Category Archives: TV

Videotron customers can finally livestream TSN and RDS

The day we’ve been waiting years for has finally arrived: Videotron customers can finally stream TSN and RDS online and on mobile apps.

The news was just announced via text message. Not only can people watch both Bell Media services through the Videotron website and Illico app, but Videotron customers can also login through and watch the network there. And it’s available through the RDS Go app.

Both of these systems are authenticated, which means you need to be a subscriber to the channels you want to watch, and whether you’re watching through a Videotron platform or a TSN/RDS one, you need to login with your Videotron username and password when prompted. But otherwise there’s no additional fee for watching them online or on mobile (except mobile data charges if you’re using mobile networks).

But it means if you want to watch the Canadiens this season (and what a coincidence, their season starts tonight), you can finally do so on the go legally as a Videotron subscriber.

(For whatever reason, Videotron is offering livestreaming of only TSN2 and TSN5 through its platforms, but all TSN’s Canadiens games are on TSN2.)

Unfortunately, the deal doesn’t include Sportsnet, which still isn’t available this way. Maybe someday…

Options for watching TSN and RDS live

MAtv season begins with new interview series Montrealers

In the spring of 2016, a young eager TV producer named Leah Balass asked me out to coffee to pick my brain about finding a way to sell a series she was working on that featured long-form interviews with interesting people. It was called Curiosity Craves.

Unfortunately there aren’t too many places to sell those things to these days. Local commercial television stations don’t commission local TV series for local broadcast anymore (City’s short-lived Only in Montreal was the last series done this way). So I suggested, since her interview subjects were in Montreal, that she try going to community television, either Videotron’s MAtv or Bell’s TV1, which have budgets for local community productions.

More than a year later, her project has been repackaged as Montrealers, an eight-episode half-hour series that debuts today on MAtv. (Its first broadcast was actually this morning, but its advertised debut is at 7:30pm).

Here’s what the official description of the show says:

MONTREALERS focuses on the art of conversation, creating an environment of open dialogue; for both the interviewee and the interviewer. With characters from an array of backgrounds, including Greek, Indian, Brazilian, Japanese, Egyptian, Iranian, and French – MONTREALERS is an all-inclusive show that gives all voices meaning. In this intimate interview series, the most inspiring stories can be found in the lives of everyday people. Leah Balass sits down with Montreal’s most colorful personalities to uncover their captivating life stories and to celebrate the various cultures that make up this unique city. Each episode features personal stories on immigration, love, identity, struggle, culture  and tradition.

The series is well shot and the interview subjects interesting. (One of the people featured in the first episode, Dave Arnold aka Mr. Sign, was also featured on an episode of Only in Montreal.) It goes for being touching and uplifting with calm sit-down interviews.

Mike Cohen at the Suburban talked with Balass and co-producer Christos Sourligas.

Also this fall are new episodes of Urban Nations by Lachlan Madill and CityLife hosted by Richard Dagenais. Returning in December is Culture Zone, a bilingual program featuring stories produced by volunteers, and an English version of the magazine show Ma curieuse cité (My Curious City).

The programming for this year, which also includes existing series Studios, Lofts & Jam Spaces, The Street Speaks and Jazz Yoga Ayurveda, doesn’t change the linguistic balance of the station, which is 21% anglophone.

But with a 25% budget cut, it means less money overall, and the Montrealers-making-a-difference series Montreal Billboard had to pay the price for that.


TSN to air 50 Habs games on TSN2, hires John Bartlett for play-by-play

With just three days to go until the first preseason game, TSN has finally announced broadcasting details for the Canadiens this season, the first after re-acquiring regional rights from Sportsnet.

TSN will air five of the eight preseason games, and all 50 regular-season games it has rights to, on TSN2*, which solves the issue of possible scheduling conflicts on TSN5, which is the main channel in the shared region of the Senators and Canadiens.

The remaining 32 regular-season games, including all Saturday night games, are national games that will air on Sportsnet-controlled channels.

TSN2 is a good solution to scheduling, offering a consistent channel without having to expand to a sixth feed. It does mean that anyone in eastern Canada who only has one TSN channel won’t see the games, though the number of people in that situation is pretty small these days. And it means TSN2 will be blacked out in the rest of Canada for 56 three-hour periods of the season, mainly in primetime on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that’s not the end of the world. TSN has four other channels and the Jets, Leafs and Senators won’t all be playing at the same time very often.

*Two of those preseason games are against the Senators, and will air on TSN5 instead for both markets.

Bartlett is back

After spending weeks, even months, choosing not to comment about his future, even after stripping Sportsnet from his Twitter profile, John Bartlett can finally announce he will continue to be the voice of the Canadiens on television. Bartlett, who used to be the voice of the Habs on TSN 690 until he was hired by Sportsnet, goes back to TSN to call its regional games this season.

Assisting Bartlett are three analysts:

  • Dave Poulin, former NHL player for the Flyers, Bruins and Capitals, and former VP of Hockey Operations for the Maple Leafs
  • Mike Johnson, a one-season Canadiens player and analyst who was one of the cuts at Sportsnet last year
  • Craig Button, a Montrealer and veteran TSN and NHL Network hockey analyst

The broadcasts will be hosted by Tessa Bonhomme, star women’s hockey player and TSN broadcaster, and Glenn Schiiler, host of TSN’s That’s Hockey 2night.

The full schedule is here.

Also announced today are the regional schedules for TSN’s other teams. TSN will broadcast:

First look: CTV News Montreal at 5

For the past two weeks, CTV Montreal has had an additional hour of local news on weekdays. First announced in June, the new newscasts precede the usual 6pm news on most CTV stations, including Montreal’s.

Two weeks after they launched on Aug. 28, I’ve watched several of them and can start to piece together a picture of what they generally look like, and the strengths and weaknesses of the format.

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How the CRTC screwed over community television to save local news

It’s a new dawn in local television. CTV Montreal has a new 5pm weekday newscast, City Montreal is preparing to launch evening news at 6pm and 11pm, and ICI is getting an infusion of cash thanks to OMNI’s successful bid for mandatory distribution at 12 cents per month per subscriber.

It’s a big enough change that I was asked to write about it for the Montreal Gazette. That story leads Saturday’s Culture section.

But while the new investments are great news for people who like local television (and, indirectly, people like me who like writing about it), there’s a big loser in this that isn’t getting discussed much: community television. The additional money going into local news is coming straight out of their pockets.

Let’s not talk TV

When the CRTC announced it was undertaking a long consultation process it called Let’s Talk TV, proponents of non-profit community television were excited about the prospect of finally bringing their issues to the forefront. A complaint from the independent group ICTV against Videotron’s community channel was in progress (the commission would later find that MAtv had failed to respect its licence conditions in terms of giving enough access to people from the community). And there was a growing opinion that community channels were not fulfilling their mandate.

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations and other groups filed complaints about other television providers that they felt were doing the same things to their community channels, ignoring their commitments to community access and using their funds to produce professional broadcasts and give side jobs to people affiliated with the company.

But the Let’s Talk TV process didn’t talk much about community television, and when it led to its first decisions in January 2015, the commission decided to kick the can down the road on community television, announcing it would begin a separate process to consider that. And that process would also include discussions of local news.

As expected, a review of the community television process was hijacked by discussions of local commercial television. People were more concerned about whether their local station would stay on the air or how long their local newscast would be than how their local Rogers TV or Shaw TV would be funded.

And the complaints about community channels still haven’t been properly evaluated, years later. That will happen at a hearing on the renewals of their licences, scheduled for October.

Provider TV

Let’s step back a bit and look at what community television is and has become in Canada.

Since 1971, the CRTC has required cable television providers to support community channels. Back then, television equipment was very expensive, very large and hard to obtain and operate. Community access was the only way many people could see themselves on television and communicate with the public through video. Cable companies would set up studios at their head ends and let people from the community broadcast on a special channel they set up.

Since the turn of the millennium, the situation has changed. Getting access to equipment isn’t the biggest problem — as the CRTC says, “many Canadians now carry an HD camera in their pocket in the form of their smartphone” — editing can be done on a home computer, and distribution is much easier thanks to YouTube and other free online services.

Instead, over the past decade, the issue has been more about money.

All cable television providers are required to spend 5% of their gross revenues on Canadian programming, but most are allowed to redirect some of that money to a community channel rather than simply hand it over to a fund like the Canada Media Fund. Most large terrestrial television providers do this because it allows them to keep control of that money, create a service that’s seen to do a public good, and provide added value for subscribers.

Critics might point out some other benefits, such as billing yourself for Internet access and providing side jobs for your employees. (The CRTC limits such overhead costs, but there isn’t a bright line that says you can’t be a supplier to your own community channel.)

Since 1991, the amount of money allowed to be redirected to community channels has been capped at 2% of gross revenues. Though there were many exceptions (small cable companies could devote the full 5% to a community channel, and companies that offered community channels in each official language could devote 2% to each one).

It might not seem like much, but when you have more than a million subscribers paying more than $50 a month, that’s a million dollars a month right there going to community TV.

As budgets for community TV grew, and technology advanced, they started to get more ambitious in terms of programming. Some even started broadcasting professional sports until the CRTC put a stop to that. (The ban doesn’t affect junior sports, and many junior hockey league matches are still broadcast on community channels.)

Community television is in an odd place because on the one hand it’s supposed to be volunteer-driven but on the other hand it’s required to spend money on programming. The pressure has always been there to keep the cable-access stuff to a minimum so more popular professional-looking programming can entice people to buy or keep their cable subscriptions.

And there was the added benefit of using community channel money to benefit related productions and personalities. Bell’s TV1 had shows linked to The Amazing Race Canada, the Much Music Video Awards, the Montreal Canadiens, The Social and eTalk. Videotron’s MAtv had side projects for such Quebecor personalities as Sophie Durocher, Louise Deschâtelets and Dominic Arpin.

This is a big part of the reason why CACTUS and others wanted community television taken out of the hands of big cable providers and put into the hands of non-profit community groups. But the CRTC has repeatedly resisted that effort, believing that the cable companies have the best resources available to provide high-quality community programming on a sustainable basis.


In 2010, the commission decided to freeze contributions to community channels. It found that the amount of money going to community television had almost doubled in a decade, and “although the Commission acknowledges that various metrics can be used to evaluate the success of community channels, it nonetheless considers that overall viewing to community channels remains modest relative to the growth in contributions to this sector.” Rather than cut the funding down, though, it decided to freeze it. Existing television providers would be capped at their 2010 levels until those dropped to 1.5% of revenues, and then they would stay at 1.5%.

In June 2016, the CRTC released its new policy on local and community television. There, it cut the contribution from 2% to 1.5%.

But the bigger blow was their decision to allow distributors the “flexibility” to redirect funds from community channels to their affiliated local stations to spend on local programming. For Canada’s five largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton), that redirection could be 100%, since the CRTC believed that people in those areas “have access to many media sources on television and radio, as well as online and in print, that provide community reflection.” For smaller areas, at least 50% of that money would still need to be spent on community television.

By the CRTC’s estimate, $65 million a year could be redirected from community channels to local stations owned by the major vertically integrated companies.

But what about independent stations? Where do they get additional money?

To help out most of them, there was already a fund called the Small Market Local Production Fund, funded by Canada’s satellite TV providers. The CRTC transformed that into the Independent Local News Fund, adjusted its admission criteria to include larger-market stations like CHCH in Hamilton and the V stations in Quebec and Montreal (while excluding small-market stations owned by the media giants), and required cable companies to contribute into the fund. Everyone kicks in 0.3% of revenues to support independent stations.

So in the end, all independent stations get extra money from this fund, and non-independent stations get funded through TV providers who share the same owner.

News pro quo

In exchange for the extra money, there were new requirements for local stations:

  • In addition to the amount of local programming they have to air each week (still set at 14 hours for major-market stations and 7 hours for smaller ones, with some exceptions), they must air a certain amount of locally reflective news programming as well — six hours in large markets, three in smaller ones.
  • There’s also a financial requirement for investment in local news: 11% of gross revenues for local television stations must be devoted to locally reflective news. (This number, proposed by the three English networks, is based on previous spending on local news.)

For community stations, even though they got less money, there were stricter regulations imposed to ensure that the money they did get was spent correctly:

  • Starting this year, cable companies must spend 60% of their community channel allocations on direct programming expenses. That rises in increments and reaches 75% after 2020.
  • Diverse citizen advisory committees are required in Canada’s five largest markets.
  • Rules on what qualifies as access programming have been tightened to stress that the community member that initiates a project must have creative control, and “is neither employed by a (TV provider) nor a media professional who is known to the public or who already has access to the broadcasting system.” They also can’t profit from the show (by turning it into a de facto infomercial for their business, for example).

The changes took effect on Sept. 1 after being formally approved as amendments to the regulations and enshrined in TV stations’ conditions of licence.

But most companies didn’t wait that long to make major changes:

  • Rogers closed some Rogers TV community stations and cut back at others in the greater Toronto area.
  • Shaw closed Shaw TV in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, eliminating 70 positions and sending $10 million to Global TV stations.
  • Videotron cut the budget of MAtv by 25%, reflecting the drop of the maximum deduction from 2% to 1.5%. (There hasn’t been an announcement of any redirection of funds to TVA stations.) The cuts meant the cancellation of Montreal Billboard, a weekly series featuring interviews with local community groups. MAtv director Steve Desgagné told me the decision to cut that program was strictly budgetary.
  • Bell made serious cuts at its TV1 community channels, which operate in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. It declined to provide specifics when I asked.

The result

It’s hard to evaluate the impact on community television by looking at programming, because much of that programming is short-term projects. But you can expect less programming, and especially less of the non-access local programming produced directly by the cable companies, particularly in the larger markets, as a result of these changes.

On the TV side, Bell’s CTV and Rogers’s City have both announced new expansions of local news, both to make use of these new funds and to meet the new locally reflective news requirements. Global has been non-specific about how it’s using the additional money.

What definitely won’t change is the strongly held belief among supporters of community television that cable access needs to be less cable and more access.

Sportsnet Central Montreal reborn as Montreal Sports Weekly?

Montreal Sports Weekly on ICI.

I had two things waiting on my PVR this morning: A notification that future episodes of Sportsnet Central Montreal have been deleted from the City Montreal schedule, and a recording of Montreal Sports Weekly, a show I happened to notice on the ICI Television schedule as I was looking for information about its new arrangement with OMNI.

You can imagine my surprise when I hit play.

Montreal Sports Weekly is a half-hour local sports panel discussion show hosted by Elias Makos with local journalists sitting in high chairs in the City Montreal studio.

Sounds kind of familiar.

Makos hasn’t said anything publicly about this show, and his panelists — SN Central Montreal regulars Jeremy Filosa and Sean Farrell — haven’t talked about it either, which seems odd, so I’m not entirely sure what the deal is (the credits say only “COPYRIGHT 2017”). It could mean an announcement is coming, or it could mean that this is just a pilot or something and no one wants to get anyone’s hopes up.

Even the description of the show on the electronic program guide — “takes audiences beyond the game highlights for an in-depth look at the city’s professional and amateur teams, along with athlete profiles and feature stories” — is identical to the one first announced for Montreal Connected in 2013, with the exception that it’s described as an “English-language program” for clarity.

ICI’s business model involves working with independent producers who buy airtime and create shows that they can sell their own advertising for.

The first airing at 9am Saturday featured the same public service announcements and ICI house ads that generally fill the airtime. If this is really a project with a future, the show is going to need sponsors if it’s going to survive. So if you were upset that Sportsnet Central Montreal was cancelled, now is the time to get people to start advertising and supporting this.

This isn’t the first time someone has tried an English local Montreal sports talk show on ICI. Adam Reid had a show called Reid Between the Lines, an episode of which can be seen here. He’s since moved on to The Lineup, a sports game show on WatchMojo, which features some local media celebrities.

I’ll update this as I get more information about this show, assuming it doesn’t disappear as mysteriously and suddenly as it appeared.

Montreal Sports Weekly airs Saturdays at 9am and 6pm, Mondays at 2:30pm, Tuesdays at 11am, Wednesdays at 4pm, and Thursdays at 3pm and 9pm on ICI.

City cancels Sportsnet Central Montreal

Sportsnet Central Montreal, hosted by Elias Makos, centre.

Sportsnet Central Montreal, the weekly half-hour sports panel discussion show on City Montreal, has been cancelled by Rogers Media. Thursday’s show will be its last.

(UPDATE: It looks like there’s a project to try to revive the show on ICI.)

Host Elias Makos dropped the first hint of the cancellation during last week’s show, describing it as the “penultimate” one. Rogers confirmed to me today that it has decided to end the show. It sent me this statement:

Rogers Media is evolving its local strategy to better serve the Montreal community. In doing this we’re deepening our commitment to local news with the launch of daily newscast CityNews in Winter 2018.   As a result of this re-focused strategy, SN Central will have its last broadcast this Thursday, August 31 at 6:30 p.m. We’d like to thank Elias Makos and all of our contributors for their smart and entertaining commentary on Montreal’s sports scene.

City will continue to provide coverage of Montreal sports teams and events on Breakfast Television, featuring Joanne Vrakas, Derick Fage, Catherine Verdon Diamond, Elias Makos and Domenic Fazioli as well as through our new CityNews newscast, launching Winter 2018.

Makos remains with City, as the new media producer and occasional fill-in host or weather presenter on Breakfast Television.

The last show will be broadcast mere hours before the condition of licence requiring the station to broadcast the show expires. As of Sept. 1, City Montreal (CJNT-DT) has standard conditions of licence regarding local programming.

The cancellation of the show makes sense since the new evening newscasts would take over all three of its timeslots. But that won’t happen until next winter.

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CBC’s Absolutely Quebec begins another six weeks of local documentary

I was worried that it had been cancelled or something, because normally it starts earlier in the summer, but CBC has finally opened the curtain on its yearly Absolutely Quebec series of regional specials.

As in previous years, the series of six one-hour episodes, produced by Carrie Haber, runs Saturdays at 7pm, each hour a different documentary based in Quebec.

The first, called Cities Held Hostage, stars former Montreal Gazette columnist Henry Aubin and discusses the very topical issue of real estate and housing prices in an urban environment. While Montreal hasn’t gone insane like Vancouver and Toronto, it is part of a system, and this documentary explores that system.

The remaining documentaries are as follows:

The Gardener (Sept. 2): A documentary reflecting on a spiritual and creative approach to gardening. A highly experiential program profiling one of Quebec’s prolific landscape artists, Frank Cabot.

Napagunnaqullusi — So that you can stand (Sept. 9): The story of the 11 Inuit signatories of the James Bay Agreement as they took on the Quebec government to protect their land and their children’s future in the early 1970s.

I’m Still Your child (Sept. 16): Jessy, Sarah and Von are all familiar with the “ups and downs” of living with a parent who suffers from mental illness. I’m Still Your Child immerses us in a bewildering, yet hopeful, world through the stories of three compelling subjects.

Abu (Sept. 23): As a gay man, Filmmaker Arshad Khan explores his troubled relationship with his devout, Muslim, Pakistani father Abu.

Studios, Lofts and Jam Spaces (Sept. 30): Follows musician and visual artist Little Scream (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) and fashion designer Jennifer Glasgow as they launch their works into the world.

The last episode in this series is based on a series by the same name that aired as 10 episodes on community channel MAtv earlier this year.

Details of the Absolutely Quebec season, and trailers for some of the docs, can be found on CBC’s website.

Absolutely Quebec airs Saturdays from 7 to 8 pm from Aug. 26 to Sept. 30.

The dream of Frissons TV

I first spoke with Sylvain Gagné on May 6, 2014. It was shortly after he sent out a press release about the upcoming launch of Terror TV, a specialty television channel devoted to horror movies. A French version called Frissons TV had just been approved by the CRTC.

The channels, one each in French and English, were set to launch that fall.

They didn’t.

I sat down with Gagné at the Gazette restaurant in Old Montreal (which was named after the newspaper I work for and is in the building it once occupied). We had a long chat, about how he couldn’t understand the decision by Corus to pull the plug on the Dusk channel (formerly Scream TV), how the financial information it disclosed to the CRTC showed it to be healthy, and how the data he’s seen on video-on-demand consumption of horror films makes such a channel a no-brainer.

But I never ended up writing the article, and the channel never launched. Until now.

After signing a distribution deal with Videotron, Frissons TV (in French only for now) will launch on Sept. 1, with a free preview for Videotron customers until Nov. 18.

I spoke to Gagné again, and wrote about what to expect from the channel in this story at For those without a Cartt subscription, here are the details to know:

  • The channel will be commercial-free (Gagné said it makes no financial sense to put in the effort to sell ads that people won’t want to see anyway).
  • The channel will be available in HD only on Videotron, Channel 799.
  • After the free preview, the channel will be available on Videotron’s custom packages, and will be added to the Mega package that has all the non-premium channels. It will also be available individually as of December for $5 a month.
  • Videotron will have some of Frissons TV’s content available on demand for subscribers.
  • There will be three original series launching over the next year, one of which will feature shorts.
  • Negotiations are continuing with other providers, particularly Bell. Videotron is the launch provider but the channel will be available to others in October. There hasn’t been much effort to sell the channel to non-Quebec providers like Rogers.
  • An English version of the channel is in the future plans, but only once the French version gets off the ground.

The channel has its schedule for the first week. The list of films it’s showing is here. For more details you can check out the channel’s Facebook page.

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.

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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

UPDATE (Sept. 15): TSN has announced its Habs broadcast schedule and broadcast team.

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.

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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.