Category Archives: Navel-gazing

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 Navel-gazing

Things look different ’round here

If you’re one of those super-sleuth detective persons, you might have noticed a slight change to the look of this blog.

Well, your eyes are not deceiving you. For mainly technical reasons (i.e. all the ways it was broken), I need to abandon the previous theme that was used on this website. I’ve replaced it with the WordPress stock theme Twenty Twelve, which I’ll be customizing to fit my personal preferences and the way things work around here. Until then, things might be a bit awkward, but everything should at least work.

If you see something that doesn’t, or want to suggest a change, or just want to tell me to go to hell, leave a comment or send me an email.

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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Posted in Navel-gazing, Video

10-year-old documentary an insight into insanity of student politics

I recently discovered that Concordia University’s television club has posted to YouTube a 10-year-old documentary called Student Politics. Directed by Sergeo Kirby, who would later produce other documentaries including Wal-Town, it tells the story of a student election at Concordia University in 2003. I appear a few times in the film giving somewhat incoherent commentary.

The time from 2000 to 2004 was a crazy one for Concordia and its student political bodies, and I was fortunate to have spent that time as a student journalist covering student politics. My first year, there was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving the VP finance writing 50 blank cheques to herself, and then a war between the student government and the student newspaper that resulted in the latter being shut down over a summer. My second year, an unprecedented popular impeachment campaign fuelled mainly by a post-9/11 backlash against radical activism, and an executive by-election that was derailed after a bribery scandal and ended in the election result being annulled. My third year, a controversial visit by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that triggered a riot, a very controversial moratorium on free speech related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a rush to the ballot box to replace radical left-wingers with a more moderate mainstream in the student executive.

Student Politics tells the story of that third year, about the heated battle between left and right (though it’s simplistic to describe the two factions in such terms), and the dynasty change that came after thousands of students from the apathetic majority finally decided they’d had enough. (That dynasty, which turned out to be no less corrupt than the leftist one, would stay in power for several years. By the time it disappeared, the left-right divide had largely faded away or been replaced by other pressing political divides.)

Highlights of the film include a point at the 22-minute mark that shows the campaigns, gathered in the lobby of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall building on de Maisonneuve Blvd., rushing through the building at midnight on the first day of campaigning to plaster every wall they can find with their posters. It’s an absurd indication of how seriously both sides took their campaigns back then.

(It’s also not the first time that year that I ran up that set of escalators in a panic trying to avoid a stampede.)

Other documentaries were made about that year at Concordia, though this was the only one to focus on student politics specifically. The other two focused on the Netanyahu riot and the conflict between students supporting the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Middle East conflict. I wrote about them a few years ago. There was Discordia, which is on he NFB’s website, which told the personal stories of the people behind this campus conflict. And there was Confrontation at Concordia, a heavily biased anti-Palestinian rant that aired on Global television. (It was originally posted to Google Video, but that no longer exists. A few minutes of it can be seen on YouTube.) The latter led to complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which found that although it obviously had a point of view, it didn’t engage in unethical practices or violate any broadcast standards to express it.

Student Politics isn’t the best documentary in the world. It was the effort of a first-time filmmaker. And I can’t really evaluate how well it tells a story I already know so well. But it’s a nice trip down memory lane to a time when the pettiness of student politics reached its peak.

And also a sad reminder of how much my hairline has receded in the past decade.

Posted in Media, Montreal, My articles

Midnight Poutine turns 300 (Thank you, Jeremy Morris)

The Midnight Poutine crew, from left: Theo Mathien, Amie Watson, Gabrielle LeFort, Gregory Bouchard

The Midnight Poutine crew, from left: Theo Mathien, Amie Watson, Gabrielle Lefort, Gregory Bouchard

When I asked the current team behind the Midnight Poutine podcast why they do what they do, they all had the same answer: Jeremy Morris.

Morris started the podcast in 2006 with John MacFarlane, a former Gazette writer and editor who I worked with briefly (and was one of the key figures in the early days of what was then Habs Inside/Out).

After MacFarlane moved to the other side of the world, Morris continued the podcast every week, a lot of times by himself. Eventually he brought along some other Midnight Poutine contributors to join the podcast — Greg Bouchard during Pop Montreal in 2009, Amie Watson in 2010, Gabrielle Lefort soon after that, and Theo Mathien in 2011, and when Morris left himself for Madison, Wis., last summer, he left the podcast in their hands.

“We all feel like we owe it to Jer to continue,” said Mathien. “We were infected by Jeremy’s enthusiasm,” added LeFort. “It’s partially his level of devotion that causes us to keep this thing going,” said Bouchard. “If we stopped doing this, I would be annoyed that there isn’t another podcast like this to listen to.”

I wanted to write about Morris and the podcast when Morris left, but never found the time. Now, as the show hits its 300th episode, I made the time to head out to Pointe St-Charles and profile it for The Gazette.

You can read the Gazette story here. I’ll add some detail below.

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Posted in My articles, TV

CBC jumps into semantic nightmare with “ICI” debacle

I thought nothing short of an alien invasion would unite the country. Heck, even then I’m sure the PQ would blame the federal government. But the CBC managed to do so last week when it announced that it was rebranding all its French-language services as “ICI”.

But the move has been so universally condemned, from the left, from the right, from its enemies and its friends, that I feel the urge to play contrarian and find some reason to support it. But I can’t.

The reasons to dislike it just pile up:

  • It’s confusing. Are they changing the name Radio-Canada? No. Except yes. They’re not changing their name, but just adopting a new “brand identity”, or using a “term”, or “denominator”. Just the list of synonyms for the word “name” they used (including the word “name” itself) created needless confusion. Even CBC and Radio-Canada journalists couldn’t figure out what “ICI” was, exactly.
  • It’s expensive. This rebranding exercise cost $400,000. You can see that as a tiny part of the corporation’s $1-billion annual subsidy from the Canadian government, or you could see that as a handful of well-paid full-time jobs for a year. Rebranding is an expensive endeavour that does little to further the CBC’s mandate.
  • It’s unnecessary. The closest thing I got to a reason for this whole thing in the first place is a video (now deleted) in which someone put a confused look on their face when explained that “Radio-Canada” means both radio and television. I get that, in a sense. You’ll recall that Télé-Québec used to be called Radio-Québec. But is this really a problem for a brand that’s existed for 75 years? Does anyone who lives in Canada and speaks French actually get confused?
  • It’s consultantism at its finest. The CBC loves consultants. People who tell them that newscasts have to look a certain way, or that Peter Mansbridge should stand at all times. Some consulting is good. You want to focus-group television shows or expensive concepts before putting them into motion. But consultants are also good at convincing people to buy things they don’t need. I don’t know if that happened in this case, but it certainly gives that impression.
  • It’s abandoning a strong brand. Rebranding is something you do when your brand isn’t working. Maybe you’re involved in a scandal, or your name doesn’t reflect what you do anymore, or it’s not politically correct. But Radio-Canada is a very strong brand. People know what it is and expect good things from it. Why would you mess with that? Even the federal government got involved to complain.
  • It’s anti-patriotic. Fuelling the exaggerated notion that Radio-Canada is filled with separatists (as if half of Quebec wasn’t), cutting “Radio-Canada” in favour of “ICI” has been seized by some in English Canada has a political move. “ICI” is also being seen as reinforcing the Quebec-centric view of Radio-Canada by groups that feel the corporation all but ignores francophones in the rest of Canada.
  • It’s a generic word with little meaning. The Abbott and Costello routine from Jean Lapierre and Mario Dumont might be a caricature of the problem, but there’s a very serious lack of meaning in the term “ici”. It’s a generic word, an adverb, and they’re trying to use it as a noun. “ICI” has been the name of a bunch of things, including a weekly alternative newspaper in Montreal. “ICI Montréal” was even registered as a trademark by Télé-Métropole, which is now TVA, in 1985.

But the biggest problem with this rebrand is this: It’s screwing the little guy.

Sam Norouzi

 

Here’s that little guy. His name is Sam Nowrouzzahrai, but he does business as Sam Norouzi because he wants to save people the trouble of always looking up how to spell and pronounce his name. He’s the man behind a new ethnic television station in Montreal. It’s a mom-and-pop shop, owned by his family and run as a producers’ cooperative. He’s not looking to get rich off of this, just find work for some ethnic broadcasters and bring local ethnic television back to one of Canada’s most diverse cities.

He wanted to call the station International Channel/Canal International, or “ICI” for short.

As I explain in this story in The Gazette, Norouzi did his homework, applying for a registered trademark and waiting for it to get approved as the CRTC application process followed its course. Now, weeks before the station is set to go on the air, he has to deal with the CBC’s lawyers who are trying to take his name from him. And while he has a legal team to deal with that, it’s taking up a lot of his time too. “There’s not a day that goes by that there’s not an issue I have to deal with” involving the case, he said.

I first wrote about this story in March, but now Norouzi has decided he’s ready to play offence in his David-vs-Goliath battle. Articles in the Journal de Montréal, La Pressethe Globe and Mail, the National Post, even the New York Times. An interview on CBC Radio’s As it Happens. An angry column from Sophie Durocher. And while he told me back in March that he didn’t have the funds to take this matter to court, he now says he’s ready to fight.

“We have full rights to go forward with the name and we intend to do so,” Norouzi told me. “We will defend ourselves. For us it’s really a question of principle.”

CBC by a technicality

So what kind of case does the CBC have here? Can they really force Norouzi to give up his name?

Companies don’t have to register their trademarks for them to be legal. They just have to use them. Same thing with government bodies and their “official marks” according to the Trade-marks Act. But it helps. And Norouzi’s application for ICI came a year before CBC’s 31 applications for ICI-branded services. (The only CBC mark that predates Norouzi’s is one from 1969 for “Éditions Ici Radio-Canada”.)

I spoke with Pascal Lauzon, a lawyer and trademark agent with BCF. He said most of the case is “very debatable on both sides.” He pointed out that the registrar of trademarks looks through the database when a trademark is applied for. The process also includes a two-month waiting period so opponents can file oppositions to proposed registrations.

But Lauzon also said that there’s a five-year period during which someone can apply to the federal court to expunge a trademark.

Obviously not in a position to prejudge a case like this, Lauzon said the CBC has a strong case, not so much because it can prove it used the name first, but because of what amounts to a technicality.

Part of the trademark registration process is the filing of what’s called a “declaration of use.” This tells the Canadian Intellectual Property Office that you have actually used the trademark you’ve applied for on a good or in connection with a service. Norouzi filed this on Aug. 20, 2012. But his station wasn’t on the air at that time. We didn’t even know it existed because the application for it wasn’t published until a month later.

The CBC alleges in its lawsuit that, because Norouzi did not appear to be actually using the trademark, his declaration of use was “materially false.”

That, Lauzon said, is enough to have the entire trademark registration thrown out. If that happens, Norouzi would have to file for a new one, but that would put his application behind those 31 marks of CBC-Radio-Canada, and would weaken his case considerably.

“He should have waited” until the station was on the air, Lauzon said. He had three years to file a declaration of use, and waiting would not have made his initial filing date of August 2011 any less valid. “If he had waited, he would be in a much better position,” Lauzon said.

An amicable solution is the best solution

There is another way for this to end: The CBC could see the error of its ways and abandon the whole “ICI” plan entirely. Or it could offer to pay the costs associated with Norouzi’s station taking another name. I don’t know if either of those are likely.

Norouzi tells me he has had no communication with the CBC other than through its lawyers, who first contacted him last November complaining about possible confusion. (Norouzi dismissed those claims since they came long before anyone had any idea that Radio-Canada would be rebranding.) The CBC won’t comment except through written communication that goes through its legal department. Which means I didn’t get a response from them by press time. (I’ll update this post with what I hear back.)

The CBC has already started to back away from ICI. On Monday, president Hubert Lacroix apologized for the “confusion” and announced that some services, including the main TV and radio networks, would retain the Radio-Canada name. You can see a full list here (PDF). Names like “ICI Radio-Canada Télé” and “ICI Radio-Canada Première” sound like awful compromises, taking names that were long and making them even longer.

This backtrack was after days of trying to re-explain a move that should have been self-explanatory.

It hurts to throw away a $400,000 project. But sticking with a bad idea isn’t a better option.

UPDATE: I asked for additional comment from CBC about this case. Hours after the request, I was asked to submit written questions. Almost 24 hours later, I finally got this as a response from Radio-Canada’s Marc Pichette:

In response to your questions sent yesterday (and I apologize for the delay), the term “ICI” has been closely tied to Radio-Canada’s identity for over 75 years. That it has risen to increased prominence recently is only a reflection of the close association our audience makes between that word and our brand.

Confusion is in no one’s interest. That’s why the matter to which you refer is part of an ongoing legal process which is before the Federal Court. I hope you will understand that I cannot comment on the specifics.

Posted in Montreal, My articles, TV

Alexandre Despatie, Joanne Vrakas named hosts of City Montreal’s Breakfast Television

Alexandre Despatie and Joanne Vrakas (Photo: Rogers Media)

Alexandre Despatie and Joanne Vrakas (Photo: Rogers Media)

Hours ahead of their Upfront presentation to advertisers, City Montreal has named the two people who will host Breakfast Television when it launches in August: Alexandre Despatie, the former world champion diver who announced his retirement from competitive diving only two days ago, and Joanne Vrakas, the radio and TV personality whose previous job was a TV reporter for CBC Montreal.

You can read more about the announcement in this story in The Gazette, which includes excerpts of an interview with Despatie and Vrakas.

The announcement of Despatie in particular has been enough to capture the interest of French-language media in Quebec, who could normally not care less about local English-language television. Brief stories in HuffPost Quebec, 98.5fm, Hollywood PQ, Agence QMI, and an interview with Rogers-owned L’Actualité. Also in English, a story from Canadian Press that will get posted everywhere, and one from J-Source.

(UPDATE: More from the Journal de Montréal and TVA Sports, and an interview with Pénélope McQuade)

The two hosts have been doing the rounds at Breakfast Televisions across the country this morning, which is a bit odd because people who watch those shows won’t be watching BT Montreal. Here’s their interview with Winnipeg and Toronto, the latter of which is ridiculously labelled an “exclusive.”

Joining Vrakas and Despatie will be Wilder Weir, the co-host of Montreal Connected. Weir will be a roving “Live Eye” host.

Breakfast Television hosts Joanne Vrakas, Wilder Weir and Alexandre Despatie are shown off to advertisers on Thursday evening.

Breakfast Television hosts Joanne Vrakas, Wilder Weir and Alexandre Despatie are shown off to advertisers on Thursday evening.

Jeffrey Feldman, who has been a Montreal-based producer for eTalk and Fashion Television, had previously been announced as supervising producer for the morning show. Also previously announced is Elias Makos, formerly CTV Montreal’s tech columnist, who is now City’s New Media Producer. He will appear daily on Breakfast Television.

Posted in In the news, My articles, Technology

CRTC’s Wireless Code vs. Quebec’s Bill 60

On Monday morning, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued its final Wireless Code, a set of rules all wireless service providers in Canada have to abide by. I was curious how this code compares to the rules the Quebec government put into place in 2009 that similarly protect consumers in cellphone (and other) service contracts.

The result is this story in The Gazette, which appears in Wednesday’s paper. It lists point by point the provisions of both. In general, they’re very similar in terms of how cancellation fees are calculated, how major elements of contracts can’t be changed unilaterally, and how renewals are done. Bill 60 also includes a prohibition on late-payment fees or additional fees for pay-as-you-go services. But most of the advantage for the consumer is in the CRTC’s code, which specifically deals with wireless service. It includes a de facto two-year maximum on contracts, a 15-day trial period, a right to unlock phones, notification of data roaming and caps on data overage and data roaming fees.

You can read the CRTC’s decision here setting the Wireless Code into place and explaining its reasoning. Quebec’s Bill 60 became law in 2009, and the text of it is here (PDF).

The Wireless Code comes into effect with contracts signed on or after Dec. 2, though providers can start applying the new rules to new contracts as soon as they’re drawn up. Since it’s not really in their interest for people to wait, I would expect the code’s provisions to be in new contracts by the major wireless companies before then.

If your main concern is contract length, by the way, you can go ahead and sign now. As of two years from now, all contracts must comply with the code, which means in two years you won’t have a cancellation fee, even if your contract right now says you will.

How will this be paid for?

The big question now is how these changes (particularly contract length) will be reflected in the marketplace. Having phones subsidized over two years instead of three will mean one of three things:

  1. Higher prices for new handsets. I’m guessing this is the most likely option. Instead of getting, say, a $360 subsidy on a phone, which works out to $10 a month for 36 months, the subsidy might only be $240, which means the phone will be $120 more expensive. Expect fewer $0 smartphones.
  2. Higher monthly rates. If subsidies are done over two years instead of three, then they have to be 50% higher on a monthly basis. So that $10 a month subsidy now has to be $15 a month if the total subsidy is the same. But in my experience there hasn’t been much flexibility in monthly pricing based on device subsidy, and monthly fees have much more competitive pressure than initial handset cost. Prices might inch up slowly, but only if all the major providers agree their profit margin at the lower price is unsustainable.
  3. Lower profits. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. But wireless providers make decisions all the time that result in lower profits, hoping that they might result in higher profits down the road. Acquiring new customers has a large price to it (beyond just the phone subsidy), but if you can lock them in for three years or longer, you’ll make much of that money back. Reducing the contract to two years will mean less time to recoup this acquisition cost. We may see an effect on the bottom line here.

Because, in two years from now, all contracts will have to have zero-fee cancellation after two years, expect new handset costs to go up quickly. Which means even though it sounds like it might be a good idea to wait until December, now might actually be the best time to get a new phone.

Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio, TV

CBC’s CRTC licence renewal: What’s changing in point form

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has just renewed the broadcasting licence for most radio and TV services run by CBC/Radio-Canada, for five years starting Sept. 1 (which means these provisions take effect then). It’s a long decision, and even the press release explaining it is kind of long. So here’s what the CRTC has decided and how it’ll affect what you watch and hear:

(For a Montreal-specific look, see this story I wrote for The Gazette)

Radio

  • Ads on Radio Two/Espace Musique: The most controversial proposal has been accepted. The CRTC will allow advertising on the music radio network, but with some restrictions: They can broadcast no more than four minutes of advertising an hour, in no more than two ad blocks, and no local advertising is allowed. This allowance is also limited to three years. If the CBC wants to continue after that, it must re-apply to the CRTC for permission.
  • Minimum playlist size: As part of a way to ensure Radio Two and Espace Musique are different from commercial radio, the CRTC is requiring that they air a large number of different musical selections, 2,800 a month for Radio Two and 3,000 for Espace Musique. That means about 100 songs a day that haven’t been played yet that month.
  • More specific radio CanCon minimums: Currently, half of popular music and 20% of special interest music must be Canadian for all four radio networks. The CRTC has added, with CBC’s blessing, conditions that require that 25% of concert music and 20% of jazz/blues music also be Canadian.
  • More flexibility in French music: On Radio-Canada radio networks, 85% of music played must be French. That requirement remains. But the rest is no longer restricted. Before only 5% could be in English and all of it had to be Canadian. Now that 15% can be in any language, including English, and half of non-French music has to be Canadian.
  • More French local programming in Windsor: CBC’s cuts to local programming at CBEF Windsor caused controversy, leading to complaints that included the official languages commissioner. The CRTC has decided to impose a minimum of 15 hours per week of local programming at the radio station, above what the CBC had proposed and consistent with other stations in minority communities.
  • No more Long Range Radio Plan: The CBC says, due to its budget, it has no plans to increase its radio coverage area (including plans to make Espace Musique available to more people) and wants to discontinue the Long Range Radio Plan. This plan includes hundreds of allocations for radio transmitters that don’t exist yet. Shutting this down would save a lot of headaches for private broadcasters, whose proposals for new or improved radio stations would have to take these imaginary stations into account.
  • Public alerting system: The CBC is required to install a public emergency alerting system on all radio stations by Dec. 31, 2014. The CBC said it would issue alerts at the station level, not at the transmitter level. The CRTC said it was concerned this might lead to alerts being issued too widely instead of just to the communities affected. Similar alerting is being encouraged, but not required, on television.

Television

  • More local TV programming: Following CBC’s recommendation, the CRTC has harmonized requirements for local programming between CBC/Radio-Canada and private television stations.
    • English stations in metropolitan markets (which includes Montreal) will have to produce 14 hours a week of local programming, and stations in smaller markets seven hours a week. In most cases, this is an increase over current levels (Montreal produces just under 11 hours a week of local programming), so we’ll need to see longer or more frequent local newscasts.
    • All French stations must produce five hours of local programming a week, including those in English markets, who must have some local programming seven days a week (except holidays).
    • CBC North (CFYK-TV Yellowknife) will have five hours minimum as a condition of licence, though the CBC says it will be more than this.
  • Non-news local TV programming: Following a suggestion from the CRTC at the hearing, the CBC agreed to require at least one of the 14 hours of local TV programming in major markets be devoted to non-news programming. The CBC hasn’t said what this would be, exactly. They said they’re starting to look at this now that they have a decision.
  • No blanket exemptions for local programming: The CBC had requested that it be allowed to calculate local programming on a yearly basis instead of a weekly one, because events like the NHL playoffs or Olympics pre-empt local programming. The CRTC decided against this (except for French stations in English markets), mainly for practical reasons (it would have to review a whole year’s worth of tapes to determine if it was meeting its licence requirements). The CBC then suggested that it be allowed an exemption of up to 16 weeks a year. The CRTC decided against that too, preferring a case-by-case approach and referring to a decision that allowed CTV and V to be relieved of their local programming minimums during the 2012 Olympics, saying that should be the model for future events.
  • Higher Canadian TV programming requirement: CBC and Radio-Canada television is now required to devote 75% of their broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 80% of primetime (7pm-11pm) to Canadian programs. They already do this now (they boast of having a 100% Canadian primetime), but it’s higher than their previous official requirements.
  • Regional television in French: Radio-Canada television is now required to devote at least five hours per week to programming produced outside Montreal. In addition, 6% of its budget for Canadian programs must go to independent producers outside Montreal.
  • More English-language television from Quebec: The CRTC is requiring CBC television to devote 6% of its budget for English-language Canadian programs to independent producers in Quebec, averaged over the licence term (until 2018). In addition, it must spend 10% of its development budget on Quebec, to give a boost to English-language producers here by having them produce more new programming.
  • No interference in The National/Le Téléjournal: The corporation’s national newscasts have been accused of being too focused on the regions they originate from (Toronto and Montreal, respectively). But the CRTC won’t interfere, saying it would threaten journalistic integrity. It will, however, ask for regular reporting on how official language minority communities feel about how well CBC and Radio-Canada’s programming reflects them, and has imposed this purposefully vague condition of licence: “national news and information programming shall reflect the country’s regions and official language minority communities, and promote respect and understanding between them.”
  • Canadian films on CBC: Following CBC’s proposal, the CRTC has imposed a requirement that CBC television air one Canadian theatrical film every month. The CBC is being given the flexibility to schedule it, which means it could air on a weekend afternoon, but it will air. The CBC is being held to its commitment to air Canadian movies on Saturday nights during 10 weeks in the summer.
  • Children’s programming: Judging that a commitment to children’s programming is more important as other conventional television networks move those shows to specialty channels, the CRTC continues to require a commitment to programming for children under 12. CBC and Radio-Canada must broadcast 15 hours per week of under-12 programming. Of that, one hour a week (CBC) or 100 hours a year (Radio-Canada) of original children’s programming (programs that air on other channels can be counted for this if CBC contributed to its financing). And three-quarters of these hours must be independently produced.
  • No requirements for new over-the-air transmitters: Despite demands for the CBC to reverse its decision to shut down hundreds of analog television transmitters across the country, and to limit digital transmitters to markets with local programming, the CRTC says it will not impose requirements on the CBC due to its financial situation. Instead, it suggests people who can’t get CBC or Radio-Canada over the air to look to Shaw’s free basic satellite offer, which expires in November. It also suggests broadcasters look to solutions like multiplexing (multiple channels on one transmitter) to offset the expense of digital transmitters.

Specialty TV

  • Renewal of mandatory distribution: The CRTC will maintain orders requiring digital cable and satellite providers to distribute CBC News Network in French-language markets and RDI in English-language markets, for $0.15 and $0.10 per month respectively. This is to ensure access to news programming for official language minority communities.
  • ARTV will be required to make 50% of its programming schedule devoted to programs from independent producers, replacing a condition that it spend all its profits on independent production. (Since ARTV’s profits are modest at best, this will be a net benefit, the CRTC argues.) ARTV will also have to devote 20% of its programming budget to programs produced outside Quebec, half of that to independent producers.

Other

  • Ombudsmen: The corporation’s two ombudsmen (one for CBC, one for Radio-Canada) are now required by a condition of licence, which establishes how they are hired, and says they must report directly to the CBC president twice a year.
  • Digital media: The CRTC hasn’t set specific conditions as far as digital media, though it has encouraged the CBC to be more accessible (more closed captioning online, for example).
  • Terms of trade: The CBC is being ordered to come to agreements with the Canadian Media Production Association and Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec within a year.
  • Consultations with minority language communities: The CBC must hold formal consultations at least once every two years with minority language communities, including the English community in Quebec. It must also report annually on such consultations.

UPDATE: The Quebec Community Groups Network praises the CRTC’s decision and the increased English-language Quebec production that will come out of it.

Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

Rogers says it’s willing to buy TSN 690

See also my story on this in The Gazette.

Could this be the future of CKGM?

Could this be the future of CKGM?

Though it had seemed cool to the idea previously, Rogers says it is now willing to make a “reasonable offer” to Bell Media to purchase CKGM (TSN Radio 690) and keep it running in its English-language all-sports format.

The revelation came through Rogers’s final submission to the CRTC dated Wednesday. Most of it focused on Rogers’s position that Bell should not be allowed to acquire The Movie Network. But it also included a proposal to solve the problem of the Montreal English radio market and the fate of the money-losing all-sports station.

The full submission can be read here. The relevant paragraphs are these:

45. Finally, on the separate issue of the radio station CKGM-AM and Bell Media’s proposal to obtain an exception to the Commission’s common ownership policy, the Bell/Astral panel indicated during the hearing that it would consider shutting the station down if the Commission did not allow Bell Media to operate 4 radio stations in the Montreal market. We understand that Bell Media was concerned that if an exception to the common ownership policy was not granted, then radio listeners in Montreal would be denied access to sports radio in that city.

46. With that concern in mind, Rogers Media is informing the Commission that it would be prepared to make Bell a reasonable offer to acquire CKGM-AM and that we would be prepared to operate it as an English sports radio service. Given our sports properties (which include the Fan 590 in Toronto) and the fact that we now have a presence in the Montreal market with our recent acquisition of CJNT-DT, Rogers Media is confident that it has the infrastructure in place to operate the station profitably.

47. If there are concerns that there would be no buyers for CKGM-AM and that Montreal radio listeners would be deprived of a sports service, we believe that our commitment to make a reasonable offer for the station should allay them.

This would seem to solve both the problem of Bell owning too many stations in the market and of wanting to keep an all-sports station here. But there are some caveats. First of all, the station wouldn’t be called TSN 690 anymore. Bell has no intention of licensing the brand, and Rogers wouldn’t want it anyway. So it would probably be called Sportsnet 690 The Fan (which would be easily confused with Fan stations at 960 and 590).

More importantly, Bell has said that if it sold the station it would not sublicense radio broadcast rights to Canadiens games, instead moving them to CJAD. And CJAD is already the broadcaster for Alouettes and Impact games. So The Fan wouldn’t start off with much in the way of local broadcast rights.

Nevertheless, Rogers is obviously aware of this, and feels it can make the station profitable, thanks to its recent acquisition of CJNT, which gives Rogers its first broadcast property in the market. Sportsnet’s existing resources in Montreal, added to those that will work on a weekly sports show on CJNT, and the national resources of Sportsnet TV and radio, will also help.

It’s unclear if Rogers was one of the two players that Bell told the CRTC had made “informal” inquiries about CKGM. We do know that the other was Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media, which has licences for news-talk AM stations in English and French and is waiting for a decision from the CRTC on an application for a French-language AM sports station in the market. Tietolman has not hidden that he would be willing to acquire CJAD in particular, and possibly other stations put up for sale as well.

Rogers was asked about acquiring this station during last year’s Bell-Astral hearing. They weren’t terribly enthusiastic, but didn’t dismiss the idea either. Here’s what Susan Wheeler, Rogers’s VP of regulatory affairs, told the commission on Sept. 12:

Certainly, we would be interested in expanding our sports radio network across the country. So that’s certainly something of interest to us. Whether it’s a viable business model without the Canadiens rights I think is something that we would have to do the math on.

But I also, I guess, would question the limitations that Bell, you know, has said in previous testimony that they don’t have the rights to sub-license the Canadiens rights. So I’m wondering whether that’s something the Commission could look into further.

Bell has until May 21 to provide a final written reply to the commission on this and other issues brought up by interveners based on new information brought up at the hearing.

UPDATE (May 21): Bell says this is the first it hears of Rogers being interested in the station, and “we question the sincerity of this claim.” Bell also questions why Rogers is only bringing this up now, instead of in its original intervention or at the hearing.

The full paragraph about CKGM in Bell’s reply is here:

Rogers made a last minute claim that they would make a reasonable offer to purchase CKGM and operate it as a English-language sports service. We question the sincerity of this claim or its appropriateness at this stage in the process given the guidelines the Commission set for final Intervener comments. There is no actual evidence on the record that they would or could make such an offer or that they could viably operate CKGM as a sports service. The claim was raised for the first time in the final paragraphs of their final comments after not having even been hinted at one time in the whole course of the proceeding even though the exception to the Common Ownership Policy for CKGM has been a consistent part of our application since it was filed. Even since this surprise announcement, Rogers has not attempted to contact Bell Media about this possibility.

Posted in My articles, TV

Montreal TV ratings: Global morning show struggles out of the gate with 500 viewers

Global Montreal morning show cast, from left: Richard Dagenais, Jessica Laventure, Camille Ross

Global Montreal morning show cast, from left: Richard Dagenais, Jessica Laventure, Camille Ross

Global Montreal’s Morning News hasn’t had the smoothest start. As a guinea pig for a new way of producing live TV, with local control-room staff using servers across the country, it has been plagued with technical problems, some so serious they have forced the show off the air a couple of times. Marketing for it hasn’t been terribly overwhelming, and if it has been generating buzz it hasn’t been for the best reasons.

Now comes confirmation that the show hasn’t started resonating with viewers yet. BBM numbers for the first survey of Montreal TV viewers since the show went on the air estimate its audience at about 500 viewers, which is about as much as it had before the show went on the air, when it was showing things like repeats of the previous night’s newscasts.

I break down ratings numbers for this story in Tuesday’s Gazette.

It would be easy to have too much fun with this, to make jokes about the show’s lack of impact (I’ve heard a few already). But it’s not for lack of effort from those involved. Hosts Richard Dagenais and Camille Ross are trying hard to get comfortable in their new roles, deal with the technical issues and make the show work. Jessica Laventure has been trying to make her presence as entertaining and informative as possible. And the people behind the scenes are tearing their hair out juggling everything to put three hours a day of live television on the air. They all deserve better.

If anyone deserves blame for this, it’s Global management and Shaw Media, which have put the bare minimum (one could argue even less than that) into the show in terms of resources. It’s understaffed, underfunded, undermarketed, and so it should come as no surprise that it’s underviewed.

This show is here to fulfill a commitment that Shaw made to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission when it bought Global TV in 2010. It promised to fund local morning shows in six markets, including $5 million for Montreal until 2017. That means no matter how badly the show is received, it will continue to be on air at least until then. So in a sense Global doesn’t have to care about ratings, certainly not in the first few weeks.

But it should, for two reasons. First, Global News Senior VP Troy Reeb told me he wants the show to be self-sufficient. Not necessarily to be profitable with advertising, but to come close enough to breaking even that it’s worth continuing the investment and building a viewer relationship. That won’t happen if it continues to build a relationship as an unwatchable show with nothing to offer.

Second, we’re now only a few months away from the launch of a competing local morning show on City TV. That show will launch with three times the staff, and you have to expect that the difference in quality will be noticeable almost instantly. If Global’s morning show hasn’t developed a strong connection with viewers by then, any morning viewing looking for a local alternative to Canada AM will switch to City instead.

Global: No comment

I tried to get comment from the three broadcasters for my story, but only heard back from one by deadline (though CBC did provide me with some data). It’s funny how those with good ratings information are always the easiest to get in touch with.

When I finally got Global Montreal station manager Karen Macdonald on the phone on an unrelated matter, I asked her about the ratings, and whether she’s disappointed in the numbers from the morning show. She said she doesn’t believe the ratings, that she feels Montreal’s English market does not have a large enough sample size, and she doesn’t have anything more to say on the subject.

Global has had various theories for why ratings show them so far behind their competitors (though they acknowledge that they are behind). They feel they have a strong francophone audience, which is ignored by BBM. They feel that the diary system is biased toward CTV’s self-marketing power that causes some people write down that they’re watching CTV News when they’re actually watching Global. BBM rejects the latter argument, saying diaries ask for network, channel number and program name, and survey takers are called if there is any discrepancy.

I can understand Global’s frustration with the ratings. This isn’t an easy market to crack. CTV had been the only private game in town from when it launched in 1961 to when Global opened in 1997. CFCF’s audience is intensely loyal, which leads to high ratings which leads to larger budgets which leads to better quality which leads to higher ratings. Only an overwhelming infusion of money over a long period of time could seriously compete with that, and even Shaw isn’t ready to spend that kind of cash.

At least with mornings, Global didn’t have to compete with CTV here. It runs the national Canada AM show (though “national” might be exaggerating since western CTV markets have local morning shows). But viewers so far are still happy enough with that and haven’t been switching. Shaw and Global need to do a lot more if they’re serious about making this show a success and keeping it going past that five-year mark.

More numbers

The rest of the ratings details don’t show much difference from the last report. CTV Montreal’s newscasts still dominate in every time slot by a wide margin. The weekday 6pm newscast has a 52.8% market share, compared to 4.5% at CBC and 1.5% at Global. In terms of actual viewers, that works out to 133,000 for CTV, 11,400 for CBC at 6, and 3,800 for Global.

The top-rated show overall in the market is CTV’s 6pm newscast. The second-highest rated is the weekend 6pm newscast.

There has been some variation. CTV says its 6pm weeknight audience is up 11%, the 6pm weekend audience is up 7.4%, and its late-night audience is up 20.5%, while its noon newscast has dropped by 21%. GM Louis Douville told me that they would be looking at the noon show. Coincidentally the next day he told me that Paul Karwatsky is being moved off of it so he can co-anchor the 6pm newscast an anchor at 11:30pm while Catherine Sherriffs is on maternity leave.

At CBC, the 5pm evening newscast continues to make gains. The spring 2013 numbers show that in the English Montreal extended market, the show has 21,000 viewers at 5pm and the same at 5:30. Its share of the audience has more than doubled for both those periods since 2011. But the 6pm newscast, which has to compete with both CTV and Global, hasn’t seen that kind of growth. It has only 11,000 viewers in the latest report, and only a 5% share, compared to a 16% share at 5pm.

And yet, when you watch the newscast, it’s clear that they’re trying to push viewers to tune in at 6. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “we’ll bring you more on this story at six o’clock.” But clearly viewers are switching channels at that time. You have to wonder why they don’t just come out with their news at 5 and either kill the last half-hour or turn it into something else.

Unfortunately decisions like these are made in Toronto, so we won’t be seeing any big changes unless they make sense on a national scale.

CBC’s late-night newscast has 5,000 viewers, or a 4% share, same as it had in the fall.

The BBM measurement covers three weeks in February and March. The next measurement of diary markets like Montreal will take place in October and November, for publication in January 2014.

 

Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

The third option for TSN Radio 690

If you don’t want to read this really long post, you can get the short version in this story and this followup in The Gazette, and this story at Cartt.ca.

CRTC Quebec regional commissioner Suzanne Lamarre grills Bell on its plans for Montreal radio on Monday.

CRTC Quebec regional commissioner Suzanne Lamarre grills Bell on its plans for Montreal radio on Monday.

I’d thought about it. Some people had asked me about it. Others suggested it to the CRTC in their written submissions. And the CRTC asked Bell about it in a letter after it filed its application. But until Monday afternoon I didn’t think it was seriously an option that the commission might consider imposing.

Could the CRTC force Bell to keep CKGM (TSN Radio 690) and sell one of the other English-language Astral radio stations in Montreal, as a condition of approving the larger Bell-Astral deal?

Learning from the very negative public reaction from its initial proposal last year to turn CKGM into a French-language radio station, this time Bell is asking for an exception to the CRTC’s radio common ownership policy so it can keep it in English while still owning three other stations in the (currently) five-station market. This puts the commission in an awkward position if it accepts the purchase deal. Does it give the exception, giving one company control of four of five commercial stations and 75% of the commercial audience share? Or does it deny the exception, forcing Bell to sell the money-losing station to someone else who would most likely change its format? Bell convinced thousands of listeners that the former is better, putting together a Save TSN 690 petition and getting the same fans who were cursing its name months earlier to be suddenly singing its praises.

A background in common ownership

The CRTC’s common ownership policy, often incorrectly or incompletely explained, has two rules for radio:

  1. One company can’t own more than two AM stations and two FM stations in a single market
  2. One company can’t own more than three stations total in a market with fewer than eight commercial stations

French and English stations are considered in separate markets even if they share the same geographical area. Montreal’s English market, with only five commercial stations (though soon to be six) meets that second criteria, while the French market, with 11 commercial stations (soon to be 13 or even 14), doesn’t.

The policy is just that, a policy, and exceptions have been granted before. The most on-point one is one that was granted to Cogeco in 2010 that allowed it to keep three French FM stations in Montreal after it acquired most of the Corus Quebec network. This was allowed in exchange for Cogeco setting up the Cogeco Nouvelles radio news service, with CHMP 98.5 FM in Montreal as its flagship station. That station is now the highest-rated in Quebec. The second-highest-rated, CFGL (Rythme FM) 105.7, is also owned by Cogeco.

The irony here is that this request was strongly opposed by Astral Media (it even threatened legal action to stop it), it was supported by third parties because it would put Cogeco in a position to better compete with Astral, and Cogeco is a fierce opponent of the Bell/Astral deal because of increased concentration of ownership. (Cogeco hasn’t said much about the request for an exception, perhaps seeing how hypocritical it would look.)

Now Bell/Astral is using the Cogeco decision as a precedent to get the same treatment in English. Astral argues this should be an easier decision because unlike CHMP, CKGM is a money-losing station, its audience is tiny, and it’s on AM.

And Cogeco, the one company that you’d think would be most against allowing Bell to own four of the five stations in this market, is silent on the matter. Cogeco CEO Louis Audet told me on Wednesday after the company’s appearance before the CRTC that “we’ve kept away from that” and “it’s up to the commission to decide.”

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Posted in My articles, TV

Sun News turns two — will it make it to three?

Today is the second anniversary of the Sun News Network.

Canada’s small-c conservative news channel launched on April 18, 2011, days before the royal wedding of the century, a historic federal election and the surprise death of Osama bin Laden. It promised to break stories that the other media wouldn’t cover, to give a voice to those it felt had been blacklisted by the other media, and to present ideas that were politically incorrect.

Even before it launched, it was attacked by the establishment and by left-wing activists. Combined with some reporting that failed to properly explain the issues at hand, this left many Canadians with an incomplete, biased or simply incorrect picture of what the news channel was about. I was skeptical about the quality of its journalism, but also encouraged that there would be a specialty channel out there that would create all of its own programming instead of relying on rebroadcasting U.S. specialty channels, airing reruns of TV series from decades past, or reshowing the same hit shows that have already aired on the broadcast networks.

I finally gave the network a review after one year. Most of my worries turned out to be justified. Its production values are cheap, it preaches to the converted, its primetime hosts (all white men) are unrelatable mainly because of the size of their egos.

Not much has changed in the year since. Most of the personalities are the same, with the notable exception of Krista Erickson (what she’s up to now is a mystery – her website, blog and Facebook page haven’t been updated since November). The shows still look the same, still sound the same, still have the same strengths and weaknesses.

I find myself watching it less and less these days, except for the sweeps I do of all the news channels when there’s breaking or other live events happening. It doesn’t have a must-see program, and with PVRs there’s no reason to stumble on it when you’re bored during the day.

But still, in an era where specialty channels are doing their best to de-specialize and go after the cheapest and most profitable content, it’s nice that there’s one force out there that believes original programming can make a network work.

Sun Forced

All that original programming is expensive. Thanks to the CRTC we know that it cost $14 million in 2012. Added to overhead expenses, Sun News costs $22 million a year to run. But it made only $5.7 million in subscription fees and advertising. And subscription fees, under 10 cents a month per subscriber, make up the bulk of that. The network draws only $3,750 a day in advertising revenue. Business News Network draws more than six times that.

Sun blames this low revenue on lack of subscriptions, which it in turn blames on the big cable and satellite companies not packaging it attractively. The channel has 4.9 million subscribers, which is less than half of the 11 million subscriptions to CBC News Network, but puts it on par with channels like Lifetime, OLN and Showcase Action, and well ahead of some other more niche channels, not to mention every French-language specialty channel in Quebec that isn’t forced on subscribers.

So it is coming to the CRTC, asking that it issue an order requiring all cable and satellite providers to not only carry the channel (some like Telus and MTS still don’t have it at all), but to add it to all their customers’ basic cable packages, and even force it onto analog cable as well.

Once again, there has been some spin on both sides about this application. Sun argues it wants a fair shot in this hyper-regulated environment, while its enemies say it’s grossly hypocritical for a group that advocates choice and freedom to be asking the government to force people to pay for something they don’t want.

The hearing into Sun News and all the other applications for mandatory carriage begins next week in Gatineau. I’ve written a story for J-Source outlining the case and Sun News’s chances of getting what it wants.

People ask me a lot how I think the CRTC will rule on a controversial application, and the truth is I don’t know. I can point to precedent, but applicants and intervenors find creative ways to argue why precedent shouldn’t apply. The CRTC’s decisions wouldn’t be controversial if they were easy, and the hard ones are hard to predict.

Still, we can look at a few clues that might hint at which way the commission will go. The biggest one is that it has already deregulated mainstream news channels somewhat, opening them up so they can compete directly with each other. This presupposes that the channels are similar in nature, which would seem to go against one of the main criteria for granting this status, that a service be exceptional. Similarly, granting this request would set its own precedent, encouraging every other new news network to do the same. Global and Rogers have new regional news networks, and would probably be next in line for mandatory carriage.

Sun also makes a less than solid case that it needs this status because it can’t reach subscribers. There are channels out there that would love to have 4.5 million subscribers. And the CRTC is unlikely to feel this is the proper solution to a dispute over packaging. Sun makes a good point that it’s not accessible on analog cable, but neither are CityNews, Global BC1 and every other channel that has launched in the past decade. It’s an argument to rethink policy about analog cable, but not to force Sun News on consumers.

So my instinct is that Sun News will be denied mandatory carriage, along with most of the other applicants that come in front of the CRTC in this two-week hearing. But I’ve been surprised before.

And if the CRTC does say no, how long will Quebecor keep financing it before it realizes that market forces are just not on Sun News’s side?