Tag Archives: CKAC

Posted in Radio

Radio ratings: Good news for 98.5, The Beat and CHOM

Quarterly radio ratings were released earlier this month. You can see the BBM compilation of top-line data here (PDF), but it doesn’t say too much.

Astral and Cogeco both provide analysis for the benefit of advertisers, Astral in the form of a slideshow (PDF) and Groupe Force Radio (which represents Cogeco stations and independent former Corus stations in Quebec City and Saguenay) also does a slide presentation (PDF). The latter tends to be more detailed, but is also more biased, highlighting their stations’ successes and their competitors’ struggles.

Here, based on those reports, is some analysis of what’s going on in commercial radio in Montreal. We’ll start with the English side.

English radio

Afternoon ratings show a spike for Donna Saker’s show on CKBE, rocketing it to No. 1. There’s a similar spike in late mornings and at noon-hour.

Overall, there hasn’t been much change in the ratings. A few points up, a few points down. But breaking it down a bit you see some significant gains for CKBE-FM 92.5 (The Beat) and a few highlights for CHOM-FM 97.7 as well.

The Beat, which rebranded last fall in an effort to attract a younger female audience but hadn’t seen much movement in ratings until now, is starting to see the change (and accompanying marketing spending) pay off. It’s second behind Virgin Radio among adults 18-49 and 25-54 (in both cases passing CHOM), first among adults 35-64 (passing CJAD) and has seen a gain of more than 50% in a year for men 25-54 (which is interesting because the station is targetting women).

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Posted in Radio

Radio ratings: A good fall for Cogeco and CKGM

Overall market share for anglophone Montreal (note that this includes only BBM members)

Ah, ratings. That time of the every-few-months where people who own radio stations gloat about their rising numbers, and if they don’t have rising numbers they selectively comb through demographics and time periods until they find something to gloat about, and if they don’t find anything there either they just bullshit their way through a press release.

Normally I don’t pay much attention to them, because the changes are so insignificant. But with some major programming changes this fall, and some corresponding jumps and plummets in audience, it’s worth taking a closer look this time.

Here are some more objective highlights from the ratings numbers from what I’ve been able to find. The top-line numbers from BBM Canada are here (PDF, first page is English audience, second page French audience). You can compare that to the spring report or last year for the same period.

Astral Media also does a presentation (PDF) that looks into the numbers overall for key demographics, and for important time periods for adults 25-54, which advertisers apparently covet.

CJAD 800AM (Astral)

Programming changes: Aaron Rand show added to evenings, moving Ric Peterson to early afternoons and Kim Fraser to weekends. Barry Morgan does 7-10pm weekdays, replacing Dan Delmar. Loss of Canadiens games to CKGM.

Overall (adults 2+, seven days a week), CJAD is still the highest-rated station in the Montreal English market. It has a 24% market share, within 0.2 percentage points of this spring and last fall. But it’s losing audience in key demographics, especially young adults. In the 18-34 demo, it’s down from 17% this spring to 11%. Though losing rights to Canadiens games is undoubtedly part of that, it’s not the whole story.

If CJAD thought Aaron Rand would give a ratings boost for its evening drive, that hasn’t happened. Its audience for 4-7pm weekdays is stagnant, and it has dropped to fifth place, behind Mitch Melnick on CKGM, for 25-54.

CKGM 990AM (TSN Radio 990, Bell Media)

Programming changes: Rebranding. Acquisition of Canadiens games. Denis Casavant leaves morning show.

The biggest change to CKGM is the addition of Canadiens games, which is giving a significant boost to the evening audience, making it No. 1 on game nights. “Canadiens games are registering an impressive 28.2 share among males 25-54,” Bell Media’s Greg McIsaac tells me. Previously, the station was fifth place with a 3.7 share during that time period. Now, overall, it’s 19.8, ahead of Virgin Radio, station manager Wayne Bews tells Mike Cohen.

But the station is seeing ratings gains everywhere. Overall, CKGM is reaching more listeners, 131,000 a week compared to 93,000 in the spring. Its market share overall has gone up from 2.7 to 4.

Mitch Melnick’s afternoon show has the most impressive gains, going from 3,490 to 4,540 listeners during an average minute, representing a 30% increase in audience. It was enough to push CKGM past CJAD for this time period among adults 25-54, particularly impressive since he’s now up against Aaron Rand.

For me, the big question out of this is: Was getting Canadiens games worth it? Obviously they won’t get into details about their business plans, but the mood seems to be pretty positive.

Bell Media also wouldn’t comment on whether the station is still losing 30% of its audience after dark, as it complained to the CRTC during hearings that eventually granted it the right to move to the clear channel of 690 kHz. But critics might argue it’s hard to get a 28% share if you’re having significant reception problems.

There was also speculation that the station might be picking up francophone listeners after the closure of CKAC Sports. Though there has been a “moderate increase”, Bell Media’s McIsaac says, the overall numbers among francophones have remained unchanged since the spring. Overall, CKGM has a market share of 0.0 among francophone listeners.

If anything, the more likely scenario is that anglophone listeners who tuned into CKAC are coming back to CKGM. The French all-sports station had a 0.5% share among anglophone listeners. Stands to reason many of them would prefer hearing sports-related news and commentary during the day.

CKBE 92.5FM (ex-CFQR, The Beat, Cogeco)

Programming changes: Complete station rebranding. Cat Spencer replaces Aaron Rand on morning show, Ken Connors moves to weekend mornings, Nat Lauzon does weekend afternoons (starting Oct. 15).

They called it a brand new radio station. They wanted to shed all remaining remnants of the old Q92. But despite all the changes, it has still inherited the old Q ratings. The station has a 16% market share overall, which is actually down slightly from last year.

But program director general manager Mark Dickie still has a happy face. (Well, I assume he does. He seemed content when I chatted with him over the phone.) That’s mostly because CKBE has made the strategic decision as part of the Beat rebranding to target the 35-44 female demographic that competitor CJFM seems to have abandoned, and it’s seeing corresponding gains there, and Dickie says they’ve managed to do that while continuing to grow its 45-54 female demo. Overall, from 9am to 4pm, it has a 30% market share for women 35-54.

“It’s pretty well what we were hoping for in the first book,” he said. Among his cherry-picked highlights, the breakfast show with Cat Spencer and Sarah Bartok has surpassed CJFM among the key demo and has gone from fourth to second (behind CJAD) among adults 35-54. (Expanding to adults 25-54, it’s still third, but gaining on second-place CJAD.)

Besides the new morning show, the Beat has also focused on weekends, moving Ken Connors to a beefed-up weekend morning show and bringing star Nat Lauzon in for weekend afternoons.

Lauzon’s numbers are good, even though she’s been on for only half the ratings period. Her numbers are up 6% on Saturdays and 7% Sundays compared to the spring. Among adults 35-54, afternoons are up 12% on Saturdays and 15% on Sundays.

But it’s Connors who is making the biggest impact, with double-digit growth on weekend mornings. Among women 35-54, the station’s audience has grown 37% on Saturdays and 53% on Sundays on weekend mornings.

“It’s definitely paying off,” Dickie says of the decision to focus on weekends, and of the Beat rebranding in general.

Of course, a lot of that is the promotional blitz that comes with a station rebranding. We’ll have to give it another ratings period to see if this audience is sticking around.

CJFM 95.9FM (Virgin Radio, Astral)

Programming changes: Freeway Frank replaces Cat Spencer on morning show, Nat Lauzon leaves midday show for CKBE.

Virgin is still the market leader among adults 18-54. The only big demo it’s lost control over is men 25-54, where CHOM has snuck into first place. The morning show, which took on Freeway Frank Depalo this year and is about to lose Lisa Player, has kept its audience. Its audience during midday, which has lost veteran Nat Lauzon, hasn’t seen a significant change among adults 25-54.

Virgin’s on-air lineup is young, and midday hosts Andrea Collins and Nikki Balch are new to the station over the past year. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose. “As the leader our plan was not to react,” Brand Director Mark Bergman tells Cohen.

CHOM 97.7FM (Astral)

Programming changes: Pete Marier moved to afternoon drive, Rob Kemp to morning show, Tootall to middays and Sharon Hyland to weekends.

Even though CHOM is in a period of transition as it awaits the return of Terry DiMonte on Jan. 9, this has actually been a pretty good ratings period for the station. It’s up just about everywhere, except among women and during the drive-time show, where it’s stagnant. It’s now first overall among men 25-54, overtaking sister station CJFM. Even the morning show has picked up listeners, though it still sits fourth among English-language stations overall.

CBC Radio

Overall, Radio One’s market share is still 8% among anglos, which hasn’t changed over the past year. For Radio Two, there’s been a slight drop in overall audience, going from a 3.1% to 2.6% market share.

CHMP 98.5FM (Cogeco)

Programming changes: Incorporation of sports programming in evenings after closing of CKAC Sports.

Cogeco Nouvelles, in a totally unbiased press release masquerading as news, declared 98.5 the most listened-to station in Canada. I’m too lazy to confirm that, but they’re not making up their significant market gains.

Overall, the station has jumped from a market share of 12% last fall to 20% this fall. That’s incredible. It’s gained throughout the day weekdays (it’s stagnant on weekends, when it plays music). The morning show, hosted by Paul Arcand, has gone from 33,000 to 45,000 average listeners a minute since last spring, a 37% increase. It’s a 47% increase if you count from last fall.

In the noon and early afternoon periods, CHMP has rocketed past three other stations, CITE, CKMF and CKOI, to jump from fifth place to second among adults 25-54.

Demographically, the spike is most pronounced among men 25-54, where it was once in a three-way tie for first place with NRJ and Rythme FM, but is now way ahead (28% to 20%). But it’s also ahead among women and young adults.

Unsurprisingly, the station has seen an increase in ratings during the evening, where it has replaced repeats of the day’s talk shows with sports talk and Canadiens broadcasts. “Its new sports programming has proven a contributing factor to the station’s growing success,” says Cogeco. But that’s not the whole story. Simple math shows that adding all of CKAC’s former audience to CHMP only accounts for about half its increase in market share. Something else is causing more people to listen to the station and/or for longer.

CKAC 730AM (Radio Circulation, Cogeco)

Programming changes: Complete station rebranding, replacing sports and sports talk with 24/7 traffic information.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that since its switch Sept. 6 from sports talk to traffic, CKAC has plummeted in the ratings. But that was expected. Last fall, it had a 4.1% market share. This fall, it’s 0.5%.

Where CKAC’s morning show had an average minute audience of about 9,000, Radio Circulation is only 1,290. Similar drops happen across the schedule and across demographics.

Still, CKAC reaches more than 1 million listeners a week (counted as those who listen at least a minute in a week).

In its application to the CRTC this spring to put a French-language traffic station on 690AM, Cogeco estimated a French-language traffic information service as having a market share of 0.8%, with a total 265,200 weekly listening hours. That number, they said, would double as of the third year. As it turns out, they’re behind that estimate a bit (even though there’s one fewer station to compete with).

Fortunately for Cogeco, its agreement with Transport Quebec doesn’t set any minimums concerning market share or total audience.

Other French-language stations

There haven’t been much changes to the music stations on the French side, certainly not much of interest to anglos.

Among young adults (18-34), Astral’s CKMF (NRJ) has overtaken Cogeco’s CKOI for first place, going up six points with a corresponding drop of six points for CKOI.

CKOI’s overall market share has dropped from 9.8 last year to 6.6 this fall, a significant drop. Why Cogeco would say it’s proud of the station’s performance is beyond me.

Quebec City

In brief:

  • CFEL (CKOI), recently sold by Cogeco to the Leclerc family on orders from the CRTC, has slid significantly in market share among adults 18-34. It’s now 16%, compared to 24% last fall, dropping it from first to third in the market.
  • There’s a corresponding spike for Astral’s CITF (Rouge FM) in that same demographic. It has gone from 5% to 11% market share over the same period.
  • CHOI (Radio X) is losing a lot of audience during weekday midday, and Rouge FM has a corresponding spike in audience for that period.
Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

CKAC Circulation 730: First impressions

Les Justiciers masqués predicted how all-traffic radio would work. Are they that far off?

I should start this off by pointing out that I don’t drive. Never have, and don’t have any plans to soon. I take public transit to get where I want to go most of the time. So for the most part an all-traffic radio station is useless to me. And I can’t offer my thoughts on whether or not it’s useful to a driver. I’d like to hear thoughts from other drivers, though, about whether and how they would make use of an all-traffic station like CKAC 730.

Though it had been rumoured for days, the formal decision came down last Friday that CKAC Sports would become Radio Circulation. It went all-music over the weekend, with only this announcement from VP Richard Lachance (MP3) explaining why sports talk had been replaced by Céline Dion et al.

The station went live at 4:30am on Tuesday morning, the day after Labour Day. It cut off Ginette Reno’s Fais moi la tendresse in mid-song as the clock hit 4:30 exactly, as you can hear in this excerpt of the first four minutes of Radio Circulation 730 (MP3).

From there, it took on its all-traffic format. It might be a bit harsh to judge it so quickly, considering the speed at which it was setup (announcers were hired less than a month before launch). Cogeco’s application for a CRTC license for an all-traffic station came out in May, and might have gotten one in time if it wasn’t for competitors arguing that there should be an open call for applications for the former frequencies of CINF Info 690 and CINW 940 News.

The CRTC set an Oct. 17 hearing date for those applications, but Cogeco decided it couldn’t wait that long (mainly because the government money tap would only open when an all-traffic station was on the air). So CKAC Sports, Cogeco’s only AM station (and the only francophone AM station, for that matter) was sacrificed to get Radio Circulation on the air.

Cogeco is going on with its 940 application for an English all-traffic station, but will have to fight with Tietolman-Tétrault for that channel. Three applications are still pending for 690, including a frequency change for CKGM (The Team) 990, which wants to move to a clear channel and improve its coverage.

Traffic every five minutes

I’ve listened to the new station on and off since it launched. It seems to run on a schedule that gives the traffic report every five minutes. In one five-minute block, it’s a four-minute traffic report followed by a minute of advertising. In another, it’s a two-minute traffic report focusing on the “points chauds” and two minutes of weather, followed by ads.

As a point of comparison, a commercial music or news-talk station will give traffic reports that last about 30 seconds, or 45 if you include all the sponsor info. And all those traffic reports tend to sound the same – rushed, fast-talking, and with its own special vocabulary designed to refer to locations as quickly as possible (“the two 15s” for example, referring to that area where Highway 15 and Highway 40 intersect and become the same road for a short stretch, or “the whiskey trench”, that area of Highway 138 in LaSalle formerly known for the overpowering smell of the adjacent brewery distillery).

In contrast, Radio Circulation is slow. There’s a lot of umms and ahhs. Sometimes it feels less like back-to-back traffic reports and more like a talk show whose subject is traffic. But it’s also comprehensive. It will talk about traffic on Taschereau Blvd. on the South Shore. It’ll talk about traffic on city streets. It doesn’t have to limit itself to five or six things in its traffic report.

During the evenings, when traffic is just about non-existent, the subject material switches. Instead of traffic jams, the announcers talk about road closures for overnight construction work. (I’m not quite sure what they’ll talk about overnight during the winter – snow clearing schedules?) Between 1am and 4:30am, the station runs recorded information about overnight construction and safety messages.

There were promises made about information on public transit service, but I have yet to hear any of those things while tuning in.

Some comparisons

I suppose the best thing to compare this station to would be the Weather Network, which has a simple function and doesn’t expect its viewers to tune in for more than a few minutes at a time (obsessive masturbating teenagers notwithstanding). They also operate on a schedule that minimizes the wait between the critical information (local forecast), while allowing some time to do something else, like talk about weather-related issues.

Of course, being television, the Weather Network can have nearly constant on-screen graphics showing the local short-term forecast while the rest of the screen discusses something else. There isn’t an easy way to do this in radio.

I also spent a bit of time listening to CHMJ AM730, Vancouver’s all-traffic station (coincidentally on the same frequency). The biggest difference between the two is that Vancouver’s station is privately-owned and has to actually earn its revenue.

The stations sounded about the same – a similar five-minute schedule for traffic, though Vancouver’s announcers were clearly a bit more comfortable, having been at their jobs for more than two days. The similarity shouldn’t be surprising – Cogeco mentions it specifically as a model to follow in its CRTC application.

One thing I noticed is that Vancouver’s station splits its traffic reports for bridges from the main traffic reports. This makes sense because bridges are less vital to Vancouver’s traffic scene than to Montreal’s. Vancouver’s station also offers reports on wait times for ferries (which doesn’t really apply here) and waits at the U.S. border (which might be useful here, but probably less so than in Vancouver).

And then there’s the fact that CHMJ provides information on police radar traps. That raised a question for me: Is a radio station that gets $1.5 million a year from the transport ministry in a position to do the same? The agreement between Cogeco and the MTQ obviously doesn’t require the station to provide radar warnings to drivers, but it doesn’t forbid it either. And while it’s true that the police forces don’t work for the transport ministry, it might be a bit embarrassing if the provincial government was funding an operation that undermined the provincial police force.

To me, this underlines once again why having a government-funded all-traffic radio station is a bad idea.

Nevertheless, it’s here, and if Cogeco is successful with the CRTC, we’ll get an English one within a couple of months. Radio Circulation’s website is running. Right now it’s just a live stream of the station audio and a Google map with Google’s traffic info overlay.

And just because I think the government funding is a bad idea doesn’t mean I don’t think we should have an all-traffic station in Montreal. We have enough free space on the AM band that if someone wanted to start a private station up that provides a useful service, there’s no reason we shouldn’t let them.

But I’m not sure if drivers will use it, either. So I put the question out to you drivers: Would you switch to an all-traffic radio station, which has a comprehensive traffic report every five minutes, or just listen to your favourite music/talk station and get the major traffic points every 10 minutes?

Is there a market for all-traffic radio in Montreal? And if so, does CKAC do a good job of capturing it?

Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

Government pays for Cogeco to shut down CKAC Sports

Following two days of rumours (thanks mainly to Pierre Trudel), Cogeco this morning confirmed that it is switching formats for CKAC 730AM, Montreal’s only major commercial French-language AM station. It will go from being an all-sports station to an all-traffic station effective Tuesday morning. After the announcement, Cogeco immediately pulled the plug on sports broadcasting, and is running music until then, interrupted every half hour by a three-minute announcement by Cogeco VP Richard Lachance.

Listen to the announcement running on CKAC during the weekend (MP3)

Live sports broadcasts will be carried on Cogeco’s news-talk 98.5FM, and some (but not all) personalities will move there as well. Lachance tells LCN that seven employees will be affected, four of whom will find new functions at 98.5. Michel Villeneuve and Ron Fournier, notably, will have shows on 98.5, in the evening (when the station currently rebroadcasts shows from earlier in the day).

In a bitter and ridiculous press release, Cogeco mainly blamed its competitors, who opposed a fast-track process for Cogeco’s all-traffic licenses to be approved by the CRTC. It complained that nobody was interested in the vacant 690 and 940 frequencies formerly held by Corus’s all-news stations and purchased by Cogeco when it bought Corus Quebec, without addressing the claims by competitors like Bell Media that Cogeco was unwilling to negotiate selling the former stations’ transmission towers and other facilities.

But mostly it stresses that it had to establish an all-traffic station by the day after Labour Day, when supposedly the fall traffic season will begin. Waiting until October (or later) would be unacceptable. It’s “urgent” that it has to be up by September, Cogeco says. People relying on traffic reports every 10 minutes just isn’t enough.

What’s not said in the press release is that this is all about money. Cogeco’s not in a rush to get this all-traffic station on the air because it cares about Montreal drivers. It’s in a rush because it cares about the $1.5 million subsidy from the Quebec government. The agreement between Cogeco and the Ministry of Transport says the stations must be operating by Oct. 31, but the contract actually begins Sept. 1. (It doesn’t make clear what happens if Cogeco misses its deadline.) Once that happens, the station begins collecting $125,000 a month from the government to pay its staff.

Thankfully Cogeco doesn’t own a popular English-language AM station, so it can’t shut that down to turn it into an all-traffic station. Instead, it will wait for the CRTC to decide on 940AM, and is asking them to hurry in making a decision (they are hurrying, and had already tightened deadlines for applications for that frequency).

When this all-traffic station idea was announced in May, I panned it as a waste of $9 million of government money over three years for something that just about every radio station already provided for free ad nauseam. Cogeco’s competitors agreed, and demanded an open call for applications for those frequencies, which the CRTC granted.

Now it seems even more obvious how bad an idea it is. Cogeco has compared its $1.5-million subsidy against the ad revenue from CKAC and decided it would rather the government subsidy. The Quebec government is essentially using public money to push Cogeco into shutting down a popular all-sports radio station and replace it with something that is redundant to every other station in the market.

(One might ask if Cogeco didn’t want to shut down CKAC, why not apply for an all-sports radio station on 690AM and bring it back? The press release is silent on this.)

It’s a sad day for Montreal radio, and an even sadder day for common sense and government spending.

CKAC 730AM will go all-traffic Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 4:30am. The CRTC hears applications for 690 and 940AM (Cogeco has withdrawn its application for 690) on Oct. 17.

UPDATE: Similar commentary from Stéphane Laporte.

A Facebook page has been setup to protest the decision. CKAC Sports’s Facebook page has a brief note from the station: “Merci à chacun d’entre vous de nous avoir suivi, lu, et d’être venu commenter ainsi que partager votre passion pour le sport”, followed by a lot of angry comments.

You can also watch video of CKAC’s empty studio while listening to Céline Dion and other awful music.

Other coverage

Posted in Radio, Sports

Alouettes broadcasts return to CKAC

For the second consecutive year, the Alouettes have prematurely ended their deal with their official French-language radio broadcaster and switched to its major competitor.

It was announced on Tuesday that the Alouettes will be returning to Cogeco’s CKAC Sports for the 2011 season. CKAC will broadcast 20 games (the regular season has 19 18, so this covers all of those and the two preseason games), plus all playoff games.

Pierre Martineau, a spokesperson for Cogeco Diffusion, says the deal is for this coming season only, and some games will also air on Cogeco’s regional FM stations.

Having CKAC Sports broadcast the games seems like such a no-brainer, and indeed they broadcast the games for many years, signing a five-year deal in 2007. But that deal was mutually dissolved so that the Alouettes could strike a deal with Astral Media’s NRJ for broadcast rights in 2010. That deal was supposed to last until 2013.

The switch to NRJ wasn’t perfectly smooth. NRJ is a music station (like CHOM, which also broadcasts some Alouettes games), and license limits meant they couldn’t broadcast five games last season, according to La Presse.

Fans also weren’t crazy that NRJ used the RDS play-by-play audio instead of their own staff, though CKAC did the same thing.

A representative of the Alouettes did not immediately respond to voice mail messages requesting comment.

The Alouettes’ English radio rights are held by Astral, with games airing on CJAD and CHOM until 2013. It’s unclear if the move away from Astral on the French side will have any impact on the English rights. No doubt the Team 990 would be more than happy to pick up rights to Alouettes games, much like they would love to take rights to Canadiens games away from CJAD someday.

Last month, CKAC announced an agreement to air Canadiens games for two more seasons, ending in 2013-14.

Posted in Radio

CKAC to stop airing Habs games

CKAC Radio announced Friday morning on air that it would no longer be airing live Canadiens games as of the end of the season so that it will have more room in the schedule for Habs analysis shows.

“It was just so frustrating having to cut short our discussions so they could do the play-by-play,” said Michel Villeneuve, one of the station’s personalities. “We have so many people here with so many interesting expert opinions, we needed more time to express them.”

CKAC has been trying all sorts of measures to cram more Canadiens-related opinions into its schedule.  It has virtually eliminated all non-hockey programming except during the summer, it has expanded to add live programming in the overnight hours, it has pushed some overflow onto sister station 98.5FM, and it’s even experimented with technology to get analysts to talk faster so they take less time.

But, management says, the biggest obstacle was staring them in the face: That three-hour block three times a week of boring game coverage.

“Our ratings clearly indicated that people would tune out when the game was on,” said a person familiar with the matter who didn’t want to be identified. “It may seem crazy, but in reality it’s a no-brainer.”

Those who long for actual game coverage over the radio need not fear: Habs games will still be on 98.5FM, though the format will change next season. Instead of saying who has the puck and what he’s doing with it, announcers will spend the game analyzing their actions and complaining about stupid moves or overpriced contracts as necessary.

Cogeco Diffusion, which owns both stations, feels this new format will attract more listeners and reinvigorate the business model for airing live sports programming on radio.

“People who want to listen to boring play-by-play can always tune into Pierre Houde on RDS,” Villeneuve said.

Posted in Montreal, Opinion, Radio

CRTC caves in to Cogeco

The CRTC, which sets rules regarding concentration of ownership in broadcast media, decided it could simply ignore them in a ruling on Friday that gave Cogeco the right to buy almost all the assets of Corus Quebec.

Specifically, Cogeco would buy 11 stations for $80 million, including Montreal’s 92.5 the Q (formerly Q92), CFQR-FM.

In Montreal:

Elsewhere:

  • CJRC-FM Souvenirs Garantis 104.7 in Gatineau
  • CIME-FM 103.9 in St-Jerome
  • CHLT-FM Souvenirs Garantis 107.7 in Sherbrooke
  • CKOY-FM 104.5 in Sherbrooke
  • CHLN-FM Souvenirs Garantis 106.9 in Trois-Rivières
  • CFOM-FM Souvenirs Garantis 102.9 in Quebec City
  • CFEL-FM (“CKOI”) 102.1 in Quebec City

The biggest problem with the acquisition is that it would violate a CRTC rule that says one company can’t own more than two stations in each language on each band in each market. Cogeco was willing to get around this by selling stations in Quebec City and converting one in Sherbrooke into a retransmitter of Montreal’s CKAC sports station.

But it wanted an exception in Montreal. CHMP 98.5 is the flagship station of the Corus talk radio network, and Rythme FM (CFGL) and CKOI are the No. 1 and No. 2 music stations, making them a whole lot of money. Cogeco said that a requirement to sell one of those stations would torpedo the whole deal (CKOI alone represents half the cost of the acquisition), and promised that in exchange for this special consideration they would hire journalists throughout Quebec and create a talk-radio news agency.

And the CRTC caved. Well, mostly.

They didn’t buy the idea of turning Sherbrooke’s CKOY FM into a retransmitter of Montreal’s CKAC sports station, and gave Cogeco a year to find a buyer for it. They also made a strict condition that Cogeco’s plan for a news agency continue, so they can’t pull a bait and switch.

That part is good news. The idea of Cogeco Nouvelles sounds good. At least the part about them hiring 33 full-time journalists and spending $3 million a year on news sounds good. The part about sharing content sounds a lot like the regional stations will all take the majority of their content from Montreal and insert a bare minimum of local stories just to justify their license.

But still, considering how little actual journalism comes out of private radio in Quebec, on the whole this is good.

There are also a few additional incentives to sweeten the deal, like this: Cogeco will “provide its services free-of-charge to groups operating fewer than three French-language radio stations in Quebec’s small markets as long as they agree to supply COGECO Nouvelles with news from their markets. The service’s content will also be available free-of-charge to community radio stations.”

Oligopoly

But as nice as all that is, and I hope Cogeco Nouvelles succeeds, the problem of radio competition remains. Instead of three players in the Quebec francophone (popular) music scene in Montreal, there would be two, representing an astonishing 95% of advertising revenue in the biggest market in Quebec. And that’s true for both the French and English-language markets in Montreal. If you discount jazz, classical and CBC/Radio-Canada’s stations, the two will own all seven music stations (four francophone, three anglophone) in Montreal.

Much of the debate at the CRTC seemed to be about Astral Media, which owns the NRJ and Rock Détente networks and is seen as a major player in the regions. But rather than acknowledge that there’s a serious problem with Astral Media owning stations that should be competing with each other (this is particularly true in Montreal’s anglophone market, where Astral owns CHOM 97.7, CJFM 95.9 Virgin Radio and CJAD 800), the CRTC decided that the best response was to create an even bigger behemoth in Cogeco.

With the acquisition, Cogeco stations would have an astounding 46.6% market share in the Montreal francophone market and 22.4% in the anglophone market, or 41.3% total. Astral, meanwhile, has a 31.4% share in the francophone market and a 55.4% share in the anglophone market. Note that all these numbers don’t exclude CBC/Radio-Canada stations. When you consider just commercial stations, or as a share of ad revenues, those numbers are even higher.

The suggestion that this would somehow “restore a competitive balance” is silly.

The Montreal-less network

There’s also a problem that isn’t being considered very well here: While Cogeco argues that regional talk-radio stations need the resources and “expertise” of Montreal’s 98.5 FM, it also plans to sell stations in the regions to a third party that won’t be able to setup a Montreal station if they want to build a network.

For example, CKOI is a brand network in Montreal, Sherbrooke and Quebec City. As part of the acquisition, Cogeco will have to sell the Sherbrooke and Quebec City stations in this network, but not the Montreal one. And there isn’t exactly a lot of extra space on the dial for someone to setup a new francophone music station in Montreal. So not only would anyone who wants to buy these stations have to change their brands (along with the Rythme FM station in Quebec City), but they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of whatever efficiencies Astral and Corus/Cogeco think they have found with multi-region brands.

Personally, I think music radio stations can do fine without needing to belong to a Montreal-network (some names are already popping up as potential buyers). But it’s funny that Cogeco puts such a strong emphasis on the need for a Montreal flagship station for its talk radio network but has no problem with other people having radio stations in the regions without a Montreal-based moneymaker to keep them afloat.

In conclusion: Good for radio, bad for radio choice

I’m happy that the CRTC handled some of the issues I brought up in my criticism of Cogeco’s plan. And I’m happy that Cogeco is planning to setup a regional radio news network and hire journalists.

But this is a step backwards for radio diversity in Montreal, at a time when the city desperately needs more competition in commercial radio.

The CRTC should review its rules for media concentration, particularly because the public seems to be abandoning the AM band and because Montreal’s numbers suggest that commercial music stations aren’t strictly segregated on the basis of language.

Montreal has seven commercial radio stations that all play popular music that sounds a lot alike. It should have more than two companies running them.

More coverage in:

UPDATE (Jan. 12): Almost a month after the CRTC’s decision, and weeks before the transaction is set to close, Astral decides to appeal to the federal court to overturn it, saying it was “arbitrary and unreasonable” to change the rules at the last minute just for Cogeco. VP Claude Laflamme makes the point in the statement that “the sudden lack of predictability in the application of the CRTC policy penalizes all broadcasters which in the past decided not to pursue business opportunities in order to abide by the policy as formulated and as consistently applied.”

La Presse quotes Cogeco as counter-arguing that Astral controls 75% of the anglophone market (they own CJAD, CHOM and CJFM, but that doesn’t violate the CRTC’s rules), and they shouldn’t be pointing fingers about media concentration.

Note that while Astral suggests that Cogeco should have been forced to sell one of the music stations, it doesn’t have its eyes on them because it already owns two francophone FM stations in Montreal (CITE Rock Détente 107.3 and CKMF NRJ 94.3)

UPDATE (Jan. 14): Corus says it will, of course, fight this appeal, and that the Cogeco deal is still set to close on Feb. 1.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Cogeco’s self-serving plan for Quebec radio

Three months after announcing a deal to buy Corus Quebec’s radio stations (with the exception of CKRS in Saguenay, which has been sold to an independent group including Guy Carbonneau), Cogeco and the CRTC yesterday both released Cogeco’s proposal for how it will run those stations.

Among the highlights:

Cogeco News

In addition to the above, Cogeco is talking big about creating a “news agency” that would serve all its stations (I guess they mean something bigger than Corus Nouvelles). Here’s what they say in their press release:

The news agency that COGECO proposes to set up will play a key role in enriching local information and will provide a complement to the other information sources available in Quebec. All of the stations of the COGECO group as well as independent stations in the regions and community stations will be asked to contribute to the content available through the agency. In return, they will be able to select the most relevant news for their respective listening audiences and produce their own news bulletins locally.

Pooling resources through the news agency, which will be coordinated by FM 98.5, will create a full information source available 24/7 – because news happens nights and weekends, too.

Furthermore, sharing information resources will allow regional stations CHLN-FM Trois-Rivieres, CHLT-FM Sherbrooke and CJRC-FM Gatineau, which will remain predominantly spoken-word radio services but will now primarily target men between the ages of 25 and 54, to devote their resources to producing local shows. Most significantly, this means the return of local public affairs programming in the morning and at noon, as well as locally produced news bulletins.

Finally, a night-time show and a weekend morning public affairs show will be produced and offered to all stations of the group. Community stations and independent stations in the regions will also have the benefit of these new resources and information content.

“We want to put information radio in Quebec back on top,” commented Mr. Lachance. “Since COGECO is a business that is close to its people, it is a natural fit for us to make local information and local interest content the heart of our strategy. The decision to include independent stations in the regions and community stations in the agency aligns with that, and we think this is great news for radio in Quebec.”

Unless I’ve misunderstood, this sounds a lot like what the TV networks have done to local television stations. They still produce local newscasts locally (well, except Global), but many of the stories they produce are prepackaged by the national network. Without the resources and staff to put together a full newscast, the local stations are forced to use these prepackaged reports, even if they’re local stories from local newscast hundreds of kilometres away that have little interest to their communities.

And Cogeco is trying to sell this as a good thing for local radio.

Of course, if the alternative is no news at all, or a straight rebroadcast of a Montreal signal, I guess it is good news.

Let us cheat, but only where we get rich

Cogeco doesn’t try to hide the fact that its request to keep its stations in Montreal is all about money. Rythme FM is the No. 1 station in Montreal, 98.5 has the most popular morning show, and CKOI also does very well here.

Their excuse for wanting to keep all these money-generating stations? They’re throwing out a bunch:

98.5 is special: “The proposed exception affects only FM 98.5 in Montreal’s French-language radio market and would allow COGECO to operate three French-language FM radio stations, each in its own niche.”

Are Rythme FM and CKOI so different that they qualify as their “own niches”? And the exception applies equally to them. Nothing stops Cogeco from keeping 98.5 and selling Rythme FM or CKOI. It’s selling both stations from those networks in Quebec City and shutting down CKOI’s sister station in Sherbrooke.

It saves the French language: “The distinctiveness of the bilingual Montreal market and the importance of keeping talk radio like FM 98.5 strong in order to ensure the sustainability of French-language spoken-word radio in Quebec justify our request for an exception”

I have no idea what bilingualism has to do with this, nor how “the distinctiveness of the bilingual Montreal market” somehow means it makes sense to concentrate ownership. I don’t know whether 98.5 is profitable. If it is, they can sell it to someone who will keep the talk radio format. If it isn’t, there’s no guarantee Cogeco won’t change the format and make it a music station or something else that’s cheaper to produce.

It helps the regions financially: “Without that exception, it will be next to impossible for COGECO to indefinitely support regional spoken-word radio stations that have been running heavy deficits for many years.”

That’s an argument for converting CKOY in Sherbrooke from a station to a retransmitter, but what does it have to do with Montreal? Does Cogeco expect us to believe that if we give them an exception to media concentration rules that they’ll subsidize money-losing regional stations indefinitely?

It helps the regions with programming: “The limited exception sought by COGECO would breathe new life into stations in the regions by providing them links to strong programming sources – to FM 98.5 primarily, for information and public affairs, and to CKAC-AM for sports and CKOI-FM for its expertise and music content.”

Again with the distraction. CKAC has nothing to do with the exception, since it’s an AM station. And as for CKOI, you just said you’re selling its sister station in Quebec City and shutting down its sister station in Sherbrooke. If Montreal-based programming would save these stations, why do you insist on getting rid of them?

We should include anglo stations too: “… a very high number of francophone listeners tune in to English-language music stations.”

Sure. CHOM and CJFM get a lot of francophones listening to them. But so does CFQR, which you’ll recall is one of the stations you’re buying. Add in the anglo stations, and Cogeco wants to own five of the 13 commercial radio stations in the city, and four of the eight commercial FM (mainstream) music stations. This doesn’t support their argument very well.

Straight-up bullshit: “Our plan is without a doubt the best opportunity to increase diversity of voices across Quebec that the broadcasting system has seen in many years.”

You’re buying a former competitor. Don’t pretend it’s the opposite of what it is.

Ooh, money!

Oh, and that last part they mentioned about “an exceptional contribution of 9% of the total transaction value, an amount of $7.2 million, to various organizations and initiatives to support the radio system”? Sounds kind of generous, doesn’t it?

It’s CRTC policy that when a broadcaster is sold, the buyer proposes a “tangible benefits” package of 10% of the purchase price to contribute positively to the development of the broadcasting system. The money doesn’t go to the CRTC, but to organizations that support independent productions and other good things.

You math majors might notice that their 9% proposal is less than the 10% CRTC policy. In other words, it’s another exception they’re asking for, one that they’re selling to the public as a generous donation on their part.

What the CRTC should do

Cogeco hasn’t made anywhere near a solid case for keeping three FM stations in the Montreal market. It’s selling or shutting down Rythme FM and CKOI-branded stations elsewhere in Quebec, and freely admits its only motivation for wanting to keep these stations here is money. The CRTC should order Cogeco to sell one of the FM stations in Montreal, and let someone who isn’t Cogeco or Astral Media take a shot at making money from commercial francophone radio in Montreal.

Cogeco’s point about the unprofitability of regional stations is a good one, but giving the company what it wants in Montreal won’t suddenly make those stations profitable (even with all the big talk about a news agency they promise). It will at best simply delay their eventual decision to either sell or shut down those regional stations.

In Quebec City, Cogeco’s plan to sell two stations would put it in compliance with CRTC guidelines. No problem there.

In Sherbrooke, Cogeco is presenting its plan as a “win-win-win”, proving it doesn’t give a crap about local radio. The CRTC should order Cogeco to find a buyer for CKOY. Corus found a buyer for CKRS in Saguenay, and those Quebec City stations are going to someone. I’m willing to bet there’s interest in CKOY if it’s on the block for cheap. If Cogeco is interested in having a CKAC retransmitter in Sherbrooke, it can apply for a new license on a vacant frequency.

The CRTC will hold a hearing on Sept. 28 at 9am at Le Nouvel Hotel (1740 René-Lévesque W., corner Saint-Mathieu) to consider the application.

UPDATE (Aug. 6): Cogeco VP Richard Lachance does interviews with Infopresse and Paul Arcand explaining the plan, saying the new news service will create about a dozen jobs (including reporters in the federal and provincial legislatures), and there’s no Plan B if the CRTC decides it doesn’t like Cogeco’s plan.

Trente, meanwhile, takes another look at the plan, referencing this blog post.

Posted in In the news, Montreal, Radio

Cogeco to buy Corus Quebec radio stations

Pierre Trudel thought it was Quebecor, but Quebecor had it right: Cogeco, a cable provider in Ontario and parts of Quebec, which also owns the Rythme FM radio network and used to own TQS before that went into bankruptcy, has announced that it will acquire Corus Quebec’s radio network, pending CRTC approval.

The transaction, valued at about $80 million, includes:

In Montreal:

Elsewhere:

  • CJRC-FM Souvenirs Garantis 104.7 in Gatineau
  • CIME-FM 103.9 in St-Jerome
  • CHLT-FM Souvenirs Garantis 107.7 in Sherbrooke
  • CKOY-FM 104.5 in Sherbrooke
  • CHLN-FM Souvenirs Garantis 106.9 in Trois-Rivieres
  • CFOM-FM Souvenirs Garantis 102.9 in Quebec City
  • CFEL-FM (“CKOI”) 102.1 in Quebec City

It’s hard to tell from a simple press release what this all means. Cogeco has experience in radio, so I wouldn’t expect any major overhauls immediately (except, I guess, having to rename “Corus Nouvelles”). But CFQR would be Cogeco’s first anglophone radio station, for what that’s worth.

On the francophone side, this would mean a loss of competition. Instead of three major players (Astral Media is the other, owning the NRJ and Rock Détente networks), there would be two. CKOI and CFGL would come under the same owner, working together instead of competing with each other for music listeners.

In Sherbrooke, it’s worse: Three of the four five commercial music stations, CKOY, CHLT and CFGE, would all be owned by Cogeco, leaving CITE-FM-1 Rock Détente 102.7 and CIMO-FM 106.1 NRJ in nearby Magog as the only competition.

In Trois Rivières, it would be two for Cogeco, two for Astral. Same for Quebec City, though there’s more competition there from independents.

It’s also worth noting that this sale comes mere months after Corus cut local programming at Souvenirs Garantis stations CJRC, CHLT and CHLN.

What about CKRS?

CKRS 98.3FM in Saguenay, the fourth Souvenirs Garantis station that got its morning show cut to be replaced with Paul Arcand, is not part of the transaction. Corus has been looking to get rid of that station, and the deadline for bids was yesterday, and the new owner (if there is one) should be known soon.

UPDATE: Nathalie Collard also has some thoughts on the matter.

Posted in Radio, Sports

Non-stop music, except during football

I'm pretty sure this was the original idea behind this photo of NRJ people with Alouettes' Larry Smith

I’m kind of a stickler for format purity, in that a broadcaster that specializes in one thing shouldn’t try to be something else just because that something else gets ratings.

So I’m not crazy about live-action movies airing on Teletoon, or funny pet video compilations airing on the Discovery channel. Unfortunately, I’ve seen both in the past week.

When it comes to radio, the genres aren’t so specific, at least for over-the-air broadcasting. They really come down to two camps: music and talk. The latter can have news, sports, comedy, documentary, or whatever else they can think of. The music stations (at least commercial ones) just play music, perhaps with the occasional goofball listener contest thrown in.

NRJ, a music network based off a brand developed in France, announced that it will be carrying Alouettes games until 2013, a job formerly (and quite logically) left to CKAC, the AM sports station. The Alouettes also have a release in English and French.

So once a week, for a few hours, NRJ will stop playing music and start airing football play-by-play. Not just in Montreal, but all over Quebec.

This has already happened on the anglo side. CHOM-FM has been airing select Alouettes games, even though all of them are available on CJAD.

It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that CHOM, CJAD and NRJ are all owned by Astral Media. CKAC is owned by Corus.

As for CKAC, well, they still have the Canadiens, of course. And they carry home games of the Impact. They’re also adding a few baseball games to their schedule.

Just take it off the TV

One of the things actually being advertised in this release is that the play-by-play won’t be done by NRJ or anyone at Astral Media, but will basically just be taken off the audio feed of RDS.

CKAC tried this back in 2007, and the result wasn’t particularly favourable. The next season, they brought in Charles-André Marchand to do their own play-by-play.

We’ll see if NRJ learns the same lesson, or just decides that, even though TV play-by-play doesn’t work on radio, it’s cheap enough that they can live with the mediocrity.

Posted in Montreal, Radio, Sports, TV

Impact broadcast schedule same as last year

Impact scarf

The broadcast schedule for this year’s Impact games has come out, and it’s exactly the same as last year:

  • Radio-Canada will broadcast nine home games and one away game, as well as all playoff games
  • CKAC and the Team 990 will broadcast all 15 home games, two Canadian Championship games at Saputo Stadium (against the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC) as well as all playoff games

Both press releases talk about how the Impact has become more mainstream in Montreal and has attracted a lot of fans, especially thanks to its CONCACAF Champions League run this year.

But the news is still disappointing to me. None of the broadcasters has increased its commitment, and none of them will be broadcasting regular-season away games (besides the one on RadCan). Choosing only to broadcast home games during the regular season no doubt saves a lot of money, but it sounds pretty half-assed.

So for another season, Impact fans who want to catch away games will be forced to fork over money watch it online for free at USLLive.com