Tag Archives: CBMT

Posted in TV

The beginning of the end for over-the-air TV

See this map full-screen

  • Red: CBC
  • Blue: Radio-Canada
  • Yellow: TVO
  • Purple: TFO
  • Green: Télé-Québec

Small dots are transmitters being shut down (text appears in grey), large dots are transmitters that will keep running; dots marked “A” are privately-owned affiliates unaffected by this move.

This is a map I created (through a combination of a list from the CBC and Industry Canada’s database) of all 658 CBC and Radio-Canada television transmitters in Canada, plus those of provincial public broadcasters TVO, TFO and Télé-Québec. As of today, more than 600 CBC and Radio-Canada transmitters are no longer licensed by the CRTC and are in the process of being shut down if they aren’t already. Ditto for more than 100 TVO transmitters and four TFO ones.

The CBC’s mass shutdown of television retransmitters (all of them analog) is part of a budget-cutting process that is expected to save $10 million a year in maintenance costs.

The CBC littered the country with television retransmitters, most of them low-power, from 1977 to 1984 as part of its Accelerated Coverage Plan. The goal was to make sure that every community of 500 people or more was served by a CBC and/or Radio-Canada television transmitter (depending on their mother tongue).

But the transition to digital television and the need to cut costs has made the case for keeping these transmitters running much weaker. For one, more than 90% of Canadian television viewers have a subscription to a cable or satellite service. And most of the remaining viewers will be served by one of the 27 digital television transmitters running in markets where CBC and Radio-Canada offer local programming.

(This includes CFYK in Yellowknife, the flagship station of CBC North, which until now has been operating as an analog station. The CBC has replaced it with a digital one, CFYK-DT, effective Aug. 1.)

According to the CBC, only 2% of Canadian television viewers will be affected by this shutdown. The rest either have a television subscription or are within range of one of its digital transmitters.

What’s more, the CBC says in its submission to the CRTC, maintenance is becoming more difficult and expensive because of the lack of availability of spare parts for analog transmitters. Since the U.S. has already undergone a complete transition to digital, there’s little demand for analog transmitter servicing, and the companies that once did that have stopped. Price for parts has increased, in some cases as much as 100%, the CBC says.

And so, with the CRTC’s reluctant blessing (the commission explains in its decision that its licenses are authorizations to operate stations, and it cannot force a broadcaster to operate a station it doesn’t want to), the 607 analog retransmitters were remotely shut down Tuesday night by CBC technicians, the satellite feeds to them replaced with color bars. The equipment will be removed, says Martin Marcotte, director of CBC Transmission.

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Posted in Montreal, TV

Absolutely Quebec: A taste of regional programming on CBC TV

For those (like me) who complain that there isn’t much local programming in English in Quebec outside of news broadcasts, a regional documentary and short film series is something to look forward to. This summer, CBC television presents Absolutely Quebec, a series of five one-hour documentaries and an hour of short films that reflect the anglophone community in Quebec.

The first episode, Hockey Migrations, aired last Saturday. It tells the story of a hockey tournament in Tasiujaq, an Inuit community near Ungava Bay. But it’s actually an inightful look into the culture of the region, how native communities are struggling with changes to their traditional way of life, and how hockey is a way to give kids something to do and keep them out of trouble. Its director, Tony Girardin, was interviewed on CBC Radio’s All in a Weekend on Saturday morning, and explains that the footage was actually shot seven years ago, but only edited into a documentary recently. (One of the elders interviewed in the documentary has since died.)

You can watch Hockey Migrations on CBC’s website.

“In Quebec, we have an incredibly rich history of storytelling and filmmaking,” Shelagh Kinch, the new Managing Director CBC Quebec, is quoted as saying in the press release. “CBC is proud to produce a series that highlights some of our province’s emerging filmmakers and also allows new audiences to enjoy these local stories.”

The rest of the series, which runs Saturdays at 7pm on CBMT (except Aug. 11, when CBC airs Rogers Cup tennis coverage), is as follows:

Sadly, Videotron’s on-screen listings list 7pm Saturday as being The Nature of Things, but tune in anyway. It’s one of the few chances you’ll have to watch that independently-produced local programming you complain never sees the light of day on local television.

Some of these episodes might end up being aired nationally as well, as part of the Absolutely Canadian series. But which of those will get national exposure (on CBC television, CBC News Network or the Documentary channel) and when that will be hasn’t been decided yet.

Posted in Montreal, Radio, TV

CBC weekend newscasts off to a strong start

Thomas Daigle anchors his first newscast on Saturday, May 5

Whether it was despite some important breaking news or because of it, CBC Montreal’s first weekend newscast in eons went smoothly, leading with news that a tentative deal had been reached between the government and striking students. (Remember those days, how optimistic we were that this would all be over soon?)

Anchor Thomas Daigle and weather presenter Sabrina Marandola clearly showed the effects of rehearsals, and Daigle in particular was quite good for someone who comes into this with no anchoring experience.

Daigle credited weekday anchor Debra Arbec with helping him. “She gave me some good tips to improve my delivery and it has helped a lot. Debra has been a great coach,” he said during our interview the week before he started.

Sabrina Marandola on weather

In addition to Daigle, Marandola and the technical staff, the new weekend news means more weekend reporters. So far the plan, according to news director Mary-Jo Barr, is this:

  • On Saturdays, three television reporters and one radio reporter.
  • On Sundays, two television reporters, an additional national TV reporter filing to The National, and one radio reporter.

In addition, there’s an expectation that radio reporters will file to TV and TV reporters to radio wherever possible, and extra staff during major events where warranted.

The local online desk also gets weekend staff for the first time in a decade. No more waiting until Monday to post local news stories.

The staffing is similar to what you’ll find on the weekends at CFCF, where there’s a one-hour evening newscast and 35-minute late newscast each day.

Daigle does the late Sunday newscast from the newsroom set

It was a bit surprising to me that the station isn’t making use of its brand new set on either weekend newscast. The Saturday one was done from the newsroom studio, with the control room in the background. The Sunday one was done from exactly the same place, but with the green screen lowered behind and the same virtual set as the weeknight late newscasts.

While CFCF is doing all its newscasts from the same set, CBC is basically using three.

You can read more on CBC’s weekend newscasts and its two new personalities in this story I wrote for The Gazette.

The first weekend newscasts are online if you want to see them again: Saturday, Sunday.

CBC Montreal’s weekend newscasts air at 6pm on Saturdays and 10:55pm on Sundays, unless pre-empted or postponed because of NHL games.

More weekend radio

I should also mention that the addition to weekend news also applies to radio. Instead of pulling the plugs on local radio newscasts at noon, they continue until 4pm, and this since April 21. Katherine Canty, who assigns stories in the mornings, reads them in the afternoons, taking over from Loreen Pindera, who does 6:30am to noon.

Posted in Montreal, TV

CBMT to expand late-night newscasts to half an hour

Nancy Wood is excited

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had its big bash in Toronto on Thursday to announce its lineups for the fall television season. There are some big changes coming, besides the usual turnover of primetime series. The CBC has decided to drop Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune (mainly for cost reasons), opening holes in its afternoon/evening schedule. It will fill one of those holes with George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, which moves from 11pm to 7pm, but with a repeat at 11:30pm.

Not given as much attention is that CBC is expanding evening local newscasts in some areas, including Montreal. Rather than the 10-minute rush that it has been doing since 2009, CBC Montreal will have a full 30-minute newscast starting this fall, from 11 to 11:30pm.

The time slot puts the newscast in more direct competition with Global Montreal’s News Final, which has the same schedule. (Feel free to insert jokes about whether Global’s 2,000 viewers at 11 constitutes competition.)

CBC Montreal communications manager Debbie Hynes tells me the Sunday newscast, which you’ll recall is less than a week old, will remain at 10 minutes, or at least that’s the plan.

Nancy Wood, who just started as the late-night anchor, says she heard the news on Wednesday, and is excited about having a longer newscast and one that has a real time slot instead of being awkwardly sandwiched between two others.

While CBC News Montreal Late Night gets a good lead-in from The National, allowing it to get about 15,000 viewers on average (it has 30,000 at 6pm), the 10:55pm start time means it isn’t going to attract many viewers from people who watch something other than The National at 10pm. An 11pm late newscast could mean picking up people who watch U.S. primetime dramas on CTV, Global or other channels and want some local news before going to bed.

There’s no news yet as far as what specifically a late newscast would include. At the top of that list, I think, would be a local sportscaster. The 10-minute newscast includes a bizarre “CBCSports.ca Update” segment that previews the next night’s hockey games but says nothing of the ones that finished an hour before. This is mainly because there’s no one to put together a sports roundup on deadline, but it sticks out that you have a newscast talking about sports without saying what happened in the sports world that night.

The new local newscast launches in September along with the new CBC television schedule.

News headlines and weather on screen in mornings

Also announced is that some local information will appear in mornings on CBC television. During the 6-7am hour, when CBC airs CBC News Now (duplicating content from CBC News Network), the programming will be surrounded by a local wrap with local headlines, weather and other information. Something similar is done on CJNT, and people familiar with CityNews or CP24 in Toronto will know what this looks like. CTV also inserts local content into national programming (Canada AM) through an on-screen ticker. These are “rolling out across the country now,” Hynes says.

Posted in My articles, TV

Nancy Wood back in the saddle

Nancy Wood has a lot to be happy about these days

There’s a saying in radio that it’s not if you get fired, but when. People are pulled off the air all the time without notice, told their station is going in another direction, or has decided to make a change, or some other vague euphemism for the fact that they want a change behind the microphone. As someone who covers local media – and particularly broadcasting – I’ve seen quite a few of these. When I ask about it, both parties usually repeat the vague euphemism and offer some boilerplate about how they wish each other well in their future endeavours.

For those let go, it’s rarely good news. Even if they do end up finding a job quickly elsewhere, even if the reason for their departure isn’t their fault, it’s crushing to be pulled out of a public job like this, because you know they wouldn’t have done it if you were wildly successful.

I don’t particularly enjoy reporting on these things. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t take joy in seeing people lose their jobs. But a hiring is just as much of a change as a firing, and only the former tends to involve press releases. So I search them out (sometimes a difficult thing to do because they can’t be reached at work) and ask them for comment. Trying to manage the blow to their reputation, and protect future job prospects, they stay timid, keep a happy face and repeat management’s vague reasoning.

Nancy Wood is not one of those people.

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Posted in TV

CBC Montreal has a new set

If you’ve been tuning in this week, you’ll have noticed that CBC Montreal has inaugurated its new set. Built in the same space in the Maison Radio-Canada’s Centre de l’Information as the previous one, it feautres a new smaller desk, a new background, flat screens and LED lighting.

Tearing down the old set and building the new one took two weeks, during which the newscast was done from the newsroom studio.

Anchor Andrew Chang takes viewers on a tour of the new set on the first newscast on Monday (it starts at the 24th minute).

Here are some shots from that first newscast to give an idea what it looks like.

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Posted in Montreal, TV

CBC Montreal building new set

Debra Arbec doing the news from the newsroom set

UPDATE (April 18): The new set is done. See what it looks like here.

Much like CFCF did last year, CBMT is doing its daily newscasts from its newsroom set as its main set is being torn down and redone.

Andrew Chang gave viewers an idea of what’s going into the new set on Monday’s newscast. It will involve a new desk with a Plexiglas top. Behind the anchors will be five HD plasma screens, and a large 70-inch touchscreen will also be on the set, which is being designed in house in the Maison Radio-Canada.

Until then, the evening newscast will be hosted from the set that sits just outside the control room, which itself is just beside the newsroom. Reporters doing live in-studio segments, which were done from this set, have been moved to an adjacent room that is used for remote interviews for CBC News Network or The National. Frank Cavallaro’s weather set is a green screen just a few feet from the desk Arbec is sitting at above.

The 10:55pm newscast is done from this set as well, except with a green screen lowered behind it.

Because the camera for this set is standard definition, anchors won’t be appearing in HD until the camera is upgraded or they move into their new set. And, like with CFCF last year, the set only fits one, so Arbec and Chang will have to alternate behind the desk.

Posted in Radio, TV

Local broadcasters win regional broadcasting awards

RTNDA Canada (Radio and Television News Directors Association) is putting out awards like a drunken award-giver. The latest batch is the central region awards, of which there are 35 recipients, including “honorary mention” awards. When the medium is restricted to broadcasting, the language is restricted to English and the geography is restricted to Quebec and Ontario, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that some Montreal media are winning these awards.

Nevertheless, journalists deserve praise for their work over the past year, as marginally prestigious as it may be.

The full list of winners is here. Among Quebec (and by that I mean Montreal) media:

CTV Montreal was the big winner, picking up three awards:

  • The special report Dirty Little Secret (Part 1, Part 2) by Caroline van Vlaardingen, about how easy it is to get sexual services at massage parlours, won the Dan McArthur Award for in-depth/investigative reporting
  • The special report Caught in a Trap by Catherine Sherriffs, about the dangers to animals of traps in wooded areas, won the Dave Rogers Award (large market) for long features
  • The station also won the Hugh Haugland Award (named after a CFCF cameraman who died on the job) for creative use of video
CJAD won the Peter Gzowski Award for news information program for its reporting on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Host Ric Peterson gives his thank-yous on his blog. Clips from the report can be listened to on the show’s podcast page.

The Ron Laidlaw award for continuous coverage went to CBC Montreal for coverage of last year’s Richelieu flood. An honourable mention went to Global Montreal for its coverage of the same floods.

Posted in Montreal, TV

Nancy Wood replaces Amanda Margison as late anchor on CBC Montreal

Nancy Wood anchors her first late newscast on Monday, April 23

Nancy Wood is coming back.

Two years after being removed from her job as host of Daybreak on CBC Radio, Wood has been given the job of late anchor on CBC television. She will replace Amanda Margison, who is leaving Montreal to move to London, Ont.

An exact start date is still to be determined, but the change is expected to happen by the end of the month. UPDATE: Wood’s first shift was Monday, April 23. You can see video of it here.

Wood has spent the past two years working in a special capacity at Radio-Canada’s investigative show Enquête, doing stories for them but also repurposing Enquête’s stories for English television (you know, all those “CBC/Radio-Canada investigations”). Wood told me yesterday that it was clear when the project was renewed for a second season last year that this would be its last, so she’s been preparing to return to the English side for some time.

With the opening of the late anchor position, Wood said it was a convenient way of bringing her back without causing any disruption to other positions or bumping anyone out of a job.

CBC’s union rules allow Wood to return to her old job of national television reporter based in Montreal if the anchor job doesn’t work out. It’s what kept her at the CBC after losing the Daybreak job and what she had planned to do before news of the late anchor vacancy came up.

I asked Wood whether being on a 10-minute late newscast was better for her professionally than being a regular reporter for national news. She pointed out the advantage of being a daily presence on local television versus a letter and more intermittent one nationally. She also said being a national reporter can often mean being told on a moment’s notice to run off to some distant corner of the province to report on a breaking story. Being an anchor is more predictable in terms of work hours and location.

But there are downsides to the new job, she admitted. With a shift ending at 11:15pm, it means not being able to spend weeknights at home with her two teenage kids, and only seeing them in the mornings, when they are much less verbal, as any parent can attest.

Wood said she’d also be a bit sad about not being able to work on long features like the stories she’s doing for Enquête. She just came back to Montreal from Louisiana, where she worked on her final story, expected to come out next week. After that, she’ll move to the English side. (UPDATE: Her final investigative story has come out, about the health risks of an anti-malaria drug given to Canadian soldiers)

Ratings

It was actually Wood who used the R word first in our conversation, pointing out that part of her job will be to try to boost the ratings of the late newscast, sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.

Wood’s departure from Daybreak reportedly had a lot to do with the show’s ratings with her at the helm.

When asked whether she’s worried about ratings, Wood said it would be nice to see a boost, but that will depend more on how much promotion of the show will be done using the usual means as well as during advertising breaks of The National.

I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but I can’t help noticing how the timing of Wood’s job change matches that of CBC Quebec boss Pia Marquard. Though it’s unclear what role Marquard played in removing Wood from Daybreak, the move happened as she took over the job, and many CBC listeners angry over Wood’s removal blamed Marquard directly. Wood’s move back to a more public role happens just as Marquard is leaving the post for health reasons.

CBC Montreal News Director Mary-Jo Barr couldn’t be reached for comment last Friday and has since left on a two-week vacation. I’ll try to talk to her when she comes back. UPDATE (April 18): CBC Montreal News Director Mary-Jo Barr had nothing but praise for Wood. She also noted when I talked to her that Marquard was instrumental in Wood being given the late anchor job.

As for Margison, she confirmed she’s “moving on” but didn’t offer much comment on the matter, beyond her surprise that the news came out via Twitter.

“There are no secrets any more,” she writes in an email.

Not when it comes to anchors, I’m afraid.

Thomas Daigle

Sabrina Marandola

Daigle, Marandola hired for weekend newscast

Meanwhile, the second of two jobs opened as a result of the impending expansion into weekends have been filled. Sabrina Marandola will be taking over the job of weekend weather presenter.

Marandola confirmed the news Thursday afternoon on Twitter.

The move is hardly a surprise. Marandola has often acted as a backup to Frank Cavallaro.

Marandola joins Thomas Daigle, who was named to the anchor position last week.

UPDATE (April 18): Barr heaped the praise on both Daigle and Marandola, saying how thrilled CBC is to have them in these roles. Barr said Daigle, who has no previous anchoring experience, is nevertheless “a really strong live reporter” who is “engaging on camera, a great communicator”. Marandola, who started backing up Cavallaro around Christmas, is “dynamic and engaging” and “really has a love and passion for weather,” Barr said.

I asked Barr, because of Wood’s history, whether ratings would factor in to how these anchors are evaluated. Barr said that of course ratings are important (“that’s why we’re here,” she said), but that there are no expectations on anchors when it comes to ratings numbers.

The newscasts – 6pm-6:30pm on Saturdays and 10:55pm-11:05pm on Sundays – start May 5.

Posted in Montreal, TV

Should CBC and Global move their local newscasts?

When I was working on my story about Global Montreal, my editor suggested I write a companion story about the ratings for local newscasts, since it had been a while since The Gazette looked into that. (The last time was a year ago, when CFCF celebrated its 50th anniversary.)

I asked for basic ratings information from the three broadcasters, wanting to know what their estimated total average audience was for each of their local programs. BBM Canada, which does ratings measurements, doesn’t like too much detail about demographics being released, so I limited myself to asking for the total 2+ audience.

In the case of Shaw Media, that limitation wasn’t enough, and they wouldn’t give me their exact ratings for CKMI’s Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal, saying they couldn’t because of their deal with BBM. Fortunately, I was able to get some ballpark figures by looking at the detailed master planners that Shaw Media provides to advertisers, which breaks down by station, by time slot and by demographics. Shaw warned me that these are just “estimates”, but they’re the best I could get, and the numbers were similar to what was reported last year.

CFCF and CBMT had no trouble providing me with their audience numbers (though in the case of CBC Montreal there was apparently some confusion over whether it was numbers for the Montreal market or total, which led to a correction on the story.)

CFCF > everyone

The numbers for the weekday 6pm newscasts are unsurprising, and haven’t changed much. CFCF dominates with almost 200,000 viewers on average. CBMT is next with its newscast peaking at 34,000 during the 5:30pm block (which is ironically when it presents national and international news), and CKMI has numbers in the four digits, somewhere around 7,000 viewers.

It’s pretty well the same story as last year, and just about the same story as a decade ago, except that in 2000, when Global Montreal was still new and still making significant investments in local programming, the number of people watching its local news was about three times what it is now, and it was in second place ahead of the struggling CBC, which had only two years previously had an audience as high as 60,000, and was above 80,000 in the early 1990s.

We have decades of numbers showing that CBC isn’t going to beat CFCF at 6pm, and 15 years of numbers that show Global trying every trick in the book isn’t going to help it succeed at that goal either. CFCF’s newscasts have more resources, more staff, more experience, and much more loyal viewers.

Assuming that the other stations want to maximize viewership for their local newscasts (and there’s certainly an argument to be made that Global is doing the absolute bare minimum when it comes to CKMI – even their upcoming morning show is being done because of a CRTC commitment), what can they do?

Throwing money at the problem is one solution, though people who remember the best years of CBC’s NewsWatch would note that they still weren’t able to create serious competition for CFCF in the 1990s.

News at 5 … or 7

Another option is to move the newscasts out of the way and hand the 6pm hour over to CTV. In 2009, CBC made a big move expanding its local evening newscasts to 90 minutes and having them start at 5pm. CBMT is seeing strong ratings gains for that hour, and is seeing more viewers from 5-6pm than from 6-6:30pm.

On the French side, the reanimated corpse of TQS known as V based much of its programming schedule on counter-programming, putting entertainment programming in the 6pm and 10pm hours when Radio-Canada and TVA have newscasts. The idea has worked for one of V’s biggest successes, Un Souper presque parfait at 6:30pm.

Of course, this has been tried before. Global Montreal tried starting local news at 5:30 twice, the last time in 2000. That lasted two years until they went to the half-hour news at 6pm that they do now. CBMT also tried starting at 5:30pm in the 90s, but didn’t have much success.

But I think it’s time to try again. V’s successes and CBC’s stronger ratings in its 5pm hour show that counterprogramming is a strategy that can work for an underdog. And the number of people working 9-to-5 jobs that get home just before 6pm isn’t the same as it used to be. Many people are working earlier and later.

I’m not a big fan of CBMT’s repetitive 90-minute newscast, though I can understand the strategy of letting people tune in for one half-hour block of their choice. I think CBC should just get rid of the last half-hour, move to a one-hour newscast with less repetition and more original local news, and use that other half-hour daily to produce some other form of local programming. A current-affairs show or local culture show would be, I think, dearly welcome in this market, and something that would fit well with CBC’s mandate. Putting such a show at 7pm, when CTV and Global air vacuous celebrity gossip shows, would be brilliant counterprogramming and give people like me a reason to watch television at that hour.

Unfortunately for CBMT, decisions like this are made almost entirely at the national level. It was a national decision to have a 90-minute newscast that starts at 5pm, and a 10-minute late newscast after The National. For such a change to happen, it would either need to be made nationally (ignoring the variations in each market) or would require a decentralization of decision-making that we haven’t seen in a long while.

As for Global, when I met with station manager Karen Macdonald, I asked why they hadn’t considered moving the newscast out of CTV’s shadow. She pointed out that they have tried that in the past, but also said they didn’t try it for long. She said they might consider it again, but that if it would move it would probably go to 5:30.

I think 7pm is a better bet. The competition – CTV’s awful eTalk and the second half of Coronation Street on CBC – is weak, they wouldn’t be up against any other local news, and I think more and more Montrealers are working later shifts or having longer commutes and are more likely to miss the 6pm news at CFCF.

But Entertainment Tonight and ET Canada are big ratings draws for Global. And replacing ET Canada with local news at 7pm would be a sign of serious commitment to local programming that I don’t think Global is prepared to sacrifice ratings for.

The other newscasts

While a lot of attention is paid to 6pm weekdays, I was curious what the other newscasts during the week get in terms of audience. Those numbers are rarely reported.

CTV’s ratings show that the late-night newscast at 11:30pm gets 57,000 viewers on weekdays and 55,000 on weekends – so those tuning in to Tarah Schwartz on Saturday nights is about the same as those tuned in to Catherine Sherriffs on Monday nights.

It’s worth noting that these numbers are higher than CBMT’s at 5pm. So when Debra Arbec left her job as late-night anchor to jump to CBC, she saw her average viewership drop. But that’s compensated by being a bigger fish in the smaller pond, being one of the faces of her station, and having more airtime in a day (with SportsNight taking up much of CFCF’s late newscast, anchor screen time is very limited).

At noon, CFCF draws 50,000 viewers, which is pretty impressive for a time when most people are at work or doing important things.

And on the weekends, Tarah Schwartz gets 119,000 viewers on average at 6pm. (She’s supposed to be getting a co-anchor at some point, but one hasn’t been announced yet.)

The other late-night newscasts have pretty poor ratings. About 14,000 viewers for the 10-minute block of CBC sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos. Global’s ratings at 11pm are in the low four-digits, around 2,000 viewers (though that’s a seven-day average, and also includes the 11:30 slot).

Compare that to more than 80,000 Montrealers tuning in to CTV National News, and there really isn’t much competition here either.

I always found CBC’s late local news a bit awkwardly-scheduled, more as a continuation of The National than a standalone program. That’s great if you want a lead-in from Peter Mansbridge, but CBMT isn’t going to attract viewers who tune in to American dramas at 10pm. By the time the credits start rolling on those shows, the CBC late newscast is almost half done.

What do you think?

I’m curious what my loyal readers think of newscast scheduling. Would moving weeknight local news be a good idea for CBC and Global? Would you be more likely to watch if they were on at some other time? What should the other guys do to set themselves apart from CFCF? And what other kinds of local programming would you like to see in English Montreal?

Posted in Montreal, Radio, TV

Managing Director Pia Marquard leaving CBC

Pia Marquard, managing director at CBC Quebec, is leaving her job at the end of the month for health reasons.

In a message to staff, which includes English television and radio in Montreal and Quebec City, Marquard said she was “very proud and happy that I’ve been part of the Quebec team during the last two years” but that breathing problems after failed operations on her vocal cords have made it difficult for her to continue in her position, and “this is not a job that can be done part time.”

CBC News Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire said she “accepted (Marquard’s) resignation with regret.” McGuire’s note to staff also said Marquard “intends to resume her consultant’s career in Montreal.”

Marquard became managing director at CBC Quebec in 2010, and is probably best known for a decision that was taken before she started. Marquard came into her new job amid a public backlash over the unceremonious removal of Nancy Wood from her job as host of CBC Daybreak. Marquard never commented publicly about the change, and to this day it remains unexplained.

Otherwise, her reign has been fairly uneventful, starting after the expansion of TV newscasts to an hour and a half and before the further expansion into weekends. There were two major on-air positions filled under her watch, with Mike Finnerty returning to Daybreak and Debra Arbec getting the co-anchor position with Andrew Chang on television. Also on her watch were technical upgrades, switching the transmitter to digital and upgrading the newscast to high definition.

Marquard’s replacement has not yet been named, but McGuire said one will be announced “within a few weeks.”

Marquard’s and McGuire’s messages to CBC staff are included below.

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Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio, TV

CBC Montreal adding weekend newscasts

CBC Montreal's TV news studio won't go dark for 65 hours on the weekends anymore

In case you didn’t see the article in Wednesday’s Gazette, CBC Montreal announced this week that it is adding newscasts on weekends as part of the Mother Corp.’s “Everyone, Every Way” strategy that has brought similar announcements of increased local services across the country.

To be specific (because the press release is anything but), starting in May (the exact date is still to be confirmed):

  • CBMT will get a half-hour local newscast at 6pm Saturdays, replacing the national newscast at that same time. It leads into Hockey Night in Canada.
  • CBMT also gets a late newscast at 10:55pm Sundays, after The National.
  • CBME-FM (88.5) gets local hourly newscasts on weekend afternoons, extending local news hours from noon to 5pm on Saturdays and 4pm on Sundays

A couple of questions remain unanswered.

  • Anchor: For the TV newscasts, an anchor hasn’t been chosen yet. The position is to be posted in the coming weeks. Top candidates would probably be Kristin Falcao, Sabrina Marandola, Catherine Cullen and Peter Akman, who have had experience filling in for vacationing anchors.
  • Jobs: It’s not clear at this point how many people will be hired to fill these new newscasts. CBC Quebec managing director Pia Marquard told me there would be “a couple of people at least”. Certainly an anchor will be needed on the TV side and a second news reader on the radio side. Plus one would imagine more reporters being needed on the weekend to file fresh stories for these newscasts. But Marquard seemed to suggest a lot of this would be done by shuffling around existing staff.

I asked Marquard about programming for Quebec communities outside of Montreal. No news there, even though one would think supporting anglophone minority communities in Quebec is part of the public broadcaster’s mandate. Outside of the Quebec AM and Breakaway radio shows out of Quebec City and programs of CBC North out of northern Quebec, the only radio and TV programming produced in the province comes out of Maison Radio-Canada.

I also asked her about the possibility of more non-news local programming. Things along the lines of the Secrets of Montreal special that ran last fall. She pointed to the CBC Montreal Summer Series, which are one-off one-hour specials that air Saturday nights during the summer, when nobody’s watching. Last year’s crop wasn’t particularly impressive. Of the six one-hour specials, two were English versions of Radio-Canada’s Studio 12 music performance show (which won’t return after this season, by the way, so they’re going to have to find another way to produce cheap one-hour shows). It’s not that I don’t like Studio 12, but it’s like those “CBC/Radio-Canada investigations” in which CBC Montreal repackages the work of Radio-Canada and takes credit for it.

Marquard did point out that CBC News Network will be airing the best of these summer series shows on Saturday afternoons this summer (when even fewer people will be watching, I imagine).

I don’t want to be too negative here. CBC television in Montreal has made a lot of progress in the past few years. It wasn’t long ago that all it had was a half-hour newscast on weekdays, producing 2.5 hours a week of programming. With these changes, it’ll go up to nine hours of local news a week, which is still way behind CFCF.

It would be nice if more of an effort was made to produce more local and regional programming for Quebec’s anglophone community from CBC, especially since there are no private English-language TV stations and few English-language radio stations outside of Montreal. And it would be nice if we had some programming that’s not confined to two-minute news reports or six-minute studio interviews, that could reflect the unique culture that is anglophone Quebec.

But for now I guess we’ll have to be satisfied that news that breaks on Saturday morning doesn’t have to wait until Monday at 5pm to be reported on local public television.

UPDATE (Feb. 17): Jobs have been posted for weekend news anchor and weekend meteorologist. The former is strangely listed as “full-time” even though it’s only two days a week.

Posted in TV

Yearning for local television

Last month, CBC television aired a half-hour special program called Secrets of Montreal.

The show, hosted by evening news anchor Debra Arbec, talked to some figures in the anglo Montreal cultural community about some of their cultural “secrets”. The guests include some pretty big local names, like comedian Sugar Sammy, filmmakers Jacob and Kevin Tierney, chef Chuck Hughes and musician Melissa Auf der Maur. They talk about restaurants, bars, urban spaces and other things they love about this city.

This, all in high definition (actual HD, not the fake HD we see on the newscasts). I actually can’t think of another program produced for a local audience by any of the three anglo broadcasters in this city that was done entirely in HD.

Secrets of Montreal host Debra Arbec

It’s not the greatest half hour of television ever (that soundtrack gets annoyingly repetitive after a while, for one, and some people have noted the Travel Travel-esque vibe), but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to see more of: local programming that isn’t confined to a newscast.

Even though Montreal has three local English-language television stations (four if you include the multiethnic CJNT/Metro 14), none of them air original local programming that isn’t either confined within the schedule blocks of their newscasts or done from their news sets. Not to take away from the quality of local news being produced by these stations, but there are some things we’d like to see that can’t be converted into a two-minute news package or six-minute sit-down interview.

Seeing this show was a breath of fresh air, a sign that maybe the CBC was starting to rediscover the idea that its programming should reflect not only the national culture but the local one as well. And I was hopeful that this was a sign the local stations were getting more control over their programming schedules and/or budgets, being able to work on special projects like this.

But I was disappointed somewhat when I discovered through Google searches that this idea didn’t come from CBC Montreal. “Cultural secrets” shows were produced across the country: Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and apparently other places as well. All were done to coincide with “Culture Days” and the CBC’s 75th anniversary. All followed roughly the same idea, and all aired Sept. 29th at 7:30pm, in the timeslot normally reserved for Jeopardy. (In fact, for Videotron illico users, the show was listed as an episode of Jeopardy, and remains labelled as such on my PVR. This may have resulted in many potential viewers missing the show.)

What bugged me about this national congruence was that it reminded me how much of what happens locally at the CBC is actually decided nationally, imposed on the regions in a cookie-cutter fashion.

It reminded me of Living [insert location here], the regional lifestyle show duplicated across the country that was cancelled during the big round of budget cuts in 2009. At least that was regular programming instead of a one-off show.

When I start giving more serious thought to proposals of radical changes at the CBC, this is one of the reasons why. The other stations are doing daily local newscasts (and, unlike CBC Montreal, they don’t take the weekends off). If this network is going to be funded mainly through government financing, shouldn’t it offer something different?

I’m aware of – and sympathetic to – the budget constraints faced by CBC and its Montreal television station. But English Montreal (and, for that matter, English Quebec) is a linguistic minority, and one would think the CBC would be a leader in giving this community a voice. Lately, it’s seemed more like an also-ran, which is particularly outrageous considering how little is done outside of news at CTV and Global.

Secrets of Montreal, directed by Vincent Scotti and Filippo Campo, and starring Debra Arbec, can be viewed in its entirety on the CBC website.

Posted in Montreal, Radio, TV

CBC open house this weekend

As part of its 75th anniversary, and on the weekend of Culture Days/Journées de la culture, CBC and Radio-Canada stations across the country are opening their doors to the public and showing them around.

Among locations in Quebec are:

Pretty well everywhere that creates programming.

Specific crowd-pleasers are planned in various large cities, though on the English side it’s mostly in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

At Maison Radio-Canada, where understandably most of the interesting stuff will be in French, there’s still plenty of interest for anglos. Besides the tours and personalities, a Hockey Night in Canada display is promised, as well as opportunities for kids who are fans of CBC Television’s children’s programming.

The Montreal building on René-Lévesque Blvd. will offer guided tours, one a short one of about an hour and another a longer one of an hour and 45 minutes. The CBC Montreal and Radio Canada International portions are included only in the longer tour. (See a full list of attractions in this PDF flyer)

Doors are open from 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. On-air TV stars like Debra Arbec, Andrew Chang and Amanda Margison have said they’ll be around for about lunch time on Saturday.

You might recall that CTV Montreal held open houses in 2009 and 2010. In both cases the studio considered the events a huge success, and though there is definitely a desire to repeat the process in the future, there aren’t any specific plans yet for another one.

Posted in Montreal, My articles, TV

Even more details about Montreal’s digital TV transition

Updated Feb. 23, 2012, with the latest information on transmitters (CKMI now on permanent antenna, CFTU transmitting in digital).

Mount Royal tower is about to go digital

I wrote a feature that appeared in Saturday’s Gazette (Page E3, for those clipping) about the transition from analog television to digital, whose deadline is Aug. 31.

The main story focuses mainly on how local broadcasters are coping with the transition. It’s a big endeavour, and with less than 10% of Canadian households still using antennas to get their television service, it’s difficult to justify the cost (in the neighbourhood of $1 million per transmitter, but varying widely) of replacing the analog with digital.

That’s to say nothing about the consumers, many of whom are on the lower end of the income scale, who must now spend money on new equipment.

The sidebar focuses on consumers, and tries to explain how people can prepare. If you haven’t already heard 1,000 times, cable and satellite subscribers are unaffected. If you get your service by antenna, you either need a TV with a digital ATSC tuner (most new HDTVs have one) or a digital converter box.

My editor was very generous with the assigned length (in all it clocks in at a bit under 2,000 words), but even then there’s a lot of information I had to leave out, including a few conversations I had with actual TV viewers. I’ll try to include most of that information here.

The digital transition in Montreal

First, here’s how the digital transition is going for the nine television stations broadcasting in Montreal (updated 9am Sept. 1):

  • Five (CFCF/CTV, CFTM/TVA, CIVM/Télé-Québec, CFJP/V and CJNT/Metro 14) have completed the transition, switching off their analog transmitters and replacing them with digital ones that are now transmitting. They should all be at full power from their permanent antennas.
  • Three (CBMT/CBC, CBFT/Radio-Canada,CKMI-1/Global) have shut down their analog transmitters and have digital ones operating on their permanent assigned channels, but are not yet operating from what will be their permanent antenna on top of the Mount Royal tower. (CBMT and CBFT are also running at reduced power.) Those who don’t get these signals now may see that improve over the coming weeks.
  • One (CFTU/Canal Savoir) has been given a two-month extension to make the transition. It is still broadcasting in analog until the digital transmitter begins running.