Tag Archives: community-television

Posted in My articles, TV

ICTV vs. MYtv: Taking sides in the fight over Videotron’s community television channel

A complaint by a group of Montreal activists against Videotron is taking on a greater significance as groups are lining up on both sides of a battle for control over Videotron’s community television service.

Last month, I wrote about ICTV, a group headed by people associated with CKUT Radio McGill and others formerly associated with Concordia’s CUTV.

After that article appeared, I was contacted by someone who wanted to set up a meeting with Isabelle Dessureault, the president of MAtv, who wanted to clear up any misconc… let’s just call a spade a spade, wanted to drive the discussion a bit more to Videotron’s favour.

Dessureault confirmed that the CRTC is not moving forward with the Videotron application for an English-language version of the MAtv community television channel, and that this process could delay the launch of that channel by a year or more. MYtv on ice became the basis for another story in The Gazette.

There was also the matter of a lawyer’s letter to ICTV from Videotron ordering it to retract statements about the company that it considered defamatory. (It doesn’t directly threaten legal action, but certainly suggests that would be the next step. Videotron confirmed the letter was sent but said “Quebecor Media is studying its options.”) ICTV refused, saying the CRTC process was the place to settle their differences of opinion.

Since then, two important organizations have backed the two sides of this battle.

ELAN backs MYtv

The English Language Arts Network, a group that supports anglophone artists in Quebec, has decided to back Videotron instead of ICTV. Executive Director Guy Rodgers and President Peter MacGibbon lay out their argument in this opinion piece published last week in The Gazette. The arguments boil down to two main points:

  1. ELAN prefers a more professional, high-quality model of community television in which artists are paid for their work instead of volunteers working for free. It believes Videotron’s model is better than ICTV’s in this regard
  2. ELAN believes that ICTV’s proposal for a single multilingual television channel would not be as good as Videotron’s proposal for two channels, one in each language.

The ICTV folks took ELAN’s stance in the measured, respectful way one expects from Montreal’s activist community: Writing an open letter with the headline “ELAN betrayed our communities by selling out community TV to PKP’s Vidéotron.” It accuses ELAN of being intentionally misleading and of supporting a “segregationist” idea of community television.

ELAN’s opinion makes sense when you consider that it represents artists, such as independent television producers, rather than the community at large. Its view has to be taken in that context. It doesn’t make them evil, and I got no impression whatsoever during their community meetings over this issue that they discouraged other people from expressing their views on the matter, nor do I think they’ve sold out to Videotron.

CACTUS backs ICTV

The other voice to take a stand here is CACTUS, the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations. The group’s executive director, Catherine Edwards, presents her group’s views in this Gazette opinion piece, which was published alongside ELAN’s.

CACTUS believes in general that community television should be taken out of the hands of cable companies, and that even if there was once a reason for cable to control community television channels, technology has made that reason obsolete.

Edwards argues that community television should be in the hands of the community, not the cable companies.

CACTUS also opposes dividing community channels by language. Among the reasons for being against this are that doing this divides the two communities, leaves no place for third languages, and allows cable companies to double the amount of money they can keep in house rather than give over to Canadian content funds.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting also has a page with one-sided information collecting comments in favour of ICTV.

The case vs. the policy

One important thing to consider in this whole affair is the difference between whether Videotron is properly following the CRTC’s community television policy and whether that community television policy is properly written to begin with.

The policy has been revised numerous times, the latest in 2010. But there’s a lot of ambiguity there. For example, the key part of community television is community access programming, but the CRTC sets only two criteria for such programming: That the idea come from a member of the community not employed by a cable company, and that this person be involved with the programming in a significant on-camera or off-camera role.

That leaves a lot of loopholes. What if the person is an employee of a company related to a cable company? Can the cable company claim copyright over the programming produced this way?

CACTUS, ICTV and others take exception to the fact that community TV channels run by cable companies are exclusive to customers of those companies. But the CRTC has chosen not to require open distribution of such community channels.

The community television policy could change soon. The CRTC has begun a year-long process of reviewing television policy, and the cable companies and CACTUS will undoubtedly be lending their voices to that process. Until then, though, the ICTV vs. Videotron complaint will be judged on existing policy.

Videotron wants to change … kinda

In my discussions with MAtv president Isabelle Dessureault and general manager Steve Desgagné, they have been trying their best to appear reasonable about this issue. They say Videotron is trying its best to be representative of the community, that it doesn’t reject proposals for community TV programs unless they fail to meet the criteria, and that despite this dispute they are open to proposals from ICTV members. (They note that they have yet to receive any.)

Videotron admits it has gotten some things wrong, most significantly its failure to properly represent the anglophone community in Montreal (an error it is trying to fix with the MYtv application). Dessureault also says MAtv will reform some of the ways it presents information to the public, by changing its end-of-show credits to emphasize the contributions from the community and by volunteers. It also plans to create an annual report for the public that outlines their accomplishments for the year.

And Videotron plans to, by the end of the year, set up an advisory committee for MAtv that would provide feedback on programming. (It had already planned to set up such a committee for MYtv once it was approved.)

Dessureault also said MAtv will be launching a new project in June that will facilitate community contributions to television. The concept is a bit fuzzy to me, but involves a website where people can contribute ideas and content, which will then be given to someone to turn into TV shows or documentaries. The purpose is to allow people to contribute without having to commit to running a weekly show.

But on the fundamentals, there are no changes planned. Most programs are still being produced by Videotron, and Videotron retains control over programming.

Community programming isn’t easy

Dessureault stresses that getting communities involved with community TV isn’t easy, though they’re trying.

ICTV, however, argues that it has the resources to make it work. It points to CKUT, a radio station where volunteers fill an entire week’s worth of airtime without the need for repeats. It believes it can do the same on television.

The money issue

The big issue here, of course, isn’t access, it’s money. ICTV could produce hours of video and post it to YouTube. But unless it wins its battle at the CRTC, it won’t get the millions of free cable money needed to pay for it.

Cable companies have community TV channels because they’d have to spend the money anyway, and otherwise it would be outside of their control.

There’s a conspiracy theory floating around (and has been expressed by commenters on this blog) that Videotron and others use community TV for monetary profit, by charging their own community TV channels for technical services.

Dessureault says MAtv’s finances are audited, both internally and by the CRTC, and attempts to cook the books wouldn’t succeed. But she does admit that MAtv does use some of its money to pay for things provided by Quebecor. MAtv shares human resources staff with Videotron, for example, to reduce costs. It also pays rent to TVA for production space (though at “well below market rates,” Dessureault said). Dessureault said these things are a very small portion of MAtv’s budget, which she said goes mainly to programming.

The CRTC has access to MAtv’s finances, and its experts are sticklers for attempts by big companies to take liberties with finances in order to reduce their obligations. So I seriously doubt that Videotron would get away with, say, overcharging MAtv for Internet access or rent in order to suck away some of its budget.

But there’s a legitimate question to be raised over whether such expenses should be paid for by the cable company, separate from the 2% of revenues it can allocate to community programming.

That, too, may be an issue if the CRTC decides to review its community television policy.

Until then, it will be judging Videotron based on its compliance with the current policy, and that policy leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

The CRTC is accepting comments on ICTV’s complaint against Videotron until 8pm ET on April 22. You can file comments using this form. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Further reading

Note: A slightly edited version of this post was published on the opinion page of The Gazette on April 23.

Posted in Montreal, TV

The battle over Videotron’s community TV channel

It was supposed to be simple and non-controversial: An application by Videotron to create a second community television channel in Montreal to serve the anglophone community.

Anglophones had long complained that since Videotron bought CF Cable TV, they have not had a proper voice in community television. The CRTC even asked Videotron to do something about it. Just months before the announcement, the English Language Arts Network publicly called on Videotron to restore English community programming.

So when Videotron made its big splash about starting MYtv, the reaction seemed to be positive, at least at first. ELAN hosted a meeting in September to get input from the community, and though there were few people present, there were some tough questions for Videotron’s representatives.

Now, those questions have been formalized in a complaint to the CRTC.

The complaint, filed by a group calling itself Independent Community Television Montreal (ICTV), includes an 86-page document meticulously arguing that the programming that airs on MAtv does not meet CRTC requirements for a community channel. It argues that the CRTC should declare that MAtv is not complying with its licence conditions, and instead grand a licence to ICTV to operate a multilingual community channel that would replace both MAtv and MYtv.

I summarize the complaint in this story, which appears in Monday’s Gazette.

But as long as the story is, there’s still so much detail I had to leave out.

Continue reading

Posted in Montreal, TV

CRTC says yes to Bell English community TV in Montreal

Subscribers to Bell Fibe TV will soon have access to English-language community television programming in Montreal.

On Friday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved an amendment to Bell’s broadcasting distribution licence allowing it to spend 2% of its gross revenues on each of a French and English community TV service in most cities of southern Quebec and Ontario.

CRTC policy requires that large cable companies spend 5% of their gross revenues on Canadian content, usually through contributions to funds like the Canadian Media Fund. But it also allows these companies to spend up to 2 of that 5% on a community television service. And recently it has allowed distributors to spend another 2% on a second community television service in the minority official language, leaving just 1% for other Canadian content contributions.

Where Bell’s community TV service differs from existing ones is that it is being made available exclusively on Bell’s video-on-demand service. There’s no linear channel to tune to. The advantage is that nobody has to worry about filling a 24/7 schedule, the programming can be of any length, and people can get the shows they want whenever they want. The disadvantage is that it’s harder to discover the content, and it’s harder to broadcast live content (like junior hockey games).

Bell Local has so far launched in English in Toronto and in French in Montreal. With this new licence amendment, an English service in Montreal will be in the works. Louis Douville, station manager for CTV Montreal and Bell’s point person for the Bell Local project here, tells me that they will now finalize the budget and start hiring staff. “I expect we should start delivering some programs early in the new year,” he said.

Videotron, the main distributor in Quebec, has also applied to the CRTC for an English community channel. Unlike Bell’s, Videotron’s would be a linear channel with 24/7 programming.

Posted in Montreal, TV

ELAN hosting public meeting about Videotron community channel MYtv

As the CRTC considers whether it should allow Videotron to launch a second community television channel for Montreal, this one in English, the group that has been pushing for exactly that has called a public meeting to get input from that community.

ELAN, the English-Language Arts Network, is meeting Monday, Sept. 23, at SHIFT Space, 1190 St. Antoine St. W., at 7pm. People seeking to attend are asked to RSVP to admin@quebec-elan.org.

I spoke with Guy Rodgers, ELAN’s executive director. He told me that the group had “started to think about this in 2010 when the CRTC was revising its community TV policy.” The CRTC suggested they speak with Videotron, which they hadn’t. Rodgers said that, at the time, the cable provider was “totally uninterested in anything to deal with the English community.”

But in the past few years, Rodgers believes the commission has been more concerned with things like official languages equality. This makes sense considering recent decisions. The only two new services to get mandatory carriage were one that offered a French version of an existing English service, and one devoted to representing francophones outside Quebec. Other decisions made during acquisitions, such as Rogers’s acquisition of CJNT and Bell’s acquisition of Astral, also included commitments to support the English minority in Quebec. During these recent proceedings, ELAN and other groups like the Quebec English-language Production Council have been more present.

This year, with Videotron’s licence coming up for renewal, ELAN decided to give another push to the English channel idea. “We thought we had pretty compelling arguments,” he said.

At Videotron, there was a complete turnaround on the issue. A new team, under the direction of Isabelle Dessureault, was “completely receptive to the idea” of producing more for the English community when they met this spring. (Whether that has anything to do with Bell’s proposed English community programming for Montreal is a good question.)

Rodgers said they proposed a separate channel in English, rather than something like having one or two programs on MAtv be in English. After thinking about it for a bit, Videotron’s team came back and said this was a good idea and one they wanted to move on quickly.

The CRTC is still accepting comments on Videotron’s proposed channel until Oct. 7. But ELAN wants to get the community involved from the ground level. The MYtv channel would have 21 hours of original local programming a week, of which 11 hours would be “access” programming coming from the community. ELAN wants to make sure that there’s enough demand for that kind of access programming, and share that with the CRTC.

Rodgers said representatives of MAtv will be present to present the plan and answer questions, and then those present can discuss it.

“We really want community involvement in this process,” he said.

For an idea of what kind of service is being proposed, you can see this promotional video for MAtv’s fall season which was just published:

Picture an English version with many of the same themes: public affairs, local culture, humour, young up-and-coming personalities, lots of talk shows.

UPDATE (Oct. 2): ELAN has an opinion piece in The Gazette arguing in favour of the MYtv project.

Posted in TV

Videotron applies to create English-language community TV channel for Montreal

Videotron wants to finally create an English version of MAtv.

On Thursday, the CRTC published an application from the cable company to amend its licence to allow for a second community television channel, this one in English, in greater Montreal.

You can read the application here (.zip) or my Gazette story here or Videotron’s press release here.

Called MYtv, the English channel would, like the French one, be a linear high-definition channel with 24/7 programming and available for free to all Videotron customers in the greater Montreal area (analog and digital). As a community channel, it would not be permitted to air advertising (except for sponsorship messages), and at least half of its programming must originate from the community (as of September 2014). Videotron said the plan is to produce 21 hours of original programming a week, with a paid staff of 30 and a budget of $6 million a year.

As La Presse notes, the money being spent on MYtv will come out of the money being given to the Canada Media Fund and the Fonds Quebecor every year.

To get an idea of what this channel might broadcast, you can check out MAtv’s schedule.

Under the CRTC’s rules for cable distributors, the larger companies must spend five per cent of their gross revenues on Canadian programming. But they can devote two of those five to a community television channel, which most do. Videotron is seeking to devote an additional two to an English community channel, following a precedent set by Rogers in Ottawa and Moncton. Bell is also asking to fund its proposed English community television service in Montreal the same way.

In other words, this wouldn’t really be new spending by Videotron, nor would it take away from MAtv’s budget. It would simply re-allocate funds that went to Canadian programming to create a new channel that would be exclusive to its customers.

The application takes a bit of a shot at Bell, whose Fibe community channels are only available on demand (emphasis theirs):

Contrairement à la demande effectuée par Bell visant de la programmation communautaire disponible seulement via la vidéo sur demande, la TCLA [télévision communautaire de langue anglaise] est une chaîne linéaire avec un canal dédié en haute définition, en plus d’être disponible sur la vidéo sur demande, conformément à la PR 2010-622 [the CRTC's community television policy] dans laquelle le Conseil encourage les EDR [entreprises de distribution de radiodiffusion, i.e. cable TV companies] à rendre la programmation de leurs canaux communautaires accessibles sur leur service de vidéo sur demande. Bien entendu, la programmation de la TCLA sera aussi disponible sur Internet via illico web. Vidéotron offrira donc une fenêtre de diffusion optimale à la communauté visée.

In June, two Quebec anglophone community groups, the English-Language Arts Network and the Quebec Community Groups Network, said they would ask the CRTC to require Videotron to launch an English-language community channel as part of its licence renewal (which was supposed to come by Aug. 31, but Videotron’s licence has been extended a year to Aug. 31, 2014, to give the CRTC more time to process it).

Isabelle Dessureault, president of MAtv, posted on Twitter that the plan is to launch the English channel next spring. She will be in charge of both channels, to reduce administrative costs, but each side would have separate creative teams including separate content directors. The English channel would run out of a separate floor in the Montreal TVA building from the French one, with separate editing facilities, but the two would share some technical resources, she said.

Dessureault said there are no plans for English community channels elsewhere in Quebec, because she’s “not sure it would be viable” for smaller communities. But the Montreal channel could be distributed to those areas for the benefit of anglophones there.

The CRTC is accepting comments on this application until Oct. 7. You can file them on CRTC’s website here. Note that all information provided, including contact information, goes on the public record.

UPDATE (Oct. 7): Three Gazette opinion pieces about MYtv by various interest groups: The Quebec Community Groups Network, the English-Language Arts Network, and the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations.

Posted in TV

Bell hiring for Montreal community TV service

Bell is bringing a community television channel to Montreal.

Well, kinda.

Jobs were posted late last month for positions related to Bell Community TV in Montreal. They include a volunteer coordinator, a producer, a camera operator and an editor. Each is for a one-year contract, and no starting date is specified.

I asked Bell about the new channel. Unfortunately they can’t say much. Things like launch date, budget, programming, etc. are considered competitive information and are not public.

What we do know is that the programming will be in French to start with, and it will be part of the on-demand service provided by Bell Fibe TV. Bell received authorization from the CRTC in 2011 to operate an on-demand community television service on its terrestrial distribution service (i.e. Fibe).

Bell’s service is similar to Videotron’s Vox MaTV, or the Rogers TV and Cogeco TV services provided by their respective distributors. The difference is that Bell’s Montreal community channel will be an on-demand offering instead of a 24/7 linear channel like Vox.

Broadcast distributors are required to spend 5% of their gross revenues on Canadian programming, including up to 2% on community television. Most choose to setup their own community channels, at least in larger markets.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Community lacking in community TV

The CRTC will be holding a hearing this month about community television, and at least one group is hoping they will close loopholes (or even just curb abuses that aren’t even loopholes) that allow cable companies to use these channels as promotional arms.

The CRTC requires cable companies to devote 5% of their gross revenues to Canadian programming. Of that, 2% must go to a community channel, kind of like those “cable access channels” we hear about in the U.S.

Even though it’s a very small fraction of their money, the cable companies decided they would put it to good use. Instead of just giving it over to an independent community broadcaster, they’d run their own community networks. Rogers uses the moniker RogersTV. With Videotron, it’s VOX. Shaw TV, TVCogeco, you get the idea.

The problem with having the cable companies in control is that this can lead to abuses. Rogers is being accused of having too much advertising. Others of not keeping proper records (which, admittedly, is a chronic problem for many low-budget broadcasters).

But the biggest problem seems to be that the programming itself isn’t fulfilling its mandate:

The CRTC audits found that Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw, and Persona all classified staff-produced news and other programming-even MTV promos in one instance-as “access programming”. Some Eastlink systems reported no access programming at all.

“The CRTC’s data show that Canada’s ‘community’ channels have become promotional tools for cable companies,” said Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS.

A look at VOX, Videotron’s community channel, and you can see what they mean. A show devoted to TVA’s Star Académie. A show put together by a (former) Quebecor-owned weekly newspaper. Quebecor personalities are all over the schedule.

Sure, there’s the “Mise à jour [city name here]“, and the half hour where they show traffic cameras. But I don’t see much access here, nor do they make obvious how someone could get involved.

Perhaps the era of community television is over. We no longer need cable access when we have Internet access. People can just put their videos on YouTube. (Ratings certainly suggest that, with market shares of 0.1 and 0.2%.)

But until the CRTC makes that determination, cable companies should start playing by the rules – the spirit as well as the letter.

UPDATE (May 15): La Presse’s Marc Cassivi also thinks Vox isn’t doing what it should as far as community programming.

Posted in Montreal, TV

A Montreal cable access channel?

The CRTC is currently accepting public comments in advance of hearings to be held on new broadcasting applications. Among them is an interesting proposal for a new television station out of Montreal.

Télévision communautaire Frontenac is an organization of about a half-dozen people who live within three or four blocks of the Frontenac metro station. They want to put together a low-budget cable access channel specifically for their neighbourhood (but also the city).

The application (ZIP file with PDFs) is for a French-language Category 1 specialty channel community specialty channel for Bell Canada’s ExpressVu satellite service, which is nationwide and doesn’t provide community channels. (UPDATED: See comment below for more details.) Videotron, the local cable provider, has a similar service in Canal Vox, which it runs.

The station’s plan is to broadcast 25 hours a week, with 60% locally-produced community programming, of which 1 hour every week is new. Naturally, because of the bare-bonedness of the operation, it would not provide luxuries like closed-captioning or descriptive audio.

Montreal currently has a few other low-budget non-profit over-the-air channels, though none seem to conflict directly with the proposal:

  • CFTU-TV 29 (Canal Savoir), an education channel run and produced by Quebec’s universities
  • CIVM-TV 17 (Télé-Québec), a provincially-owned network with a variety of shows but with emphasis on educational programming for children
  • CJNT-TV 62 (CJNT Montreal/E!), a CanWest-owned multicultural station that fills its remaining schedule with much-needed celebrity gossip shows and second-rate U.S. network programming simulcasts.

The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30 in B.C. Though it’s mainly about which of a dozen applicants will get a lucrative FM radio channel in Kelowna, there are a few other interesting television applications:

  • Vanessa, a French-language adult pay TV service with emphasis on … oh forget the euphemisms. It’s porn.
  • Movie Trailer TV, a really stupid idea for a channel of movie trailers and making-of documentaries.
  • Short Form TV, from the same folks as Movie Trailer TV, and whose sole programming restriction is that its content is short in length.
  • The Christian Network, which is self-explanatory but would seem to overlap significantly with the multifaith Vision TV.
  • Arya Persian TV, which doesn’t yet meet CRTC requirements.