Tag Archives: CHAA

Community station FM 103,3 being forced to move transmitter off Olympic Stadium tower

The government agency that runs the Olympic Stadium has been active the past few years in trying to modernize it. A new really expensive roof was approved by the Quebec government. The tower was renovated into offices for 1,300 employees of the Desjardins group.

But another plan, to open the roof of the tower as an observation deck, means having to remove several radio transmitters, and the Régie des installations olympiques has given at least one of them an eviction notice.

CHAA-FM 103,3, the community station serving the south shore of Montreal, broadcasts from the Olympic Stadium tower, with a signal directed toward Longueuil. In an application to the CRTC, it says it received a notice in 2016 that it must vacate the tower by Dec. 31, 2017. The RIO later offered a three-year lease because work to renovate the roof was delayed, but that lease contained an option to cut it short with 12 months notice.

On top of that, work currently taking place on the tower has interfered with proper operation of the transmitter, due to all the vibration and dust being created. The station, owned by Radio communautaire de la Rive-Sud inc., finally decided it had enough, and has applied to move the transmitter to the CBC/Radio-Canada tower on Mount Royal, which houses almost every commercial FM and TV transmitter in the market.

The application was published Monday by the CRTC, and is accepting comments until Feb. 19, a shortened comment period the commission agreed to so it could expedite the application process.

Current (pink) and proposed (black) transmitter locations and signal patterns for CHAA-FM 103,3

The new transmitter would be higher (284m vs 192m), and slightly more powerful, with a maximum ERP of 1700W instead of 1400W. But its signal pattern would be similar (slightly better toward Brossard and the west), and impacts on nearby stations on the same or adjacent frequencies would be minimal, its engineer asserts.

This move won’t be cheap, though. CHAA estimates a moving cost of $200,000 for new equipment on the new site, and says its rent will double. It’s seeking a loan to cover the costs.

The Mount Royal Antenna is the tallest in Montreal, and the home of transmitters for CBMT, CBFT, CFCF, CFTM and CFJP television transmitters (plus CJNT that broadcasts from a building next to the tower), and CBME, CISM, CKUT, CIRA, CKBE, CBM, CKMF, CBF, CJFM, CHOM, CHMP, CJPX, CBFX, CFGL and CITE FM transmitters, and will soon be joined by CKOI. As a result of its ideal position on top of the mountain, it’s also the most expensive place to put a transmitter, so some stations have used alternate sources, like a nearby Bell-owned tower on the other side of Remembrance Rd. But Olympic Stadium was another option.

Besides CHAA-FM, only one other broadcast transmitter remains on the stadium: CIBL-FM 101,5. And that station is in the middle of a major financial crisis. The last thing it needs is a forced transmitter relocation, even if it had been aware of it for some time.

Correction: This post originally said Télé-Québec’s CIVM-DT transmitter was operating from Mount Royal after moving from the Olympic Stadium. I don’t know where I got that from, but the Industry Canada database shows it still listed as transmitting from the Olympic Stadium tower.

DramaSud

Média Sud was launched in 2008 as a joint project between community newspaper Point Sud and community radio station FM 103.3 (CHAA), both serving the South Shore community. It provided much-needed coverage of local news for those communities, who are otherwise underserved by large Montreal papers who focus on the island and Transcontinental-owned community papers that are little more than press releases and advertisements.

That partnership has broken down in recent weeks, with both sides fighting over control of the website. The battle appears to have been won by the newspaper (which literally took control of the website and denied the radio station access), and the story on Média Sud (and audio news update) makes it out to be a victory for goodness and puppies and such against the evils of community radio. The story by Quebecor weekly Brossard Éclair paints a much different story, with the radio station as the victim.

The conflict appears to have grown out of financial problems at the media website, even though it’s heavily funded by the city of Longueuil and the Quebec government, something The Gazette pointed out last year might hurt its objectivity.

Now that Point Sud has won the battle, let’s hope it can win the war to keep Média Sud alive.

CRTC Roundup: Videotron must closed-caption porn

We made fun of this a bit when it came out, but there was a serious policy question being asked by Videotron: Should cable companies be required to spend money closed-captioning on-demand pornography and programming aimed at preschool children who can’t read?

The month, the CRTC ruled that, well, yes, they should.

While you might think it common sense that such programs should be excluded from closed-captioning requirements, the CRTC said that children should have access to captioning so they can learn to read, and parents should have access to what their children watch. There wasn’t much discussion about the porn angle, namely that nobody cares what people are saying in pornographic movies.

In any case, the CRTC said Videotron hadn’t made a case that it’s so financially strapped that it can’t afford captioning costs, so the application was denied.

Konrad’s oopsie

The CRTC chairman said sorry for saying that conventional broadcasters like CTV and Global wouldn’t commit to taking carriage fees from cable and satellite providers and putting all that money into local programming. It turns out they were ready to make just such a commitment.

That certainly makes the TV people look better. But what guarantee would we have that they wouldn’t take back their existing funding to local stations now that this new source of revenue is available to them?

Bye Bye was wrong

You hate to still be talking about this, but the judgment is in about Radio-Canada’s Bye-Bye: It really was racist. The CRTC passed on complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and asked them to judge the show. The CBSC normally rules only on private broadcasting, but the CRTC asked them for their advice (if anything, this shows that there’s no reason the CBSC shouldn’t also deal with complaints about public broadcasting).

The CBSC’s ruling dismissed most of the complaints (though some only barely), including those about jokes on anglos, the poor, immigrants, dépanneur owners, Indian call centre operators, Julie Couillard, Céline Dion, politicians, and a single complaint saying they were unfair to GM. It also said that the show did not go over the line in its treatment of Nathalie Simard, and didn’t even hint at the abuse she suffered at the hands of Guy Cloutier, father of Bye Bye hotst Véronique Cloutier.

The council did rule that three things crossed the line:

  • Jokes against blacks, particularly the sketch involving Denis Lévesque and Barack Obama as well as comments from Jean-François Mercier about Obama being easier to shoot in front of the White House.
  • The portrayal of violence against women in a sketch involving the family of Patrick Roy.
  • The rebroadcast of the show the next evening without viewer advisories.

The racist jokes, the council said, were gratuitous and abusive. Though Radio-Canada, the show’s producers, its writers and its performers did not intend to foster racism and intended for the comments to be ironic, the council ruled that the context didn’t make this sufficiently clear, and the comments could easily have been taken at face value. It brought up a number of previous cases to support its view that comedic irony isn’t a blank cheque to make racist comments.

It’s hard not to agree with the council’s well-thought-out decision. Bye Bye didn’t intend to be racist, but it did intend to shock. And when you’re spouting racist comments just to shock people, how is that different from just being racist?

This decision is worth reading if only for the words “a rather cartoonish rabbit-like act of intercourse.”

Technically, this is just a recommendation to the CRTC. It is up to the commission to decide if it agrees, and if so what kind of sanction it will impose. Normally, private broadcasters are required to air a notice of the decision to viewers. We’ll see if the CRTC orders Radio-Canada to do the same.

More power for radio

It’s going to be a bit easier to listen to some out-of-town radio stations thanks to some CRTC approvals of power increases:

  • CKOY 104.5 FM in Sherbrooke, the sister station to Montreal’s CKOI, gets a huge power boost to up to 50,000 Watts. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to hear, especially with CBC Radio One’s second 100W transmitter at 104.7 FM in the west end. But if you’re in the Eastern townships and had trouble hearing the station, you should have much less of that now.
  • CJLM 103.5 FM in Joliette gets a modest boost from 3,000 to 4,500 Watts, which will help people on the north side of the island and on the north shore.
  • For those on the south side, they’ll be hearing FM 103.3 in Longueuil, which in the same decision saw its allowed power output grow more than five-fold. It’s still a low-power community radio station, but maybe now it won’t disappear off the dial when I hit the Plateau.

Haitian station wants change of frequency

CJWI, a Haitian AM station currently on 1610 AM, wants to change its frequency to 1410, which is where CFMB used to be. The move would put CJWI in the regular, non-extended AM band, allowing people with older radios to hear it. It also wants to increase its output power from 1kW to 10kW, and relocate its transmitter.

Rogers, small cable companies get nannied

The Canadian Cable Systems Alliance asked the CRTC to intervene in stalled negotiations it was having on behalf of small cable companies across the country with Rogers over its SportsNet service. The CRTC has the power to intervene in these cases, but it prefers not to. However, since regulations require some cable companies to carry SportsNet (and will until new regulations take effect in 2011 that deregulate the cable sports channels), it decided it must step in here. Details are kept in confidence to protect both businesses, so that’s about all we know.

Slice wants less CanCon

Canwest-owned Slice channel has noticed that its Canadian content requirements are much higher than what other specialty channels require, so it wants to get the same deal. It’s asking that its CanCon minimum programming requirement be dropped from 82.5% to 60%, and that it be forced to spend only 45% instead of 71% of revenues on Canadian programming.

City wants less CanCon movies

Citytv has asked the CRTC for a change in license that would eliminate a requirement to air 100 hours of Canadian movies each year – which works out to about a movie a week. Rogers (which owns City now) argues that it is the only conventional broadcaster that has this requirement and it shouldn’t be singled out. Canadian movie-makers say Rogers has pulled a bait and switch, praising Canadian movies when it bought the network and now quietly wanting to get rid of them.

Want Al-Jazeera?

The CRTC is opening up the can of worms about allowing Al-Jazeera English into the country. The commission had previously approved the Arabic-language version of the network, with unique requirements that distributors monitor and censor its content, something that requires far too much work for the cable and satellite companies.

The commission is considering adding the English channel to eligible foreign networks that cable and satellite can add to their lineups, but it wants comments from Canadians who might be opposed to it. They specifically want evidence of abusive comments, with tapes if possible.

More specialty channels

Conventional TV may be dying, but specialty channels are exploding like nobody’s business. The CRTC is holding a hearing on July 21 where it will listen to proposals for new networks:

  • Black Entertainment Television Canada (English and French) – self-explanatory, I would imagine.
  • Reality TV – A Canwest proposal for reality shows, DIY programs and scripted reality shows. This network was originally approved by the CRTC in 2005, but expired before Canwest could launch it, forcing them to start over from scratch.
  • AMET-TV, an African and Afro-Caribbean-themed channel that carries programming in English (70%), French (20%) and African languages (10%)
  • New Tang Dynasty Television Canada HD, a generalist network mainly in Mandarin but also other Chinese languages.

CPAC wants to be patriotic

CPAC, the politics channel that carries House of Commons proceedings among other things, is asking for permission to expand its boundaries on July 1 of each year. It wants to add three programming categories which would allow it to carry musical performance, variety, entertainment and related programming from Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill and elsewhere. A reasonable request if I’ve ever heard one, though I don’t think there are similarly specific exceptions to such rules on other channels.

A bold move

The CBC was in the process of getting slapped by the CRTC because it was violating its license with respect to Bold, a specialty channel. Formerly Country Canada, its license says it should air programming directed toward rural Canadians. But since then it’s basically been a dumping ground for whatever content the network wants to put there.

After the CRTC called a hearing, the CBC waved the white flag. It has proposed a license amendment, though one that would keep the rural focus.

Good news, bad news for Olympics

Following a request from the CRTC chairman, CTV and the CBC have been in talks about using CBC stations to broadcast French-language Olympics coverage for the tiny, tiny portion of Canadians who:

  • are unilingual francophones
  • don’t live in Quebec or within range of a TQS station
  • don’t have cable or satellite TV service
  • don’t have broadband Internet access
  • AND want to watch the Olympics in French on TV

You’d think this number would be so small as to be negligible (about 10,000 apparently fit the first three criteria), but in the spirit of political correctness, CTV (which owns the broadcast rights and is part of a giant consortium that’s covering the games) is looking at using some CBC stations to retransmit its TQS/RDS Olympics coverage over the air.

The problem is that the CBC isn’t crazy about donating the stations and getting nothing in return. Specifically, the debate is over ad revenue: CTV wants to keep it all (minus some compensation for what they would have had with their regular programming), and CBC thinks that’s crazy.

On the plus side, Corus has joined the giant consortium, which currently includes CTV (with TSN and RDS), TQS, Rogers and APTN. Corus will have Olympics coverage (though it doesn’t sound like much) on CKAC Sports as well as updates on CKOI, Info 690 and 98.5FM in Montreal.

In other news

And finally, not that anyone doubted it would happen, but the CRTC has allowed CBC Television and Télévision Radio-Canada to continue to operate for another year.

CRTC Roundup: The American retransmission consent model

Another term to add to the zeitgeist of CRTC talks about conventional television funding is the “American retransmission consent model,” thanks to a comment from Rogers during hearings this week on whether conventional television broadcasters should be allowed to collect fees from cable and satellite companies for retransmission of their channels.

Asked by the commission a House committee whether Rogers would approve of a U.S.-style system in which cable companies have to seek permission (and therefore pay fees) to carry conventional television stations, Rogers said it would, provided carriage was optional.

CTVglobemedia pounced on this, issuing a press release in which it praised Rogers for agreeing to fee-for-carriage in an “industry-to-industry solution” that follows the “American retransmission consent model.”

I personally think this is a better idea and could live with this kind of compromise. If broadcasters choose to demand fees that are too high for carrying their signals, the cable and satellite companies (or better, the consumers themselves) could decide it’s not worth it and use their rabbit ears instead to get the channels for free.

Not that I think the CRTC and all the players involved would support such a system.

Michael Geist also weighs in on this issue.

Conventional television pros and cons

For those who want to keep track, here are the various pros and cons to running a conventional television station instead of a cable specialty channel:

Pros

  • Over-the-air reception: This used to be a no-brainer, but with only 10% of Canadian TV viewers still using antennas (and most of them probably not watching TV all that much), this incentive becomes a lot less powerful than it once was.
  • Simultaneous substitution: Hated by most Canadian TV viewers, it’s the practice of replacing U.S. feeds with Canadian ones when both are running the same programming, in order to ensure that only Canadian commercials are watched (and Canadian networks get all the ad money). The problem is that it’s not done properly a lot of the time (especially during live events) and can end up cutting off programming. Still, it’s a huge cash cow to have a monopoly on the Canadian ad money when you air a new episode of House.
  • Spot on the dial: It’s mentioned often, though I think its effects are trivial. The CRTC requires that conventional television stations have low spots on the cable dial (channels 3, 4, 5 etc.). Perhaps there’s a minor psychological effect, but my TV viewing patterns are the same whether it’s channel 3 or channel 125.
  • Mandated carriage: Simply put, the cable companies must include these channels as part of their basic packages. This means there are no homes in a local area that don’t have access to these channels. (Well, almost. Satellite carriers don’t have to carry all channels, and Bell still doesn’t carry Global Quebec.)

Cons

  • Cost of transmitters: This is serious because of the mandated switch to digital television. It’s not an issue so much in major centres like Toronto and Montreal, but small markets don’t have enough size to justify such huge capital expenditures. A recently-released report puts the cost of converting all stations in the country to digital at between $200 million and $400 million.
  • Cost of local production: The CRTC mandates a minimum amount of local production, usually in the form of local newscasts. Even with huge cuts to newsrooms and increased use of technology to reduce the need for technical jobs, broadcasters say being forced to produce local programming is hurting their bottom line. With some exceptions, local newscasts are money-losing operations.
  • Lack of subscriber income: Ironically, even while being forced to spend more on programming, conventional television doesn’t get access to subscriber fees from cable and satellite companies, having to rely on advertising alone for income. Before the explosion of cable and the Internet, that wasn’t a problem. Now it is.

A plea for local TV

Richard Therrien in Le Soleil asks what purpose the CRTC serves, which is kind of a misleading title because his article advocates stronger regulation of private broadcasters. He argues that TVA is abandoning Quebec City, asking the CRTC to reduce its local programming requirements and producing generic non-regional shows out of its Quebec City studios.

Journalistic Independence is here (kinda)

Global TV, TVA and Sun TV have received final approval from the CRTC to suspend parts of their licenses relating to cross-media ownership (Canwest and Quebecor also own newspaper properties) and replace it with a standard policy called the Journalistic Independence Code. The code provides for an independent body (half controlled by the industry it’s regulating) to adjudicate complaints related to independence of co-owned media outlets. The outlets are to have completely independent news management, but there are no restrictions on news gathering, which means corporate management is free to force as much convergence as it likes, provided editorial boards are separate.

The CRTC mentioned it got complaints from concerned citizens who were up in arms over these firewalls being taken down, but the commission essentially argued (as I have) that these complaints should have been brought up when the Journalistic Independence Code was discussed in the first place.

Minority-language communities are well-served

The Governor-in-Council has issued a report about minority-language broadcasting in Canada (English programming in Quebec and French programming outside Quebec). The report, which is in no way binding, concludes that in general, language minorities have sufficient access to programming, mainly due to the CBC, national specialty channels and the Internet.

It does, however, also bring up a few suggestions for strengthening access to French-language programming in English areas. Among them:

  • Requiring Ontario cable companies to distribute both CBC French-language stations in the province (CBOFT in Ottawa and CBLFT in Toronto)
  • Encouraging cable and satellite companies in English-language areas to provide the option of a single package of all francophone services to subscribers
  • Encouraging negotiations between the CBC and CTV/Rogers/TQS consortium regarding distribution of French-language Olympics programming to minority French communities outside Quebec using CBC transmitters. (The consortium has already said it would air all programming on RDS and allow cable and satellite providers to distribute the station for free during the Games)
  • Requiring that TFO be distributed as part of the basic service on all cable and satellite services.
  • Consider expansion of CBC Radio Two to serve minority linguistic areas
  • Find a way to support funding of minority-language community radio stations
  • Find ways of increasing spectrum available for radio stations, either by reassigning TV channels 5 and 6 (which sit just below the FM broadcast band) or by encouraging the adoption of digital radio

None of these are binding, and most aren’t even formal suggestions. But they might come up in more formal contexts at the CRTC in the coming months and years.

As for the flip side – English programming in Quebec – the report concludes that anglo Quebecers have ample access to English-language programming.

Fox Business coming to Canada

The CRTC has approved a request from Rogers to add Fox Business Network to the list of foreign channels eligible for rebroadcast on Canadian cable and satellite services. This means that Rogers Cable and others can add FBN as an option on digital cable or satellite (assuming they can negotiate a reasonable price for carriage).

Fox Business Network is a competitor to CNBC (and a really bad one at that if you look at the ratings). CTV argued to the CRTC that it would also be a competitor to its Business News Network (formerly Report on Business Television). The CRTC determined that this was not the case because BNN focuses on Canadian business and there is no programming common to both networks.

Besides, they’d already approved CNBC, which is a far more formidable competitor than Fox Business will be.

Specialty channels raking in the dough

The CRTC has released financial figures for specialty, pay and video-on-demand services. It shows increases in both revenues and profits, but no increase in the number of people employed (in fact, it went down by six people). The headliner was that for the first time ever, spending on Canadian programming by these services topped $1 billion.

Community TV station in Laval?

Télévision régionale de Laval has asked for a license for a low-power (50W) television station serving the Laval area, on which it would air programming it is currently producing for Videotron’s Vox TV.

The station, which currently has a budget of about $400,000 a year and is affiliated with local media and the city of Laval, would broadcast on Channel 4, which would cause interference problems with CBOT (CBC) Ottawa and CFCM (TVA) Quebec City, both on the same channel (not to mention analog cable reception of Radio-Canada’s CBFT for homes very close to the transmitter).

The main motivation for this move, according to TRL, is that Vox isn’t giving its programming enough play, especially during prime time viewing hours.

It’s an ambitious move, and one wonders if the small group behind it would be up to the task of keeping such a station running (they’ve already asked for an exemption from a 100% closed-captioning requirement). But it’s nice to see some people still think locally-produced over-the-air television is worth something.

Al-Jazeera trying again

Though the CRTC hasn’t issued a call for public comment yet, news about Al-Jazeera English’s bid for CRTC approval is making its way around. It started in the Globe and Mail back in February, and has since hit the Toronto Star, Sun Media, LCN and Cyberpresse.

Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language network is authorized for distribution in Canada, but with unique special requirements that put the onus on distributors to monitor its content. That made it too difficult (read: expensive) for cable and satelllite operators to abide by, so none have picked up the channel.

Al-Jazeera is trying to clean up its image as a radical jihadist network, launching an online campaign and even lobbying the Canadian Jewish Congress, which says it’s on the fence about supporting the network’s bid. Despite its reputation (many of its critics have never even watched the network), it is based in a relatively pro-U.S. country (Qatar), employs Western journalists for its English network, and reports on a lot outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even PBS affiliates have used some of its reports (though that caused a kerfuffle).

Canadians will have their say when the CRTC opens the application for comments. The issue probably won’t be whether the network is approved, but whether the same onerous restrictions will be placed on its carriage.

General changes to broadcasting laws

The CRTC is asking for comments about a list of minor but general changes to its broadcasting laws, which provide for:

  • Cable and satellite companies inserting targetted ads into programming (with the agreement of the broadcaster)
  • Establishing the Local Programming Improvement Fund, which will be funded by a 1% tax from broadcasters to help small-market stations
  • Prohibiting networks from withholding programming from cable and satellite companies during a dispute
  • Removing the distinction between small cable companie (fewer than 20,000 subscribers) and large ones when it comes to minimum financing rules for community television initiatives (such as Videotron’s Vox network).

In other news

And on the telecom side

The CRTC has approved changes to the National Do-Not-Call List so that numbers added to the list stay for five years instead of three. It also clarified that independent politicians (who are not connected to political parties) are also exempt from the do-not-call rules. Arguments for these decisions are here.

The commission has also launched a public consultation on ISP traffic management, namely asking whether Internet providers should have the right to use traffic shaping during high-usage times to slow down peer-to-peer file sharing so that regular users have a chance to use more bandwidth. This comes at the same time Bell says it will charge independent providers metered rates instead of flat ones, effectively ending the idea of unlimited Internet access.