Only 13 hours before Viewers Choice Pay-Per-View shuts down for good, the CRTC has approved an expedited application from Videotron to convert its Canal Indigo into a bilingual pay-per-view service to replace it.
The service would meet all of the regulatory requirements for bilingual pay-per-view systems, with one notable exception: Rather than adhere to a 3:1 ratio of English to French channels that is clearly designed for bilingual pay-per-view services operating in English Canadian markets, Indigo would reverse that ratio, offering four French channels for each English one, not including barker/preview channels. And it would offer at least two English channels. Videotron said in its application it planned to operate eight French-language and two English-language channels, which would fit its proposed ratio.
Since Videotron operates almost exclusively in Quebec, having more French channels makes sense for its pay-per-view service. The CRTC agreed, implementing the exception.
But it didn’t like the idea of reducing the number of channels that much. Indigo currently offers 11 standard-definition and three high-definition channels, while Videotron carries eight SD and one HD channel of Viewers Choice. Under Videotron’s proposal, the total number of PPV channels would drop from 23 to 10.
“So to maintain a number of signals comparable to that currently offered, the Commission requires that Indigo offer at least 3 English-language signals. With this minimum of English-language signals, Videotron must offer at least 12 French-language signals to meet the ratio. Accordingly, Videotron will be able to maintain a level of service comparable to that currently offered by its French-language service.”
(This whole system seems to be unnecessarily rigid. It’s one thing to impose minimum ratios to protect minority-language markets, but the ratio as it’s worded isn’t just a minimum, but a maximum as well. And setting a minimum number of English channels on top of that means the CRTC has imposed a minimum of 15 channels for Videotron’s pay-per-view service.)
English channels could start “very quickly”
The CRTC’s alteration of Videotron’s application is a bit of a curve ball. Videotron had already begun trimming Indigo, taking away six of its 11 SD channels. With this decision, it will need to start four of them back up (or start up four new HD feeds).
But adding English service to Indigo won’t take that long, Videotron president and CEO Manon Brouillette told me. For movies, “we already have all the rights in English,” she said. It’s just a question of getting deals done for PPV events like wrestling and UFC events. But “it wouldn’t be that complicated.”
With the rise of paid video-on-demand services on digital cable, the appeal of pay-per-view for events that aren’t live has diminished significantly. “When we look at the tendencies of consumption of cinema, it’s much more on demand,” Brouillette said. “So the Indigo channels, the rate of orders is not very high, it’s a segment in decline.”
“The potential for us, and the reason the channel is doing well financially, is because of events, sports, concerts, etc.”
Brouillette pointed to the Quebec City amphitheatre, which Videotron has a management contract for once it opens next year, with everyone hoping it will one day be home to an NHL team.
“There won’t just be sports in this theatre,” she said. “There will be concerts, events. We’d like to broadcast live shows on Indigo like we did for Céline Dion (on the Plains of Abraham in 2008). It’s an event channel.”
Videotron has a bit of time to get its English service running. It’ll be about three weeks until the next major UFC and WWE pay-per-view events.
Viewers Choice goes out with a whimper
There’s no big fanfare for the end of Viewers Choice, which began in 1991 and is being replaced by in-house services run by Bell and Rogers. On its straight-from-the-90s website, a simple notice is posted:
Dear Viewers Choice Customers — As of September 30, 2014 Viewers Choice Pay Per View will no longer be broadcasting.
Thanks to all of you for allowing us into your homes for so many incredible events and making the last 23 years successful and memorable
Sincerely, The Viewers Choice Team
The service’s programming will go dark starting around 10:30pm, and the last movies will end at midnight. Those final movies include Winter’s Tale, The Quiet Ones, The Grand Seduction, The Other Woman, Rise of an Empire and, of course, porn.
— Kevin (@klb_86) September 23, 2014
Even though I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the subject of NHL regional rights and in particular how Canadiens fans have to deal with them for the first time, there’s still a flood of questions, usually the same ones, from people who suddenly find themselves staring at a screen saying a hockey game is not available in their region.
The situation hasn’t changed dramatically, except for broadcasts on RDS. Until this season, the network had a special deal with the Canadiens and the National Hockey League that allowed all 82 regular-season games to be broadcast nationally without restriction. This is the exception rather than the rule. Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators games in English have been subject to regional blackouts for years now.
It’s caused so much rage that RDS has posted a page — in both French and English — explaining how the blackouts aren’t its fault.
Am I affected?
If you’re used to watching Canadiens games on RDS, you’ll no longer be able to do so if you live west of eastern Ontario (officially, a line connecting Pembroke and Belleville). This is the Canadiens/Senators broadcast region. It includes that corner of eastern Ontario, plus all of Quebec and all four Atlantic provinces. In Toronto, the Prairies, B.C. and territories, you’re out of luck. Because RDS carries only the regional games, you won’t see a single Canadiens game — or any NHL game at all for that matter — on RDS this year.
During the first preseason game on Tuesday night, some people reported being able to get RDS un-blacked-out outside the Canadiens region. Some had the HD feed blacked out but the SD feed not. This should not be relied upon as a stable loophole.
If you’re not sure what region you’re in, you can put your postal code into this website, which will show which teams’ region you’re in. Any team not on that list will (or at least should) be blacked out in your region.
For fans of other teams, this post explains their broadcast regions and how many games will be broadcast regionally and nationally.
Who is to blame?
The big change isn’t so much that Rogers has spent $5.2 billion on a wide-ranging deal for NHL rights in Canada. It’s the emergence of a competitor to RDS, TVA Sports, which has sublicensed the rights to national games from Rogers. RDS picked up the regional rights, but that doesn’t give them the rights to broadcast these games nationally. They’d love nothing better than to do so, but they can’t.
So who is to blame? Rogers? Quebecor? Bell? The Canadiens? Your cable company?
No, it’s the National Hockey League.
The NHL, like other sports leagues, sets the framework for television rights deals. And part of that framework forces most of the regular-season games of any team to be broadcast only within that team’s designated region. Or, looking at it the other way, it prevents other team’s broadcasts from entering that team’s region.
The purpose is simply to protect that team’s territorial rights and market. Basically, if you live in southern Ontario, the Leafs own you, and they want you to be a Leafs fan, not a Canadiens fan. You might think that’s ridiculous, but that’s nevertheless the logic.
(Be glad that the NHL doesn’t also follow the NFL’s rule that blacks out local games when a team has not sold out a home game. Though since the Canadiens always sell out, that wouldn’t affect them.)
What can I do about it?
So, you’re a Canadiens fan in southern Ontario, Calgary or Vancouver who wants to watch all 82 Canadiens games, and you don’t mind what language it’s in. Well, here are your options:
- Learn to live with watching only half the season. Rogers is broadcasting 40 of the 82 Canadiens games nationally in English, plus all playoff games, including all Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday night games, and all games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins. (The 22 games broadcast nationally in French on TVA Sports are included in those 40.) You’ll also see when the Canadiens play the team that owns your broadcast region. I break down which games are which here. If you live in the Jets, Oilers or Flames regions, you’ll see the games against those teams too. People in Saskatchewan will get a total of 44 Habs games all told.
- Buy NHL Centre Ice. This is the official way to get around the regional blackouts, and it’s what distant fans of other Canadian teams have had to do for years. Details of this service haven’t been announced yet, but it will be offered by your cable or satellite provider for about $200 for the season or $35 a month. They might also offer a special deal for just the French Canadiens and Senators games from RDS for $60. NHL Centre Ice blacks out any game that is otherwise broadcast in your region, so you’ll need to get Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 to watch national games on those channels. Contact your TV provider for details.
- Buy NHL GameCentre Live. Similar to NHL Centre Ice, GameCentre offers a way for people to watch out-of-market games. GameCentre is a streaming service, to watch the games online or on mobile or tablet apps. Because it’s delivered on the Internet, it’s offered directly by Rogers, not by your TV provider. You can subscribe to it here. It’s $200 for the season (with a $180 early bird special). Rogers has also promised a special deal for $60 with just the RDS Senators and Canadiens regional games. GameCentre Live used to have the same rules as Centre Ice, blacking out any game available to you on TV. But Rogers is making all of its nationally broadcast games available on this service. It’s also making in-region regional games available, but only if they’re on Sportsnet and you’re a Sportsnet subscriber. This requires authentication with your TV provider, which means they need to be on board as well. This means that Senators games, French Canadiens games, Jets games and some Maple Leafs games that air on TSN and RDS are not available in-region on GameCentre Live.
- Listen to blacked out games on the radio. Blackout rules don’t apply to the radio, so you can listen to the livestream of TSN Radio 690 from anywhere in the country.
- Get an illegal bootleg stream online. There are various ways to get access to Canadiens games through third parties that illegally rebroadcast the games online. I won’t provide instructions here, but you can find them.
- Move to Montreal. I’m just saying, that’s an option.
One thing that won’t help is to start a petition, yell at your TV provider or insult Rogers, Bell or anyone else on Twitter. Believe me, the broadcasters would love nothing better than to do away with blackouts that annoy viewers, deprive them of advertising revenue and complicate scheduling. But they can’t, because despite those billions of dollars, the NHL is still the boss.
But if it helps you emotionally, go ahead.
Updated with a correction about stations being offered to participate.
After being tight-lipped about it for months, Shaw Media has made the first announcement about its plan for a new national news channel called Global News 1, first mentioned in a CRTC filing in June.
In a press release issued Monday, Shaw Media says it has submitted its application for the new all-news channel to the CRTC (which hasn’t published it yet, so we don’t have details). The timing is deliberate, coming just after the commission concluded its Let’s Talk TV hearing. Reeb said the submission was made several weeks ago, but Shaw wanted to wait until the proceeding was over to respect that process.
Shaw explains its unique blend of national and local news this way:
Global News 1 will feature a national newsfeed bookended by local news segments tailored specifically for each of the markets it serves. Using next-generation technology, the service will be framed by a continuous data feed of hyper-local headlines and community events. With the ability to cover live, breaking news at the local, regional or national level, Global News 1 will be like no other service on the dial.
Shaw says that each of the 12 markets with owned-and-operated Global stations (Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, Halifax) will have its own feed, but there will also be eight additional communities getting “local newsrooms” — places with “either no local television news or limited competition”:
- Fort McMurray, Alta.
- Red Deer, Alta.
- Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
- Niagara, Ont.
- Mississauga, Ont.
- Ottawa, Ont.
- Quebec City, Que.
- Charlottetown, P.E.I.
And on top of that, “Shaw Media is also proposing to open the channel to eight small-market, independent broadcasters who would have the opportunity to add their own local content to the service and retain all local advertising in their markets.”
Troy Reeb, senior vice-president of Global News, tells me these stations are:
- CKPG in Prince George, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
- CFJC in Kamloops, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
- CHAT in Medicine Hat, Alta. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
- CKSA/CITL in Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. (Newcap) — CBC and CTV affiliates, respectively
- CHFD in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Dougall Media) — already a Global affiliate
- CHEX in Peterborough, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
- CKWS in Kingston, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
- CJON in St. John’s, N.L. (NTV)
(An earlier version of this post also listed CHEK in Victoria, B.C. Reeb actually referred to CHEX, the Corus station. CHEK is not on the list because it competes directly with Global B.C.)
Reeb specifies that there has been no discussion with these stations. Rather, the offer is being made because Global does not want to compete with them. “We didn’t want to threaten any of the small stations that are already struggling,” he said. “We didn’t want to go in and say hey we’re going to open up a competitor. We’re looking for a solution not just for us but for the system overall.”
Assuming it adds all of these stations, that would mean up to 28 different markets getting a hybrid national/local news channel.
Notably absent from this list is CJBN, a station owned by Shaw (but separate from Shaw Media, its acquisition predated the Global purchase) in Kenora, Ont. Its tiny market and limited local programming means it doesn’t have the resources to contribute to this service, Reeb said.
Reeb told me that, if the proposal is approved, Global would add about 100 journalists across the country, between those working at the regional newsrooms and those working nationally. This would mean about a half-dozen people working in each regional newsroom.
— Mitch Melnick (@HunterZThompson) September 19, 2014
John Bartlett, who has been the play-by-play voice of the Canadiens on TSN Radio 690 ever since the station won the rights to the team’s games in 2011, is leaving it to join Rogers as the play-by-play man on regional Canadiens games that will air on Rogers Sportsnet East and City Montreal.
TSN host Mitch Melnick confirmed Bartlett’s departure on Thursday. On Friday, Bartlett was interviewed on Melnick’s show (where a “gag order” prevented them from saying where he’s going, but it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together). Audio from that interview is posted here.
The decision to hire Bartlett, who was the voice of the Toronto Marlies AHL team before joining TSN 690 (more on his history here at YorkRegion.com), wasn’t unanimously praised at first, with all the talent at the station who would have loved to take a crack at the dream job and the bad optics of not only bringing in an import, but one who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm team. But as Melnick explained on his show, Bartlett quickly earned the respect of staff and listeners who are now sad to see him go.
I met Bartlett only once. It was at a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game in Montreal. Just his presence there said a lot about how much this guy cares about hockey.
The last regulatory hurdle to the Montreal area getting its newest commercial radio company has finally been passed. On Thursday, the CRTC approved a technical change for CHSV-FM Hudson/St-Lazare, a new English-language music station first approved two years ago.
As a result, it and a sister station, Radio Fierté (approved in 2011), will launch by the end of 2014, owner Evanov Communications says.
CHSV-FM 106.7 St-Lazare (The Jewel)
Evanov (through its subsidiary Dufferin Communications) had applied for the change to CHSV-FM because the Bell tower it had planned to use in Hudson had run out of space and would have required expensive upgrades to support another antenna.
So Evanov proposed to move to a Rogers-owned tower on Chemin Sainte-Angélique near Rue des Liserons, about 5.3 kilometres southwest of the Bell tower. In order to still cover Hudson, the change also meant a power increase, from 500W to 1420W average ERP.
Some competitors, such as CJVD Vaudreuil (a French-language station which serves the same region and wanted to use CHSV’s frequency) and Groupe CHCR (which owns CKIN-FM 106.3 in Montreal and was worried about interference), objected to this change as deviating from what was originally approved.
But the CRTC didn’t buy those objections. While the new pattern is significantly stronger toward the west and southwest, it is about the same toward Montreal, and so can’t be seen as some back-door way into getting into the Montreal market. And the situation that led to the application, and the proposed solution to it, are perfectly reasonable.
In its application, Evanov said the station, which will carry easy-listening music and the Jewel brand used at six other stations in Ontario and another in Winnipeg, would be ready to launch “within weeks of approval as all our other infrastructure and equipment are in place.”
Carmela Laurignano, vice-president and radio group manager for Evanov, said they won’t waste any time now. “It is our intention to get started on making preparations next week. It will require us to schedule installation of the transmitter, going through a testing phase to satisfy all requirements by Industry Canada and then sign-on air. We expect to be signed on by Christmas!”
When it does go on the air, for testing and then at launch, The Jewel in Hudson will cover the western off-island area, Ile Perrot, areas on the north shore around Oka, and the extreme West Island. Areas further than that may be able to pick up the station, but may experience interference from WIZN (The Wizard) from Burlington, Vt., or CKQB-FM (Jump) in Ottawa. Reception from downtown Montreal or points east of there will be very difficult because of interference from both WIZN and the Boom FM station at 106.5 in St-Hyacinthe.
CHRF 980 AM Montreal (Radio Fierté)
Evanov is also the licensee of Radio Fierté, a new French-language AM station serving Montreal’s LGBT community. The station was approved in 2011 on TSN Radio’s former frequency of 990 AM. Last December, the CRTC approved a technical change for that station, moving it to 980 AM and allowing it to have a less restrictive pattern at night.
Radio Fierté has proposed a mixed music and talk format. It’s based on Proud FM (CIRR-FM), an English-language station in downtown Toronto. Because Fierté is on AM, it will likely be more focused on talk.
Though they operate in different languages, in different cities, and have different formats, Radio Fierté and The Jewel will share overhead, including management. So this CRTC decision allows Evanov to move forward on both stations.
Laurignano said Radio Fierté should be on the air by mid-November.
Almost a year after a bizarre CRTC hearing in which the owner of CJMS 1040 AM in St-Constant blamed the station’s failure to meet its regulatory obligations on his father’s dementia and announced before a surprised panel of commissioners that the station had been sold to an unnamed buyer, the details of that transaction have been published by the commission.
The CRTC has called a hearing for Nov. 12 (a technicality; the parties aren’t being asked to appear) to discuss two applications related to CJMS: Its licence renewal, which was in grave danger of not being accepted because of the repeated management failures, and a proposed sale of the station to Jean Ernest Pierre, the owner of CPAM Radio Union (CJWI 1410 AM), the Haitian community station in Montreal.
The identity of the buyer is no surprise. The two stations share an antenna in St-Constant, and after the CRTC hearing, during which CJMS’s lack of news was brought up as an issue, the station began simulcasting morning and afternoon programs from CJWI.
Documents filed with the commission show that Alexandre Azoulay, who owns CJMS, agreed on Oct. 9, 2013 (a month before the hearing) to sell it to Groupe Médias Pam Inc., a company entirely owned by Pierre, who is also the sole owner of CPAM. The purchase price is $15,000, as well as an hour a week of airtime for a year, for Michael Azoulay’s talk program connected with his family’s chiropractic business.
The last piece of the Bell-Astral divestments was approved today by the CRTC: the sale of MusiMax and MusiquePlus to V Media, the owner of the network formerly known as TQS.
Even though the sale has only been approved now and hasn’t yet closed, the companies are already acting as if it’s a done deal. V and MusiquePlus/MusiMax are promoting each other, to the point where a new MusiquePlus show is a behind-the-scenes look at a show on V.
The purchase price is $15.52 million. In 2007, Astral bought a 50% of these two channels from CHUM Ltd. for $68 million, giving them a value of $136 million.
In order to raise money to pay for the channels, V itself will take on new investors: The Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ will each take a 15% stake in V Media (which also includes the conventional TV network). A third “institutional investor” will take another 15% stake, and the Rémillard family will retain the other 55%, with the possibility of raising that stake up to 59% of the company performs well.
The board of directors of V would be composed of four representatives of Remstar and one representative each of the three 15% investors.
Licence changes — more flexibility, but not too much more
As part of the transaction, V had asked for some amendments to the licences for the channels. Some of them relate to the fact that they’re no longer owned by large media companies (particularly a requirement to spend a percentage of that group’s revenue on so-called “programs of national interest”). Others are meant to give them more flexibility in programming.
V had proposed that MusiquePlus and MusiMax have a minimum requirement of 75% of their programming be devoted to music-related programming. Currently MusiquePlus has a 90% requirement and MusiMax has no minimum. The CRTC didn’t like that number and imposed an 80% requirement for both services.
V wants to use comedy, a genre that isn’t being exploited much in French-language television (there’s no French equivalent to the Comedy Network), to draw audiences to MusiquePlus, particularly in its target demographic of people age 18-34. For MusiMax, it’s lifestyle and reality shows to draw women 35-54. But it also says it wants to have more live musical performances in studio, and more concert programs.
There were also proposals related to program categories. Both services can now include “music video programs” in the 30% of their programming month they have to devote to pure music video programs. This would allow them, I believe, to add a count a program like Cliptoman (MusiquePlus’s version of Much’s Video On Trial, where comedians make fun of music videos) toward that quota.
V also proposed to reduce the Canadian content exhibition requirement from 55% of the broadcast day and 55% of the evening (6pm to midnight) period to 45% for those two periods. The CRTC also felt this was too much, and decided on 50% for both periods for both services. This is still higher than services like Canal D and Historia, which have profit margins around 50%.
In terms of Canadian content spending, the CRTC agreed with a 31% level for the services combined, so that it must spend 31% of its revenue on Canadian programming, just slightly above what it was before.
Finally, MusiquePlus and MusiMax also have a special condition that requires them to pay 3.4% and 5% of their revenues respectively to MaxFACT, a fund that helps create and produce Canadian music videos. V proposed to create its own fund, the Rémillard Fund, that would take this money instead. The CRTC approved of this, provided it is satisfied with the new fund’s operations and independence.
Sale valued at $22.9 million, includes ad revenue guarantee
The sale price is $15.5 million, but comes with a guaranteed ad buy of up to $1.5 million (excluding commissions), which brings the net price down to $14 million. There’s also a guaranteed ad revenue floor for two years.
These guarantees make determining the actual value of the transaction difficult, because how much it will actually be depends on certain factors.
According to documents submitted in the application, the guarantee of at least 80% of 2013 revenues, or about $6.6 million a year, would last until August 2016. But this would be adjusted if viewership drops by more than 5%.
The contract also allows V to cancel the ad buy and get half of that, or $750,000.
On top of this, Bell Media would also sell third-party ads for these two services and V, for which it would earn a commission. That commission has minimums and maximums that put it in the high six-figures annually.
In fact, Bell Media would become the exclusive ad agency of MusiquePlus and MusiMax until August 31, 2016. V would be able to enter barter agreements and other exchanges, but actual ad sales would have to go through Bell.
As if that didn’t sweeten the deal enough for V to take over the money-losing services, Bell also agreed to pay off an outstanding debt imposed on Astral in 2007 when it bought the 50% of the company that owns the networks from CHUM Ltd. (which at the time also owned MuchMusic). This is $40,476 a month to be paid to the Harold Greenberg Fund. But since those payments ended Aug. 31, it’s a moot issue.
The CRTC didn’t agree that the guaranteed ads should be deducted from the purchase price, calling it “the normal course of business”. Adding in things like assumed leases, the CRTC evaluated the total value of the transaction at $22,872,086.
Hope for a turnaround
Because of the tangible benefits policy that requires that 10% of the value of the transaction goes to funds and projects that benefit the broadcasting system, V now has to propose a new tangible benefits plan. The CRTC has given them 30 days to do so. (It notes that it recently changed some policies relating to tangible benefits, and this proposal should follow those new guidelines.)
The acquisition makes sense both for V and for the two struggling music channels. The Rémillard family bought TQS out of bankruptcy in 2008, and while the decision to effectively abandon all news programming was very controversial at the time, it also helped them bring the network into the black after decades of bleeding money.
Now, people are hoping that they can do a similar turnaround with MusiquePlus and MusiMax. MusiquePlus made $867,851 in pre-tax profit in 2012-13, but lost almost $6.5 million in the four previous years. MusiMax is in the black, but has had a pre-tax profit margin of under 1% over the past three years.
The drop in revenue has come with a drop in ratings. MusiquePlus went from a 1.1% rating overall in 2006 to a 0.7% share in 2012. Both services have seen drops in subscriptions as well, of 10% for MusiquePlus and 13% for MusiMax in only three years.
Radio X is officially dead in Montreal. As of Tuesday, 9/9, the station at 91.9 FM is known as “Radio 9“.
The rebrand of the RNC Média-owned station comes with several personalities leaving and several others joining on. Dominic Maurais’s Maurais Live remains syndicated from CHOI Radio X in Quebec City. Caroline Proulx also sticks around, hosting the midday show.
The station, which finally got approval in April to become a mainly talk station and drop jazz music, follows a similar schedule from the Radio X days, with original talk programs only during the day on weekdays.
Jean-Charles Lajoie hosts the afternoon show, which is now completely focused on sports, clearly trying to fill the void left by the disappearance of CKAC Sports in 2011, a station Lajoie worked for in those days.
Evenings feature repeats of Proulx and Maurais. Overnights and weekends are rock music, according to the schedule (though I’m listening to it at 12:30am and I’m hearing repeats of talk shows).
Though management insists this isn’t a right-wing station, its programming is clearly supposed to be populist. It reminds me of what was done at 940 News after the all-news format failed. Hopefully it won’t have the same fate.
As the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission began its two-week hearing into television policy on Monday, the various interest groups began planting their self-serving stakes. Google doesn’t want YouTube to be regulated by the commission. The Ontario government and others want the CRTC to force Netflix and similar services to contribute to Canadian content. And funds like the Canada Media Fund and Shaw Rocket Fund want to ensure they don’t lose their funding.
It’s all so predictable, which makes sitting through hours of these presentations so boring. But, despite chairman Jean-Pierre Blais’s best efforts, we’re not getting to practical solutions here or any concrete idea of what TV is going to look like in 10 years or even five.
The CRTC’s Communications Monitoring Report shows that the adoption of Netflix alone in Canada is on a dramatic rise. Now almost a third of English-language households have subscriptions. But this hasn’t resulted in a dramatic drop in cable and satellite subscriptions. About 85% of Canadian households have some sort of regulated pay TV subscription, either through cable, satellite or IPTV (Bell Fibe/Telus Optik etc.). The percentage is falling, but not fast enough to panic. At least not yet.
As technology evolves, the difference between YouTube, Netflix and Bell TV becomes more and more irrelevant from a regulatory perspective. Internet-based television connections like Bell Fibe use the same data links to send TSN’s five feeds as they do to send House of Cards and that latest cat video. At this point, we could deliver all television services in Canada to most consumers via the Internet. We have the technology to do that.
The biggest reason we haven’t moved everything online is bureaucratic. And not in the sense of regulation (though that’s part of it), but in the sense of having large media empires like Bell, Shaw, Rogers and Quebecor, that own the exclusive rights to high-value programming and deliver it through the regulated system because the regulated system pays them for it and consumers haven’t been too tempted to change that.
So long as the CRTC imposes a 5% tax on cable revenues that are to be redirected to Canadian content (including community television channels), and forces content channels to devote certain parts of their schedules and certain percentages of their revenue to Canadian content, there will be an incentive to move more content out of the regulated system and onto an unregulated one. And eventually we will pass that tipping point where there’s no must-see TV on the regulated system and consumers start abandoning it in droves.
Fortunately for the CRTC, it has time. It can prepare for this. But it has to decide now which way it will go: expand its reach to include purely online forms of video delivery, or contract its reach to eventually get out of the TV regulating business completely.
You can’t regulate Internet content
There have been some cases for the former that try their best to pass the sanity test (Jason Kee, Public Policy & Government Relations Counsel at Google, asked rhetorically if the CRTC would start regulating animated GIFs, too). Proponents of regulatory expansion say the CRTC should only regulate video that is sold, not stuff put on YouTube for free. They say there should be a minimum revenue before regulation kicks in. They say we should focus on companies like Netflix instead of trying to regulate all video.
But there isn’t really a way to do this sanely. Not without censoring the Internet, or dissuading companies like Netflix from making their videos available here, or forcing them to blackout their videos to Canada for fear of being taxed. Or creating some sort of grey market for content, where some content is legal and other content is illegal. Or creating a chill among all content creators in this country. Or just pissing off the Canadian public.
(And the federal government didn’t waste any time making it clear that it will not support any move to tax Netflix or YouTube, with heritage minister Shelly Glover issuing a statement Monday evening.)
The CRTC’s New Media Exemption Order is a policy decision in which it has convinced itself that it can regulate content on the Internet but simply chooses not to do so. It is trying to make rules out of de facto reality to maintain the illusion of control. And while it can control the online activities of companies it already regulates like Bell and Shaw, it can’t control Google, Apple and Netflix without prompting a war that might just end in those companies abandoning our country.
So the CRTC has little choice but to maintain a hands-off approach to Internet content. And that means that eventually, maybe five or 10 or 20 years down the road, it will have to take its hands off television content as well, because there won’t be any difference between the two.
The CRTC needs to start now to plan for the day when television regulation becomes irrelevant. while not allowing the telecom giants to abuse their power in the meantime.
It’s taking steps in that direction, proposing relaxing rules for specialty channels and third-language services, and giving consumers more choice in terms of channel selection. And it’s trying to find ways to encourage more competition for cable TV providers, by extending an exemption order so that smaller players like Colba.net and VMedia can set up TV distributors in big cities using IPTV without needing a licence first.
But it faces a bigger challenge in determining how to promote Canadian culture in the future. So much of the Canadian television industry is based on regulated transfers of money, from broadcasters and distributors to production funds to independent producers. That system will eventually collapse or evaporate, and we need to find a replacement.
One possibility is by doing something like taxing Internet access and sending that money to the federal government or a fund like the Canada Media Fund (which is already funded in part by the government anyway). But that creates a system where one government-appointed body acts as the gatekeeper, deciding what Canadian content is worth supporting. It discourages competition and innovation.
Or the CRTC could do nothing, and let Canadian video content stand on its own with little support from the broadcasting system. This could result in Canadian media giants collapsing or being taken over by larger U.S. giants. We could lose a large part of our identity.
It’s a scary thought for the industry, and those champions of Canadian content, but I haven’t seen a viable long-term alternative.
The CRTC’s future
I’m not saying the CRTC will cease to exist. It will still have a vital role to play, so long as there are aspects of telecommunications that need regulatory help. Radio is still broadcast through scarce radio frequencies which need to be regulated, though they too will eventually move to Internet-based distribution.
Internet access needs a regulator so long as there’s a finite number of cables reaching into our homes. And though the technology used to deliver it bears little resemblance to what it was at first, the telephone is still a tool we use regularly and will be with us for some time.
The CRTC has a job to do, to ensure that the TV industry plays fair with itself and keeps the best interest of consumers, workers and the Canadian public in mind. But it also has to look forward to the day when it has to decide to stop regulating the unregulateable and focus on where it can make a difference for the better.
But the commissioners are only human. So we — the industry, the public, the government — have to be part of that discussion. Through our comments and guidance, we must help the regulator build this road toward the future where choice is infinite and the only limit to content is creativity and no one but us can decide what we can and cannot watch.
With CTV having the rights to 4pm Sunday NFL football games starting this season, the network is forced (or, well, is forcing itself) to pre-empt its local 6pm newscast on Sundays until mid-January for stations in the CDT, EDT and ADT time zones.
At first, it looked like CTV was going to air the local news after the football game, at 7:30pm ET, but now it looks like most stations are simply going to air SportsCentre to fill time until 8pm.
The situation varies a lot by market. In Atlantic Canada, there’s just the early game, so the Sunday newscast is unaffected. In Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., the late game ends before 6pm, so no schedule change is needed there. In Kitchener, Winnipeg and Northern Ontario, as well as for new CTV affiliate CKPR in Thunder Bay, the plan is still to air a local newscast after the football game, which will likely start late a lot of the time.
For CTV Montreal, whose Sunday evening newscast draws tens of thousands of viewers, they’ve decided to do a live webcast of the 6pm show starting tonight. (You can watch a cheesy promo of it here.) The webcast can be seen on their website, montreal.ctvnews.ca.
I haven’t seen any announcements about other CTV stations trying this.
This change also means that for Montreal, there will be only one local newscast in English at 6pm Sundays: Global. CBC airs its weekly Disney/kids movie Sunday evenings. It’ll be interesting to see if Global capitalizes on this to try to drive up viewership for that time period in Montreal, which is historically one of its weakest markets.
In Ottawa, viewers don’t even get the choice of Global. They have retransmitters of Global Toronto, City Toronto and CHCH Hamilton, and CTV Two Ottawa, which doesn’t have evening newscasts.
After the second week of the NFL playoffs in mid-January, the schedule will return to normal, and the 6pm Sunday newscasts will return.
As a sidebar to my story on Mohawk radio stations near Montreal, I included a list of country music stations that can be heard here, all of which transmit from off the island. Country music is very popular among Mohawks, and so it is as well on their radio stations. And with Montreal missing a big-name country music station, many assume it isn’t available here.
The list brought me one rebuke from the host of a country music program on a local station. And it’s true that there’s plenty of country music on other stations. So here’s a longer list, including the country music programs that appear on radio stations that can be heard in Montreal, based off those station’s posted program schedules.
Stations in bold should be relatively easy to hear, the rest are more difficult and can be heard only in certain parts of the Montreal region.
- CJMS 1040 AM (St-Constant):
- Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays 9am-noon
- Les cowboys du midi, weekdays noon-2pm and 10pm-midnight
- Légendaire country Mondays 8-9pm
- Poudrier PM Tuesdays to Fridays, 2-4pm
- Country et fier de l’être, Tuesdays to Fridays 8-10pm
- L’Album aux souvenirs, weekends 9am-noon
- Nashville-Québec, Saturdays noon-4pm
- En route vers l’ouest, Saturdays 7-10pm
- CKKI 89.9 FM KIC Country (Kahnawake):
- 100% country music 24/7
- CKUT 90.3 FM McGill:
- Bluegrass rambling, Sundays 7-8pm
- Country Classics, Sundays 8-9pm
- WVNV 96.5 FM Wild Country (Malone N.Y.):
- 100% country music 24/7
- CKON 97.3 FM (Akwesasne):
- Country music Mondays to Thursdays, 6am-6pm
- Saturdays starting at 6am
- Classic Country, Sundays 8am-noon
- WTNN 97.5 FM Eagle Country (Bristol, Vt.):
- 100% country music 24/7
- WOKO 98.9 FM (Burlington, Vt.):
- 100% country music 24/7
- CFNJ 99.1 (St-Gabriel-de-Brandon):
- Au rythme du country, Mondays 6:15-9pm
- Sur un air de country, Saturdays noon-3pm
- CKVL 100.1 FM Radio LaSalle:
- Bourbon et limonade, Fridays 1-2pm
- Réveil Country, Saturdays 7-8am
- Simplement country, Saturdays 8-9am
- Brunch Country, Saturdays, 9am-noon
- CKBY 101.1 FM Country 101 (Smiths Falls, Ont.):
- 100% country music 14/7
- CIBL 101.5 FM:
- CKHQ 101.7 (Kanesatake):
- Tahkwa’s Country, weekdays 9am-noon
- Dave’s Outlaw Country, Fridays 7pm-midnight
- Bengie’s Classic Country, Saturdays noon-7pm, Sundays 8am-noon
- (Plus evenings and overnights)
- CHAA 103.3 FM (Longueuil):
- Les horizons du Country, Saturdays 6-10am
- Bourbon et limonade, Sundays 8-9am
- CKRK 103.7 FM K103 (Kahnawake):
- Hank Phillips, Saturdays 8am-noon
- Country Weekend, Saturdays noon-6pm
- Outlaw Country Weekends All Request Saturday Night, Saturdays 6-10pm
- Country Weekend with KT Wells, Sundays 8am-noon
- CHOC 104.9 FM (St-Rémi):
- Musique country, Saturdays 4-7am
- Musique country, Sundays 4am-noon
- Country de chez nous, Sundays 10am-noon
- En route vers l’ouest, Sundays noon-3pm, Tuesdays 6-9am
- Echo du Kamouraska, Sundays 5-7pm, Mondays 7-9am
- Musique country, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 5-7am, Tuesdays 5-6am
This list doesn’t include shows playing folk music, blues or other related genres. It also doesn’t include all-request shows, local artist programs or others where much of the music might be country but the show itself isn’t limited to the genre.
I’m almost certain to have missed some show or some station. If you know of another show to add to this schedule, or a correction to an existing one, leave a comment below.
10 days, 118 presentations. That’s what’s on the agenda for a CRTC hearing that begins on Monday. There’s the usual big players like Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor, Telus and Cogeco. There’s the interest groups like the Canada Media Fund, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Writers Guild of Canada, and labour unions. And there are some individuals thrown in as well.
But there’s also Google, Netflix, Disney.
It’s hard to oversell the importance of this hearing. It isn’t about reviewing a single policy, or approving a single acquisition or new licence. It’s about everything having to do with television regulation in Canada. A working document posted Aug. 21 contains 28 proposals concerning television policy (and a 29th about when to implement changes). It ranges from how consumers choose which channels to buy from their distributor to how accessible programming is for those who can’t see or hear to things that could change the very nature of specialty channels or how you define local television.
And the CRTC is going to try to review this all in two weeks, and rather than deal with the issues one at a time, it’s going to deal with them all simultaneously as each group steps forward to present its opinions.
I put together a story in Saturday’s Gazette that lists the big issues at stake that affect consumers (the online version contains some more issues than the print one does). Packaging flexibility is the big focus of media, and simultaneous substitution is also mentioned a lot, but there are far more issues.
The commission is clear that the proposals outlined in its discussion paper aren’t necessarily what it’s going to do, but are meant to start discussions. Nevertheless, it gives a lot of insight into how it’s thinking. And even with just the changes proposed there, a lot of how we watch and pay for television would change.
For more on the issues at stake, I would invite you to read the series posted on Cartt.ca (a website I’ve written for, though not for this series) and the series posted to Media in Canada or my post from June outlining the issues as they were presented then. Or you can read all 2,552 interventions filed in this proceeding.
Unusually, the CRTC will continue accepting comments about these policies during the hearings, through that most sober and intelligent method: online discussion forums. They’ll be open until the end of the hearing on Sept. 19.
If you want to watch the hearings, CPAC will be webcasting them. The CRTC will also have audio feeds in English, French and with no translation. Or you can go to 140 Promenade du Portage in Gatineau and see the hearings in person.
For Twitter commentary, good bets are Cartt.ca editor Greg O’Brien, policy wonk Kelly Lynne Ashton, the CRTC Hearings official Twitter (which will post links to documents) and the hashtags #CRTC and #TalkTV.
- A Globe and Mail story previewing the hearings and the issues at stake. Includes comments from some of the major players and the CRTC chair.