Category Archives: TV

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.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Sportsnet admits it’s using Canadiens Saturday night games as subscription bait

If you’ve been paying attention to the scheduling of Hockey Night in Canada, you might have noticed that Canadiens games are more likely to be on Sportsnet this season, whereas last season they were more likely to be on City.

This season, of the 13 Saturday evening games that have aired so far, plus the next one (Feb. 27 against the Leafs) that has already been assigned, six were put on Sportsnet, two on City and six on CBC or CBC and City. Of those six, three are games against the Maple Leafs, and two were nights the Leafs weren’t playing. Only once, on Oct. 17 (in the middle of their season-opening hot streak) did the Canadiens go on CBC and bump the Leafs to another channel (in that case, City), which caused plenty of frustration from Leafs fans who had been used to just owning CBC on Saturday nights.

The Leafs’ dominance on CBC is nothing new. The same thing happened last season. And it makes sense. The Canadiens have stronger ratings overall, but if you discount francophones who will watch those games on TVA Sports, the Leafs are the more popular team on English television on Saturday nights. And so Rogers gives them the network with the largest overall reach.

But what’s changed this year appears to be the order of priority when it comes to channel assignments. It used to be CBC > City > Sportsnet > Sportsnet One or 360. But now it appears Sportsnet has moved to the No. 2 spot on Saturday nights, to the point where City has on some weeks had either simulcasts of the CBC game or an all-American matchup.

I asked Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet, about this during an interview I did for a Gazette story that appears in Saturday’s paper about the difficulty in finding live sports online.

“We want to put whatever games we can to the widest distribution,” he said.

But Moore, who noted he’s a Habs fan, admitted that the scheduling strategy has changed this year, and “the second best game has moved to Sportsnet and the third best game has gone to City.”

“That’s simply for a subscription play,” he said.

What does that mean? It means Rogers is putting that second-best game, whether it’s the Canadiens or Senators or Jets, on Sportsnet as a way of getting more people to subscribe to Sportsnet.

Sportsnet gets 72% of its revenue through subscriptions (75% if you also count Sportsnet One, 360 and World), and only 23% through advertising, according to figures from 2013-14 submitted to the CRTC. And as the CRTC mandates channels be offered on a pick-and-pay or small-package basis as of March 1 (and both as of Dec. 1), it’s in Sportsnet’s best interest to protect that subscription revenue.

It’s a balancing act from a capitalist perspective. Lock the games down too much on expensive specialty channels and you risk losing fans. Put too many games on free TV and occasional fans won’t bother subscribing to your sports channels because they don’t need them.

For a company that spent $5.2 billion on a 12-year deal with the NHL, finding that balance on the sport’s marquee night of the week is very important.

“It’s not so much a science as it is a feel,” Moore notes of how Saturday night games are assigned. That’s the big reason why channel assignments are only announced a week or two in advance, except where it’s a Canadiens-Leafs game, because that’s obviously going on CBC.

Had the Canadiens continued on their hot streak instead of plunging into the toilet with the rest of the Canadian NHL teams, we might have seen the Canadiens on CBC more often.

Will we see more subscription plays during the playoffs? The math changes then, with audience increasing and ad revenue becoming more important.

But at this rate they might not have to worry about it, because none of the seven Canadian teams are in playoff position (they’re all among the bottom nine teams in the league right now).

“It would be really interesting to see what happens between now and NHL trade deadline,” Moore said, a glimmer of hope in his voice that some miracle would save the postseason audience his company paid so dearly for.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Does BazzoTV deserve a tax credit?

Marie-France Bazzo's BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

Marie-France Bazzo’s BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

The scandale du jour in Quebec media: The government has cut funding to BazzoTV, forcing the Télé-Québec current affairs show to shut down for good after this season.

Bazzo’s production company issued a statement, the show posted a page on its website, Marie-France Bazzo herself tweeted about it and there are plenty of news stories about the change, with Bazzo not being afraid to express her opinion on what this decision means for the future of television.

Reaction has been negative toward the government and supportive of Bazzo. One Journal de Montréal blowhard called it murder.

So what happened, exactly?

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Posted in Media, TV

Corus buying Shaw Media is a big deal, but it’s not a Big Deal

The news broke as I was busy preparing for and going to the annual shareholders meeting of Cogeco: Shaw Media is being sold to Corus Entertainment for $2.65 billion. The people who own Teletoon and YTV will now also control Global TV, Showcase, Food Network and other channels.

But as huge as the purchase figure is, the deal itself is more of a corporate reorganization than a major media merger. Here’s why:

Corus was formed in 1999 as a Shaw spinoff company. Shaw put all its media assets in the Corus portfolio and created a separate, publicly-traded company. But through Corus and Shaw are publicly traded and have their own boards of directors, both are still under the control of the Shaw family.

For this reason, the CRTC considers that they’re related companies. That means they probably won’t oppose the deal. And it means Corus is probably not going to be asked to pay a tangible benefits package to secure the deal, so there won’t be millions of dollars going to various production funds or content development initiatives.

Here’s how the assets will break down once the deal is completed (assets changing hands in bold):

  • Shaw Communications:
    • Shaw Cablesystems
    • Shaw Direct satellite TV
    • Wind Mobile (once that transaction is complete)
    • Shomi (50%, with Rogers having the other half)
  • Corus Entertainment:
    • Global Television Network
    • Three CTV affiliates in Ontario
    • Specialty channels Action, BBC Canada (80%), DejaView, DIY Network, DTour, Food Network, FYI, Global News BC1, History, H2, HGTV, IFC, Lifetime, MovieTime, Crime + Investigation, National Geographic Channel (80%), Nat Geo Wild, Showcase, Slice
    • Kids specialty channels Disney Channel (fr/en), Disney Jr, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, Teletoon (fr/en), YTV, Cartoon Network, Treehouse
    • Specialty channels ABC Spark, CMT Canada, Cosmo TV, OWN Canada, Sundance Channel, W Movies, W Network, Historia, Séries+
    • Pay TV channels Movie Central and Encore Avenue (until Bell replaces them with a national Movie Network), including 50% stake in HBO Canada
    • Telelatino Network and its associated third-language channels
    • Production company Nelvana
    • 39 radio stations
    • Kids Can Press

 

There are some minor assets whose eventual owner is unclear right now (TV station CJBN in Kenora, Ont., is owned directly by Shaw and isn’t part of Shaw Media), but these are the basics. Notably, Shaw will have a 39% stake in Corus directly as a result of the stock portion of this purchase. That might make it easier down the road for Shaw to take over Corus and make it a real subsidiary.

Combined, Corus and Shaw have about a 35% share of viewing to English-language television in Canada, which is the same as Bell Media and about as much as the CRTC is comfortable giving any one group. Rogers and CBC have about 10% each, and the rest is everyone else.

What changes?

The big question is what changes as a result of this transaction. On one hand, the ultimate owner of these assets is the same. But on the other hand, because the companies are run separately, they haven’t taken advantage of centralization or things like collective bargaining with TV providers to get a better deal.

Practically, this will probably mean that:

  • Instead of ads for Shaw TV on Global, we’ll see more ads for YTV, Teletoon and OWN.
  • In markets where Corus will own both a Global TV station and a news-talk radio station (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto), there could be cross-promotion or even content partnerships of some sort. We could see a rationalization of news-gathering staff and people asked to report for both TV and radio.
  • Those three CTV affiliates in south/eastern Ontario (Peterborough, Oshawa and Kingston) will probably eventually become Global TV stations.
  • Maybe more programming aimed at children and families on Global TV.

Beyond that, the concentration of media ownership already happened (the biggest step was when Shaw acquired Canwest’s TV assets in 2010), and this is really only a minor step in that process.

Which is why despite a $2.65-billion transaction, my media ownership chart doesn’t change.

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Shaw wants to reduce Global Montreal’s local programming requirement

Later this month, the CRTC will hold a hearing looking into the future of local and community television. Included in that review will be a look at how much local programming local television stations should produce, and what that should be.

The proceeding has attracted thousands of pages of comments, including from Canada’s major broadcasters.

Shaw Media, which owns Global TV, filed comments in which it unsurprisingly defended its model for local news, which involves local newscasts not only being produced and directed outside of local markets, but anchored there as well.

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Shows to check out during the Débrouillage des Fêtes

Every year over the holidays, most of Canada’s French-language entertainment specialty channels offer themselves for free to entice people to check them out and hopefully subscribe.

Unlike in the rest of the country, which will only be moving away from big everything-included packages this year as new CRTC regulations take effect, in Quebec a lot of TV subscribers choose their channels à la carte, which makes the importance of such free previews even larger.

Bell Media, Groupe TVA (Quebecor), Groupe Serdy and Radio-Canada are all offering their entertainment/lifestyle channels for free from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14. News and sports channels are not offered, and other channels offered differ by provider.

Videotron is offering these channels, and Bell is also offering most of them:

  • AddikTV
  • Canal D
  • Canal Vie
  • Casa
  • Évasion
  • ICI ARTV
  • ICI Explora
  • Investigation
  • MOI&cie
  • Prise 2
  • Vrak
  • Yoopa
  • Z
  • Zeste

I don’t usually subscribe to most of these channels, so I made it a point of checking them out during the holidays. A lot of their content is dubbed series imported from the U.S. Those series that are created here tend to be low-budget reality TV, which can be very hit and miss.

I haven’t gotten close to seeing everything, but here are some series I’d recommend from what I did watch, in order of what channel they’re on:

Monsieur Homme (ICI Explora)

If you were a fan of the Radio-Canada series Les Pieds dans la marge, and star Mathieu Pichette, you’ll probably enjoy this self-deprecating faux educational series about things that affect men. Pichette brings out his silly fake gravitas and has fun with guests as they try to get us to pay attention to real issues (like the causes of death that are more likely to affect men than women).

Dis-moi (MOI&cie)

Talk shows are a dime a dozen, but they usually involve host and subject sitting in a studio together. Host Mitsou makes things a bit more interesting by taking her guests (all of them women) outside and doing stuff. The setting, combined with the it’s-just-between-us-girls feel results in some interesting revelations and emotional moments.

Le coeur a ses raisons (Prise 2)

Prise 2 is a rerun channel, with lots to choose from among American and Quebec series. This parody of a soap opera, starring Marc Labrèche and Anne Dorval, is deliciously over-the-top in costumes, makeup and prosthetics, music and, of course, acting and writing.

Vedette Inc. (Canal Vie)

How do you manage a personal brand? It’s one thing if you’re just an actor or musician or blogger, but what if you have a real business, with real employees, whose work is based at least in part about how the public feels about you as a person? This documentary series tries to answer that with interviews with celebrities about the business side of what they do. It’s a bit fluffy — in French they’d call it a “docu-feuilleton” — but it’s nice to see these personalities shed their public entertainment persona for a bit to talk business. The part of the episode where the vedette is given the results of a public survey about them — and inevitably are shocked to discover they’re not as well known as they think they are — is worth the price.

On efface et on recommence (Canal Vie)

What’s the easiest way to get someone to break down with emotion on camera? Take someone who’s had a personal drama, and do something for them that would cost a lot of money, then record their reaction when you show it to them with a big reveal.

That’s basically the concept of this series, hosted by Chantal Lacroix (who’s kind of a veteran of these types of shows). She gets people in the community to contribute to rebuilding a home or otherwise putting someone’s life back together (and plugs their mom-and-pop companies in exchange) and we watch as the subject cries with gratitude at the end.

Code F. (Vrak.tv)

Sit girls on stools in front of green screens and have them talk about girl stuff. It’s better than it sounds, mainly because the women on screen (and sometimes men) are mostly comedians and they don’t hold back when making jokes about various aspects of life. The editing means it’s fast-paced with quick one-liners, and it really looks like the people on screen are having fun.

Les Testeurs (Vrak.tv)

This series is mainly worth watching because of the chemistry between Patrice Bélanger and Étienne Boulay as they test ideas, consumer goods and random stuff they found on the Internet. What works and what doesn’t? Who cares really when they’re hitting each other with rulers.

Carol, bar de danseuses (Z)

What happens when you put Le Gros Cave, Jean-François Mercier, in a strip club? A surprisingly interesting peek into this world that most of us are too prudish to enter. Mercier doesn’t ogle and demean, but rather lets the women speak for themselves for the most part, about why they do what they do, the challenges of doing it, and what happens afterward.

Gang de malades (Z)

Get people with physical disabilities to exploit their differences for cheap laughs? How could that possibly end well?

Well, if it’s done right, it can. The joke isn’t on them so much as us. Hosted by Pierre Hébert, this hidden-camera series puts its visibly different stars in ridiculous situations (a doorman with no arms, a blind person driving a car) and filming unsuspecting strangers as their fear of offending prevents them from pointing out the obvious.

Hébert does a good job of making sure his co-stars are in on the joke, and what comes out of the show seems to be as educational as it is funny (for those of you who think awkwardness is funny, anyway).

This is just a sampling of shows available on these channels. I know there are plenty of shows that I would like that I haven’t had a chance to check out yet. Do you have a favourite original series that airs on a French-language specialty channel? Offer your picks in the comments. And if you have cable TV, take a bit of time over the next week and a half to check these channels out.

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The best song parodies on TV this new year’s eve

It’s an annual French-Canadian media tradition: Criticizing a 75-minute sketch comedy show because it doesn’t meet our insanely inflated expectations.

So I’m just not going to partake. I could laud Bye-Bye 2015’s spot-on impersonations, impressively transformative makeup and prosthetics and expertly-done song parodies. Or, more likely, I could point out that it’s hit-and-miss on the laughs, occasionally politically insensitive or downright racist, and had a Montreal-centric (and certainly Quebec-centric) view of the year’s issues. I could declare Infoman the better of the New Year’s Eve specials, which is apparently de mode, or I could crap all over the Air Farce (and deservedly so).

But everyone else is doing that, so instead I’ll focus this post on something more enjoyable.

As a fan of Weird Al, you won’t be surprised to learn I’m big on song parodies. And there were a bunch of them on TV on New Year’s Eve. Some of them were lazy and unfunny. But some were very clever, and I feel they deserve more attention.

Here are my picks from the Canadian New Year’s Eve specials this year, in both official languages:

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Derick Fage hired as Breakfast Television Montreal co-host

Derick Fage (Rogers Media photo)

Derick Fage (Rogers Media photo)

Less than three weeks after officially announcing the departure of Alexandre Despatie, Rogers Media has announced his replacement: Derick Fage, a host on the Rogers TV community channel in Ottawa who has filled in as host at BT Montreal this year.

He starts Jan. 4. Wilder Weir, who has been co-hosting with Joanne Vrakas in the interim, returns to his role as Live Eye reporter, in addition to being the host of Sportsnet Central Montreal.

“Derick’s contagious energy makes him a perfect fit for the Breakfast Television format. We believe Montreal viewers will look forward to waking up with Derick and Joanne for their daily dose of entertainment, news, and lifestyle information.”
— Jordan Schwartz, Vice President, In-House Productions, Rogers, in their press release