Tag Archives: CRTC

Posted in Radio

CPAM owner agrees to buy CJMS 1040 for $15,000, keep it country

Almost a year after a bizarre CRTC hearing in which the owner of CJMS 1040 AM in St-Constant blamed the station’s failure to meet its regulatory obligations on his father’s dementia and announced before a surprised panel of commissioners that the station had been sold to an unnamed buyer, the details of that transaction have been published by the commission.

The CRTC has called a hearing for Nov. 12 (a technicality; the parties aren’t being asked to appear) to discuss two applications related to CJMS: Its licence renewal, which was in grave danger of not being accepted because of the repeated management failures, and a proposed sale of the station to Jean Ernest Pierre, the owner of CPAM Radio Union (CJWI 1410 AM), the Haitian community station in Montreal.

The identity of the buyer is no surprise. The two stations share an antenna in St-Constant, and after the CRTC hearing, during which CJMS’s lack of news was brought up as an issue, the station began simulcasting morning and afternoon programs from CJWI.

Documents filed with the commission show that Alexandre Azoulay, who owns CJMS, agreed on Oct. 9, 2013 (a month before the hearing) to sell it to Groupe Médias Pam Inc., a company entirely owned by Pierre, who is also the sole owner of CPAM. The purchase price is $15,000, as well as an hour a week of airtime for a year, for Michael Azoulay’s talk program connected with his family’s chiropractic business.

Continue reading

Posted in TV

CRTC approves V’s purchase of MusiquePlus/MusiMax

The last piece of the Bell-Astral divestments was approved today by the CRTC: the sale of MusiMax and MusiquePlus to V Media, the owner of the network formerly known as TQS.

Even though the sale has only been approved now and hasn’t yet closed, the companies are already acting as if it’s a done deal. V and MusiquePlus/MusiMax are promoting each other, to the point where a new MusiquePlus show is a behind-the-scenes look at a show on V.

The purchase price is $15.52 million. In 2007, Astral bought a 50% of these two channels from CHUM Ltd. for $68 million, giving them a value of $136 million.

In order to raise money to pay for the channels, V itself will take on new investors: The Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ will each take a 15% stake in V Media (which also includes the conventional TV network). A third “institutional investor” will take another 15% stake, and the Rémillard family will retain the other 55%, with the possibility of raising that stake up to 59% of the company performs well.

The board of directors of V would be composed of four representatives of Remstar and one representative each of the three 15% investors.

Licence changes — more flexibility, but not too much more

As part of the transaction, V had asked for some amendments to the licences for the channels. Some of them relate to the fact that they’re no longer owned by large media companies (particularly a requirement to spend a percentage of that group’s revenue on so-called “programs of national interest”). Others are meant to give them more flexibility in programming.

V had proposed that MusiquePlus and MusiMax have a minimum requirement of 75% of their programming be devoted to music-related programming. Currently MusiquePlus has a 90% requirement and MusiMax has no minimum. The CRTC didn’t like that number and imposed an 80% requirement for both services.

V wants to use comedy, a genre that isn’t being exploited much in French-language television (there’s no French equivalent to the Comedy Network), to draw audiences to MusiquePlus, particularly in its target demographic of people age 18-34. For MusiMax, it’s lifestyle and reality shows to draw women 35-54. But it also says it wants to have more live musical performances in studio, and more concert programs.

There were also proposals related to program categories. Both services can now include “music video programs” in the 30% of their programming month they have to devote to pure music video programs. This would allow them, I believe, to add a count a program like Cliptoman (MusiquePlus’s version of Much’s Video On Trial, where comedians make fun of music videos) toward that quota.

V also proposed to reduce the Canadian content exhibition requirement from 55% of the broadcast day and 55% of the evening (6pm to midnight) period to 45% for those two periods. The CRTC also felt this was too much, and decided on 50% for both periods for both services. This is still higher than services like Canal D and Historia, which have profit margins around 50%.

In terms of Canadian content spending, the CRTC agreed with a 31% level for the services combined, so that it must spend 31% of its revenue on Canadian programming, just slightly above what it was before.

Finally, MusiquePlus and MusiMax also have a special condition that requires them to pay 3.4% and 5% of their revenues respectively to MaxFACT, a fund that helps create and produce Canadian music videos. V proposed to create its own fund, the Rémillard Fund, that would take this money instead. The CRTC approved of this, provided it is satisfied with the new fund’s operations and independence.

Sale valued at $22.9 million, includes ad revenue guarantee

The sale price is $15.5 million, but comes with a guaranteed ad buy of up to $1.5 million (excluding commissions), which brings the net price down to $14 million. There’s also a guaranteed ad revenue floor for two years.

These guarantees make determining the actual value of the transaction difficult, because how much it will actually be depends on certain factors.

According to documents submitted in the application, the guarantee of at least 80% of 2013 revenues, or about $6.6 million a year, would last until August 2016. But this would be adjusted if viewership drops by more than 5%.

The contract also allows V to cancel the ad buy and get half of that, or $750,000.

On top of this, Bell Media would also sell third-party ads for these two services and V, for which it would earn a commission. That commission has minimums and maximums that put it in the high six-figures annually.

In fact, Bell Media would become the exclusive ad agency of MusiquePlus and MusiMax until August 31, 2016. V would be able to enter barter agreements and other exchanges, but actual ad sales would have to go through Bell.

As if that didn’t sweeten the deal enough for V to take over the money-losing services, Bell also agreed to pay off an outstanding debt imposed on Astral in 2007 when it bought the 50% of the company that owns the networks from CHUM Ltd. (which at the time also owned MuchMusic). This is $40,476 a month to be paid to the Harold Greenberg Fund. But since those payments ended Aug. 31, it’s a moot issue.

The CRTC didn’t agree that the guaranteed ads should be deducted from the purchase price, calling it “the normal course of business”. Adding in things like assumed leases, the CRTC evaluated the total value of the transaction at $22,872,086.

Hope for a turnaround

Because of the tangible benefits policy that requires that 10% of the value of the transaction goes to funds and projects that benefit the broadcasting system, V now has to propose a new tangible benefits plan. The CRTC has given them 30 days to do so. (It notes that it recently changed some policies relating to tangible benefits, and this proposal should follow those new guidelines.)

The acquisition makes sense both for V and for the two struggling music channels. The Rémillard family bought TQS out of bankruptcy in 2008, and while the decision to effectively abandon all news programming was very controversial at the time, it also helped them bring the network into the black after decades of bleeding money.

Now, people are hoping that they can do a similar turnaround with MusiquePlus and MusiMax. MusiquePlus made $867,851 in pre-tax profit in 2012-13, but lost almost $6.5 million in the four previous years. MusiMax is in the black, but has had a pre-tax profit margin of under 1% over the past three years.

The drop in revenue has come with a drop in ratings. MusiquePlus went from a 1.1% rating overall in 2006 to a 0.7% share in 2012. Both services have seen drops in subscriptions as well, of 10% for MusiquePlus and 13% for MusiMax in only three years.

Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC has to begin preparing for its own irrelevance

As the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission began its two-week hearing into television policy on Monday, the various interest groups began planting their self-serving stakes. Google doesn’t want YouTube to be regulated by the commission. The Ontario government and others want the CRTC to force Netflix and similar services to contribute to Canadian content. And funds like the Canada Media Fund and Shaw Rocket Fund want to ensure they don’t lose their funding.

It’s all so predictable, which makes sitting through hours of these presentations so boring. But, despite chairman Jean-Pierre Blais’s best efforts, we’re not getting to practical solutions here or any concrete idea of what TV is going to look like in 10 years or even five.

The CRTC’s Communications Monitoring Report shows that the adoption of Netflix alone in Canada is on a dramatic rise. Now almost a third of English-language households have subscriptions. But this hasn’t resulted in a dramatic drop in cable and satellite subscriptions. About 85% of Canadian households have some sort of regulated pay TV subscription, either through cable, satellite or IPTV (Bell Fibe/Telus Optik etc.). The percentage is falling, but not fast enough to panic. At least not yet.

As technology evolves, the difference between YouTube, Netflix and Bell TV becomes more and more irrelevant from a regulatory perspective. Internet-based television connections like Bell Fibe use the same data links to send TSN’s five feeds as they do to send House of Cards and that latest cat video. At this point, we could deliver all television services in Canada to most consumers via the Internet. We have the technology to do that.

Bureaucratic momentum

The biggest reason we haven’t moved everything online is bureaucratic. And not in the sense of regulation (though that’s part of it), but in the sense of having large media empires like Bell, Shaw, Rogers and Quebecor, that own the exclusive rights to high-value programming and deliver it through the regulated system because the regulated system pays them for it and consumers haven’t been too tempted to change that.

So long as the CRTC imposes a 5% tax on cable revenues that are to be redirected to Canadian content (including community television channels), and forces content channels to devote certain parts of their schedules and certain percentages of their revenue to Canadian content, there will be an incentive to move more content out of the regulated system and onto an unregulated one. And eventually we will pass that tipping point where there’s no must-see TV on the regulated system and consumers start abandoning it in droves.

Fortunately for the CRTC, it has time. It can prepare for this. But it has to decide now which way it will go: expand its reach to include purely online forms of video delivery, or contract its reach to eventually get out of the TV regulating business completely.

You can’t regulate Internet content

There have been some cases for the former that try their best to pass the sanity test (Jason Kee, Public Policy & Government Relations Counsel at Google, asked rhetorically if the CRTC would start regulating animated GIFs, too). Proponents of regulatory expansion say the CRTC should only regulate video that is sold, not stuff put on YouTube for free. They say there should be a minimum revenue before regulation kicks in. They say we should focus on companies like Netflix instead of trying to regulate all video.

But there isn’t really a way to do this sanely. Not without censoring the Internet, or dissuading companies like Netflix from making their videos available here, or forcing them to blackout their videos to Canada for fear of being taxed. Or creating some sort of grey market for content, where some content is legal and other content is illegal. Or creating a chill among all content creators in this country. Or just pissing off the Canadian public.

(And the federal government didn’t waste any time making it clear that it will not support any move to tax Netflix or YouTube, with heritage minister Shelly Glover issuing a statement Monday evening.)

The CRTC’s New Media Exemption Order is a policy decision in which it has convinced itself that it can regulate content on the Internet but simply chooses not to do so. It is trying to make rules out of de facto reality to maintain the illusion of control. And while it can control the online activities of companies it already regulates like Bell and Shaw, it can’t control Google, Apple and Netflix without prompting a war that might just end in those companies abandoning our country.

So the CRTC has little choice but to maintain a hands-off approach to Internet content. And that means that eventually, maybe five or 10 or 20 years down the road, it will have to take its hands off television content as well, because there won’t be any difference between the two.

The CRTC needs to start now to plan for the day when television regulation becomes irrelevant. while not allowing the telecom giants to abuse their power in the meantime.

It’s taking steps in that direction, proposing relaxing rules for specialty channels and third-language services, and giving consumers more choice in terms of channel selection. And it’s trying to find ways to encourage more competition for cable TV providers, by extending an exemption order so that smaller players like Colba.net and VMedia can set up TV distributors in big cities using IPTV without needing a licence first.

Cancon’s future

But it faces a bigger challenge in determining how to promote Canadian culture in the future. So much of the Canadian television industry is based on regulated transfers of money, from broadcasters and distributors to production funds to independent producers. That system will eventually collapse or evaporate, and we need to find a replacement.

One possibility is by doing something like taxing Internet access and sending that money to the federal government or a fund like the Canada Media Fund (which is already funded in part by the government anyway). But that creates a system where one government-appointed body acts as the gatekeeper, deciding what Canadian content is worth supporting. It discourages competition and innovation.

Or the CRTC could do nothing, and let Canadian video content stand on its own with little support from the broadcasting system. This could result in Canadian media giants collapsing or being taken over by larger U.S. giants. We could lose a large part of our identity.

It’s a scary thought for the industry, and those champions of Canadian content, but I haven’t seen a viable long-term alternative.

The CRTC’s future

I’m not saying the CRTC will cease to exist. It will still have a vital role to play, so long as there are aspects of telecommunications that need regulatory help. Radio is still broadcast through scarce radio frequencies which need to be regulated, though they too will eventually move to Internet-based distribution.

Internet access needs a regulator so long as there’s a finite number of cables reaching into our homes. And though the technology used to deliver it bears little resemblance to what it was at first, the telephone is still a tool we use regularly and will be with us for some time.

The CRTC has a job to do, to ensure that the TV industry plays fair with itself and keeps the best interest of consumers, workers and the Canadian public in mind. But it also has to look forward to the day when it has to decide to stop regulating the unregulateable and focus on where it can make a difference for the better.

But the commissioners are only human. So we — the industry, the public, the government — have to be part of that discussion. Through our comments and guidance, we must help the regulator build this road toward the future where choice is infinite and the only limit to content is creativity and no one but us can decide what we can and cannot watch.

Posted in My articles, TV

CRTC megahearing on TV begins Monday

10 days, 118 presentations. That’s what’s on the agenda for a CRTC hearing that begins on Monday. There’s the usual big players like Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor, Telus and Cogeco. There’s the interest groups like the Canada Media Fund, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Writers Guild of Canada, and labour unions. And there are some individuals thrown in as well.

But there’s also Google, Netflix, Disney.

It’s hard to oversell the importance of this hearing. It isn’t about reviewing a single policy, or approving a single acquisition or new licence. It’s about everything having to do with television regulation in Canada. A working document posted Aug. 21 contains 28 proposals concerning television policy (and a 29th about when to implement changes). It ranges from how consumers choose which channels to buy from their distributor to how accessible programming is for those who can’t see or hear to things that could change the very nature of specialty channels or how you define local television.

And the CRTC is going to try to review this all in two weeks, and rather than deal with the issues one at a time, it’s going to deal with them all simultaneously as each group steps forward to present its opinions.

I put together a story in Saturday’s Gazette that lists the big issues at stake that affect consumers (the online version contains some more issues than the print one does). Packaging flexibility is the big focus of media, and simultaneous substitution is also mentioned a lot, but there are far more issues.

The commission is clear that the proposals outlined in its discussion paper aren’t necessarily what it’s going to do, but are meant to start discussions. Nevertheless, it gives a lot of insight into how it’s thinking. And even with just the changes proposed there, a lot of how we watch and pay for television would change.

For more on the issues at stake, I would invite you to read the series posted on Cartt.ca (a website I’ve written for, though not for this series) and the series posted to Media in Canada or my post from June outlining the issues as they were presented then. Or you can read all 2,552 interventions filed in this proceeding.

Unusually, the CRTC will continue accepting comments about these policies during the hearings, through that most sober and intelligent method: online discussion forums. They’ll be open until the end of the hearing on Sept. 19.

If you want to watch the hearings, CPAC will be webcasting them. The CRTC will also have audio feeds in English, French and with no translation. Or you can go to 140 Promenade du Portage in Gatineau and see the hearings in person.

For Twitter commentary, good bets are Cartt.ca editor Greg O’Brien, policy wonk Kelly Lynne Ashton, the CRTC Hearings official Twitter (which will post links to documents) and the hashtags #CRTC and #TalkTV.

Further reading

 

Posted in Media, Radio, TV

Highlights of the CRTC’s Communications Monitoring Report

Just days ahead of its major hearing on TV policy, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has released the broadcasting part of its annual Communications Monitoring Report, a document filled with statistics on funding, viewership, subscriptions and more.

Most of the data is unsurprising, or shows the predictable continuation of a gradual procession. Fewer people are analog cable subscribers. Conventional television still struggles to break even while specialty channels are raking in the dough. And AM radio is on the decline while FM continues to boom.

There are still a few interesting things I noted in the report though (in most cases, these figures are for the year ending Aug. 31, 2013):

Overall:

  • Five companies (Bell, Cogeco, Quebecor, Rogers, Shaw) get 85% of total Canadian broadcasting revenues. This includes radio, television and television distribution.

TV:

  • “Netflix adoption among English speakers grew from 21% to 29%” — That’s in one year. In 2011, it was 10%. It’s true that for most subscribers, Netflix is something that complements their cable TV subscription instead of replacing it, but if the broadcasting industry isn’t already nervous about Netflix, it should be.
  • The total TV viewing share 2012-13, in English Canada: Bell 38%, Shaw/Corus 37%, Rogers 9%, CBC 8%.
  • Total TV viewing share in the Quebec francophone market: Quebecor 33%, Bell 23%, Radio-Canada/CBC 18%, Remstar (V) 9%.
  • On Aug. 31, 2011, there were 657,300 IPTV (e.g. Bell Fibe/Telus Optik) subscribers in Canada. On Aug. 31, 2013, it was 1,385,100.

Radio:

  • The number of licensed third-language radio stations in Canada went from 32 in 2012 to 45 in 2013.
  • Revenues for French-language AM radio stations in Canada dropped from $11.7 million in 2011 to $4.7 million in 2013. There are only eight AM commercial French-language radio stations in Canada.  The dramatic drop in revenue coincides with Cogeco’s decision to change CKAC 730 AM in Montreal from all-sports to all-traffic in fall 2011.
  • Since 2009, the CRTC has approved 132 new FM stations, and only three new AM stations.
  • The number of Canadians subscribed to satellite radio has steadily climbed from 8% in 2008 to 15% in 2013.
Posted in TV

CRTC: Videotron doesn’t have to distribute ICI on analog cable

In what would be a precedent-setting decision if anyone was still launching over-the-air television stations, the CRTC has decided that Videotron does not have to make room on its analog cable TV service for ICI, the ethnic television station that launched in Montreal last year.

The TV distribution regulations require distributors to include local television stations, which would normally mean that Videotron must distribute ICI in analog and digital to subscribers in the Montreal area. But Videotron is in the process of phasing out its analog cable system to make room for more digital channels and more bandwidth for video-on-demand and Internet service.

Videotron told the CRTC that fewer than 7% of its Montreal residential subscribers are still on analog cable, though that number is higher if you include institutional customers like hotels and hospitals, and those residences that have digital and analog on different TVs.

Quebecor had argued that the CRTC’s recent decisions to allow analog to continue its decline, by not licensing any new specialty channels for analog TV, for example, makes it clear that the transition to digital is more important than squeezing in another analog channel which would only disappear within a few years anyway as the analog network is dismantled.

ICI argued against the application, saying it would “result in ongoing and serious harm to ICI,” which is still struggling to develop an audience:

It has become apparent to ICI since its launch that ICI’s potential audience frequently consists of individuals that subscribe to Vide?otron’s “Classic Cable” service, which is the analog service. These potential viewers do not currently receive ICI. Vide?otron’s decision not to distribute ICI in accordance with the Regulations in not in the interests of subscribers as Vide?otron suggests. These subscribers would need to pay more to receive ICI, and make the transition to a more expensive digital service far ???sooner than they might otherwise choose – and even while many other services continue to be offered on an analog basis.

ICI pointed out that Videotron’s analog service in Montreal, which is much smaller than it used to be, still carries many U.S. signals, including two PBS stations.

And it said that while 7% may be small, it is still significant for a station that relies solely on advertising for revenue, and the fact that Videotron is still offering an analog service means it does not view this number as trivial.

It also said at least one program producer “decided not to purchase airtime on ICI due to the fact that the members of the target audience and multiple advertisers have advised the producer that they cannot receive ICI on their cable service.”

Videotron countered that it has received no requests from analog clients to get access to ICI, and its contractual obligations prevent it from removing other channels from analog.

In the end, the CRTC sided with Videotron, judging that its interpretation of the commission’s intention to encourage the phasing-out of analog cable is correct. It also cited the lack of opposition from people unconnected to ICI, as well as the substantial assistance the station is receiving from Rogers as a result of the sale of CJNT, in its decision.

Videotron has already begun the process of shutting down its analog network. After dismantling the network in Gatineau, it has started in Montreal with the Ahuntsic region.

Posted in My articles, Radio

CRTC wants to crack down on cross-border stations

UPDATED below with CRTC’s notice of hearing.

Tim Thompson, centre, heads Montreal sales for 94.7 Hits FM (WYUL) and other U.S. stations targetting Montreal.

Tim Thompson, centre, heads Montreal sales for 94.7 Hits FM (WYUL) and other U.S. stations targetting Montreal.

In an office building next to the Holiday Inn Pointe-Claire, Tim Thompson and his team of 10 salespeople and four promotions people are trying to get Montrealers to tune away from the big three music stations they’re used to — CHOM, Virgin Radio and The Beat — and tune into a station beaming its signal into the city from across the border in Chateaugay, N.Y., near Malone.

94.7 Hits FM (WYUL) markets itself as “Montreal’s Hit Music Channel“. While technically licensed by the FCC to serve this tiny New York town, its real goal is to get a foothold in Montreal with its 50,000-watt signal. And it succeeds, reaching most of the western half of the island.

The advantage to being a cross-border station is regulatory freedom. CHOM, Virgin and The Beat have to ensure 35% of the music they broadcast is Canadian. They have to ensure no more than half the music they broadcast is or was hit music (a condition originally meant to protect AM stations, now used to protect French stations in Montreal and Ottawa). They’re not allowed to air advertising in French.

As an American station, WYUL doesn’t have any of those obligations. It can broadcast whatever music it wants and programming in whatever language it wants.

“We really just play top 40, and that’s the beauty of our station,” says Marketing Director Tina Paylan.

Not only does the station target Montreal listeners, but advertisers as well, with about 90% of its advertising coming from this region. (It also targets Cornwall in eastern Ontario, in addition to Malone.)

Continue reading

Posted in TV, Video

Video: CRTC 1987 specialty channel hearings

With a month to go until the CRTC begins what will probably be the most important hearing into television policy in decades, it’s fun to look back at one of the hearings that shaped television in Canada as we know it, back in 1987.

The Youtube channel Retro Winnipeg recently posted nearly five hours of video from CRTC hearings held in July 1987 on specialty channel services. It led to a wave of new channels, including YTV, TV5, Family Channel, The Weather Network, CBC Newsworld and more.

Rather than have you sit through five hours of people in suits talking as boringly as they possibly can, I’ve split them up into sections, and you can watch the parts that interest you.

Continue reading

Posted in TV

Bell Media shuts down CTV transmitter in Wiarton, Ont., after spat with neighbour over trees

There’s no longer a CTV television transmitter in Wiarton, Ont. And all because of a dispute with a neighbour that started with an apparent misunderstanding over the cutting of trees.

The story is contained in an application owner Bell Media filed with the CRTC on July 10 to revoke the broadcasting licence of CKCO-TV-2, a 100kW transmitter in Wiarton, which is on the Bruce Peninsula separating Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It’s one of two retransmitters of CKCO-DT in Kitchener. The other is in Oil Springs, Ont., covering Sarnia.

As Bell tells it, it has had trouble accessing the transmission tower, even though it owns the land the tower sits on, because the access road to it is on property owned by a neighbour. For years, there was a verbal agreement with that property owner to access the site using his road (which leads to a street officially called Tower Road). But three years ago, the property was sold. The new owner had a falling out with Bell after “Bell Media rightfully prevented the new owner from cutting trees located on our property.” In January 2014, the new owner demanded Bell pay $1,000 a month to use his road, plus $34,000 in back pay going back to when he originally purchased the land.

Naturally, Bell thought this was a ridiculous sum and offered to pay $5,000 a year, with no back pay. The owner refused, and so Bell could no longer get a vehicle to its tower.

The next month, the power went out at the tower. Bell discovered a serious fault in the electrical system which required a series of repairs, but again the owner of the road denied access. Bell’s only access to the tower was through a tiny strip of land connecting its land to the road. Which meant travelling on foot. And since this was February in rural Ontario, this meant going by snowshoe.

Without the ability to fix the electricity, the diesel backup generator stopped working and CKCO-TV-2 went off the air.

Other than the TV transmitter, there’s only one other tenant, Spectrum Communications, a company that provides two-way radios and other specialized communications for businesses and institutions. It pays $14,000 a year until its lease expires in August 2015, which isn’t enough to justify the $91,000 a year it costs to run the tower and its transmitters.

So Bell has decided to give up on the 230-metre-high tower and hand back the licence for CKCO-TV-2. It’s unclear if they plan to sell the tower, dismantle it or do something else.

Continue reading

Posted in Radio

CFMB gets licence renewal, permission to reduce number of languages

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has renewed the licence of ethnic station CFMB 1280 AM for seven years, and as part of that decision has agreed to reduce the requirements in that licence as far as the number of languages it must broadcast in and the number of cultural groups it has to serve.

CFMB’s existing licence had been to serve 19 cultural groups in 18 different languages, but as co-owner and president Stefan Stanczykowski explains in the application, it is difficult to maintain that many different types of programming:

“(An) ethnic broadcaster, unlike (a) conventional broadcaster, has very limited pool of talent to choose from. More often than not our on-air staff has to be trained on the job to fit this description, therefore in the event of loss of an announcer for specific ethnic program, it is very hard and sometimes impossible to replace immediately or for a long time such a person.”

“Adding to this problem is also ethnic community for which the program was produced. Many ethnic producers are discouraged by the feedback or lack of it; others give up for lack of sufficient revenue or personal time.”

Another factor is increased competition. Montreal has many ethnic broadcasters, including CINQ 102.3 (various), CKDG 105.1 (mainly Greek), CKIN 106.3 (various), CJWI 1410 (Haitian), CHOU 1450 (Middle East), CJRS 1650 (Jewish), plus two licensed but unlaunched stations serving South Asian communities. And there’s ICI, the ethnic TV station, plus plenty of third-language TV channels and online services.

“In the Commission’s view, the request would represent only a slight decrease in the number of groups served and languages broadcast by the station,” the commission said in its decision. “The licensee would maintain a fairly high level of diversity of languages and cultural groups and would continue to meet the broad service requirements of the Ethnic broadcasting policy as set out in Public Notice 1999-117. In addition, the Commission considers that the ethnic communities in the Montréal radio market are well served by the six ethnic stations and notes that two additional ethnic stations have been approved by the Commission but have not yet launched.”

CFMB already operates in 16 languages and will continue with its current programming targeting these cultural groups:

  • Algerian (Berber)
  • Cambodian (Khmer)
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Greek
  • Haitian (Creole)
  • Italian
  • Jewish (English/Hebrew)
  • Lithuanian
  • Moroccan (Maghreb/Arabic)
  • Pakistani (Urdu)
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Latin-American (Spanish)
  • Ukrainian

There’s an argument to be made that, in a market like Montreal with several ethnic radio stations, they should be allowed to reduce the number of languages they broadcast in to reduce duplication. CINQ, CKDG and CFMB all have programming for the Greek community, for example. Several stations target the Middle East or South Asia. You’d think these communities would be better served if all their programs were on the same station rather than being scattered across the dial.

 

Posted in Radio

CRTC approves Attraction’s acquisition of CJLM 103.5 Joliette

M103.5, the “coeur de Lanaudière”, will soon have a new owner.

On Wednesday, the CRTC approved the acquisition of CJLM-FM 103.5 Joliette by Attraction Radio, a company controlled by Richard Speer.

CJLM, which can be heard on the air from the eastern half of Montreal, becomes Attraction’s sixth station. Others include CKRS-FM in Saguenay (a former Corus station which it’s trying to turn into a Rythme FM affiliate), CKGS-FM (Kool 105.5) in nearby La Baie, CHEQ-FM 101.5 in Sainte-Marie, CKYQ-FM in Plessisville/Victoriaville, and CJIT-FM in Lac-Mégantic.

Formerly an AM station whose history dates back to 1960, CJLM moved to FM in 1992 hoping that it would turn its financial situation around. It didn’t, and in 1995 the station went bankrupt. It was bought out by a cooperative of its employees and went back on the air. It’s this cooperative that is selling the station to Attraction.

The purchase price is $750,000, which includes the studio’s building and equipment, the transmission tower and the land it sits on. It does not include any debt. The deal was reached in October 2012 and announced in January 2013. It includes a two-year non-compete agreement preventing employees and investors from starting a competing radio station or luring away advertisers.

Since CJLM has lost money in the past three years, the CRTC has allowed the purchase without imposing a requirement for tangible benefits to the broadcasting system. The station’s licence remains unchanged.

Attraction says its business model is based on running these stations not as a network but as individual brands. “The stations run by Attraction Radio continue to offer essentially local programming produced by the resources of the station, programming that specifically responds to the needs of each of the markets that they serve,” the company says in its CRTC application. “These stations can also count on the support in terms of programming, sales, administration and regulatory affairs.”

The deal is expected to close shortly.

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.

Continue reading

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.