Tag Archives: CBC

Posted in Radio

CBC’s Bernard St-Laurent announces his retirement

Bernard St-Laurent

Bernard St-Laurent

CBC doesn’t usually send press releases about the retirement of its journalists. But Bernard St-Laurent isn’t a simple journalist. The senior political analyst announced today he’s finally hanging up the microphone after 40 years in the business. His last day is June 26.

St-Laurent has a long career as a broadcaster, not only hosting local radio shows like Radio Noon and Homerun and the national program C’est la vie, but guest hosting on just about every national radio show and contributing in various ways to CBC.

Though in his later years his standing as a broadcaster seemed to wane a bit, and he always sounded on air as if he was out of breath, his colleagues are remembering him today as a mentor, a friend, and a wealth of institutional knowledge about Quebec.

Bernard St-Laurent in a class photo at the press gallery in Quebec City

Bernard St-Laurent in a 1978 class photo at the parliamentary press gallery in Quebec City.

Enjoy your retirement, Bernie.

UPDATE: Montreal Gazette story on St-Laurent’s retirement. It notes that C’est la vie, the CBC radio show about francophone Quebec culture, will continue with a new host.

St-Laurent was also on CBC News, doing his job talking about provincial by-elections and then commiserated briefly about missing his colleagues and listeners.

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Posted in TV

CBC greenlights English adaptation of Radio-Canada’s Nouvelle adresse

On the same day it holds a public consultation in Montreal asking its audience how it can best represent English-speaking Quebec in its programming, CBC announced it has green-lit an English-language drama set in Montreal.

The new series is an English adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, the Radio-Canada drama written by Richard Blaimert and starring Macha Grenon as a journalist whose extended family is turned upside down after she learns that she has an incurable cancer. The series, which began last fall, is already in its second season, and though it faces tough competition from TVA’s Lance et compte in the Monday 9pm timeslot, it’s seen its audience steadily grow over the past few weeks.

New Address, for which Blaimert will be a consultant but not the writer, will begin production this summer and could be on air as early as this fall, CBC says. We don’t have too much detail (no cast announcement yet), but we know that the series will be set in Montreal, and that the family name is being changed from Lapointe in the French version to Lawson in the English.

Both the French series and its English adaptation are produced by Sphère Média Plus, which is responsible for several attempts to turn its French-language hits into English versions, with mixed success:

  • Sophie, the English adaptation of the comedy Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin, about a talent agent whose life goes nuts, which lasted two seasons and 32 episodes on CBC before being cancelled because of poor ratings. (That series was also written by Blaimert, though he defends it a bit to La Presse.)
  • Rumours, the adaptation of the half-hour comedy Rumeurs about a group of magazine employees, which lasted 20 episodes on CBC.
  • And, of course, 19-2, the adaptation of the Radio-Canada cop drama of the same name, which is now in its second season on Bravo, where it is both a critical and popular success. It landed there after CBC passed on the chance to pick up the series.

The company was also commissioned by NBC to create a pilot that adapted the dramatic comedy Le monde de Charlotte. It never got picked up.

UPDATE (Feb. 26): Now comes news that it’s going to adapt Mémoires vives in English for Rogers, which could put it on City or FX Canada.

Can this be the one that works?

The success of 19-2 compared to the lack of same from Sophie and Rumours probably leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the programming decision-makers at CBC Television. But it doesn’t change the fact that these Sphère Média Plus adaptations are more likely to fail than succeed.

Nouvelle adresse is a good series, well-written, well-acted, and will probably pick up several awards come awards season. But then again Sophie and Rumours were based on series that picked up more than a dozen Gémeaux awards, so that’s not a guarantee of anything.

I’m a fan of Nouvelle adresse, even though it, like 19-2, is pretty heavy. But while 19-2 has police officers with guns patrolling gritty streets, Nouvelle adresse is about middle-class families dealing with disease, divorce and drama. I’m not sure how well that will translate.

A big difference will probably be the cast chosen for the English version. Though I doubt it would happen, Grenon is bilingual and could theoretically reprise her role in the language of Shakespeare. Among anglo Quebecers, she’s still remembered best as the lady from the Pharmaprix commercials of the 90s:

On jase, as they say in French. Sphère Média Plus’s success with 19-2 has earned it another chance at turning a Radio-Canada hit into a CBC one. Let’s be cautiously hopeful that it succeeds, if only because it’s nice to see another series set in Montreal on English-language television in Canada.

UPDATE: Brendan Kelly has more on the adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, including quotes from the creators.

No Unité 9 en anglais

Richard Therrien at Le Soleil tells us that CBC couldn’t come to an agreement to adapt the Quebec mega-hit Unité 9 into an English series. Apparently the CBC’s desire to cut down on the number of episodes was a problem for author/producer Fabienne Larouche.

Posted in Media, My articles, Radio, TV

CBC holding its first public consultation for English-language minority in Quebec

The CBC wants to hear from you, not just because it wants to, but because it’s required to by a condition of licence.

In fact, it’s the very first condition of licence for CBC’s English and French-language services in a new CRTC licence approved in May 2013: The public broadcaster has to consult with minority-language communities: Francophones in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Western Canada and the North, and anglophones in Quebec. It has to happen once every two years and it has to be reported to the CRTC.

As CBC Quebec Managing Director Shelagh Kinch explains in this story I wrote for the Montreal Gazette, this is merely a formalizing of regular consultations the CBC did with anglophone community groups in Quebec and collection of audience feedback.

The consultation takes place Tuesday (Feb. 24) from 6:30pm to 8pm at Salle Raymond David of the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal. You can also tune in via live webcast and participate on Twitter using the hashtag #CBCconsults.

In addition to Kinch and a panel of local journalists (All in a Weekend/Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick, C’est la vie host and political columnist Bernard St-Laurent, Shari Okeke and Raffy Boudjikanian, plus travelling journalist Marika Wheeler), there will also be two bigwigs from CBC who can make a real difference: Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief of CBC News (who is also responsible for local radio across the country) and Sally Catto, general manager of programming for CBC Television. (Sadly, there isn’t anyone from national CBC radio, nor is CEO Hubert Lacroix on the panel.)

The CRTC imposed this condition of licence among several changes in the last licence renewal to ensure CBC is fulfilling its mandate toward minority language communities that aren’t large enough to have commercial broadcasters catering to them. And while Montreal is big enough that we have four English TV stations and several commercial radio stations, the rest of Quebec is pretty underserved. The only major broadcaster catering to them directly is the CBC Radio One station in Quebec City.

So if you have some beef with CBC’s programming, or feel as though it needs to better reflect your reality, whether you live on the Plateau or in Gaspé, this is your chance to make yourself heard.

And yeah, the just-shut-down-the-CBC suggestion has already been made.

The Facebook event for the discussion is here.

I can’t make it because of a meeting I have to be at, so I won’t get a chance to ask why our public broadcaster took a pass on the only English-language Canadian scripted drama series that’s actually set in Montreal.

Posted in Radio, TV

CBC cutting local TV newscast from 90 to 30 minutes starting next fall

As the CBC continues finding ways to save money, the corporation announced today that it is making changes to local programming.

The biggest one is that evening TV newscasts are being cut from 90 minutes to 60 or 30, depending on the market. Montreal is one of the unlucky ones, being cut to 30 minutes, starting at 6pm. This happens to be CBC Montreal’s weakest half-hour, because it competes directly with CTV News at 6 and Global News.

Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Windsor and Fredericton are also getting cut to 30 minutes. Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s will stay at 60 minutes because there’s still a “business case” for longer newscasts there, and CBC North will have 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Inuktitut.

Evening and weekend news are unchanged, as are local programs on CBC Radio One.

On the French side, the weeknight local Téléjournal broadcasts will be cut to 30 minutes everywhere but Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa/Gatineau and the Acadian region.

There are also smaller changes. CBC Daybreak will be broadcast on television from 6-7am. Currently CBC Television airs a national CBC News broadcast at this time, surrounded by local news, weather and traffic graphics.

There’s also going to be new one-minute hourly news breaks throughout the afternoon and evening on CBC Television.

How this will affect jobs at CBC is unclear at this point. Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services says there are “no new cuts beyond those announced in June.” The CBC tells Canadian Press that it’s too early to talk about job cuts resulting from this, but not counting staff these changes will save $15 million a year.

Good news, too, kinda

If you want to ignore all that and pretend this is good news, as the CBC does in its press release, these “changes” are part of a transformation process that will focus more on digital. The corporation is vague on what changes are happening to the digital side, but apparently they will be improvements.

On the local side, the CBC will also be adding a videojournalist position in the Eastern Townships to expand coverage there. Right now there’s no private English-language TV or radio journalist permanently assigned to the townships. The CBC has a “researcher columnist” in the region covering it for radio, and occasionally supplements that with the travelling journalist who contributes to CBC Radio’s Quebec Community Network based out of Quebec City. This new position would be in addition to that, covering the townships for TV, radio and the web.

Fort McMurray, Alta., will also get a new news bureau.

See also:

Posted in Media, My articles

What would you do if you were CBC’s president?

Découverte host Charles Tisseyre’s cri-du-coeur last week at the CBC Annual Public Meeting has already gotten more than 100,000 views on YouTube. Straddling the line between passionate and angry, it deplored the situation at the public broadcaster, how much it has seen its programming cut (his own show now has fewer episodes and more repeats as a result) and has been kicking its young talent out the door.

But while Tisseyre’s words got wild applause from the crowd assembled in the basement of the Maison Radio-Canada, and Tisseyre politely but firmly challenged CBC president Hubert Lacroix on the latter’s failure to answer a question about why he hasn’t done more to fight the federal government on CBC funding, the Radio-Canada personality doesn’t necessarily share the crowd’s animosity toward Lacroix.

A concerned citizen helps Hubert Lacroix out with the tedious resignation-letter-writing thing.

A concerned citizen helps Hubert Lacroix out with the tedious resignation-letter-writing thing.

“Animosity” is perhaps an understatement here. Many in the crowd wore T-shirts that seemed to directly blame Lacroix for the thousands of job cuts the broadcaster has seen since he took office. The second question of the event asked if he should resign. Later, someone handed him what he described as a pre-written resignation letter that needed only Lacroix’s signature.

But Tisseyre told me later in a one-on-one interview that Lacroix’s resignation would serve little purpose. “If the people who were there resigned, they would be replaced by others, who would be faced with the same cuts. I think the problem is much deeper,” he said.

You can read more about Tisseyre’s comments in this (paywalled) piece I wrote for Cartt.ca. It also includes my impressions about Lacroix’s problem with expressing the right emotions to relate to his employees and CBC fans among the general population.

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Posted in TV

Andrew Chang to host CBC News Vancouver

Debra Arbec and Andrew Chang before Chang abandoned Arbec and fled to the other coast.

Debra Arbec and Andrew Chang before Chang abandoned Arbec and fled to the other coast. (Last chance to use this file photo, I guess.)

Two months after Andrew Chang left CBC Montreal on paternity leave and announced he wasn’t coming back, we finally know what super-secret job he’s taking on. CBC announced on Wednesday that Chang will be the new anchor of CBC News Vancouver at 5 and 6, starting Sept. 1.

Chang replaces Gloria Macarenko, who moves on to hosting CBC Radio’s The Story From Here, a cheap content repackaging show a “curation of stories” from local CBC radio stations. Macarenko will also continue hosting Our Vancouver, a cheap content repackaging show week-in-review and arts/lifestyle show, and do segments for TV, including a regular one-on-one interview segment.

The job is also one held by B.C. broadcasting star Tony Parsons until last December.

Chang, who filled in on The Current after coming back from paternity leave, won’t be replaced in Montreal. Debra Arbec will continue anchoring the evening newscast here solo. Though putting Doug Gelevan on the evening news full-time means she can be with him and weatherman Frank Cavallaro on promotional material and feel more like she’s part of a team.

“The team at CBC Vancouver has proven time and time again that they are the best at investigative and original journalism,” Chang is quoted as saying in a CBC News story, which I guess means that he thinks CBC Vancouver is better than CBC Montreal.

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Posted in Radio, TV

CBC work forces overnight shutdown of FM, TV transmitters

UPDATE: More work will shut down transmitters from July 16 to 19, and July 21 to 25, and July 28-Aug. 1. See below.

The CBC's Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

The CBC’s Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

If you tuned in to FM radio at 4am on Monday and noticed that your favourite Montreal station is either noisy or missing completely, it wasn’t your imagination. CBC is doing work on the Mount Royal antenna tower and that has forced overnight shutdown of transmitting antennas on the city’s busiest transmission tower.

Stations were notified that the tower would be interrupting transmitters from 12am to 5am on July 7 and 8, though as far as I can tell only CKUT at McGill passed that message along to listeners.

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Posted in Radio, TV

CBC TV can (but shouldn’t) deny ads from commercial radio stations: CRTC

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission speaks through its decisions, and for the most part those decisions are straightforward. They’re written by a special team who ensure they’re as consistent, dry and clear as possible.

But a decision issued last week by the CRTC, while a victory for Canada’s public broadcaster, also takes a shot across its bow that almost seems snarky.

The decision responds to a complaint filed by Leclerc Communication, owner of radio stations CKOI and WKND in Quebec City. Leclerc argued that Radio-Canada was unfairly discriminating against it by refusing to air television ads for its radio stations, while running ads for Radio-Canada’s Première and Espace musique networks.

The CBC didn’t deny this. Instead, it argued that it is justified in having a policy that prevents running “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”

It also argued that Leclerc could easily advertise elsewhere, an argument Leclerc said was “as irrational as it is desperate.” And it invoked the idea of commercial freedom to argue that it shouldn’t be forced to run ads from anyone.

In the decision issued June 27, the CRTC sided with Radio-Canada. It determined that the public broadcaster did indeed put Leclerc’s radio stations at a disadvantage, but that this disadvantage was not “undue” and so did not break the commission’s rules.

It writes:

“The Commission is of the view that the CBC is not subjecting Leclerc to a material adverse impact by refusing to offer advertising opportunities since Leclerc has access to 72% of the local television advertising inventory by advertising on TVA and V and that it can therefore reach 93% of the television viewers in the market.”

This reasoning baffles me. Leclerc argued that it needed access to Radio-Canada TV because it wanted to reach a demographic of mature, affluent and well-educated listeners, which it felt would fit WKND. The CRTC argues that’s not necessary because there are other ways to get advertising (not including radio, of course, because those are direct competitors).

And if those other advertisers were to also refuse Leclerc’s ads for competitive reasons? The CRTC’s decision doesn’t address that rather obvious hypothetical. (Thankfully it’s not necessary. TVA, which owns no radio stations, was only too happy to take Leclerc’s money.)

Since return on investment is so hard to determine when it comes to traditional advertising, it’s nearly impossible for Leclerc to prove that the CBC’s policy has a material adverse impact on its business. And the commission seems to have given the benefit of the doubt to the CBC.

“The Commission questions the true motives of the CBC”

But the decision includes a paragraph that, while not binding, might force the broadcaster to rethink its policy:

“However, the Commission questions the true motives of the CBC, which continues to turn away a client that does not belong to a vertically integrated group on the grounds that it is in competition with its operations. The Commission takes this opportunity to suggest that the CBC focus less on viewing other players in Canada’s communications ecosystem as competitors and put more effort into fulfilling its public service mandate.”

Considering the drastic cuts facing the broadcaster in the years ahead, even the CRTC is wondering why it’s saying no to money from a small broadcaster in order to protect the market share of a network that doesn’t carry any advertising and should have nothing to fear from commercial radio.

Posted in Media, My articles

CBC cuts affect 10 jobs at CBC Montreal; five people let go

For three weeks after CBC President Hubert Lacroix announced cuts equivalent to 657 full-time positions at the public broadcaster, employees at the CBC Montreal office finally learned how those cuts would trickle down at the local level.

This week, I met with Shelagh Kinch, the Quebec regional director for English services, who laid it out for me: 10 positions are being “affected” by the cuts, and at this point it looks like five people will be leaving the CBC as a result.

I explain it all in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette.

The changes break down as follows:

  • Management is being restructured, eliminating the job of news director. Mary-Jo Barr has been let go. Helen Evans will be in charge of both news and current affairs, while Meredith Dellandrea will be in charge of non-daily programs (like Cinq à six, À propos and Our Montreal) and have “a major role” in the CBC Montreal website. “Helen has an extensive background with us,” Kinch said. “She’s probably produced every one of those programs for us. She also has very strong leadership skills. I need somebody that people are behind and people want to work with.”
  • Two retirements won’t be replaced: journalist Ivan Slobod, who left in September after 30 years at the CBC, and Sally Caudwell, who produces Radio Noon.
  • The two part-time jobs producing Cinq à six and À propos are being replaced by one full-time producer. Tanya Birkbeck, who produced Cinq à six, will stay at the CBC as a news reporter. Sophie Laurent, who produced À propos, is out of a job. Frank Opolko will take over producing both jobs.
  • Web development is being centralized in Toronto, and a local developer is being made redundant. The person in that position will be able to apply to the Toronto job, Kinch said.
  • A communications officer position is being made redundant. Catherine Megelas is the unlucky one. She said in a Facebook post that it was “a super shitty day” the day she was told. Redundancy means that the union will try to find another job for her to fill, a process that could take up to 90 days.
  • A late-night camera operator is being reassigned.
  • One arts reporter position is being eliminated. Pierre Landry, the arts reporter for Homerun, is the only one who’s on contract, so his won’t be renewed past the end of June.
  • One position, described as a reassignment, that CBC said it couldn’t give any details on. (UPDATE: It’s anchor Andrew Chang, who’s taking up a new job at CBC outside of Montreal)

The departures will be staggered over the summer, as contracts end, notices are given and alternative jobs explored. But by September, the changes should have taken effect.

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Posted in My articles, Opinion, Radio, TV

Why is CBC refusing ads from radio stations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More importantly, can it even do so legally?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Radio

Radio-Canada is stealing our advertiser, CJPX complains to CRTC

When CBC/Radio-Canada asked the CRTC for permission to air advertising on radio, one of the things it promised is that it would only solicit national advertisers, not local ones, to limit how much it competes with local commercial radio stations.

Well, less than a month after ads started airing, one of those commercial stations has complained that the public broadcaster is soliciting local advertising.

On Thursday, the CRTC published a two-page complaint (.zip) dated Oct. 29 from Jean-Pierre Coallier, owner of CJPX Radio Classique in Montreal. In it, Coallier complains that one of its local advertisers, the Montreal Chamber Orchestra, took out ads on Espace Musique. Because it’s a local organization that only wants to attract a local or regional audience, Coallier argues, it doesn’t fit the definition of national advertising.

According to the decision that renewed the CBC’s licence and allowed it to air advertising on Radio Two and Espace Musique, national advertising is defined as “advertising material that is purchased by a company or organization that has a national interest in reaching the Canadian consumer.” It was also expected that in general national advertising would be booked through advertising agencies, which Coallier says was not done here.

Radio-Canada disagrees with Coallier’s interpretation. Spokesperson Marie Tétreault told me that there was an agency here, Groupe Force Radio (which is owned by Cogeco and represents Espace Musique in Quebec).

Tétreault said the ads for the MCA aired on Espace Musique stations in Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Rimouski, Saguenay and Ottawa. Basically, throughout Quebec and the national capital region but not elsewhere in the country.

“These ads fully respect the conditions of licence of Espace Musique,” Tétreault said.

It’s worth noting that the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, in its filing in the CBC case, pointed out that its definition of national advertising was vague, and worried that it might allow some local advertising. This would seem to be a good example, regardless of how the commission rules.

Comments on the complaint are due by Dec. 16. Tétreault said that Radio-Canada would give details of its position in its submission, which will be filed on that date.

If you want to file your own submission, you can do so by clicking here.

Posted in TV

CBC expands Sunday local newscasts starting Sept. 1

You'll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

You’ll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

Few people really paid attention to it when the CBC’s broadcasting licences were renewed this spring, but the public broadcaster committed to expanding local programming in large markets like Montreal, going up to 14 hours a week and ensuring at least one of those hours was non-news local programming.

Currently, large-market CBC television stations produce 10 hours and 40 minutes a week of local news: Three back-to-back half-hour newscasts starting at 5pm weekdays, a half-hour late newscast at 11pm weekdays, a half-hour newscast at 6pm Saturdays, and a 10-minute newscast at 11pm Sundays. (Vancouver is an exception, its Sunday newscast is already half an hour.)

The new CBC licences take effect Sept. 1, so with less than two weeks to go I was wondering why we hadn’t heard any announcements about new shows yet. Had they forgotten? Would they not make the deadline?

Chris Ball, senior manager of media relations for CBC English Services, said they will be meeting the 14-hour-a-week requirement as of Sept. 1 as promised. The Sunday newscast will be expanded to 30 minutes from 10, giving us 11 hours a week of local news. The rest will be made through “the addition of one hour of local non-news programming that will run Saturday, Sunday and Monday in those markets.”

He was deliberately vague about that part. “Planning is still under-way and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks,” he said.

The electronic schedule for CBC Montreal, shows that, for Sept. 1 and 2, the station will be re-airing the first episode of the Absolutely Quebec series at 11am. (The same thing is being done at the other affected stations: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa.) The condition of licence doesn’t specify that the local programming be original, so repeats are still within the rules, and gives the corporation a cushion until it puts something else on the air.

What form this non-news programming will take, whether it will be one program repeated twice or three separate ones, is unclear at this point. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Until then, enjoy the Absolutely Quebec reruns.

Posted in My articles, TV

CBC jumps into semantic nightmare with “ICI” debacle

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

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

The reasons to dislike it just pile up:

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

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

Sam Norouzi

 

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

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

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

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

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

CBC by a technicality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An amicable solution is the best solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio, TV

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

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

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

Radio

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

Television

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

Specialty TV

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

Other

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

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

Posted in Montreal, TV

The war over “ICI”: CBC demands new ethnic TV station change its name

UPDATE (June 11): Read my follow-up to this story here.

Sam Norouzi

Sam Norouzi is a busy guy these days. He’s starting a television station from scratch. He’s dealing with the technical side, acquiring a transmitter and antenna, as well as the content side, dealing with show producers. The plan is to have the station on the air some time in the summer, with a formal launch in the fall.

Norouzi is the manager of ICI, a new over-the-air ethnic television station in Montreal that was approved by the CRTC when it allowed Rogers to buy CJNT. Operating under the callsign CFHG-DT, it will air on Channel 47, using the same Bell-owned transmission tower on Mount Royal that was used briefly by CFCF as a temporary digital antenna while its analog transmitter was still running in 2011.

ICI, which stands for International Channel/Canal international, wants to bring ethnic television in Montreal back to where it was before CJNT, a producers’ cooperative where people sell advertising for their own shows and the station doesn’t try to make money by pushing the limits of its licence with third-rate primetime American programming.

It’s a big undertaking, with a very large amount of local programming, and it’s being put together on a pretty short time frame.

But now Norouzi has a new headache to deal with: The CBC doesn’t want him to use “ICI” as the station’s name.

The public broadcaster sent a lawyer’s letter to Norouzi’s company this week asking it to cease and desist the use of the name ICI. A statement of claim was filed with the court on Monday noting CBC’s request to have Norouzi’s trademark for ICI expunged. (Hat tip to the Citizen’s Glen McGregor for alerting me to that.) Norouzi (whose real name is Nowrouzzahrai) wasn’t aware of the letter when I called him Wednesday afternoon, because he’s currently in Florida. After checking in with his father, Norouzi confirmed he had received the letter.

Marc Pichette, a spokesperson for Radio-Canada, confirmed that the corporation asked the station to change its name “because « ici » has been a Radio-Canada staple for decades (Ici Radio-Canada) and because it is presently featured in an advertising campaign promoting Radio-Canada’s very personal relation with its audience. In these ads, people evoke how Radio-Canada programs that they have seen “ici” have been a pivotal in finding their vocation or lifelong interests.”

There’s another reason, though. Le Devoir reported Wednesday that Radio-Canada is thinking of rebranding, and calling itself “Ici.” Needless to say that would cause confusion.

Some of the trademarks registered to CBC

Some of the trademarks registered to CBC

A search of the Canadian trademarks database shows that the CBC registered a series of trademarks last fall with the word “ici” in it.

But Norouzi also has a trademark registered for his use of the term “ICI”. That trademark was filed in August 2011 and registered in September, before the CBC’s trademark applications were filed.

Asked about that, Pichette said “ici has been a Radio-Canada staple for decades” because it’s been used with the Radio-Canada name (à la “Ici Radio-Canada“). He didn’t say why the CBC is only acting on this now while the TV station’s use of the name ICI has been known since at least last fall and its trademark dates back a year and a half.

Norouzi said he was frustrated because he’d done everything he was supposed to, making sure nobody else was using the name for a TV station and then registering it himself and getting it approved. He said he doesn’t have enough money to hire lawyers to fight the CBC’s legal department, which means if the CBC decides to make this a legal case, it will probably win by default.

All this over a three-letter word.

UPDATE (March 28): Asked about the possible name change in the House of Commons, Heritage Minister James Moore says its name is enshrined in the law and it won’t change. Though I’m not sure how much control the government has over branding. The logos above show the official name would remain “Radio-Canada” but with brands focused on “ici”.

Meanwhile, CBC announces it’s going ahead with the rebranding, but Radio-Canada’s name remains “Radio-Canada”.