Category Archives: TV

Posted in My articles, TV

ICTV vs. MYtv: Taking sides in the fight over Videotron’s community television channel

A complaint by a group of Montreal activists against Videotron is taking on a greater significance as groups are lining up on both sides of a battle for control over Videotron’s community television service.

Last month, I wrote about ICTV, a group headed by people associated with CKUT Radio McGill and others formerly associated with Concordia’s CUTV.

After that article appeared, I was contacted by someone who wanted to set up a meeting with Isabelle Dessureault, the president of MAtv, who wanted to clear up any misconc… let’s just call a spade a spade, wanted to drive the discussion a bit more to Videotron’s favour.

Dessureault confirmed that the CRTC is not moving forward with the Videotron application for an English-language version of the MAtv community television channel, and that this process could delay the launch of that channel by a year or more. MYtv on ice became the basis for another story in The Gazette.

There was also the matter of a lawyer’s letter to ICTV from Videotron ordering it to retract statements about the company that it considered defamatory. (It doesn’t directly threaten legal action, but certainly suggests that would be the next step. Videotron confirmed the letter was sent but said “Quebecor Media is studying its options.”) ICTV refused, saying the CRTC process was the place to settle their differences of opinion.

Since then, two important organizations have backed the two sides of this battle.

ELAN backs MYtv

The English Language Arts Network, a group that supports anglophone artists in Quebec, has decided to back Videotron instead of ICTV. Executive Director Guy Rodgers and President Peter MacGibbon lay out their argument in this opinion piece published last week in The Gazette. The arguments boil down to two main points:

  1. ELAN prefers a more professional, high-quality model of community television in which artists are paid for their work instead of volunteers working for free. It believes Videotron’s model is better than ICTV’s in this regard
  2. ELAN believes that ICTV’s proposal for a single multilingual television channel would not be as good as Videotron’s proposal for two channels, one in each language.

The ICTV folks took ELAN’s stance in the measured, respectful way one expects from Montreal’s activist community: Writing an open letter with the headline “ELAN betrayed our communities by selling out community TV to PKP’s Vidéotron.” It accuses ELAN of being intentionally misleading and of supporting a “segregationist” idea of community television.

ELAN’s opinion makes sense when you consider that it represents artists, such as independent television producers, rather than the community at large. Its view has to be taken in that context. It doesn’t make them evil, and I got no impression whatsoever during their community meetings over this issue that they discouraged other people from expressing their views on the matter, nor do I think they’ve sold out to Videotron.

CACTUS backs ICTV

The other voice to take a stand here is CACTUS, the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations. The group’s executive director, Catherine Edwards, presents her group’s views in this Gazette opinion piece, which was published alongside ELAN’s.

CACTUS believes in general that community television should be taken out of the hands of cable companies, and that even if there was once a reason for cable to control community television channels, technology has made that reason obsolete.

Edwards argues that community television should be in the hands of the community, not the cable companies.

CACTUS also opposes dividing community channels by language. Among the reasons for being against this are that doing this divides the two communities, leaves no place for third languages, and allows cable companies to double the amount of money they can keep in house rather than give over to Canadian content funds.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting also has a page with one-sided information collecting comments in favour of ICTV.

The case vs. the policy

One important thing to consider in this whole affair is the difference between whether Videotron is properly following the CRTC’s community television policy and whether that community television policy is properly written to begin with.

The policy has been revised numerous times, the latest in 2010. But there’s a lot of ambiguity there. For example, the key part of community television is community access programming, but the CRTC sets only two criteria for such programming: That the idea come from a member of the community not employed by a cable company, and that this person be involved with the programming in a significant on-camera or off-camera role.

That leaves a lot of loopholes. What if the person is an employee of a company related to a cable company? Can the cable company claim copyright over the programming produced this way?

CACTUS, ICTV and others take exception to the fact that community TV channels run by cable companies are exclusive to customers of those companies. But the CRTC has chosen not to require open distribution of such community channels.

The community television policy could change soon. The CRTC has begun a year-long process of reviewing television policy, and the cable companies and CACTUS will undoubtedly be lending their voices to that process. Until then, though, the ICTV vs. Videotron complaint will be judged on existing policy.

Videotron wants to change … kinda

In my discussions with MAtv president Isabelle Dessureault and general manager Steve Desgagné, they have been trying their best to appear reasonable about this issue. They say Videotron is trying its best to be representative of the community, that it doesn’t reject proposals for community TV programs unless they fail to meet the criteria, and that despite this dispute they are open to proposals from ICTV members. (They note that they have yet to receive any.)

Videotron admits it has gotten some things wrong, most significantly its failure to properly represent the anglophone community in Montreal (an error it is trying to fix with the MYtv application). Dessureault also says MAtv will reform some of the ways it presents information to the public, by changing its end-of-show credits to emphasize the contributions from the community and by volunteers. It also plans to create an annual report for the public that outlines their accomplishments for the year.

And Videotron plans to, by the end of the year, set up an advisory committee for MAtv that would provide feedback on programming. (It had already planned to set up such a committee for MYtv once it was approved.)

Dessureault also said MAtv will be launching a new project in June that will facilitate community contributions to television. The concept is a bit fuzzy to me, but involves a website where people can contribute ideas and content, which will then be given to someone to turn into TV shows or documentaries. The purpose is to allow people to contribute without having to commit to running a weekly show.

But on the fundamentals, there are no changes planned. Most programs are still being produced by Videotron, and Videotron retains control over programming.

Community programming isn’t easy

Dessureault stresses that getting communities involved with community TV isn’t easy, though they’re trying.

ICTV, however, argues that it has the resources to make it work. It points to CKUT, a radio station where volunteers fill an entire week’s worth of airtime without the need for repeats. It believes it can do the same on television.

The money issue

The big issue here, of course, isn’t access, it’s money. ICTV could produce hours of video and post it to YouTube. But unless it wins its battle at the CRTC, it won’t get the millions of free cable money needed to pay for it.

Cable companies have community TV channels because they’d have to spend the money anyway, and otherwise it would be outside of their control.

There’s a conspiracy theory floating around (and has been expressed by commenters on this blog) that Videotron and others use community TV for monetary profit, by charging their own community TV channels for technical services.

Dessureault says MAtv’s finances are audited, both internally and by the CRTC, and attempts to cook the books wouldn’t succeed. But she does admit that MAtv does use some of its money to pay for things provided by Quebecor. MAtv shares human resources staff with Videotron, for example, to reduce costs. It also pays rent to TVA for production space (though at “well below market rates,” Dessureault said). Dessureault said these things are a very small portion of MAtv’s budget, which she said goes mainly to programming.

The CRTC has access to MAtv’s finances, and its experts are sticklers for attempts by big companies to take liberties with finances in order to reduce their obligations. So I seriously doubt that Videotron would get away with, say, overcharging MAtv for Internet access or rent in order to suck away some of its budget.

But there’s a legitimate question to be raised over whether such expenses should be paid for by the cable company, separate from the 2% of revenues it can allocate to community programming.

That, too, may be an issue if the CRTC decides to review its community television policy.

Until then, it will be judging Videotron based on its compliance with the current policy, and that policy leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

The CRTC is accepting comments on ICTV’s complaint against Videotron until 8pm ET on April 22. You can file comments using this form. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Further reading

Note: A slightly edited version of this post was published on the opinion page of The Gazette on April 23.

Posted in TV

Former CTV sales manager Tony Ecclissi hired at TVA Sports

Tony Ecclissi

Tony Ecclissi, who found himself without a job at CTV Montreal when his position of general sales manager was eliminated last summer, has found a new job, doing sales for TVA Sports.

Described in a TVA Sports memo filled with hockey metaphors as “our new top-line player”, Ecclissi spent more than 20 years on the sales team at CFCF and before that with CBC in Montreal. At TVA Sports, he’ll be part of a new dedicated (but small) team that will be trying to make money off all the NHL games that the network will add next season.

“I have been recruited as a sales consultant / representative to help generate sales, introduce new clients and use my experience to help the Sales Director build an effective, knowledgeable and enthusiastic sales team,” Ecclissi tells me. “This is an exciting challenge, it’s like starting up a new company.”

Posted in Opinion, TV

Election night projections the networks got wrong

Rigueur, rigueur, rigueur.

Those words were uttered by TVA’s Pierre Bruneau on election night in 2007, after Radio-Canada had earlier incorrectly projected that Liberal leader Jean Charest had lost his seat in the election that swept the Action démocratique du Québec to official opposition status and ended the political career of André Boisclair. TVA held off on calling the race for that seat, and reaped the benefits.

The TV networks make big deals of their “decision desk” teams, the computers, political analysts and experts who wait until they’re absolutely sure that a race can be called before making a decision. That care is counteracted by the race to be the first to declare the result of the election.

But surely the chance of being embarrassed, as Radio-Canada’s Bernard Derome was in 2007, by calling even a single seat wrong would be enough to ensure that they always get it right.

Not so much.

On Monday night, all three local English TV stations with elections specials made more than one incorrect call. And, to their shame, I caught them on my PVR.

8:33: CBC calls Lévis for Liberals

CBC Lévis

Simon Turmel was one of a few Liberals to steal seats away from the CAQ in the Quebec City region. Or at least that’s what CBC seemed to think, announcing the gain with Turmel sitting in a seemingly comfortable lead of more than 1,100 votes.

But not quite. When the night was over, the CAQ’s Christian Dubé won the riding by 1,943 votes.

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Posted in Montreal, TV

Bravo renews English version of 19-2 for second 10-episode season

The cast of 19-2. (Photo: Bell Media)

The cast of 19-2. (Photo: Bell Media)

So it looks like 19-2 is as much of a success adapted in English as it had in the original French. Bell Media announced on Tuesday that the Montreal-set cop series will be renewed for a second 10-episode season.

The French series, created by and starring Réal Bossé and Claude Legault, debuted in 2011 on Radio-Canada to critical and ratings success. It was praised in particular for the realistic portrayal of police officers. Bossé and Legault spent time with Montreal police to learn what life is really like on the job.

Fans of the French series have had to show patience, though. Because of various delays, the series has only aired 20 episodes (two 10-episode seasons) in three years. A fourth season is only slated to air in January 2015.

Bell’s press release doesn’t give an idea of when Season 2 of 19-2 would air.

The English 19-2 was originally ordered as a pilot for CBC, but was picked up by Bravo when CBC passed on it, a decision the public broadcaster is hopefully regretting. It’s basically a shot-by-shot remake, with nearly identical plot, the same characters (except for Bossé’s Nick Berrof, who becomes Nick Barron, played by Adrian Holmes), same music and same cinematographic style. The actors are different (with the exception of Benz Antoine, who plays the alcoholic cop Tyler), and Podz, the director whose mark is so clearly felt in the French version, is not behind the camera in the English one. Still, the English version is as compelling as the French one, and worth watching even for those of us who already know what’s going to happen next.

19-2 is the first English drama in forever that is clearly set in Montreal. This leads to some odd things we just have to accept, such as the fact that even though Montreal is a French city and French signs are everywhere, nobody ever actually speaks the language or even has a strong accent. There are also the occasional geographical head-scratchers.

But it’s fun to see our fair city on the small screen in English without the producers trying to tone down its character so it can pass for any American city.

Bell has qualified 19-2′s first season run on Bravo as a big success, reaching an average of 190,000 viewers a week, making it the No. 3 show on the network. The series got a boost the first week with a day-after airing on CTV, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the season rerun on the main network similar to what it did for Space’s Orphan Black.

Assuming Season 2 of the English series goes the same way the French one does, it’ll be a roller-coaster plot-wise, starting the first episode with a school shooting (in the French version, the school shooting scene was done as a 13-minute continuous take, though it’s not clear if the English version will repeat that experiment and Podz is going to direct it again in English) and ending with a big reveal where … well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Bell also notes that the English series, produced by Sphère Média Plus and Echo Media, will be going to Cannes to be shopped to international broadcasters around as part of the MIPTV conference there next week.

The first nine episodes of 19-2 are available for viewing at Bravo.ca. The first season finale airs Wednesday, April 2, at 9pm on Bravo.

Posted in Technology, TV

Videotron finally joins the iPhone club

One of many ads in Saturday papers announcing Videotron's introduction of the iPhone.

One of many ads in Saturday papers announcing Videotron’s introduction of the iPhone.

Three and a half years after launching its mobile network, Videotron has finally solved its biggest issue: Until now, you couldn’t get a plan with an iPhone.

At first, the problem was technological. The frequency spectrum Videotron acquired in the 2008 auction was in the 1700 MHz band (called the Advanced Wireless Services band), and the iPhone wasn’t compatible with that band. It wasn’t just an issue for Videotron — it also prevented the iPhone from being compatible with the T-Mobile network south of the border.

That changed last year, when Apple introduced a model of the iPhone 5 that was compatible with AWS and the T-Mobile and Videotron networks. By last fall, people could get their hands on an iPhone 5 and by adding a Videotron SIM card make it compatible with the carrier’s network.

After that, the issue stopped being a technological one and started being a legal one. Videotron didn’t have a deal to sell the iPhone, so the best it could do was encourage people to buy it at Apple stores and install a Videotron SIM card themselves.

A couple of weeks ago, in a brief and understated email (whose contents were strictly regulated by the terms of the deal between Videotron and Apple), the company announced it would start selling iPhones on March 28. On March 29, full-page ads came out in all the papers announcing the iPhone 5s was now available at Videotron retail outlets.

Not only does this mean that Videotron can join the big guys, but also that it can stop pretending that non-Apple products are just as good as Apple ones. Without the iPhone, Videotron pushed Android apps and devices, including the Google Nexus One, which was the hot new thing when the network launched. Parent company Quebecor did its best to wipe the iPhone out of its universe, even going so far as to push producers of fictional shows on TVA to replace characters’ iPhones with Android devices (Quebecor downplayed this as something similar to product placement).

All the while, it remained impatient, hoping that Apple would soon deem Videotron worthy of inclusion.

Illico TV app now available

On Monday Tuesday, Videotron will announce that the Illico TV app is available for iPhone users. The application allows subscribers to Videotron’s television service to access live TV channels and free video-on-demand shows on their iPhones. And for the most part, they can do this regardless of who their carrier is.

Using the app, which was added to the Apple app store on Friday, requires authenticating with Videotron to prove that you’re a Videotron cable TV customer, which gives you access to channels you subscribe to, including a bunch of live channel feeds.

One exception to the rule is RDS, which is the most expensive channel to get the rights to. You can access RDS’s live feed, including Canadiens games, only if you’re also a Videotron mobile customer as well. This is the result of the rights agreement between Videotron and RDS (owned by Bell Media). RDS sells its mobile rights through the mobile carriers.

Videotron’s iPhone app doesn’t allow purchases, so you can’t buy video-on-demand movies. The reason for this is simple math: Apple’s required percentage take of in-app purchases is so high (30%), that Videotron can’t make any money selling content this way.

The Illico Club Unlimited subscription video-on-demand service is also not available yet on the iPhone app.

New prices

Something that’s already making headlines is the prices that Videotron is using to sell them. Videotron is offering unlimited calling and 4GB data for $75 a month, while the Big Three are offering $110 a month for the same plans. Additionally, it’s offering the iPhone at an almost $500 discount for a 24-month plan. That means more than $20 a month of your iPhone plan with Videotron will be going just to pay off the discount you got for your device.

It’s almost as if Videotron has been waiting for this day for years.

Posted in Sports, TV

Alyson Lozoff leaves City, Sportsnet

Alyson Lozoff

Alyson Lozoff

City Montreal is barely a year old (and none of its local programs have even reached that anniversary) but it has already lost its first personality.

Alyson Lozoff, who was the Montreal reporter for Rogers Sportsnet and also the co-host of City TV’s local sports magazine show Montreal Connected, “is no longer with the company,” a Rogers Media spokesperson confirmed to me today.

She wouldn’t comment on why this is, and my attempts to reach Lozoff and City Montreal have failed to generate any response. Her Twitter account has been silent since March 22.

Lozoff’s departure was not addressed at all on the air. She last appeared on Montreal Connected on March 20 with co-host Wilder Weir as if everything was normal, without a hint that it would be her last show. During the week, the show’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were changed to list only Weir as the host.

Weir hosted this week’s episode solo, never explaining why his co-host from the previous week had suddenly disappeared.

This type of disappearance usually indicates a firing or unamicable resignation (say, to join a competitor). I have no idea which of these is the case.

Lozoff’s disappearance is curious because if anything Rogers should be hiring more people to be covering hockey in places like Montreal where it currently doesn’t have any broadcasting rights but will gain them starting this fall. On the other hand, it could be that in the process of re-evaluating its staffing across the country, the company has decided that Lozoff shouldn’t be part of the team.

Or maybe we’ll find out soon that she got hired by TSN or something. I really have no idea.

All I know is that the teeth on City Montreal just got a little less white.

Posted in TV, Video

Sun News Network 2012 debate translation highlights

This marks the second provincial election campaign in which TVA has decided to separate itself from the consortium that organizes televised leaders’ debates and go it alone with a series of one-on-one debates.

It almost didn’t happen. Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois said no at first, wanting to limit her to the other, more traditional debate that aired on Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec. But she later relented.

You might recall that the Sun News Network, which like TVA is owned by Quebecor Media, also aired the TVA face-à-face debates in 2012. Few people watched it on Sun News, but when a report about the debate that included two short clips were posted to Sun News’s website, it went a bit viral. The clips came to a total of about 23 seconds, and they were highlights picked by Sun News, so they didn’t show the worst parts.

Since the translated debates weren’t posted online, they might have been lost to history if not for one thing: I recorded all three hour-long debates on my PVR. And they’ve been sitting there ever since.

With the 2014 face-à-face debates only hours away, I recorded some clips from the debate and compiled them into eight minutes of highlights. The result is the video you see above.

A source at Sun News tells me that the network will air tonight’s debate, but that they have hired different translators.

I’ll be PVRing it anyway. Just in case.

TVA’s face-à-face debates air Thursday, March 27 from 8pm to 10pm on TVA and simultaneously translated on Sun News Network. It will also air on CPAC.

UPDATE: After posting the video to YouTube, I went in to clean the automatically-generated captions. But the captions generated for the debate clips were just so great that I couldn’t touch them. They include such gems as:

  • 2:06: “I wouldn’t victims contra months prego merman”
  • 5:28: “second spend your life getting minutes for me his / as Julia and modern yesterday sent / week with the mall butthead”
  • 6:14: “he added that the troops mister sister 20 as you go”
  • 6:34: “thank you so much as a queen of thank you so much musica”
  • 7:21: “and mister across america their leader / how to Chris you’re a doctor becker / he wouldn’t allow your the day all the balls we have”
  • 8:08: “going to help me fire a gritty / you lose my me I cannot do we”
  • 8:37: “your house layout so attacker 7,000 jobs that are you gonna cut people”
  • 8:49: “overheard the Cougar 30 Passa Passa”
  • 8:53: “I hope this exchange farewell lighting you for your torso”
Posted in Montreal, TV

The battle over Videotron’s community TV channel

It was supposed to be simple and non-controversial: An application by Videotron to create a second community television channel in Montreal to serve the anglophone community.

Anglophones had long complained that since Videotron bought CF Cable TV, they have not had a proper voice in community television. The CRTC even asked Videotron to do something about it. Just months before the announcement, the English Language Arts Network publicly called on Videotron to restore English community programming.

So when Videotron made its big splash about starting MYtv, the reaction seemed to be positive, at least at first. ELAN hosted a meeting in September to get input from the community, and though there were few people present, there were some tough questions for Videotron’s representatives.

Now, those questions have been formalized in a complaint to the CRTC.

The complaint, filed by a group calling itself Independent Community Television Montreal (ICTV), includes an 86-page document meticulously arguing that the programming that airs on MAtv does not meet CRTC requirements for a community channel. It argues that the CRTC should declare that MAtv is not complying with its licence conditions, and instead grand a licence to ICTV to operate a multilingual community channel that would replace both MAtv and MYtv.

I summarize the complaint in this story, which appears in Monday’s Gazette.

But as long as the story is, there’s still so much detail I had to leave out.

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Posted in My articles, TV

Tamy Emma Pepin’s bilingual trip through the UK

Tamy Emma Pepin certainly seems to have had a pretty successful career in the media. A contributor to TQS, the Journal de Montréal, and TVA as a freelancer. An editor for Huffington Post Québec. A social media ambassador for Tourism Montreal.

More recently, she was a contributor to Cap sur l’été on Radio-Canada, and she was one of the hosts of local lifestyle series Only in Montreal. That series, sadly, has not been renewed, but she quickly moved on to her next project: a travel series produced by Toxa (the company behind Urbania) and airing on Évasion.

The 13-episode one-hour series, Tamy @ Royaume-Uni, was shot last fall, and debuts Thursday at 8pm. So I had a chat with Pepin and another with producer Raphaëlle Huysmans about the show for a story that appears in Thursday’s Gazette.

It’s a French channel, and voiceovers and explanations to the camera happen in French, but because this is Britain, most of the stuff that happens is in English (which is thankfully subtitled rather than dubbed). Rather than sounding like an instructional video or sales pitch, the series takes a more documentary-style approach, following Pepin around as she plays tourist.

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Posted in TV

Channel Zero licence renewals: It’s not just about CanCon pornography

On Wednesday, the CRTC issued a notice of hearing, calling Channel Zero Inc. to appear in person to discuss issues related to its specialty channel licence renewal applications. Channel Zero owns Movieola (which was rebranded as Rewind in December 2012), Silver Screen Classics, AOV Adult Movie Channel, AOV XXX Action Clips and AOV Maleflixx. The licenses for all these channels expire in August. Channel Zero also owns CHCH TV in Hamilton, whose licence doesn’t expire until 2016, and U.S. channel Fight Now TV, which isn’t regulated by the CRTC.

The commission is calling the company to the hearing because of apparent non-compliance with the licences assigned to these channels. There are many issues, some more serious than others, from unauthorized change of control to failure to meet Canadian content requirements to airing categories of programming that the licences do not allow them to air.

So you can imagine what angle the media took in their stories about these applications: porn, pornporn, porn, porn, pornporn, porn, porn and porn. (I counted one story — in a trade publication — that wasn’t focused on that angle.)

Stories (mostly briefs) about this issue, all with the same angle, appeared in print editions of The Gazette, the Journal de Montréal, the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, Globe and Mail, Edmonton Journal, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Windsor Star, National Post, Cape Breton Post, Victoria Times-Colonist, 24 Hours Toronto, the Edmonton Sun and a bunch of other publications. It even made it into Friday’s Philadelphia Daily News, Columbus Dispatch, The Economist and New York Times, has been translated into Danish and sparked poorly-researched editorials in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province and columns by Jonathan Kay, Ian Robinson and Kate Taylor (which the Globe also created a video for). And CBC’s As it Happens even interviewed a porn star.

The stories are not incorrect (although most stories have small factual errors). The CRTC believes the three AOV adult entertainment channels fell short of their 35% Canadian content requirement. But it also has the same issue with Movieola/Rewind, which is not a porn channel.

More importantly, there are far more serious and less amusing issues on the table here. Specifically:

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Posted in Montreal, TV

City won’t renew Only in Montreal (and won’t say why)

On Saturday at 7pm, City TV’s local lifestyle show will present three capsules, one each from its hosts Matt Silver, Tamy Emma Pepin and Dimitrios Koussioulas, as it airs its 30th episode. Which will also be its last.

Last month, Rogers Media confirmed to me that Only in Montreal is not being renewed past its first 30-episode run.

The news is disappointing because Only in Montreal, produced by Whalley-Abbey Media, was actually a really good show. It was well edited, well produced, fun and interesting, and introduced the city to three personalities they had known little of before. And it showcased the city in a way that has been missing on local television for far too long.

But what’s more disappointing is that the decision to cancel the show was made before the latest local TV ratings numbers came out. Since this was the first report since Only in Montreal came on the air last July, we can only conclude that the decision had nothing to do with ratings. And it’s tempting to further conclude that it therefore had nothing to do with the quality of the show.

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Posted in My articles, TV

Did the CRTC require Sun News be added to analog cable?

We’re now a month away from all (licensed) cable, satellite and IPTV companies in Canada being required to add the Sun News Network to their systems, but one important question remains unanswered: Does Sun News have to be added to analog cable as well as digital?

It may seem like a simple question, but I’ve gotten contradictory answers on it, as I write in this story at Cartt.ca.

When the CRTC made its decision two months ago that all licensed TV distributors in Canada had to make all five national news channels available to all subscribers, it gave them until March 19 to come into compliance with the more important part of its order: adding Sun News to their systems. (Most of them already carry the other four channels — CBC News Network, RDI, CTV News Channel and LCN.) The TV distributors have a further two months, until May 20, to comply with other aspects of the order, requiring the channels to be added to the “best” packages “consistent with their genre and programming,” requiring that each be available à la carte (where possible) and filing affiliation agreements with the CRTC.

But the order, and the decision that led to it, don’t say anything about analog cable. This despite the fact that Sun News made distribution on analog one of its key arguments in favour of a mandatory distribution order. Sun argued that its audience skews older and rural, and that those viewers are more likely to have analog cable service.

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Posted in TV

Videotron doesn’t want to add ICI to analog cable, asks CRTC for exemption

Sam Norouzi in the control room at ICI's studios in Ahuntsic

Sam Norouzi in the control room at ICI’s studios in Ahuntsic

Analog cable. Remember that? According to the latest statistics from the CRTC, only 11% of television subscribers get their TV that way. For Videotron, that number is higher. According to Quebecor’s latest quarterly report, 82.9% of its television customers were digital, leaving 17.1% of them using analog-only setups.

Since about 2000, the groundwork has been built for the phasing out of analog cable. The CRTC has since licensed new television specialty channels as digital-only. In 2012, Videotron stopped selling new analog cable subscriptions. And it’s expected that within the next few years it will be phasing out its analog cable network, much as other providers are, in order to free that bandwidth for more data and high-definition channels.

I bring all of this up because of an interesting situation that’s come up. The Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, the rules that apply to cable, satellite and other television providers, have a priority list of which channels must be distributed on the basic service. At the top of that list is CBC/Radio-Canada, then educational channels, then all other local television stations, then those special services like CPAC and APTN that the CRTC requires everyone receive and pay for.

The lineup of analog cable channels hasn’t been added to in the past decade. The last new channels added to it here were APTN and Avis de recherche, because of distribution orders for those channels. And with a virtual ban on new channels being forced onto analog, it seemed destined to stay that way.

But in December, a new television station launched in Montreal. ICI, an ethnic station, began broadcasting on Channel 47. And according to the rules, it needs to be added to the systems of all cable distributors operating in Montreal, on both analog an digital.

This issue doesn’t come up often because it’s so rare that a new over-the-air television station starts up. The last real expansion of over-the-air television through new stations was in 1997, which was when Global Quebec and CJNT (what is now City Montreal) went on the air. So cable companies haven’t had to add many new services to analog cable since they started the slow move to digital.

But the rules say that Videotron needs to distribute local stations, and so it needs to put ICI on its analog grid somewhere, at least in the Montreal area.

Except Videotron says it doesn’t have the room to do that. So it has applied to the CRTC for an exception to the distribution rules that would allow it to not have to carry ICI this way.

In its submission, Videotron’s owner Quebecor Media says the commission’s clear intention is to move away from analog television distribution, and that its recent decisions have made it clear it doesn’t want to add new services to analog.

“The analog programming grids for the greater Montreal region are at their maximum capacity and no space is available to add a new station to the basic service,” Quebecor’s Peggy Tabet writes. “In fact, any additional analog channel would require the removal of a channel that’s currently distributed in this format. This type of change has important consequences at the client level and on a financial and technical level. Adding ICI to the analog basic service would result in depriving our subscribers of a service they have always had access to.”

Moreover, Videotron says, removing a service from analog cable would require a 60-day notification period, and its contracts with broadcasters do not allow Videotron to remove those channels from its analog service.

Finally, Videotron says that 93% of its customers in the greater Montreal region have digital set-top boxes, and those subscribers receive ICI in standard and high definition.

Videotron’s explanation is mostly half-true. It definitely has space limitations on its network, and adding a new analog channel would take up a lot of space. And it’s right that removing analog channels is tricky because of customer complaints as well as contractual obligations.

But Videotron isn’t absolutely prevented from adding ICI to its analog network. Assuming there was no analog channel that it could part with to make room for ICI, it could repurpose a digital channel and make it analog again. That might mean fewer HD channels, or more compressed HD channels, but it’s doable.

It would probably be more accurate to say that Videotron simply doesn’t want ICI on its analog network because it would add to its bandwidth management problems and won’t be that popular among its customers.

That kind of explanation usually doesn’t sway the CRTC. But should the commission force Videotron’s hand, requiring it to start fiddling around with an analog network it’s in the slow process of dismantling? Videotron hasn’t set a date for bringing down the analog network in Montreal. It may be a small minority that still has analog cable, but many of them do for a reason, and it will be quite a process to transition all of them at the same time. Plus there are all the people who might have a digital box on their main television but analog cable going into other TVs in the house. Those will also need to be dealt with.

I suspect the CRTC will deny Videotron’s application. But it may grant the exception if it feels that the reins of analog cable need to be let loose so the format can be put out to pasture.

ICI hasn’t commented on the application. Its general manager Sam Norouzi said it will be filing a response opposing it, but didn’t want to comment further.

Videotron’s application can be downloaded here (.zip). It’s open to comment until 8pm ET on Monday. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information provided, including contact info, goes on the public record.

Posted in My articles, Opinion, Radio, TV

Why is CBC refusing ads from radio stations?

It sounded like the kind of story that even Sun News Network couldn’t make up: The CBC saying no to money from private industry for the sole reason that it wants to compete with it.

A complaint has been filed with the CRTC by Leclerc Communication, the company that bought Quebec City stations CKOI (CFEL-FM) and WKND (CJEC-FM) when Cogeco was told it couldn’t keep them after its purchase of Corus Quebec. The complaint alleges that the stations have been trying to book advertisements on Radio-Canada’s television station in Quebec City to promote the stations, and that Radio-Canada has issued a blanket refusal because it has a policy not to accept ads from competitors.

This would seem to go against a very clear CRTC policy that says that media companies can’t give themselves preference over their competitors in things like this.

Convinced there must have been a misunderstanding, I contacted the CBC and asked the public broadcaster about the allegation.

Radio-Canada actually confirmed it. CBC and Radio-Canada don’t accept ads from commercial radio stations because they compete with CBC services. And they don’t see anything wrong with that.

I explain the positions of Leclerc and Radio-Canada in this story at Cartt.ca. In short, Leclerc wants to advertise on RadCan because it finds that the demographics of RadCan viewers match the listeners it’s trying to target. And Radio-Canada refuses because its advertising policy prevents it from accepting ads for competitors.

The policy is CBC Programming Policy 1.3.11: Unacceptable advertising. It bans tobacco ads, ads for religious viewpoints, “any advertisement that could place the CBC/Radio-Canada at the centre of a controversy or public debate” and “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”

Now, we can argue whether two Quebec City music stations with personalities like Les Justiciers masqués are competitive with Première and Espace Musique. But even if they were, so what? These are television ads, first of all, not radio ads, and if Leclerc wants to spend money this way, why should the public broadcaster say no?

More importantly, can it even do so legally?

The television broadcasting regulations, which Radio-Canada and all other television broadcasters have to abide by, says a licensee may not “give an undue preference to any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue disadvantage.”

A similar provision exists for TV distribution, which is why Videotron can’t give Quebecor-owned channels advantages over their competitors unless it can find a good reason to back it up.

But the CBC doesn’t quite see it that way. It argues that it’s not giving anyone an undue advantage, because it’s not accepting ads from anyone. Everyone’s being treated equally, so there’s no advantage.

Leclerc points out, though, that Radio-Canada’s radio services get plenty of advertisement on its television network. And giving free ads to its own radio stations and refusing ads from all competitors is pretty well exactly what this rule was meant to prevent.

Radio-Canada confirmed that the programming policy is set by the CBC board of directors, not by legislation or CRTC condition of licence. So logic would suggest that CRTC regulations take precedence over internal rules at the CBC.

The CBC rule becomes all the more absurd when you consider it in context. The CBC is facing a major cash crunch, seeing government funding tightened and now losing the rights to NHL games. CBC’s president is talking about “dark clouds on the horizon” because of lower revenue. So why say no to what is practically free money?

It would be one thing if this was a big corporate player wanting to buy airtime on the CBC to encourage people not to listen to Radio One or something. But this is a small independent broadcaster that just wants to expose his radio stations to Radio-Canada’s audience in Quebec City.

The CBC is going to have to come up with some real good justification for shutting the door to competitors. Bell or Shaw or Rogers would never be allowed to get away with something like this, and I don’t see why the CBC should be able to.

And if the CBC doesn’t come up with a good reason to refuse these ads, they should expect to be told to shut up and take Leclerc’s money.

Leclerc’s complaint letter can be read here. The full file is on the CRTC’s website in this .zip file. The CRTC is accepting comments on this complaint until March 6. You can submit comments here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

(So far, only the Journal de Québec has covered this story aside from myself. We’ll see if others pick it up before the deadline.)

Posted in TV

Twitter reactions to CTV’s Super Bowl broadcast

Seems a lot of Canadians didn’t like not being able to see U.S. Super Bowl ads. Here are some highlights of their chatter during the game on Twitter.

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