Tag Archives: Bell Media

Posted in Radio

TSN 690’s Elliott Price, Abe Hefter laid off as part of Bell Media cuts in Montreal

The wave of job cuts sweeping Canada finally hit Montreal today, with the first big names on the list of those getting the axe: Elliott Price, co-host of the morning show on TSN Radio 690, and Abe Hefter, host of the weekend morning show.

I lay out the news in this story in the Montreal Gazette.

“Unfortunately, I can confirm that Elliott Price departed the company as part of the ongoing restructuring at Bell Media,” was the official comment from Bell Media spokesperson Olivier Racette.

Bell Media isn’t offering much comment on departures, and program director Chris Bury referred all comment to Racette.

Price didn’t respond to a request for comment and hasn’t said anything on Twitter, but he did change his Twitter biography:


Price’s departure leaves the morning show in the hands of Shaun Starr and Rick Moffat, along with their contributors.

Price has been a fixture on Montreal radio since 1982, notably as a voice of the Montreal Expos.

Hefter, host of The Locker Room, is also gone, Mitch Melnick announced today on the air.

Other confirmed on-air cuts:

The fact that both Virgin and CHOM have ditched their overnight hosts suggests to me that they might try going announcerless overnight. We’ll see.

There are also several behind-the-scenes jobs at these stations that have been cut. Producers, marketing and promotions people and others.

At CTV Montreal, the cuts have been more modest. No anchors or reporters have lost their jobs yet, though they will be filling the vacant Quebec City reporter position internally instead of hiring someone new, according to union local president Susan Lea.

Five positions are gone, all in operations (i.e. off-air jobs), of which one was a voluntary departure with a severance package to protect the job of a younger employee, Lea said.

“We’re expecting a couple more” jobs to be cut, she said.

Lea said CTV Montreal was probably spared more severe cuts like we’ve seen elsewhere because of more severe cuts that happened a year ago. The station is down to about 100 people.

I haven’t heard about on-air cuts at RDS or other French-language properties in Montreal yet.

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Posted in Media, Radio, TV

Bell Media cutting hundreds of jobs, including 110 in Montreal

Updated Nov. 23: Here are the cuts we know so far, broken down by region:



Most of the above names from this Vancouver Sun blog post




From Unifor:

In Saskatoon a Tech and Administrative Assistant took early retirement, two vacant part-time positions won’t be filled and a temporary contract employee was let go a year early. In Prince Albert, two operations positions were eliminated. In Yorkton, a part-time camera operator position was eliminated. As far as out of scope employees are concerned The Traffic Department manager has retired, and a financial manager was let go.That’s a total of 10 union positions and 2 out of scope positions. Regina is not unionized but I had heard 13 layoffs.


  • CTV: Operations manager, promo manager, payroll manager, shooter, editor, floor director, feed and play operator, web producer, manager of traffic and receptionist.
  • Radio: 9 in total, including in production, sales, street team, and engineering.

Above information via ChrisD.ca.

Windsor, Ont.

London, Ont.

  • CJBK 1290 AM host Steve Garrison
  • CTV Two health reporter Jan Sims
  • Three news editors, two cameramen, and engineer and technical director at CTV Two
  • Several managers in both TV and radio


In addition, TSN is downgrading Off the Record from its own show to a regular segment on SportsCentre. TSN spins this as a positive.

Barrie, Ont. (CTV Two)

  • Weatherman Bob McIntyre (retirement)
  • Creative Service Writers – 2
  • Creative & Promo Editors – 2
  • Promotion Producers – 2
  • ENG/EFP Camera -1
  • Librarian – 1
  • Receptionist – 1
  • Announcer – 1
  • News director, accounts Manager, salesperson and P.T. Executive Secretary

The union says the Barrie station lost a quarter of its workforce with this cut.

St. Catharines, Ont.


Stories in the The Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun. The Sun also reports that CFRA will have its newscasts read by CTV Ottawa personalities. And Unifor says CTV Ottawa will no longer have a local sports segment at 11:30pm weekdays.



Quebec City

The Journal de Québec has a roundup of cuts at Énergie and Rouge FM stations, including Marie-Josée Longval at Rouge in Quebec City and Patrice Henrichon at Énergie in Sherbrooke.

Atlantic Canada

Two positions affected at 21-M in Halifax/New Brunswick/Cape Breton. One each in TV and radio.
A swing traffic/receiptionist was lost in TV, and an on-air person in radio.
Two might not seem like a lot, but in TV for example 21-M is down to fewer than 20 members.

This is a very incomplete list, based on names reported so far. It doesn’t include probably scores of behind-the-scenes staff like cameramen, producers, editors, support staff and more. If you have names to add to this list, or to confirm, or links to other reports, send them my way.

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Posted in TV

CTV Montreal GM Louis Douville swept out in next wave of Bell Media purge

Louis Douville

A dramatic top-down purge at Bell Media, that swept out top executives Phil King (programming), Chris Gordon (radio and local TV), Adam Ashton and Charles Benoit (top man in Quebec) in August, then people like Discovery Channel head Paul Lewis and Quebec content chief Mario Clément in September, has now filtered down another level, and more managers are getting the boot.

They include the heads of specialty channels Canal Vie (Lyne Denault), Z (Jacques Mathieu) and CTV News Channel (Lisa Beaton), regional managers in Atlantic Canada (Mike Elgie), Abitibi (Marlène Trottier), Victoria (Kevin Bell), Peterborough (Steve Fawcett), Edmonton (Lloyd Lewis) and Windsor (Eric Proksch), and Louis Douville, the general manager of CTV Montreal. (Jean Martin, the manager for the Mauricie region, is also leaving, but that departure is being announced separately as a retirement.)

A Bell Media spokesperson said Martin Spalding, vice-president of radio operations and local sales in Quebec, would take over Douville’s duties. But an internal memo also listed Jed Kahane, CTV Montreal’s news director, as taking Douville’s reports “in the interim”. Those three words prompted a lot of speculation about who might be on the chopping block when the next round of cuts happen.

That is expected to be in about six weeks, which doesn’t exactly leave Bell Media employees in a relaxed state.

Douville, who grew up in Montreal, has been general manager of CTV Montreal since January 2012, taking over from Don Bastien. Before that he was general manager of CTV Ottawa for almost 11 years, and before that worked in sales at CTV stations in Edmonton and Saskatchewan. In all, he worked for CTV for 30 years.

He had recently taken over additional responsibilities, running the Bell Local (now Bell TV1) community channels in Montreal as well as Bell’s radio stations in the city.

On a personal level, I’ll add that Douville was a very good source, never ducking my phone calls, always helpful, always willing to explain the tough decisions and being honest about how things work, while other managers would try to avoid talking about bad news or find some way to obfuscate the issue. For that I’ll miss him.

Bell says these changes are necessary to remain competitive (even though it’s the largest media company in Canada) and operate efficiently. This despite the fact that Bell Media’s profits (before interest and taxes) increased to $734 million last year and $215 million in the last quarter.

UPDATE: Douville wrote a message to his friends on Facebook and forwarded it to me:

It reads like the script for the final episode of the television program The Amazing Race…
4 Provinces…7 Cities…7,266 Kilometres…33 years…Hundreds of amazing colleagues…Thousands of brilliant business partners… An incredibly supportive family…And one Amazing career !

This week my great adventure with Bell Media came to an end, and what a ride it has been !!!

I have been so fortunate to work in the field of my choice for so many years, growing through the ranks until I attained the goals I had set for myself.

I learned so much along the way, mostly about the importance of treating people like human beings, recognizing the contribution my colleagues made every day, and creating a work environment where people thrive and are happy to come to work.

Now it is time to look to the future and see what new and exciting adventures await me.
No matter what they are, I will always stay true to my values and I will always enjoy every minute of every day.

Thank you to all of you who have crossed my path over the years, you have truly enriched my life and made me a better man.

I look forward to seeing you soon !

Posted in Media

Bell fires Kevin Crull — but that doesn’t solve the problem

Was Bell Media President Kevin Crull misinterpreted by the managers under him? Bell won't say.

Kevin Crull: Bad apple or scapegoat?

The head of Canada’s largest media company is suddenly out of a job. And the press release announcing the departure of Bell Media president Kevin Crull makes it clear the departure is related to Crull’s attempt to interfere in CTV News’s coverage of a recent CRTC decision:

“However, the independence of Bell Media’s news operations is of paramount importance to our company and to all Canadians. There can be no doubt that Bell will always uphold the journalistic standards that have made CTV the most trusted brand in Canadian news,” said Mr. Cope.

At the same time, Bell announced other executive changes, including the appointment of Mary Ann Turcke to replace Crull as president of Bell Media.

I was highly critical of Crull’s interference in news (particularly because it wasn’t the first time he’d done it), but I don’t know if firing him (or whatever negotiated departure actually took place) is necessarily the right call. I’m willing to take his apology at face value, even if it seems in hindsight as if it might have been forced on him.

What is clear, though, is that this does little to guarantee that such interference in Bell’s news operations won’t repeat in the future. There has been no investigation into whether Crull or other Bell Media executives tried to influence news coverage, and no procedures or independent watchdog in place to protect CTV News, BNN and others from BCE executives in a conflict of interest.

Unless there’s an announcement about that next, it’s hard to be too optimistic that this is a big change. Though it will probably do a lot to reassure journalists working at Bell Media.

Shaw Media also announced executive changes, though not nearly as controversially.

UPDATE: Cue the conspiracy theories — Crull was set up by Bell — and more reasoned analysis: Crull was sacrificed to prevent the CRTC from getting even angrier.

Posted in Radio

Bell Media kills Bob FM in Ottawa, turns it into country station

Bob FM OttawaIt’s been almost eight months since the last time an Ottawa radio station suddenly abandoned its format and pissed off its listeners, so I guess it was time to do it again.

On Monday evening, Bell Media, owner of CKKL-FM (Bob FM) announced via the station’s website and Facebook page that the station is no more.

“Market conditions have changed, and it’s time for us to pursue a new opportunity,” reads the vague message, which suggests not so much a shutdown but a rebrand and format change.

Brief announcements on the station that said “something new is coming” confirmed this.

Bob FM is an “adult hits” format, meaning songs your parents remember (or you remember if you’re a parent yourself).

newcountry94On Wednesday morning, a press release announced that the new station, to be launched today, will be called New Country 94, and will be a country music station. (Its webiste is newcountry94.com, registered on Oct. 9.)

The new format puts it up against Rogers station New Country 101.1 FM (CKBY-FM) in Smiths Falls, whose 100kW signal reaches Ottawa but also places like Renfrew and Brockville.

Five on-air staff let go

The change means that five on-air personalities have lost their jobs, according to The Canadian Press. But they will be replaced with new talent.

Among those laid off is John Mielke, the owner of Milkman Unlimited, which posts job opportunities at radio stations in Canada. He posted an update to that website about his own job cut.

The Ottawa Citizen has some online reaction from fans about the disappearance of Bob FM. They also have this story looking into the business of the Ottawa radio market and this timeline of major changes at local stations.

Ratings information from Numeris this spring showed the station with a 2.6% share, or about the middle of the pack for English-language music stations. But the share was in decline, which might have convinced management that a change in format was the way to go.

That same data showed Country 101 having a 6.1% share in the Ottawa market.

Posted in TV

Bell Media shuts down CTV transmitter in Wiarton, Ont., after spat with neighbour over trees

There’s no longer a CTV television transmitter in Wiarton, Ont. And all because of a dispute with a neighbour that started with an apparent misunderstanding over the cutting of trees.

The story is contained in an application owner Bell Media filed with the CRTC on July 10 to revoke the broadcasting licence of CKCO-TV-2, a 100kW transmitter in Wiarton, which is on the Bruce Peninsula separating Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It’s one of two retransmitters of CKCO-DT in Kitchener. The other is in Oil Springs, Ont., covering Sarnia.

As Bell tells it, it has had trouble accessing the transmission tower, even though it owns the land the tower sits on, because the access road to it is on property owned by a neighbour. For years, there was a verbal agreement with that property owner to access the site using his road (which leads to a street officially called Tower Road). But three years ago, the property was sold. The new owner had a falling out with Bell after “Bell Media rightfully prevented the new owner from cutting trees located on our property.” In January 2014, the new owner demanded Bell pay $1,000 a month to use his road, plus $34,000 in back pay going back to when he originally purchased the land.

Naturally, Bell thought this was a ridiculous sum and offered to pay $5,000 a year, with no back pay. The owner refused, and so Bell could no longer get a vehicle to its tower.

The next month, the power went out at the tower. Bell discovered a serious fault in the electrical system which required a series of repairs, but again the owner of the road denied access. Bell’s only access to the tower was through a tiny strip of land connecting its land to the road. Which meant travelling on foot. And since this was February in rural Ontario, this meant going by snowshoe.

Without the ability to fix the electricity, the diesel backup generator stopped working and CKCO-TV-2 went off the air.

Other than the TV transmitter, there’s only one other tenant, Spectrum Communications, a company that provides two-way radios and other specialized communications for businesses and institutions. It pays $14,000 a year until its lease expires in August 2015, which isn’t enough to justify the $91,000 a year it costs to run the tower and its transmitters.

So Bell has decided to give up on the 230-metre-high tower and hand back the licence for CKCO-TV-2. It’s unclear if they plan to sell the tower, dismantle it or do something else.

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Posted in TV

Bell Media to lay off dozens at Much, MTV

Despite its very profitable operation overall, Bell Media is making deep cuts to Toronto-based television production and cutting up to 120 jobs. On Wednesday, we learned that dozens of those jobs will come from Much, MTV Canada and related channels, and will have a big impact on in-house productions. We already know that indie music show The Wedge is being cancelled, as is Video On Trial and Today’s Top 10s. On MTV, we’re losing 1 Girl 5 Gays, After Degrassi, Losing It and MTV News, according to reports.

The notice of layoff, posted on the Unifor local’s website, list the 72 positions being made redundant. We (and they) won’t know exactly who’s being cut until the process is completed, including bumping of people with less seniority in other classifications.

Much aka MuchMusic, the biggest of the specialty channels in the group, had a decent profit margin, but from 2011 to 2013 experienced an $8 million drop in annual advertising revenue and a $7 million increase in programming expenses, conspiring to push the channel in the red, according to CRTC figures. This despite a significant increase in the number of subscribers. It reported an average staff count of 75, though Unifor’s seniority list has 100 full-time and eight part-time people at the Much production unit.

And in a bit of irony, one of Much’s iconic shows, Degrassi (formerly Degrassi: The Next Generation) was just nominated for an Emmy for outstanding children’s program. It’s the show’s third nomination in four years.

Posted in TV

Viewers Choice pay-per-view shutdown will force cable companies to scramble

Viewers ChoiceThere’s been no press release, and I haven’t gotten the company to confirm it, but Bell Media has been advising cable companies that Viewers Choice Canada pay-per-view is shutting down on Sept. 30. (UPDATE July 16: Bell finally confirmed it in an email to Canadian Press. It says there will be a single layoff, and it will work with other providers to find an alternative PPV service.)

As I explain in this story for Cartt.ca (subscription required), Bell became the majority owner of Viewers Choice when it acquired Astral Media last year. But Bell doesn’t use Viewers Choice for its own TV subscribers, instead preferring its own in-house service Vu! There has been speculation that something would happen to Viewers Choice, and those seemed partially confirmed in February when it turned in its now unused satellite distribution licence.

Dating back to 1991, Viewers Choice was once the exclusive PPV provider for eastern Canada. It’s no longer exclusive nor regional, but its history means it’s still the PPV service carried on many systems in eastern Canada, including the big ones — Videotron, Cogeco, Rogers, Eastlink and Bell Aliant.

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V to buy MusiquePlus and MusiMax, the last of the Bell-Astral castoffs

The announcement Tuesday from both Bell Media and V that the latter has won the bidding to purchase music specialty channels MusiquePlus and MusiMax means that all of the assets that the CRTC forced Bell to get rid of as a condition of the Astral acquisition now have prospective new owners.

Neither company revealed the amount of the sale, but we’ll know it when the matter comes before the CRTC. La Presse reports it’s $15 million total, which is low for a well-known specialty channel (much less two), and well below the price it was evaluated at when Astral acquired CHUM’s 50% share of the channel for $34 million in 2007.

To recap, here’s what is being sold, and the status of those sales:

To Corus Entertainment:

  • 50% interest in Teletoon (includes four Teletoon channels and Cartoon Network Canada), for $249 million total (Corus already owns the other half)
  • 50% interest in Historia and Séries+, for $138.6 million total (Corus is also acquiring Shaw’s 50% interest for the same amount)
  • CKQB-FM Ottawa (106.9 The Bear) for $10 million
  • CJOT-FM Ottawa (Boom 99.7) for $3 million

All of the acquisitions listed above (with a total purchase price of $400.6 million) were dealt with at a CRTC hearing that began Nov. 5. We are now awaiting a decision. The acquisitions were approved in December and January.

To Jim Pattison Broadcast Group:

These acquisitions were announced on May 16. The purchase price is unknown. The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition. UPDATE (Jan. 15): The total purchase price is $25.5 million (but valued by the CRTC at $29.8 million). The transaction was approved without a public process.

To Newcap Radio:

These acquisitions, total price of $112 million, were announced on Aug. 26. The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition.

To DHX Media:

These acquisitions were announced on Nov. 28. The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition.

To V Media:

  • MusiquePlus Inc. (MusiquePlus and MusiMax). Price unknown (La Presse reports $15 million).

The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition.

V, turnaround artist

It’s been a bit over five years since a company effectively owned 50% each by Maxime and Julien Rémillard got CRTC approval to take over the bankrupt TQS network. Thanks in part to a successful reboot that banked on a counter-programming strategy, and in part to getting the CRTC to agree to virtual elimination of its news department, the Rémillards got the network that has never made money to finally make some money.

The road hasn’t been easy, though. As competitors like Bell Media, Quebecor Media, Radio-Canada and others can make liberal use of other sources of funding, V had only advertising revenue to go on. It had no money-making specialty channels or lucrative cable distribution networks.

Remstar does have licences for three unlaunched specialty channels:

Each of these has four years (so until 2015) to launch before their licences are taken away.

It also had a licence for a user-generated-content channel, which has since expired because it never launched.

Launching new specialty channels is difficult for various reasons, but a big one is that you need to get carriage. And unless you own a cable provider, that can be an uphill battle.

Getting control of MusiquePlus and MusiMax means V doesn’t have to go through that process. MusiquePlus already has 2.4 million subscribers. MusiMax has 1.9 million. They’ll already have the audience. It’ll just be a question of turning that into profits.

Unlike most popular specialty channels, MusiquePlus and MusiMax are not highly profitable. MusiMax has been hovering around the break-even mark, and MusiquePlus has lost more than $5 million since 2009. (This is probably why Bell decided to let them go.)

Media critics blame this unprofitability on the channels having lost their way. There’s no music on MusiquePlus, they complain, but rather a series of reality shows about pregnant teenagers, models, carswashed-up celebrities, people who are famous for being famous and whatever Criss Angel is.

Sure, there’s Rajotte, but MusiquePlus has a long way to go to make itself a music channel again. On the bright side, V has already shown that it can revitalize a television channel and keep it young at heart. If it can do the same with these channels, while also keeping them tied to their raison d’être — music — then they should be able to win a lot of fans, and hopefully make a good amount of money too.

Posted in Media

Bell says emails about pro-Bell study are not an attempt to influence CTV News coverage of Bell

Was Bell Media President Kevin Crull misinterpreted by the managers under him? Bell won't say.

Was Bell Media President Kevin Crull misinterpreted by the managers under him? Bell won’t say.

Dwayne Winseck, an Ottawa-based media analyst, came out with a rather shocking allegation on his blog on Tuesday: Bell, which is in the middle of a very public battle with the Conservative government and others over rules for an upcoming auction of wireless spectrum, sent memos to news directors at CTV asking for them to cover a study that was favourable to Bell’s position.

Attached to that post is a Word document with partially redacted emails. One is from Kevin Crull, the president of Bell Media. Titled “Fw: Wall Report 2013”, it gives some highlights from a report that came out in July that seemed to show wireless prices in Canada were lower than the U.S. The recipients of this email included Wendy Freeman, president of CTV News.

The other two emails are forwards of the report, one by Chris Gordon, who runs Bell Media radio and local TV news, and the other by Kevin Bell, general manager of CTV Vancouver Island, apparently forwarded from Gordon.

“Kevin is asking if this report can get some coverage today on Talk Radio. National news is covering for TV,” Gordon wrote in his email. “Kevin Crull our President wants us to give this report some coverage. It’s a report on phone charges in Canada,” Bell wrote in his.

Damning charges, if they’re true. Michael Geist picked up the story on his blog. Since neither of them had comment from Bell, I went to get one myself.

Here’s their statement, issued through Scott Henderson, VP of communications for Bell Media:

The Wall Report was a key news story covered by most major news outlets. CTV News and Bell Media Radio provided fair and balanced coverage and stand by their journalistic integrity.

Our news divisions are independently managed and have the full power to make editorial decisions, as outlined in the CTV News Policy Handbook (excerpted below).

2.32 Stories Concerning CTV or Affiliated Companies

Stories concerning the CTV Television Network, affiliated companies or shareholders should be covered in accordance with the same standards of fairness, balance and accuracy applied to any other story. Stories should be neither underreported nor over-reported. Reports on our parent companies, Bell and BCE should include an acknowledgement that they are the owners of our networks. CTV News employees invited to participate in stories should be treated with the same standards as other contributors.

2.33 In-Kind interviews and Product Reviews

Our journalism must remain free from undue commercial influence. If we compromise our principles for financial gain, we damage our credibility and the audience will turn away. If you receive a request to cover an event, review a product or interview an individual who has a commercial relationship with the company, that coverage should be proportional to the event’s newsworthiness.

From time to time, as President of Bell Media, Kevin Crull communicates to his Senior Leadership Team items of interest to the business. Kevin Crull’s e-mail with the Wall Report attached did not request coverage by Bell Media news properties.

Regardless, there is never any expectation for our news divisions to cover issues affecting the company – those decisions rest with the news directors alone and are based on the newsworthiness of the issue. When these issues are covered by Bell Media news properties, we are transparent with our viewers and listeners by acknowledging that Bell is our parent company.

In short: Yes, Kevin Crull sends emails like this one with news about stuff affecting Bell. But no, these emails should not be interpreted as Crull directing CTV News to cover these issues.

I asked Henderson whether the statement in Chris Gordon’s and Kevin Bell’s emails suggest a communication failure here. His response: “We have no further comment.”

In case you’re curious, here’s how CTVNews.ca covered the report: a Canadian Press story (which tends to be a good option when news outlets have to post news stories about themselves) packaged with a video of a CTV News Channel interview with the person who did the report. The video ends with a disclaimer from the anchor that CTV News Channel is owned by Bell Media.

I’ve seen enough CTV News reports about its parent company to know that it doesn’t toy with its reports to make the big bosses happier. But Crull and his executives must be well aware of the pressures that journalists face when it comes to stories about their employers and parent companies, and how much easier it is to follow a suggestion from a boss than it is to argue against it. Not to mention that the amount of importance given to a story is just as important as the content of those stories.

And while it’s perfectly fine to say in an official policy that CTV News deals with its parent company fairly, emails like this from the boss give the opposite message. The head of Rogers or Public Mobile or Option consommateurs can’t send an email to every BCE employee by simply pressing a button. If anything, Bell and Bell Media should be extra careful about even the appearance of possible conflict or interference in news coverage, and this seems to be the exact opposite of that.

At best, these emails show an embarrassing communication failure within Bell Media that needs to be corrected quickly. At worst, they’re indicative of a serious issue of journalistic ethics within the organization, and of the need to separate the business operations of Bell and Bell Media from the editorial operations of CTV News, BNN and Bell Media Radio.

Either way, those who are already convinced that vertical integration is ruining the Canadian broadcasting system have another talking point to bring up about the Evil Bell Empire.

Posted in TV

Colbert Report’s time on CTV comes to an end: “exclusive to Comedy”

I remember when the Colbert Report first launched in 2005. I remember the three weeks between the time it debuted on Comedy Central in the U.S. and the time that CTV began airing it in Canada. I remember the handoffs between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, which got viewers of the first show to tune in to the second.

But after eight long and truthy years, the Colbert Report aired its final new episode on CTV on Aug. 15. When it comes back from vacation in September, CTV will have replaced Colbert at 12:35am with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a move being made in anticipation of the replacement of Fallon with SNL’s Seth Meyers in early 2014.

Stewart is staying on CTV, as is Conan O’Brien, whose show gets pushed back by half an hour. The new schedules, as of Sept. 2, will look like this:

  • CTV: National news at 11pm, local news at 11:30pm, Daily Show at 12:05am, Late Night at 12:35am, Conan at 1:35am, a Comedy Now! rerun at 2:05am, and then infomercials
  • CTV Two: Local news at 11pm, Tonight Show at 11:35pm, Criminal Minds rerun at 12:35am, then infomercials
  • Comedy Network: Daily Show at 11pm, Colbert Report at 11:30pm, Conan at midnight

The move makes sense for Bell Media for two main reasons:

  • Simultaneous substitution: Airing Late Night instead of Colbert means that CTV can take over NBC’s signal for that hour each night and insert its own ads. Because Comedy Central isn’t available in Canada, there’s nothing to substitute with Colbert (which airs at a different time anyway). It’s the same reason why NFL games air on CTV but CFL games air on TSN. The system favours airing U.S. network programs on broadcast channels.
  • Must-have programming on Comedy: With Colbert being “exclusive to Comedy”, a fact that CTV isn’t hiding (it even bragged about that during ads shown to the audience at Just for Laughs galas this summer), fans of the show must subscribe to that channel to get it. I suspect most fans already subscribe to that channel, but this is even further incentive. And specialty channels are where the big money lies in television right now.

There are other bonuses too. Colbert no longer airing on CTV might push more cable distributors to offer Comedy in high definition (Videotron, for example, currently doesn’t, which means Videotron subscribers won’t be able to watch the show in high definition anymore.)

Of course, the wishes of viewers aren’t really factored in here. Given the choice, they would probably prefer the existing system, seeing Stewart and Colbert on CTV and having the option to watch classic late-night on NBC. But when the wishes of the viewers conflict with the ability to game the system for more profits…

Posted in Media, Radio, TV

The new convergence utopia: Who owns what in Canadian media

A little under three years ago, I published a post with a chart of Canada’s media giants and what they own. Now that the CRTC has given a green light to a major acquisition by one of them, I thought it was a good time to revisit and update that chart.

The following represents who will own what once all the various deals go through, including related deals for asset acquisitions involving Corus, Shaw and Pattison Group.

UPDATE: I’ve moved the chart to this page, where I will be keeping it updated.

Posted in Radio

Campaign to save TSN 990 should focus on the CRTC

In the week since Bell’s application to switch CKGM from TSN Radio to RDS Radio became public, the station’s small group of loyal fans has mobilized. A Twitter account, a public protest set for Aug. 4, and lots of comments online. Many of those comments seem to be based on misconceptions about what’s going on. In particular, many blame the CRTC even though the commission has yet to make a single decision about Bell’s application (besides deciding to consider it).

As of Monday night, 456 interventions had been filed with the CRTC about this application alone. I haven’t been able to read all of them yet, but a handful selected at random are all from individual people, all opposed to the application.

People have been asking me if this number of interventions is high. It is. Very high. I don’t know what the record is, and it’s hard to compare this to other “average” applications in front of the CRTC, because not all applications are the same, and most are non-controversial. But even controversial ones don’t usually generate quite this much attention. As an example, RNC Media’s application to turn CKLX-FM (Planète Jazz) into a talk station modelled on Radio X – which is to be heard at the same hearing on Sept. 10 – has received only 76 interventions. (I compiled some highlights of those here.) The $3.38-billion acquisition of Astral Media by Bell has only generated 18 so far, and many of those are as much about TSN 990 as they are about Astral and Bell.

The biggest reason for this is probably social media. The link to file interventions has been passed around, published on this blog and others, retweeted and posted on Facebook with instructions telling people how to file. The CRTC, probably annoyed that so many people were using the complaint form instead of the intervention one, has taken the unusual step of posting a special link on its homepage telling people where to file interventions related to TSN 990. (The link, it should be noted, refers to the brand “TSN 990”, rather than the company name “Bell Media Canada Radio Partnership” or the station’s callsign CKGM, which are the more formal ways the commission usually refers to radio stations in public notices.)

The result of making this more accessible is yet more interventions. It’s something commissioners and commission staff love to see more of – individual people getting more involved in the process and making their opinions heard. But if those interventions just call on the CRTC to be dismantled or demand something not in the commission’s power, they won’t be very useful.

In an effort to give people a better idea of the regulatory hurdles in front of Bell Media’s application to change CKGM from English to French (and perhaps prompt some more insightful interventions with the CRTC, whether they’re for or against the application), I wrote a piece that appears in Tuesday’s Gazette: The five ways to save TSN 990.

Specifically, they are:

  • The Competition Bureau could reject the Astral purchase. Unlikely considering it hasn’t stood in the way of these kinds of acquisitions in the past. But still possible.
  • The CRTC could reject the Astral purchase. Also unlikely. Even if the commission finds serious issues of media ownership concentration, it would more likely order Bell Media to sell off assets that put it over a specific threshold.
  • The CRTC could issue an open call for applications. This is much more likely. CKGM was given the frequency of 690 kHz last fall (it’s moving there this fall, with 990 kHz going to Dufferin Communications for Radio Fierté) based on an application that argued, among other things, that the English sports-talk station needed a clear channel to better reach the anglophone community. If this station becomes French-language, that argument goes out the window. Additionally, the CRTC could concern itself with the fact that this switch would make all three clear-channel frequencies in Montreal (690, 730 and 940) French-language stations, disrupting a historic language balance. There’s precedent for issuing an open call: CKGM got 690 in the first place after people objected to an application by Cogeco to reactivate it and 940 kHz for (heavily subsidized) all-traffic stations. The CRTC responded by issuing an open call for applications for 690 and 940, and Cogeco was left empty-handed. (It cannibalized CKAC 730 for its French all-traffic station, and the status of the English all-traffic station is unclear.) Of course, if the CRTC does issue an open call, Bell could apply for this frequency for RDS Radio, and it would stand a good chance of succeeding. But the prospect of losing the frequency might scare Bell off. It said in its application that if the CRTC issued such an open call, it might reconsider.
  • The CRTC could deny the language switch. It’s the simplest thing. Bell has applied for a language switch, because it needs an amendment to its license (or a new license) to do so. The CRTC could simply deny this request, and say if Bell wants RDS Radio it needs a new application for a new radio station.
  • The CRTC could issue an exemption. This is the one everyone’s calling for, and it’s possible, though rumour has it Bell unofficially asked the commission if an exemption could be granted and were told it was highly unlikely. Bell would have to make a serious case that one of the four stations is so vital to the broadcasting system that an exemption is warranted, and make the case that the station simply couldn’t survive if it was sold to someone else. I don’t think most of the station’s listeners really care who owns the station, only that it stays on the air.

You can read more about these five options and the regulatory process in the Gazette story.

Interventions are still being accepted at the CRTC until 8 p.m. Eastern time on Aug. 9. The hearing is Sept. 10 at the Palais des congrès, and those who indicate a wish to appear in their interventions will be allowed to present their arguments in front of the commission in person.

UPDATE (July 17): Pat Hickey argues that the CRTC has a responsibility to keep CKGM running as an English station. Mike Boone adds that TSN 990 is such a small piece of the Bell empire that they couldn’t care less what happens to it and its employees. For more commentary about the application and the station, see the bottom of my previous post.

Posted in Radio, TV

Bell’s purchase of Astral: The issues in front of the CRTC

While everyone’s attention here was naturally focused on what Bell’s plans are for CKGM, the bigger issue up in front of the CRTC on Sept. 10 is the overall $3.38-billion purchase of Astral Media by Bell Media.

The deal would be a straight purchase, gobbling up everything owned by Astral including non-broadcast assets like its outdoor billboard advertising business. Bell would sell off only those things it is required to.

It’s a deal that has prompted a lot of worries about media concentration (though you could say it’s far too late to worry about that). Quebec’s Option consommateurs has already come out against it, generating some media buzz, but otherwise there hasn’t been much organized opposition.

10 radio stations to be sold

As I noted in the post when the deal was announced, a look at the combined assets of both companies shows they would be over the limits (two AM, two FM, and no more than three total in markets with fewer than eight commercial stations) in six markets, and would need to divest itself of 11 stations to meet the limit. In its application, Bell says it plans to sell 10 stations, and convert CKGM to French.

Bell’s application indicates it has provided the CRTC with a list of the 10 stations it plans to sell, but it wants that kept confidential so that those stations don’t become lame ducks, losing staff and morale. Knowing what markets it needs to sell stations in (two FM in Ottawa, one FM in Calgary, two FM in Toronto, two FM in Winnipeg, and two FM and one AM in Vancouver) and what the ratings are for those markets, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to find the likely castaways.

Because most of those markets have many English FM stations and multiple independent players, the concern about market concentration isn’t as high there as it is for Montreal’s English market.

Two calculations for TV viewing share

On the TV side, the CRTC’s concern isn’t so much the number of TV services (cable channels are a dime a dozen these days), but viewing share. Specifically, it says it will not allow any one player to control more than 45% of the overall viewing share in either language, and will closely scrutinize any purchase that gives a player between 35% and 45% of the viewing share.

Where Bell fits in depends on how you calculate that share. If you include Canadian viewing of American and overseas TV channels (like PBS, CNN and Spike TV), it falls just under that 35% threshold (33.5%). If you include only Canadian services, it’s just above (38.7%). Naturally, Bell believes U.S. services should be included in the calculation (they represent about 10% of Canadian viewing hours), which makes sense, but also means that one player could own 100% of Canadian television channels so long as 65% of Canadian television viewing is of foreign services. In addition, Bell argues that part of that share is its CTV Two network, which it has agreed to keep operating even though it loses money as part of a commitment made in the purchase of CTV by Bell.

There are also qualitative arguments that Bell uses. For one, Astral has no news or public affairs departments at its TV properties, so there would not be a reduction in diversity of voices here. (Bell conveniently ignores the fact that Astral has many radio newsrooms, and in a market like Montreal it means controlling the biggest TV newsroom and the biggest radio newsroom.) And Astral’s English-language television is limited mainly to its pay TV services like The Movie Network and Family Channel. It doesn’t own many specialty channels in English.

On the French side, because of the dominance of Quebecor and Bell’s virtually nonexistent presence (aside from RDS), combined they would represent only 24.4% of the overall TV viewing share.

Two B.C. stations

It’s a footnote in any discussion of Astral, but it does own two conventional television stations in tiny markets in northern B.C. – CJDC in Dawson Creek and CFTK in Terrace. Both are CBC affiliates with local newscasts. Bell’s application says they would remain that way “for the immediate term” but that this could change. “Following closing, we will determine if, when and how these stations will be integrated into the broader Bell Media conventional television group.”

Disaffiliating from CBC requires a separate CRTC application. But it’s hard not to see them eventually being converted into CTV network stations. Neither is anywhere close to an existing CTV station.

Tangible benefits

Aside from CKGM and other concerns about concentration of ownership, the biggest debate over this acquisition is probably going to be over what’s called the “tangible benefits” package. When ownership of a television service or radio station changes hands through a purchase, the CRTC requires that what can best be described as a sales tax be spent to improve the broadcasting and cultural system in some way. Usually (and particularly for radio stations), this means giving money to an organization that develops Canadian music talent. Or it could be some increase to Canadian programming beyond the minimum requirements of broadcasting licenses.

Tangible benefits packages are usually calculated as 6% of the purchase price for radio and 10% for television. In cases where the purchase price is effectively negative (such as when Channel Zero bought CJNT and CHCH for $12), tangible benefits packages don’t apply.

Bell’s proposal is for $200 million in tangible benefits, breaking down as $140 million for television (based on a $1.4-billion value), and $61 million for radio (based on a $1-billion value). The latter is to be adjusted based on the value of radio assets it will be forced to divest in the deal. Both, bell proposes, would be paid over 10 years instead of the usual seven, mainly because Bell is still paying off the tangible benefits packages from CTV’s acquisition of CHUM and Bell’s acquisition of CTV.

In case you’re doing the math in your head, the two purchase prices add up to about $2 billion. The rest of the acquisition price includes non-broadcast assets like outdoor advertising, as well as 50% stakes in Teletoon, Teletoon Retro, Historia and Séries+, which Bell feels should be exempt from this calculation because it would not mean an effective change in control of those channels. (Judging by correspondence on this matter, the CRTC might not accept this argument at face value.)

The biggest chunk of Bell’s proposed benefits package is $96 million that will go to “programming of national interest” (comedy, drama, documentary and certain awards shows), the majority of which will be spent on French-language programs because of Astral’s French-language skew. Then there’s the $61 million in radio benefits that will go to developing Canadian music talent and community radio funds.

It’s the other two chunks that are causing some consternation, though. About $40 million is being pledged to “support Canadian programming by making it more widely available in Canada’s North through the extension of next-generation broadband wireline and wireless service.”

That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? The problem, aside from how odd it is that Bell associates upgrades to 4G wireless service as somehow helping the television broadcasting system, is that this is essentially a network upgrade for Northwestel, the main telco in the territories. And as if we need to point this out, Northwestel is a subsidiary of Bell.

This has not gone unnoticed for Northwestel’s competitors, who call the blatantly self-serving investment “shameful,” particularly since Northwestel has been heavily criticized for failing to modernize its system. The fact that the CRTC has just opened up local phone service to competition only makes such an investment in one company seem even more anti-competitive.

Another chunk of the package getting noticed is $3.5 million over seven years that would go to Bell Let’s Talk Day, which is an annual campaign to raise money and awareness for treating mental illness. I’ve written before about how Bell seems fine with ordering its assets (and even local news departments) to participate in and cover this campaign.

It’s hard to come out against such a charity campaign, but what does this have to do with broadcasting? The CRTC’s goal with tangible benefits is pretty clear, and though such causes are laudable, there’s no provision for essentially donating part of this package to a favourite charity.

The CRTC asked Bell to justify this expense, and here’s their response:

The proposed benefits initiative will be used to help raise money and awareness to help battle mental health issues through the development of PSAs and educational materials, among other things, and will yield measurable improvements to the communities served by BCE and by Astral by contributing to the earlier identification and better management of mental illness in those communities. That is why so many municipalities and provincial governments devote significant funding to pursuing exactly those goals. This multi-platform media initiative will leverage the merging parties’ unique expertise in broadcasting, a different sphere of endeavour than that in which municipalities and provincial governments work.

These improvements are also significant and unequivocal benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system itself. Parliament left no doubt as to the importance of this policy goal, which it required the Commission to pursue, when it declared that the Canadian broadcasting system should strengthen the social fabric of Canada; serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations, of all Canadians; provide information and enlightenment; and expose the public to differing views on matters of public concern. As a result, we respectfully submit that making space in the Canadian broadcasting system to address key social issues, which include mental health, and that raise both money and awareness in support of those issues, is the very epitome of the significant and unequivocal benefits to which the tangible benefits policy was directed.

I don’t know about that.

As the Globe and Mail’s Simon Houpt explains, all this stuff might be boring financial policy stuff, but it’s important. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars being injected into Canadian broadcasting. It’s the CRTC’s job to ensure Bell is spending it properly to benefit the system more than itself.

Correspondence between the CRTC and Bell that forms part of the public record on the application makes it clear that the commission is challenging Bell on all of these matters. Expect them to get discussed in depth at the September hearing.

The CRTC hearing into Bell’s proposed purchase of Astral Media is scheduled to begin Sept. 10 at the Palais des congrèsPeople wanting to file comments with the CRTC or appear at the hearing can file an intervention here (the application number is 2012-0516-2: Astral Media inc.). The deadline is Aug. 9. Note that comments – including names and contact information – are on the public record.

UPDATE: In a somewhat unrelated press release about winning an old lawsuit against Bell related to its ExpressVu satellite service (now Bell TV satellite), Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau made it very clear he and his company are against the Bell-Astral merger, using language you don’t usually see from bosses of big companies:

Bell puts forth considerable efforts to obtain a virtual monopoly of French specialized channels through the acquisition of Astral Média, that would give it 8 of the 10 most popular French specialized and pay TV channels, as well as 67% of the audience and 80% of ad revenues in this market. In the Canadian market, in both languages, over 41% of monthly subscription fees paid by specialized channel viewers would go to Bell, as would 45% of these channels’ advertising revenues. Of the 51 specialized and pay channels that would be controlled by Bell as a result of this transaction, 28 are genre-protected and 30 are must-carry channels in their respective markets. The situation is equally problematic in radio, where Bell would own 117 radio stations across the country, while also exerting total control over all specialized music television channels.

“We call on the CRTC to refuse to approve this transaction on the basis that Bell’s business practices do not meet the ethical standards expected from a company that has the privilege to exploit broadcasting services through licences granted by the CRTC for the benefit of all Canadians. If such practices were to go unsanctioned, Canadians’ slowly eroding confidence in its regulatory authorities would only be further undermined. It is essential for anyone concerned with a healthy and competitive TV industry to take a look at these judgments and oppose Bell’s takeover of Astral. Only by staying vigilant and by denouncing Bell’s unacceptable practices by all possible means will we be able to prevent it from recreating the monopolistic model it relied on for so long,” concluded Mr. Péladeau.

Despite this rather inflammatory statement, Quebecor has not, as of July 25, filed a formal intervention with the CRTC about this case.