Category Archives: TV

Highlights from the Canadian TV 2019-20 upfronts

Last week, Bell Media was the last of the major English-language broadcasters to present their fall schedules to the public and advertisers. The big sells are the new (mostly American) series they’re adding to their primetime schedules. I haven’t seen any of them, so let’s instead focus on everything else that was announced and that I find interesting:

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CRTC renews OMNI for three years, rejects 6½ other proposals to replace it

The CRTC has reached a decision on what will replace OMNI. And it’s OMNI.

In a decision released Thursday, accompanied by a press release, the commission found that “Rogers’ proposed service, along with its associated commitments, best meets the needs and interests of Canada’s diverse population and the criteria established by the Commission, and is the most likely to ensure an exceptional contribution to the fulfillment of the objectives of the (Broadcasting) Act.”

The commission will therefore renew OMNI’s licence, but with “no expectation of renewal” beyond that, and only for three years, until 2023, when the mandatory distribution status of OMNI and other services with that status like CPAC, APTN and AMI, will be reviewed at the same time.

In its application, Rogers proposed that the new OMNI would have half-hour daily national newscasts in six languages: Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese, and local newscasts (for Toronto, Alberta and Vancouver) in Punjabi and Mandarin. Rogers told me it also planned to replace the current national Italian newscast, produced out of Montreal, with regional ones in Montreal and Toronto. The licence doesn’t specify the languages of programming, leaving that decision up to Rogers.

OMNI, which has TV stations in Toronto (two), Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, is broken up into four regions: B.C., Prairies, East (Ontario and Atlantic Canada) and Quebec. The Quebec feed is administered by ICI (CFHD-DT), an independent ethnic TV station in Montreal that was born out of Rogers’ conversion of CJNT into City Montreal. Though Rogers doesn’t directly control ICI, the two are closely connected.

Most of the other applicants didn’t propose regional feeds, over-the-air transmitters or local programming.

The commission has set the mandatory wholesale fee for the new OMNI, which begins Sept. 1, 2020, at $0.19 per month, up from its current $0.12 per month (but still less than some other applicants had proposed.) Rogers had requested a rate that started at $0.19 but ramped up to $0.21, but the CRTC found that $0.19 was sufficient. The decision states that the choice of OMNI was in part because of the proposed wholesale rate and the “balance” of that versus the programming commitments made.

OMNI’s commitments will be higher than they currently are, and higher than originally proposed as well:

  • Canadian programming expenditures: 60% of gross revenues (up from 50% originally proposed and 40% currently)
  • Canadian content on the schedule: 70% of the broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 70% from 6pm to midnight (up from 55% currently)
  • Programs of National Interest (scripted drama/comedy, documentary, award shows): 5% of revenues (up from 2.5% currently), all of which must go to independent production companies
  • Independent productions: 12 hours a week on each of the B.C., Prairies and Eastern feeds (including 2 hours produced from each of Manitoba/Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada), and 14 hours a week of local original independent productions on ICI.
  • 100% ethnic programming (up from 80% proposed and currently) on the Rogers-controlled feeds, and 90% on ICI.
  • 80% third-language programming (up from 50% proposed and currently) on the Rogers feeds, and 60% on ICI.
  • Programming for 20 different ethnic groups and 20 different languages a month (same as currently; 18 and 15 respectively on ICI), with a limit of 16% for any one foreign language.
  • Six hours a week of original local newscasts in Vancouver, Calgary/Edmonton and Toronto (an improvement off local current affairs show obligations).
  • Six daily first-run national half-hour newscasts, seven days a week, in six different languages (up from four languages currently).
  • At least 40% of gross revenues spent on news.
  • Provide for ICI: 3 hours of original, local, ethnic programming in French each week and 1.5 hours of original, local, French-language programming and 30 minutes of local original English-language programming each week.

The licence also requires Rogers to:

  • Limit U.S. programming to 10% of the schedule each month
  • Maintain advisory councils for each regional feed, and require they approve the programming schedules and independent producers
  • Spend $60,000 a year on “scholarship initiatives that support ethnic and third-language post-secondary students majoring in journalism,” as chosen by the advisory councils
  • Maintain operation of the five over-the-air OMNI stations throughout the licence period
  • Solicit local advertising only in markets where OMNI over-the-air stations operate
  • Derive no profit from OMNI, and reinvest any surplus back into OMNI

Rogers will have until Sept. 1, 2020, to put those increased commitments into place. Until then, the existing licence still applies.

Shockingly, the CRTC’s decision includes absolutely zero analysis of the seven other applications to replace OMNI with a different service. It merely states that it had to choose one and OMNI was the best one. Did the commission feel the Ethnic Channels Group’s idea of multiple audio feeds in different languages was feasible? Was it impressed by the ambitious goals set by Amber Broadcasting? Did it think the application from Montreal-based non-profit ICTV was realistic? We have no idea. The other applicants are only mentioned once, in a listing of the applications at the beginning of the decision.

With the increase in the wholesale rate, here’s how much of your monthly TV bill will go to mandatory services, starting in September 2020:

English-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-tv: $0.20
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • RDI: $0.10
  • TV5/Unis: $0.24
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.51

French-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-télé: $0.28
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • CBC News Network: $0.15
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • TV5/Unis: $0.28
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.68

Meanwhile, the CRTC has administratively renewed the licence for ICI until 2020, which will simplify things as far as new conditions of licence related to its agreement with OMNI.

UPDATE: Rogers has issued a statement saying it is happy with the decision and will announce more specific plans “in the coming months.”

CTV News tells reporters they will have to do their own camera and editing work

Updated with comment from Bell Media and Unifor.

Staff at CTV News departments across the country were called into mandatory meetings on Thursday, and told that they’ll have to tighten their belts a bit more.

I don’t have specifics or numbers (see below), but the headline is that journalists will be transformed into “videojournalists” who do not only their own reporting but also their own camerawork, editing and even writing for the web.

As a result, editors and cameramen will be offered buyout packages or laid off. Layoff notices have been issued in Montreal and Toronto, I’m told, but not everywhere. In Montreal, 15 jobs are being cut and an unspecified number of online jobs added.

CTV bills this as them “innovating” because they’re “expanding our digital news presence” and points out that they are also adding new jobs.

This is a significant project that will require enhanced training as well as job reclassifications for some members of the news team. While we will be creating a substantial number of new digital news positions, some traditional roles may be impacted by the changes. We cannot yet offer a specific number of how many, if any, departures may result.

There is some confusion about changes in our Montreal team. As part of the digital news expansion, we were required to notify Unifor that 15 existing union job classifications in Montreal would be eliminated. However, a similar number of new positions will be filled to support the enhanced digital focus of the newsroom. 

CTV News already employs some videojournalists (there are four at CTV Montreal), and they’re used at other networks as well, notably Citytv, which relies almost exclusively on them. Reporters shooting their own stories is more feasible with today’s equipment (some newsrooms are experimenting with reporting using iPhones), and obviously saves on human resources. But more time spent on the technical elements of producing stories means less time on the journalism behind it.

Plus, while younger journalists who are trained on shooting and editing out of school will easily adapt to the new reality, training more veteran journalists will be more difficult, and some might choose to simply retire early or find new jobs.

Because of various union rules, these layoff notices may spark a process of bumping, where less senior workers in jobs not affected by the layoffs get replaced by those being laid off (if those workers prove they can do the job they’re bumping into). So younger workers in these newsrooms will be feeling very nervous over the coming weeks.

And while CTV’s statement suggests it will save jobs, the reality is that the people affected will have to apply for them and be accepted for them. That’s not a given.

Unifor, which represents unionized workers at CTV, issued a statement:

“Today’s announcement from CTV of its shift to ‘digital-first’ airing of local news stories on the Internet was inevitable,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “Retooling local news for digital is necessary and, hopefully, a successful business plan because local TV is being starved for advertising revenues and anything that brings in a bigger audience and more ad revenue is welcome.”

The stations affected by restructuring include the CTV1 stations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Bell has told journalists and field technicians to expect a mix of retraining, layoffs, and new “digital” jobs, with a net reduction of staffing.

Dias cautioned Bell Media of its responsibility to guide news staff through the technological changes in job responsibilities, as it is expected that some journalists and field staff will need to acquire new digital skills.

“We are going to ensure no media worker is left behind,” said Dias. “Bell knows us pretty well and they know we mean it.”

Dias is also urging the federal government to accelerate its four-year long review of Canadian broadcasting in the Internet environment, scheduled to continue into 2020. “There are obvious actions the CRTC and the federal government can take to strengthen Canadian programming,” said Dias, referring to the CRTC’s own “Harnessing Change” report on Internet-broadcasting issued in June 2018.

CRTC issues court order to force TVA Sports to keep signal on Bell TV, suspends licence if it cuts off again

Pursuant to Wednesday’s emergency hearing on Quebecor’s decision to pull TVA Sports of Bell TV, on Thursday the CRTC issued a mandatory order requiring TVA Sports to comply with regulations about dispute resolution and keep its signal on Bell TV. It also suspended TVA Sports’s licence, though that suspension only applies if it cuts Bell TV off again, and only for the period during which the signal is cut off.

The mandatory order is being registered with the federal court, which means if TVA defies it, it will be subject to contempt of court proceedings, and faces large fines.

The commission rejected TVA’s main legal argument, that the regulations imposing arbitrated settlements of carriage disputes are not allowed under the Broadcasting Act (emphasis in the original):

TVA’s position that the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to set terms and conditions of affiliation agreements is inconsistent with the broad power given to the Commission by Parliament to make regulations to resolve any dispute by way of mediation or otherwise. Given that terms and conditions, including rates, are fundamental to the resolution of carriage disputes, the interpretation urged on the Commission by TVA Group would render the regulation-making power set out in section 10(1)(h) empty of meaning, an absurd result that cannot have been Parliament’s intention.

Pierre Karl Péladeau’s arguments about how TVA isn’t getting enough carriage fees, or how Bell has been unfair, or how TVA Sports’s future is threatened, are not addressed in the CRTC decision, because they are outside the scope of the proceeding. They will be dealt with in the undue preference complaint and mediation or arbitration proceedings between the two groups.

(For more on the arguments for and against TVA, see this post.)

The commission stopped short of its more serious threats, to suspend or even revoke TVA Sports’s licence. Even a temporary suspension during the NHL playoffs would have been devastating to TVA Sports, and probably led to its shutting down.

But it did reprimand TVA for its behaviour in this case:

the Commission is gravely concerned with TVA Group’s disregard for the Commission’s authority. Given the inflexible behaviour displayed by the licensee in respect of its regulatory obligations and the lack of a firm commitment to correct the situation, the Commission cannot be assured that TVA Group will respect its regulatory obligations going forward.

Quebecor issued a statement saying it will respect the decision, but the problem remains and it will seek other legal avenues, including a legal challenge to the CRTC’s authority.

Bell issued a statement saying it was happy with the decision.

If you want to get the full content of Wednesday’s hearing, the transcript is here and CPAC’s video is archived here.

Meanwhile, a request for a class action lawsuit has been filed, seeking $100 million, or $250 for each subscriber of TVA Sports on Bell TV who was left without the service for 47 hours last week.

TVA Sports defies CRTC, cuts off Bell TV customers as part of carriage dispute

Updated April 12 with court ruling and TVA Sports returning to Bell TV

Four days after it threatened Bell subscribers with on-air messages, TVA pulled TVA Sports from Bell TV on Wednesday at 7pm, as scheduled, the start time for the NHL playoffs.

Bell immediately announced that it would make Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360, which with CBC and City comprise all the channels carrying NHL playoff games, free for subscribers “temporarily.”

Quebecor, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it was disappointed it couldn’t reach a deal.

On Thursday, the CRTC announced that it was calling Groupe TVA to a hearing in Gatineau on April 17 to explain itself, and threatened to either issue a mandatory order (which would be enforceable in federal court) or even suspend TVA Sports’s broadcasting licence in light of the decision to ignore its warnings about pulling service during a dispute.

In court, as Bell tried to get a court injunction for TVA to stop what it’s doing, Quebecor lawyers offered a truce, to bring back the channel at 6pm and maintain it until April 23 as the two sides negotiate with the help of the CRTC. Bell accepted on condition that TVA Sports accept a court order requiring the re-establishing of the signal, but Quebecor refused that condition.

On Friday, the court granted Bell’s request for an injunction, ordering TVA Sports re-established on Bell TV by 6pm, but did not order Quebecor to cease its “Fair Value” campaign, which Bell says is false and defamatory. TVA complied with the request, and TVA Sports returned to Bell TV by 6pm.

In addition to ensuring Bell TV subscribers could get access to NHL playoff games, Bell Media acquired the rights to two additional Montreal Impact MLS games, another TVA Sports exclusivity, so they can be broadcast on TSN. That pushed the date of the next Impact game only broadcast on TVA Sports to April 28. Bell TV had said it would make TSN also available for free for Montreal Impact fans.

History

Bell customers got a pretty scary-looking message during the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game Saturday night on TVA Sports: The sports channel, which has the French-language rights to all NHL playoff games, will be removed from Bell TV as a way for Bell to “punish” those subscribers.

TVA also aired the graphic during La Voix, Quebec’s most popular TV show, on Sunday.

TVA airs a message attacking Bell during La Voix on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

Bell said not only is this message not true, it would be against CRTC regulations. The CRTC wrote to both parties twice to say that during their dispute, TVA is required to keep offering its channels to Bell and Bell is required to keep distributing them.

TVA said it doesn’t care, it’s pulling its signal anyway. Which means this dispute will quickly escalate in the legal and regulatory sphere.

Except it’s already escalated there, because this is a battle being fought on multiple fronts:

  • An existing CRTC process in which TVA complains of unfair treatment (currently in the reply phase)
  • A TVA lawsuit against Bell demanding compensation for its unfair packaging
  • A Bell request for injunction against TVA demanding the signal be returned
  • An emergency CRTC hearing called for next week in which TVA has been ordered to explain itself
  • Direct negotiations between Bell and TVA to reach a deal on carriage
  • TVA’s media campaign and Bell’s press releases in response, fighting in the public arena
  • Pierre Karl Péladeau’s lobbying of federal politicians to make changes to the CRTC’s dispute resolution process
  • Programming changes at Bell Media and packaging changes at Bell TV to mitigate the loss of TVA Sports for Bell customers

How long Bell customers will actually be without TVA Sports is anyone’s guess. But TVA says it’s prepared to do whatever it takes.

(You can read more about my interview with TVA chief operating officer Martin Picard in this story at Cartt.ca, but I have lots of details below about the conflict.)

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Bell Media wants to shut down 28 more CTV transmitters

Two years after requesting to shut down more than 40 over-the-air retransmitters of CTV and CTV2 stations as part of its licence renewal, Bell Media has applied to the CRTC to shut down more than 28 more of them, saying they have little viewership, provide no original programming and are expensive to maintain.

The application published on Monday includes six transmitters Bell Media said it wanted to shut down in places like Swift Current and Flin Flon during the process to reconsider its licence renewal.

If this application is approved, Bell Media will have dropped from 126 transmitters for its CTV and CTV2 stations before 2016 to under 50.

“With the increased focus on the financing, production and distribution of programming content, signal distribution through a repeater network is becoming an increasingly lower priority and an outmoded business model as Canadians have other ways to access television programming,” Bell Media says in its application.

The shutdowns are being prompted by the federal government’s new DTV transition plan, which will require stations to change channels to free up spectrum that is being auctioned to wireless providers. Consistent with that plan, Bell plans for the shutdowns to occur mostly in 2021.

These are the transmitters Bell is proposing shutting down, along with their dates, their transmitter power (maximum ERP) and the population in their coverage area, according to Bell Media’s estimates.

Nova Scotia

Rebroadcasters of CJCH-DT Halifax and CJCB-TV Sydney (CTV Atlantic):

  • CJCB-TV-3 Dingwall, 3 December 2021 (64W, 785 people)
  • CJCH-TV-3 Valley Colchester County, 3 December 2021 (150W, 32,957 people)
  • CJCH-TV-4 Bridgetown, 3 December 2021 (58W, 3,823 people)

New Brunswick

Rebroadcasters of CKCW-DT Moncton and CKLT-DT Saint John (CTV Atlantic)

  • CKAM-TV-3 Blackville, 3 December 2021 (88W, 2,884 people)
  • CKAM-TV-4 Doaktown, 3 December 2021 (22W, 1,409 people)
  • CKLT-TV-2 Boiestown, 3 December 2021 (24W, 904 people)

Ontario

Rebroadcasters of CJOH-DT Ottawa (CTV):

  • CJOH-TV-47 Pembroke, 2 May 2020 (492,000W, 75,388 people)
  • CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto, 9 October 2020 (100,000W, 436,141 people)

Rebroadcaster of CKCO-DT Kitchener (CTV):

  • CKCO-TV-3 Oil Springs, 2 May 2020 (846W, 293,703 people)

Rebroadcaster of CKNY-TV North Bay (CTV Northern Ontario):

  • CKNY-TV-11 Huntsville, 9 October 2020 (325,000W, 174,627 people)

Rebroadcaster of CITO-TV Timmins (CTV Northern Ontario):

  • CITO-TV-2 Kearns, 3 December 2021 (325,000W, 88,472 people)

Manitoba

Rebroadcasters of CKY-DT Winnipeg (CTV):

  • CKYA-TV Fisher Branch, 16 July 2021 (62,000W, 15,759 people)
  • CKYD-TV Dauphin, 16 July 2021 (140,000W, 30,897 people)
  • CKYF-TV Flin Flon, 16 July 2021 (2,060W, 7,762 people)
  • CKYP-TV The Pas, 16 July 2021 (2,130W, 9,996 people)

Saskatchewan

Rebroadcasters of CKCK-DT Regina (CTV):

  • CKMC-TV Swift Current, 26 February 2021 (100,000W, 29,035 people)
  • CKMJ-TV Marquis (Moose Jaw), 26 February 2021 (98,000W, 87,838 people)

Rebroadcasters of CFQC-DT Saskatoon (CTV):

  • CFQC-TV-1 Stranraer, 26 February 2021 (100,000W, 36,546 people)
  • CFQC-TV-2 North Battleford, 26 February 2021 (30,300W, 39,686 people)

Alberta

Rebroadcasters of CFRN-DT Edmonton (CTV):

  • CFRN-TV-3 WhiteCourt, 26 February 2021 (17,900W, 32,832 people)
  • CFRN-TV-4 Ashmont, 26 February 2021 (26,650W, 23,673 people)
  • CFRN-TV-5 Lac La Biche, 26 February 2021 (8,656W, 9,149 people)
  • CFRN-TV-7 Lougheed, 26 February 2021 (21,000W, 9,752 people)
  • CFRN-TV-12 Athabasca, 26 February 2021 (3,300W, 9,621 people)
  • CFRN-TV-9 Slave Lake, 16 July 2021 (840W, 9,683 people)

British Columbia

Rebroadcasters of CFCN-DT Calgary, Alta. (CTV):

  • CFCN-TV-15 Invermere, 26 February 2021 (10W, 4,843 people)
  • CFCN-TV-9 Cranbrook, 26 February 2021 (446W, 43,765 people)
  • CFCN-TV-10 Fernie, 26 February 2021 (23W, 6,568 people)

The application requires CRTC approval because it amends licences for stations these transmitters rebroadcast from. But the CRTC hasn’t been pushing the networks to keep retransmitters running. Instead, it’s more focused on preserving local stations with original programming.

UPDATE: The application drew six interventions from individuals during the open comment period. Bell’s reply was a single page, reiterating why it has taken the decision and adding this:

While we appreciate the concerns expressed by the intervenors, we would like to reiterate that the majority of these shutdowns will not occur before February 2021.  Further, our Application is fully compliant with existing Commission policy.

MusiquePlus is dead — but music on TV is far from it

There are quite a few eulogies to MusiquePlus this week in various media, after news came out that owner V will be replacing it this summer with a women’s movie channel. (Many news stories talked about it going “off the air” or being “shut down forever”, when neither is true. The only thing really changing that has any connection to its former life is the name.)

Brendan KellyRafaël Ouellet and various former MP personalities shared memories of the music channel, how it influenced a generation and how much fun it was to work there.

The eulogies tend to fall along the same lines, remembering the personalities the channel built up, the live music performances, the interviews with big stars, the excitement of debuting a new song or video. Then they go on to acknowledge that most people can get their music videos on YouTube these days and have no need for a channel that runs them on an endless loop.

There’s a few problems with this logic, though. For one thing, there is demand for such a channel. As I’m writing this my TV is on Stingray’s PalmarèsADISQ music video channel, which is an automated channel that runs nothing but francophone music videos. It doesn’t have live music or video jockeys, though.

And that’s what we really miss about MusiquePlus. It’s not the music videos, it’s everything else related to music.

But live music is expensive to produce. So while it may have worked as a weekly special occasion on a cable channel 20 years ago, it doesn’t make sense any more on Quebec television.

Which would make sense if you didn’t watch Quebec television, and conveniently ignored that the most popular francophone program on Quebec TV right now, with more than 2 million viewers a week, is a singing competition show.

I looked through the TV schedule for next week, and here are shows I found that are directly music-related:

  • La Voix (TVA, Sunday 7pm)
  • Virtuose (ARTV, Monday 10:30pm)
  • The Launch (VRAK, Wednesday 8pm)
  • En direct de l’univers (Radio-Canada, Saturday 7pm)
  • Pour l’amour du country (ARTV, Saturday 7pm)
  • La vie secrète des chansons (TV5, Saturday 8:15pm)
  • Belle et Bum (Télé-Québec, Saturday 9pm)

That doesn’t include general talent competition shows, cultural current affairs shows, dance shows, community television, talk shows featuring musicians as guests or one-off documentaries.

Music is still very present on television. What’s changed is more subtle than that, and has various factors. Music videos aren’t the money-maker they once were. TV channels have to work harder to gain audiences. Automation in TV production, and the job cuts that followed, have made it easier to just run content produced elsewhere than create original live studio programming. Corporate consolidation has led to more caution and a focus more on big-money highly-promoted “event” programming and less on the daily grind that will be mostly forgettable and not reusable, even if it can occasionally create unexpected gems.

I honestly don’t know if someone really committed to bringing back the essence of MusiquePlus (or MuchMusic on the English side, for that matter) could make it financially viable. MP didn’t make money when it was sold in the Bell-Astral merger, and V paid very little for it. If anyone felt they could step in and make it work, they had ample opportunity. And nothing it stopping anyone from creating a TV or online channel that does all of what MP used to do. They might even convince V to sell them the brand, since they won’t be using it anymore.

It’s sad that we’re losing MP’s history (they’re apparently in talks to preserve archives), but from music videos to live performances to interviews and critiques, the programming we found on it still exists.

It just no longer exists all in one place. And we don’t have Véronique Cloutier, Rebecca Makonnen and Geneviève Borne tying it all together.

Canadian Super Bowl ads: A statistical analysis

It was the third year in a row that Bell Media was stuck in its impossible position: One of the biggest television events of the year and half its audience is watching it on a channel it doesn’t control because those people want desperately to avoid Bell Media’s advertisements.

Though the USMCA specifically requires the abolishment of the CRTC’s special rule forbidding simultaneous substitution during the Super Bowl (the Trump administration added it at the request of the NFL, which would see the value of the Canadian rights to the NFL drop significantly if the rule were kept in place), the new trade deal hasn’t been ratified, and the commission isn’t going to act until it is.

If the USMCA is ratified this year (which is a big if), this could be the last time Canadians watching on cable will get to see big-budget ads from T-Mobile and other advertisers that have no interest in Canada.

I followed both the Canadian (TSN5) and U.S. (WCAX-TV Burlington) versions of the Super Bowl broadcast live to compare the two. Bell had no plans for a watch-to-win contest or other gimmick to get Canadians to tune in to its broadcast, and there weren’t many big announcements about big-budget Canadian ads (Bell pointed to one featuring Michael Bublé, but that ad also aired in the U.S.), so I was curious about the quality of the ads that would be broadcast.

Here is a playlist of all the ads I could find on YouTube that aired on CFCF-DT Montreal during the Super Bowl game (between kickoff and the end of the game, when the simsub exception applies).

Some of the ads were Super Bowl ads that appeared on both sides of the border, including one for Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, an Olay commercial featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar, a Colgate ad with Luke Wilson, an ad for Persil ProClean, a teaser for the Amazon Prime series Hanna (which aired simultaneously in both countries) and a 30-second version of a Budweiser ad touting renewable energy.

For just the Super Bowl-style new ads that appeared only on the Canadian broadcast, you can follow this playlist.

Among the Canadian-only ads that tried something new for the Super Bowl:

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My contribution to solving the two solitudes: Get bilingual anglos to watch more French TV

I never used to watch French TV. Even in the days of analog cable, we’d skip past Radio-Canada, TVA and TQS to get to CTV, CBC and Global. Wouldn’t even bother seeing what’s on. It was in French, and we didn’t want to watch it.

There were a few reasons for this. One, my French comprehension wasn’t quite good enough at a young age to be able to properly understand the fast-talking faces on screen. The fact that many of these series were primarily dialogue-driven (faute de moyens, as they say) made it worse. But perhaps just as important, I was disconnected from the culture. I didn’t get the popular references, I didn’t know the actors, and I wasn’t familiar with the series.

It changed about 10 years ago. I can’t point to a specific moment, or even say why it happened exactly or what the first show I watched was. But it started not long after I moved into a building where all my neighbours were francophones. Combined with writing this blog and covering media including francophone media, I got exposed to a lot more French than before — reading it, speaking it, understanding it.

Nowadays, French-language TV is a large part of my (rather gluttonous) TV-watching diet. A lot of it is low-budget and has horrible writing. But as American TV has reached its so-called golden age, Canadian TV in both languages has also dramatically improved in writing and production quality, at least at the high end.

Watching French TV has given me a lot more insight into Quebec culture, in addition to providing conversation material for the extended (francophone) family get-togethers on New Year’s Day. It’s something I wanted more people to be exposed to, especially as the idea of “two solitudes” in Quebec seems to persist despite how much of both sides of it understand the other language.

So with that in mind I proposed an idea to the Gazette, which was quickly accepted, to compile a list of suggestions of French TV series for bilingual anglophones to check out. A Top 15 list of French TV series is published in Saturday’s Culture section.

Initially, my plan was to look at series that could serve as gateways for anglos. Series without too much complex, fast-talking dialogue or cultural references. And I didn’t restrict it to fictional series either. But in the end the suggestions were all works of fiction, almost all of them dramas, and heavily weighted to more recent series. And some of these series might not be easiest for people who struggle in French (pro tip: turn on closed captioning. I still have to rely on it sometimes when I can’t make out a key word that was spoken).

As part of the effort to unite the languages, I reached out to some experts for suggestions. Three were kind enough to offer them: Marc-André Lemieux from the Journal de Montréal, Amélie Gaudreau from Le Devoir, and Thérèse Parisien from 98.5 FM and C’est juste de la TV. All three watch TV for a living, so they know what they’re talking about.

I also got plenty of suggestions from Twitter in response to this tweet. As well as several responses from anglos who wanted to take note of those suggestions, which is encouraging.

I intentionally left off Tout le monde en parle, the Sunday night talk show on Radio-Canada, which I think is a special case because it’s big enough to be newsworthy in itself. But I included a bonus mention of C’est juste de la TV, which offers TV suggestions and reviews on a weekly basis.

If I were to suggest other non-fiction series, I would suggest hospital documentary series De Garde 24/7, Radio-Canada’s Enquête, En direct de l’univers, and whatever Véronique Cloutier’s latest variety show is.

Feel free to suggest more series, fiction, non-fiction or other, in the comments. And like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, at least try some before you decide you don’t like it.

CRTC approves Quebecor’s acquisition of Évasion and Zeste TV channels

Quebec’s television industry is about to lose a voice.

On Monday, the CRTC approved the proposed acquisition of Groupe Serdy, owner of French-language specialty channels Évasion (travel) and Zeste (food) by Quebecor’s Groupe TVA for $21 million.

The acquisition was challenged by V, on the grounds that TVA already has too much power in the market, but the CRTC said the increased market share would be minimal, and in any case still lower than the 45% limit above which it would normally deny such applications.

The application to transfer the licences was supported by dozens of interveners, including many producers.

In addition to $1.8 million in tangible benefits, split between the Canada Media Fund, the Quebecor Fund and Telefilm Canada’s Talent Fund, the transaction will also result in an increase in Canadian spending quotas for both channels, as they’re integrated into the TVA group licence. Évasion must spend 40% of its revenues on Canadian content, while Zeste has no quota. As a condition of approval, both must now come up to the TVA group quota of 45%. And 15% of their revenues must be spent on “programs of national interest” (scripted drama and comedy, documentary and award shows) for the TVA group.

A similar transaction, involving Bell attempting to buy Historia and Séries+ from Corus, was blocked by the Competition Bureau.

CRTC says no to demanding English programming from Télé-Québec

It was a nice try from the English Language Arts Network, but the CRTC didn’t bite. In renewing Télé-Québec’s broadcasting licence for a five-year term on Tuesday, the commission turned down ELAN’s request that Quebec’s public broadcaster devote 10% of its programming budget to English-language programming (proportional to the number of anglophones in the province).

The request made headlines when it was published earlier this year, and an angry motion from independent MNA Martine Ouellet.

ELAN pointed to Ontario’s creation of TFO, a francophone equivalent of TVO, as precedent for having bilingual public broadcasters. But the commission was unconvinced.

“The creation and operation of TFO in Ontario is a decision of the Government of Ontario,” the commission wrote. “Provinces have the opportunity to put in place educational television stations in both official languages for their citizens if they wish.”

Télé-Québec argued its programming was reflective of all Quebecers, including anglophone Quebecers, in the topics discussed if not the language it is discussed in.

ELAN also asked for “a policy and an action plan relating to Quebec’s diversity”, a 20% quota on programming reflecting minorities, and an advisory committee. The CRTC said the demands were “beyond the scope of this licence renewal process” and should be dealt with at a policy hearing.

Other interest groups also sought quotas or commitments from Télé-Québec. Producers wanted more spending on scripted programming, children’s programming and original French-language programming, a Quebec City group wanted a 10% quota on programming from Quebec City, and ADISQ wanted an expectation related to music.

The commission turned those down, but did add a purposely vague expectation related to regional programming: “The Commission expects the licensee to make use of independent producers from all of Quebec’s regions in such a way that producers from the regions outside the Montréal Census Metropolitan Area, as well as producers from the Montréal CMA, are proportionally contributing to the production of programs broadcast on CIVM-DT Montréal.”

It also allowed Télé-Québec to extend its target audience for youth programming to include teenagers ages 12-17.

Télé-Québec has 17 over-the-air transmitters across the province, but even though they mostly carry different callsigns, they are all formally licensed as retransmitters of the Montreal station, and the programming carried on all of them is identical.

Its new licence expires Aug. 31, 2024.

Remembering Randy Tieman

Randy Tieman with the Alouettes’ Paul Lambert at the Alouettes’ Grey Cup victory celebration in 2009.

I don’t have that much original to say about Randy Tieman, who died unexpectedly at the age of 64. For that matter, neither do most of his colleagues.

It’s not because he was unliked, or kept to himself, or hid his private life. The exact opposite, in fact. It’s because with Tieman, what you saw was what you got. He was a fun guy who loved to have fun, was passionate about sports (particularly baseball and football), and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.

Last year, when he was fired from his job as sports anchor at CTV Montreal, he took the news in stride. He didn’t get angry at his former employer. Instead, he worried about his former colleagues who were also let go, and weren’t as ready as he was to start retirement.

That’s just the kind of guy he was. So when you see tweets and Facebook posts and it seems like they’re all saying the same thing, that’s why. He wasn’t an act for the camera, he was really like that in person.

It’s very sad that he didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy his retirement. It’s also unfortunate that we’ll never get to see what he looked like without that moustache. A few years ago I thought it might make a good charity fundraiser to auction off the rights to shave it.

Mostly, I guess, because his upper lip was the only thing he kept hidden.

A service was held Friday, Nov. 23 at 4pm at Munro & Morris Funeral Homes Ltd., 46 Oak St., Lancaster, Ont.

UPDATE (Nov. 20): Stu Cowan writes about Tieman in a Gazette column. And the Canadiens paid tribute during a commercial break during the first period of Monday’s game at the Bell Centre.

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Corus asks CRTC to shut down 44 Global TV transmitters

Eight years after Shaw promised the CRTC it would upgrade Global TV’s network of over-the-air television transmitters to digital, Corus says it wants to abandon that plan before its completion and shut down 44 of Global’s 93 transmitters across the country, including 24 that have already been converted to digital.

In an application filed last week with the commission, Corus explains that the affected rebroadcasting transmitters “generate no incremental revenue, and attract little to no added viewership for Corus. They are also costly to maintain, and we expect expenses to increase as a result of the Government of Canada’s re-allotment plan for the 600 MHz band.”

In 2010, when Shaw purchased the television assets of Canwest Global, part of the tangible benefits proposal to get the CRTC approve the sale was to allocate $23 million to convert 67 analog TV transmitters to digital, in markets small enough to not be included in the mandatory analog-to-digital conversion. Those transmitters were mostly inherited from stations under previous ownership, and are unequally distributed. The two B.C. stations have 37 transmitters between them, and there are 17 for the two stations in Atlantic Canada.

Global is composed of 16 licensed stations with a total of 93 transmitters.

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Dispute over Crave is a frustrating step backwards for relations between Bell and Videotron

UPDATE (Dec. 14): A deal has been reached. See below.

I regret to inform you that Bell and Quebecor are at it again.

On Nov. 1, Bell announced that Crave TV and The Movie Network have effectively merged, and Crave is now accessible to anyone subscribed to TMN. Anyone, that is, who isn’t subscribed through Videotron.

In what Videotron has been telling consumers is a “disagreement” (and is implying is entirely Bell’s fault), Videotron and its tens or hundreds of thousands of TMN subscribers have been deprived of this access through crave.ca and the Crave app.

I asked both sides why for a story published at Cartt.ca. Videotron declined to comment, while Bell did the same but not before telling me that it has filed copyright and trademark infringement claims against Videotron for continuing to use video-on-demand content it has no rights for. Bell says Videotron has no VOD rights to Crave/TMN/HBO Canada content, which makes their continued offering of it through Videotron’s Illico On Demand and Illico Web platforms an act of piracy.

According to the statement of claim filed at federal court (which I had to have a courthouse clerk print out from his computer because our legal system is still ridiculous), Bell is claiming damages of at least $20,000 per work for about 2,700 works (individual episodes and movies) or “not less than $100 million.”

Bell’s claim — which Videotron hasn’t responded to yet; it has until Dec. 5 — states that Bell’s distribution agreement with Videotron for The Movie Network was terminated by Videotron in 2016, and the two have been in discussions since. This August, Bell presented an offer to Videotron to keep distributing the new Crave, which Videotron neither accepted nor rejected. On Oct. 16, Bell gave Videotron a 10-day deadline, saying if it didn’t accept a new offer it would no longer be permitted to offer video-on-demand content from Crave after Oct. 31.

Videotron said it was considering its options, but again neither accepted nor rejected the offer.

The deadline passed, and Oct. 31 passed, so on Nov. 2 Bell filed its lawsuit. The lawsuit specifically targets Videotron’s video-on-demand programming for TMN/HBO Canada through Videotron’s Channel 900 VOD system, the Illico app and Videotron’s website. Distribution of the linear channels of TMN (now Crave) and HBO Canada are covered by the CRTC’s standstill rule and so Videotron can keep distributing them legally.

It’s frustrating for Videotron customers, who have been continually inconvenienced by the failure of these two groups to reach a deal. The VOD deal for TMN and HBO Canada was a first step forward, followed by the deal for TSN and RDS. Other Bell Media services, like CTV, Discovery and Space, still don’t have deals with Videotron, so their subscribers still can’t access CTV GO and related services. Rather than taking steps forward, they’re taking steps back.

The offers and contracts are confidential, so we have no idea which side is being unreasonable here. Two previous distribution deals between the two went to CRTC arbitration (TVA Sports on Bell and RDS on Videotron), and the commission sided once with either side.

On one hand, Videotron is trying to get the best deal for its subscribers, who are mostly francophone and have less interest in anglophone TV content (that’s important because many distribution deals factor in total subscribers regardless of whether they’re subscribed to a particular service). And they’re negotiating against a company that is also their direct competitor as a TV service provider. On the other hand, Bell only seems to have this problem with Videotron. Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Cogeco and others have successfully reached deals with them.

Hopefully a settlement is reached quickly in this dispute, and hopefully changes follow so that distribution agreements are less complicated and don’t require such extensive negotiations. In the meantime, Videotron subscribers continue to deal with an incomplete offer of services.

UPDATE (Dec. 14): Bell and Videotron have reached an agreement over the distribution of Crave, and Videotron is now a participating service provider listed on crave.ca. I don’t have further details, but Videotron has raised the price of Crave and Super Écran, from $15 each to $20 and $17 a month, respectively. They’ve also been removed from the “premium” category of packages, which means you can’t include them in a build-your-own package that includes premium channels, without paying $15 extra.

The lawsuit will be withdrawn.