Tag Archives: CRTC

Posted in TV

Videotron applies to CRTC to make Canal Indigo pay-per-view bilingual

Less than a week after Bell Media formally announced that Viewers Choice pay-per-view would be shut down on Sept. 30 (though about a month after it was privately informed of the decision), Videotron has applied to the CRTC to modify the licence of its own Canal Indigo service to make it bilingual.

The application, which can be downloaded here but doesn’t say much more than it wants to make the service bilingual, is open to public comment until Aug. 21 (comments can be submitted here). Since pay-per-view services are now subject to standard conditions of licence, it’s unlikely the CRTC will oppose the application.

The only sticking point might be language. Currently the CRTC’s standard policy regarding bilingual pay-per-view services sets a ratio of 1:3 of French to English services

17. Finally, licensees of bilingual PPV services, in addition to being subject to the requirements for English- and French-language PPV services, must ensure a ratio of 1:3 French- to English-language channels in markets where a bilingual service is offered, with a minimum of five French-language signals as well as the French-language barker channel.

As Videotron points out, this ratio makes sense in English Canada, where special protections are needed to ensure francophones have access to PPV services, but they don’t make much sense for Videotron, which operates almost exclusively in Quebec. Instead, Videotron proposes a 4:1 ratio of French to English, with eight French channels and two English ones.

Videotron currently distributes 11 standard-definition and three high-definition Canal Indigo channels, and eight standard-definition and one high-definition Viewers Choice channels.

The application makes it clear that Videotron plans to go in-house to replace Viewers Choice rather than seek another provider of pay-per-view services. Bell and Rogers said it would work with other providers carrying Viewers Choice to ensure they would be provided with another service.

Posted in TV

Viewers Choice pay-per-view shutdown will force cable companies to scramble

Viewers ChoiceThere’s been no press release, and I haven’t gotten the company to confirm it, but Bell Media has been advising cable companies that Viewers Choice Canada pay-per-view is shutting down on Sept. 30. (UPDATE July 16: Bell finally confirmed it in an email to Canadian Press. It says there will be a single layoff, and it will work with other providers to find an alternative PPV service.)

As I explain in this story for Cartt.ca (subscription required), Bell became the majority owner of Viewers Choice when it acquired Astral Media last year. But Bell doesn’t use Viewers Choice for its own TV subscribers, instead preferring its own in-house service Vu! There has been speculation that something would happen to Viewers Choice, and those seemed partially confirmed in February when it turned in its now unused satellite distribution licence.

Dating back to 1991, Viewers Choice was once the exclusive PPV provider for eastern Canada. It’s no longer exclusive nor regional, but its history means it’s still the PPV service carried on many systems in eastern Canada, including the big ones — Videotron, Cogeco, Rogers, Eastlink and Bell Aliant.

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Posted in Radio, TV

CBC TV can (but shouldn’t) deny ads from commercial radio stations: CRTC

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission speaks through its decisions, and for the most part those decisions are straightforward. They’re written by a special team who ensure they’re as consistent, dry and clear as possible.

But a decision issued last week by the CRTC, while a victory for Canada’s public broadcaster, also takes a shot across its bow that almost seems snarky.

The decision responds to a complaint filed by Leclerc Communication, owner of radio stations CKOI and WKND in Quebec City. Leclerc argued that Radio-Canada was unfairly discriminating against it by refusing to air television ads for its radio stations, while running ads for Radio-Canada’s Première and Espace musique networks.

The CBC didn’t deny this. Instead, it argued that it is justified in having a policy that prevents running “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”

It also argued that Leclerc could easily advertise elsewhere, an argument Leclerc said was “as irrational as it is desperate.” And it invoked the idea of commercial freedom to argue that it shouldn’t be forced to run ads from anyone.

In the decision issued June 27, the CRTC sided with Radio-Canada. It determined that the public broadcaster did indeed put Leclerc’s radio stations at a disadvantage, but that this disadvantage was not “undue” and so did not break the commission’s rules.

It writes:

“The Commission is of the view that the CBC is not subjecting Leclerc to a material adverse impact by refusing to offer advertising opportunities since Leclerc has access to 72% of the local television advertising inventory by advertising on TVA and V and that it can therefore reach 93% of the television viewers in the market.”

This reasoning baffles me. Leclerc argued that it needed access to Radio-Canada TV because it wanted to reach a demographic of mature, affluent and well-educated listeners, which it felt would fit WKND. The CRTC argues that’s not necessary because there are other ways to get advertising (not including radio, of course, because those are direct competitors).

And if those other advertisers were to also refuse Leclerc’s ads for competitive reasons? The CRTC’s decision doesn’t address that rather obvious hypothetical. (Thankfully it’s not necessary. TVA, which owns no radio stations, was only too happy to take Leclerc’s money.)

Since return on investment is so hard to determine when it comes to traditional advertising, it’s nearly impossible for Leclerc to prove that the CBC’s policy has a material adverse impact on its business. And the commission seems to have given the benefit of the doubt to the CBC.

“The Commission questions the true motives of the CBC”

But the decision includes a paragraph that, while not binding, might force the broadcaster to rethink its policy:

“However, the Commission questions the true motives of the CBC, which continues to turn away a client that does not belong to a vertically integrated group on the grounds that it is in competition with its operations. The Commission takes this opportunity to suggest that the CBC focus less on viewing other players in Canada’s communications ecosystem as competitors and put more effort into fulfilling its public service mandate.”

Considering the drastic cuts facing the broadcaster in the years ahead, even the CRTC is wondering why it’s saying no to money from a small broadcaster in order to protect the market share of a network that doesn’t carry any advertising and should have nothing to fear from commercial radio.

Posted in TV

Shaw Media plans new national all-news channel called Global News 1

Buried deep within its 30,000-word submission to the CRTC as part of its Let’s Talk TV consultation process, Shaw Media dropped this little bombshell:

There are other means of fostering local programming through market-based innovations. Global News has been a market-leader in the adoption of news gathering and production practices that maximize efficiency while preserving local voices. Building on its leadership role as a local news service, Shaw will submit an application to the Commission for a new hybrid local/national, English-language, Category C specialty programming undertaking to be known as Global News 1, a service that will expand and diversify the amount of news and information-related programming in the Canadian broadcasting system. There is no specialty news service that currently provides such a service in this country, namely the provision of uniquely local reflection.

The submission provides no other details on this proposed service, including what exactly it means by “hybrid local/national”. I’ve asked to get more details, but everyone’s out of the office for Canada Day. (UPDATE: Canadian Press got an official no comment from Shaw.)

Category C is the category that the CRTC has established for all-news channels that compete directly with each other under common conditions of licence. CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, Sun News Network, RDI and LCN are all licensed under that category. (CP24, BNN and others are in a different category.)

Shaw Media already has a regional all-news channel, Global News BC 1, which operates in British Columbia, where Global has strong ratings and Shaw Cable is the dominant cable provider. It’s not clear if this new service would replace BC 1 or be complementary to it.

An application for such a channel would go through the regular CRTC process, which would take months at a minimum, so don’t expect this kind of channel on air this fall.

This channel, like CTV and CBC, would undoubtedly rely on sharing resources with the newsrooms of local television stations. Global’s TV network has stations in Vancouver, Kelowna, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, N.B., and Halifax, with an affiliate in Thunder Bay. Shaw also owns CJBN-TV in Kenora, Ont., which doesn’t brand itself as a Global station.

Add in the resources of Global National, The West Block and other national news programs, and this kind of channel makes sense, though it might be a bit western-focused (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). If it’s similar to BC 1, we could see a mix of national and local news presented on screen 24/7 along with local weather and other graphics.

(Hat tip to this Channel Canada forum post, which first spotted the paragraph in the submission.)

UPDATE (July 4): This story has gotten its first mainstream attention now that Canadian Press has spotted it. That story is being picked up by CTV, HuffPost, Toronto Star, Financial Post, La Presse and others.

Posted in TV

15 topics for debate in the CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” policy review

It’s hard to overstate how much is at stake in the CRTC’s wide-ranging review of television policy that’s currently going on. The commission has put everything on the table, from the very nature of specialty channels to simultaneous substitution. Anything within its mandate is up for discussion and possible amendment.

With a day to go until the deadline for comments (it was originally Wednesday, but the commission gave a two-day extension), almost 2,000 comments have been put on the public file. This number will increase as the big media and telecom companies file their submissions, which usually happens at the last minute. (The CRTC has taken the unusual step of asking these companies to file comments in both French and English, and in an accessible format — Microsoft Word, text files or HTML files.)

The process began last year with a sort of informal consultation with regular Canadians, highlights of which are posted here, followed by a phase of asking those people who commented to make decisions based on a limited number of choices. The results of that survey are posted here.

The third phase of the process is the formal one, where the serious policy discussion happens. The commission launched that phase in April, and it will lead to a public hearing in Gatineau in September. Anyone wanting to be part of this discussion officially can join in until the deadline for comments, Friday June 27 at 8pm ET.

The announcement sets a framework for the policy discussion, which in turn gives us an idea what types of changes we could see as a result of the hearing. They are:

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Posted in Radio

CRTC approves new licence for CKHQ-FM Kanesatake

CKHQ-FM, the Kanesatake Native radio station that became defunct and lost its CRTC licence 10 years ago, has gotten that licence back. The CRTC approved a new seven-year licence for the station on Tuesday, to be given to a yet-to-be-incorporated non-profit corporation set up by James Nelson.

The station’s technical parameters are identical to what it had previously: 101.7 MHz with 27 watts of power (11 watts average) from an antenna on the reserve 30 metres above the average terrain. That setup gives the station a signal that reaches into Oka and across the river into Hudson, but not much further.

The application, published in December, received only one comment, from someone in favour of bringing the station back.

The situation for CKHQ is very similar to that of CKKI-FM, KIC Country 89.9 in Kahnawake, in that it was a station that went on the air without a licence, and people from the CRTC and Industry Canada walked the station through the application process rather than trying to force it off the air.

At the moment, the station is running with a live DJ during business hours, and raises money through fundraisers and radio bingo. Its programming is mainly country music, with some community announcements and other spoken word in English.

If you can’t hear it on the air, the station streams online here. It also has a Facebook page.

Posted in Radio

CKRS-FM Saguenay wants to become a Rythme FM station

CKRS logoA week after the Journal de Montréal reported that CKRS-FM in Saguenay wants to become a Rythme FM, the CRTC has published an application from the station that confirms the news.

CKRS is owned by Richard Speer’s Attraction Radio, a growing new player in the Quebec radio scene. It officially owns five radio stations, including CJIT-FM in Lac-Mégantic. It currently has an application in front fo the CRTC to purchase CJLM-FM (M 103.5) in Joliette from a cooperative for $750,000, a deal announced in January 2013. (The deadline for comments on that was last week, and there were no comments filed on that application. A hearing is scheduled June 26, but that’s a formality. The parties aren’t being asked to attend.) And it recently announced a deal to buy the Réseau des Appalaches, owner of Passion Rock and O97,3 stations in the region of Victoriaville/Thetford-Mines.

La Presse’s Nathalie Collard profiles the group in a recent story.

History of losing money

CKRS, whose AM predecessor dates back to 1947, was once part of the Corus Quebec radio network. It was left off the list of radio stations sold to Cogeco in 2011, and was slated for closure. It was picked up by Radio Saguenay Inc., a group whose owners included Guy Carbonneau. But losing about $400,000 a year (less than the $1 million a year that it lost under Corus), Radio Saguenay gave it away to Attraction for $300,000, a purchase approved by the CRTC in 2012. CKRS and became Attraction’s third station, all of them acquired mere months apart.

Though CKRS’s licence was renewed just a few months ago, Attraction says it feels it can’t continue operating the station in its current format.

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Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

Q&A: CJLO vs. VPR

Since the announcement last month that Concordia’s CJLO radio station has applied for an FM retransmitter downtown to allow listeners at the downtown campus to hear it, but would block out Vermont Public Radio for many more, there’s been a lot of questions, debate and differences of opinion about this proposal.

The CRTC has already received 645 interventions, almost all of whom are radio listeners who support one side or the other. The majority are VPR listeners responding to the organization’s public call-out on its website. Others are CJLO fans who want to be able to hear the station on the downtown campus and say this is the only practical way to do so.

In most (but not all) cases, the interveners don’t have bad things to say about the other side. The VPR fans hope for an alternative solution to the reception problem. Both CJLO and VPR say they support the other and don’t want to prevent anyone from being able to listen to the other.

I look a bit deeper into this application in this story for The Gazette, which appears in Friday’s paper. Below, I’ll tackle some of the questions and perceptions that people have and try to come up with some unbiased answers to them.

A map of potential interference between VPR and CJLO on 107.9 FM, based on terrain data, created by Yves R. Hamel and Associates (click for larger)

A map of potential interference between VPR and CJLO on 107.9 FM, based on terrain data, created by Yves R. Hamel and Associates (click for larger)

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Posted in My articles, Radio

CRTC approves two new ethnic radio stations in Montreal serving south Asian community

UPDATE (May 22): See also a story about this in The Gazette.

Last year, the CRTC received two apparently competing applications for new radio stations serving Montreal’s south Asian community. Today, it approved both of them.

ITR, 102.9 FM

Broadcast contours and interference zones for proposed new FM station (click for larger)

Broadcast contours and interference zones for proposed new FM station at 102.9 FM (click for larger)

The first, by AGNI Communications, would broadcast at 102.9 FM with a weak 50-watt transmitter on Chabanel St. near Highway 15, which would allow it to reach Ahuntsic and surrounding boroughs, but no farther than that because of interference from stations in Sherbrooke, St-Jérôme, Valleyfield and St-Jacques-le-Mineur on the same or adjacent frequencies.

The service already exists as on a subcarrier of CISM-FM on 89.3. It specifically targets the Tamil community, and the location of its transmitter will, it believes, cover the majority of Montreal’s Tamil-speaking community.

Radio Humsafar, 1610 AM

Projected broadcast pattern of Radio Humsafar on 1610AM

Projected broadcast pattern of Radio Humsafar on 1610AM

The second station is Radio Humsafar, which exists as an online, subcarrier and phone-in audio service. Its programming would be in English, Tamil, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati and Pashto.

The station would operate with a 1kW transmitter sharing the transmission site of CJLO 1690 AM on Norman St. in St-Pierre. Because the two would have the same antenna and operate at the same power, their patterns should be similar, so if you can hear CJLO you should be able to hear this station.

Humsafar has been trying for years to get a radio station on the air in Montreal, where it’s based. It had originally applied for 1400 AM, but the long-delayed move of CJWI (CPAM Radio Union) from 1610 to 1410 delayed that application and changed its frequency to 1610. Humsafar also owns CJLV 1570 in Laval and had tried to convert that into an ethnic station, an application the CRTC denied in 2012.

Radio Humsafar’s president, Jasvir Singh Sandhu, tells me he’ll begin discussions with engineers about quickly getting the station on the air, which should happen in the coming months. He projects hiring a handful of people as Humsafar expands the number of languages it broadcasts in. The phone-in and online streaming services will continue after the station is on the air, but the SCMO subcarrier it rents on CKUT will be discontinued after a few months of simulcasting. Sandhu also issued a press release which is republished below.

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Posted in Montreal, Radio

CJLO applies for FM retransmitter at downtown campus

A rough guide to the range of the proposed CJLO FM transmitter. Red areas would experience interference from WVPS in Vermont.

A rough guide to the range of the proposed CJLO FM transmitter. Red areas would experience interference from WVPS in Vermont.

After much study, Concordia student radio station CJLO 1690 AM believes it has found a solution to reception problems it is experiencing at the university’s downtown campus. A long-rumoured application for a low-power FM retransmitter was published Friday by the CRTC.

If approved, the transmitter would operate on 107.9 FM, from an antenna on the Henry F. Hall Building, at 100 watts.

VPR interference

The frequency is one that has been previously identified as potentially usable in Montreal, but it comes with one big downside: It’s the same frequency as WVPS, the Vermont Public Radio transmitter in Burlington, and the only U.S. public radio station that reaches into Montreal.

Because of co-channel interference from the 48kW VPR transmitter, the CJLO FM retransmitter would have a very limited range, basically covering the core of downtown and not much else. On the other hand, areas around downtown will experience a great deal of interference, likely hearing both stations at the same time, and neither very well. (I can’t get too specific about this because the maps submitted with the application are blurry and black-and-white because they were sent by fax).

Though VPR’s 107.9FM signal reaches Montreal remarkably well, it is not protected in this city. We learned this two years ago when a proposed station in Hudson offered 107.9 FM as an alternate frequency if its first choice of 106.7 was rejected. The CRTC received some comments from VPR listeners upset at the potential of no longer being able to hear that station.

CJLO's AM antenna on Norman St. Increasing its power, or putting a transmitter like this downtown, are impractical solutions to downtown reception problems,

CJLO’s AM antenna on Norman St. Increasing its power, or putting a transmitter like this downtown, are impractical solutions to downtown reception problems.

Bad signal

CJLO’s report, prepared by broadcasting consultant Michel Mathieu, notes that signal strength readings were taken along Sherbrooke St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd. downtown, and they showed that the signal is particularly bad in the heart of downtown where Concordia’s downtown campus is. The signal starts dropping around Atwater St., and returns around Berri. The reason? Downtown skyscrapers absorbing the AM signal.

Even Laval, more than twice the distance away, shows a signal 10 times better than in some downtown blocks.

In case the quantitative data isn’t enough, the application also includes a dozen letters from CJLO listeners complaining of the signal quality downtown.

There’s clearly a problem here, and a low-power FM retransmitter makes the most sense as a way to solve it, even though the choice of frequency might not be to everyone’s liking. (Mathieu notes that even VPR’s signal is hard to receive downtown because of the same interference problems that CJLO experiences.)

Alternatives studied

CJLO’s application noted that it studied other options:

  • Increasing the power of its 1,000W transmitter in Lachine’s St-Pierre district was rejected because it wouldn’t solve the problem. Even TSN 690, operating with giant towers at 50,000 watts on a clear channel, has signal reception problems in downtown buildings.
  • An AM repeater (it’s unclear if this would have been on the same frequency or another one) “became out of the question” because of practical and cost limitations, being unable to put a 75-foot antenna on top of the Hall Building.

The report doesn’t mention looking at other FM frequencies, but with the FM band effectively at capacity in the city, it would be difficult to locate one to put even a low-power transmitter without causing interference

CJLO’s application can be downloaded here (2.8MB .zip file). The CRTC is accepting comments on CJLO’s application until 8pm on May 26. They can be submitted using this form. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (May 4): CKUT’s International Radio Report devoted its show on Sunday to this application, with comments from supporters of CJLO and VPR. You can listen to the show here in MP3 format.

Meanwhile, VPR is warning its listeners about the CRTC application and its consequences.

Posted in Montreal, Radio

CRTC says Radio X Montreal can remove jazz music programming

Planète Jazz is no more.

Two years after RNC Media first requested that CKLX-FM 91.9 in Montreal be relieved of its conditions of licence requiring a specialty jazz format, and a year after an initial denial, the CRTC approved the request on Tuesday as part of the station’s licence renewal.

Under the new licence, the station would remain under a specialty format, but one that requires at least 50% of its programming to be spoken word.

The new licence, which is for a short term because the CRTC found that the station failed to comply with terms of its existing licence (including incorrectly classifying some popular music as jazz to meet its specialty licence requirements), takes effect on Sept. 1. But a CRTC spokesperson tells me that the change relating to format takes effect immediately.

When it denied the same application a year ago, the CRTC cited two main reasons: the fact that the station appeared to be failing to meet its current licence, and the fact that it has approved another French-language talk station in Montreal (TTP Media’s news-talk station at 940 AM) and that granting this request could threaten the financial viability of that station.

So why the change of heart? Two reasons: One, since this is a licence renewal decision, the CRTC is more open to changes to that licence. The commission doesn’t like rewarding non-complying stations by changing their licence conditions during their licence term. And it says in this decision that it monitored programming last fall and found the station had rectified its licence compliance issues.

As for competition with TTP Media, the CRTC said that “the Commission’s standard practice is to not consider applications for new stations intended to serve the market in question within two years of the publication of its decision to approve a new station when it was licensed following a call for applications.”

The French TTP Media station was approved on Nov. 21, 2011. It was supposed to launch two years later, but was granted a one-year extension to Nov. 21, 2014. But there’s no similar extension to a de facto moratorium on new competing formats. So the CRTC felt it no longer had to consider that issue. The commission also notes that TTP Media did not write to the commission to oppose this application.

Those issues dealt with, it came down to the basic question: Is there an economic need to justify this change?

The CRTC found a year ago that there was one. And that situation hasn’t changed.

CKLX-FM was first approved by the CRTC in 2003, along with others including CJLV 1570 AM in Laval, CKDG-FM 105.1 in Montreal, and the 104.7 FM transmitter for CBC Radio One.

The logic at the time was that because the Montreal International Jazz Festival was so popular, a jazz music radio station would also be so, or at least popular enough that it could be profitable. So Spectra, the company that runs the festival, partnered with broadcaster RNC Media and applied for a licence for a radio station, which was later approved.

But it didn’t work that way. Jazz music simply wasn’t that popular. Some fans have argued that’s because the station’s music was poorly programmed, but after a decade, it was clear it could not be made profitable. Spectra was bought out as a partner, and RNC made the decision to change Planète Jazz to Radio X, copying its mega-successful programming format in Quebec City.

That decision hasn’t been that successful either. The station has only a 1% market share among francophones in the latest BBM ratings, and 3% among francophones age 25-54. The station has argued that it’s growing, but it still has a long way to go.

The new CRTC licence means that now Radio X Montreal must have at least 50% talk programming, and has no requirement at all for jazz. It would likely mean a more CHOI-like programming schedule, with more talk in the evenings and more rock music on weekends. Right now, the station switches to jazz music at 7pm every day, and runs jazz all weekend except in the afternoons when it has a rock music show.

In an on-air discussion after the decision was published, station management said there would be an evaluation of programming options over the coming weeks, and no changes would be announced right away.

Radio X has posted photos of staff drinking champagne after the decision.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Radio X’s licence change takes effect Sept. 1. Though RNC Media apparently believes this to be the case, the CRTC tells me that it actually takes effect immediately.

UPDATE (April 15): Jazz was removed from Radio X’s schedule over the weekend. It now airs rock music all weekend and repeats overnight.

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.

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Posted in TV

Channel Zero licence renewals: It’s not just about CanCon pornography

On Wednesday, the CRTC issued a notice of hearing, calling Channel Zero Inc. to appear in person to discuss issues related to its specialty channel licence renewal applications. Channel Zero owns Movieola (which was rebranded as Rewind in December 2012), Silver Screen Classics, AOV Adult Movie Channel, AOV XXX Action Clips and AOV Maleflixx. The licenses for all these channels expire in August. Channel Zero also owns CHCH TV in Hamilton, whose licence doesn’t expire until 2016, and U.S. channel Fight Now TV, which isn’t regulated by the CRTC.

The commission is calling the company to the hearing because of apparent non-compliance with the licences assigned to these channels. There are many issues, some more serious than others, from unauthorized change of control to failure to meet Canadian content requirements to airing categories of programming that the licences do not allow them to air.

So you can imagine what angle the media took in their stories about these applications: porn, pornporn, porn, porn, pornporn, porn, porn and porn. (I counted one story — in a trade publication — that wasn’t focused on that angle.)

Stories (mostly briefs) about this issue, all with the same angle, appeared in print editions of The Gazette, the Journal de Montréal, the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, Globe and Mail, Edmonton Journal, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Windsor Star, National Post, Cape Breton Post, Victoria Times-Colonist, 24 Hours Toronto, the Edmonton Sun and a bunch of other publications. It even made it into Friday’s Philadelphia Daily News, Columbus Dispatch, The Economist and New York Times, has been translated into Danish and sparked poorly-researched editorials in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province and columns by Jonathan Kay, Ian Robinson and Kate Taylor (which the Globe also created a video for). And CBC’s As it Happens even interviewed a porn star.

The stories are not incorrect (although most stories have small factual errors). The CRTC believes the three AOV adult entertainment channels fell short of their 35% Canadian content requirement. But it also has the same issue with Movieola/Rewind, which is not a porn channel.

More importantly, there are far more serious and less amusing issues on the table here. Specifically:

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Posted in My articles, TV

Did the CRTC require Sun News be added to analog cable?

We’re now a month away from all (licensed) cable, satellite and IPTV companies in Canada being required to add the Sun News Network to their systems, but one important question remains unanswered: Does Sun News have to be added to analog cable as well as digital?

It may seem like a simple question, but I’ve gotten contradictory answers on it, as I write in this story at Cartt.ca.

When the CRTC made its decision two months ago that all licensed TV distributors in Canada had to make all five national news channels available to all subscribers, it gave them until March 19 to come into compliance with the more important part of its order: adding Sun News to their systems. (Most of them already carry the other four channels — CBC News Network, RDI, CTV News Channel and LCN.) The TV distributors have a further two months, until May 20, to comply with other aspects of the order, requiring the channels to be added to the “best” packages “consistent with their genre and programming,” requiring that each be available à la carte (where possible) and filing affiliation agreements with the CRTC.

But the order, and the decision that led to it, don’t say anything about analog cable. This despite the fact that Sun News made distribution on analog one of its key arguments in favour of a mandatory distribution order. Sun argued that its audience skews older and rural, and that those viewers are more likely to have analog cable service.

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Posted in TV

Videotron doesn’t want to add ICI to analog cable, asks CRTC for exemption

Sam Norouzi in the control room at ICI's studios in Ahuntsic

Sam Norouzi in the control room at ICI’s studios in Ahuntsic

Analog cable. Remember that? According to the latest statistics from the CRTC, only 11% of television subscribers get their TV that way. For Videotron, that number is higher. According to Quebecor’s latest quarterly report, 82.9% of its television customers were digital, leaving 17.1% of them using analog-only setups.

Since about 2000, the groundwork has been built for the phasing out of analog cable. The CRTC has since licensed new television specialty channels as digital-only. In 2012, Videotron stopped selling new analog cable subscriptions. And it’s expected that within the next few years it will be phasing out its analog cable network, much as other providers are, in order to free that bandwidth for more data and high-definition channels.

I bring all of this up because of an interesting situation that’s come up. The Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, the rules that apply to cable, satellite and other television providers, have a priority list of which channels must be distributed on the basic service. At the top of that list is CBC/Radio-Canada, then educational channels, then all other local television stations, then those special services like CPAC and APTN that the CRTC requires everyone receive and pay for.

The lineup of analog cable channels hasn’t been added to in the past decade. The last new channels added to it here were APTN and Avis de recherche, because of distribution orders for those channels. And with a virtual ban on new channels being forced onto analog, it seemed destined to stay that way.

But in December, a new television station launched in Montreal. ICI, an ethnic station, began broadcasting on Channel 47. And according to the rules, it needs to be added to the systems of all cable distributors operating in Montreal, on both analog an digital.

This issue doesn’t come up often because it’s so rare that a new over-the-air television station starts up. The last real expansion of over-the-air television through new stations was in 1997, which was when Global Quebec and CJNT (what is now City Montreal) went on the air. So cable companies haven’t had to add many new services to analog cable since they started the slow move to digital.

But the rules say that Videotron needs to distribute local stations, and so it needs to put ICI on its analog grid somewhere, at least in the Montreal area.

Except Videotron says it doesn’t have the room to do that. So it has applied to the CRTC for an exception to the distribution rules that would allow it to not have to carry ICI this way.

In its submission, Videotron’s owner Quebecor Media says the commission’s clear intention is to move away from analog television distribution, and that its recent decisions have made it clear it doesn’t want to add new services to analog.

“The analog programming grids for the greater Montreal region are at their maximum capacity and no space is available to add a new station to the basic service,” Quebecor’s Peggy Tabet writes. “In fact, any additional analog channel would require the removal of a channel that’s currently distributed in this format. This type of change has important consequences at the client level and on a financial and technical level. Adding ICI to the analog basic service would result in depriving our subscribers of a service they have always had access to.”

Moreover, Videotron says, removing a service from analog cable would require a 60-day notification period, and its contracts with broadcasters do not allow Videotron to remove those channels from its analog service.

Finally, Videotron says that 93% of its customers in the greater Montreal region have digital set-top boxes, and those subscribers receive ICI in standard and high definition.

Videotron’s explanation is mostly half-true. It definitely has space limitations on its network, and adding a new analog channel would take up a lot of space. And it’s right that removing analog channels is tricky because of customer complaints as well as contractual obligations.

But Videotron isn’t absolutely prevented from adding ICI to its analog network. Assuming there was no analog channel that it could part with to make room for ICI, it could repurpose a digital channel and make it analog again. That might mean fewer HD channels, or more compressed HD channels, but it’s doable.

It would probably be more accurate to say that Videotron simply doesn’t want ICI on its analog network because it would add to its bandwidth management problems and won’t be that popular among its customers.

That kind of explanation usually doesn’t sway the CRTC. But should the commission force Videotron’s hand, requiring it to start fiddling around with an analog network it’s in the slow process of dismantling? Videotron hasn’t set a date for bringing down the analog network in Montreal. It may be a small minority that still has analog cable, but many of them do for a reason, and it will be quite a process to transition all of them at the same time. Plus there are all the people who might have a digital box on their main television but analog cable going into other TVs in the house. Those will also need to be dealt with.

I suspect the CRTC will deny Videotron’s application. But it may grant the exception if it feels that the reins of analog cable need to be let loose so the format can be put out to pasture.

ICI hasn’t commented on the application. Its general manager Sam Norouzi said it will be filing a response opposing it, but didn’t want to comment further.

Videotron’s application can be downloaded here (.zip). It’s open to comment until 8pm ET on Monday. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information provided, including contact info, goes on the public record.