Category Archives: TV

Posted in TV

Shakeup in management at City Montreal: Jeffrey Feldman out, Renato Zane in

Updated with comments from Feldman

Jeffrey Feldman, right, takes a picture of the Breakfast Television cast at a fall upfront event in June 2014.

Jeffrey Feldman, right, takes a picture of the Breakfast Television cast at a fall upfront event in June 2014.

A year after its founding executive producer, Bob Babinski, decided to quit to pursue freelance production work, City Montreal has parted ways with Breakfast Television’s supervising producer, Jeffrey Feldman.

Feldman, who worked as a Montreal producer for Bell Media’s eTalk and Fashion Television before joining City in 2013, is no longer with the company, a Rogers Media spokesperson confirmed.

Staff at City Montreal are tight-lipped about Feldman’s departure, referring me to corporate PR in Toronto.

UPDATE: I finally got in touch with Feldman himself. He insists his departure is amicable.

“It was just time to move on,” he said.

He’s considering moving back to his hometown of Toronto, where his family is, but is also considering an offer in Montreal. In the meantime, he’s taking his first real vacation in three years.

But Feldman says he enjoyed his time at City. “It was an amazing two years,” he said.

He said he turned off his Twitter account because he no longer needed it for work, and he didn’t think there was much there anyway.

As for why there was no on-air goodbye or social media well wishes from his colleagues, Feldman noted that he believes “producers’ jobs are supposed to be behind the camera” and he never wanted to draw attention to himself on air.

I guess that makes sense, but it’s still odd that no one has commented on his departure. Feldman mentioned that “I’ve always kept my professional relationships professional”, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t friends with the staff.

He also has only kind words for Renato Zane, the new executive producer (see below), calling him a great guy.

Renato Zane

Renato Zane

Zane, formerly director of news and current affairs at OMNI, has actually been working here for some time now. I met him (and took his photo) in April, and the decision for him to come here had been made, but Rogers wanted me not to reveal his new post until it was official. For some reason that took months.

Zane, who fills Babinski’s former job, admitted he’s new to Montreal, which is a stark contrast to most of the staff at the station, who have strong roots in this city. But he is eager to learn.

On Wednesday, Breakfast Television marked its second anniversary.

Antenna work

People watching City Montreal over the air have been noticing reception issues. Says Rogers: “We are currently in the process of returning the tower to our engineering standards, a long-term solution that will improve both the quality of our signal and its over-the-air reception by viewers; we hope to have these repairs completed very soon.”

City Montreal (CJNT-DT) broadcasts from a small tower next to the CBC Mount Royal antenna tower, which is undergoing its own maintenance this summer. Its lower height and 4kW power have made it more difficult to receive than other Montreal stations.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Another step in Global’s faking of local news

When Global TV decided to have late-night and weekend newscasts for its less popular markets anchored out of Toronto, it described it as an innovation, a way to increase local news instead of reducing it.

The day before it began in Montreal, it was described as something that will “allow for more local news gathering in the field.”

While it’s still early to judge something so new, after watching a few episodes of the newscast, I think I can at least evaluate Global’s promise of “more local news gathering”, at least as far as it concerns those newscasts:

It’s total bullshit.

The amount of local news gathering is about the same on weekends. What’s different is that it’s now presented by an anchor who has at best a vague understanding of the local market. Not that one is necessary for most of the show because after the first 10 minutes or so it stops reporting on local news.

Let’s break down the newscasts to explain this.

glb-intro

The show starts with the usual teasers and an announcer saying “From the Global News Centre, the Evening News with Kris Reyes.”

Global’s use of green-screen virtual sets means Global can make Reyes appear to be anywhere just by inserting the word “Montreal” behind her in a computer.

glb-skyline

The same goes for the Montreal skyline inserted behind her at the desk when she presents more local news. It almost looks like she’s in the Global Montreal studio.

glb-backdrop

Coming back from the first commercial break, the background changes. Suddenly she’s in front of a control room that has lots of screens but no people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this corresponds to the part of the local newscast devoid of local news. Putting Reyes in a generic could-be-anywhere set allows Global to produce part of a newscast filled with national and international news and copy-paste it into local newscasts across the country.

This is similar to what they’ve done with the Morning News, which goes back and forth between local and national segments.

glb-weather

Another commercial break and we’re back to the Montreal cityscape, and an usual sight for Global, the weather presenter sitting at the anchor desk. This wasn’t possible before because the weather presenter has been in Toronto for years. Moving the anchor there too means they can be seen on camera together instead of in a double box.

Judging by the radar maps used, the weather segments appear to be recorded 1-2 hours before the newscast. That’s not much worse than before — because the weatherman was shared with Global Toronto, they were prerecorded before this change too. And weather forecasts don’t change that much in an hour (says the guy whose newspaper includes weather forecasts which, by the time anyone reads them, are at least 12 hours old).

glb-sports

Back to Generic Set, and Reyes introduces Megan Robinson doing the sports roundup. Previously, Global Montreal’s local newscasts didn’t have sports segments because they didn’t have sportscasters. (They’d do quick highlights of local games, but that’s about it.)

Of course, the Blue Jays are the top story. Even though Michael Sam had made history the previous night in an Alouettes game, neither Sam nor the game made the Aug. 8 sports roundup. But you’ll be happy to know that they got in a roundup of the Shaw Charity Classic golf tournament in Calgary.

glb-outro

After more time-filling news stories from elsewhere, Reyes does a goodbye that seems to be carefully generic so it can be copy-pasted anywhere. Heck, they could just rerun the same clip at the end of every newscast every day. She might not be wearing the same dress next time, but if viewers haven’t spotted all the other trickery going on, they probably won’t notice that.

glb-jackets

Finally, a 30-second collection of cityscape videos that appear to have been taken in the spring because people are wearing sweaters and winter jackets, we’re off to Global National.

The first newscast had two packaged reports from local reporters. I found this suspicious because normally there aren’t that many local resources available on weekends. Sure enough, the next weekend it was down to one local reporter.

Even with those two local reporters, the total amount of local news represented only six minutes of the local newscast. If you add the weather segments, which are also done out of Toronto, it goes up to 10.5 minutes. Add the 30-second cityscape montage to close the newscast (looks like the timing was off for the first show), and it’s 11 minutes, out of a 22-minute newscast.

Production-wise, the newscast went smoothly (aside from being a bit short). There were no technical errors or awkward silences or glitches that I could see. Having the newscast anchored out of Toronto didn’t seem to be that noticeable, except for the changing backdrops and the awkward pronunciations of French names and the use of terms like “Honoré Mercier” (for the Mercier Bridge) that are dead giveaways that someone isn’t from around here.

Day 2, 3…

For the first late newscast, it was much of the same, except that the sports segment began with a roundup of that night’s Montreal Impact game. A 22-second roundup. Followed by a minute and 20 seconds on the day’s Toronto Blue Jays game.

Day 2, the evening news started four minutes late because of golf, but still finished on time. The evening news sports segment consisted entirely of highlights of the Blue Jays game. At 11pm, it also included PGA golf and the Shaw tournament, and ran through a list of Quebec athletes who won medals at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

The second weekend is, I’m assuming, more representative of what we should expect from this newscast. I watched the Aug. 15 6pm newscast with a stopwatch and broke it down. Those elements in bold are local stories:

  • 0:00-0:43 Intro
  • 0:43-3:00 Billy Shields on missing man
  • 3:00-3:24 Accident brief
  • 3:24-3:42 Lane closures brief
  • 3:42-4:34 Horses brief (SOT)
  • 4:34-4:58 PKP wedding brief
  • 4:58-5:36 Roosh V Toronto brief
  • 5:36-6:47 Weather short-term forecast
  • 6:47-7:40 Slide the City brief (SOT)
  • 7:40-8:06 Promos
  • 8:06-10:25 Commercials
  • 10:25-11:08 Trudeau on the campaign trail
  • 11:08-11:38 Fires in western Canada
  • 11:38-13:29 California drought/fires
  • 13:29-15:05 Beijing explosion
  • 15:05-15:35 Promos
  • 15:35-18:21 Commercials
  • 18:21-21:27 Weather forecast
  • 21:27-24:26 Sports with Anthony Bruno
  • 24:26-24:43 Promos
  • 24:43-27:53 Commercials
  • 27:53-29:30 Straight Outta Compton story from Florida
  • 29:30-30:00 Outro

Added up, this amounts to five minutes and eight seconds of local news. Add in the four minutes and 17 seconds of local weather, and you have 9:25 total in that half hour. Another 8:15 were commercials, 2:36 consisted of promos and the goodbye, 2:59 on sports, and the other 6:45 were national and international news stories. Broken down percentage-wise:

  • 17% local news
  • 14% local weather
  • 10% sports
  • 9% promos and filler
  • 22.5% national and international news
  • 27.5% commercials

When there’s more national and international news than local news, you wonder if it can really be called a local newscast.

Saturday’s late newscast was about the same, though it included a story about Michael Sam leaving football again. The story, whose original reporting consisted of a Skype interview, was reported by Jennifer Tryon out of Toronto.

If only all local news could be reported that way.

“Innovation”

This outsourcing of local news is just the latest step in a long process of saving money by centralizing work for small local stations. Even before the change, evening and late-night newscasts were produced in another city, with a weather presenter in Toronto and only local journalists and the local anchor in Montreal. And even before the change, much of these half-hour local newscasts, especially on weekends, were filled with reports from other Global markets or foreign news services.

And though the union has protested the whole way, the last time the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission looked at it, it passed on the opportunity to conclude that Global was no longer producing local programming.

Does the location of the anchor make much of a difference here? We might see the commission be forced to re-evaluate the situation. But it’s hard not to think the boat has already sailed here.

On one hand, Shaw Media is a private company, so it can do what it wants. If it wants to treat local news this way, it can. If it believes that copy-pasting prerecorded segments in Toronto results in a better product than a live local newscast made in Montreal, it can do that.

But on the other hand, it’s trying to sell us on the idea that it’s adding local newsgathering resources when it’s not, and more importantly it’s pretending to the CRTC that this constitutes 30 minutes of local programming when less than a third of it is in any way local.

I understand Shaw’s motivation. The late-night and weekend newscasts have poor ratings. (There wasn’t exactly any protest online when this change happened, because so few people were watching anyway.) And it is adding some resources, including a soon-to-launch noon local newscast.

But I don’t like being deceived, especially by journalists. And so much of this new system seems designed to deceive us into thinking that this is a local newscast when at best it’s half that. If you’re going to anchor a Montreal newscast out of Toronto, just be straight with us instead of using TV magic to try to hide it.

I get that local news doesn’t pay. But local programming is what broadcasters are expected to provide in exchange for the privileges that come with having a television station. If Global doesn’t want to do local news here, maybe it should consider some other form of local programming, or just offer the airtime to community groups that can offer something that truly reflects Montreal.

Because having a Toronto anchor introduce a story from Calgary and calling it local Montreal news is an insult to our intelligence.

The Toronto-produced Evening News and News Final air at 6pm and 11pm, respectively, on Saturdays and Sundays. The weeknight News Final will be similarly moved to Toronto starting in September. Global News at Noon starts Aug. 27.

News at Noon begins

Today was the first episode of News at Noon, a new half-hour local newscast that is produced out of Montreal. Jamie Orchard is the permanent host, but Camille Ross took over those duties today while staff is shuffled because of vacations.

glb-camille

The show had about what you’d expect from a noon newscast: two live hits from reporters in the field (morning reporter Kelly Greig and evening reporter Tim Sargeant), a packaged report from the previous night, and some briefs.

I won’t do a detailed breakdown because I suspect the first show might not be representative of what we should expect on a regular basis. I’ll wait until a future date to give this a more thorough evaluation. But it followed a formula similar to the weekend newscasts, with the first half of it local news and weather and the second half mainly national news and packages and video from other Global stations, particularly in western Canada.

Two of the briefs dated to Saturday, which is a bit of a stretch for a Monday noon newscast. Worse, Global failed to send a camera to the Péladeau-Snyder wedding in Quebec City, so it relied on TVA footage, photos posted to social media and file video of the couple attending Jacques Parizeau’s funeral instead.

Despite all this, it went better than I expected. The production was smooth and it felt more live and local than the stuff I’d been watching on the weekend. We’ll see if they can keep that up.

glb-jessica

I don’t know what hope this newscast can have against CTV News at Noon, which has far more reporting resources and viewer loyalty. But it’s better to have this than not to have it.

Posted in TV

Global Montreal begins outsourcing weekend newscasts tonight

A plan to have local newscasts on Global Montreal anchored out of Toronto begins tonight, Shaw Media has confirmed.

The change means that we won’t see usual weekend anchor Peter Anthony Holder on the air tonight, but the company says the timing isn’t related to recent controversy surrounding him.

Holder was criticized by Bloc Québécois candidate Catherine Fournier for retweeting this tweet last week, and replying that he agreed and thought it was funny. That led to several news stories about it, and Holder deleted his tweets and apologized.

Shaw Media wouldn’t comment on Holder, and Holder himself did not respond to a request for comment (both he and the station have ignored or refused requests for comment since the beginning), but the rumour is that Holder won’t be returning to the station in any role, even as occasional fill-in anchor or reporter.

Despite being the main weekend news anchor, Holder was technically considered a freelancer, which means the company doesn’t have to justify firing him.

The outsourced newscasts, in which a Toronto anchor does local news for all markets except Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, will be hosted by Kris Reyes, who had been part of the national Morning Show at 9am weekdays.

Shaw Media reiterates that this change is meant to “allow for more local news gathering in the field” and it’s an “innovative way to deliver quality programming with more local news to viewers.”

We’ll see.

The 11pm weeknight newscast is also being similarly outsourced (insourced? Whatever.) But that starts in early September. The original plan had been a one-hour newscast, but after Global picked up the rights to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, that was shortened to 35 minutes to allow for simulcasting with CBS.

 

Noon newscast to start Aug. 27, hosted by Jamie Orchard

Another previously announced change, the addition of a half-hour noon newscast, has a start date. Global News at noon starts Aug. 27, and Jamie Orchard, who does the 6pm newscast (soon to become the 5:30pm newscast) will be the anchor.

Eventually, anyway. She’s on vacation for the first two weeks of the show, so Elysia Bryan-Baynes and Camille Ross will share anchor duties for those weeks. (After that, Bryan-Baynes returns to 11pm for just two nights. Her last late newscast is Sept. 4.)

New hires

  • Kelly Greig, the former Sportsnet Central Montreal reporter recently hired as a videojournalist at Global, is joining the morning show. She starts on Monday. A news reporter is something the morning show really needs, especially since the launch of Breakfast Television on City, which has had a live in-the-field reporter since the beginning.
  • Brian Daly, a former CTV Montreal staffer who joined QMI Agency and the Sun News Network until that went belly-up, has been hired as the new lineup editor, and will help in the production of the noon newscast. He started Aug. 4.

 

Posted in Opinion, TV

The federal leaders’ debate was good, but the analysis of it was awful

Though it was in the middle of a busy newsroom close to deadline, I tried my best to watch and listen to the federal leaders’ debate last night. It could be the only time during this election season that we see those four party leaders on a stage together.

If you missed it, it’s on YouTube (I can’t embed it here because Maclean’s doesn’t want me to).

Especially in the context of a simultaneous circus of clowns south of the border, it was nice to see four smart, articulate leaders lay out their policies and policy differences under the bright lights. I saw Stephen Harper defend his record on his own without his party machine behind him. I saw Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau set out their economic policies and criticize the current government on its record, all without losing their temper. And I saw Elizabeth May, my pick as winner of the debate, establish herself as an excellent debater with a solid grasp of economic issues.

Sure, there were some annoying things about the debate itself, like the constant interrupting, the repeating of scripted talking points, and the useless closing messages. And limiting the debate to four topics meant a lot of stuff did not get addressed, which is a big issue if Harper doesn’t want to engage in any more general-issue debates in English.

But in general, I was pretty well informed. Maclean’s, moderator Paul Wells and broadcaster City TV deserve credit for this.

Unfortunately, I also watched the hour-long post-debate analysis show, as well as three useless non-commercial breaks during the debate, and it sent me into a bit of a rage.

Rather than discuss whose economic policies make more sense, or fact-check what the leaders said, or really discuss the issues in any way, we got the same old post-debate “who won” discussion, as if leading a country is more about showing off your dramatic presentation skills than having a better plan.

It’s one thing if you don’t take yourself too seriously (like BuzzFeed), but I expected better from the official broadcaster of the debate (even though Rogers pushed the analysis show to OMNI so it could air another U.S. primetime drama on City).

A discussion of a useless Facebook poll after about 20 minutes of debate.

A discussion of a useless Facebook poll after about 20 minutes of debate with Kevin Chan, right.

After the first half-hour, City took a three-minute break to give us an interview with a journalism student in Toronto and a Facebook poll that its analyst admitted wasn’t really based on anything said during the debate because people hadn’t had the chance to listen to the leaders yet. Even though the result of 50% for Mulcair should have been a dead giveaway that the poll is not at all reflective of the Canadian population, they went with it anyway. They also broadcast results showing Canadians almost unanimously in favour of proportional representation and carbon taxes, even though actual scientific polls don’t show anything even remotely similar. And there was the stunning revelation that people in Alberta talk more about oil than the rest of the country.

How this was useful to viewers is beyond me.

Twitter's Steve Ladurantaye, left, discusses how much people were talking about the leaders.

Twitter’s Steve Ladurantaye, left, discusses how much people were talking about the leaders.

Then there was the Twitter discussion, in which they analyzed how much people were talking about the leaders. What they were saying, of course, wasn’t important, and wasn’t discussed.

I guess what we can learn from this is that Donald Trump would make a great Canadian prime minister. Because volume is more important than content.

"Body language expert" Mark Bowden, right, criticizes Elizabeth May's glasses and dress during OMNI's post-debate analysis show with Gord Martineau, left.

“Body language expert” Mark Bowden, right, criticizes Elizabeth May’s glasses and dress during OMNI’s post-debate analysis show with Gord Martineau, left.

But what infuriated me most was when they brought on a body language expert to literally discuss style over substance. Setting aside the sexist criticisms of Elizabeth May’s attire (there was no mention of how any of the other leaders were dressed), the segment reinforced the fact that during a debate, what you say isn’t as important as how you say it.

Throughout the three-hour broadcast, there were panel discussions about who was winning the debate. Some of that discussion was based on what the leaders said, but much of it was about how they said what they said. Were the leaders confident? Did they make any gaffes?

Don’t get me wrong, the leader of a country should have good public speaking skills. A big part of being a leader is being able to convince people to do things for you, so style matters. But this incessant focus on treating the debate like a boxing match or tennis tournament just hammers in the idea that the issues don’t really matter. That if you want to be a politician, it’s better to hone your skills in theatre school than law school.

We Canadians like to think we’re better than the Americans when it comes to our politicians. We look at Donald Trump and we laugh. But based on what I saw of this debate analysis, I don’t see why, if Trump was in this debate, the media wouldn’t have been unanimous in concluding that he would have “won” it.

Posted in Montreal, TV

CBC’s Absolutely Quebec series starts tonight

Every summer, CBC Montreal broadcasts six hour-long one-off shows, usually documentaries, that have a local or regional focus. And every summer it gets largely ignored and poorly promoted.

This year, I had to do some searching to even discover it’s happening, and found only this page online listing what’s on the slate for this year. The first episode, Hacking Montreal, about the “hackathon” movement that CBC Montreal itself has been promoting recently, airs tonight at 7pm. The series then takes almost a month off because of the Pan Am Games, and returns with the five others in August and early September.

Of note here is that at least two of these documentaries focus on regions far from Montreal — Northern Quebec and Eastern Quebec. For these regions, it’s incredibly rare to see themselves reflected in English-language television.

Here’s the schedule:

Hacking Montreal
Montreal is a global hub for ‘hackathons,’ weekend-long contests for innovating technology. CBC Montreal looks at how local infrastructure, healthcare, transportation and leisure are being improved by volunteer maverick thinkers.
Airs Saturday, July 04, at 7 p.m. ET

A City Is An Island
A DIY, behind-the-scenes look at the linguistic divide in the music and lifestyles of Montreal musicians Mac DeMarco, Patrick Watson, Sean Nicholas Savage, Tim Hecker, Colin Stetson and many more.
Airs Saturday, Aug 01, at 7 p.m. ET

Living on the Edge
Photographer and garlic farmer Joan Sullivan seeks to capture how people living along the rural coast of eastern Quebec adapt to major climate change events.
Airs Saturday, Aug 08, at 7 p.m. ET

Seth’s Dominion
NFB’s award-winning documentary profiling Canadian cartoonist Gregory Gallant, better known as Seth, creator of Palookaville.
Airs Saturday, Aug 22, at 7 p.m. ET

Okpik’s Dream
A 60-year-old champion dog musher and amputee in Quaqtaq, Nunavik, prepares to race in the Ivakkak–a grueling, 600-kilometre Inuit sled dog race across the Quebec Arctic.
Airs Saturday, Aug 29, at 7 p.m. ET

One Weekend
Multiple generations of one family indulge over Labour Day weekend in a disappearing way of life–the cottage way of life.
Airs Saturday, Sep 05, at 7 p.m. ET

If you missed last year’s Absolutely Quebec series, you can still watch those episodes online. As are those from 2013.

Posted in Montreal, TV

Vermont PBS turns its eye to Montreal

If you’re watching TV tonight, you might want to tune to Vermont PBS (WETK) to catch two shows the focus on Montreal. Or you can watch both online.

At 7:30pm, the weekly panel discussion show Vermont This Week presents its Canada special, focusing on Canada-U.S. relations. The panel includes Montreal Gazette Managing Editor Michelle Richardson and Global Montreal reporter Tim Sargeant. They talk road construction, Quebec-Vermont economic cooperation, Quebec politics and tourism.

Then at 8:30pm, it presents Qulture, a documentary-style show about Montreal culture produced with Cult MTL. This episode, described as a pilot, but with no clear indication whether there will be other episodes, discusses comedian Sugar Sammy, graffiti artists and the local vaudeville scene, and a bit about Cult itself along the way.

Vermont PBS is available on Channel 55 on Videotron Illico, Channel 57 on Videotron analog cable (Western Montreal only), Channel 224/1224 on Bell Fibe, and Channel 33.1 over the air.

Posted in TV

Did Global suspend or fire Domenic Fazioli?

Domenic Fazioli (Global News photo)

Domenic Fazioli (Global News photo)

Is Domenic Fazioli an employee of Global News? It’s a seemingly simple question, but no one I’ve asked it to (including Fazioli himself) is willing to answer yes or no.

For about a month now, Fazioli hasn’t been seen on the air on Global Montreal. He hasn’t filed any stories, he hasn’t posted anything on Twitter, and his name and photo don’t appear on the list of personalities on the station’s website, even though he’s one of their most veteran reporters.

Even his colleagues don’t know exactly what’s going on. His desk has been cleared, and employees were told that a videojournalist would be hired soon to fill a recent vacancy.

Fazioli’s disappearance coincides with news coming out that he’s facing an assault charge brought on by his wife, first reported by the Montreal Gazette and picked up by a couple of other media including Global itself. The stories are not clear about the nature of the alleged assault and threats, which makes it hard to judge their severity, even if they turn out to be true.

My attempts to get information about Fazioli’s employment status has hit dead ends. The union won’t disclose his current status. A spokesperson for Global News said the company can’t comment on “internal personnel issues.” A message to the station manager didn’t elicit a response.

Reached on the phone, Fazioli himself responded “no comment” to all my questions, refusing to speak about the legal case or his status at Global. But he did say that his father’s health has taken a turn for the worse (in 2012, his father received a kidney transplant as part of an exchange that saw Fazioli donate one of his own kidneys), and that this has been a very difficult time for Fazioli and his family. He asked for privacy during this time. He added later that the situation with his wife was a “misunderstanding”, and that she supports him, without confirming whether the case has anything to do with him being off the air. (I haven’t spoken with his wife — I’ll let the court deal with sorting out that situation.)

Fazioli was noticeably distraught when I spoke with him. Whatever is happening, it’s obviously not good.

Is this newsworthy?

I had a discussion with a colleague recently about whether the Gazette should have published the story about Fazioli in the first place, which seemed to boil down to whether a local TV news reporter is a public figure. For obvious reasons, I believe they are. But even then I can acknowledge that whether to report on it is a judgment call. Domestic violence cases that don’t result in death or serious injury don’t get reported in the media because they are unfortunately far too common. And often they can be exaggerated (such as when a couple is going through a messy divorce). Often information that is public about a known personality because of a case in a court or tribunal isn’t reported on by the media because there’s no case to be made that it’s in the public interest.

But, of course, a TV reporter mysteriously disappearing from the airwaves has a more solid case behind it. If Global did remove him from his position because of this news coming out, there are questions that can be asked about whether that’s justified, questions that themselves may become public if that decision is itself challenged in court.

Posted in TV

Global Montreal planning a noon local newscast this fall (but why?)

It’s Upfront Week in Canada, where the big TV networks show off their fall schedules to advertisers and hype their newly acquired programs (most of which come from the U.S.)

Shaw Media’s announcements included the usual hype for new shows (The Muppets!), but also a change in late night: It has picked up the Canadian rights to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which airs at 11:35 p.m. on CBS. (Rogers had the Canadian rights to the Letterman Late Show, and it aired on OMNI.)

But putting a late-night talk show at 11:35 causes a conflict with a change announced in April, that late-night newscasts were being expanded to an hour in Montreal. (They’re already an hour in Toronto and B.C., which would also be affected.)

So Global changed its plans. The late-night news in B.C. (including Okanagan), Toronto, Montreal, New Brunswick and Halifax will be 35 minutes, and Montreal is instead getting its Evening News expanded to an hour, plus a new half-hour noon newscast.

I lay down how the day will look in this story for the Montreal Gazette, which includes previously announced changes.

Strategy

Having the Evening News start at 5:30pm instead of 6 is an interesting idea, and probably a good one since it takes the first half of the newscast out of direct competition with CTV. Even more so since CBC is cutting its evening news to half an hour starting at 6 this fall. Global will be able to claim it’s first with the news every evening.

But the station has also tried this before. In 2000 (back when it was Global Quebec), it introduced a newscast at 5:30pm anchored by Jamie Orchard that led into another 6pm newscast co-hosted with Jonathan Freed.

It lasted two years.

Here’s how the news director of the time, Ward Smith, described it to the Gazette’s Basem Boshra in 2002:

I wouldn’t say it was a bad idea. But we were spending so much of our budget on a time when people just weren’t home to watch. (And in putting on an hour-long newscast) we were all over the map. We were creeping into national and international news and stepping on (host of Global’s 6:30 p.m. national news show) Kevin Newman’s toes. Now, with us coming out swinging at 6, doing what we do best — covering news throughout Quebec – and Newman coming on at 6:30 with the national and international news, we can deliver a seamless, solid hour that gives viewers everything they need in terms of the day’s news.

Has the situation changed in the 13 years since? Are more people home by 5:30pm now? Is there more content to fill a local newscast without stepping on the toes of Global National?

The addition of a noon newscast is very interesting. I’m told it will be locally produced, and there will be hires (including a lineup editor and videojournalist), but the details (including an anchor) aren’t being announced publicly yet. I hope to get some more details in the coming weeks.

Either way, Global was already the English-language station that was (technically) producing the most local programming in Montreal, and these changes will increase that number to five hours every weekday and 27.5 hours a week. CTV is next at 16 hours, then City at 15.5, then CBC at 11 (whether it stays there depends on whether you consider CBC Daybreak on the TV as local programming).

Posted in Technology, TV

Videotron jumps onto Apple Watch bandwagon with kinda-useful Illico app

Illico Apple Watch app with shuffle function

Illico Apple Watch app with shuffle function

On Monday, I was among a half-dozen journalists invited to a demonstration of Videotron’s new Apple Watch application for the Illico digital TV system.

This app is, as far as anyone working for Videotron knows, the first of its kind. (Except for a similar one launched simultaneously by its main competitor.) It allows users with next-generation Illico TV terminals to control them using the watch. At least a little bit.

Jean-Pierre Gauvin, principal director of development and planning for Illico, said they wanted to start simple, and not try to replicate the features of the remote control onto a tiny watch app.

So instead, the app has two screens and two basic functions. The one the team seemed the most excited about was shuffle. By pressing a yellow button, the TV is commanded to pick a channel at random, from among those you subscribe to or from a preset list (sports, family, film, music, news, anglo, franco and HD only). It’s a function that doesn’t exist on other platforms, though the team is open to the idea of incorporating it if there’s client demand.

Mind you, when I asked about client demand for a shuffle function in the first place, they admitted there didn’t seem to be any.

Illico Apple Watch app with play/pause and skip functions.

Illico Apple Watch app with play/pause and skip functions.

The first screen of the app seems to me the one that will get the more use. It features play/pause button, and skip ahead/back buttons, similar to those that exist on remotes now.

I could see this actually getting use. For example, if you’re going to the kitchen and want to get something to eat, you can tap your watch to pause the TV.

But there’s a lot of stuff that’s missing from this app. There’s no way to tune to a specific channel directly. No record button. No channel up or down or volume adjustment function. No voice interaction. Nor can you actually watch video on the watch (not that too many people would want to do that). Even its main feature, the shuffle, can’t be set to a user-defined playlist.

Gauvin said they wanted to start with basic stuff, get the app out there, and then add new functions later. That’s fair.

“What’s important is hearing the feedback of our users,” he said. “We’re definitely going to add functionality.”

Videotron estimates it has maybe 1,000 or 1,500 users who have Apple Watches, so “it’s really for early adopters.” Those early adopters will expect a lot more functionality, and fast.

And they might get annoyed by the fact that what little functionality is there is buggy. The demonstration got off to a rough start when it seemed the watch lost its connection to the phone and didn’t work. Tapping the shuffle button often didn’t work, requiring another tap before it would change the channel. And despite their claims of instantaneous reaction, most of the time it took about a second for the tap to result in a change on the screen. The fact that the signal travels from the watch to the phone via Bluetooth, then from the phone to Videotron via WiFi/cable, then to the box through the Videotron network, explains the delay, but probably won’t satisfy users much.

I’ve yet to be convinced that the Apple Watch is anything but an expensive gimmick, but if you have one and you’re a Videotron subscriber with a compatible terminal, there’s no reason not to add this app.

The Illico Apple Watch app is available by updating the Illico app for iPhone in the Apple store.

Asked why this was developed for the Apple Watch and not other Android-based smart watches (such as the Samsung Gear), Gauvin explained that the closed Apple environment made development and testing easier. They’re looking at creating a similar app for Android.

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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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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.

June 7: Dagenais was heard on the air doing the weekend morning newscasts on CJAD.

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.