Tag Archives: CRTC

Global, City TV withdraw demands to reduce local programming minimums in Montreal

Corus Entertainment, which owns Global TV, and Rogers Media, which owns City TV, have each decided that in light of recent changes in local television policy, they are willing to accept the requirement that their stations in Montreal produce the standard 14 hours per week of local programming, and have withdrawn requests that their quota be reduced to 10 or seven hours a week.

The requests came as part of a proceeding to renew licences for Canada’s major television broadcasters. The large groups all have their licences expiring in 2017, and the CRTC is holding a public hearing in November to discuss what conditions should be in their renewed licences for over-the-air television and specialty channels.

Bell Media proposed no such changes for CFCF-DT, which is the market leader in the city and whose local newscasts often have a market share above 50%. But even the #1 broadcaster warned about the failing business model of local television, and said that for its network “at this time, we can only commit to the current local programming requirements and even these regulatory minima may need to be revisited once the Commission’s decision on local programming is released.”

Normally, television stations in “metropolitan” markets of more than 1 million people are required to broadcast 14 hours of local programming every week, while stations in smaller markets are required to broadcast seven.

Continue reading

TTP Media abandons 850 AM, shows no progress on other unlaunched stations

For the past five years, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked by people in the local broadcasting industry is what’s going on with TTP Media, a group of local businessmen who won CRTC licences to launch three AM talk radio stations in the city and had promised to revolutionize the market with big investments in quality programming.

Unfortunately, for years now the answer has been “nothing that I know of.” And unfortunately that continues today.

Since getting the licence for 850 AM in 2013, the group’s only on-the-record activity has been asking for extensions and technical changes from the CRTC, each time indicating that the stations were mere months from launch.

But now there’s finally some news, even though it’s not clear what it means. In June, the authorization from the CRTC to launch a French sports-talk station at 850 AM expired. Because the decision approving the station was published in 2013, and the first extension given last year, a second request for a final one-year extension should have been a matter of formality.

But that request was never issued. So on June 19, when the deadline was reached, the authority to launch the station expired.

According to the CRTC, the frequency is now available for anyone else to apply for.

I chronicle my attempts to seek comments from the partners in Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media in this story published by Cartt.ca. Paul Tietolman, whose father Jack founded the station that used to be on 850 AM in Montreal, was the only one who would talk to me, but he wouldn’t answer questions about the group’s plans, wanting to defer to his partners and not act as a company spokesperson.

Continue reading

CRTC settles Videotron/RDS dispute, opening door to subscribers getting RDS GO

It’s not official yet, but a decision released by the CRTC this week will likely lead to Videotron subscribers soon finally getting access to RDS GO and being able to stream Canadiens games on smartphones, tablets and online.

The decision, released Tuesday, is what’s called a final offer arbitration between Videotron and Bell Media over the distribution of RDS and RDS2. The companies couldn’t come to an agreement over renewing the distribution contract, which expired last August, and so Videotron asked the commission to intervene.

In final offer arbitration, both parties present complete contracts to the commission, and it chooses one in its entirety (or, exceptionally, can refuse both).  This method of conflict resolution has the advantage of rewarding whichever side presents the most reasonable-seeming offer, and so encouraging both sides to be more reasonable in those offers.

In this case, the CRTC sided with Videotron, judging that its offer was better. The supporting documents in the case are heavily redacted to protect commercially sensitive information, so we don’t know any of the details of the contract, including what wholesale per-subscriber price Videotron will pay for RDS, what kind of volume discount it will get on that price, how long the term is or even how many RDS subscribers Videotron has.

But the documents do give plenty of insight into the relationship between Bell and Quebecor, and the tone of the many letters to the CRTC suggests there’s no love lost between these two organizations.

Videotron wants streaming

According to the documents submitted, Bell and Videotron managed to work out most of their differences on the new contract, including multiplatform rights, which Videotron has been trying to get a deal on since at least 2014. And it made it clear it sees these rights as essential:

Il est très important de souligner l’urgence de la situation puisque tant et aussi longtemps que le tarif multiplateforme n’est pas réglé, les abonnés de Vidéotron n’ont pas accès à ce contenu et sont désavantagés vis-à-vis les abonnés de Bell Télé. De plus, en retardant l’accès à ce contenu, Bell Télé continue de jouir d’un avantage concurrentiel important tout en désavantageant Vidéotron.

Though Videotron initially wanted to put multiplatform rights to arbitration as well, after failing to get the issue resolved in mediation in 2014, the companies solved that issue on their own, leaving only the wholesale price for the channels up to the commission.

With the CRTC’s decision, there’s now a new contract with RDS, one that includes multiplatform rights and will allow Videotron to meet new packaging requirements set by the CRTC to come into effect by Dec. 1.

So when do we get RDS GO?

Not quite yet, it seems. While the company told me in a statement that it’s happy with the decision and that there’s “agreement in principle” on multiplatform distribution, some aspects of the deal are still in discussion. “It’s impossible for us to make an announcement on this subject today,” the company said.

Hopefully this will be resolved by the time the Canadiens season begins again this fall.

Multiplatform distribution, and in particular “TV anywhere” apps, still have plenty of holes, particularly where they involve large vertically integrated companies. Few Bell services are available to Videotron customers this way, and few TVA services are available to Bell customers.

 

These issues will eventually be resolved as new distribution contracts are signed (in many cases probably involving a quid pro quo to avoid giving one distributor a competitive advantage), but they’re taking forever.

Because this deal concerns only RDS, it doesn’t affect distribution of other Bell Media services on Videotron (not even TSN). But hopefully this will help speed up discussions about getting those services on board as well.

The arguments

Since the CRTC arbitration in the end concerned mainly just the wholesale fee for RDS, the arguments presented by Bell and Videotron mainly concerned trying to set a higher or lower value on the channels. Though both offers increased the wholesale fee for RDS, Bell’s increased it more than Videotron’s did.

Much of those arguments centred on comparing RDS to TVA Sports, which of course is owned by Videotron’s parent company Quebecor.

Bell’s arguments for a higher fee included:

  • RDS maintains higher overall ratings than TVA Sports, even after losing national NHL rights.
  • RDS is more respected by viewers than TVA Sports.
  • RDS’s production and acquisition costs have increased dramatically.
  • Outside of hockey, RDS is by far more popular than TVA Sports, with many more marquee events.
  • Though Saturday night Canadiens games are popular, many more Quebec francophones are choosing to watch the games in English on CBC or Sportsnet than watch TVA Sports (they don’t say why, but this probably has to do as much with the fact that some people just don’t feel the need to subscribe to the channel as it may with people not liking its broadcasts).
  • Videotron is changing its packaging rules to come into compliance with the CRTC’s new rules. A higher per-subscriber wholesale fee should be expected when there are fewer subscribers.
  • RDS needs to compete not only with TVA Sports but with online sources of sports programming.
  • Bell’s offer is more in line with what other distributors in Quebec pay for RDS.
  • Videotron has done nothing in its packaging of RDS to warrant a “special discount”.
  • Videotron is treating RDS more harshly than TSN, because its goal is not fair market value but to punish RDS in order to support TVA Sports
  • Quebecor started TVA Sports and is aggressively bidding for sports rights, which is why RDS’s acquisition costs have increased so much in the first place

Videotron’s arguments for a lower fee (one closer to that for TVA Sports) included:

  • TVA Sports has higher peaks in ratings thanks to NHL playoffs and Canadiens Saturday night games
  • RDS has lost other important sporting events to TVA Sports, including some MLB, NFL, QMJHL and tennis rights
  • Bell offers RDS and TVA Sports at the same retail price, suggesting equivalent value to consumers
  • RDS lost a third of its ratings due to the loss of Saturday night NHL games, NHL playoffs, NHL special events and non-local NHL games
  • RDS’s subscriber revenues have already gone up considerably faster than its expenses, particularly jumping from 2011 to 2012, when it went from 44% of revenue to 62%. (This is mainly because until 2011, RDS’s wholesale rate was regulated by the CRTC.)
  • RDS’s profits continue to increase (though they were cut in half in 2014-15 after losing NHL rights).
  • There’s also RDS Info, which isn’t part of this contract but also collects subscriber fees while adding little original content
  • Television subscribers are already beginning to unsubscribe from some services or eliminate pay TV all together, citing cost as a major factor.
  • Comparing Videotron to other distributors in Quebec isn’t appropriate both because of Videotron’s high market power as a distributor and Bell’s high market power as a broadcaster. (Plus, of course, Bell TV is one of Videotron’s main competitors in Quebec.)

Comparing ratings is tricky, especially for this past season, since no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs. TVA Sports’s overall numbers would have been much higher had that happened. There were a lot of other issues with arguments on both sides, and of course plenty of other arguments were presented that were redacted in the public documents.

The decision

The CRTC found Bell’s offer reasonable on several points, like packaging, volume discounts, and how it compares to other rates. But it found RDS could not justify the rate increase it wanted when you look at historical rates, which it found more relevant to this case.

The other factor that swayed the commission was the variability of the rate. Instead of a fixed per-subscriber rate, both offers proposed a scale where the larger the number of subscribers overall, the lower the per-subscriber rate. But the CRTC found that Bell’s offer was too flat, and “would have the effect of insulating the programming service from the impact of subscriber choice at an unreasonable level.” In other words, if people dropped RDS from their packages, Bell would see only a small drop in their subscriber revenue and Videotron would be forced to pick up an unreasonable amount of that loss.

As a result, the CRTC picked Videotron’s offer. This may be good news for Videotron subscribers wanting to get RDS, particularly as a standalone service, but more importantly good news for Videotron’s bottom line.

CKOI is moving its transmitter

The CBC's Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

The CBC’s Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.

All major commercial FM radio stations in Montreal except one broadcast from antennas on a single giant transmission tower at the top of Mount Royal.

Soon, the sole holdout will be joining them.

CKOI's current antenna atop the CIBC building

CKOI’s current antenna atop the CIBC building

Last week, the CRTC approved (without any public process) an application to move CKOI-FM 96.9 from its current location atop the CIBC tower at Peel St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. to the Mount Royal tower.

Cogeco’s application explains that, with the move of television stations to digital, and the channel change of Radio-Canada and CBC TV transmitters from 2 to 19 and 6 to 21, respectively, the old VHF TV antenna used by them has become obsolete and is being removed. That will open up a space for a new antenna, and Cogeco wants to install it.

There are a few benefits to this. One, Cogeco’s other FM stations (CFGL-FM 105.7 and CHMP-FM 98.5) already broadcast from the Mount Royal tower, and moving CKOI would allow all three to be managed from one site, the company says. Also, because the antenna would be higher (277.6m instead of 220.8m above average terrain), its transmitter can reduce power but still cover the same area.

Finally, Cogeco says the new antenna will be compatible with HD Radio. It’s unclear if Cogeco has immediate plans for HD Radio or if it’s more of a long-term option, but other broadcasters are starting to use it now and CKOI would be ideal both because of its high coverage and because there are no stations close to it in frequency.

 

What makes CKOI unique in Montreal isn’t just its location, but also its power. According to the Canadian Communications Foundation, the station was authorized to use 307 kilowatts of power in 1962, when commercial FM broadcasting was just beginning in the country (at the time, the station was CKVL-FM, and was transitioning from being a mere repeater of CKVL to having its own programming). Because of grandfathered rights, it got to keep that power level even though FM stations are now limited to a maximum of 100kW. CKOI is one of only five stations in Canada allowed to go beyond 100kW, and it’s the second-most powerful transmitter in the country after Winnipeg’s CJKR-FM (310kW).

The grandfathered rights, however, don’t mean CKOI can move to the Mount Royal tower and blast out 307kW. When asked to approve the change, Industry Canada (or whatever it’s called now) said CKOI could continue exceeding the 100kW maximum provided its coverage area did not increase, that there was no increase in interference to existing stations or aircraft navigation, that the new installation respects safety regulations relating to transmission power, and that there is no objection from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

As a result, CKOI has proposed an effective radiated power of 147kW, which is as high as it can go without exceeding its previous coverage to the west. (This will drop it to fourth-highest power in Canada, after London’s CFPL-FM, 300kW, and Winnipeg’s CBW-FM, 160kW.)

Current (blue) and proposed (green) contours of CKOI-FM

Current (blue) and proposed (green) contours of CKOI-FM

The new pattern slightly reduces how far the signal goes toward the east and south, but probably won’t be too noticeable. (Cogeco estimates that 99.6% of the population in the previous coverage area will still be in the new one.) The higher antenna height will also mean the signal will face less disruption from the mountain and tall buildings.

(147kW might sound a lot higher than 100kW, but because of the way propagation works, the coverage area isn’t that much larger. Compare CKOI’s current pattern to CKBE-FM’s 100kW signal for an idea of how different it is.)

As a bonus, people going through central downtown won’t have their FM radios so overloaded by a 307kW transmission just above their heads that they hear CKOI all over the FM band.

Bell Media proposes shutdown of 40 CTV and CTV Two retransmitters

It’s not quite as bad as the massacre of hundreds of analog over-the-air transmitters by public broadcasters in 2012, but Bell Media has proposed a major cull of its transmitters, removing a third of them from their licenses as part of its licence renewal application filed with the CRTC.

The cull affects mainly low-power retransmitters in small towns, some as little as 1 Watt of transmitting power, though some are as high as 260,000 Watts. All of the affected transmitters are analog (and so none broadcast in HD).

Bell Media explains its request thusly:

These analog transmitters generate no incremental revenue, attract little to no viewership given the growth of [cable and satellite TV] subscriptions and are costly to maintain, repair or replace. In addition, none of the highlighted transmitters offer any programming that differs from the main channels. The Commission has determined that broadcasters may elect to shut down transmitters but will lose certain regulatory privileges (distribution on the basic service, the ability to request simultaneous substitution) as noted in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-24, Over-the-air transmission of television signals and local programming. We are fully aware of the loss of these regulatory privileges as a result of any transmitter shutdown.

In short, Bell has determined that these transmitters cost far more to operate than they’re worth in viewership, even when you consider secondary benefits like simultaneous substitution.

As part of promises to the CRTC, including during the Astral acquisition, Bell promised to keep its TV stations on the air through 2016 or 2017. With its licence up for renewal on Aug. 31, 2017, that promise expires. Nevertheless, no local originating stations are pegged for shutdown here, and there’s no direct effect on local programming.

The list of transmitters Bell wants to delete from its licences is below. The CRTC counts 42, while I count 41 (not including the three already approved as part of separate CRTC decisions). In some cases, the transmitters are already off the air for a variety of reasons (“destroyed in a fire” comes up a few times, though the reasons can sometimes be quite strange).

UPDATE: Bell has revised its list, and now has 40 transmitters listed, not including those already approved.

A couple to note:

  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall, a retransmitter of CTV Ottawa, has a 260,000W signal that can be easily captured in the western part of Montreal and off-island suburbs. It’s the last analog television signal that reaches into the Montreal area, and it’s the reason why CTV Ottawa is carried on Montreal cable systems. Bell estimates this transmitter reaches 73,823 people.
  • CKNX-TV Wingham was a CBC affiliate that launched in 1955, then became an A Channel station owned by CHUM, then was sold to CTV. In 2009, at the height of the battle over fee for carriage, CTV said it would have to shut down the station, prompting a ridiculous negotiation for a sale to Shaw via newspaper ads. Despite a $1 purchase price, Shaw reneged on its offer after due diligence. CTV converted the station into a retransmitter of CFPL-TV London, Ont., and it became part of the CTV Two network. (Since then, CTV was bought by Bell and Shaw bought Global TV, which effectively ended the fee for carriage debate.) Of all the transmitters proposed for shutdown, this one reaches the most people (235,984).

CTV stations (40/109 transmitters)

CJCB-TV Sydney, N.S. (1/6 transmitters):

  • CJCB-TV-5 Bay St. Laurence (1W)

CJCH-DT Halifax, N.S. (2/9 transmitters):

  • CJCH-TV-2 Truro (8W)
  • CJCH-TV-8 Marinette (10W)

CKCW-DT Moncton, N.B. (5/9 transmitters):

  • CKAM-TV Upsalquitch (already approved) (230,000W)
  • CKAM-TV-1 Newcastle (9W)
  • CKAM-TV-2 Chatham (9W)
  • CKCW-TV-2 St. Edward/St. Louis, P.E.I. (1,100W)
  • CKCD-TV Campbelton (1,800W)

CHBX-TV Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CHBX-TV-1 Wawa (66,400W)

CJOH-DT Ottawa (1/4 transmitters):

  • CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto (100,000W) (UPDATE: Bell says this transmitter was listed in error)
  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall (260,000W)

CICI-TV Sudbury, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CICI-TV-1 Elliot Lake (19,000W)

CITO-TV Timmins, Ont. (2/5 transmitters):

  • CITO-TV-3 Hearst (7,110W)
  • CITO-TV-4 Chapleau (1,550W)

CKY-DT Winnipeg (2/9 transmitters):

  • CKYB-TV-1 McCreary (already approved) (10W)
  • CKYS-TV Snow Lake (8W)

CICC-TV Yorkton, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CICC-TV-2 Norquay (69,000W)
  • CICC-TV-3 Hudson Bay (680W)
  • CIEW-TV Warmley (170,000W)
  • CIWH-TV Wynyard (140,000W)

CIPA-TV Prince Albert, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CIPA-TV-1 Spiritwood (46,900W)
  • CIPA-TV-2 Big River (205W)
  • CKQB-TV Melfort (15,500W)
  • CKQB-TV-1 Nipawin (11,600W)

CKCK-DT Regina (4/7 transmitters):

  • CKCK-TV-1 Colgate (84,800W)
  • CKCK-TV-2 Willow Bunch (52,700W)
  • CKCK-TV-7 Fort Qu’Appelle (241W)
  • CKMC-TV-1 Golden Prairie (229,000W)

CFCN-DT Calgary (4/9 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-1 Drumheller (80,000W)
  • CFCN-TV-6 Drumheller (9W)
  • CFCN-TV-16 Oyen (710W)
  • CFWL-TV-1 Invemere, B.C. (10W)

CFCN-DT-5 Lethbridge, Alta. (6/10 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-3 Brooks (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-4 Burmis (382W)
  • CFCN-TV-11 Sparwood, B.C. (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-12 Moyie, B.C. (5W)
  • CFCN-TV-17 Waterton Park (1W)
  • CFCN-TV-18 Coleman (9W)

CFRN-DT Edmonton (2/11 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-2 Peace River (4,300W)
  • CFRN-TV-8 Grouard Mission (10,000W)

CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer (1/2 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-10 Rocky Mountain House (1,600W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CKLD-DT Saint John (3 transmitters total)
  • CFCF-DT Montreal (1 transmitter total)
  • CFTO-DT Toronto (3 transmitters total)
  • CKCO-DT Kitchener, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CKNY-TV North Bay, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CFQC-DT Saskatoon (3 transmitters total)
  • CIVT-DT Vancouver (1 transmitter total)

CTV Two stations (2/12 transmitters)

CFPL-DT London, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CKNX-TV Wingham (260,000W)

CKVR-DT Barrie, Ont. (1/4 transmitters):

  • CKVR-TV-1 Parry Sound (7W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CHRO-DT-43 Ottawa (1 transmitter total)
  • CHRO-TV Pembroke, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CHWI-DT Wheatley, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CIVI-DT Victoria (2 transmitters total)

Other stations (1/5 transmitters)

Bell Media acquired two TV stations in northern B.C. from Astral Media. They have since adopted CTV Two programming, but are licensed separately from Bell Media’s other stations.

CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C. (1/3 transmitters):

No change is proposed for CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. (2 transmitters total)

CTV and CTV Two also have (de facto) affiliates in Lloydminster, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Peterborough, Oshawa and St. John’s. These are not owned by Bell Media and are unaffected by this application.

In a letter, the CRTC asks Bell for more information about this request, notably how many of these transmitters are still running and how many people will be affected. A response is requested for Monday, June 27, but the major broadcasters have requested an extension to that deadline because of the amount of information being requested of them.

The CRTC is accepting comments from the public on Bell Media’s licence renewals, which includes the deletion of retransmitters, until 8pm ET on Aug. 2 Aug. 15. You can submit comments here (choose Application 2016-0012-2). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record. Public hearings will be held in Laval and Gatineau in November to discuss the application.

UPDATE: This post is prompting some discussion on Reddit (here and here), and some of those comments seem to be based on some misconceptions:

  • Many point out that CTV/CTV2 is owned by Bell Media, which also owns a TV distributor, as if they’re doing this merely to boost TV subscription rates. The likelihood of a large number of people in these tiny towns switching to a pay TV service owned by Bell is pretty low. And if this was the purpose, wouldn’t they have shut down more transmitters? (Besides, CTV doesn’t get subscription fees from people who subscribe via cable companies.)
  • Some say in general CTV would have been better off if it wasn’t owned by a telecom company, or that this wouldn’t have happened if CTV was independent of one. That, of course, ignores several facts: (1) CBC and TVO also shut down hundreds of analog retransmitters years ago, (2) Global TV’s parent company actually did go bankrupt before the network was purchased by Shaw, and it might not have survived had that not happened, and (3) Conventional television as an industry is losing money or barely breaking even, and a lot of that is because the cable companies that own those networks are subsidizing them.
  • A couple say the channels or bandwidth should be given or sold to another company so they can put transmitters or TV stations there instead. But (1) Broadcast television allocations are not sold like that; (2) There’s zero demand for new television stations or transmitters; and (3) there is plenty of space on the television broadcast band for more transmitters, especially in these small markets.

Rogers throws desperate hail-Mary with OMNI mandatory distribution request

Rogers calls it a “win-win solution”. But it would be just as accurate to describe it as a request for a government-imposed bailout of a private broadcaster whose business model has failed.

In an application that is being considered as part of Rogers’s TV licence renewals, the company has asked the CRTC to impose mandatory distribution of ethnic TV network OMNI across Canada, and to impose a fee of $0.12 per subscriber per month (which is the same as Canadians currently pay for CPAC).

This will give OMNI $14 million a year from subscribers, and in exchange Rogers has made several commitments related to programming:

  • 4 daily, national, 30 minute newscasts 7 days per week, in each of Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese (produced in Toronto with contributions from Vancouver and reporters in Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Victoria) and Punjabi languages (produced in Vancouver with contributions from Toronto and reporters in Victoria, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal);
  • 6 daily, local 30 minute current affairs shows 5 days per week, in each of Mandarin, Punjabi and Cantonese language (produced in Toronto and Vancouver);
  • The creation of national cultural affairs series produced in Alberta that are designed to showcase important cultural and social contributions from Canada’s ethnocultural communities;
  • Original Canadian Scripted ethnic and/or third-language dramas and documentaries through a PNI commitment of 2.5%;
  • 10 hours of local independent production in Vancouver, Toronto and Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary combined) each week, measured on a monthly basis.
  • A commitment to devote 80% of OMNI Regional’s schedule to the exhibition of ethnic programming, while maintaining the requirement to devote 50% of the schedule to third-language programming;
  • A commitment to devote a minimum of 40% of OMNI Regional’s annual revenues to the production of Canadian programming;
  • A commitment to re-establish in-house production in all of the markets served by OMNI’s OTA stations;
  • The elimination of all U.S. “strip” programming that is not relevant to ethnic or third-language communities and a commitment to limit the amount of U.S. programming exhibited on OMNI Regional to a maximum of 10% of the schedule each month

A lot of this sounds good, but it also sounds a lot like just bringing back the services (like daily third-language newscasts) that OMNI cut recently as part of budget cutbacks, moves that its unions argued broke the spirit of its CRTC licence obligations.

The proposal is a bit complex. Rather than one national OMNI feed, the initial proposal called for three regional feeds, based on what OMNI stations broadcast in Vancouver, Alberta (Calgary and Edmonton have identical programming) and Toronto (which has two OMNI stations). Those living in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto would still be able to watch OMNI for free over the air, but would also be required to pay 12 cents per month through their cable or satellite company.

To complicate it even further, Rogers amended the application earlier this month to include a fourth feed for Quebec, which would carry OMNI’s newscasts but also local programming from ICI, the independent ethnic station based in Montreal. The additional commitments for this channel include:

  • 3 hours of original local ethnic programming in French each week;
  • 1.5 hours of original French-language programming and a half-hour original English-language programming each week; and
  • 14 hours of original local independently produced programming each week.

The law

My initial reaction to this application was there’s no way it’s going to be approved. The commission set a high bar the last time it reviewed mandatory channels in 2013.

Under its policy, it will only invoke article 9(1)h of the Broadcasting Act, allowing it to force TV distributors to require all subscribers add a particular channel, when that channel meets the following criteria:

  • It makes an exceptional contribution to Canadian expression and reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity;
  • It contributes, in an exceptional manner, to the overall objectives for the digital basic service and specifically contributes to one or more objectives of the Act, such as Canadian identity and cultural sovereignty; ethno-cultural diversity, including the special place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society; service to and the reflection and portrayal of persons with disabilities; or linguistic duality, including improved service to official language minority communities; and
  • It makes exceptional commitments to original, first-run Canadian programming in terms of exhibition and expenditures.

The commission has highlighted the word “exceptional” here, and has used lack of exceptionality to deny several applications for mandatory distribution.

Plus, there’s another complication. Asking TV distributors (and by extension their customers) to pay over-the-air TV stations (called “fee for carriage” or “value for signal” depending on what spin you want to put on it) has been discussed before. And in 2012 the Supreme Court weighed in on the matter, finding that the CRTC did not have the jurisdiction to impose this.

Does the fact that OMNI is ethnic somehow change the nature of this ruling? Or the fact that Rogers would be seeking mandatory carriage instead of negotiating deals with cable providers?

Tough choices

But just saying “no” wouldn’t solve the problem. OMNI is bleeding money, badly. CRTC data, which I can only get indirectly, suggest OMNI stations lost $33 million in 2014-15 on revenue of $24 million. When you’re spending more than twice the amount of money you’re bringing in, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Rogers states in its application that the OMNI business model has crumbled recently because their strategy of strip reruns of U.S. shows like Two and a Half Men and The Simpsons is no longer tenable in an era in which these programs are available on on-demand platforms like Netflix, both because viewers have a more convenient option for watching them and because their price has gone up as a result.

The application ends: “We believe this is the last opportunity for OMNI to adjust its business model so that its operations can become sustainable.”

The evidence points to that being true. Though Rogers did not state this explicitly, it seems very likely that without approval for this change, OMNI’s future could be in jeopardy. (Rogers did include separate licence amendment requests if the mandatory distribution request is denied, suggesting they’d at least be willing to try keeping it going.) “If this application for mandatory carriage as part of the basic service is denied, OMNI’s future viability is in question as we see no other long term solution other than our proposed national service and a new distribution model,” it writes.

If we assume that OMNI can’t survive without a de facto government bailout, the CRTC must decide whether ethnic over-the-air television in Canada is worth saving in its current form, or whether it should allow OMNI to die in the hope that someone else might take up the challenge. (Requests for new over-the-air television stations are virtually non-existent, but ICI presents a possible alternative — a family-run station that brokers programming using independent producers, running as more of a producers’ cooperative than a for-profit station.)

OMNI cutting its newscasts and replacing them with less expensive current affairs programming has made the case for bailing it out harder (even though a lot of those newscasts were mainly repurposing City News reports). But for many communities, particularly in Toronto, it remains a rare outlet for them to connect with their members.

The commission’s stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Say yes to OMNI’s demand, and you undercut the pick-and-pay policy you just started implementing, forcing people to pay for something they already get for free, and propping up a service that is already failing to meet people’s expectations. Say no, and OMNI risks going out of business, and you’ll be the one they blame for it. Ethnic communities across the country, but particularly in four of its largest cities, will lose access to programming that speaks specifically to them, and there’s no guarantee that someone else will come in and bring it back.

In the end, the debate could come down to a single, fundamental question: Is OMNI worth saving?

Comments on the OMNI application (which can be downloaded here), and licence renewals for OMNI and other Rogers television services, are being accepted until 8pm ET on Aug. 2 (it’s been extended to Aug. 15). Comments can be filed here (select application 2016-0377-0 for the OMNI mandatory distribution request). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (June 28): OMNI has launched a website to drum up public support for its application.

Federal government fires CRTC commissioner amid legal battle

The stakes in a legal battle between CRTC commissioner Raj Shoan and chairman Jean-Pierre Blais have gone up significantly in the past week.

On Thursday, the government, on advice of Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, terminated Shoan’s appointment “for cause”, without explaining what that cause is.

Shoan announced Friday he would appeal the decision in federal court and seek an injunction to reverse it.

Raj Shoan statement

The only clue as to what caused this in the order is the sentence “certain of his actions brought to her attention called into question his capacity to continue serving as a Commissioner of the CRTC”, and that this happened at some point prior to Feb. 26, 2016. There’s no obvious event that would have triggered this.

But the timing is very suspicious. As Shoan notes, this week there was a hearing into another appeal by Shoan, to have a decision by Blais overturned by the court. Shoan objected to the acceptance of a report that he harassed a member of the CRTC’s staff in a series of emails.

The judge in that hearing seemed to be siding with Shoan, finding it problematic that Blais was both a witness interviewed for the report and the man in charge of accepting it. A decision on the matter was expected by September.

Now the heritage minister is directly involved, there is yet another legal process, the legality of future proceedings could be put into doubt, and all sorts of efforts are going to be focused on this rather than policy matters that could help improve Canada’s chaotically changing broadcast media and telecom industries. And all that because of what so far seems to amount to a personality conflict between two overly assertive men that has gotten out of control.

CRTC approves new community radio station in St-Laurent borough

Montreal’s crowded FM band is about to get a little bit more crowded.

On Tuesday, the CRTC approved a new low-power French-language community radio station serving the eastern St-Laurent borough and not much beyond that.

Realistic pattern for new station at 90.7 FM, showing interference from CKUT (purple) and

Realistic pattern for new station at 90.7 FM, showing interference from CKUT (purple) and Ottawa’s CBOF-FM (blue).

The 50-watt station at 90.7 MHz (between CKUT at 90.3 and Radio Ville-Marie at 91.3) is called La Voix de St-Lo, and already operates online. It’s run out of the Centre communautaire Bon Courage de Place Benoit.

Its signal would reach eastern St-Laurent and the Town of Mount Royal, but not much beyond that before being wiped out by CKUT or the Radio-Canada station in Ottawa.

As I explained in January when the application was published, the station’s proposed programming would be mainly one- and two-hour programs, 94% in French but a bit of English, Spanish and Arabic. Music would take up a large part of the programming, but the application says that it would have 42.7% spoken word content, including 75 minutes a week of news. It only proposes broadcasting 70 hours a week (10 hours a day) to start.

The station proposed a high amount of third-language programming, but the CRTC notes in its decision that Montreal has several ethnic radio stations, so it is limited to 15% of programming in a language other than English or French.

It has two years from today to get on the air (but can ask for an extension), and its licence is up in 2022.

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 until 8pm ET on May 24. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

CKIN-FM’s reply

UPDATE (May 27): Ray has replied to the complaint, noting arguments similar to what I outline above. He also brings up that the CRTC responded to a similar complaint issued last fall (that also included Radio Shalom, CPAM Radio Union and Médias Maghreb), in which commission staff found that the increased Arabic programming didn’t break a condition of licence.

In summary:

  • Ray says CKIN-FM has complied with its licence obligations, and almost all of its programming is local
  • Ray acknowledges that for the week sampled, CKIN-FM was two languages short on the number it should broadcast. He explains this as a hiccup caused by a schedule change — Punjabi and Urdu programs were moved from Sunday to Saturday, causing both to be broadcast twice in the same week (the CRTC defines a week as beginning on Sunday and ending on Saturday).
  • Ray notes that the decision granting the ownership change explicitly states that the station is free to use whatever mix of third-language programming it wishes, provided it meets its licence requirements.
  • Ray says the station will reduce overlap with CHOU by skewing younger, and providing more music programming.

In the response, he writes:

We acknowledge that the amount of Arabic programming has increased recently. However, this increase is well justified by the size and continued growth of the Arabic-speaking population in Montre?al. The focus on Arabic programming reflects a considered business decision to place CKIN-FM on a more secure financial footing while providing a much needed improved level of service to one of Montre?al’s largest – and until now dramatically underserved – third-language groups.

This decision was not taken lightly. The Commission is well aware of the difficulties that the original owner of CKIN-FM had to maintain the station’s viability. After a lengthy and considered analysis of the needs of the Montreal market and what it would take to maintain viability going forward, it was decided to retain CKIN-FM’s substantial focus on Montre?al’s Spanish-speaking and Latino populations and to expand and update the Arabic programming offered on the station.

Originally, it had been intended to continue to offer more programming targeted to South Asian audiences. However, after a deeper analysis of the needs of the Montre?al market and the audiences already served, it became apparent that a South Asian focus would likely not provide the community with the most needed service – or offer the financial stability to support the station. … Whereas the South Asian radio market in Montre?al already had a number of radio programming options, and two new radio stations recently licensed by the CRTC specifically to target these language groups, the Arabic-language audience is considerably larger and has fewer programming options – indeed, really only one station with a substantial amount of Arabic content (CHOU AM).

In providing an increased level of Arabic programming, we have, however, been mindful of the existing radio service that is currently available to serve this population. CHOU AM offers programming that, in our estimation, skews toward a more mature audience. CKIN-FM’s programming strategy is to offer a younger format through predominantly music-based programming. This is intended to attract a younger audience and to offer that audience radio programming that is not otherwise available to them in Arabic.

Arabic is the most popular third language in Montreal, after Italian (which is served mainly by CFMB 1280), with 126,865 identifying it as their mother tongue.

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 Montréal 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading