Category Archives: My articles

Posted in My articles, TV

Tamy Emma Pepin’s bilingual trip through the UK

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

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

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

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

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Posted in My articles, TV

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in My articles, Opinion, Radio, TV

Why is CBC refusing ads from radio stations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More importantly, can it even do so legally?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in My articles, Radio

The Beat loses three key managers

The Beat's general manager Mark Dickie, left, and program director Leo Da Estrela at the station's one-year anniversary party in 2012. Both are leaving the station.

The Beat’s general manager Mark Dickie, left, and program director Leo Da Estrela at the station’s one-year anniversary party in 2012. Both are leaving the station.

When word started to spread that the top two people at The Beat had resigned, many came to a quick conclusion: Cogeco is cleaning house, maybe in response to unsatisfactory ratings, or because, one rumour went, they were planning to sell the station.

As it turns out, everyone involved says it’s just a coincidence. Really bad timing.

Last Friday, general manager and general sales manager Mark Dickie informed his bosses that he was resigning in order to accept a position as a manager of multiple radio stations at Corus Entertainment. Because he was leaving for a competitor, even though it wasn’t in the same city, his three weeks’ notice was waived and he was asked (politely) to leave the building, though neither he nor Cogeco Diffusion have any hard feelings. Staff were informed of his departure on Monday.

Leo Da Estrela, the program director, has been named interim general manager. But he, too, is leaving. He actually informed his bosses in September that he wanted to leave, but he was asked to stay on until December. With Dickie’s departure, he’s been asked (and accepted) to stay on until April to ensure a smooth transition to new managers.

At the same time, promotions director Linda Fraraccio is also leaving The Beat. This Friday was her last day at the station, and she starts a new job at CTV Montreal as manager of creative services, marketing and community relations, on Monday.

I write about the three departures in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette. It includes comments from Dickie, Da Estrela and Cogeco Diffusion President Richard Lachance.

Here’s some more detail about what’s going on:

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Posted in Business, Montreal, My articles, Photos

Katie Brioux, the new Montreal stamp lady

Katie Brioux shows off one of her stamps

Katie Brioux shows off one of her stamps

When Katie Brioux emailed me out of the blue to tell me she had started making and selling rubber stamps of Montreal’s architectural heritage, one of the big questions I had in my head was “that’s cool, but what would people do with these?”

As paper becomes less important a part of our daily lives, these stamps seem to be going the way of the dodo as well. And unlike the “APPROVED” and “PAID” and other useful office stamps you get at Bureau en Gros, these ones seem destined to lose their novelty quickly.

Thankfully Brioux isn’t making this her career. She’s a graphic designer, one I met two years ago when I was asked to speak to some journalism students and she was doing cool graphics for The Concordian. (I also follow her father, Bill Brioux, who writes about television for a living.)

As she explains in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette, she created a series of stamps as part of a Concordia Student Union orientation campaign. Inspired by the passports used at Expo 67, it was a way to get students to visit all of the venues and events, each of which would have a different stamp to mark their passports with.

Later, she brought those stamps to colleagues in the design industry, and they loved them, encouraging her to make more and sell them. And so a small business was born.

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Posted in Montreal, My articles, TV

ICI launches, giving Montreal its 10th local television station

Afromonde host Henry Ngaka on his virtual set, as seen through a monitor in ICI's studio.

Afromonde host Henry Ngaka on his virtual set, as seen through a monitor in ICI’s studio.

As radio stations that were supposed to launch in 2013 seek delays in whole or in part because of technical problems, an independent startup television station has managed to get on the air just under a year after getting a licence from the CRTC.

ICI began airing regular programming on Wednesday morning, launching on Videotron at the same time. (Apparently on Bell Fibe it’s still “coming soon”.) And so I’ve written about it in this story, which appears in Wednesday’s Gazette, and this story, from a more technical and business angle, for Cartt.ca.

As I’ve been watching the channel on and off on Wednesday, I notice it’s been lacking a bit of regularity right out of the gate. There were long awkward seconds of dead air, at one point a single ad or video aired three times in a row, leading to eight minutes between actual programming.

The station has very little advertising to start with, limited to some ads that look more like sponsorship messages, including one from Mike FM, whose parent company CHCR produces the Greek program. As a result, commercial breaks are only a few seconds long, enough for a station ID, and the hour is backfilled with music videos or other short-form programming.

For the quality of the actual programming, I’ll wait until they’ve had a chance to air more of it (and even then I can’t comment much on content because I can’t understand the language most of the time), but my first impression is that it’s uneven. Some of it looks like the kind of long-form talking-head shows that fit the stereotype of low-budget ethnic TV. The only thing that’s different is that it’s in a green-screen set and in high-definition, and has flashier computerized graphics (though not quite as well produced as the stuff you’ll find on the big national broadcasters). The shows are better when they take their cameras out in the field, which they do and want to do more (at least when the weather is nice).

It’s considered a soft launch, without a major marketing push behind it, and it’s being run by a group of people who, while they have experience in television production, don’t have much experience running television stations.

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Posted in Canadiens, My articles, TV

The Rogers/TVA/NHL deal: What we know, and what we don’t

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

It’s the biggest media announcement of the year: A $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast rights deal between Rogers Communications and the National Hockey league. Included in it are side deals with the CBC (which will air games but won’t get revenue from them or handle their staffing) and TVA, which becomes the official French-language broadcaster.

We’ve suspected for a while that the CBC wouldn’t be able to afford to keep its rights to Saturday night hockey and the Stanley Cup playoffs. But what’s most surprising about this deal is that Bell Media, which owns TSN and RDS, is also a loser here.

A lot of details are still to be decided. Regional rights to NHL games are up in the air. We also don’t know what rights-holders will do with those rights. What games will we see on City TV? On TVA? Who will be the on-air personalities and play-by-play announcers? We’ll start knowing that in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s a story I wrote for The Gazette about the French side of this deal and how it will affect Canadiens broadcasts. Pat Hickey also has his thoughts on the deal.

In short, here’s what we know and what we don’t know about this deal so far:

  • CBC will continue to air Saturday night and playoff hockey for at least four years. And the Hockey Night in Canada brand will continue. But that’s about it. Those programs will be run by Rogers, not CBC. Rogers will pay all the expenses, but also get all the revenue. (Which makes me wonder why CBC is bothering.) This puts the future of personalities like Ron MacLean and Don Cherry up in the air. It will also mean a huge loss of income to the CBC, which means cuts will have to be made elsewhere.
  • TVA gets 22 Canadiens regular-season games a year: TVA will get all national games, which includes all games that air on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights. (Afternoon games on those days are not considered national.) Whether these air on the TVA network or TVA Sports is still up in the air.
  • RDS gets 60 Canadiens regular-season games a year, plus all preseason games: But these will be available only regionally. So people west of Pembroke and Belleville, Ontario will see RDS blacked out during Canadiens games it airs. It’s unclear if Rogers, which has out-of-market rights, will provide another way for fans to access the games, and if TVA will be involved.
  • There will still be some NHL hockey on TSN. The channel has the rights to all regional Winnipeg Jets games through 2021, as well as some Maple Leafs games in the coming season and beyond. It currently airs some Canadiens regional games, but the future of that deal is unclear.
  • TVA gets all playoff games and all special-event NHL programming. The NHL draft, NHL awards, Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Game will now air on TVA Sports. TSN can keep its TradeCentre and Free Agent Frenzy specials, because those are news broadcasts and aren’t subject to exclusivity deals.
  • TVA will launch TVA Sports 2. This will be a multiplex of the TVA Sports channel, which means it will share a licence with TVA Sports. It’s a relationship similar to TSN/TSN2, RDS/RDS2, Teletoon and The Movie Network, where channels come in groups instead of individually. But TVA Sports 2′s availability will depend on deals Quebecor signs with distributors. (Having it on Videotron is a given, of course.)
  • City TV will air Saturday night hockey. It will be called “Hockey Night in Canada on City.” But the details, and how they will decide which games air on City and which ones air on CBC, are unknown. There are also musings about Sunday night hockey on the City TV network.
  • Rogers and TVA retain mobile and other video streaming rights. Streaming will probably be available, but likely through distributors and only to those who subscribe to the linear TVA Sports channel. On the English side, Rogers gets all the online and mobile rights, including the Saturday night games that air on CBC. This means an end to online streaming on CBC.ca for people wanting to catch out-of-market games. RDS’s deal with the Canadiens for rights to regional games does not include any mobile or streaming rights.
  • Rogers takes control of NHL Centre Ice, NHL GameCenter Live and will sell Canadian ads for NHL.com.
  • No changes to radio. Radio rights are unaffected. Cogeco announced last week a five-year extension to 2018-19 that will see Canadiens games continue to air on 98.5 FM in Montreal, 93.3 FM in Quebec City, 106.9 FM in Trois-Rivières and 107.7 FM in Sherbrooke. The deal for English radio rights for the Canadiens remains with Bell Media until 2018-19, which means they will continue to air on TSN 690.
  • Bell keeps The Hockey Theme.
  • UPDATE: The National Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the deal. Though the Toronto Star reports that the Maple Leafs abstained from the vote, apparently because of internal conflicts between its two main owners, Rogers and Bell.

What has been reported but not confirmed:

  • How much TVA is paying Rogers. No comments, despite repeated questions. We know that the Rogers deal is for more than $300 million a year, and that it includes the sublicensed deals. The Globe and Mail reports it was $120 million a year, though because they lost regional Canadiens games to RDS, that number has dropped to $52 million a year, reports Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc. To give some perspective, TVA Sports’s entire budget for 2012 was $30 million.
  • How much Bell (TSN) and CBC were willing to pay. The CBC said it couldn’t meet the high bidding of its competitors in a fiscally responsible way, and they’re probably right about that. Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc reports that Bell’s final offer was $5 billion, very close to the Rogers bid, and that Bell wasn’t given a chance to match what Rogers offered.
  • How much RDS is paying the Canadiens for its regional deal. Martin Leclerc of Radio-Canada says RDS’s deal for 60 regional games a year is worth $68 million a season, or about $1.1 million a game.

What either hasn’t been decided yet or hasn’t been told to us:

  • Details of the negotiations. Though this Maclean’s story has some general idea (Maclean’s is owned by Rogers) and the Toronto Star put together a timeline of the talks between Rogers and CBC. There’s also this story talking to Rogers executives.
  • How English regional Canadiens games will be split up. In English, TSN carries some Canadiens games regionally on a special channel. It’s unclear what will happen with them next season.
  • How out-of-market games will be distributed. The NHL’s deal with Rogers says there won’t be regional blackouts for the games Rogers owns rights for. But there are still regional rights deals. So I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Rogers owns NHL Centre Ice and out-of-market games, so we could see a different situation than we’re used to. It seems clear that games carried on Rogers won’t be regionally restricted, but for those carried by its competitors, it’s unclear. Rogers has said it’s too early to tell what they will do with these rights.
  • Whether games will air on TVA. A sample schedule published by Rogers suggested Canadiens Saturday night games could air on the over-the-air network, but TVA president Pierre Dion said they haven’t decided whether to use it yet. There are good arguments for and against airing Saturday night and playoff games on the conventional network. Keeping them on TVA Sports would drive subscriptions to the specialty channel. But with the games available in English on CBC and/or City, that effect will be mitigated. There’s also a huge promotional value for TVA Sports by putting big games on TVA. The decision will also depend on how many games TVA will get the rights for.
  • What happens to hockey on CBC after four years. This deal includes a strange agreement with CBC that sees the games continue to air on the public broadcaster and carry the Hockey Night in Canada branding, but under the control of Rogers, not the CBC. This means the CBC doesn’t have to worry for now about filling Saturday nights on their schedule. But otherwise there’s no real advantage here. And because Rogers has its own over-the-air television network, it doesn’t really need CBC, except to reach areas of the country where City doesn’t have local stations. But Rogers says the plan is not to phase out the CBC, and the deal will probably be renewed unless there’s a dramatic shift in the way people watch television.
  • What on-air talent will look like. We have almost a year before this deal comes into effect. That leaves plenty of time for TVA Sports to poach more personalities from RDS, and similarly for Rogers to grab people from CBC and TSN. (Apparently there will be discussions with Don Cherry, and others have already expressed interest.) Who does play-by-play is up in the air. UPDATE (Jan. 13): After losing Michel Bergeron and Félix Séguin to TVA, RDS says it has multi-year deals with its on-air personalities.
  • The future of shows like 24CH: These aren’t broadcast rights deals, but they are deals between broadcasters and hockey teams, so you can imagine that there will be more such deals with TVA and fewer with RDS. The next season of a 24CH-like show could be airing on Quebecor-owned channels.
  • How plans for the Nordiques are affected. Quebecor has made no secret of its desire to bring the National Hockey League back to Quebec City. TVA’s Pierre Dion wouldn’t make any comments about the Nordiques today. But while this deal is great news for TVA, and national rights to a theoretical Quebec City franchise would likely be included in the TVA deal, this is probably bad news for the Nordiques for two reasons. First, it means that TVA no longer needs another NHL team to drive subscriptions to its sports channel. And second, revenue sharing on this national deal means that every NHL team becomes several million dollars a year richer. Even with an inevitable salary cap hike, this will mean less pressure for struggling teams to sell to new owners who would relocate them.
  • What happens to rights for other sports. This deal will mean a huge shift in programming, which will undoubtedly have consequences. TVA and Sportsnet will have less money for other sports like UFC, MLS, NBA and baseball. And TSN/RDS will be desperate to add high-value content to replace lost hockey games. We could see some of these rights go back to Bell. A first step has already been taken with Bell winning rights to 4pm NFL games from Rogers.
  • How many jobs are lost or gained. CBC has said there will be job losses as a result of this deal. (This story explores the consequences for the CBC in more depth.) For the rest, we don’t know yet.
  • How much more consumers will have to pay for Sportsnet and TVA Sports. Neither Rogers nor Quebecor can simply absorb the extra costs in this deal. Ad revenue will surely go up, and they’ll be creative about platforms, but expect both companies to take a harder line during negotiations with distributors. TVA Sports gets about $5 a year on average from each of its 1.6 million subscribers, compared to RDS, which gets $30 a year on average from 3.5 million subscribers (for both RDS and RDS2). Sportsnet gets $17 a year per subscriber (for the regional channels, which doesn’t include Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World or Sportsnet 360), plus about $10 a year from its 6 million Sportsnet One subscribers. TSN (which includes TSN2) gets $26 a year from its 9.2 million subscribers. Expect the gap to narrow significantly as deals come up for renewal.
  • Who will be carrying TVA Sports by next fall. The big players in Quebec all have the channel: Bell Fibe, Shaw Direct, Videotron and Cogeco, plus Telus and Rogers. But major players like Shaw cable, MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink still don’t have it. Francophone Canadiens fans outside Quebec will have more trouble, as will anyone with analog cable.
  • How much money (if any) Rogers and TVA Sports will make on this deal. That, of course, is the biggest question, and the one nobody can answer. Analysts take a lukewarm look at this deal, neither loving it so much (because of its high cost) nor hating it so much (because of all the benefits it brings). All we can say for sure is that this is a big gamble, and both broadcasters will need to be very creative to make it work financially.

A petition has already started to ask — well, it doesn’t say who it’s asking, but presumably the NHL — to reverse its decision and put Canadiens games back on RDS. This obviously won’t go anywhere. The NHL isn’t going to walk away from a $5.2-billion deal.

What’s funny about this is that the reaction to RDS losing the Canadiens is similar to the reaction when it won Canadiens rights in the first place. Before the 2002-03 season, Saturday night games aired on Radio-Canada. When RDS picked up the rights to the entire Canadiens package, there was nationwide outrage. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps even went to the point of demanding Radio-Canada explain itself in front of a hearing. The summer 2002 controversy led to a deal between Radio-Canada and RDS to air Saturday games on RadCan, but eventually all 82 regular-season Canadiens games became exclusive to RDS.

Posted in My articles, TV

Videotron makes its biggest HD jump yet, adding 36 English HD channels

To those who have long complained about the lack of English high-definition channels on Videotron, finally some good news: The TV distributor is going a long way in playing catchup to its rivals, upgrading 36 of its English-language channels to high definition, including all of its Sportsnet channels and all of its Movie Network channels.

There’s a catch, though. For Montrealers, these channels will only be available to those with next-generation Illico set-top boxes, which have been used for the past couple of years. The older Scientific Atlanta or PACE boxes (what Videotron calls “Illico 1″ internally) can’t decode the MPEG-4-encoded signals that carry the new channels, so they won’t be able to access them in HD.

The exception is Sportsnet 360 (formerly The Score). That channel, whose viewers have long demanded an HD version, will be available to all receivers throughout Videotron’s service area.

Some of the channels (the Movie Network channels, Sportsnet World, U.S. superstations and Disney Jr.) will also be available in the Gatineau/Rockland region, for all HD subscribers regardless of box type.

Outside of Gatineau and Montreal, it’s just Sportsnet 360 and the French version of Disney Jr.

If it sounds complicated, it is. Even Videotron’s vice-president got it wrong a couple of times trying to explain it to me.

The problem is that Videotron’s cable network is nearing saturation, with a combination of analog channels, digital channels, video-on-demand channels and channels used for Internet data. HD channels use up a lot of space (though not as much as an analog channel) and there isn’t much of it left.

So the company is switching to a new compression system. In Montreal, all the new channels (except Sportsnet 360) will be encoded using MPEG-4 instead of MPEG-2, which dramatically lowers the bitrate for each channel. This is why the next-generation boxes are needed. Existing channels are not changing, so if you have an older box you’ll still get the same channels you do now.

This move combines with a very expensive network modernization project that has brought head-ends closer to homes and reduced the size of their cells, both of which are designed to use bandwidth more efficiently to offer more channels and faster Internet speeds.

But still, some HD channels are missing from Videotron’s lineup, and customers who want them will certainly complain that they weren’t added here. They include:

  • CTV News Channel
  • The Comedy Network
  • The Weather Network
  • Documentary
  • BNN
  • MSNBC
  • BBC World News
  • Al Jazeera English
  • Gol TV
  • TVO
  • Action
  • Time-shifting channels

Plus channels that aren’t on Videotron even in standard definition, like:

  • TSN Habs
  • Disney XD
  • Fox News Channel
  • Bloomberg TV
  • Russia Today
  • NASA TV
  • Smithsonian Channel
  • HIFI
  • RadX
  • Hollywood Suite
  • Big Ten Network
  • CBS Sports
  • CTV Two (don’t ask me why, but people complain that it’s not there)

Feel free to add suggestions below. I should note that Videotron does keep note of new channel requests, and will base their decision to take a channel based in no small part on consumer demand. So if you want something, ask for it.

Videotron's vice-president of content operations and public affairs, Isabelle Dessureault, who is also in charge of MAtv and the MYtv community channel project.

Videotron’s vice-president of content operations and public affairs, Isabelle Dessureault, who is also in charge of MAtv and the MYtv community channel project.

The new HD channels prompted me to write a feature story that appears in Saturday’s Gazette about Videotron’s relationship with anglophones. Isabelle Dessureault, Videotron’s vice-president of content operations and public affairs, told me that the company is under-performing among anglos and has made a stronger effort to improve its offering for them and better compete with … well, you know who. It finally came to terms with AMC after a long negotiation, added premium channels like FX Canada and Super Channel, and has asked the CRTC for permission to launch an English-language community channel in Montreal.

Through our discussion, I got Dessureault to explain, in general terms, why it’s difficult for Videotron to get English content. It’s not for lack of wanting, and technical issues aren’t the only limitation.

Dessureault said that for TV channels, the problems start at the negotiating table. Broadcasters, particularly American ones, demand minimum subscription guarantees or variable wholesale rates. But that’s particularly difficult for Videotron because of it’s custom channel packaging strategy. Allowing people to choose their own channels and not pay for ones they don’t want means the people who own those channels get less money. With 80% of new clients choosing custom packages, minimum subscription guarantees don’t make sense. And variable rates means Videotron has even less of an incentive to include less popular services.

The Canadian government has said it wants to move toward freedom of choice in TV packaging. The CRTC has repeatedly indicated it wants to encourage this as well. And some providers, particularly smaller ones, are trying to do just that. But it’s not that easy with the contracts that are signed with various broadcasters.

Dessureault said there’s only so much that can be done about the problem. The CRTC has no jurisdiction in the United States, so it can’t force CNN, AMC, Spike TV or A&E to accept contract conditions they don’t want. But she said that if more Canadian distributors moved toward so-called pick-and-pay systems, the big U.S. players might accept no-guarantee channel carriage as the cost of doing business in this country, and negotiations might go easier in the future.

There are also non-linear content distribution methods, like Videotron’s new Illico Club Unlimited, its answer to Netflix. The company admitted when it launched that it had very little to offer to anglophones. The focus was on French-language content, where Netflix is weak. Dessureault said she wants to see more English content on the service, but explained why the business case for it is bad.

Simply put, English content in a subscription video-on-demand service is six times more expensive to acquire than French-language content. And Videotron has far fewer anglophone clients than francophone. Added to the fact that Videotron just doesn’t have the same financial resources as Netflix to acquire content, and it just doesn’t make sense in the short term to buy English content for this platform.

Of course Videotron made a 15% profit margin, or $15 million in profit last year in TV service, so don’t cry for them too much.

UPDATE (Dec. 4): The channels are all live now, along with two holiday fireplace channels that are part of the Galaxie service. They’re on channel 552 (with francophone holiday music) and 553 (with crackling sounds). Videotron hasn’t created a map or anything to show which people have access to which channels where. Instead, it’s asking people to contact customer service and is telling them individually.

Posted in My articles, TV

Space Opera Society wants your help to fund a sci-fi production studio run by fans

We’ve all seen them. The Star Trek fan videos, kids living out their fantasies with the help of rudimentary production skills. Poor lighting, horrible audio, and even worse acting.

Eric Bernard wants to make it clear that this is not what he’s proposing. As I explain in this story that appears in Wednesday’s Gazette, Bernard and his Space Opera Society are trying to create a production company that makes high-quality science-fiction series set in space. It differs from mainstream television production in two important ways:

  1. It’s funded by the consumers directly, rather than sold to a network
  2. It’s distributed directly to the consumers, through the Internet

Bernard and his group of writers, special effects artists and others have proposed to set up a system whereby the networks are bypassed so that the fans themselves can fund and produce science fiction series. The purpose is so that the “suits” don’t stifle creative freedom or cut off high-quality cult series before their time. This system would also ignore boundaries, so people from around the world could be consumers instead of producing something for the U.S. market and then trying to sell its rights to individual television networks around the world.

He compares the structure he’d like to see with that of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, only with a much more modest budget. Most of the funding would come from private donations, but it would also be a business, with sales to consumers and salaries to employees.

Creators would have complete editorial freedom to produce, without the obligation to tailor what they do to maximize ratings. Fans would be able to communicate directly with those creators, and with each other. Bernard said SOS would be a social network, with people sharing the same passion for space-based sci-fi.

It would also be completely transparent, with funders knowing exactly where their money is going.

Bernard wants the series to be produced right here in Montreal, but with the help of people around the world. He said sometimes it’s easier to deal with someone in Germany who thinks the same way and can produce a visual effect exactly the way he wants it than to try to find someone locally and explain what he wants to that person.

Once produced, series would be distributed online to the fans. He has no interest in dealing with production credits or government grants or television networks because of the restrictions they impose. He’d rather collect money from fans, put it toward production and put what’s produced directly online.

He sees the economics this way:

“When you think about it, you’re paying 60 bucks a month for cable,” Bernard said. “Imagine if you would pay for 60 shows that you love $1, but $1 for exactly the shows you want to see — 60 shows in a month that you would love to watch for $1 vs. 60 you don’t on cable.”

In fact, it wouldn’t even cost that much. Current episodes would be free online. Paying members would have access to archives, forums, and even be able to see stuff in development and influence how they turn out.

But with only ideas for new series, SOS needs funding to get off the ground. So in September, just after Montreal Comic-Con, it launched a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo, setting a goal of just over $200,000. With four days left in this two-month campaign, it’s reached just under $7,000. So that goal seems unlikely unless some huge online buzz spreads very quickly.

That’s not impossible. Though only about 2% of successfully funded projects are for six figures or more, KickStarter lists 40 film and video projects that have raised more than $200,000. At the top of that list was a controversial project to create a movie based on the Veronica Mars television series, which used this method to raise money at an alarmingly high rate after the project was panned by the studios.

Science-fiction projects based on fan passion more than corporate cash-counting have also done well. One sci-fi series based on Star Trek raised $242,000 last year. Another whose funding campaign ended on Wednesday raised more than $100,000.

SOS isn’t anywhere near that yet, mainly because of a lack of buzz. Bernard blames that mainly on himself, saying the launch, coinciding with Montreal Comic-Con, wasn’t done right and it was slow to get the word out. But the Indiegogo campaign is structured so that it’ll get whatever money is raised (minus fees). And the work that has been done so far, combined with the obvious passion these people have for the project, suggests that they’ll probably move on it either way, albeit with fewer means if they don’t raise much money.

I wish them luck, and hope I’ll write another story about their first series once it’s completed.

The Indiegogo campaign continues until Nov. 11. More information about the Space Opera Society is at www.spaceoperasociety.org.

UPDATE: After an unsuccessful campaign on Indiegogo, SOS has started a new one on another website, this time with a much longer funding period.

Posted in Montreal, My articles, TV

CBC’s new local TV shows debut Saturday; Sonali Karnick to host Our Montreal

Sonali Karnick will host Our Montreal, airing weekends on CBC television.

Sonali Karnick will host Our Montreal, airing weekends on CBC television.

During its last CRTC licence renewal hearing, the CBC committed to increasing the amount of local programming it airs on its stations in large markets, including Montreal, bumping it up to 14 hours a week, consistent with private stations in large markets.

But rather than just adding more newscasts, CBC also committed that for these markets, at least one hour a week would be non-news local programming. Even after their licence renewal was approved, the CBC couldn’t say what form that programming would take. And even after the new licence came into effect on Sept. 1, there was no announcement, just confirmation that the new program would be an hour a week repeated twice over the weekend.

So without a new show ready, CBC Montreal has met its requirements for non-news local programming since Sept. 1 by re-airing the Absolutely Quebec series produced this summer.

Finally, today, even though the new show has been on the electronic schedule for a week and a half, we’re just now getting information from the public broadcaster about what these new shows are.

Our Montreal

Here’s what we know so far. The new show is called “Our Montreal” (There’s also “Our Toronto”, “Our Ottawa”, “Our Calgary”, “Our Edmonton” and “Our Vancouver”, because local programming is still very much decided in Toronto). It’s an hour-long current affairs show, hosted by Sonali Karnick.

What will be on the show? According to the press release, it’s “the stories that made headlines and had everyone talking … weekly highlights plus a look behind the headlines on the issues everyone’s been buzzing about … the week’s top news stories plus timely features on books, health, one-on-one interviews and an interactive web column.”

The shows debut Saturday at 6am in every market — what kind of audience they can expect to get with this horrible time slot I have no idea* — and repeats at 11am on Sundays and 11am on Mondays.

Karnick will continue to host All in a Weekend on CBC Radio One in Quebec. Which means that her radio show and her television show will be on the air at the same time. Which also doesn’t make much sense.

I’ll be speaking with Karnick tomorrow for a story for The Gazette. I’ll ask her and others at the CBC about what they want the show to be, and which show she wants fans to listen to on Saturday mornings. If you have any other questions, let me know.

*Okay, I have some idea. Ratings for that timeslot show 1,700 viewers on average in Montreal last fall and spring. But will early risers for kids shows translate well into early risers (or insomniacs) among local current affairs watchers? We’ll see.

UPDATE: The story is here and in Friday’s paper. It goes into a bit of Karnick’s background, including her 2011 departure for Toronto and her quick return to Montreal. It also goes a bit into the timeslot. I never did get a very good answer, either from the local office or CBC nationally, about why 6am Saturday was chosen. Everyone reminded me that the show airs three times and is available online, and that some people are up that early on Saturday.

But while airing local shows at 6am is not unusual, it’s odd for that airing to be the premiere (unless it’s a three-hour morning show). Global Montreal used to repeat its evening newscasts at 6am the next day to meet CRTC local programming requirements. Some other stations elsewhere in Canada still do this, and even CTV Montreal has done it on occasion when pre-empted or cancelled newscasts have pushed it below its weekly minimum.

Maybe it’s just semantics here, and having a show air at 6am Saturday and repeat at 11am Sunday is no different from premiering at 11am and repeating at 6am.

But that 6am Saturday time slot still seems odd, especially because the Absolutely Quebec reruns were done at a much more reasonable hour of 11am or noon on Saturdays.

The press release

CBC Montreal launches “Our Montreal”: A weekly review program

Starting Saturday, October 12th on CBC Television

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 — Join CBC Television this Saturday, October 12 for Our Montreal an hour-long current affairs review program that looks at the best of Montreal.

“Each week, Our Montreal will bring you the stories that made headlines and had everyone talking,” says Shelagh Kinch, Managing Director, CBC Quebec “At CBC Montreal, we’re dedicated to sharing local stories and issues that matter to Montrealers. This program gives weekly highlights plus a look behind the headlines on the issues everyone’s been buzzing about.”

Hosted by Sonali Karnick, Our Montreal includes the week’s top news stories plus timely features on books, health, one-on-one interviews and an interactive web column.

“Montrealers love to boast about their city and what secret gems they’ve uncovered. And I’m no exception,” says Karnick. “It’s really a privilege to host this new program and talk about the people and places that make our city one of the best places to live.”

In addition to Our Montreal, Sonali Karnick will continue as host of All in a Weekend, Saturday and Sunday mornings, 6-9am (88.5/104.7FM). Our Montreal airs on Saturdays at 6 am on CBC Television with encore presentations on Sundays and Mondays at 11am.

The other shows

The CBC’s commitment applies to its stations in large “metropolitan” markets, which are defined as those in which the population “with knowledge of the official language of the station” is one million or more. The six largest metro areas in Canada each have a CBC station meeting this criteria. (The next largest is Quebec City, whose population is mainly French, and then Winnipeg, with a population of 730,018.)

  • Our Toronto, hosted by Marivel Taruc
  • Our Ottawa, hosted by Lucy van Oldenbarneveld
  • Our Calgary, hosted by Holly Preston
  • Our Edmonton, hosted by Adrienne Lamb
  • Our Vancouver, hosted by Gloria Macarenko
Posted in My articles, TV

Elysia Bryan-Baynes: Your friendly neighbourhood news-woman

Elysia Bryan-Baynes at her newsroom desk at Global Montreal

Elysia Bryan-Baynes at her newsroom desk at Global Montreal

That’s not some fake photo smile there. Elysia Bryan-Baynes is very charismatic and approachable, and was more than willing to be profiled in a story I wrote for The Gazette that was published in Friday’s paper.

Bryan-Baynes was named the late-night anchor at Global Montreal in May, five months after Richard Dagenais was moved from late nights to the new morning show. Though she has been at the station since 2003, this is her first permanent job there.

She hadn’t done much anchoring before, her boss admitted, but she had a great screen test and she’s done just about everything else there. A researcher and runner for the previous morning show (which was cancelled in 2008), an overnight lineup editor and field producer for that morning show, a lineup editor for the 6pm newscast, and of course reporting, including a stint as the Quebec City bureau chief.

Bryan-Baynes is described in her official bio as being “of Jamaican and Vincentian heritage,” and a lot of that Caribbean culture shows in the way she describes her life. She has a big family, and they’re very close-knit. In fact, even though her newscast ends at 11:30pm, it’s followed by phone calls with her family, she said. To say that they’re proud of her would be an understatement.

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Posted in Media, Montreal, My articles

Cult MTL tries twice-monthly print issue as it turns a year old

Cult MTL staff at their December 2012 issue launch.

Cult MTL staff at their December 2012 issue launch.

It’s not often you get to write a happy news story about struggling print media. Heck, the blog post just before this one is about hundreds of jobs being lost and big papers shutting down. But while other papers have decades of history and so-called “legacy costs” and are slashing their workforce to face the new industry reality, Cult MTL is building itself up slowly from the ground. And through a mixture of incremental steps and fuelled by a large amount of good-will unpaid or underpaid work, it’s establishing a future for itself and filling the hole that was left by the shut down of Hour and Mirror last year.

It was one year ago today that the cultmontreal.com website published its first articles. And in today’s Gazette, I talk to the brains behind the operation about their progress and future plans.

It’s during that meeting a little over week ago that they told me Cult was moving to a twice-monthly schedule (the next issue comes out starting on Thursday) and that they’re looking for permanent office space.

The three senior editorial staff were surprisingly open with me about how things are going there. Part of being so independent is not having to keep too many trade secrets. I didn’t ask them for their tax returns or anything, but they answered every question I asked as best they could.

Here’s a roundup of things they told me.

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Posted in My articles, TV

Only in Montreal debuts Saturday

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media's office. This is where the three hosts set up their pieces with a discussion.

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media’s office. This is where the three hosts set up their pieces with a discussion.

Only in Montreal, the new weekly magazine show about Montreal city life, debuted Saturday night at 7pm on City Montreal. You can watch the first episode online.

Each half-hour episode of the series, which is produced by Montreal-based Whalley-Abbey Media (the folks behind those Debbie Travis and Chuck Hughes shows) features one piece each by hosts Matt Silver, Tamy Emma Pepin and Dimitrios Koussioulas, exploring some interesting facet of life in Montreal. Because the segments are shot months in advance (early segments were shot in April while it was still snowing), there’s nothing very topical on the show. The first episode has Silver exploring Montreal’s food trucks during a First Friday event at the Olympic Stadium, Pepin talking to Corey Shapiro of vintage sunglasses fame, and Koussioulas hanging out with the roller derby crowd.

I talk about the show and its hosts in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette.

Koussioulas vs. Koussioulas

You might have noticed that the debut of this show coincides with the airing of the Parc Avenue Tonight live show, also starring Dimitrios Koussioulas. In fact, they’re both on at the same time, as I point out in this short story, which features both CBC and Rogers downplaying the significance of introducing a new face and having him competing against himself.

The conflict has been known for months, and it’s hard to imagine with all the weeks and all the time slots they could have chosen, that this conflict isn’t somehow intentional. The official explanation from both sides is that the two shows have been in the works for months, and the schedules were set before they were aware of each other. And in any case it’s not a big deal.

But really, with months of advance notice, neither of these shows could have been moved by half an hour, or moved by a week?

I’m having a hard time buying that.

UPDATE: Because the Calgary Stampede ran way long, the local CBC newscast was pushed back by almost an hour, an episode of Marketplace was killed entirely, and still Parc Avenue Tonight was delayed by about 15 minutes. Maybe CBC should run it again some time.

Posted in My articles, Photos, TV

Photos: Behind the scenes at the Parc Avenue Tonight live taping

You might recall a few months ago I mentioned that CBC was going to record and air a special live-audience version of Dimitrios Koussioulas’s Mile End talk show Parc Avenue Tonight.

The show was recorded in front of a live audience on May 15 at Cabaret du Mile End. I was invited to witness the setup, and took a bunch of pictures. I talk a bit about the show for this story in Saturday’s Gazette, which discusses the state of local non-news television in English Montreal.

CBC Montreal presented Parc Avenue Tonight Live Saturday at 7pm as part of its Absolutely Quebec series of regional specials. You can watch it online if you missed it.
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Posted in My articles, Video

Abby Howard and my Strip Search obsession

Abby Howard got rich quick off the Internet (kinda)

Abby Howard got rich quick off the Internet (kinda)

Is “why don’t you go suck a dick?” inappropriate for a family newspaper? It’s a question I had to ask myself while writing the lead of a story for The Gazette about Abby Howard, a (temporary) Montrealer who gained thousands of fans online and raised more than $100,000 for a project she’s working on after she was a contestant on a reality series produced by Penny Arcade.

It was a story I really enjoyed writing, and enjoyed researching. And like many such stories, it’s very long (by newspaper standards) and there’s tons of information I couldn’t cram into it. Thankfully the Internet has no limit on story size, and my blog imposes on itself no limit to how much detail I can get into.

I’ll start off here by introducing you to the series, and inviting you to watch it. Because suspense is a big part of the fun, I won’t spoil it for you until later in this post.

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