together). Audio from that interview is posted here.

The decision to hire Bartlett, who was the voice of the Toronto Marlies AHL team before joining TSN 690 (more on his history here at YorkRegion.com), wasn’t unanimously praised at first, with all the talent at the station who would have loved to take a crack at the dream job and the bad optics of not only bringing in an import, but one who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm team. But as Melnick explained on his show, Bartlett quickly earned the respect of staff and listeners who are now sad to see him go.

I met Bartlett only once. It was at a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game in Montreal. Just his presence there said a lot about how much this guy cares about hockey.

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Posted in TV

CRTC approves V’s purchase of MusiquePlus/MusiMax

The last piece of the Bell-Astral divestments was approved today by the CRTC: the sale of MusiMax and MusiquePlus to V Media, the owner of the network formerly known as TQS.

Even though the sale has only been approved now and hasn’t yet closed, the companies are already acting as if it’s a done deal. V and MusiquePlus/MusiMax are promoting each other, to the point where a new MusiquePlus show is a behind-the-scenes look at a show on V.

The purchase price is $15.52 million. In 2007, Astral bought a 50% of these two channels from CHUM Ltd. for $68 million, giving them a value of $136 million.

In order to raise money to pay for the channels, V itself will take on new investors: The Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ will each take a 15% stake in V Media (which also includes the conventional TV network). A third “institutional investor” will take another 15% stake, and the Rémillard family will retain the other 55%, with the possibility of raising that stake up to 59% of the company performs well.

The board of directors of V would be composed of four representatives of Remstar and one representative each of the three 15% investors.

Licence changes — more flexibility, but not too much more

As part of the transaction, V had asked for some amendments to the licences for the channels. Some of them relate to the fact that they’re no longer owned by large media companies (particularly a requirement to spend a percentage of that group’s revenue on so-called “programs of national interest”). Others are meant to give them more flexibility in programming.

V had proposed that MusiquePlus and MusiMax have a minimum requirement of 75% of their programming be devoted to music-related programming. Currently MusiquePlus has a 90% requirement and MusiMax has no minimum. The CRTC didn’t like that number and imposed an 80% requirement for both services.

V wants to use comedy, a genre that isn’t being exploited much in French-language television (there’s no French equivalent to the Comedy Network), to draw audiences to MusiquePlus, particularly in its target demographic of people age 18-34. For MusiMax, it’s lifestyle and reality shows to draw women 35-54. But it also says it wants to have more live musical performances in studio, and more concert programs.

There were also proposals related to program categories. Both services can now include “music video programs” in the 30% of their programming month they have to devote to pure music video programs. This would allow them, I believe, to add a count a program like Cliptoman (MusiquePlus’s version of Much’s Video On Trial, where comedians make fun of music videos) toward that quota.

V also proposed to reduce the Canadian content exhibition requirement from 55% of the broadcast day and 55% of the evening (6pm to midnight) period to 45% for those two periods. The CRTC also felt this was too much, and decided on 50% for both periods for both services. This is still higher than services like Canal D and Historia, which have profit margins around 50%.

In terms of Canadian content spending, the CRTC agreed with a 31% level for the services combined, so that it must spend 31% of its revenue on Canadian programming, just slightly above what it was before.

Finally, MusiquePlus and MusiMax also have a special condition that requires them to pay 3.4% and 5% of their revenues respectively to MaxFACT, a fund that helps create and produce Canadian music videos. V proposed to create its own fund, the Rémillard Fund, that would take this money instead. The CRTC approved of this, provided it is satisfied with the new fund’s operations and independence.

Sale valued at $22.9 million, includes ad revenue guarantee

The sale price is $15.5 million, but comes with a guaranteed ad buy of up to $1.5 million (excluding commissions), which brings the net price down to $14 million. There’s also a guaranteed ad revenue floor for two years.

These guarantees make determining the actual value of the transaction difficult, because how much it will actually be depends on certain factors.

According to documents submitted in the application, the guarantee of at least 80% of 2013 revenues, or about $6.6 million a year, would last until August 2016. But this would be adjusted if viewership drops by more than 5%.

The contract also allows V to cancel the ad buy and get half of that, or $750,000.

On top of this, Bell Media would also sell third-party ads for these two services and V, for which it would earn a commission. That commission has minimums and maximums that put it in the high six-figures annually.

In fact, Bell Media would become the exclusive ad agency of MusiquePlus and MusiMax until August 31, 2016. V would be able to enter barter agreements and other exchanges, but actual ad sales would have to go through Bell.

As if that didn’t sweeten the deal enough for V to take over the money-losing services, Bell also agreed to pay off an outstanding debt imposed on Astral in 2007 when it bought the 50% of the company that owns the networks from CHUM Ltd. (which at the time also owned MuchMusic). This is $40,476 a month to be paid to the Harold Greenberg Fund. But since those payments ended Aug. 31, it’s a moot issue.

The CRTC didn’t agree that the guaranteed ads should be deducted from the purchase price, calling it “the normal course of business”. Adding in things like assumed leases, the CRTC evaluated the total value of the transaction at $22,872,086.

Hope for a turnaround

Because of the tangible benefits policy that requires that 10% of the value of the transaction goes to funds and projects that benefit the broadcasting system, V now has to propose a new tangible benefits plan. The CRTC has given them 30 days to do so. (It notes that it recently changed some policies relating to tangible benefits, and this proposal should follow those new guidelines.)

The acquisition makes sense both for V and for the two struggling music channels. The Rémillard family bought TQS out of bankruptcy in 2008, and while the decision to effectively abandon all news programming was very controversial at the time, it also helped them bring the network into the black after decades of bleeding money.

Now, people are hoping that they can do a similar turnaround with MusiquePlus and MusiMax. MusiquePlus made $867,851 in pre-tax profit in 2012-13, but lost almost $6.5 million in the four previous years. MusiMax is in the black, but has had a pre-tax profit margin of under 1% over the past three years.

The drop in revenue has come with a drop in ratings. MusiquePlus went from a 1.1% rating overall in 2006 to a 0.7% share in 2012. Both services have seen drops in subscriptions as well, of 10% for MusiquePlus and 13% for MusiMax in only three years.

Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC has to begin preparing for its own irrelevance

As the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission began its two-week hearing into television policy on Monday, the various interest groups began planting their self-serving stakes. Google doesn’t want YouTube to be regulated by the commission. The Ontario government and others want the CRTC to force Netflix and similar services to contribute to Canadian content. And funds like the Canada Media Fund and Shaw Rocket Fund want to ensure they don’t lose their funding.

It’s all so predictable, which makes sitting through hours of these presentations so boring. But, despite chairman Jean-Pierre Blais’s best efforts, we’re not getting to practical solutions here or any concrete idea of what TV is going to look like in 10 years or even five.

The CRTC’s Communications Monitoring Report shows that the adoption of Netflix alone in Canada is on a dramatic rise. Now almost a third of English-language households have subscriptions. But this hasn’t resulted in a dramatic drop in cable and satellite subscriptions. About 85% of Canadian households have some sort of regulated pay TV subscription, either through cable, satellite or IPTV (Bell Fibe/Telus Optik etc.). The percentage is falling, but not fast enough to panic. At least not yet.

As technology evolves, the difference between YouTube, Netflix and Bell TV becomes more and more irrelevant from a regulatory perspective. Internet-based television connections like Bell Fibe use the same data links to send TSN’s five feeds as they do to send House of Cards and that latest cat video. At this point, we could deliver all television services in Canada to most consumers via the Internet. We have the technology to do that.

Bureaucratic momentum

The biggest reason we haven’t moved everything online is bureaucratic. And not in the sense of regulation (though that’s part of it), but in the sense of having large media empires like Bell, Shaw, Rogers and Quebecor, that own the exclusive rights to high-value programming and deliver it through the regulated system because the regulated system pays them for it and consumers haven’t been too tempted to change that.

So long as the CRTC imposes a 5% tax on cable revenues that are to be redirected to Canadian content (including community television channels), and forces content channels to devote certain parts of their schedules and certain percentages of their revenue to Canadian content, there will be an incentive to move more content out of the regulated system and onto an unregulated one. And eventually we will pass that tipping point where there’s no must-see TV on the regulated system and consumers start abandoning it in droves.

Fortunately for the CRTC, it has time. It can prepare for this. But it has to decide now which way it will go: expand its reach to include purely online forms of video delivery, or contract its reach to eventually get out of the TV regulating business completely.

You can’t regulate Internet content

There have been some cases for the former that try their best to pass the sanity test (Jason Kee, Public Policy & Government Relations Counsel at Google, asked rhetorically if the CRTC would start regulating animated GIFs, too). Proponents of regulatory expansion say the CRTC should only regulate video that is sold, not stuff put on YouTube for free. They say there should be a minimum revenue before regulation kicks in. They say we should focus on companies like Netflix instead of trying to regulate all video.

But there isn’t really a way to do this sanely. Not without censoring the Internet, or dissuading companies like Netflix from making their videos available here, or forcing them to blackout their videos to Canada for fear of being taxed. Or creating some sort of grey market for content, where some content is legal and other content is illegal. Or creating a chill among all content creators in this country. Or just pissing off the Canadian public.

(And the federal government didn’t waste any time making it clear that it will not support any move to tax Netflix or YouTube, with heritage minister Shelly Glover issuing a statement Monday evening.)

The CRTC’s New Media Exemption Order is a policy decision in which it has convinced itself that it can regulate content on the Internet but simply chooses not to do so. It is trying to make rules out of de facto reality to maintain the illusion of control. And while it can control the online activities of companies it already regulates like Bell and Shaw, it can’t control Google, Apple and Netflix without prompting a war that might just end in those companies abandoning our country.

So the CRTC has little choice but to maintain a hands-off approach to Internet content. And that means that eventually, maybe five or 10 or 20 years down the road, it will have to take its hands off television content as well, because there won’t be any difference between the two.

The CRTC needs to start now to plan for the day when television regulation becomes irrelevant. while not allowing the telecom giants to abuse their power in the meantime.

It’s taking steps in that direction, proposing relaxing rules for specialty channels and third-language services, and giving consumers more choice in terms of channel selection. And it’s trying to find ways to encourage more competition for cable TV providers, by extending an exemption order so that smaller players like Colba.net and VMedia can set up TV distributors in big cities using IPTV without needing a licence first.

Cancon’s future

But it faces a bigger challenge in determining how to promote Canadian culture in the future. So much of the Canadian television industry is based on regulated transfers of money, from broadcasters and distributors to production funds to independent producers. That system will eventually collapse or evaporate, and we need to find a replacement.

One possibility is by doing something like taxing Internet access and sending that money to the federal government or a fund like the Canada Media Fund (which is already funded in part by the government anyway). But that creates a system where one government-appointed body acts as the gatekeeper, deciding what Canadian content is worth supporting. It discourages competition and innovation.

Or the CRTC could do nothing, and let Canadian video content stand on its own with little support from the broadcasting system. This could result in Canadian media giants collapsing or being taken over by larger U.S. giants. We could lose a large part of our identity.

It’s a scary thought for the industry, and those champions of Canadian content, but I haven’t seen a viable long-term alternative.

The CRTC’s future

I’m not saying the CRTC will cease to exist. It will still have a vital role to play, so long as there are aspects of telecommunications that need regulatory help. Radio is still broadcast through scarce radio frequencies which need to be regulated, though they too will eventually move to Internet-based distribution.

Internet access needs a regulator so long as there’s a finite number of cables reaching into our homes. And though the technology used to deliver it bears little resemblance to what it was at first, the telephone is still a tool we use regularly and will be with us for some time.

The CRTC has a job to do, to ensure that the TV industry plays fair with itself and keeps the best interest of consumers, workers and the Canadian public in mind. But it also has to look forward to the day when it has to decide to stop regulating the unregulateable and focus on where it can make a difference for the better.

But the commissioners are only human. So we — the industry, the public, the government — have to be part of that discussion. Through our comments and guidance, we must help the regulator build this road toward the future where choice is infinite and the only limit to content is creativity and no one but us can decide what we can and cannot watch.

Posted in TV

CTV Montreal moves Sunday evening newscasts online during NFL season

CTV live webcast

With CTV having the rights to 4pm Sunday NFL football games starting this season, the network is forced (or, well, is forcing itself) to pre-empt its local 6pm newscast on Sundays until mid-January for stations in the CDT, EDT and ADT time zones.

At first, it looked like CTV was going to air the local news after the football game, at 7:30pm ET, but now it looks like most stations are simply going to air SportsCentre to fill time until 8pm.

The situation varies a lot by market. In Atlantic Canada, there’s just the early game, so the Sunday newscast is unaffected. In Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., the late game ends before 6pm, so no schedule change is needed there. In Kitchener, Winnipeg and Northern Ontario, as well as for new CTV affiliate CKPR in Thunder Bay, the plan is still to air a local newscast after the football game, which will likely start late a lot of the time.

For CTV Montreal, whose Sunday evening newscast draws tens of thousands of viewers, they’ve decided to do a live webcast of the 6pm show starting tonight. (You can watch a cheesy promo of it here.) The webcast can be seen on their website, montreal.ctvnews.ca.

I haven’t seen any announcements about other CTV stations trying this.

This change also means that for Montreal, there will be only one local newscast in English at 6pm Sundays: Global. CBC airs its weekly Disney/kids movie Sunday evenings. It’ll be interesting to see if Global capitalizes on this to try to drive up viewership for that time period in Montreal, which is historically one of its weakest markets.

In Ottawa, viewers don’t even get the choice of Global. They have retransmitters of Global Toronto, City Toronto and CHCH Hamilton, and CTV Two Ottawa, which doesn’t have evening newscasts.

After the second week of the NFL playoffs in mid-January, the schedule will return to normal, and the 6pm Sunday newscasts will return.