Tag Archives: CRTC

Posted in Radio

Radio Moyen-Orient complains to CRTC about CKIN-FM’s new Arabic focus

CKIN-FM 106.3, which was recently sold to a Toronto businessman, is in gross violation of its conditions of licence now that it has revamped its programming to make most of its schedule Arabic.

At least, that’s what a complaint by CHOU 1450, Radio Moyen Orient, would have the CRTC believe. And though the complainant’s frustration is understandable, I can’t find the condition of licence it’s accusing CKIN-FM of violating.

Before last year, CKIN-FM was a sister station to CKDG-FM 105.1, owned by Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio. The two stations are commercial ethnic radio stations, each required to serve several ethnic communities in several third languages. CHCR split its language offering between the two stations. It made CKDG English-language during peak hours, with the rest mostly Greek but a few other languages sprinkled in. CKIN was French-language during peak hours, with Spanish, Creole, Arabic, Romanian and Armenian in descending order of weekly airtime, plus a handful of other languages with less than four hours a week.

When Neeti P. Ray took over, there was a major overhaul at CKIN-FM, and the amount of Arabic programming increased from 8% to 68%, according to CHOU’s complaint. The station’s schedule lists it as having Arabic programming from midnight to 7pm weekdays, and all weekends except from 6 to 9am. Spanish programming airs from 7pm to midnight weekdays, and all six other languages the station is required to air get an hour each on weekend mornings.

CHOU, whose entire schedule is Arabic, is crying foul, and demands in its complaint that the CRTC order CKIN to devote no more than 8% (10 hours a week) of programming to the Arabic language, and to stop marketing itself as “la nouvelle voix arabe de Montréal.”

In its argument, CHOU cites comments that Ray made to the CRTC in applying to acquire the station:

The Applicant intends to continue this mix of languages, while maintaining CKIN-FM’s particular focus on programming directed to South Asian communities and a substantial amount of Spanish programming and related world-music programming (for which CKIN-FM is now well-known). … The principal change in programming will likely involve the production of more local and in-studio programming, particularly for South Asian audiences.

There is absolutely no reason for the applicant to change the programming mix and focus, which was recently reviewed by the CRTC and has been embraced Montrealers.

CHOU said that based on the information provided in the application, it chose not to intervene in the ownership change application. “If Mr. Ray had, in his application for transfer of assets, expressed his intention to broadcast this many hours of Arabic during the most attractive hours, we would have strongly opposed this change and would have asked the commission to deny the application,” it wrote in the complaint.

And it argues that Ray himself had noted that Montreal was not a large enough market to support two ethnic radio stations targeting the same ethnic group. (He wanted to start up a station for the south Asian community, and opposed (unsuccessfully) an application by Radio Humsafar for that reason.)

And it says that according to its analysis of a sample week, the station was short two ethnic groups and two languages in the number it is required to provide programming for in each week. CHOU says its complaint is valid regardless of the CRTC’s ruling on this particular compliance issue.

(Also unrelated is that CHOU recently got approval for a low-power FM retransmitter of its signal in St-Michel.)

What the licence says

So is CKIN-FM following its licence conditions?

The decision approving the transfer of ownership, and a new licence for the operation of the station, has conditions related to programming, requiring it to be directed to at least six cultural groups in at least eight languages. It also must ensure at least 60% of its schedule is in a language other than French or English, and at least 70% is ethnic programs.

But there are no conditions of licence setting a maximum or minimum for any given language. So legally Ray is allowed to have most of his schedule be Arabic and only an hour a week for all but two of the groups he’s supposed to cater to.

And though CHOU says Ray made commitments not to change the mix of programming on the station, the application does not explicitly state that there would be no change to the amount of programming for each language, nor does it include a sample programming grid.

The station may be ignoring the spirit of the ethnic broadcasting policy, but not the letter. At least not yet. The CRTC promised to begin a review of its ethnic radio policy as part of a three-year plan in 2014-15, then again in 2015-16, then again in 2016-17. At this rate we’re at least a year away from any policy change. But whether a minimum amount of programming should be established for each language/group might form part of that review.

Ray and CKIN-FM have not responded to the complaint. I will update this post when their response is filed.

CHOU’s complaint against CKIN-FM can be downloaded here (1.4 MB .zip). Comments about the complaint can be filed here until 8pm ET on May 24. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Tangible benefits change

In a separate, unrelated application, Ray is asking the CRTC to reallocate funding he was required to provide as part of the CKIN-FM acquisition. Tangible benefits, a kind of tax on acquisitions imposed by the CRTC, normally go to Canadian content development funds according to a standard formula. Ray agreed to provide $41,430 of benefits to groups like Radio Starmaker Fund, FACTOR or MUSICACTION and the Community Radio Fund of Canada, plus some for other eligible initiatives at its discretion.

Rather than split up this money between these organizations, Ray is proposing to divert all of it to a scholarship program at Concordia University’s journalism department.

… given the relatively modest amounts involved, we believe that it would be of greater benefit to the community of Montre?al to aggregate the annual benefit dollars and to designate a single beneficiary each year. Each of the annual amounts allocated to the different recipients is, on its own, not material within their overall operations. However, when a single recipient is selected, the amounts together can have a significant positive effect for the recipient.

It’s unclear why Ray is coming to this conclusion now as opposed to when the application was filed.

Diverting all the funding to a discretionary initiative like this not only makes for a bigger splash, but is also more self-serving. Funds like Starmaker and FACTOR obscure the source of funding, while a direct donation can get your logo plastered all over a thank-you event, with the words “tangible benefits” or “CRTC” not even mentioned anywhere in the press release about it.

Whether Ray is considering the promotional value of a donation, or just wants to save money on cheques, is unknown.

This application, which can be downloaded here (725kB .zip), is open for comment until June 15. You can comment on it here.

Posted in Radio

CRTC explores adding a new FM radio station in Quebec City, possibly an English one

The Canadian Radio-television and telecommunications commission is opening the door to adding another commercial FM radio station in Quebec City.

On Thursday, the commission issued a call for comments, prompted by two applications for new commercial radio stations in the provincial capital — one French, one English. The first step in the process is for people to comment on whether they believe the market can handle another station, and if so whether there should be a general call for applications from all interested parties.

The commission published basic information for the two applications it received. Both are for the same frequency, 105.7 MHz, with a power of a few thousand watts.

The French-language station is proposed by Gilles Lapointe and Nelson Sergerie. The English-language one is proposed by Dufferin Communications, a subsidiary of Evanov Radio Group.

Another chance for Evanov?

This isn’t Evanov’s first attempt at a Quebec City station. In 2010, the CRTC denied a similar application — for the same frequency — for an English-language commercial station using the same easy-listening format of Evanov’s Jewel network of stations. (The commission also denied an application by Evanov for a sister French-language station.)

The decision was controversial, even within the commission itself, prompting a dissenting opinion from commissioner Timothy Denton. The majority found, as it had with a similar application from Standard Radio in 2006, that because Quebec City’s anglophone population is so small, a new English-language music station would necessarily have to target francophone listeners, and would introduce unfair competition because English-language stations don’t have French-language music quotas. (A policy the commission is in the process of reviewing.)

Denton argued that it’s not up to the commission to protect French-language stations from competition from English-language stations, nor to protect Evanov from the danger of trying to make money by targeting only the anglophone community.

Has anything changed?

In the six years since that decision, there’s been enough turnover at the CRTC that none of the commissioners who were part of it are still there, including Denton. That could prompt a change in mentality.

The market, meanwhile, appears to have changed fairly little in the past half-decade. Its nine stations have had a profit margin around 20% over the past five years, which is actually down from 30-40% margins when the CRTC made its decision. And advertising revenue is also flat at around $45 million for the market.

The economics are the same, so if the commission does decide to go ahead with a new station, it will be because of a change of mentality of the commissioners or the strength of the applications.

What’s next?

Interested parties, including incumbent radio stations who want to stop competition, and others who might be interested in applying, have until May 30 to comment. After that, the commission will decide if it makes sense to add a new station. If it does, and there’s clear interest from other parties, it will issue a call for applications and set a hearing. If it’s just those two applicants that express interest, it could simply consider those applications without issuing a call or having the parties appear at a public hearing.

If you wish to add your two cents about whether Quebec City can handle another commercial radio station, you can file your comments here until 8pm ET on May 30. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Posted in My articles, TV

10 things that might disappoint you about skinny basic and pick-and-pay TV

It’s March 1, 2016, which means the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s new rules about TV packaging take effect.

To explain it, I wrote this piece for Tuesday’s Gazette, which also lists exactly what you’ll find in a skinny basic package in Montreal.

But in hearing people talk about the new rules, it seems there are some misconceptions or assumptions that people have that will cause disappointments when they actually try to take advantage of the new rules. Here are the ones I can explain so far:

1. In Quebec, not much changes

Videotron, the market leader here, has offered a small basic package and build-your-own bundles for many years now. And until December, when it has to offer almost all channels à la carte, they really don’t have to change how they operate.

Videotron’s new $25 a month basic package is pretty similar to the old one, with a few exceptions:

  • RDI is not included. CBC News Network is, because of an order that news networks be distributed in minority language communities (at reduced prices). Outside Quebec, it’s the reverse: RDI is mandatory, CBCNN is not.
  • Stingray music channels are not included
  • Some out-of-market over-the-air channels are not included. The CRTC rules say stations from other cities can only be included if there are fewer than 10 local stations, and even then can be added to reach a total of no more than 10. That means Montreal’s basic package loses CJOH (CTV Ottawa, included for historical reasons because the station’s transmitter in Cornwall reached into western Quebec), Granby and Sherbrooke lose Canal Savoir, and Gatineau loses most Montreal stations. Videotron asked for special permission to keep these stations, but was denied.

2. The $25 maximum doesn’t include set-top box rental, installation fees or taxes

The CRTC is clear that the $25 price is for programming only. Renting a set-top box will cost between $5 and $10 a month depending on provider, and if you’re not already a customer you’ll need to pay extra for installation.

3. Providers aren’t offering special deals or discounts on skinny basic

It’s very clear that none of the major TV providers are really promoting this new package. CBC even found out about Bell ordering its customer service representatives not to discuss it unless asked, even though that’s a clear violation of the CRTC’s rules.

Other attempts to downplay are more subtle. Most providers list the package at the bottom of web pages. Shaw calls it “Limited TV”, Rogers calls it a “Starter package” as does Bell Fibe. Telus calls it “Lite”.

But even if the CRTC forces them to offer the same amount of visibility, they aren’t obligated to offer the same deals. Free equipment rental, new customer discounts, customer retention discounts, even bundle discounts don’t apply to this package (though Telus offers it at $5 off if you bundle with other services).

New IPTV providers are more aggressive, however. Zazeen, which is used by Distributel in Quebec, offers an Internet-based basic package for $10 a month if you prepay for 12 months. VMedia (which isn’t available here yet) offers it for $18 a month.

4. The channels you want to add will be the most expensive

If all you care about are TSN and Sportsnet, because everything else you can watch online, well I have bad news for you. The wholesale prices for those channels averaged $3 per subscriber per month in 2014, and they’re going up. Those costs are being passed on to you. To get them on Videotron you need at least the basic + 10 channels package, which is $50 a month. Shaw customers can add them for $8 each or $12 for both.

While the retail cost of the basic package is regulated at $25 a month, the cost of add-ons isn’t regulated at all. And nothing requires all channels to be offered at the same price. You could be charged $5 a channel or $20 for a pick-your-own package with a lot of exceptions.

5. No, you can’t get HBO for 1/5 the price of The Movie Network

While most channels will be available à la carte, in some cases there are multiple channels tied to a single licence. That’s the case for TSN, the four main Sportsnet channels, and The Movie Network. If you spend $15 a month for TMN and its five channels, you won’t be able to get just HBO Canada for $3 a month.

The CRTC is reviewing its rules for multiplexed channels and will remove the requirement that they be sold as one unit. But don’t expect HBO Canada to be offered anywhere near that cheaply.

6. It’ll probably be cheaper for you to keep your current package

If you’re interested in more than a couple of channels, chances are you’re better getting a big bundle, even if it might have some channels you don’t care about. It’s in the providers’ interest, and the broadcasters’, that as many people subscribe to as many channels as possible to spread the cost around. Simple economics will encourage you to buy more, just like a grocery store encourages you to buy in bulk.

7. Some channels will die

This is particularly true of independent channels like Vision, OUTtv and iChannel, that don’t have free advertising on CTV, Global or TVA. Some CRTC rules encourage providers to carry them, but if their number of subscribers goes down, they’re in big trouble financially.

8. Many channels will try to generate maximum demand at minimum cost

Consider a channel like AMC or FX. They’ve got some expensive must-watch shows during primetime, but the rest of their schedules are largely filler, with old movies or reruns. Expect a lot of channels to have one or two high-quality shows to get you to subscribe, but not much else for the other 22 hours of the day.

9. It’s competition, not regulation, that will really bring prices down

Part of the problem with TV service in this country is that because very few places have more than one incumbent cable company, there’s little competition (there’s satellite TV, but that has technical limitations). Bell and Telus are doing their part building up their fibre-optic networks to allow them to offer IPTV service.

But what would really make a difference are more independent third-party IPTV providers like Zazeen, VMedia and Colba.net. Those are still in their infancy and lack the kind of channel selection and quality the big guys have.

The CRTC has been doing a lot to make it easier for these guys to start up. New TV providers, even those operating in big urban centres, don’t need to have a licence until they reach a large enough subscriber base. Such exempt services also don’t have as many rules to follow. Plus they can use existing telecommunications infrastructure, similar to the way independent Internet providers do. And new rules about how the big broadcasters negotiate carriage will create less headaches for independent providers when signing carriage contracts.

But we’re still a while from these independents creating real competition for established TV providers.

10. No one really knows what the TV market will look like after this

We know that it will be more expensive to buy a set number of channels individually than in a bundle. We know that skinny basic will make less money for providers if they don’t have lots of add-ons. But how the economics will look exactly isn’t known.

Will we see channels go high-quality and expensive, like HBO, TSN and Sportsnet? Will they go cheap to maximize the number of subscribers? Will we see an explosion in the number of channels as the big guys try to maximize subscription revenue by splitting up their most in-demand programming? Will free previews be more or less common? Will this encourage more over-the-top offers for specialty channels wanting to bypass TV providers all together?

We’re not following the U.S. here, even though politicians there are trying to push for more consumer choice. So we’ll have to wait and see.

But it’s still a good idea

Skinny basic and packaging choice are good things. There are a lot of channels out there (*cough*BookTV*cough*) that survive almost solely on being included in large packages and have had nothing new to offer for years. Those deserve to reform or die.

But TV providers are going to do whatever they can to protect their bottom lines so long as they don’t have to worry about competition. So, unless you only want a few channels, and you don’t like sports, don’t expect to save too much under these new rules.

Instead, be happy that the money you pay is more likely to go toward channels and programming you care about than zombie services that profit from resistance to change.

UPDATE (March 1): I had a discussion with CBC Radio’s Q about the changes and what they mean for consumers.

Posted in Radio

CRTC approves low-power FM retransmitter for Radio Moyen Orient

Realistic pattern of the new CHOU retransmitter

Realistic pattern of the new CHOU retransmitter at 104.5 FM

A year and a half after rejecting a technically identical proposal, the CRTC has approved an FM retransmitter for Radio Moyen Orient (CHOU 1450 AM) in Saint-Michel.

The new transmitter will operate at 104.5 FM with a power of 50 watts, from an antenna on top of the Sami Fruits building on 19e Ave., near Pie-IX and Jarry. The map above shows its limited coverage area, and the red parts show where it can expect interference from other stations.

The biggest source of mutual interference will be CBC Radio One’s transmitter at 104.7 in N.D.G., which will be harder to hear in areas of Ahuntsic and Villeray. But people in those areas will be listening to CBC on 88.5 anyway.

Red splotches mark places where CHOU may cause adjacent-channel interference with CBME-FM-1 at 104.7.

Red splotches mark places where CHOU may cause adjacent-channel interference with CBME-FM-1 at 104.7.

So what changed at the CRTC to change their minds?

That’s a good question, because I can’t really find any differences in the applications. It uses the same technical parameters, the same arguments, the same listener complaint letters and the same field measurements. But for some reason, the commission now believes the station has demonstrated a technical need for the retransmitter, which is at the edge of CHOU AM’s service area.

In the Commission’s view, the new transmitter would allow approximately 14,000 Arabic speakers to receive CHOU’s ethnic programming, mainly in Saint-Léonard. However, coverage may not be adequate in all of the targeted neighbourhoods because the proposed low-power transmitter would experience interference in most of its secondary service area.

So maybe the commissioners just changed their minds on the subject.

The decision means speakers of Arabic and other Middle-Eastern languages will be well represented on the FM band in Montreal. CKIN-FM 106.3, which was purchased by Neeti P. Ray last summer, has changed its schedule to be mostly Arabic.

CHOU has two years to implement the new transmitter, unless it requests an extension. Other FM frequencies can still be used for medium and low-power transmitters. An application is pending for 90.7, and the CRTC has determined that 107.9 isn’t protected.

Posted in Radio

Montreal’s Mike FM failed to meet licence conditions again: CRTC

CKDG-FM 105.1*, a 12-year-old commercial ethnic radio station in Montreal, is up for licence renewal, and for the third straight time the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission believes it has failed to meet the requirements of its licence, by not serving a sufficient number of ethnic groups and not airing enough Canadian music.

In 2010, when the station’s licence was first renewed, the commission found that it had failed to pay $42,022 in required contributions to Canadian content development. As a result, the commission renewed the licence for just over three years instead of a full term of seven years, and added a condition of licence requiring it to repay the shortfall by August 2011.

In 2013, the second renewal noted that the station failed to meet that repayment deadline. Owner Marie Griffiths blamed the economic recession for putting financial pressure on the station, and said it would be repaid by August 2013, even trying to offer post-dated cheques as proof of this. There were also paperwork issues, getting annual returns to the commission on time. The CRTC again renewed the licence for a shorter term, until August 2016.

This time, the compliance issues aren’t about Canadian content contributions (a new policy exempts stations with revenues under $1.25 million from having to make them) or filing annual returns, but related to programming.

CKDG’s licence, amended in 2013, has the following conditions, in addition to the standard conditions of licence:

  • 3. The licensee shall devote a minimum of 60% of the programming broadcast during each broadcast week to ethnic programs, as defined in the Radio Regulations, 1986, as amended from time to time.
  • 4. The licensee shall devote a minimum of 50% of the programming broadcast during each broadcast week to third language programs, as defined in the Radio Regulations, 1986, as amended from time to time.
  • 5. The licensee shall broadcast, in each broadcast week, programming directed to a minimum of eight cultural groups in a minimum of six languages.
  • 6. The licensee shall ensure that at least 10% of the musical selections broadcast during ethnic programming periods during each broadcast week are Canadian selections.
  • 7. The licensee shall provide an appropriate proof of payment for the entire outstanding Canadian talent development shortfall of $42,022 identified in CKDG-FM Montréal – Licence renewal, Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2010-428, 30 June 2010, by 31 January 2014.

The station is proposing to keep these conditions, except the last, which has been fulfilled and is no longer applicable.

Cultural groups

Asked about the eight cultural groups it serves, CKDG listed “Greeks, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Armenians, Italians, English and French Que?be?cois” in a letter to the CRTC. But English and French are not considered cultural groups according to the CRTC’s ethnic broadcasting policy, which means the station failed to meet that requirement.

The application says the error was because of “a misinterpretation of the Commission’s policy and was compounded by inadequate oversight of the weekly programming breakdowns. Although this error was unfortunate, it was honestly made, and has now been corrected. It will not reoccur.”

The station added programming last fall for Dominican, Guatemalan and Haitian communities to bring its number up to nine.

The new schedule for CKDG-FM (click for larger version)

The new schedule for CKDG-FM (click for larger version)

Canadian music

CKDG’s conditions of licence require it to ensure 10% of ethnic songs and 35% of non-ethnic popular music are Canadian. But the commission’s analysis, based on a week in May 2015, shows it offered only 0.76% Canadian ethnic music and 24.1% Canadian non-ethnic music.

CKDG blamed this on its “inability to keep adequate records” and on not sufficiently policing licence conditions for brokered programming.

Is $4,000 enough to fix this?

Unprompted by the commission, CKDG’s licensee Groupe CHCR (Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio), has offered its own penance for its wrongdoings: money.

“Groupe CHCR submits that it will voluntarily contribute the combined amount of $4,000 to FACTOR and Musicaction ($2,000 to each organization) over the next licence term,” the application reads, referring to the two major Canadian music development funds that larger stations are required to contribute to.

Requiring additional contributions is one of the options available to the CRTC. A short-term licence renewal is another. But it can also go further, imposing other conditions of licence, requiring the station to broadcast its failure to comply with its licence conditions, or in extreme cases suspending, refusing to renew or revoking its licence entirely.

Needless to say, CKDG isn’t in favour of most of these options.

New administrative staff

As part of its move to get its affairs in order, Mike FM has hired new senior staff:

  • William Hart, Director of Operations, charged with bringing “a greater level of organization and structure to the company.”
  • Geoffroy Bry-Marfaing, Assistant Director, charged with ensuring ethnic programs meet Canadian content requirements
  • Maud Mazaniello, Director of Communications, charged with improving communication with cultural communities, among other things

It has managed to do this thanks mainly to the half-million it received from selling sister station CKIN-FM. We’ll see if they can use that money to make this sustainable.

The CRTC is accepting comments on CKDG-FM’s licence renewal until March 15.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong frequency for CKDG-FM.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

Community centre proposes new low-power station in St-Laurent at 90.7 FM

voix-st-lo-logo

Despite protestations that the FM band is full in Montreal and every last available frequency has been taken, more attempts to squeeze in new stations keep appearing.

The latest is an application by La Voix de St-Lo, an online radio station operated by the Centre communautaire Bon Courage de Place Benoit in St-Laurent. It proposes a French-language community radio station at 90.7 FM, with a 50-watt transmitter from right next to the community centre.

The station appears to have picked the callsign CHIL-FM, though it’s unclear if they will be able to use that if the application is approved.

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Posted in TV

Shaw wants to reduce Global Montreal’s local programming requirement

Later this month, the CRTC will hold a hearing looking into the future of local and community television. Included in that review will be a look at how much local programming local television stations should produce, and what that should be.

The proceeding has attracted thousands of pages of comments, including from Canada’s major broadcasters.

Shaw Media, which owns Global TV, filed comments in which it unsurprisingly defended its model for local news, which involves local newscasts not only being produced and directed outside of local markets, but anchored there as well.

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Posted in Media

Unanswered questions going into 2016

At the beginning of 2015, I did a wrapup of issues that remained unresolved from 2014 in the form of a list of unanswered questions. Looking back at them now, I find that many of them remain unanswered as we enter 2016. Since some issues continue at a glacial pace, I figure it’s useful to once again present to you a list of things someone, somewhere, will need to figure out.

We’ll start this year’s unanswered questions by revisiting those from last year. Here they are:

Television (national)

What decisions will come out of the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV process?

The commission’s long review of television policy resulted in rules that we expected. The big headline was about specialty channels, that will have to be available for individual purchase and in small packages by the end of 2016.

Less headline-grabbing but much more important was the complete removal of not only genre protection for specialty channels but the elimination of natures of service. This means that these channels will be able to broadcast whatever they want (with a limit only on live sports), regardless of what they were originally designed for. The History channel will no longer be limited to shows that have something to do with history. Book Television won’t have to talk about books. Travel + escape can be a channel about people staying in their beds.

On one hand, this means a lot more freedom for channels that have lost their way. On the other, it means a rush to the lowest common denominator, and fewer niche channels in favour of general entertainment stuff that captures a larger audience.

There’s also a lot of stuff that didn’t happen in the Let’s Talk TV decisions. Simultaneous substitution hasn’t changed, except for during the Super Bowl (starting in 2017) and the imposing of still-undetermined penalties if it’s done incorrectly. Decisions on local TV were kicked down the road and will be reviewed later this month along with community TV. And the commission hasn’t made any move to try to impose anything on Netflix.

Will Global’s all-news channel plan work?

We don’t know yet.

We learned about this plan for a hybrid national/local all-news network in the summer of 2014, but the CRTC still hasn’t posted the application. It could be waiting to handle local TV regulations first, or … who knows. The commission doesn’t talk about unpublished applications.

It’s an unusual application, and in the end the CRTC might decide that Global’s request for local advertising in exchange for a bit of local news isn’t worth it, but right now we’re just waiting.

Will OTA TV stations have to undergo another transition?

At this point, it doesn’t look like it yet. You might recall Industry Canada’s proposal to match a U.S. move to reallocate TV frequencies to wireless services. This issue is progressing in the United States, but Canada is mostly just waiting and seeing. It makes little sense for Canada to do anything other than follow the Americans’ lead on this.

What happens to Sun News Network?

Sun News Network shut down on Feb. 13 after attempts to sell it failed. Its talent has scattered, some heading to more traditional broadcast media, others to their other jobs at the Toronto Sun. Ezra Levant started his own website with the help of some of his Sun friends.

Will V send MusiquePlus and Musimax into the gutter?

A lot of people were upset at the cancelling of long-running shows like M. Net in 2014 after V bought the two music channels out of the Bell-Astral merger. In 2015, the transformation continued with the launch of programs like Lip Sync Battle, Pop de jam and Fabriqué au Québec. But the year ended with Claude Rajotte being let go. And they often feel like V2 and V3 with reruns of Éric Salvail’s shows and other programming from V.

What happens to Bio, G4, Book Television and other neglected specialty channels?

So far, nothing. But most of them have been freed from their nature-of-service obligations, which means they’re free to rebrand into almost anything. Rogers is expected to turn one of its channels into a Vice channel. Other rebrands should probably follow later this year. There’s no rush until the new CRTC packaging rules take effect and people start dropping the less popular channels, because right now they have no original programming, no employees and profit margins well above 50%.

Will Avis de recherche survive the year?

Despite a 2013 CRTC decision that the public safety information channel wasn’t worthy of mandatory funding after Sept. 1, 2015, the channel has stayed running through regulatory and legal manoeuvring. Bell and Videotron have both said they want to pull the channel, but ADR complained to the CRTC. The commission expedited the application so it can be dealt with quickly. We could see a decision soon, though ADR could continue fighting this through other legal avenues (that it will also eventually lose).

Will the English version of 19-2 break away from the French?

The second season of the Montreal-set cop show followed the original French version pretty well in the major plot line, though many of the specifics were changed. The third season, which airs this year on Bravo, is likely to diverge even further, to the point where it might continue for a fourth, even though the French version ended for good after three.

How long does analog cable have left?

Not long, but it’s still been a slow decline, at least around here. Videotron is down to about 10% of its subscribers who don’t have digital TV service yet.

Is radio-on-the-TV a fad, or a concept that’s here to stay?

CBC started airing its morning shows on local television in September. City is still doing the same in Winnipeg. Tim and Sid is still going strong on Sportsnet. And ARTV put a Radio-Canada radio show on TV.

Whether or not it’s great TV seems to have become largely irrelevant because it’s still cheap.

Television (local)

Will ICI’s business model work?

The little ethnic TV station that could is still going, with lots of original local programming. I don’t know how successful they are financially, but it’s still on the air.

Will MYtv see the light of day?

Yes, kinda. Videotron started airing English community programming in the fall, though the original plan to have a separate English-language channel was dropped. MAtv faces another complaint from an independent group alleging that it is failing to meet its regulatory obligations.

Who will win the battle of the morning shows?

Global’s Morning News and City’s Breakfast Television are still going. Both had host changes — Global dropped Richard Dagenais and City parted ways with Alex Despatie, replacing him with Derick Fage. But both are still going, in large part because of CRTC obligations. Ratings have suggested they’re doing about as well as each other, and far behind CTV’s Canada AM.

Will CBC Montreal’s newscast cut be another Canada Now-style disaster?

The drop from 90 to 30 minutes hasn’t made too many waves that I can see. And the hourly local news updates were a good move. We’ll see what the CBC does about improving local news and local programming with the extra millions it’ll get from the Liberal government.

Will the 12 job cuts at CTV Montreal affect the quality of its product?

This question is pretty funny considering how many Bell Media cuts were to come in the following year. The station ended up losing its general manager (though he was re-hired as a sales manager). Sean Coleman was hired to anchor weekends, replacing Andre Corbeil. The station is making due with fewer staff, though it escaped more serious cuts that affected other stations this year.

The cuts haven’t been that noticeable, except for sports coverage. With only Brian Wilde reporting (and that’s only when Randy Tieman isn’t on vacation), there’s no time for amateur sports, and when there’s news from more than one of the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, decisions have to be made.

Radio (national)

Will HD Radio take off in Canada?

Corus implemented HD Radio on a Hamilton FM station, and used its second channel to simulcast its Toronto AM talk station. Otherwise, there hasn’t been much open interest in the technology.

Will Jian Ghomeshi be convicted of assault? Will executives be forced to walk the plank? And will anything change?

Ghomeshi’s criminal charges are still pending, and it could be a while before they’re resolved. Executives did walk the plank in the wake of the scandal, and the corporation is undoubtedly more sensitive to workplace behaviour. But whether anything will change in the long term is still unclear.

Will NRJ go all-talk?

The network rebranded as Énergie, severing its ties with the radio brand from France. And it’s new programming in the mornings is more talk, less music. But it stopped short of a wholesale change to a talk format.

Radio (local)

Will TTP Media’s radio stations ever see the light of day?

Sigh. We’re still waiting. This group has a knack for making it seem to regulators that they’re doing something while not apparently doing anything. The next deadline is in May, when their first extension for 850AM ends. They’ll probably get another one, which means the next real deadline is November 2016. I’d like to say that if they’re not on the air by then it’s over, but that’s what I thought a year ago.

Will Evanov Radio become a major player in the Montreal market?

It’s a player, but still not a major one. CHSV-FM 106.7 The Jewel in Hudson/St-Lazare is running with familar on-air personalities Ted Bird and Tasso. Radio Fierté (CHRF 980 AM) had less success. The format has apparently been abandoned and after a couple of months of non-stop Christmas music it’s now airing something similar to The Jewel but in French, with no on-air staff. The sale of CFMB 1280 to Evanov went through, but Evanov hasn’t made any major changes to the station.

Will CJLO get permission to interfere with Vermont Public Radio?

No. It’s not that the CRTC wanted to protect VPR, but it felt CJLO could find better solutions than taking the last available FM frequency here. CJLO’s engineer disagrees, so we’re left at an impasse.

Will The Beat and Virgin remain in a deadlock?

Yes. The Beat has a larger anglo audience overall, but Virgin is better in the demographics.

Will new ethnic stations be a success?

Neither Radio Humsafar 1610 AM nor ITR 102.9 FM, approved in May 2014, are on the air yet. Radio Humsafar has requested a technical change, moving its transmitter site, and says it would be ready to broadcast soon after that’s approved.

Will AM music stations survive?

CJMS 1040 AM, which got a new owner, and CJLV 1570 AM, which is owned by Humsafar, are still on the air.

What will Gregory Charles do to Radio Classique?

He made the stations share just about all their programming with each other, gave himself a show, and hired Bernard Derome as his morning man.

Will Radio 9 succeed where Radio X didn’t?

Nope. The Radio 9 talk format was dumped in favour of an all-sports format that hasn’t made the ratings dial move much yet. Rumours persist of RNC Media being for sale.

Print

Will the Competition Bureau approve the sale of Sun Media to Postmedia?

Yes.

Whose tablet strategy will come out on top?

La Presse+ is still going strong, to the point where La Presse decided to drop the weekday print edition. Postmedia (my employer), which had an evening tablet edition strategy, dropped it this fall after a year.

Will TVA Publications rationalize its magazine portfolio?

The acquisition of magazines from Transcontinental did indeed lead to dropping some titles, including Le Lundi.

Is the Hudson Gazette gone for good?

No one’s heard from it since. It’s dead.

Online

Will Ricochet become a major media outlet or just another outlet for left-wing opinion?

Look at the website of the bilingual crowdfunded media outlet, and you see lots of opinions and columnists, but very little original news.

Other

Where will orphaned media personalities end up?

I listed four people a year ago: Mary-Jo Barr, Alyson Lozoff, Catherine Sherriffs and Andre Corbeil. Barr took a job at Pfizer, Corbeil is working for a livestock feed company, and Lozoff and Sherriffs have been off the radar the past year.

You can add to that list other names that got cut from or voluntarily left their jobs this year: Alex Despatie, Elliott Price, Suzanne Desautels, Rob Kemp, Ronny Mack, Angelica Montgomery, Peggy Curran, Sue Montgomery, and former employees of the West Island Chronicle and Westmount Examiner.

Others have been luckier. Abe Hefter is teaching at Concordia, and Richard Dagenais is hosting a show on MAtv and reading the news on weekends on CJAD.

New questions

Television

What’s the future of local and community television?

The CRTC has handled specialty channels, but other than deciding that transmitters must stay on the air, there’s been little decided for conventional TV. This month, the commission holds hearings on local and community television policy, and we’ll see things like how much local programming stations should be obliged to broadcast, how much of that should be local news, whether community stations should be run by TV providers or local organizations, and how to regulate how money is spent on community TV.

Will there be a rush to the middle among specialty channels?

The deregulation of most specialty channels means more freedom to stray from niches. But in a pick-and-pay universe, and with the availability of Netflix and other streaming services with large libraries, a channel devoted to Seinfeld reruns might not be successful either. So what will work? Channels like AMC and FX that have one or two must-have series but fill the rest of the schedule with reruns and crap? Channels like Family, Crime+Investigation and Food Network that still target a niche or demographic? Or will everything just become general entertainment programming, a mix of scripted dramas and comedies, reality TV shows and lifestyle shows?

Will we see more channels adopt American branding?

A lot of Canadian specialty channels share names and logos with American counterparts. The reasons are mainly economic. You don’t need to design your own logo, or create your own marketing campaign, or worry about confusion when people in the U.S. talk about a show being on some network when it has a different name north of the border. Canadian channels that keep a distinct brand tend to do so either because of their age (YTV, Much) or because they were stuck in their niche (G4, Bio, Book, Fashion). The latter issue becomes irrelevant now.

Does Vice succeed as a TV channel?

Rogers is bringing the brand to Canadian televisions, probably by rebranding a poorly performing channel like G4 or Bio. Vice gets attention online, but whether that translates to a 24/7 cable channel is still to be determined.

What will CBC do with its extra millions?

I put the question to you recently.

Radio

What happens to Radio Shalom?

The Jewish AM station’s owner says he’s no longer willing to financially support the station and is asking others to step up. If no one does, we could end up with dead air at 1650 AM.

Do community stations get enough money to survive?

Radio Centre-Ville came far short of its goal crowdfunding a new cultural space, but launched it anyway. CIBL is about a third of the way toward its crowdfunding goal to save the station. CKUT looks like it will be short of its annual funding drive goal. Radio Ville-Marie is always seeking donations, and I just told you about Radio Shalom. Will this reliance on direct donations to pay the bills result in a station going under?

How does the new ethnic radio station environment look?

Montreal has a lot of ethnic/third-language radio stations, and most are required to have programming in several languages, though they tend to focus on one or two. CFMB 1280 is mainly Italian, CKDG 105.1 is mainly Greek, CHOU 1450 covers the Middle East, the new Radio Humsafar 1610 will serve mainly South Asia, CJWI 1410 serves the Haitian community.

CKIN-FM, which was sold by Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio (owner of CKDG) to businessman Neeti P. Ray, has a new schedule that’s Arabic during the day and Spanish in the evenings.

Is that the way it will stay? Or will CKIN’s change and the emergence of Humsafar prompt other adjustments at other stations?

Print

Does La Presse succeed as tablet-only during the week?

It was a bold move to kill the weekday edition of La Presse. It cuts down a lot on cost, but is there something more intangible about being a daily newspaper that La Presse loses now, even if it’s publishing daily tablet editions? We’ll see. But there were already more people reading it on tablet than print before the change.

Does Postmedia shut down more papers?

Rumours persist about Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, where Postmedia owns the two subscription dailies. Postmedia denies any plans to shut down the Suns in those markets. And while it shut down publications in Muskoka, that’s an “isolated” situation. My employer isn’t in the best financial situation, but it’s still expected to survive in the short term overall.

Online

Do new online news outlets grow or contract in 2016?

Vice. Buzzfeed. Canadaland. iPolitics. The Tyee. Huffington Post. Online-only media in Canada have grown more serious in recent years, hiring professional journalists and tackling serious issues, while funding themselves using different models (crowdfunding, native advertising, paywalls, partnerships with big-money media). Will these new outlets with diverse funding sources and more targeted audiences fill the hole made by traditional media’s cuts, or will they find that their recent spending on professionals isn’t sustainable without a lot more revenue?

Will CraveTV and Shomi emerge as real competitors to Netflix?

Shomi, owned by Rogers and Shaw, just recently opened itself up to subscriptions from all Canadians. CraveTV, owned by Bell, has promised to do the same this year, but hasn’t set a date yet. That’s significant because providing all this content without requiring cable subscriptions could entice more people to cut the cord, and these companies make a lot of money from people who pay for TV.

We might also hit a wall with streaming services. Netflix is less than $10 a month, but if you add Crave, and Shomi, and other services like sports streaming and iTunes, or if Amazon or Hulu or others come to Canada, consumers might find their over-the-top bills about as high as what they were paying for the cord they cut in the first place — and a lot less live TV to show for it.

What questions will Fagstein forget to add to this list?

Next question.

Posted in Radio

CRTC approves frequency swap allowing Ottawa station to boost power

Existing (purple) and proposed (black) coverage map for CIDG-FM Ottawa.

Existing (purple) and proposed (black) coverage map for CIDG-FM Ottawa.

In its last day of decisions for 2015, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has approved a plan proposed by Torres Media’s CIDG-FM (Dawg FM) to pay a community station more than $150,000 to swap frequencies.

The plan, which I told you about in May, goes as follows:

  • CHIP-FM, a community radio station based in Fort Coulonge, Quebec, about 90km northwest of Gatineau, changes frequency from 101.7 to 101.9 MHz
  • CIDG-FM, a commercial station based in Ottawa, changes from 101.9 to 101.7, and because the new frequency has fewer restrictions on it, the station can increase its power from 5,500W to 19,500W.
  • Torres Media, which owns CIDG-FM, pays Pontiac Community Radio, owner of CHIP-FM. The amount isn’t disclosed in the application or decision, but a financial projection included in the application shows it’s at least six figures. It includes Torres Media taking care of all the expenses related to the application itself and the change in frequency for CHIP-FM.

As a result of the change, which also comes with a new transmitter site, Dawg FM would improve its signal considerably toward the southwest, areas like Nepean and Stittsville. The signal still wouldn’t be as good as the older FMs that have unrestricted allocations, but it would be able to fight on a slightly more even level.

Dawg FM, which broadcasts a blues/rock format and launched in 2011, has a 0.5% share among anglophones and 0.2% among francophones in the latest Numeris ratings.

Posted in TV

Avis de recherche using desperate legal measures to stay on the air

Control room and studio at Avis de recherche

Control room and studio at Avis de recherche

Avis de recherche, the specialty channel devoted to listing missing people and wanted suspects and talking about other aspects of public safety, got a punch to the gut two and a half years ago when the CRTC decided to end its special status as a must-distribute service that every TV subscriber in Quebec was forced to pay for.

Without that mandatory distribution, providers would no longer want to carry the channel, it would lose its subscription revenue and would cease to exist. Owner Vincent Geracitano knows this well because before ADR got that status, he had to pay Videotron to distribute the channel.

Knowing the channel had value as a public service, the commission gave ADR a two-year grace period to find a new business model. That grace period ended on Aug. 31, 2015, despite ADR’s ill-fated request for another extension.

Now, ADR is using every trick in the book to stay alive:

  • It has politicians writing letters to the federal government asking it to order the CRTC to review and reverse its decision.
  • It filed an application to the federal court seeking a judicial review of the decision.
  • It filed a complaint with the RCMP, alleging political interference in the CRTC decision (based mainly in hearsay evidence).
  • It took Videotron to court, arguing it had a distribution agreement until Dec. 31 and got a temporary injunction keeping it on Videotron’s system.
  • For Bell, ADR has gone to the CRTC and filed for dispute resolution. (A standstill provision says Bell must continue distributing the channel while the dispute resolution process proceeds.) ADR also filed a complaint of undue preference, arguing that Bell’s decision to pull ADR benefits its similar service Canal D Investigation. (I find that hard to understand. ADR is a news and information channel, while Investigation is entertainment. It’s like saying the Weather Network competes with a channel that shows nothing but Sharknado movies.)
  • UPDATE (Jan. 31): ADR has also filed an undue preference complaint against Videotron, arguing ADR is similar to LCN.

ADR proposes some solutions to Bell’s actions, which basically involve ordering Bell to keep the channel. It suggests the commission use its power to order Bell to keep distributing the channel until 2018, when all specialty channels will have lost their protections as a result of decisions taken in the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV process.

Even if ADR is successful at keeping Bell and Videotron from pulling the channel, it’s just kicking the can down the road. Both distributors have made clear they have no desire to keep distributing the channel because there’s no demand for it.

A survey ADR provided in its application seems to confirm that. It shows only 16% of the 1,000 Quebecers surveyed had ever heard of the channel, and after being told what it was only 18% said they’d ever watched it.

Nevertheless, respondents said public security is important, and after some very leading questions about the value of such a channel, respondents expressed support for it and disagreement (69% vs. 18% support) with the CRTC’s decision to remove its mandatory status.

Respondents were asked how much they’d be willing to pay for it at four price points:

  • At its current 6 cents per month: 89% in favour
  • At 25 cents per month: 73% in favour
  • At 75 cents per month: 52% in favour
  • At $1 per month: 43% in favour

ADR makes it clear that without an order keeping it on some form of mandatory distribution, it would go off air “within days.”

The channel notes it is in a unique position as an independent service that once had mandatory distribution and has since lost it. And Geracitano has devoted his life to public service and this channel. It’s entirely understandable that he’s doing everything he can to keep it going.

But the CRTC has determined the public doesn’t absolutely need Avis de recherche, and it’s not about to change its mind on that. Rather than seek a way to offer programming that might generate demand, ADR is going all in on lawyers. I doubt it will work.

The CRTC is treating ADR’s complaint about Bell seriously but expeditiously, allowing only three days for comment. You can download the complaint here (.zip) and file comments here before 8pm ET on Friday, Dec. 11. Note that all information filed with the CRTC, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (Dec. 14): This proceeding has resulted in dozens of interventions, almost all of them from politicians, public safety agencies and non-profit groups lined up behind ADR.

One group definitely not on ADR’s side is Quebecor. It notes in its intervention that ADR is a Category B specialty service, which means distributors are free to drop it if they want. It suggests allowing ADR to stay on Bell’s system this way would open the door to abuse of process:

ADR doit se rendre à l’évidence qu’elle n’a pas d’autre choix que d’assumer sa part des risques liés aux différentes politiques du CRTC et d’accepter la perte de son statut de distribution obligatoire.

UPDATE (Dec. 17): Bell’s reply has been published by the commission. Among the key quotes (with my highlights):

  • ADR has known since 24 September 2015 that their service would be removed from carriage on 1 December 2015.  Yet they waited two months to file their second standstill request and to file the Application.
  • ADR has already had two years to adjust to the lack of access rights.  In particular, Decision 2013-372 extended ADR’s 9(1)(h) status for two years to allow the licensee time to adapt its business plan. Bell has not seen any evidence of ADR changing its business plan; rather its plan appears to be to argue for continued carriage at its existing wholesale rate.  Bell does not consider this to be adapting to new distribution circumstances.
  • Given that ADR’s programming is a public benefit for law enforcement agencies, it could attempt to obtain sponsorship from various levels of government. … If such an attempt was made and rejected, then it would appear that law enforcement agencies do not see the value in ADR.
  • At mediation, there was a good exchange of information between the parties, but in the end, Bell’s position did not change. Our subscribers see little or no value in receiving this service as evidenced by the viewership chart for the service provided further below.
  • There is no regulatory requirement for BDUs to make reasonable attempts to ensure that programming services remain viable if they do not believe the service appeals to their subscribers.
  • The Wholesale Code does not afford independent services, such as ADR, penetration guarantees; rather, it only allows them the ability to negotiate for one.
  • There is no similarity between the programming offered by ADR and Canal D/Investigation.
  • The programming on Canal D/Investigation takes the form of documentaries, dramas and reality television shows related to justice and forensic science. It is an entertainment service that broadcasts programs on resolved criminal stories of national and international scope, it is not interactive, nor is it a “Crimestoppers” channel.
  • ADR’s viewership pales in comparison to Canal D/Investigation.
  • There is no evidence on file of their ability to solve crimes.
  • ADR suggests … there is no evidence that Bell plans to rebate its customers for the loss of service of ADR. … We do not make rate adjustments each and every time the cost of a programming service increases or decreases or when a service is added or removed from a package.
  • This Application is simply another attempt to have the Commission extend its mandatory-to-basic 9(1)(h) distribution order; a proposal that has already been rejected.

Bell makes reference to viewership data for ADR above. Because ADR does not subscribe to Numeris, Bell instead used set-top box viewership data from Fibe TV customers. The figures it uses are redacted from the public record, because Bell argues that information is commercially sensitive. So we don’t know what ADR’s actual viewership is among Bell customers, either in real numbers or compared to Investigation, other than it being lower.

UPDATE (April 20, 2016): After its CRTC complaints were rejected, the channel has appealed to Canada’s heritage minister to force the commission to force cable companies to keep paying for it to stay on the air.

Posted in TV

Concordia students get $650,000 out of a Rogers acquisition

Sportsnet records its president announcing its donation at Concordia University's journalism building on Wednesday.

Sportsnet records its president announcing its donation at Concordia University’s journalism building on Wednesday.

Concordia University journalism students will be getting a financial boost in the coming years thanks to a $650,000 donation from Rogers Sportsnet.

 

More than half of the donation will be used for scholarships for students over five years:

  • Six scholarships of $3,000 each to undergraduate students
  • Seven scholarships of $4,000 each to graduate diploma students
  • Two scholarships of $6,000 each to masters students
  • Two prizes of $8,500 each to students based on sports journalism portfolios

This works out to $75,000 a year, or $375,000 over the five years of the program. The rest of the money will be used for things like new equipment purchases and other stuff whose details haven’t been finalized, said Concordia journalism department chair Brian Gabrial.

Other than the $8,500 prizes listed above, the scholarships are not specifically sports-related.

Students and staff at Concordia celebrate their donation with Sportsnet president Scott Moore (third from left).

Students and staff at Concordia celebrate their donation with Sportsnet president Scott Moore (third from left).

The donation, the largest in the department’s history, was celebrated with a wine-and-hors-d’oeuvres event at Concordia’s journalism and communications building on the Loyola campus on Wednesday, with Concordia president Alan Shepard Sportsnet president Scott Moore in attendance.

But while this is great news for the university, it’s worth noting where this money is coming from. It’s not something Rogers is doing spontaneously out of the kindness of its heart, but rather a mandatory funding initiative linked to Rogers’s 2013 acquisition of The Score (which it turned into Sportsnet 360).

When the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved the acquisition of the sports news television channel in 2013, it mandated that 10% of its purchase price (valued at $172 million) be spent on tangible benefits, or donations to programs and initiatives that benefit the broadcasting system as a whole. This is the CRTC’s way of mitigating the loss of diversity that comes from consolidation of ownership.

Rogers had originally proposed more than half of that going to something called the “Sportsnet Winter Games”, an annual amateur sports event. But the commission rejected that, saying it was worried that this would be self-serving. Instead, Rogers broke down the proposed benefits as follows:

  • $5 million for a Sportsnet Independent Production Fund
  • $5 million for a Canadian University Sports Initiative
  • $2.5 million for digital media produciton scholarships
  • $4.7 million for amateur independent sports production

Moore confirmed that the $650,000 donation to Concordia comes out of this tangible benefits package, which has to be paid out over five years. He said internal bureaucracy at Rogers, combined with some major distractions, caused them to get a slow start on this.

Gabrial credits Bob Babinski for helping get this done. Babinski worked with Moore at CBC Sports, and after Moore moved to Rogers Media, he hired Babinski to launch City Montreal. Moore said he called up Babinski and asked about Concordia’s journalism program, and then Sportsnet approached Concordia asking them to put together a proposal.

Moore referred to the donation as an “investment” in the future of journalism. That’s a nice sentiment, though the CRTC rules prevent any quid pro quo.

Other Sportsnet university initiatives include the Sportsnet U Recruited program. Its first recruit is Julian McKenzie, a Concordia journalism student, former sports editor at The Link and producer at CJLO 1690 AM. After the event, McKenzie had lunch with Moore.

A fake Concordian front page announcing the donation.

A fake Concordian front page announcing the donation.

Posted in Radio

Châteauguay’s CHAI-FM seeks to replace two transmitters with one

If you look at a list of radio transmitters in the Montreal area, you’ll find a listing at 101.9 MHz for CHAI-FM, a community radio station in Châteauguay. But you’ll also find one called CHAI-FM-1 in Candiac, also at 101.9 MHz.

It’s an unusual solution to a coverage problem to have a repeater on the same frequency, and CHAI is the only one in the area that attempted it. There’s a reason for this: talk to any broadcast engineer and they’ll tell you that while it can be done, it’s very tricky. If the stations aren’t perfectly synchronized, people between the transmitters can hear unpleasant sounds and echoes.

CHAI-FM proposal: A new transmitter (green) replaces the two old ones (red and blue).

CHAI-FM proposal: A new transmitter (green) replaces the two old ones (red and blue).

So CHAI has decided after less than a decade to abandon that plan and instead seek changes to its primary transmitter (an increase in power, change in pattern and shift of location and height) to allow it to cover both the city of Châteauguay and the MRC de Roussillon with one signal. As you can see from the map above, the engineers have done a pretty good job of replicating the two coverage areas with one signal.

The new CHAI-FM would transmit from atop the Châteauguay water tower in the eastern corner of the city, using a directional antenna and a power of 238 watts, up from 100. The height above average terrain would go from 50 to 66.7 metres. (The city approved the installation unanimously in a council meeting on Dec. 1, 2014, setting a $350 a year rent plus taxes and $460 a year for electricity, a deal of five years renewable twice.)

Being so close to Montreal, the signal has to be careful not to interfere with other existing ones. An engineering analysis found potential interference issues with a half dozen stations but managed to minimize them:

  • CBMG-FM Cowansville (101.9): CHAI and this CBC Radio One transmitter would cause interference to each other, but CHAI notes that the area of CBMG’s signal it would interfere with, centred around Iberville, would be covered by Radio One’s main Montreal transmitter at 88.5 FM, which carries identical programming. CBMG could cause interference to CHAI in Candiac, Delson, Lery and the southern West Island.
  • CJSS-FM Cornwall (101.9): Though they operate on the same frequency, the analysis found CHAI would not interfere with CJSS and CJSS’s interference with CHAI would be minimal, confined to a sliver of its pattern southwest of Lery.
  • WCVT-FM Stowe, Vt. (101.7): No potential interference was found here unless WCVT were to increase to its maximum theoretical power, which it couldn’t do anyway because that would interfere with CBMG.
  • CHPR-FM Hawkesbury, Ont. (102.1): The stations are far enough apart in space and frequency that there are no interference issues.
  • CIBL-FM Montreal (101.5): CHAI would cause some interference to reception of the Montreal community station in the area southeast of CHAI’s transmitter, but that interference would be less than is currently caused by both CHAI-FM and its retransmitter. CIBL would not cause interference to CHAI.
  • CINQ-FM Montreal (102.3): The mutual interference situation for CINQ is virtually identical to that of CIBL.

The worst interference issue both ways is with the Cowansville station, and that’s the only one that would actually increase a non-trivial amount under this scenario. CHAI’s proposed parameters go as far as they can without leaving a coverage hole for CBC Radio One (an area that isn’t within either coverage area of CBME-FM 88.5 or CBMG-FM 101.9).

The CRTC is accepting comments on this application until Jan. 18. You can download the application here (.zip) and comment here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Posted in Radio

Valleyfield’s CKOD-FM gets approval for sale, rebrands as Max 103

Barely a week after the CRTC officially approved the sale of the station to Torres Media (owner of Ottawa’s Dawg FM), CKOD-FM has relaunched with a new studio location, $75,000 of new equipment, and a new branding: Max 103.

As I explained in May, the Valleyfield station was in a pretty dire situation less than a year ago, unable to pay its rent or even keep the transmitter running. Torres Media came in with a lifeline and got it back up and running, getting the CRTC to approve a temporary management agreement while it deliberated on the official sale.

The purchase price was $250,000. Torres Media asked for an exemption to the CRTC’s tangible benefits policy, which normally places a 6% tax on the sale of radio stations, with that money going to Canadian content development funds or other similar initiatives. The commission denied that request, and so the new owner has to pay $24,076 in addition to $1,500 to make up for the previous owner’s failure to pay mandatory Canadian content funding contributions.

The relaunch happened yesterday, and Cogeco’s local community TV service sent a reporter to do a report on it:

The Journal Saint-François was also there.

 

Yves Trottier, who has been with the station for a couple of decades now, returns to the air as the morning man. He also has a 5% ownership stake in the station.

CKOD-FM’s 3kW signal at 103.1, which is unchanged in this ownership transition, allows it to cover the Suroît area, reaching from Hudson to Huntindgon and the Ontario border to Saint-Martine. Its coverage area also includes Île Perrot and Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. People further east will have trouble hearing it due to interference from CHAA-FM 103.3.

The investment seems significant, and Torres Media seems serious about relaunching the station. They’ve promised to keep it local, and have apparently reached a deal with InfoSuroit.com to provide local and regional news.

I can’t find a website for the station The station’s website is pretty bare right now, and there’s no online stream. Hopefully that will come soon.

Posted in TV

ICTV files new CRTC complaint against MAtv

In February, following a complaint by an independent group that wanted to start up their own community TV station in Montreal, the CRTC gave Videotron a deadline of Aug. 31 to put MAtv in compliance with its conditions of licence.

According to the group that filed the original complaint, Videotron has failed to do so. And so it has filed another complaint.

Dated Nov. 5 and posted today, the complaint by ICTV (Independent Community Television) alleges that MAtv fails to meet the requirement of 50% community access programming, and not just in Montreal but in eight of nine zones that MAtv operates in. It also notes that Videotron has no programming for an aboriginal audience, which is expected of community services (though there’s no quantitative quota for it).

It also cites the lack of advisory boards outside of Montreal, and the fact that the Montreal advisory board does not include any representatives of ICTV. (“This exclusionary behaviour by Videotron crossed the line when MAtv General Manager we quoted by the press to have implied his station is at war with ICTV, and by extension the communities we represent,” the application states, without giving a source. While it’s true that Videotron has made no effort to approach ICTV, I am unaware of any effort from ICTV to approach MAtv in a constructive way either.)

ICTV comes to its conclusions by studying the program grids posted online over a sample week (Oct. 8-15 for Montreal, Oct. 21-27 for the other eight zones). By looking at where the program was produced, and by whom, it calculates the amount of access programming per region. According to its analysis, these are the levels of access programming for the various regions:

Montreal: 36.61%
Bas-Saint-Laurent: 35.41%
Cap-de-la-Madeleine: 11.89%
Granby: 50.51%
Outaouais: 15.78%
Quebec City: 27.98%
Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean: 45.98%
Sherbrooke: 38.89%
Sorel-Tracy: 9.03%

Only Granby meets the 50% minimum, and even then only barely, ICTV says.

The complaint includes a spreadsheet showing the number of hours devoted to each program and how ICTV has categorized it. No doubt Videotron will take issue with some programs being categorized as not being public access.

ICTV asked the CRTC to seek logs from MAtv to confirm its accounting, and the CRTC has in turn asked Videotron to supply those logs.

If the CRTC confirms what ICTV has claimed, it could take serious measures against Videotron, including revoking the licence for MAtv. At that point, an independent community TV service operating in the same region could replace it and get access to its funding. ICTV wants to be that service, though there is also Télévision communautaire Frontenac, which also operates in Montreal and unlike ICTV has a licence.

The CRTC gave Videotron an August deadline because that was when Videotron’s distribution licence was to expire. In July, the commission renewed that licence for a year to give it more time to deal with it.

You can download the application here (.zip file). Comments from the public are being accepted until Dec. 17. You can file comments online here. Note that all information provided, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Posted in Radio

CRTC changes its mind, gives TTP Media yet another extension on AM radio stations

Le Conseil proroge le délai de mise en exploitation de ce service jusqu’au 21 novembre 2015. À défaut de respecter ce nouveau délai, l’autorité accordée dans la Décision 2011-721 deviendra nulle et sans effet. Cette prorogation est la dernière extension de temps accordée par le Conseil pour la mise en exploitation de ce service.
— CRTC, Sept. 14, 2014

This was going to be it, the deadest of deadlines, the date of no return when we can finally declare that the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media project for AM radio stations is dead and not coming back. The CRTC had promised a year ago that the first of them would not be given an extension past Nov. 21, 2015. It even bolded the word to make it clear.

But it seems the commission is willing to give this phantom company one more chance. In a decision dated last week and posted online yesterday, it has given a rare third one-year extension for the establishment of a French-language AM radio station at 940 AM, and a second one-year-extension for an English-language station at 600 AM. They now have until Nov. 21, 2016 and Nov. 9, 2016, respectively, to begin operations.

In a letter to the CRTC dated Oct. 20, managing partner Nicolas Tétrault explains that the company is finalizing a deal to acquire from Cogeco Diffusion the transmission equipment at the Kahnawake site, as well as the rights to use the land (subject to Kahnawake band council approval, which they believe is a mere formality).

Tétrault says the site is ready for transmission at 940 kHz, and requires only “minor modifications” to be ready for 600 and 850 (the latter is a French-language sports radio station first approved in 2013).

The letter requested “six to twelve months maximum”, but then again the last extension made a similar months-away promise that was never realized.

So we have another year of guessing and arguing whether this project will ever see the light of day. There still have been no announcements as far as studio location, on-air staff, management, name, callsigns or anything else.

The letter approving the third extension doesn’t give reasons for the exceptional treatment, and only states again that this will be the final extension (a similar letter says the same about the second extension for 600 AM). CRTC’s media relations offered this explanation when asked:

Usually, the second extension granted by the CRTC to start a service is final. However, in certain exceptional cases, the CRTC grants a third extension to commence a service when the justification given in the request is sufficient and that the service appears to be imminently commencing. This was the case for 7954689 Canada Inc.

I guess this means final doesn’t always mean final.

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