Tag Archives: CBMT

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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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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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.

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.

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.

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?

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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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.

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.

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.

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.

Michel Godbout leaving CBC for TVA Sports

Michel Godbout has found a new career opportunity over the horizon

Quebecor’s soon-to-be-launched TVA Sports specialty channel isn’t just looking to RDS hockey analysts like Dave Morissette and Yvon Pedneault (or La Presse’s Réjean Tremblay) for on-air talent. Their hiring spree has also poached CBC Montreal’s sports anchor.

Michel Godbout confirmed Monday that he will be leaving the CBC to join the TVA Sports channel set to debut this fall. His last day is July 30. (He was cut off early: see below)

Godbout (who is, as you can imagine, fully bilingual) worked for 15 years at Radio-Canada and then CBC Montreal – most famously as the evening news anchor between 2005 (when Dennis Trudeau retired) and 2009 (when Andrew Chang and Jennifer Hall took over a revamped newscast). He starts an anchoring job at TVA Sports on Aug. 22.

TVA Sports, which was approved by the CRTC in February 2010, has already signed deals to carry some Ottawa Senators games and most Montreal Impact soccer games, though it failed to get the government to break the deal the Canadiens have with RDS. Quebecor is also trying to get an NHL team to Quebec City, giving another big reason for fans to subscribe to this channel.

No word yet on who will replace Godbout permanently. CBC Montreal News Director Mary-Jo Barr is on vacation until August.

You can follow Godbout on Twitter at @GodboutSports (fortunately he won’t have to change that name – but expect it to be a bit more francophone in the future).

UPDATE (July 21): Thursday was Godbout’s last day. He says during an interview this morning on CBC Daybreak that he gave his two weeks’ notice on Friday (July 15), but was told that Thursday would be his last day, being let go because he was leaving for a competitor.

Godbout had a brief goodbye on air with Debra Arbec (Andrew Chang was off):

Debra Arbec, Catherine Sherriffs debut without a hitch

Debra Arbec (left) on CBC at 5, and Catherine Sherriffs on CTV at 11:30

Monday was a pretty big day for local TV watchers, with new faces debuting on CBC and CTV newscasts.

Debra Arbec, who left CFCF in May for an evening anchor position at CBMT, saying she wanted a shot at a supper-hour newscast, finally got her first night on air after her contractual obligation to CTV ended on July 1. She co-anchors with Andrew Chang from 5pm to 6:30pm, replacing Jennifer Hall, who has moved back to southern Ontario.

CTV, meanwhile, gave Arbec’s old job of 11:30pm weekday anchor to Catherine Sherriffs, who wasn’t even part of the permanent reporting staff at the time. Sherriffs’s first shift as a television anchor was Monday night.

Both Arbec and Sherriffs were flawless on their first nights, and got lots of praise from their bosses.

Smooth transition for Arbec

“It could not have gone smoother,” said CBC Montreal News Director Mary-Jo Barr, who has been working with Arbec for three weeks. “I was so excited to see the team on air,” she said. “It felt like Christmas morning.”

Arbec agreed that things went very smoothly, even when the first news report she introduced failed to play and she had to give her first we’re-having-technical-difficulties speech.

Asked what the biggest transition issue was, Arbec pointed to technology. CBC uses Avid video editing software, and Arbec had to learn to edit, something she didn’t do at CTV. And in HD, to boot. She and Chang edit the international news roundup themselves.

Arbec also said the change in the schedule took some getting used to. “My body clock has been used to late nights for so long,” she said. Now she has a day job and can spend evenings at home with her husband, Brian Wilde.

Chang, incidentally, also will have a more daytime schedule. It was decided to pull him off the late-night newscast (which runs 10 minutes from 10:55 to 11:05pm) so he could concentrate exclusively on the supper-hour show. Instead of coming in at 3pm and having only two hours to familiarize himself with the show, he can come in and shape it from the beginning. “The show was always a bit of a surprise to him,” Barr said. The move was done by rearranging existing staff, avoiding the need to increase the show’s budget by hiring another person.

Reporter Amanda Margison has been given the late-night host job, which includes some lineup editing and monitoring breaking news during the 5pm newscast.

Arbec heaped praise on her coworkers, including co-host Chang, who she said has been “such a godsend for technology for me.” She’s had a chance to meet the new team (she likened it to moving to a new school) and how to pronounce their names (try saying “Anna Asimakopoulos” without hesitating) and said they were all “really supportive and understanding” about her move there.

Aside from anchoring and preparing the newscast, Arbec will also be introducing a weekly segment called Montrealer of the Week, profiling people who make a difference in the community but aren’t otherwise recognized. Similar in style to the My Montreal series she did at CTV, but focusing on individuals instead of ethnic groups. They will air Fridays, with the first one this coming Friday.

You can watch the 6-6:30pm portion of Arbec’s first newscast here. It includes and end-of-show welcome from Chang, in which Arbec notes how fast the hour and a half went. CBC also has Arbec’s bio on its website.

UPDATE (Sept. 26): The Gazette’s Brendan Kelly profiles Arbec as an advance to a half-hour special Secrets of Montreal, which she hosts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherriffs’s nerves fade quickly

A few hours later at CFCF, it was Sherriffs’s turn behind the desk. A smaller desk, as she was thrown the curveball of having her first day also be the first day of a new temporary set while they build a brand new studio.

“She went into that position a little cold,” said CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane. “It’s not a hermetically sealed studio. There’s a lot of distraction. I thought it was great that she was able to do it under those circumstances.”

For Sherriffs herself, it was a bit intimidating doing her first shift as a television news anchor. Other than some time with Todd van der Heyden on Crescent St. during the Formula One broadcasts, she hasn’t had any experience behind the desk. She got some voice coaching (standard for new anchors, Kahane said), but nothing beat the pressure of being live on air by yourself.

“I was more nervous when I came in at the beginning of the shift,” Sherriffs said. By showtime, she realized there was no going back now, and with every segment the nerves became more manageable.

The nervousness showed a bit on air, particularly in more light-hearted segments when she didn’t seem entirely natural. By Tuesday night, it seemed much less apparent and she looked a lot more comfortable in her new role. (Well, as comfortable as you can be with bright lights shining on you, a camera in your face and thousands of people watching you live.)

Like Arbec, Sherriffs credited her crew for helping her get through it. “The crew was amazing,” she said, offering her lots of support.

And in case you were curious, Arbec did watch Sherriffs’s first show, even though it was on what is now a competitor’s channel. She said Sherriffs did a fine job and she wishes her well.

You can read Sherriffs’s CTV bio here.

A new studio at CFCF

CTV and RDS are really excited about upgraded studios that are being constructed on the ground floor of their building at Papineau St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. But before CTV can move in to the new set in September, it has to vacate its old one. Sunday’s 11:30pm newscast with Paul Karwatsky was the last in the old studio (he’s very proud of that). Starting Monday at noon, the newscasts were being done on a temporary set constructed in the CTV Montreal newsroom.

The temporary set has its issues. For one thing, there’s only one chair behind the anchor desk. Kahane says the plan is to only have one anchor at a time (summer vacations mean the newscasts that normally have two anchors won’t again until September). But it still causes some interesting situations, particularly when they have to switch between news and sports anchor. Currently, one of the two stands when they chat with each other during transitions, which is a bit awkward.

The other thing is that the newsroom is a pretty active place. There was a bit of noise in the audio from the anchor desk on the first night, and people working in the newsroom during a broadcast have to be careful what they yell or what they do when they’re in the camera’s view.

The set added a bit of awkwardness to the introductions, because the establishing shot of the studio can’t be done anymore. Since that’s where the booming voiceover introducing the anchors comes in, that’s gone too. Now, the newscast goes straight from the opening theme to a closeup shot of the anchor. It’s a bit of a jarring transition for someone used to the way the newscast works.

Kahane said most of the work in setting up the temporary studio came in fixing the lighting. There was a camera in the newsroom before that reporters could use to report breaking news and the late anchor would use to say what’s coming up at 11:30, but to do an entire newscast from there, the background needed to be a bit better than the drab and – by television standards – dark cubicles of a newsroom.

Still, the production has a kind of out-of-the-basement feel to it. It looks fine technically, but it doesn’t feel as comfortable.

Kahane said the summer was a good time to do this (it’s kind of a lull in the news industry, and TV ratings are generally down as people head out and do things with their lives). And the move into a new expansive studio (with windows!) will be worth it.

The new studio will be “HD-ready”, meaning the infrastructure will be suitable for HD broadcast, but there are no concrete plans yet to convert the newscast to high definition. CTV has prioritized its specialty channels, which are currently being transitioned. And Montreal hasn’t been made a high priority because of the lack of competitive pressure.

Kahane also said the temporary set will be used as the in-the-newsroom live reporter feed once the new studio is in place, and its look will fit in with the look of the new studio.

You can watch the report CTV did here for some visuals of the building of the new set and the temporary one.

And what of their old set? Part of it is being used in the temporary studio, but the big desk and other elements have been donated to Concordia University’s journalism department, where it’s being used in their studio to teach students to become TV anchors themselves.

Debra Arbec leaves CTV to co-host CBC newscast

Debra Arbec waves goodbye to fans on her last trip on the CTV St. Patrick's Day float

News went out to CTV Montreal staffers early Wednesday morning that evening news anchor Debra Arbec has been poached by CBC Montreal to co-anchor its 5pm newscast, replacing the departing Jennifer Hall as Andrew Chang’s co-anchor.

Hall is leaving for personal reasons, returning with her family to southern Ontario.

“It’s been an amazing ride at CTV,” Arbec told me on the phone today, describing the job at CBC as “a great opportunity.” She says her contract there begins July 1 (though she suspects she’ll get that first day off).

Though this is hardly the first change of stations for a local TV newscaster (CTV recently picked Kai Nagata from CBC to fill its Quebec City bureau, weatherman Frank Cavallaro was hired by CBC after his contract at CTV expired, and Global’s evening news anchor Jamie Orchard worked for CTV before she got the bigger job at the smaller station many years ago). But it’s a bit odd to see someone of Arbec’s profile quitting the highest-rated station in the city to go to the No. 2.

For Arbec, who said she’s “not really a numbers person,” the issue was more her placement on the schedule than her placement on the dial. “It’s obvious that a supper-hour show wasn’t in the cards at CTV. Mutsumi (Takahashi) is very much loved in Montreal and will be for a very long time,” she said, with no apparent hard feelings for the city’s most veteran English-language TV news anchor.

Arbec has been hosting CFCF’s 11:30pm newscast since 2003. Though it’s 35 minutes long, only about 15 of that is news, which is a very small amount of daily airtime. CBMT’s supper-hour newscast, meanwhile, is 90 minutes from 5pm to 6:30pm (even if it is a bit repetitive).

Still, ratings are an issue, and Arbec said she knows “a challenge will be to continue to grow CBC’s numbers,” which have just about doubled since the expanded newscast started but are still not even in the same ballpark as CFCF.

“I didn’t make the decision lightly,” Arbec said. She’s been working there for 13 years, and “I love the people there.”

That would obviously include Brian Wilde, who she met at CTV and has been married to for five years. She said it would be different not working together at the same station (they worked the late newscast together last week, which she said was fun), but she doesn’t expect any major changes in their personal lives, except for the fact that she can now spend her late evenings at home.

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Ratings: CFCF dominates, but CBMT’s happy

Fall 2010 ratings for Montreal anglophone evening newscasts

It’s the kind of statistic that can only be visualized in pie chart form: CFCF (CTV Montreal) continues to dominate the ratings of the three local evening newscasts, according to figures Bill Brownstein put out in Saturday’s story about the station’s anniversary (which, incidentally, is today – happy anniversary). It has more than six times as many viewers as its nearest competitor, and more than four out of every five people watching an anglophone newscast at 6pm is tuned to channel 12.

It’s nothing new. CFCF has been dominating the ratings like this for years, ever since massive budget cuts at the CBC caused people to tune away from NewsWatch.

But the public broadcaster is slowly fighting its way back up. Almost a year and a half since introducing a 90-minute evening newscast (that relied primarily on repeating the same stories), CBMT is seeing a ratings spike in the 5-6pm hour.

“Our audience has almost doubled at 5 and 5:30 since last fall,” news director Mary-Jo Barr explains in an email. “Our share at 5pm is 9% (up from 5% in fall 2009) and our 5:30 share is 10% (up from 6% in Fall 2009).  This is the largest audience the CBC has held in the 5-6 timeslot in recent memory.  We couldn’t be more pleased.”

This is a sign that Montrealers are realizing there’s a newscast at 5pm on CBC, and if for whatever reason that timeslot is more convenient for them, they can get their news from CBC instead of CTV. It’s nowhere near the kind of ratings CFCF gets for its 6pm newscast, but it should still serve as a lesson to CBMT, Global’s CKMI and other stations who trail badly in the ratings department: Unless you have a truckload of money to waste, don’t try to take beat the leader with a bad copy of what it does.

Barr also credits some content changes for the increased ratings. “We’ve been working hard to make the show as relevant as possible to English Montrealers,” she says. “We’ve more clearly defined each half hour.  We’ve increased our investigative reporting by dedicating our Shawn Apel to the beat and by embedding Nancy Wood in Radio-Canada’s investigative unit.  We’ve also added a weekly segment, Jennifer Hall’s “Montrealer of the Week”, which features the achievements of everyday Montrealers.  We also continue to place special emphasis on breaking news, live reporting, and local news and weather.  Seems like the winning formula is starting to pay off.”

(With respect to Apel, who is a solid reporter, an investigative team of one isn’t going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. But I appreciate the effort.)

So where do we go from here? I think CBC should just scrap the last half-hour of its newscast and run a straight hour from 5 to 6, where they have no competition (unfortunately, because too many big decisions are still made in Toronto, that’s not likely to happen here unless it happens everywhere else too). Find places or beats that CFCF either isn’t interested in covering or isn’t doing a good job with, and make those their own.

And what about Global?

Mike Le Couteur hosting what is apparently the Global Maritimes newscast

I hesitate to use the word “laughingstock”, mostly out of respect to the small crew of journalists who are trying their best there. But I tuned in to last night’s News Final (it’s the only local anglo newscast between 11:05 and 11:30) to see that it had a “Global Maritimes” bug in the corner. That lasted about 10 minutes until I mentioned it on Twitter and someone fixed it.

Yes, “it’s just a bug“, but it’s a symptom of the larger problem of what happens when you try to run a newscast on the cheap by producing and directing it in another city. I’ve watched the show many times waiting for the weatherman to accidentally give the Toronto forecast (CKMI’s weather is done by the weather presenter at Global’s Toronto station), and to his credit I haven’t seen Anthony Farnell slip up yet.

There’s some hope on the horizon. With Shaw’s acquisition of Global from Canwest, they’ve promised (as part of a government-mandated compensation package) to invest significantly in the stations, among them a new local morning show set to debut in 2012 (four years after This Morning Live went off the air). It’s unclear at this point how much of that would actually be produced and directed in Montreal, but it fills a gaping hole in local news, where the only thing between midnight and noon is a local news ticker at the bottom of the screen during CTV’s Canada AM.

I think CKMI should consider moving its evening newscast, perhaps to 7pm, and either move those stupid celebrity gossip shows elsewhere or kill them entirely. But they won’t, of course. Global, unfortunately, gave up on local news in this market long ago.