Global, City TV withdraw demands to reduce local programming minimums in Montreal

Corus Entertainment, which owns Global TV, and Rogers Media, which owns City TV, have each decided that in light of recent changes in local television policy, they are willing to accept the requirement that their stations in Montreal produce the standard 14 hours per week of local programming, and have withdrawn requests that their quota be reduced to 10 or seven hours a week.

The requests came as part of a proceeding to renew licences for Canada’s major television broadcasters. The large groups all have their licences expiring in 2017, and the CRTC is holding a public hearing in November to discuss what conditions should be in their renewed licences for over-the-air television and specialty channels.

Bell Media proposed no such changes for CFCF-DT, which is the market leader in the city and whose local newscasts often have a market share above 50%. But even the #1 broadcaster warned about the failing business model of local television, and said that for its network “at this time, we can only commit to the current local programming requirements and even these regulatory minima may need to be revisited once the Commission’s decision on local programming is released.”

Normally, television stations in “metropolitan” markets of more than 1 million people are required to broadcast 14 hours of local programming every week, while stations in smaller markets are required to broadcast seven.

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TTP Media abandons 850 AM, shows no progress on other unlaunched stations

For the past five years, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked by people in the local broadcasting industry is what’s going on with TTP Media, a group of local businessmen who won CRTC licences to launch three AM talk radio stations in the city and had promised to revolutionize the market with big investments in quality programming.

Unfortunately, for years now the answer has been “nothing that I know of.” And unfortunately that continues today.

Since getting the licence for 850 AM in 2013, the group’s only on-the-record activity has been asking for extensions and technical changes from the CRTC, each time indicating that the stations were mere months from launch.

But now there’s finally some news, even though it’s not clear what it means. In June, the authorization from the CRTC to launch a French sports-talk station at 850 AM expired. Because the decision approving the station was published in 2013, and the first extension given last year, a second request for a final one-year extension should have been a matter of formality.

But that request was never issued. So on June 19, when the deadline was reached, the authority to launch the station expired.

According to the CRTC, the frequency is now available for anyone else to apply for.

I chronicle my attempts to seek comments from the partners in Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media in this story published by Cartt.ca. Paul Tietolman, whose father Jack founded the station that used to be on 850 AM in Montreal, was the only one who would talk to me, but he wouldn’t answer questions about the group’s plans, wanting to defer to his partners and not act as a company spokesperson.

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Elliott Price joins Sportsnet, kinda

Elliott Price, right, with co-host Grant Robinson in the CFMB studio.

Elliott Price, right, with co-host Grant Robinson in the CFMB studio.

It was a bit of a head-scratcher of an announcement: Elliott Price is now part of the Sportsnet Network. But what’s the Sportsnet Network?

I asked the parties involved for a story that appears in Monday’s Montreal Gazette, about what Price has been up to since he was let go from TSN Radio 690 last November.

Basically, it’s an agreement for cooperation. Price gets access to Sportsnet’s branding and personalities he can interview on his show, plus Sportsnet’s website hosts his podcast. On the flip side, Sportsnet’s radio stations in Toronto and Calgary get access to Price to give a Montreal perspective on sports stories, and Sportsnet has a “presence” in the market, a benefit that is less tangible.

I could not get them to either confirm nor deny that money is changing hands as part of this deal, but Dave Cadeau, program director of Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto said the deal isn’t financial in nature. Price is not a Sportsnet employee, and he maintains his editorial independence. Price’s show (which has been renamed Sportsnet Tonight with Elliott Price) also carries some Sportsnet-related advertising, including spots for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

It was Price that got the ball moving on this deal, and he said he had been working on it since the beginning. Unlike TSN Radio, which has eight stations in five provinces (in every NHL and CFL market except Calgary and Regina), Sportsnet has only stations in Toronto and Calgary, and so needs some help to cover other major sports markets.

So does this mean we could see other deals like this in the future?

“Could I see it? Sure. Are we thinking about it? No,” Cadeau says. “This is all that is planned.”

Price’s situation is pretty unusual. CFMB is licensed as an ethnic radio station (it is required to broadcast programming in 16 languages for 16 ethnic groups, but there’s no particular limit on the amount of non-ethnic programming it can broadcast otherwise), and so is only sports for 10 hours a week.

The likelihood of Rogers starting a full-time all-sports station in Montreal is virtually zero while TSN 690 is on the air. Outside of Toronto, the market for sports-talk simply isn’t robust enough for more than one station. (Rogers did suggest it might be willing to buy TSN 690 during the Bell-Astral hearings, but it’s unclear how serious that offer was.)

So this represents the next best thing. Sportsnet gets a presence in the city that it doesn’t have to pay for, and Price gets to look a lot more professional and get lots of expert guests by associating himself with this big brand.

Price also is now a regular panelist on Sportsnet Central Montreal, the weekly sports talk show that airs on City Montreal.

Is Price’s show viable?

I asked Price whether he thinks he can get enough advertising to make his show break even. The initial response from advertisers has actually been quite impressive. Since it started as a one-day-a-week show on CFMB, the show has had several local sponsors. He said it was enough that the Sunday show paid for itself, but with the expansion to five days a week (making this a de facto full-time job for Price and co-host Grant Robinson), the advertising demands are greater. He guesses he’s about halfway there, though.

CFMB's main studio.

CFMB’s main studio.

This was my first visit to the new studios of CFMB since the Evanov Radio Group bought the station and moved it to new offices on Papineau Ave. in Rosemont. The building, which doesn’t have any exterior signage, has newly renovated offices on several floors (and half-floors). Upstairs are the studios of sister station AM 980.

The new studio is clean and reflects a the new reality of radio, and the big windows will expose hosts to a lot more natural light than the basement studios the station vacated in Westmount.

CFMB's ground-floor studio on Papineau Ave.

CFMB’s ground-floor studio on Papineau Ave.

UPDATE (Aug. 11): Price is interviewed on Breakfast Television Montreal about his new show.

The Beat swaps morning, afternoon drive hosts

 

The Beat 92.5 is continuing its summer of transformation. On Monday morning, it announced that it’s moving Cat Spencer to afternoon drive and Cousin Vinny Barrucco to mornings. The changes take effect immediately.

Vinny will be joined in the mornings by co-host Nikki Balch, who has returned to Montreal after leaving Virgin Radio two years ago, as well as Stuntman Sam and Kim Kieran on news and traffic. Kieran is also moving to mornings from afternoons, replacing the departing Natasha Hall.

Spencer seemed excited about the change, even though morning host is traditionally the most prestigious of the radio jobs. (The 9-to-5 workday shifts are The Beat’s highest rated.) Spencer’s on-air time isn’t only reduced to two hours a day, but four days a week, Mondays to Thursdays. He’s joined by Claudia Marques on traffic.

Spencer explained on the air that he had planned to do mornings for five years when he joined The Beat in 2011, and wanted to move to afternoon drive and have his mornings back.

The rest of the schedule is unchanged. Donna Saker does 9am to 1pm, Christin Jerome does 1pm to 5pm, and Jeremy White takes over at 7pm. Rob Kemp and Nat Lauzon do weekend mornings and afternoons, respectively.

The changes (which also include new headshots for everyone) come less than two months after The Beat brought in a new station manager, Luc Tremblay. Tremblay, who had been working at La Presse+ since 2012, will also act as program director, replacing interim PD Martin Tremblay.

How to binge Just For Laughs on a budget

When I decided for the first time to book my vacation in advance this year, there wasn’t much soul-searching over which weeks I would take off. I like my comedy, and Just For Laughs is my favourite festival, and I wanted to get in as much of that as I could. So I took the last two weeks of July.

Just For Laughs is a pretty big festival. Most people are familiar with the big celebrity-hosted galas at Place des Arts, which later make it on TV. But there are dozens of solo shows, comedy club events, outdoor activities and lesser-known comics performing over three weeks in both languages. Even seeing as many as four shows a night, you won’t be able to catch everything.

More importantly for me, I’m kind of a frugal fellow, and those gala tickets can add up quickly when they’re $50 or $100 a pop.

So how do you keep the enjoyment up and the cost down?

"Ultra Zoøff" Zoofest pass

“Ultra Zoøff” Zoofest pass

The Zoofest pass

Start by getting one of these. The Zoofest passes cover shows that are part of the Zoofest and OFF-JFL series at Just For Laughs. These shows are mostly an hour long, and normally go for $20 to $25 apiece. They feature up-and-coming comics and more experimental shows, so going to these involves taking more of a risk than going to a gala or an established comedian’s one-man show, but it’s well worth the money when you take advantage of the passes.

The Ultra pass is the highest level of this pass. It costs $120 (or the equivalent of about six Zoofest/OFF-JFL shows) and will let you book six shows during the festival. But its real power is that Zoofest/OFF-JFL shows that aren’t already sold out 48 hours in advance, you can get a ticket to for free. And you can do this for three one-hour shows a night. (The first shows generally begin at 7pm and the last ones at midnight. So it’s easy to do three in a night. I’ve done four in the past — 7, 8:30, 10 and midnight.)

When I originally wrote this post, it appeared that this applied to any show that wasn’t sold out. But now it’s clear that in fact there are blocks of tickets reserved for different uses. So a show can be out of free daily pass tickets or out of pass selection tickets (those six shows you can choose in advance) but still have tickets available for the retail price. Most of the English OFF-JFL shows during the peak week of the festival have this issue, making the value of the pass diminished slightly. On the other hand, a special offer gave away tickets to Wednesday’s David Cross gala to Zoofest pass holders, so that compensates quite a bit.

(The Ultra Zoofest pass also mentions 50% discounts on Alouettes tickets. That sounds exciting, but after I tried it I discovered it’s only for already cheap end-zone seats, and there seems to be no way to book tickets with it online. You have to go to the Alouettes ticket office in person — or maybe call them by phone — and they often have even better deals for better seats if you ask last-minute.)

If you don’t have time for three shows a night, you can get the lowest-level pass for $50. It’ll let you in one free show a night (booked less than 24 hours in advance), plus three reserved shows during the festival.

You can’t use these passes to get tickets to galas or the big solo shows (except for special one-time offers), but they’re good for a lot of shows that have big-name comics. You can see a full list of the OFF-JFL shows here. Some worth noting:

  • Midnight Surprise, midnights at Théâtre Ste-Catherine from July 21-30. The ultimate risk-taking show, you won’t know who’s in it until they perform. This could mean a comic you’ve never heard of, but some big-name comedians have shown up here and done surprise sets, including Dave Chappelle and Louis CK. At worst, you get a mediocre one-hour show. At best, you get to tell everyone you saw an A-list comedian do a secret show in a 100-seat venue. (There’s also a special Sunday Surprise on July 31.)
  • The Alternative Show, midnights at Katacombes, July 26-30. The name might put you off, but this is actually pretty mainstream. Hosted by Andy Kindler, this show features a lineup of comedians doing 10-minute sets. Because a lot of the travelling comedians want to get in as much on-stage time as possible during the festival, you’ll often see them doing a solo show, a gala appearance and a set here all in the same night.
  • Best of the Fest, 8pm and 10:30pm at Comedyworks, July 26-30. It shouldn’t surprise you that actual comedy clubs are also busy during the festival. Often, big-name comics will stop by the comedy clubs before one of their big shows and test out material on a smaller audience. Maybe some jokes will flop, but you might have more fun here than at a gala, and for a much lower price.

If you do your banking with Desjardins, the company offers a 15% discount code on the Zoofest/OFF-JFL passes. Just put your access card number in here to get it. So instead of paying about $120 plus taxes, you’ll pay about $120 tax included.

Just For Laughs also has passes, which you should get if you’re planning to go to several galas or club shows, but the discounts aren’t as impressive, and there’s no unlimited-use pass of any kind here. But the daily free show is very valuable, and I’ve already used one to get into another gala. As with the other passes, ticket availability is a big limit to what you can go to.

Predict the next big hit

A few years ago, I paid about $15 to take in a small show during the festival at the Katacombes bar. A young comedian I had seen on the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing was in town and used the occasion to test out some material for an upcoming Comedy Central roast she was participating in. (Some of the jokes bombed, and didn’t get used in that roast.)

That comedian’s name: Amy Schumer.

She came back and did a show at Metropolis that cost quite a bit more. In 2014 she was set to host a gala, but cancelled at the last minute because of scheduling conflicts. She’ll be back this year, but it’s in November at the Bell Centre, and tickets start at $60.

Just For Laughs is notorious for being a launching pad for previously unknown comedians. Many of them are doing low-budget one-hour general-admission solo shows during the festival. And this is your chance to say you saw them before they hit it big.

So if you see a comedian listed who you’re not familiar with, look them up on YouTube. And if you like what you see, book a ticket to their show.

Use the last-minute ticket booth

At the corner of Jeanne-Mance and Ste-Catherine Sts. is the festival’s last-minute ticket booth. Shows that aren’t selling well get deeply discounted here in the hours before they start, and you can find some sweet deals if you’re flexible with your plans. I got a ticket to a French gala for $10 once. Even the $25 Zoofest shows are often discounted to $15 or $10.

So head here and find out what kind of deals can be had for shows where the supply is exceeding the demand.

Follow the action on social media

So much of what happens at the festival happens at the last minute. A comedian might be in town completely unannounced and decide to perform a show. Maybe something that’s selling well gets dates added. Or maybe for some entirely different reason things are added or special deals announced during the festival itself.

Last year, Just For Laughs announced on Twitter with less than three hours of notice that Aziz Ansari was doing a show, and tickets would be $20 at the door. People who didn’t follow JFL on Twitter might have missed a great chance there.

So add these to your follows and likes:

Be flexible

The passes, the last-minute ticket booth and special deals announced on social media have one thing in common: They mean you’re not going to know more than a day or two in advance where you’re spending your evening. That might work for some people more than others. If you’re with a group of friends, it might not be practical. But if you’re like me and have no friends and no life, you can surf this wave of improbability for savings.

Always have a backup plan until you have tickets in your hand. Better yet, have two. If a Zoofest/OFF-JFL show you planned to use your pass for gets sold out quickly, you won’t get any free tickets. (In fact, the show doesn’t even need to be completely sold out for your pass to not work this way.) The risk inherent in operating this way is you might not get to see the show everyone’s talking about.

Remember some times are more popular than others

Friday and Saturday night shows are actually slightly more expensive than shows on other nights, because of how much more popular those nights are for people casually heading out. Despite the price difference, and the large number of available shows, the last Friday and Saturday of the festival are the busiest and that means you’re less likely to be able to get access to shows using your pass.

So how do you deal with this? Well, if a show is playing throughout the week, go to a weeknight show instead. And if there’s a Friday or Saturday night show you want to go to, use one of your included tickets to book it rather than waiting and trying to use the pass. Otherwise, keep in mind that your ability to be flexible on these nights will be tested more than other days.

Take in the outdoor shows

Though much of the outdoor action during the JFL festival is more fun than funny, there are a few outdoor shows worth taking in. Most are in French, but one definitely worth marking on the calendar is the final performance of Sugar Sammy’s bilingual You’re Gonna Rire show, on the big stage at the Place des Festivals on July 28. You certainly can’t beat the price: It’s free.

You can see the full lineup of outdoor shows here. And wander around the festival grounds during the day to see all the other stuff going on, from the labyrinth to the board games to the circus acts.

Other tips

Some other things to keep in mind about shows at Just For Laughs, OFF-JFL and Zoofest that don’t pertain specifically to saving money. (Some of these are echoed by Gazette columnist Basem Boshra):

  • Be on time. If you arrive late to a show with assigned seating (like a gala), you end up disrupting a lot of people during the show and open yourself up to ridicule. Don’t be that person. Some shows might even refuse you entry (it happened to me last night when I was 10 minutes late, but fortunately I had a backup plan.)
  • Get there early. Aside from the galas and other shows at the Place des Arts theatre venues, most shows are general admission, so where you sit depends on how many people get in the venue before you. If you want to sit up front and risk being the victim of a crowd-working comedian, get there first.
  • Schedule travel time. Zoofest and OFF-JFL shows are about an hour long. But that doesn’t mean you can schedule a show at 7pm and another at 8. Give about 15 minutes of leeway in terms of the actual length of the show, and consider that you have to get from one venue to another between them. 75 minutes between show starts can work if the shows are in the same building (Monument National has several venues in the same building), 90 minutes if both shows are in the same neighbourhood, and give yourself more time if you have to get to a farther-away venue like Mainline Theatre or Comedyworks. For galas, the Ethnic/Nasty Shows or big solo shows, the show length can be longer, as much as two and a half hours. Err on the side of giving yourself an extra 20 minutes.
  • Don’t heckle. You’re not funnier than the people on stage, who have been working on material for a while in preparation for their shows. If a comedian asks a question to the audience, feel free to respond, but otherwise keep your mouth shut and avoid embarrassing yourself.
  • Don’t take pictures or video. Each show will begin with this reminder (though there are some shows that actually allow taking pictures discreetly — they’ll make this clear in the pre-show announcement). You’re here to enjoy yourself, not film the show for later broadcast using your crappy cellphone camera. Getting caught filming a standup act is grounds for a quick ejection, aside from being distracting to the performer and the audience. Instead, take a picture of the venue before the show, or of your ticket (don’t show the bar code if you’re posting to social media before the show begins). You’ll be able to see the gala performances and some other shows broadcast on Comedy Network in a few months, recorded and edited by professionals.
  • Don’t use your cellphones at all. These venues are dark, and the bright light of a cellphone screen is very distracting. Wait until after the show to text your friends. And make sure the ringer is turned off.
  • Spread the word about what you see. Help out those people looking for a good show, and those who are putting them on. If you liked something, write about it on Twitter or Facebook and spread the word. Use the hashtag #JPRMTL (French) or #JFLMTL (English). A lot of these smaller shows don’t have big marketing budgets and rely on word of mouth more than anything else.
  • Respect your comedians. It doesn’t take a PhD in mathematics to conclude that a comedian doing a one-hour show in a 100-seat venue where most people paid between $25 and $0 to attend isn’t making that much money from it. Keep that in mind when you check out a show. They’re there for the love of the craft, one they spend a lot of time and effort honing. They might also be on their third show of the night. So show them some appreciation, even if it’s just telling them they did a great show, but make it brief because they’re probably way busier than you are.

I probably forgot a few things. Hit me with questions in the comments. But don’t expect responses between 7pm and midnight, because I’ll be busy for the next week and a half.

Montreal’s radio industry mourns Merv Williams

Merv Williams, the former producer and announcer at Standard and Astral Radio in Montreal who contributed to CHOM’s morning show and CJAD’s Trivia Show until he was axed five years ago, has died.

The news was shared on social media by his former colleagues, but the official obituary notice was published Saturday in the Ottawa Citizen.

He died Sunday, July 10 at the Ottawa Heart Institute. He was only 39.

A memorial service for Williams will be held at the Yves Légaré Funeral home at 7200 Newman Blvd. in LaSalle on Saturday, July 30 at 11 am.

I never met Williams, but he appeared to be universally liked by his colleagues. I’ll let them offer tribute through their posts here:

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CBC’s Absolutely Quebec series starts tonight

As part of its mandate to offer local reflection beyond the daily newscast, CBC Television is airing a fifth season of its hour-long regional documentary series Absolutely Quebec, Saturdays at 7pm starting tonight.

First up is Cricket & Parc Ex: A Love Story, by Barry Lazar and Garry Beitel, about Montreal’s South Asian community and their love for this sport that’s much more popular in India and Pakistan than it is in this part of the world.

Carrie Haber, the producer of the Absolutely Quebec series, describes this documentary in more detail on CBC’s website, and the trailer is above. Mike Cohen at The Suburban also writes about it.

And it’s already online.

The series airs the first three episodes in the second half of July, then takes a break for the Rio Olympics. It returns at the end of August for the final three episodes.

Here’s the full lineup, with the descriptions provided by CBC:

 

Cricket & Parc Ex — A Love Story (July 16): A love story about Montreal’s South Asian community who live for their love of cricket. The documentary takes us onto the action-packed pitch and into daily life in Parc Extension – one of Canada’s poorest and most vibrant immigrant neighbourhoods.

Fennario — The Good Fight (July 23): This POV documentary captures the acerbic wit of David Fennario, a social activist and one of Canada’s great playwrights as he grapples with the devastating legacy of WWII on the men and women of his Verdun, Quebec neighbourhood. It originally screened at the 2014 RIDM festival, and Montreal Gazette reviewer T’Cha Dunlevy gave it three and a half stars.

The Shigawake Movie (formerly titled Barr Brothers in the Land of the Rising Sun) (July 30): The Shigawake Music and Agricultural Festival is one of Canada’s most remote music festivals, enjoying its 6th year at the tip of the Gaspé peninsula. Performances by Barr Brothers, Katie Moore & many others capture the Summer spirit of the Gaspé and highlight music’s ability to bring together isolated communities whose youth are reckoning with uncertain futures in the region.

Clay vs. Clay (Aug. 27): The story of Clay “Big Thunder” Peters, a 33-year old drug and alcohol addict, who hitchhikes across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal with the goal to become the world heavyweight boxing champion. Directed by Elias C. Varoutsos and edited by Alan Kohl.

In Vitro: Quebec’s New Fertility Frontier (Sept. 3): Following three stories of people at various stages of IVF treatment who are experiencing the impact of recent changes to Quebec’s formerly one-of-a-kind IVF program.

Mile-Enders (Sept. 17): TV Producer Lori Braun and her gay best friend, showrunner Adam Wanderer question the current state of their lives while exploring the food, drink, lifestyle and pop culture of their hometown in this coming of “middle” age docu-comedy.

Ken Connors leaves The Beat to take over weekend mornings on CJAD

Ken Connors

Ken Connors

Along with the news that Natasha Hall is hanging up her microphone for another mysterious job opportunity, The Beat 92.5 is also losing assistant program director Ken Connors. He made the announcement after the fact on Facebook Friday:

Connors has been with Corus/Cogeco for 11 years, and like Hall was one of the people who worked at AM 940 before that.

UPDATE (July 18): As expected, Bell Media has announced that Connors is taking over as host of the weekend morning show on CJAD, replacing the retiring Dave Fisher. Connors will also co-host the Home Improvement Show with Jon Eakes and the CJAD 800 Trivia Show.

UPDATE (Aug. 6): Connors was interviewed on CTV Montreal about his new job.

CRTC settles Videotron/RDS dispute, opening door to subscribers getting RDS GO

It’s not official yet, but a decision released by the CRTC this week will likely lead to Videotron subscribers soon finally getting access to RDS GO and being able to stream Canadiens games on smartphones, tablets and online.

The decision, released Tuesday, is what’s called a final offer arbitration between Videotron and Bell Media over the distribution of RDS and RDS2. The companies couldn’t come to an agreement over renewing the distribution contract, which expired last August, and so Videotron asked the commission to intervene.

In final offer arbitration, both parties present complete contracts to the commission, and it chooses one in its entirety (or, exceptionally, can refuse both).  This method of conflict resolution has the advantage of rewarding whichever side presents the most reasonable-seeming offer, and so encouraging both sides to be more reasonable in those offers.

In this case, the CRTC sided with Videotron, judging that its offer was better. The supporting documents in the case are heavily redacted to protect commercially sensitive information, so we don’t know any of the details of the contract, including what wholesale per-subscriber price Videotron will pay for RDS, what kind of volume discount it will get on that price, how long the term is or even how many RDS subscribers Videotron has.

But the documents do give plenty of insight into the relationship between Bell and Quebecor, and the tone of the many letters to the CRTC suggests there’s no love lost between these two organizations.

Videotron wants streaming

According to the documents submitted, Bell and Videotron managed to work out most of their differences on the new contract, including multiplatform rights, which Videotron has been trying to get a deal on since at least 2014. And it made it clear it sees these rights as essential:

Il est très important de souligner l’urgence de la situation puisque tant et aussi longtemps que le tarif multiplateforme n’est pas réglé, les abonnés de Vidéotron n’ont pas accès à ce contenu et sont désavantagés vis-à-vis les abonnés de Bell Télé. De plus, en retardant l’accès à ce contenu, Bell Télé continue de jouir d’un avantage concurrentiel important tout en désavantageant Vidéotron.

Though Videotron initially wanted to put multiplatform rights to arbitration as well, after failing to get the issue resolved in mediation in 2014, the companies solved that issue on their own, leaving only the wholesale price for the channels up to the commission.

With the CRTC’s decision, there’s now a new contract with RDS, one that includes multiplatform rights and will allow Videotron to meet new packaging requirements set by the CRTC to come into effect by Dec. 1.

So when do we get RDS GO?

Not quite yet, it seems. While the company told me in a statement that it’s happy with the decision and that there’s “agreement in principle” on multiplatform distribution, some aspects of the deal are still in discussion. “It’s impossible for us to make an announcement on this subject today,” the company said.

Hopefully this will be resolved by the time the Canadiens season begins again this fall.

Multiplatform distribution, and in particular “TV anywhere” apps, still have plenty of holes, particularly where they involve large vertically integrated companies. Few Bell services are available to Videotron customers this way, and few TVA services are available to Bell customers.

 

These issues will eventually be resolved as new distribution contracts are signed (in many cases probably involving a quid pro quo to avoid giving one distributor a competitive advantage), but they’re taking forever.

Because this deal concerns only RDS, it doesn’t affect distribution of other Bell Media services on Videotron (not even TSN). But hopefully this will help speed up discussions about getting those services on board as well.

The arguments

Since the CRTC arbitration in the end concerned mainly just the wholesale fee for RDS, the arguments presented by Bell and Videotron mainly concerned trying to set a higher or lower value on the channels. Though both offers increased the wholesale fee for RDS, Bell’s increased it more than Videotron’s did.

Much of those arguments centred on comparing RDS to TVA Sports, which of course is owned by Videotron’s parent company Quebecor.

Bell’s arguments for a higher fee included:

  • RDS maintains higher overall ratings than TVA Sports, even after losing national NHL rights.
  • RDS is more respected by viewers than TVA Sports.
  • RDS’s production and acquisition costs have increased dramatically.
  • Outside of hockey, RDS is by far more popular than TVA Sports, with many more marquee events.
  • Though Saturday night Canadiens games are popular, many more Quebec francophones are choosing to watch the games in English on CBC or Sportsnet than watch TVA Sports (they don’t say why, but this probably has to do as much with the fact that some people just don’t feel the need to subscribe to the channel as it may with people not liking its broadcasts).
  • Videotron is changing its packaging rules to come into compliance with the CRTC’s new rules. A higher per-subscriber wholesale fee should be expected when there are fewer subscribers.
  • RDS needs to compete not only with TVA Sports but with online sources of sports programming.
  • Bell’s offer is more in line with what other distributors in Quebec pay for RDS.
  • Videotron has done nothing in its packaging of RDS to warrant a “special discount”.
  • Videotron is treating RDS more harshly than TSN, because its goal is not fair market value but to punish RDS in order to support TVA Sports
  • Quebecor started TVA Sports and is aggressively bidding for sports rights, which is why RDS’s acquisition costs have increased so much in the first place

Videotron’s arguments for a lower fee (one closer to that for TVA Sports) included:

  • TVA Sports has higher peaks in ratings thanks to NHL playoffs and Canadiens Saturday night games
  • RDS has lost other important sporting events to TVA Sports, including some MLB, NFL, QMJHL and tennis rights
  • Bell offers RDS and TVA Sports at the same retail price, suggesting equivalent value to consumers
  • RDS lost a third of its ratings due to the loss of Saturday night NHL games, NHL playoffs, NHL special events and non-local NHL games
  • RDS’s subscriber revenues have already gone up considerably faster than its expenses, particularly jumping from 2011 to 2012, when it went from 44% of revenue to 62%. (This is mainly because until 2011, RDS’s wholesale rate was regulated by the CRTC.)
  • RDS’s profits continue to increase (though they were cut in half in 2014-15 after losing NHL rights).
  • There’s also RDS Info, which isn’t part of this contract but also collects subscriber fees while adding little original content
  • Television subscribers are already beginning to unsubscribe from some services or eliminate pay TV all together, citing cost as a major factor.
  • Comparing Videotron to other distributors in Quebec isn’t appropriate both because of Videotron’s high market power as a distributor and Bell’s high market power as a broadcaster. (Plus, of course, Bell TV is one of Videotron’s main competitors in Quebec.)

Comparing ratings is tricky, especially for this past season, since no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs. TVA Sports’s overall numbers would have been much higher had that happened. There were a lot of other issues with arguments on both sides, and of course plenty of other arguments were presented that were redacted in the public documents.

The decision

The CRTC found Bell’s offer reasonable on several points, like packaging, volume discounts, and how it compares to other rates. But it found RDS could not justify the rate increase it wanted when you look at historical rates, which it found more relevant to this case.

The other factor that swayed the commission was the variability of the rate. Instead of a fixed per-subscriber rate, both offers proposed a scale where the larger the number of subscribers overall, the lower the per-subscriber rate. But the CRTC found that Bell’s offer was too flat, and “would have the effect of insulating the programming service from the impact of subscriber choice at an unreasonable level.” In other words, if people dropped RDS from their packages, Bell would see only a small drop in their subscriber revenue and Videotron would be forced to pick up an unreasonable amount of that loss.

As a result, the CRTC picked Videotron’s offer. This may be good news for Videotron subscribers wanting to get RDS, particularly as a standalone service, but more importantly good news for Videotron’s bottom line.

Renato Zane leaves City Montreal

Renato Zane

Renato Zane

The summer broadcasting staff shuffling continues.

The man brought in a year ago to take over from the departing Bob Babinski as head of City TV’s local operations in Montreal has left his post.

“Renato decided to leave us…we were sad to see him go :(” writes Rogers Media’s Michelle Lomack, emoticon and all.

Zane couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lomack said Rogers plans to replace the position and hire a new managing producer for Breakfast Television.

Natasha Hall leaving The Beat

Natasha Hall, Sarah Bartok and Kim Sullivan.

Natasha Hall, Sarah Bartok and Kim Sullivan in their Beat gear at this year’s St. Patrick’s Parade.

I’m thinking this picture might be cursed. Three of The Beat’s female personalities in pretty cool-looking purple coats, and within months they all leave the station.

Unlike Sarah Bartok and Kim Sullivan, though, Natasha Hall’s departure is voluntary. She’s leaving for another job, though she wouldn’t say what it is exactly. But she seems pretty excited about it.

Hall’s job, doing news and traffic for the morning show, was posted by Cogeco Media, open for only a week and a half, suggesting they may already have someone in mind to fill it.

The station declined to comment on Hall’s departure.

Cogeco also posted the assistant program director job at The Beat, to replace the also-departing Ken Connors. The job posting doesn’t include any on-air duties. It’s interesting to be hiring a new assistant PD because the program director job is still being filled on an interim basis by Martin Tremblay.

UPDATE (July 22): Kim Kieran, currently doing afternoon traffic in addition to promotions work, has won Hall’s former job. She starts Aug. 15.

Journal de Québec columnist J. Jacques Samson dies suddenly

J. Jacques Samson, a former Le Soleil National Assembly journalist who since 2004 wrote for the Journal de Québec, died suddenly on Wednesday. He was 66.

The news was broken first by his own newspaper. But since then has spread all over Quebec media. It prompted tributes from provincial politicians, big city mayors and other members of the media, business leaders, and an editorial cartoon in his honour.

The newspaper also issued a formal statement.

Being a political columnist, Samson wasn’t universally loved. In 2013 he was subject to a successful complaint to the Quebec Press Council over a column about student protests. But the list of people mourning his passing is long.

Samson’s columns, the last of which was published June 26, can be found here.

Is it ethical for TV news to shill for the network?

The Rogers Media upfront in Montreal on June 7.

The Rogers Media upfront party in Montreal on June 7.

The beginning of June is a big time for Canadian TV networks. They invite journalists and advertisers to fancy parties and announce what new programming they’re adding to their schedules for the next season. In the case of Canada’s big three English commercial networks, Bell Media (CTV), Shaw/Corus (Global) and Rogers (City), that’s mainly acquired U.S. programming.

They’re called “upfronts”, and their purpose is clear.

But these broadcasters also own news outlets, and it might come as no surprise that the news side, and shows that are news-like in function, tend to cover only their parent company’s upfront presentation, even though they all announce their programming within a week of each other.

CTV’s eTalk has an entire special section on its website devoted to CTV’s upfront, including interviews with Hollywood stars hawking their new shows. CTV Toronto devoted five minutes to a live report. On ctvnews.ca, the network posted a Canadian Press story about Bell’s announcement, but not the CP stories about Shaw/Corus and Rogers.

Global News added plenty of videos to its globalnews.ca website of interviews with big stars during the Corus upfront presentation, but these weren’t journalistic reports. They just dumped raw video from the advertising event on their website. Global News Toronto devoted a bit more than two minutes to a packaged report about Global’s fall lineup (starts at 29:49). ET Canada, of course, focused plenty of attention on Corus’s announcement and none on anyone else. Online, there was a report with a journalist’s byline, but that turned out to be a straight-up copy-paste of Corus’s press release with some light re-wording at the top. It was only after I pointed that out on Twitter that an editor’s note was added to explain that.

Rogers doesn’t have a national news network like CTV and Global, and I couldn’t find anything on CityNews about upfronts. On Rogers’s news radio station websites, there was only Canadian Press stories about the upfront announcements, mostly because those websites republish every Canadian Press story. (An exception was 570 News in Kitchener, which republished a Rogers press release and credited it to “news staff”)

None of this is new, of course. Lots of journalistic outlets downplay or ignore their competitors’ good-news announcements. But the bias is never as stark as it is during upfront week.

We all accept that this happens, but is it ethical?

Last year, Bell Media’s president was fired after he interfered in CTV News’s coverage of a CRTC decision affecting Bell Canada. The message sent was clear: CTV News’s journalistic standards have no exceptions, even when dealing with the parent company.

But are upfronts an exception?

To find out, I asked the heads of CTV News and Global News to comment about their one-sided coverage of upfront announcements.

In both cases, it was noted that the daily entertainment shows (eTalk for CTV and ET Canada for Global) do not fall under the news division, which I find interesting.

Matthew Garrow, Director of News, Local Stations, Sports, Discovery Networks & Community Investment at Bell Media, offered this statement:

We can assure you that at no point does CTV News suspend its journalistic practices under any circumstance. All CTV News staff are trained to follow the strictest editorial guidelines designed to ensure impartiality when making our editorial decisions, which are safeguarded by both the CTV News Policy Handbook and Bell’s Journalistic Independence Policy. These policies are designed to ensure that, at all times, CTV News upholds the highest standard of journalistic independence.

I asked him why, if this is true, did CTV News cover Bell Media’s announcement but not its competitors’. I got no response.

Troy Reeb, Senior Vice President, News, Radio and Station Operations at Corus, was a bit more forthcoming:

Global News was not invited to our competitors’ upfronts which, like the Corus Upfront, were private events by invitation only. That’s not to say we do not provide coverage of competing networks’ programs and events when they are in the broader public interest. We certainly do, and our archives are filled with many stories about CTV, CBC, Rogers and Netflix.

Our commitment to fairness and balance doesn’t translate into an obligation to cover everything that happens. Editorial integrity doesn’t mean you have to do a story on The Bay because you did one on Sears. Every media outlet makes choices daily about what it will cover and what it will not.

That the major networks are announcing their fall schedules is not exactly breaking news, and clearly falls into the category of discretionary coverage. That we would cover Global’s announcements and not CTV’s should surprise no one since we are in the business of serving Global viewers, just as CTV is in the business of serving theirs.

In keeping with our Global News journalistic principles and practices, I can assure you that at no time was our news division or our reporters given any directive on what to cover or how to cover it. Coverage decisions were made by Global News based on audience interest and the accessibility offered to key players in the fall shows.

The point about not being invited to competitors’ upfronts is valid. (Maybe that would change if they covered each other’s announcements more?) But that doesn’t stop news outlets from reporting what’s announced in press releases and posted online.

And while news organizations have been self-promoting since the dawn of time, in an era of vertical integration, it’s not just CTV talking about CTV and Global talking about Global. It’s about CTV News, eTalk and BNN talking about CTV, Space and Discovery Channel, while Global News and ET Canada talk about Global, Showcase and Food Network, and Breakfast Television talks about City, Viceland and Sportsnet.

And those independent broadcasters not owned by the big media companies? Don’t expect to hear about your programming on the evening news, because they’re only in the business of serving their viewers.

It’s nice that no official orders were given from on high to manipulate news coverage. But if you’re a journalist at one of these organizations, how much freedom do you really have to choose not to cover your parent company’s press event, or to cover your competitor’s?

I certainly wouldn’t want to test it.