Category Archives: TV

Posted in TV

Viceland channel to launch French-language sister

Viceland, the Rogers-owned TV channel carrying content from millennial magnet Vice Media, is still in (extended) free previews, but already there’s news of a French-language equivalent.

Vice announced deals in several markets including Australia and India. One of them is a deal with Groupe V Média in Quebec, the owner of the V television network and MusiquePlus and MusiMax, which it picked up from the Bell-Astral merger.

The press release is low on details, but does say there will be a French-language Viceland channel in the mix, along with a new TV studio, “an entity specializing in content marketing as well as the development of international distribution agreements.”

According to Guylaine O’Farrell, V’s general manager of communications and marketing, Vice content will air on V’s existing channels, and the Viceland channel is being planned for sometime in 2017. Asked if this is going to be a new channel or the rebranding of an existing one (Rogers rebranded The Biography Channel to create Viceland, and V is expected to do something drastic with MusiMax), she said that adding it as a new specialty channel “is what is foreseen for the moment.”

Financial details were not disclosed. Rogers’s content deal with Vice was worth $100 million when it was announced in 2014.

Vice has already started producing some content in French. There’s a French version of its daily Vice du jour digital newscast, and it has a bureau in Montreal (where Vice was founded as a magazine in 1994). But it’s unclear how much of Viceland en français’s programming will be original content from Quebec and how much of it will be translated content from English Canada and the rest of the world.

It’s probably a coincidence, but this announcement came the same day the CRTC approved an application by Rogers to sell a 29.9% stake in Viceland to Vice. (Vice has the option of increasing its stake up to 49%.) The price of the sale was not disclosed.

Posted in Montreal, TV

New AMI TV series explores living in Montreal with a disability

You know AMI, right? It’s that channel that you sometimes stumble on that has TV shows and movies you may be familiar with but quickly learn are being broadcast with open video description.

The channel, which gets 20 cents per TV subscriber per month in English Canada (its French-language sister channel AMI télé gets 28 cents per subscriber per month in French-language markets), is also producing more original programming. Among them is a reality TV series called Montreal Housemates, which began last week.

The premise of the show is simple: Three people with different disabilities and one person who has no limitations at all spend a couple of weeks in a house and go about their day, giving us some insight into what their lives are like.

The half-hour weekly series has 10 episodes, and each episode premieres Wednesdays at 7:30pm. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the episodes are available online yet. UPDATE: Full episodes are now being posted. Here’s Episode 1.

Full disclosure: One of the participants, Chris Kennedy, is a friend of mine. And because AMI doesn’t have the kind of marketing power of Bell Media or Corus Entertainment, I might not have learned about this show if it wasn’t for him.

The series isn’t the most exciting one ever. The first episode is pretty slow going. But if you want to learn a bit about how people deal with physical handicaps, and how inaccessible this city really is, without feeling like you’re in a classroom being lectured to, this is a good resource.

The series might have done better had it been held for six months though. Because it was recorded in January, every outdoor scene is in the freezing snow and cold. It’s a bit jarring to watch that when we’re at the end of June just getting over a heat wave.

Posted in TV

Singer/TV host Pierre Lalonde dies

Pierre Lalonde, a singer and one of the few truly bilingual TV personalities in Quebec history, has died. He was 75.

The news was announced just after noon on Wednesday in a brief press release by his agency. It does not say how he died, but he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Lalonde hosted series like Jeunesse d’Aujourd’hui, but anglophones might remember him more for his English series like Mad Dash and the Telethon of Stars. As part of its 50th anniversary in 2011, CFCF-12 posted a full episode of the Pierre Lalonde Show on its website.

Coverage from TVA Nouvelles, The Globe and MailCTV Montreal and La Presse. The Gazette has a gallery of photos of Lalonde and his family.

Posted in TV

Camille Ross leaving Global Montreal to move to London, Ont.

Camille Ross

Camille Ross, who three and a half years ago launched Global Montreal’s morning show, is leaving the station and the city to move with her new husband to London, Ont.

Ross made the announcement on the show Wednesday morning. Her last show is Thursday.

She hasn’t announced what she’ll be doing in her new home, though she said she would stay in the broadcasting/journalism world. Global doesn’t have a station in London, though CTV does, and Ross worked at CTV before joining Global.

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Posted in TV

CTV kills Canada AM on 24 hours’ notice, will replace it with younger version

Canada AM, which for 44 years was the national morning show on CTV, is no more. On Thursday, owner Bell Media announced that Friday would be the last show.

While it gave a chance for the show to say goodbye, it wasn’t much of one. Producers cobbled together a tribute show with lots of still pictures (many of them poor-quality social media posts taken from cellphones, and almost all from the past few years) and well wishes people sent in through Facebook, Twitter and email.

The reason for the cancellation wasn’t budget cuts, or a desire to cut down on Canadian content, or an evil plan to save money by rebroadcasting CTV News Channel (Canada AM was already simulcast on CTVNC), but rather a desire to reboot the morning show format and maybe attract a younger audience.

On Monday, Bell Media announced its replacement: Your Morning, hosted by Ben Mulroney and Anne-Marie Mediwake. (Pop Goes The News had spread a rumour that the two of them would host this show when the Canada AM cancellation broke.) The show will debut in late August.

The basics are the same: Three hours each weekday morning, airing on CTV stations in Eastern Canada (CTV-owned Western Canada stations air local morning shows under the CTV Morning Live brand), and simulcast on CTV News Channel.

Mulroney and Mediwake are joined by “anchors” Melissa Grelo, Lindsey Deluce (news) and Kelsey McEwen (weather). Mulroney and Grelo will continue in their other jobs as hosts of eTalk and The Social, respectively.

The most telling detail about the new show is that it’s produced by the people behind CTV’s other daytime programs, The Marilyn Denis Show and The Social, including executive producer Michelle Crespi. So expect the new show to have a feel similar to those shows.

That also means moving, from suburban Agincourt (20 kilometres from downtown Toronto), where it shared space with CTV Toronto, TSN and CTV News Channel, to 299 Queen Street West downtown, the historic home of City TV and MuchMusic, that currently hosts CTV’s daytime programming, eTalk and BNN, among others.

The fact that CTV is calling this a new show with a new name, and not simply announcing new hosts and a new studio for Canada AM, should indicate how Bell Media feels about the Canada AM brand. The fact that it’s almost a half-century old was a source of pride, but also a problem. It’s your mother’s morning TV show. So even though it’s the same idea with the same time slot and broadcast in the same places, the new show gets a new (awful) name, a new studio and a new look.

Canada AM hosts Beverly Thomson and Marci Ien will stay with Bell Media, and Jeff Hutcheson had already announced plans to retire.

Even if we accept that ending Canada AM was a choice that had to be made, it’s unfortunate that it was on such short notice. The show could have finished out the summer and been given a proper chance to say goodbye. Or even just a few extra weeks to put together a proper tribute. It certainly would have been good for ratings.

CTV News Channel anchor Marcia MacMillan hosts the newscast temporarily replacing Canada AM.

CTV News Channel anchor Marcia MacMillan hosts the newscast temporarily replacing Canada AM.

Instead, we have CTV News Channel’s Marcia MacMillan getting up earlier, doing headlines at 6am. CTV stations without their own morning shows will rebroadcast that until Your Morning gets off the ground.

Posted in Radio, TV

Kim Sullivan’s post-Beat career begins with The Checklist

Kim Sullivan hosts The Checklist

Kim Sullivan hosts The Checklist

It was a little more than 10 years ago, and Kimberley Sullivan, a kid from Sorel with degrees in psychology and education, wanted to do something that had nothing to do with either of those things: Be a broadcaster.

“I wanted to do media, and my father said if you’re not going to do it now, when are you going to do it?” she explained to me in an interview.

So she got a job doing traffic reports for the Astral Media radio stations in Montreal, and hosted a show on Virgin Radio. She quit her job, taking a severe pay cut, to follow her dream. Her career later took her to Winnipeg, then Ottawa, and back to Montreal, where three years ago she was hired at 92.5 The Beat, first doing evenings, then co-hosting afternoon drive with Cousin Vinny.

That gig ended this month when she was let go due to budget cuts.

But rather than spending her days shoving her face in a bucket of Häagen Dazs (though I suppose she could do that too if she wanted), Sullivan is busy promoting her new show on MAtv, about people trying things they’ve never done before but always wanted to.

It’s called The Checklist, and its official premiere is tonight at 9:30pm (though the first episode has already aired in other time slots). The 10-episode half-hour show invites a guest from the public (from among submissions sent through social media) to do something interesting, exciting and, above all, that looks good on television.

The show is similar to one she did for Rogers TV in Ottawa called “Before I Kick The…”, with the big difference being that she’ll experience these activities with someone else rather than by herself. “I wanted it to be other people, not just about me,” she said. “What I loved most about this show is seeing the emotions of others.”

Kim Sullivan jet-boating on the St. Lawrence with participant Michael Saragossi in the first episode of The Checklist.

Kim Sullivan jet-boating on the St. Lawrence with participant Michael Saragossi in the first episode of The Checklist.

Among those activities: jet boating, glass making, skydiving, riding in a helicopter, and having tea at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. There are 18 activities in all in those 10 episodes.

Sullivan said she intentionally avoided calling the show The Bucket List, partly to get away from the whole death thing (for the record, Sullivan has no plans to die any time soon, and neither do her guests), and partly because the things they’re doing in this show aren’t really “bucket list” items. “Bucket list is Taj Mahal,” she said. But this show is more about getting people to experience things around town they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

“Everybody has something they want to do and haven’t taken the time to do it,” she explained. Even her. “I live two streets down from Moishe’s, and I’ve never been. I totally thought i was the type of person who did everything I want to do, and obviously I don’t.”

The Checklist got the green light last July and started filming in August. It was too late for the fall 2015 schedule, when MAtv first launched anglo programming. The plan was to launch the show in January, but Sullivan said that was a bit silly considering how many of these activities are outdoors in the summer. So they waited until May.

Because the show is on MAtv, it’s only available to people who subscribe to Videotron cable or Videotron’s Illico Club Unlimited streaming service.

It’s uncertain if this project will go beyond these 10 episodes. Sullivan noted that she’s a “media professional”, and it’s unclear if that means she can propose and host a TV show on MAtv and have it considered as “access programming” under the CRTC’s definition. When the CRTC came down against MAtv last year, it discounted some shows hosted by professional media personalities, many of them associated with Videotron parent company Quebecor. The commission’s decision doesn’t give clear guidelines for determining whether the person proposing a show is really from “the community” instead of the industry.

The Checklist airs:

  • Mondays 3pm
  • Wednesdays 11am
  • Thursdays 9:30pm
  • Fridays 3:30am
  • Saturdays 3:30pm
  • Sundays 1:30pm and 7:30pm

Also new: Black Wealth Matters

Also debuting tonight, half an hour before The Checklist, is Black Wealth Matters, a documentary series about economic matters in the black community. It’s produced by Henri Pardo, who was also behind StartLine, a show about local businesses in food, arts and multimedia.

Black Wealth Matters airs:

  • Mondays 11:30am
  • Tuesdays 3pm
  • Wednesdays 8am
  • Thursdays 9pm
  • Fridays 3am
  • Sundays 12:30am and 7pm

Further reading

Posted in TV

Former BT Montreal producer gets screwed by intergovernmental bureaucracy

You might remember this moment, from Breakfast Television Montreal two years ago: Genevieve Skelton, one of the segment producers on the show, was invited on air, presumably to kick off a new behind-the-scenes series, only to be shocked with a live on-air marriage proposal. (She said yes.)

Skelton got married, and is now Genevieve Yarn. Ten months after this proposal, little Eli was born. She explained that her plan was to be with the father in Saskatoon for the birth, and then come back to Montreal and continue working after her maternity leave. But things changed, and she decided to stay out west. She now lives in Calgary.

Why am I telling you about this? Because she’s getting screwed by two governments.

Recently, the Quebec government determined that, because she left the province two days before the deadline for eligibility, she is not entitled to maternity leave benefits from the provincial government, which paid her $41,000 and is now clawing it all back. Unfortunate, but those are the rules. But when she tried to get benefits from the Canadian government, which handles such benefits for everyone outside Quebec, she was denied.

The reason? Because she got benefits from Quebec. The benefits the government has retroactively denied.

She posted a plea to Facebook, and began a campaign to garner attention to her cause. The Toronto Star wrote up the case. And despite various angry tweets directed at Justin Trudeau, there hasn’t been a followup yet.

I hope this situation gets sorted out, and she gets her Canadian benefits, which are less than what she got from Quebec, but are much better than nothing.

But what really bugs me about this case is how demonstrative it is of the problems that arise when the Quebec government decides it wants to duplicate a federal government service for no reason beyond its own ego.

Whether it’s tax collection or blood collection or maternity benefits, Quebec decides it needs its own separate bureaucracy, which comes not only at a higher administrative cost (paid for by taxpayers) but also increased complexity making it harder for everyone involved.

The nature of Quebec politics means we’re not going to reverse this situation any time soon, unfortunately. Nor are other provinces likely to give up their jurisdiction on things that would just make much more sense being handled on a national level (like securities regulation). But if we’re going to have both a provincial and a federal office doing the same job, can we at least get them to talk to each other? Is that too much to ask?

Because right now it doesn’t look like they’re doing that, and mothers like Genevieve are being unduly punished because of it.

Posted in TV

More than 40 Quebec TV series have celebrity-guest-of-the-week as part of their concept

When musician Pierre Lapointe appeared on Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle on Sunday, complaining that Quebec television is too timid and is focused on seeing the same faces over and over again, most Quebecers didn’t see it, ironically because they were busy watching the Gala Artis on TVA, the popularity-contest award show in which the same A-list faces as last year got rewarded for still being popular.

After a clip of Lapointe’s montée-de-lait was posted to YouTube and everyone rewatched the interview online or on their PVRs, the inevitable analyses started appearing. Le Soleil’s Richard Therrien dug around and found out that despite Lapointe’s complaints that his music talk-show series Stereo Pop was badly managed by Radio-Canada, it was actually Lapointe himself that was poorly managing the situation and acting like a diva.

Meanwhile, Radio-Canada VP Louis Lalande responded to Lapointe’s complaints that the public broadcaster is asleep at the wheel when it comes to broadcasting culture.

The issue has gotten so much attention that even my newspaper has a column on it.

I never watched Lapointe’s show, and I’ll leave it to others to debate what happened to it. And there are plenty of reasons to suggest Lapointe might be a hypocrite (he was a judge on La Voix, after all) or to defend or complain about Radio-Canada.

But Lapointe hinted at an issue that goes far beyond the public broadcaster: Quebec television is obsessed with celebrity.

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Posted in TV

TVA pulls the plug on Argent

argent-logoArgent, the only French-language business specialty channel in Canada, is being shut down on April 30, owner Groupe TVA announced on Tuesday.

The television and cable industries are in turmoil and TVA Group has concluded that, despite the marketing efforts made in recent years to support Argent, it would be difficult if not impossible to achieve the profitability to continue operating the economic and financial channel.

I’m not sure what those “marketing efforts” were exactly (I’ve never seen an ad for the channel, beyond the branded business pages of the Journal de Montréal), but questions can certainly be raised about TVA’s commitment to the channel, which for one thing was never distributed in high definition, even on Quebecor’s Videotron cable system.

After taking its usual unnecessary swipe at Canada’s public broadcaster (which doesn’t have a business news channel), TVA said the decision would affect an unspecified number of employees. La Presse reports its nine permanent employees will stay with TVA, but their shift to other jobs might affect temporary employees at LCN and elsewhere.

The channel launched in 2005.

According to data submitted to the CRTC, Argent’s financial situation has been in significant decline since 2010-11, going from $4.2 million in revenue to $2.4 million in 2013-14. (Data for the year ending Aug. 31, 2015 should be out within the next month or two.) This is largely because of a decline in subscription revenue (advertising makes up only 2% of revenue), which in turn is because of a decrease in the number of subscribers, from a high of 957,000 in 2010 to 552,000 in 2014.

In the three years from 2012-14, the channel lost almost $2 million, and nothing indicates that 2015 or 2016 would have been any different.

The news of Argent’s shutdown has interesting timing since Canada just added its second English-language business channel (Bloomberg TV Canada) and the first one, Business News Network, is still doing quite well financially, with a 40% profit margin.

And the suggestion that this decision comes out of the CRTC’s recent pick-and-pay TV decision also doesn’t jive with the fact that its financial troubles started long before then and that Videotron, also owned by Quebecor, has been offering custom channel packages for many years now.

But these days it makes more sense for a Canadian business channel to be based in Toronto than Montreal. The only place I remember seeing Argent on TV was at my local Caisse Desjardins bank. I guess they can switch to LCN.

Cuts in QMI’s investigative bureau

UPDATE (April 21): Meanwhile, there were cuts to the investigative reporting team at Agence QMI, Quebecor Media’s shared journalism outlet.

Andrew McIntosh is an investigative reporter who’s been in the business more than 30 years, working for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and National Post before joining QMI in 2010 as their top investigative reporter. His awards include three National Newspaper Awards.

You can read some of his reporting for QMI here.

The other high-profile departure is Michel Morin, who was a journalist with Radio-Canada until he became a CRTC commissioner. After his term at the broadcasting regulator ended, he joined QMI’s investigative team. You can read some of his stories here.

Posted in TV

Éric Lapointe gets no respect: A quantitative analysis of La Voix

Is Éric Lapointe the least popular coach on La Voix (TVA photo)

Is Éric Lapointe the least popular coach on La Voix (TVA photo)

If you’re at all in tune with French-language TV in Quebec this time of year (and if you aren’t, you really should be), it’s hard to miss the phenomenon that is La Voix, Quebec’s version of the Dutch singing competition show whose distinguishing feature is blind auditions.

(If you don’t care about that show, don’t bother reading the rest of this post. It won’t interest you.)

The show has an audience that hovers around 2.5 million each week, and will probably reach 3 million during Sunday’s finale. To put that in perspective, there are about 6 million people in the province that have French as their first language. And a bit under 1 million of them are watching La Voix’s direct competitor, Tout le monde en parle, on Radio-Canada. That’s half of francophone Quebec watching one of two shows on Sunday nights.

After ignoring it at first (I don’t tend to watch reality competition shows), I kinda got hooked on it a bit last year and have been following it intently this year (even watching the behind-the-scenes shows on Monday and Thursday nights). That means I’ve had my heart crushed when a contestant I liked got eliminated, and I’ve taken sides in the heated debates among fans about who is the better singer, or scandals where the public complains that popular voting has too little say in who wins or that popular voting has too much say in who wins. (But seriously HOW THE HELL DOES THIS NOT WIN? COME ON! #TeamGeneviève)

Anyway, back to those blind auditions. The way they work is the contestant goes on stage and sings for two minutes, and coaches that want the contestant on their team press a button that causes their chair to turn around. If more than one coach turns around, the contestant gets to choose their coach from among those who did so. The process continues until all four coaches have 12 singers on their team.

It didn’t take me long to notice patterns, both in how the coaches acted and how the contestants did. Éric Lapointe, in particular, would often be the first to turn around, especially if the singer was a rocker. And, it seemed, in battles between him and another coach over a contestant, he would more often lose. After I noticed someone else make a joke on TV that suggested the same, I decided to put that theory to the test, analyzing the choices made by coaches and contestants during blind auditions for Seasons 2, 3 and 4 of La Voix. (Lapointe wasn’t a coach in Season 1.)

Here’s what I found.

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Posted in Radio, TV

With Jean Lapierre’s death, Quebec media loses its chief political analyst

There wasn’t anyone as omnipresent in Quebec news media over the past decade as Jean Lapierre.

The former federal MP, who died with his wife, three siblings and two pilots as their plane crashed on approach to an airport Tuesday in les Îles de la Madeleine, parlayed his political experience into various roles as a political analyst.

While people covering all sorts of beats misuse the term “insider” to describe themselves, Lapierre was about the closest thing Quebec media had to one who had the freedom to speak his mind on political issues. And he had the sense to never claim to be a journalist, even though most of the time he was engaging in journalism.

Lapierre had a busy schedule and many clients. Daily appearances on Montreal’s 98.5 FM, Quebec City’s FM93 and 106.9 FM in Trois-Rivières, columns on several shows on TVA and LCN (Mario Dumont had a segment with him that came to an end with a tribute), a twice daily segment on CJAD (Program Director Chris Bury explains how the station kept adding his segments because of demand) and a weekly appearance on CTV Montreal. Cogeco, Quebecor and Bell Media were all sending him regular paycheques for his insight.

So it’s unsurprising that many of his media colleagues were emotional as they relayed the news of his death, from Denis Lévesque to Paul Larocque to Pierre Bruneau to Paul Arcand to Aaron Rand and Andrew Carter. There are so many tributes from media people and politicians it would be impossible to compile them all. TVA/LCN and CJAD have put together entire dossiers on Lapierre, and there are enough obituaries and written tributes to keep you reading for days.

I didn’t know Lapierre personally, and I’m starting to think I’m one of the few people in Quebec media not to be in his ever-expanding circle of friends. I have no personal anecdotes to share, beyond that one time I stood outside the Quebecor office at the National Assembly press gallery and listened to him do a segment for LCN about a budget announcement.

But I know enough about him to know that there isn’t anyone quite like him. Sure, there are other former politicians giving analysis on TV. (RDI has an entire show devoted to it.) But how many of them will give you a colourful seven-minute description of how a politician should shake hands at a campaign event? How many of them will call out BS when he sees it, even if it’s from a politician he knows as a friend?

Lapierre wasn’t perfect, and we should resist the temptation to sugar-coat his life as we summarize it. But even if he wasn’t the most objective source of information about politics, he built this air of trustworthiness because he wasn’t afraid to tell it as he saw it. Perhaps because of that more than anything else, he had a unique ability to clearly explain the political process, and political thinking, to Quebecers in both languages. One that will be surely missed.

And he was someone who enjoyed what he did, who was very successful at it, and made a lot of friends doing it.

We should all be so lucky.

 

Posted in TV

Wilder Weir among cuts at Rogers Media

Wilder Weir

Wilder Weir

The 200 cuts announced in January at Rogers Media finally trickled down to the local level yesterday, and the company confirmed to me that Wilder Weir is one of them.

Weir, who pulled double duty as the “Live Eye” host on Breakfast Television and the host of weekly sports show Sportsnet Central Montreal, is “no longer with the company,” as corporate PR puts it.

Elias Makos, who does social media for Breakfast Television, will continue as host of Sportsnet Central Montreal, in addition to co-hosting Breakfast Television with Derick Fage while Joanne Vrakas is on maternity leave.

“Yesterday, some changes were made at Rogers Media that will help position the business for continued success and growth” is how Rogers PR’s Andrea Goldstein explained the decision.

Weir hasn’t posted anything on social media about his departure. He declined to comment when asked about it.

Weir was one of the first faces of City Montreal, hired in 2013 along with Alyson Lozoff to host the weekly sports show. (Lozoff lasted less than a year.) Among the seven day-one personalities at City Montreal’s two in-house local shows, three have since left and two more are on maternity leave.

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Posted in My articles, TV

10 things that might disappoint you about skinny basic and pick-and-pay TV

It’s March 1, 2016, which means the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s new rules about TV packaging take effect.

To explain it, I wrote this piece for Tuesday’s Gazette, which also lists exactly what you’ll find in a skinny basic package in Montreal.

But in hearing people talk about the new rules, it seems there are some misconceptions or assumptions that people have that will cause disappointments when they actually try to take advantage of the new rules. Here are the ones I can explain so far:

1. In Quebec, not much changes

Videotron, the market leader here, has offered a small basic package and build-your-own bundles for many years now. And until December, when it has to offer almost all channels à la carte, they really don’t have to change how they operate.

Videotron’s new $25 a month basic package is pretty similar to the old one, with a few exceptions:

  • RDI is not included. CBC News Network is, because of an order that news networks be distributed in minority language communities (at reduced prices). Outside Quebec, it’s the reverse: RDI is mandatory, CBCNN is not.
  • Stingray music channels are not included
  • Some out-of-market over-the-air channels are not included. The CRTC rules say stations from other cities can only be included if there are fewer than 10 local stations, and even then can be added to reach a total of no more than 10. That means Montreal’s basic package loses CJOH (CTV Ottawa, included for historical reasons because the station’s transmitter in Cornwall reached into western Quebec), Granby and Sherbrooke lose Canal Savoir, and Gatineau loses most Montreal stations. Videotron asked for special permission to keep these stations, but was denied.

2. The $25 maximum doesn’t include set-top box rental, installation fees or taxes

The CRTC is clear that the $25 price is for programming only. Renting a set-top box will cost between $5 and $10 a month depending on provider, and if you’re not already a customer you’ll need to pay extra for installation.

3. Providers aren’t offering special deals or discounts on skinny basic

It’s very clear that none of the major TV providers are really promoting this new package. CBC even found out about Bell ordering its customer service representatives not to discuss it unless asked, even though that’s a clear violation of the CRTC’s rules.

Other attempts to downplay are more subtle. Most providers list the package at the bottom of web pages. Shaw calls it “Limited TV”, Rogers calls it a “Starter package” as does Bell Fibe. Telus calls it “Lite”.

But even if the CRTC forces them to offer the same amount of visibility, they aren’t obligated to offer the same deals. Free equipment rental, new customer discounts, customer retention discounts, even bundle discounts don’t apply to this package (though Telus offers it at $5 off if you bundle with other services).

New IPTV providers are more aggressive, however. Zazeen, which is used by Distributel in Quebec, offers an Internet-based basic package for $10 a month if you prepay for 12 months. VMedia (which isn’t available here yet) offers it for $18 a month.

4. The channels you want to add will be the most expensive

If all you care about are TSN and Sportsnet, because everything else you can watch online, well I have bad news for you. The wholesale prices for those channels averaged $3 per subscriber per month in 2014, and they’re going up. Those costs are being passed on to you. To get them on Videotron you need at least the basic + 10 channels package, which is $50 a month. Shaw customers can add them for $8 each or $12 for both.

While the retail cost of the basic package is regulated at $25 a month, the cost of add-ons isn’t regulated at all. And nothing requires all channels to be offered at the same price. You could be charged $5 a channel or $20 for a pick-your-own package with a lot of exceptions.

5. No, you can’t get HBO for 1/5 the price of The Movie Network

While most channels will be available à la carte, in some cases there are multiple channels tied to a single licence. That’s the case for TSN, the four main Sportsnet channels, and The Movie Network. If you spend $15 a month for TMN and its five channels, you won’t be able to get just HBO Canada for $3 a month.

The CRTC is reviewing its rules for multiplexed channels and will remove the requirement that they be sold as one unit. But don’t expect HBO Canada to be offered anywhere near that cheaply.

6. It’ll probably be cheaper for you to keep your current package

If you’re interested in more than a couple of channels, chances are you’re better getting a big bundle, even if it might have some channels you don’t care about. It’s in the providers’ interest, and the broadcasters’, that as many people subscribe to as many channels as possible to spread the cost around. Simple economics will encourage you to buy more, just like a grocery store encourages you to buy in bulk.

7. Some channels will die

This is particularly true of independent channels like Vision, OUTtv and iChannel, that don’t have free advertising on CTV, Global or TVA. Some CRTC rules encourage providers to carry them, but if their number of subscribers goes down, they’re in big trouble financially.

8. Many channels will try to generate maximum demand at minimum cost

Consider a channel like AMC or FX. They’ve got some expensive must-watch shows during primetime, but the rest of their schedules are largely filler, with old movies or reruns. Expect a lot of channels to have one or two high-quality shows to get you to subscribe, but not much else for the other 22 hours of the day.

9. It’s competition, not regulation, that will really bring prices down

Part of the problem with TV service in this country is that because very few places have more than one incumbent cable company, there’s little competition (there’s satellite TV, but that has technical limitations). Bell and Telus are doing their part building up their fibre-optic networks to allow them to offer IPTV service.

But what would really make a difference are more independent third-party IPTV providers like Zazeen, VMedia and Colba.net. Those are still in their infancy and lack the kind of channel selection and quality the big guys have.

The CRTC has been doing a lot to make it easier for these guys to start up. New TV providers, even those operating in big urban centres, don’t need to have a licence until they reach a large enough subscriber base. Such exempt services also don’t have as many rules to follow. Plus they can use existing telecommunications infrastructure, similar to the way independent Internet providers do. And new rules about how the big broadcasters negotiate carriage will create less headaches for independent providers when signing carriage contracts.

But we’re still a while from these independents creating real competition for established TV providers.

10. No one really knows what the TV market will look like after this

We know that it will be more expensive to buy a set number of channels individually than in a bundle. We know that skinny basic will make less money for providers if they don’t have lots of add-ons. But how the economics will look exactly isn’t known.

Will we see channels go high-quality and expensive, like HBO, TSN and Sportsnet? Will they go cheap to maximize the number of subscribers? Will we see an explosion in the number of channels as the big guys try to maximize subscription revenue by splitting up their most in-demand programming? Will free previews be more or less common? Will this encourage more over-the-top offers for specialty channels wanting to bypass TV providers all together?

We’re not following the U.S. here, even though politicians there are trying to push for more consumer choice. So we’ll have to wait and see.

But it’s still a good idea

Skinny basic and packaging choice are good things. There are a lot of channels out there (*cough*BookTV*cough*) that survive almost solely on being included in large packages and have had nothing new to offer for years. Those deserve to reform or die.

But TV providers are going to do whatever they can to protect their bottom lines so long as they don’t have to worry about competition. So, unless you only want a few channels, and you don’t like sports, don’t expect to save too much under these new rules.

Instead, be happy that the money you pay is more likely to go toward channels and programming you care about than zombie services that profit from resistance to change.

UPDATE (March 1): I had a discussion with CBC Radio’s Q about the changes and what they mean for consumers.

Posted in Radio, Sports, TV

Impact 2016 broadcast schedule announced

We now know where the 2016 Impact games — at least those played in the MLS regular season — will be broadcast, on TV and radio, in French and English.

Like with the NHL’s national/regional split, the Impact’s MLS games are split between those whose broadcast rights are sold by the league (which partners with TSN and RDS) and those whose rights are sold by the club (which partners with TVA Sports).

RDS: 13 games plus playoffs

RDS announced it will broadcast 13 Impact games, including all MLS games against Canadian opponents (Toronto or Vancouver), plus all playoff games. Its schedule also includes 10 Toronto FC games (three of which are against Montreal) and 10 Vancouver Whitecaps games (one of which is against Toronto and one of which is against Montreal), for a total of 28 games. Games not involving Montreal will generally be put on RDS2.

The RDS broadcast team is Claudine Douville on play-by-play, with Jean Gounelle doing analysis, plus Olivier Brett and Patrick Leduc during pregame and halftime.

TVA Sports: 21 games

TVA Sports, meanwhile, has the remaining 21 Impact MLS games, including the two games at Olympic Stadium, and the season finale on Oct. 23. Most games will be on the main channel, with Saturday night games moved to TVA Sports 2.

The TVA broadcast team is Frédéric Lord on play-by-play, with Vincent Destouches doing analysis.

TSN: 10 games plus playoffs

Ten games will be carried in English on TSN channels, including the season opener in Vancouver, the Saputo Stadium home opener April 23 against Toronto, and the last home game of the season, also against Toronto.

The TSN TV broadcast teams are Like Wileman/Jason deVos and Vic Rauter/Greg Sutton.

TSN Radio 690/CJAD: all regular-season and playoff games

On radio, all games are set for broadcast on TSN Radio 690, though that will likely change when scheduling conflicts arise with Alouettes games, Canadiens playoff games (don’t laugh) and next season’s Canadiens games in October. (That goes for RDS as well.)

98.5FM: minimum 21 games

Only 21 games are set for radio in French, on 98.5 FM, though that’s more than last year, and the press release describes it as a “minimum”. That station doesn’t have a backup in case of conflict, so can’t really broadcast games when the Canadiens or Alouettes are playing.

Jeremy Filosa is the voice of the Impact for 98.5. Each match will have a 30-minute pregame show and a postgame show.

You’d think this would open up an opportunity for Montreal’s all-sports-talk station 91.9 Sport to pick up those games. But it hasn’t chosen to do so. Even if the rights are dirt cheap, it’s expensive to produce such matches. That said, the thing 91.9 needs most right now is marketing and recognition, and broadcasting games would be a big step in that direction.

The full schedule, with broadcast partners for each game, is posted on the Impact’s website.

Posted in My articles, Opinion, TV

Canada’s TV industry still needs to get its act together on streaming

Want to watch the Super Bowl tonight online or on mobile? No problem. You just have to prove you’re subscribed to CTV through a participating TV provider.

Now, that might sound a bit ridiculous, since CTV is a free-to-air television network and doesn’t collect subscription fees, but it’s nevertheless true. Bell Media is streaming the Super Bowl only on its CTV GO app, and that application works only if your TV provider has a contract with Bell Media to provide it.

Unfortunately, while English Canada’s big providers — Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Eastlink and of course Bell itself — are participating providers, Videotron and Cogeco are not. It doesn’t matter how many RDS or TSN channels you subscribe to, you can’t get mobile access to the Super Bowl or other Bell Media sports content until they make a deal. And there’s no word on when that’s going to happen.

I explore this frustration a bit in this business story, which appears in Saturday’s Montreal Gazette. It quotes Videotron saying they’re negotiating, and noting that they have Global GO, TMN GO and some other services, but that’s it.

There are gaps all across the compatibility chart. I can’t find one cable provider that offers all TV everywhere products, nor any broadcaster that’s available on all cable systems.

Quebecor seems to be the worst offender on both sides. Videotron subscribers don’t have access to most Bell Media, Rogers or Corus applications. Meanwhile TVA Sports has live streaming available only to Videotron and Cogeco subscribers.

Why is it like this? Because as Canada’s vertically integrated media companies get bigger, they’re more able to play hardball. Negotiations for carriage become more complicated, and a company like Quebecor trying to hold out for a better deal for itself and its customers ends up getting left out.

(Of course, since negotiations are secret, we have no idea which side is being unreasonable in its demands.)

Online streaming isn’t regulated directly by the CRTC, but vertically integrated companies have been told to play nice on TV everywhere products linked to licensed channels. The problem is that a deal can be considered “commercially reasonable” and still be a bad deal.

TV everywhere compatibility has gotten a lot better over the past few years, particularly as Bell, Rogers and Shaw signed deals to make their programming available on each others’ systems. But if the industry wants to show the CRTC and the government that the free market works better than government regulation, if it wants to show customers that cable is still better than over-the-top streaming, it needs to grow up, sit down together and make this work.

TV everywhere should work everywhere. If it doesn’t … well, just remember how easy piracy is these days.