Category Archives: TV

CTV Montreal cancels local sportscasts, lays off Randy Tieman, Brian Wilde, Sean Coleman

Last updated July 2 with videos of Tieman and Wilde from Impact game.

Staff at CTV Montreal were informed this morning that there will be no more locally-produced sportscasts at the station, and that long-time anchor Randy Tieman, reporter Brian Wilde and weekend anchor Sean Coleman have been laid off, effective immediately.

“We can confirm we’ve made an editorial decision to transition sports coverage from sportscasters to news anchors in response to evolving viewer behaviour. As a result, three positions have been impacted at CTV Montreal. Our viewers can continue to rely on CTV News to keep them informed about local and professional sports,” reads the statement from Bell Media.

According to Stéphane Giroux, who heads the station’s union local, the staff were informed of the cut at 11am Tuesday, an hour after Coleman and Tieman were informed of the decision in a brief, matter-of-fact meeting with HR. (Wilde was on the road and was informed by telephone.) There was no sports at noon on Tuesday, and there wasn’t one at 6pm either. Paul Karwatsky broke the news to viewers during the 6pm newscast (the 30-minute mark of the video, or 40 minutes into the newscast on TV):

Welcome back. Now a note to share with you tonight about our newscast and how we’ll be covering sports from now on. We’ll still be reporting on the sports beat with stories from Montreal and beyond. But we’ll now be doing it as part of our overall news coverage, in other words we’ll no longer have a separate sportscast. This was announced today and this also means very, very unfortunately that Randy Tieman, Brian Wilde and Sean Coleman are no longer with CTV. We want to thank them of course for their dedication and their excellent contribution to this station and this community that will of course be very sorely missed.

Lori Graham and Paul Karwatsky pay tribute to their former sports colleagues at the end of Tuesday’s newscast.

Karwatsky and Lori Graham also paid tribute to their departed colleagues at the end of the newscast:

Karwatsky: I guess we should address it, it hasn’t been an amazing day here at CTV Montreal. In fact all across the network sportscasts have been cancelled and that means unfortunately, very unfortunately we’re losing Randy, Brian and Sean. And we just wanted to take some time to tell you guys how much you’ll be missed.

Graham: That’s right. We’d like to definitely honour our colleagues, Randy Tieman, Brian Wilde and Sean Coleman. Not only were they great to work with, but they are really great guys, and we’re definitely going to miss your talent, we’re going to miss your wit and your humour and we wish you all the best.

Karwatsky: In the meantime we’ll carry on and we hope you continue tuning in.

Karwatsky gave a slightly shorter version of the announcement during the late-night newscast around 11:55pm (18-minute mark in the video).

Similar cuts to local sports have happened at other CTV stations (Barrie, Kitchener, London, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Victoria and Windsor have all been reported) to the point where the national Unifor union blew the whistle on the cuts to local news.

So Giroux said the union saw this one coming, but they were still surprised that such a popular newscast would cut such popular on-air personalities, describing Tieman and Wilde as “living legends” and Coleman as “such a promising sportscaster”.

“It made us realize nothing is untouchable in this business,” he said.

CTV Montreal news director Jed Kahane declined to comment, referring me to Bell Media.

Continue reading

It’s official: Canadiens regional games move to TSN

Two weeks after rumours began spreading, TSN and the Canadiens have confirmed that the Bell-owned broadcaster has picked up the team’s regional English-language television rights from Sportsnet as of the 2017-18 season.

The team has also renewed its English-language radio deal with TSN 690. According to the station, that deal is for five years.

The press releases about TSN’s deal are intentionally vague on details. They speak of “a slate” of games, so it’s unclear if it will be broadcasting all the games it’s entitled to or if, like in the days of the “TSN Habs” channel, it will only broadcast a selection. On one hand, every other Canadian team has all 82 games a year broadcast in English, and the Sportsnet/NHL deal caused TSN to invest far more in regional broadcast rights. On the other hand, Canadiens games are also broadcast on RDS, so not every game needs to be broadcast in English.

The press releases also don’t specify how long the TV deal is for. I’ve asked TSN for specifics and will update if I hear back.

Also unanswered so far is what channel the games will air on. TSN5 is used by the Ottawa Senators, so some sort of overflow channel will need to be used when both the Senators and Canadiens are playing, at the very least. (By my count, there are 15 regular-season games that the two teams play simultaneously — but not against each other — that aren’t part of the Sportsnet national windows.) That, and on-air hirings, will be answered closer to the start of the season.

The deal will give TSN TV rights to all Canadiens preseason games, and up to 50 of the team’s regular-season games, mostly those that don’t air Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday nights. Saturday night games, special games like outdoor games, and all playoff games stay with Sportsnet.

The deal will also mean far fewer nationally-broadcast Habs games, limited to only Sportsnet’s national broadcast windows. All TSN Habs games will be blacked out outside the Canadiens broadcast region.

UPDATE: Sportsnet has released its national schedule, which includes 32 Canadiens games. That’s 10 more than TVA Sports gets for some reason. Sportsnet’s picks include:

  • 4/4 games vs. Toronto
  • 3/4 games vs. Ottawa, including the “NHL 100 Classic” game on Dec. 16
  • 1/2 games vs. Winnipeg
  • 2/2 games vs. Edmonton
  • 0/2 games vs. Calgary
  • 1/2 games vs. Vancouver
  • 4/4 games vs. Boston
  • 2/2 games vs. Nashville
  • The first ever Canadiens game in Las Vegas
  • All playoff games

That leaves TSN with:

  • All preseason games
  • The Canadiens’ season opener
  • The Canadiens’ home opener
  • A game each against Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver
  • Both games against Calgary
  • The Vegas Golden Knights’ visit to the Bell Centre

Canada’s TV upfronts: What you need to know about the 2017-18 season

It’s upfront week in Canadian television, when the big three gather their big advertisers in Toronto (and sometimes elsewhere as well) and give big presentations about all the new hit U.S. network shows they’ve bought to fill their primetime schedule.

Of course, that’s not all that’s being announced this week. Besides the new reboots, spinoffs, remakes, military dramas and series with the word Kevin in their names, there are some big announcements about original programming as well. Two networks — CTV and City — announced new local newscasts across the country, which isn’t something we’ve seen in quite a while.

Here are how the announcements break down for each of the big three players and CBC.

Continue reading

CTV adding 5pm local newscasts nationwide this fall

Hot off the heels of Rogers announcing new evening newscasts in all its City markets (except Saskatchewan), Bell Media announced today it is also expanding local news across the country, adding 5pm local newscasts on weekdays to CTV stations that don’t already have one.

Details are scarce. There’s no launch date more precise than “fall”, no indication of how many jobs are being added, nor what the programming strategy is for these newscasts. The press release doesn’t even say how long they are (CTV PR confirms to me they will be an hour long).

The markets getting new newscasts are:

  • CTV Saskatoon (CFQC-DT), simulcast on CTV Prince Albert, Sask. (CIPA-TV)
  • CTV Regina (CKCK-DT), simulcast on CTV Yorkton, Sask. (CICC-TV)
  • CTV Winnipeg (CKY-DT)
  • CTV Northern Ontario (CICI-TV Sudbury, CKNY-TV North Bay, CHBX-TV Sault Ste. Marie, CITO-TV Timmins)
  • CTV Kitchener, Ont. (CKCO-DT)
  • CTV Ottawa (CJOH-DT)
  • CTV Montreal (CFCF-DT)

For the Prince Albert and Yorkton stations, CTV clarifies that they will rebroadcast the 5pm news from the larger Saskatoon and Regina markets, though those newscasts will have elements of Prince Alberta and Yorkton local news.

The new newscast will be an expansion of the existing 6pm shows. Vancouver, Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Lethbridge and CTV Atlantic already have 5pm local newscasts.

CTV Two stations appear to be unaffected by this announcement.

I asked CTV what we could expect these newscasts to look like, how they would differ from the 6pm newscasts, and how many jobs we can expect to see added. All I was told in response is that more details would come at a later date.

Rogers adding local evening newscasts to five City TV stations, including Montreal

Rogers Media just announced it is adding local evening TV newscasts at 6 and 11pm to City stations in five more markets in Canada — Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal. (Toronto already has them.)

The new CityNews newscasts in Edmonton and Winnipeg will start on Sept. 4, and the rest in winter 2018.

The newscasts will each be one hour long and seven days a week. Details are a bit sketchy at this point and no talent has been announced. I’ve asked how many new jobs this will mean and will update when I hear back.

Rogers has confirmed to me that local Breakfast Television broadcasts will remain in markets that already have them (Edmonton and Winnipeg are the ones that don’t), so this will be a net increase in local programming. But since the evening newscasts would meet the CRTC-required 14 hours a week of local programming in major markets, Rogers could in the future decide to cancel BT or make it non-local and still meet its licence obligations.

The decision to add local newscasts comes on the heels of a few recent CRTC decisions on television policy. First, major vertically-integrated companies were given the flexibility to take money away from community television channels and redirect it to their own local commercial TV stations. Rogers is among those to have made major cuts to community TV, and CityNews is being improved with this money from Rogers cable customers.

The second is a new requirement for locally reflective news programming, issued as part of licence renewals that take effect on Sept. 1 (six hours a week in large markets, three hours in other markets). Rogers’s existing Breakfast Television and Dinner Television programs (and certainly its radio-on-TV programs) doesn’t have much of that (BT Montreal has a single news reporter), and so it decided to take the plunge into evening newscasts, where it will go up against CTV, Global and CBC in all of these markets.

The only station not getting a local newscast is City Saskatchewan, which is actually a cable channel that’s officially licensed as an educational broadcaster.

There aren’t many details on content, but there will be sports content from Sportsnet and stories from Rogers’s magazines including Maclean’s. It’s unclear how much national multi-market content will be used.

Could Canadiens games be moving to TSN?

UPDATE (May 30): Pat Hickey confirms the deal with his sources

UPDATE (June 13): The move has been officially announced.

We still have a ton of hockey games on our network, between … we have regional coverage of the Senators and the Leafs and the Jets and I think there’s another one on the way this year.

James Duthie may be regretting letting that one slip. Duthie, the TSN television host, said this during an appearance on the Sports Illustrated media podcast last week with Richard Deitsch, after being asked how the $5.2-billion Sportsnet-NHL deal has affected his network.

He didn’t elaborate on what “another one” means, but the process of elimination makes it pretty clear: Every Canadian team but one has English-language television rights locked up until at least 2020. The remaining team is the Montreal Canadiens.

In the months after the blockbuster deal for national NHL rights was announced in 2013, TSN and RDS scrambled to lock up whatever regional rights they could from individual Canadian teams. RDS paid a rumoured $1 million a game to buy rights to the Canadiens in French until 2026 (the same year the Sportsnet/TVA Sports/NHL deal expires), and Bell Media secured English and French TV and radio rights to the Ottawa Senators, also until 2026.

Before the 2014-15 season, Sportsnet announced a three-year deal for regional TV rights to Canadiens games. That deal expires this summer.

Sportsnet’s regional coverage of Canadiens games gets an average audience of 168,000, according to figures Sportsnet gave me a few months ago.

Previously signed contracts with the Jets (TSN), Flames (Sportsnet), Oilers (Sportsnet) and Canucks (Sportsnet) continue until at least 2020. Here’s how it breaks down per team:

Team English TV French TV English radio French radio
(National) Sportsnet (2026) TVA Sports (2026) N/A N/A
Vancouver Canucks Sportsnet Pacific (2023) None Sportsnet 650 (2022) None
Edmonton Oilers Sportsnet West (2020) None Corus/CHED (2020) None
Calgary Flames Sportsnet West (2020) None Sportsnet 960 (2020) None
Winnipeg Jets TSN3 (2021) None TSN 1290 (2021) None
Toronto Maple Leafs TSN4 None TSN 1050 None
Sportsnet Ontario Sportsnet 590
Ottawa Senators TSN5 (2026) RDS (2026) TSN 1200 (2026) Unique FM (via Bell)
Montreal Canadiens Sportsnet East (2017) RDS (2026) TSN 690 Cogeco (2019)

I don’t have end dates for the Maple Leafs regional rights contracts, but because team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is controlled in equal parts by Bell and Rogers, it has split its rights to Leafs and Raptors and Toronto FC* games down the middle, and there’s no reason to believe that situation would change any time soon. When the current MLSE was formed, there was also a 10-year extension to Leafs rights that should go until at least 2021.

With all the other teams locked up, the Canadiens would be the obvious choice here. The only other possibilities would be buying out an existing Sportsnet contract (which is extremely unlikely) or getting Canadian regional rights to the Detroit Red Wings or Buffalo Sabres, whose 50-mile zones extend into this country. (Bell TV already has the latter and distributes Sabres games in Niagara Falls, though it doesn’t produce its own broadcasts.)

It’s unclear if this is a done deal or if TSN is just really confident it can secure the rights to Canadiens games (its majority owner Bell is a minority owner of the team).

Asked about Duthie’s comment, TSN’s official response was very brief: “We have no comment (on this) at this time.”

I’ve asked Sportsnet and the Canadiens for comment, but haven’t heard back from either yet.

Logistical issues

If TSN does secure Canadiens rights, it wouldn’t be the first time. Before the 2014 deal with Sportsnet, which ensured that all 82 games would be broadcast in English for the first time, TSN carried a selection of Canadiens regional games on a special channel (that was available to Bell subscribers but not Videotron ones). Since then, TSN scrapped team-specific channels and put its regional games on one of its five TSN feeds.

With TSN already carrying Ottawa Senators regional games, this would present a scheduling problem, since the two teams’ regions are identical. They could share TSN5, but there would need to be an overflow channel for times when both teams are playing (much like Sportsnet uses temporary Sportsnet One channels when Flames and Oilers games conflict). TSN could just create a TSN6, or a temporary channel, or some other deal.

Another thing to consider is that such a deal would drastically reduce the number of nationally broadcast Canadiens games. Because Sportsnet was both the regional and national rights holder, it could upgrade regional games to national ones, and last season broadcast 44 of 82 regular-season games nationally. If the Canadiens sell regional rights to TSN, Sportsnet could be left with as few as 22 games (mostly Saturday nights), and all the ones carried on TSN would be blacked out west of Ottawa.

Then there are other issues like on-air talent (John Bartlett would probably be out of a job if Sportsnet lost Canadiens games, but that’s no guarantee TSN would want him back).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Nothing is confirmed yet with either network and probably won’t be until an announcement is made.

Technically, the Canadiens’ English-language radio rights could also be up for grabs, but since Bell owns the only two English talk stations in the city, it’s highly unlikely they’ll leave TSN 690.

(Hat tip to Derek Climan for spotting Duthie’s remark.)

* CORRECTION: As a commenter points out below, TSN now has full rights to Toronto FC games.

NHL trade deadline coverage: TSN still edges Sportsnet on breaking news

The National Hockey League trade deadline. That magical moment when NHL fans stay glued to their TV screens with the hope that their team’s general manager will pull off the deal of the century that will get their team to the Stanley Cup.

For TSN, it’s an annual event, filled with analysts, insiders constantly on their phones, and gimmicks to fill time. For Sportsnet, which only really started treating this like TSN does after it got the NHL national rights, it’s a chance to compete with the traditional leader at this game. Both networks began their coverage at 8am, going through past the 3pm deadline.

I recorded both networks from 8am to 5pm so I could compare their coverage. It’s one of the few events you can do that, because unlike game broadcasts or events like the NHL draft, there are no exclusive rights here. The two had a lot of similarities — multiple desks of analysts inside a big studio, an insider guru (Bob McKenzie vs. Elliotte Friedman), on-screen graphics listing recent trades and players who could be up for grabs, and reporters in all seven Canadian NHL markets following their teams’ actions and getting comment from their general managers. They also had several differences. TSN tried to be funny, even getting actors Jay Baruchel and Jared Keeso to do sketches for them. Sportsnet had some fun but it was mostly talking heads.

But, really, who cares about that stuff? I wanted to compare them based on the thing that really mattered: Who breaks the news first.

I compared when the two networks announced trades during their broadcasts to see which one came out first. I also compared when they interviewed players who had just been traded. (There were other journalistic scoops, such as confirming that a player wouldn’t be traded, or a team was done trading, but I left those out of this assessment.)

Here’s how it went. All times are Eastern, and are based on my PVR. There’s an inherent imprecision when it comes to digital television, so the times could be off by 30 seconds or so. For the purposes of determining a winner, I’ve considered any announcement within 30 seconds apart on the two networks as a tie. (Only what’s broadcast on TV counts here. I’ve ignored Twitter, app or other non-TV alerts.)

Player trades

Player Teams TSN time Sportsnet time Winner
Thomas Vanek DET to FLA 11:54:30 11:47:54 Sportsnet
Joseph Cramarossa (claimed off waivers) VAN to ANA 12:07:25 12:08:07 TSN
Dwight King LAK to MTL 12:21:16 12:20:38 Sportsnet
Jarome Iginla COL to LAK 13:09:56 13:00:35 Sportsnet
Kyle Quincey NJ to CBJ 14:07:16 14:09:07 TSN
Andreas Martinsen/ Sven Andrighetto COL-MTL 14:07:56 14:07:46 Tie
Mark Streit PHI to TB 14:28:43 14:30:17 TSN
Valtteri Filppula (as part of Streit deal) TB to PHI 14:35:18 14:35:44 Tie
P.A. Parenteau NJ to NSH 14:51:57 14:51:31 Tie
Curtis Lazar OTT to CGY 14:53:16 14:56:10 TSN
Eric Fehr PIT to TOR 15:10:00 15:12:47 TSN
Frank Corrado and Steve Oleksy (as part of Fehr deal) TOR-PIT 15:21:29 15:29:02 TSN
Mark Streit TB to PIT 15:21:40 15:18:52 Sportsnet
Drew Stafford WPG to BOS 15:30:03 15:31:34 TSN
Lauri Korpikoski/ Dillon Heatherington CBJ-DAL 15:32:13 15:31:52 Tie

Most of these were very close to each other, and the difference is often as simple as how fast you can get the panel to stop talking so it can be announced on air. Sportsnet got a clear win on the Vanek trade, and TSN was first by quite a bit to peg that Frank Corrado was being returned as part of the Eric Fehr deal. For Iginla, TSN was first with the rumour of his trade to L.A., but Sportsnet was the first to confirm it (or at least be confident enough to go with it — some of these trades were hard to judge because they were reported with varying degrees of confidence.)

The other announcements were all within a couple of minutes of each other.

But by my judging criteria, TSN wins seven, Sportsnet wins four, and four are ties.

Player interviews

After a trade breaks, there’s a rush to get the players involved on the phone to discuss what happened. Here’s how that broke down.

Player TSN time Sportsnet time Winner
Thomas Vanek 12:08 12:18 TSN
Dwight King 12:24 None TSN
Jarome Iginla 13:20 14:07 TSN
Kyle Quincey 14:21 None TSN
Curtis Lazar 14:56 15:14 TSN

No real contest here. All three players who spoke to Sportsnet did so after talking to TSN. (There were also interviews with players who had been traded before 8am on trade deadline day, but those were not breaking trades so I did not include them here.)

Both networks carried GM press conferences from Canadian teams and did good jobs of analysis. Though TSN still takes the edge here, Sportsnet has made up a lot of ground in terms of what really counts — breaking news.

Maybe by the time their 12-year NHL deal is done, they’ll be the ones blanketing their late-February broadcasts with promo ads about this news-reporting event (which didn’t report a single thing for almost four hours).

Analysis: Comparing Super Bowl ads on CTV and FOX

Well, it’s over. After weeks of arguing over whether letting Canadians watch U.S. Super Bowl ads was something we want as a society (often using dubious arguments on either side), Sunday saw the actual broadcast of the first Super Bowl in decades that wasn’t substituted on Canadian television.

The result was predictable. While the U.S. broadcast saw a slight decline in viewership and RDS saw a slight increase (to a new record), CTV saw its audience decline 39% from last year to 4.47 million. Since Nielsen doesn’t track Canadians, and nobody is compiling Fox numbers with Canada’s Numeris, we don’t know exactly how many were watching the U.S. feed, but 40% sounds about as predicted. (Another survey put the number around 33%)

CTV tried to think big to keep viewers on its broadcast, throwing $300,000 in prize money at the problem. That might have worked (it got more than a million entries), but the contest caused problems for many users early on who got errant notifications that their texts were rejected because they didn’t come in time. Bell tells the Globe and Mail it was a glitch, that the entries were valid, and that it was fixed by the second quarter.

But as much as Watch to Win hosts Kate Beirness and Tessa Bonhomme did their best through at least 10 live commercial breaks (most of which were 30 seconds long), their constant presence — taking up almost six minutes of the three-hour game — probably turned some people off.

The bigger problem remains, though: People want to watch the commercials. And Canada’s Super Bowl commercials just don’t have anywhere near the same impact as the U.S. ones, most of which didn’t air on CTV.

To give you an idea of the difference, I recorded the Super Bowl on both channels on Sunday, and listed every advertisement during the actual game below. Where available, I’ve embedded YouTube videos of the ads (many advertisers put longer versions on YouTube than what was seen on TV, I’ve noted that below where it happens).

Note that these numbers are based on the CTV station being CFCF Montreal, with some local ads, and the Fox station being WFFF Burlington, also with some local Vermont ads. The substitution times are based on Videotron’s substitution of the standard-definition digital channel. (Since substitution is done by the TV provider, there could be some variance across providers.)

Not including movie trailers, there were only four or five (depending on your definition) of the classic type of “big game” ads that appeared on both CTV and Fox — big budget, new, and either funny or inspiring. Most of the most talked-about ones never made it to Canadian television.

Those ads that did air only in Canada were mostly the same type of hard-sell car ads, bank ads and network promos we’ve seen hundreds of times before. There were a few ads that came close — A Peoples jewellery ad, a 60-second ad from Wealthsimple, one from National Car Rental, and a cute Coca-Cola ad that would have had more of an impact had it not been almost a year old. But between mostly reheated leftovers and the real deal, it’s unsurprising many Canadians went with Fox.

If CTV is going to really get people to watch the Super Bowl on Canadian TV, it needs to give them a reason to. A contest is one way, but a better one would be to have some of those same big-game ads, preferably with a Canadian twist to them. The kind of ads that get people talking afterward. Like this one that Netflix did:

Or maybe they can cut some better network promos to promote they Canadian content.

Or, alternatively, they could provide other programming during commercial breaks or part of commercial breaks that people would want to watch. Bonus coverage from the Super Bowl itself, if such a thing is possible, for example.

I know it’s not easy. But as the traditional commercial break becomes less relevant in an era of PVRs and 30-second skip buttons, Canadian broadcasters are going to have to find a way to evolve anyway. And as much as this change hurts the Canadian broadcasting industry, it’s too popular for either the CRTC or the federal government to want to overturn.

By the numbers

  • Total length of non-substituted Super Bowl, including ads: 170 minutes
  • Total time of ads: 3,580 seconds (59 minutes, 40 seconds)
  • Percentage of total length made up of ads: 35%
  • CTV (CFCF):
    • Time spent on CTV’s Watch to Win contest (including promos): 355 seconds (5 minutes, 55 seconds)
    • Time spent on network promos (CTV, TSN, Discovery, Crave TV): 420 seconds (7 minutes)
    • Time spent on local ads: 90 seconds
    • Time spent on Bell Canada ads (excluding Bell Media): 205 seconds (3 minutes, 25 seconds)
  • Fox (WFFF):
    • Time spent on network promos (Fox, Fox Sports, FX): 380 seconds (6 minutes, 20 seconds)
    • Time spent on local ads: 375 seconds (6 minutes, 15 seconds)

Note: This post is broken up into several pages because of all the YouTube embeds. Continue to Page 2

Continue reading

Be careful what you wish for from all-news channels

“C’est le terrorisme à l’envers.”

Those were words that Pierre Bruneau would have liked to have had back (he apologized for them on Monday). He said them during a live telephone interview with Montreal mayor Denis Coderre just before midnight Sunday on TVA, hours after a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City left six people dead.

Bruneau was thinking out loud about how this was an apparent terrorist attack against Muslims, when we normally think of terrorism committed by Muslims (even though, with one major exception, such attacks are extremely rare in North America). He didn’t mean to say something ignorant or racist, but it kind of came out that way, at least for many of the now hundreds of thousands who have seen a video of the exchange on Facebook.

Bruneau is a veteran and a professional. He’s been dealing with breaking news for decades. And when even he starts mouthing off about n’importe quoi, it’s because there’s something wrong with the situation he’s been put in.

On Sunday evening, as news spread about the attack, people were hungry for information. Many of them lashed out on Twitter about the lack of live coverage on all-news channels. While LCN and RDI went live with special programming, CTV News Channel and CBC News Network did not at first. Critics tied the lack of live coverage to budget cuts, laziness and ignorance of anything happening outside of Toronto. John Doyle at the Globe and Mail made a column out of it. Even Le Soleil’s Richard Therrien blasted Radio-Canada for not more aggressively cutting into its main network programming, and then only doing so locally.

There are legitimate reasons to criticize CTV, CBC or other broadcasters. They’ve all had to undergo cuts to their newsrooms (mainly because their revenue has decreased as the market for TV advertising goes down). They tend to have minimal or even no staffing on weekends and overnight, and in a place like Quebec City where there’s no local English TV station, merely a bureau at the National Assembly, your immediate coverage is dependent on a single journalist and her cameraman.

The English networks could have gone live from Toronto, as the French ones did from Montreal, after the news broke around 9pm. But with the Quebec City reporter still rushing to the scene, and few details to go on, they’d be stuck spending 30 seconds recapping what they know (there was a shooting at a mosque, several people are dead and more injured, police have made arrests) and then filling the rest of every hour with their imaginations.

I’m one of those people who think 24-hour news networks should be focused on breaking news. After all, that’s what they’re there for, right? But I’m not sure special programming right off the bat is necessarily the way to go for an incident that is not a safety threat to the public. If they’d done that, we’d probably be roasting them over the coals for all the stupid ignorant stuff they said over the air to fill time, like we’re doing to Bruneau.

So let me propose a different solution to breaking news on all-news channels (and their related over-the-air networks):

  1. On the news channel, break into programming to announce what happened once it’s confirmed something actually did happen. Explain what you know and what you don’t know, and promise regular updates. Go back to regular or filler programming.
  2. Add a banner, ticker or other permanent on-screen element to whatever programming is airing explaining the news and giving the latest details. (This is standard on RDI when major news breaks but they can’t go live yet.)
  3. If your network has an over-the-air station in the affected market, and there’s a possible public safety issue, put that banner or ticker on top of programming there, include whatever public safety information needs to be communicated, and direct people to the news channel for more information. When the news channel has special programming ready, duplicate that channel’s feed on the local station.
  4. For the rest of the network, air a 30-second report instead of the first commercial at the next commercial break, directing people to the all-news channel (or if you don’t have one, your website) for more information.
  5. On the news channel, every half hour, give a 30-second (or however long it takes) update from the anchor desk, again being as transparent as possible about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re working on and cautioning that early information (even from official sources) can be wrong.
  6. When enough resources are mobilized that you’re confident you can have enough real information to air without having to resort to speculation to fill airtime, begin full-time special programming.
  7. Find things that can be cued or cut to when your anchor has run out of information to give. Maybe a two-minute roundup of the other headlines of the day. Even something simple like a graphic wall of text summarizing the known information so far. Do everything you can to resist the urge to start speculating, or asking other people to speculate, about breaking news.
  8. Once the influx of news has died down, especially if it’s now late at night, sign off from special programming and go back to updates every half-hour or hour.

Networks that run news channels need to do better jobs when news breaks late at night. So many major stories — the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the disaster in Lac-Mégantic and this — broke at night on the weekend, limiting the networks’ ability to cover them.

But like with those stories, there was plenty of coverage eventually. Every network and all the major newspapers sent reporters to Quebec City, either Sunday night or Monday morning. In fact, all three English-language national newscasts were anchored from Quebec City on Monday night (what journalistic use there is sending the anchors to Quebec City so they could deliver a newscast outside in the cold is still beyond my comprehension).

Plus, most of the information people were getting on Twitter or online came from the same journalists that were covering the incident for the major networks or newspapers. And yet people say stupid things like how they don’t need mainstream news because they have Twitter.

So the issue wasn’t a lack of interest, it was a lack of information early on, combined with difficulty mobilizing journalistic resources in an area that has few English-language journalists and at a time when most journalists in general aren’t working.

There are things that can be worked on there (though, of course, no consumer wants to pay for it) that may speed up the process a bit. But there is no circumstance in which you can produce a journalistically solid hour-long newscast about a breaking news event on a half-hour’s notice. You can’t make the authorities work faster, nor can you do their job for them. So in the first few hours of any breaking news story, you’re still left with some bad choices: wait before going live and continue with regular programming (pissing off the John Doyles of the world), produce live programming that repeats little information ad nauseam, have a lot of dead air, or ask your journalists to start doing what people on social media were doing on Sunday night: Repeating rumours, speculation and poorly-informed hot takes and emotional reactions rather than facts.

Which would you choose? My proposal above is the closest thing I can come to a compromise, but even the best-laid plans can easily fail when something big happens without warning.

CTV hopes $300,000 in prizes will keep Canadians on its Super Bowl feed

Bell Media has had two years to prepare for the implementation of the CRTC’s simultaneous substitution decision. Now, with a little more than a week to go until Super Bowl LI, the first that will be exempt from simsub, CTV has announced how it will try to keep Canadians glued to its feed instead of switching to Fox for the U.S. commercials:

  • Prizes. The headliner is $300,000 in cash prizes (including the $150,000 grand prize), plus a 2017 Nissan Titan and tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. During the broadcast, “hosted by TSN’s Kate Beirness and Tessa Bonhomme, who will reveal the winning keyword for each prize. To be entered into each draw, fans can simply text the winning keyword along with their name and city.” Obviously, this will only be available on the Canadian feed.
  • Pregame and postgame shows. The CRTC has clarified that the simsub rule exemption applies only during the game itself. The hours and hours of pregame shows will be simsubbed, as will a half-hour postgame show featuring the awarding of the Vince Lombardi trophy. This means that CTV, rather than rushing to start an hour-long drama at 10pm when the game is just ending, will stick with the postgame broadcast for half an hour and have a smoother transition.
  • More channels. In addition to CTV, the game will also be broadcast on CTV Two and TSN. This isn’t really necessary, since few Canadians have access to CTV Two or TSN but not CTV, but putting the Super Bowl on these other channels increases the chances that someone picking a channel randomly from their guide will stumble on a Bell-controlled Canadian feed rather than a U.S. Fox affiliate. The game will also be streamed online on CTV.ca and CTV Go. That online rebroadcast is not regulated by the CRTC, and there will be no (legal) way to watch a Fox station online in Canada.
  • Letterkenny. Rather than an hour-long drama at 10pm, CTV will air, for the first time on regular television, the first episode of the Crave TV original comedy series Letterkenny, commercial-free, at 10:30pm after the postgame show. (Because the series has really coarse language, CTV is going to delay the airings in the Mountain and Pacific time zones so they air at 10:30pm local time instead of just after the game.) Fox is airing 24: Legacy, whose Canadian rights are held by City TV. CTV has, to their credit, been using the coveted post-Super Bowl spot about half the time to showcase original Canadian series. Here are CTV’s Super Bowl leadout shows since it won the rights in 2007 (2010 was the only case in which CTV also aired the program the U.S. Super Bowl broadcaster followed up the game with):
    • 2008: Nip/Tuck (U.S.)
    • 2009: The Mentalist (U.S.)
    • 2010: Undercover Boss (U.S.)*
    • 2011: Flashpoint (Canada)
    • 2012: The Voice (U.S.)
    • 2013: Motive (Canada)
    • 2014: Masterchef Canada
    • 2015: Masterchef Canada
    • 2016: Legends of Tomorrow (U.S.)
  • Pushing pre-viewing of U.S. ads. CTV is encouraging Canadians to visit BigGameAds.ca to watch “all the latest American SUPER BOWL ads.” That sounds like an interesting project until you learn that the page is just a redirect to an unaffiliated website that is embedding YouTube videos of some ads. Other ads haven’t been released yet, and in some cases we’re only going to see trailers for ads until they actually air live. A redirect to YouTube’s AdBlitz channel might have made more sense.

One thing that wasn’t announced is anything special about the Canadian ads themselves. Bell says it has spots from Nissan, Coca-Cola, The Keg, Mazda, Scotiabank, Subway, Sun Life Financial and Tim Hortons, and no doubt some of them will have put decent money into those ads, but Tim Hortons isn’t exactly Budweiser.

Will the contest and other measures be enough? No. But maybe CTV won’t lose as many viewers to Fox as it had worried it would. And if it keeps most of its viewers, the Super Bowl on CTV could easily remain the most watched television program of the year in Canada.

Super Bowl LI airs Sunday, Feb. 5 at 6:30pm on CTV, CTV Two, TSN, RDS and Fox, the latter with American commercials between kickoff and the end of the game.

 

20 bogus arguments about the CRTC and Super Bowl ads

With less than three weeks to go until Super Bowl LI, the rhetoric is heating up about a decision made by the CRTC two years ago to end simultaneous substitution during the Super Bowl, now that it’s about to finally come into effect.

There’s good reason for this. Simultaneous substitution is worth $250 million to the Canadian television industry, according to one estimate, and substitution for the Super Bowl alone — the most watched program on Canadian TV every year with an average around 7 million (plus another 1 million on RDS) — is worth $18 million a year to Bell Media, which owns the Canadian rights through 2019. There’s a huge financial interest for Bell to keep fighting this.

And so the decision is facing an appeal by Bell Media, though the court declined to stay the decision in the meantime, so it remains in force pending a decision.

Ever more desperate, Bell Media, the NFL and other allies in the fight appealed to the government directly, lobbying them to engage in creative manoeuvres to overrule the CRTC. The government appears disinterested in stepping in to overturn a populist decision by a supposedly arm’s-length regulator.

In the arguments for and against the decision, from interest groups, newspaper columnists and others, there have been a lot of good points and a lot of poor ones made. Those who want to oversimplify this issue have taken plenty of logical short cuts that can lead casual observers to incorrect conclusions.

Here are some of the arguments used by both sides that I’ve heard over the past few weeks (in some cases I’ve included links to those who have used them or implied them), and why I think those arguments are invalid.

Continue reading

19-2, This Life, Mohawk Girls among the hundreds of nominees for Canadian Screen Awards

It’s hard to take the Canadian Screen Awards seriously when there are 134 categories, including ones like Best Sound in a Variety or Animated Program or Series, Best Sports Opening/Tease, and Best Biography or Arts Documentary Program or Series. The Oscars, by comparison, have 24 categories. And though the Emmys are a similar mess of too many awards (especially if you include local Emmys), I don’t think that’s necessarily something to look up to.

Anyway, because just about everyone was nominated in the list announced today — the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards got three nominations — there were some accolades for English-language TV series produced in and around Montreal.

  • 19-2, the Bravo cop drama based on a Radio-Canada series by the same name, had nine nominations (most of these categories have equivalents for other types of programs):
    • Best drama
    • Best direction (Louis Choquette)
    • Original score (Nicolas Maranda)
    • Photography (Tobia Marier Robitaille)
    • Picture editing (Arthur Tarnowski)
    • Sound
    • Writing (Bruce M. Smith)
    • Lead actor (Adrian Holmes)
    • Supporting actor (Dan Petronijevic)
  • Mohawk Girls, the APTN comedy based on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, had three nominations:
    • Best comedy series
    • Best direction (Tracey Deer)
    • Writing (Cynthia Knight)
  • Interrupt This Program, the CBC documentary series based in Montreal, had three nominations:
    • Best direction (Olivier Aghaby)
    • “Best Biography or Arts Documentary Program or Series”
    • Documentary picture editing (Geoff Klein)
  • YidLife Crisis, the online series, had three nominations in digital categories:
    • Actor (Eli Batalion)
    • Actor (Jamie Elman)
    • Original program (fiction)
  • This Life, the CBC drama based on Radio-Canada’s Nouvelle adresse, had two nominations:
    • Best drama
    • Supporting actress (Lauren Lee Smith)

I may have missed other Quebec-based anglo series nominated for awards (if you spot one, let me know), and there are plenty of Quebec films nominated in the film category (including Xavier Dolan’s Juste la fin du monde).

There were no local nominees in the many categories for news (though shout out to former CBC Montreal anchor Andrew Chang, nominated for best local anchor at CBC Vancouver).

TVA Sports takes away MLS rights from RDS, will broadcast all Impact games until 2021

TVA Sports, which is aggressively fighting with RDS for broadcasting rights to sporting events that Quebecers want to watch, scored a pretty big coup today, wrestling away the national French-language Major League Soccer rights from RDS.

So big they even issued a press release in English, this means TVA Sports will air all Montreal Impact games, since they already have a deal with the Impact for the games the team sells the rights to.

Similar to the NHL and other leagues, MLS sells a national package, which includes marquee matchups, events like the all-star game and all playoffs, while the team sells rights to other games in the regular season. (Thankfully, unlike with the NHL, we don’t have to deal with regional game blackouts with MLS.)

TVA Sports’s national rights deal is for five years, from 2017 through 2021.

On the English side, TSN extended its rights agreement for an unspecified number of years (but probably five as well). That means some Impact games (including most likely its matches against Canadian opponents) will continue to be aired on TSN. TSN has all the rights to Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps games, but the English-language package sold by the Impact for its remaining games still seems to be up for grabs.

Financial aspects of the deal were not disclosed, but there were rumours that Sportsnet might try to outbid TSN, and I’m certain RDS wanted to keep its MLS rights.

I won’t compare TVA and RDS broadcasts of Impact games, since everyone seems to have an opinion on stuff like that, but I will note that this means we won’t hear the voice of Claudine Douville doing play-by-play of Impact games anymore. When the number of female voices doing play-by-play can be counted on one hand, it’s unfortunate to lose one.

Radio rights, which are held in English by Bell Media (TSN 690 and CJAD) and in French by Cogeco (98.5fm, though it airs only select games), are unaffected by these deals.

Montreal Lights Up: An unfocused kinda-bilingual infomercial for the city’s 375th anniversary

Ben Mulroney (right), with CTV's Mutsumi Takahashi, CBC's Sonali Karnick and pianist Oliver Jones at the Montreal Pool Room.

Ben Mulroney (right), with CTV’s Mutsumi Takahashi, CBC’s Sonali Karnick and pianist Oliver Jones at the Montreal Pool Room.

On Sunday evening, six Quebec television networks broadcast a special program about Montreal’s 375th anniversary. It included tributes to the city from celebrities foreign and domestic, songs about the city or closely associated with it, and information about the celebrations planned for 2017.

The French show, which aired (and can be rewatched) on Radio-Canada, TVA, V and Télé-Québec at 8pm and had an average audience of about 2 million people, was called Montréal s’allume, was an hour and a half long, produced by Éric Salvail’s production company and was presented as a variety show with a (standing-room only) studio audience. There were live musical performances and others in which artists stood atop local landmarks and were filmed using drones.

Reviews from Richard Therrien of Le Soleil, Hugo Dumas of La PresseStéphane Morneau of Métro and Elizabeth Lepage-Boily of Showbizz.net were pretty negative, though the show did have its moments. The biggest problem seems to have been how haphazard it seemed. There was no host or announcer or storyline to tie everything together.

Mulroney again, with Rebecca Makonnen, Jonas and Anne-Marie Withenshaw at Midway pub.

Mulroney again, with Rebecca Makonnen, Jonas and Anne-Marie Withenshaw at Midway pub.

Related was a different show, presented in English on CTV Montreal and CBC Montreal called Montreal Lights Up. It was different in several key ways:

  • It was aired later, at 11:30pm (on CTV it replaced the late-night local newscast) and was only half an hour long
  • It had a host — Ben Mulroney, flying in from Toronto for the occasion (that was literally part of the storyline of the show, how he’s reconnecting with his hometown)
  • It was commercial-free, it was produced by Quebec production house Zone 3, and
  • It was based more around sit-down round-table discussions and chats in the back of a cab (with Andy Nulman driving) than musical performances during a party.

The English show included some footage from the French one (Canadiens players doing an outdoor game with kids, foreign celebrity tributes, drone-shot rooftop solos, a rendition of Give Peace a Chance, and a bilingual sketch involving Bon Cop Bad Cop stars Patrick Huard and Colm Feore), but it was basically its own separate thing.

Having watched both, the English version seemed a bit more focused, but that just made it seem more like an infomercial for Montreal tourism. The French version tried to be a bunch of things, and in particular an artistic tribute to the city, but left a bunch of viewers wondering what the point was. Especially when the jokes fell flat, many of the celebrity appreciations were uninspired and of poor technical quality (even the prime minister’s message looked shot on a cellphone), and much of the practical information went by too fast to be of use.

The fact that the French networks aired the show across Quebec when they’re already accused of being too Montreal-centric didn’t help.

Alexandre Despatie worked in television, but still hasn't mastered the whole portrait vs. landscape thing.

Alexandre Despatie worked in television, but still hasn’t mastered the whole portrait vs. landscape thing.

Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to double-check the names of those celebrities when you’re editing the show.

If you want to see it for yourself, the English show can be seen in its entirety on CTV’s website.

It shouldn’t be this hard to watch the hockey games you want

Ever since the fall of 2014, when Rogers began a 12-year broadcasting rights deal with the National Hockey League, hockey fans (and Montreal Canadiens fans in particular) have been scratching their heads, pulling their hair out and engaging in other clichés trying to figure out how to watch their games.

There were several changes that took place all at the same time:

  • Rogers acquired national rights to NHL games, which includes Saturday night games (formerly CBC), Wednesday night games (formerly TSN) and Sunday night games (a new national window)
  • Rogers changed the way Hockey Night in Canada worked. Rather than split the CBC TV network and assign different stations different games, it used its multiple channels to make every broadcast national. On the plus side, it made it easier for people in Vancouver or Toronto to watch a Canadiens game, but on the minus side, it made it harder for the sometimes fan to catch their local team if that team wasn’t the Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • Rogers sub-licensed French-language national rights to TVA Sports, taking those rights away from RDS. For the first time in a decade, RDS did not have a monopoly on French-language NHL rights and would not broadcast all 82 Canadiens games.
  • Rather than let TVA Sports broadcast all Canadiens games, the team signed a separate regional rights deal with RDS, which meant the network would have to be blacked out outside the team’s region. Similarly for the Senators, which RDS also picked up regional rights to.
  • Some teams signed new regional rights deals. The Canadiens signed an English deal with Sportsnet, whereas before TSN had some regional games. The Senators went from Sportsnet to TSN for its regional rights. And the Maple Leafs had its regional rights split between TSN and Sportsnet, leaving Leafs TV without any games.
  • TSN went to five channels, ending part-time special regional channels for the Jets and Canadiens and making TSN3, TSN4 and TSN5 the main channel for regions served by the Jets, Leafs and Senators, respectively.
  • Rogers took control of NHL GameCentre Live, and made changes to that service.

To help people out, I wrote a story for the Montreal Gazette explaining the changes as best I could and included a full-page chart of every Canadiens game and what channels it would be available on.

A year later, there were enough demands from readers for another one that the sports editor asked me to repeat it.

And once again this year. Despite the situation being very similar to last year, the Gazette devoted another full page to the TV schedule and a story explaining what’s different. (I’ve also updated a story from last year for fans outside the Canadiens’ broadcast region.)

Don’t blame Rogers

Because these changes happened after Rogers took over as the national broadcaster, many fans blame the company for every blackout, complication or lack of availability of broadcasts. Some of that is earned, but most of it is not. It’s the National Hockey League, not Rogers, that sets the rules.

The anger is particularly high for Montreal Canadiens fans, who are used to seeing every game on RDS. The sub-licensing with TVA Sports meant that not only would Saturday night games move to the competing network, but RDS’s remaining games would have to be blacked out in most of Ontario and western Canada. The fact that Rogers made all 82 games available in English for the first time ever wasn’t enough to counteract that.

The NHL lets its teams sell rights to most of their games on a regional basis, meant to protect teams’ markets from competition for viewers. There are also games, usually on specific nights, where the league sells the rights on a national basis and there are no blackouts. It’s the same in Canada and the United States, and it also exists in other leagues (you think it’s complicated up here, look at the mess that is regional sports networks in the U.S.)

So I find myself spending a lot of time explaining to people how it works, that broadcasters don’t want to black out their channels, that it’s not just a money grab by Rogers, that it has nothing to do with the CRTC or whether a team has sold out a home game (that’s an NFL rule).

But knowing all that I do, there are some things that even I don’t understand, and that I think could be changed.

Do we need regional rights anymore?

The idea behind regional rights blackouts, whether it’s the NHL, MLB or the NFL, is to protect a sports team’s home market. If you’re starting a new Major League Baseball team in, say, Vermont or Connecticut, you want people in that area to be fans of your team. So you carve out an exclusive territory, and you make sure that other teams can’t broadcast all their games in that territory. You don’t want to make it as easy for people in your area to become Yankees fans.

But as fans here continually complain, that kind of thing won’t make them change allegiances, it’ll just frustrate them. A Habs fan in Toronto is going to stay a Habs fan, regardless of how many games are available to them on TV. And the regional rights blackouts don’t help when teams are close enough together that they can’t really have separate regions. (The Oilers and Flames share identical regions, as do the Canadiens and Senators, and many teams of different leagues in the New York area and southern California.)

What if we just eliminated them? Keep the split between rights sold by the league and those sold by individual teams, but end out-of-region blackouts.

The Canadian Football League doesn’t have regional blackouts. All games for all teams are national, and TSN holds the rights. And yet teams serving smaller markets, like the Ottawa Redblacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, aren’t complaining about people from their region being able to watch Toronto or Montreal games. And the Saskatchewan Roughriders are still crazy popular in that province.

In Canada, Major League Soccer splits game rights between national and team-sold broadcast deals. That’s why RDS (national) and TVA Sports (team-based) split the rights to Montreal Impact games. But there are no MLS regional blackouts in this country.

It’s too late to renegotiate existing agreements (mainly because too many parties are involved), but when the national deal comes up in 2026, Rogers (or Bell, or whoever) and the NHL should sit down and explore the possibility of lifting these blackouts in Canada.

Let me pay for it

An even more frustrating problem is for people who pay for services set up to watch out-of-market teams: NHL Centre Ice and NHL GameCentre Live. There, we have the reverse problem: Those broadcasts that are available on regular TV are blacked out in these services. (Though Rogers has made national games available in GCL and some in-region regional games as well.)

I get the need to protect regional rights holders. But if I’m paying $200 a year to watch NHL games, I should be able to watch everything. The NHL should either tell regional rights-holders to live with the competition, or come to some agreement whereby some of that $200 goes to compensate the regional rights-holder for the money they would otherwise get from a subscription to their TV channel. (And, of course, making sure that it’s their feed that’s used, ensuring that viewers see their ads.)

There’s progress being made. Making national games available on GCL is a big step forward. Making regional games available for authenticated subscribers is another, but Bell, Rogers and Quebecor need to sit down with each other and finally hammer out an agreement that allows their services to be fully available to each other’s TV subscribers. It only serves to annoy subscribers and alienate fans when Videotron subscribers can’t access Sportsnet Now and Bell subscribers can’t stream TVA Sports.

Other things can also be done, like linking GameCentre Live and NHL Centre Ice so you only have to pay for one of them to get both. Or creating new packages that make it easier and cheaper to follow a single team rather than the entire league.

More and more fans are saying screw it and watching pirated streams online. Some are even paying a few bucks a month for it, because it’s simple and reliable. As a recent Sportsnet Now ad showed, that’s the real competition here.

If people are willing to pay $200 a season to watch hockey, the least you could do is not make them jump through hoops on top of that.

This is your problem, NHL. Fix it before you lose even more fans and even more potential revenue.