Tag Archives: CRTC

Posted in My articles, Opinion, Radio, TV

Why is CBC refusing ads from radio stations?

It sounded like the kind of story that even Sun News Network couldn’t make up: The CBC saying no to money from private industry for the sole reason that it wants to compete with it.

A complaint has been filed with the CRTC by Leclerc Communication, the company that bought Quebec City stations CKOI (CFEL-FM) and WKND (CJEC-FM) when Cogeco was told it couldn’t keep them after its purchase of Corus Quebec. The complaint alleges that the stations have been trying to book advertisements on Radio-Canada’s television station in Quebec City to promote the stations, and that Radio-Canada has issued a blanket refusal because it has a policy not to accept ads from competitors.

This would seem to go against a very clear CRTC policy that says that media companies can’t give themselves preference over their competitors in things like this.

Convinced there must have been a misunderstanding, I contacted the CBC and asked the public broadcaster about the allegation.

Radio-Canada actually confirmed it. CBC and Radio-Canada don’t accept ads from commercial radio stations because they compete with CBC services. And they don’t see anything wrong with that.

I explain the positions of Leclerc and Radio-Canada in this story at Cartt.ca. In short, Leclerc wants to advertise on RadCan because it finds that the demographics of RadCan viewers match the listeners it’s trying to target. And Radio-Canada refuses because its advertising policy prevents it from accepting ads for competitors.

The policy is CBC Programming Policy 1.3.11: Unacceptable advertising. It bans tobacco ads, ads for religious viewpoints, “any advertisement that could place the CBC/Radio-Canada at the centre of a controversy or public debate” and “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”

Now, we can argue whether two Quebec City music stations with personalities like Les Justiciers masqués are competitive with Première and Espace Musique. But even if they were, so what? These are television ads, first of all, not radio ads, and if Leclerc wants to spend money this way, why should the public broadcaster say no?

More importantly, can it even do so legally?

The television broadcasting regulations, which Radio-Canada and all other television broadcasters have to abide by, says a licensee may not “give an undue preference to any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue disadvantage.”

A similar provision exists for TV distribution, which is why Videotron can’t give Quebecor-owned channels advantages over their competitors unless it can find a good reason to back it up.

But the CBC doesn’t quite see it that way. It argues that it’s not giving anyone an undue advantage, because it’s not accepting ads from anyone. Everyone’s being treated equally, so there’s no advantage.

Leclerc points out, though, that Radio-Canada’s radio services get plenty of advertisement on its television network. And giving free ads to its own radio stations and refusing ads from all competitors is pretty well exactly what this rule was meant to prevent.

Radio-Canada confirmed that the programming policy is set by the CBC board of directors, not by legislation or CRTC condition of licence. So logic would suggest that CRTC regulations take precedence over internal rules at the CBC.

The CBC rule becomes all the more absurd when you consider it in context. The CBC is facing a major cash crunch, seeing government funding tightened and now losing the rights to NHL games. CBC’s president is talking about “dark clouds on the horizon” because of lower revenue. So why say no to what is practically free money?

It would be one thing if this was a big corporate player wanting to buy airtime on the CBC to encourage people not to listen to Radio One or something. But this is a small independent broadcaster that just wants to expose his radio stations to Radio-Canada’s audience in Quebec City.

The CBC is going to have to come up with some real good justification for shutting the door to competitors. Bell or Shaw or Rogers would never be allowed to get away with something like this, and I don’t see why the CBC should be able to.

And if the CBC doesn’t come up with a good reason to refuse these ads, they should expect to be told to shut up and take Leclerc’s money.

Leclerc’s complaint letter can be read here. The full file is on the CRTC’s website in this .zip file. The CRTC is accepting comments on this complaint until March 6. You can submit comments here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

(So far, only the Journal de Québec has covered this story aside from myself. We’ll see if others pick it up before the deadline.)

Posted in Radio

CBC Radio Two 93.5 asks CRTC for more powerful signal

Proposed (solid lines) and existing (dotted lines) pattern of CBM-FM Montreal.

Proposed (solid lines) and existing (dotted lines) pattern of CBM-FM Montreal.

Following a similar successful application from Cogeco Diffusion for The Beat and 98.5 FM, the CBC is now also asking to take advantage of the lifting of a moratorium on power increases for Mount Royal transmitters so it can boost power to the maximum allowed for that class of station.

Just before Christmas, the CRTC published an application from the corporation to boost the power of CBM-FM 93.5, the transmitter for Radio Two in Montreal, from 24,600 watts to 100,000 watts.

The application is brief in providing a reasoning for the change. Under the justification section, it reads, in its entirety: “The proposed changes will improve the quality of the Radio 2 service in Montreal, QC”

As a Class C1 station, CBM-FM is protected up to its maximum power of 100,000 watts. The CBC’s technical report shows very little potential for interference, affecting the Rythme FM station in Sherbrooke on 93.7 in the area around Granby, and two U.S. stations at 93.3 and 93.7, just across the border.

The CBC Radio One transmitter (CBME-FM) at 88.5 FM, which was licensed after the Radio Two transmitter, is limited to its current 25,000 watt signal to avoid interference with other stations. But the four Astral FM stations — CHOM-FM, CJFM-FM (Virgin), CKMF-FM (NRJ) and CITE-FM (Rouge FM) are all at about 41,000 watts and could also apply to boost those signals.

The deadline to submit comments on the CBC Radio Two application is 8pm ET on Thursday. You can do so here. Remember that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (June 2): The CRTC approved the application in May.

Posted in TV

CRTC gets testy about simultaneous substitution during Super Bowl

It started with a simple to-the-point reply from a Rogers Twitter account to a Rogers cable customer complaining that the San Francisco-Seattle NFL playoff game on FOX had been replaced with the same broadcast from CTV containing CTV commercials.

But for CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, it was a source of “dismay” because it provided “contradictory information.” So he sent a letter to Rogers asking for them to make sure their customer service agents provide more accurate information about the nature of simultaneous substitution, and file a report about its training methods.

Specifically, Blais notes that it’s up to the Canadian broadcaster to request simultaneous substitution, and both the broadcaster and the distributor (the cable, satellite or IPTV company) to ensure it’s done properly.

When I first read the letter last week, I thought maybe Blais had become confused, mistaking Rogers the broadcaster for Rogers the distributor. If CTV had blamed the CRTC for this, it would have been one thing, but Rogers is required by CRTC regulation to follow CTV’s request for substitution. So why is the CRTC getting mad at Rogers?

A call from the commission’s communications department, which actively monitors what people say on Twitter about the commission, reassured me that there was no error here. Blais simply wants a more accurate answer to these complaints and for everyone to stop blaming the CRTC.

Except the CRTC is to blame here. And what Rogers answered may not have been complete, but it wasn’t incorrect.

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Posted in TV

Avis de recherche seeks three-year extension of mandatory distribution

Control room and studio at Avis de recherche

Control room and studio at Avis de recherche

The clock is ticking on Avis de recherche, the Montreal-based specialty channel devoted to public safety information (which mainly consists of information on missing and wanted people, but also has other shows). Last August, the CRTC decided that it no longer was deserving of mandatory distribution in Quebec, charging all digital cable and satellite subscribers in the province $0.06 per month to receive the channel. To lessen the blow, the commission allowed the channel to keep the mandatory distribution status for two years, until Aug. 31, 2015, to give it time to find a new business model.

Avis de recherche insists “there is no viable business plan under these conditions.” The channel is not popular enough for people to want to pay for it or insist their providers offer it (in fact, ADR would have to pay distributors $0.05 per subscriber per month to carry the channel, which is what it did when it launched), and advertisers have little interest in the channel because of its low ratings and because advertisers don’t want to see corporate logos next to pictures of criminals.

So in what seems like a move of desperation more than anything else, Avis de recherche has applied to the CRTC for a three-year extension of its mandatory status, to Aug. 31, 2018.

The application, dated Jan. 15 and published on Friday by the CRTC, deals mainly with some related requests for licence condition changes. (You can read the brief attached with the application here (PDF).) ADR is required to ensure 95% of its programming is Canadian, which is exceptionally high. Once it loses the special status, that drops to the standard 35% for Category B channels. ADR argues this changes nothing because its nature of service can’t be met by the broadcast of non-Canadian programs. So it wants the number brought back up to 95% until 2018, when the mandatory status expires and when it wants its next licence renewal hearing to happen.

Another request is to correct a commission error, which had two conditions of licence that conflict with each other.

ADR stresses that it is a public service channel, not an entertainment channel, and should be treated differently.

Though it’s formally a request for an extension, this seems more like a request for the CRTC to reverse its decision to cancel ADR’s mandatory distribution order. ADR’s application gives no reason to believe that they just need more time to come up with a new business model (in fact, it explicitly states that such a business model is impossible), which means another request for an extension would be inevitable in 2018. (By then, perhaps it hopes that turnover in CRTC commissioners would give them more sympathetic ears that would consider a de facto reversal.)

For this reason, I suspect the main subject of this application will be denied. ADR still has a year and a half to come up with a new model, and the CRTC was undoubtedly aware that shutdown was a very real possibility if it didn’t. The commission came to the conclusion that ADR was not a vital service to Canadians (mainly because it couldn’t prove its effectiveness in improving public safety), and it’s unlikely that has changed after only a few months.

The CRTC is accepting comments about Avis de recherche’s application until 8pm ET on Feb. 24. You can file comments here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record. UPDATE: The CRTC appears to have pulled this application from its website. I’m unsure why.

Posted in Uncategorized

CRTC looking at bringing HD Radio to Canada

While the CRTC is engaging in a wide-ranging review of television policy, it’s also in the process of reviewing certain policies when it comes to radio. Most of them are about the regulatory process itself, such as how to handle applications for new stations in small markets, or how to ensure stations comply with their licenses, or how to distinguish national and local advertising.

But perhaps the most interesting topic for discussion is whether Canada should adopt HD Radio. The technology, not to be confused with high-definition television, is widely used in the United States, and replaces analog AM and FM signals with hybrid analog-digital ones (it can also be used in all-digital mode, but it’s the hybrid version that has the most appeal). Analog receivers continue to hear the stations, but people with HD Radio receivers can get a digital version of the station’s audio, which may be of higher quality or just devoid of any noise, as well as metadata (like the name of the song that’s playing) and audio subchannels, similar to subchannels offered by some digital television stations. It can also transmit other information like weather and traffic updates and even listings of gas station prices.

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Posted in Radio

CRTC approves sale of radio stations without public process

Less than a week before Christmas, the CRTC approved the sale of two FM radio stations in Winnipeg and one in Calgary without giving the public any opportunity to comment on it.

The stations were sold by Bell as part of the divestments it was required to make in the Astral acquisition. Because adding the Astral stations put Bell over the limits set by CRTC policy in major markets, it was required to sell 10 stations to someone else. Bell came to agreements to sell two stations in Ottawa to Corus, two stations in Toronto and three in Vancouver to Newcap, and two stations in Winnipeg and one in Calgary to the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.

Specifically, Pattison was getting:

The list of stations that were sold, which includes a mix of Bell and Astral stations, was never discussed during the second public hearing into the Astral acquisition, despite the fact that the decision the first time around criticized the list because it appeared Bell was keeping the best-performing stations and selling the worst-performing ones (instead of, say, just selling all the Astral stations they couldn’t acquire).

Bell countered that there were reasons other than ratings for its decisions of which stations to sell, and that some of the stations it was selling had high ratings. But the details of the reasoning behind the selling of those stations was submitted confidentially to the CRTC, and so we don’t know what they are.

The divestments require their own process, since they are not automatically approved in the Astral decision. The Corus sale was discussed at a hearing in November (along with its acquisition of Teletoon, Séries+ and Historia, which have since been approved.) And the sale to Newcap has been made part of a public process though no hearing has been scheduled.

But as I explain in this story on Cartt.ca (subscription required), the CRTC approved the Pattison acquisition, valued at almost $30 million, without opening it up to public comment.

The CRTC can issue decisions on an administrative basis for things that it doesn’t believe require public input. It even has a policy for such decisions. For example, if there’s an intra-corporate reorganization, or if the owner dies and control of the station gets passed along to a family member, there doesn’t need to be a public process. An acquisition of a radio station can also be approved without public process if the CRTC believes it doesn’t bring up any policy issues and the value of each station is under $15 million.

Because the acquisition wouldn’t put Pattison over the common ownership limit in either market, the CRTC apparently felt there was no policy issue here. (Of course, the CRTC tends to decide whether there’s a contentious issue by looking at the interventions filed during the comment phase of a proceeding, which it has short-circuited here.)

As for the money part, the Calgary station was actually sold for $16.5 million, which is above the limit. So why not a public process? I asked the CRTC, and here was its response:

In its determination to process this application using the administrative route, the Commission agreed that the value of one of the three stations was slightly over the $15M threshold, but also considered the fact that the value of the other stations involved in the same transaction was well below the $15M threshold (i.e. 3.5M and 5.5 respectively).

The Commission considered that the transaction did not present any policy concerns related to concentration of ownership, cross-media ownership, or diversity of voices. In addition, the Commission accepted the tangible benefits proposed would make a contribution to the enhancement of the Canadian Broadcasting System. Therefore, the Commission concluded that the transaction was in the public interest.

I understand that some non-controversial proceedings should be expedited and that the bureaucratic process can get cumbersome at times. But this transaction, even though it’s within CRTC policy and likely would have been approved, could bring up many policy issues. For example, is the tangible benefits package that Pattison has proposed appropriate? (It has proposed a standard package worth 6% of the transaction price, so one would suppose the answer is “yes”.)

This isn’t a minor share transfer. The application file contains 33 documents. Both the seller (Bell) and the buyer (Pattison) are large broadcasters (Pattison owns dozens of radio stations), and the stations being sold are in large markets. In 2012, the CRTC sought applications for new radio stations in Calgary and got 11 applications, of which it only approved two (one of which was by Pattison).

What’s perhaps most baffling about this situation is that the decision itself is not posted online. Pattison announced the decision by press release on Dec. 20, and on Jan. 4 the CRTC posted the application with a note saying it was approved.

I had to request the actual decision letter, which was scanned and sent to me. (You can read it here as a PDF.) It includes information that is not posted elsewhere online, such as the actual value the CRTC set for the transaction.

Pattison had set it at $26.5 million, which included the $25.5 million purchase price and a little over $1 million in assumed leases. But the CRTC decision increased the value of those leases (taking their value over five years), and added costs of working capital and cash (Pattison had argued that Bell would keep any cash the stations had when the deal closes, but CRTC policy is to establish value when the deal is made, not when it closes), as well as $90,000 for two trademarks owned by Kool FM. The total price was established as $29.8 million.

This is significant because the value of tangible benefits (money to help the broadcasting system that the CRTC imposes as a tax on any acquisition of a licence) is proportional to the value of the transaction. The higher purchase price means this package, which is made up of contributions to Canadian music funds, the Community Radio Fund of Canada and other initiatives that help develop Canadian content, goes up by $200,000.

It’s the kind of thing you’d expect people should be given a chance to comment about.

I’ve updated my media ownership chart with this approval.

Posted in TV

CRTC orders Canadian TV distributors to carry Sun News

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has issued an order that all five Canadian national news channels (CBC News Network, RDI, LCN, CTV News Channel and Sun News Network) must be carried by all Canadian television distributors as of March 14, 2014.

The order requires the channels be made available, though not necessarily on the basic service. They will also need to be available on a stand-alone basis (i.e. individually) as of May 20 (or May 19, there’s a discrepancy between the languages).

The decision is a big win for Sun News, which has been arguing that carriage problems are the big reason the channel has not been successful. Now, with an order requiring that every cable company offer the channel to subscribers, and without having to buy other channels, they can’t really make this argument any more.

Sun News is already carried by most Canadian distributors. Telus and MTS are the biggest holdouts. But this decision gives it a bargaining chip during negotiations, which will help it push for a higher wholesale subscription fee.

The decision also requires distributors to put each channel in “the best available discretionary package consistent with its genre and programming, unless the parties agree otherwise.” This is open to interpretation, but if distributors create a popular news package, it must include all five Canadian national news channels.

But the biggest win is that it applies to all licensed distributors (some very small distributors with fewer than 20,000 subscribers are exempt from regulation, so this wouldn’t affect them). Though the decision does not discuss it, this appears to apply to analog cable as well, where Sun News currently has no carriage. Though analog cable is now a minority of subscribers nationally, Sun argued that its channel skews toward older Canadians, who are more likely to be on analog cable.

If this is the case (I’ve asked the CRTC to confirm my interpretation), then it will be annoying for distributors who are trying to move to digital cable. Now they’ll have to find a bandwidth-hogging analog channel for Sun News, and if they don’t already distribute LCN and CTV that way, those channels too.

This isn’t a win on all levels for Sun. It doesn’t give the channel what it had originally asked for — mandatory distribution to all Canadians on basic. It also doesn’t regulate channel placement (Sun News had wanted to require distributors to put its channel next to other news channels on the dial), though it establishes guidelines for “news neighbourhoods”, effectively saying that if distributors redo their lineups to put like services together, it should include all five Canadian national news channels near each other. It suggested that failure to do this could result in an undue preference complaint.

Distributors who don’t have their own national news channels (i.e. everyone but Bell and Quebecor) argued that to give these channels this privilege, there must be more stringent criteria for licensing new channels, otherwise there could be an explosion of such channels as everyone starts out of the gate with guaranteed access rights. The CRTC didn’t set new criteria, but because the order only applies to the five services currently in operation, a new service would need a separate decision to get the same rights.

The CRTC says it will look at what criteria it should set for licensing new national news services during its wide-ranging review of the television regulation model. Until it does (the process is expected to take most of 2014), it will not process new applications for national news channels under the “Category C” framework that the five existing ones are subject to.

The decision also doesn’t completely level the playing field. It does not require that news channels on basic be removed from it. So if your provider has CBC News Network, RDI and CTV News Channel on basic, they’re not required to add LCN and Sun News to it as well. It just needs to make those two available.

Quebecor welcomed the decision in a statement: “Sun News will move forward in 2014 by negotiating new cable and satellite agreements that are in alignment with the new policy framework to ensure that Sun News is treated in a substantially similar fashion to other all news channels.”

Posted in Radio

CKHQ-FM Kanesatake re-applies for new CRTC licence

Another community radio station serving a native community near Montreal is coming back to life.

This summer, some people in Kanesatake, northwest of the city, went to the old radio station, cleaned it out and put it back on the air. CKHQ-FM 101.7 was first licensed in 1988 at a paltry 11 watts. Its licence expired in 2004, after the CRTC failed to receive an application for a renewal and gave the station a one-year extension to apply. As this APTN News story explains, the station went into disarray and was effectively abandoned after the former station manager died.

Both the CRTC and Industry Canada confirmed to me this summer that the station does not have a broadcasting licence.

So when it did go back on the air, on a part-time basis, it was operating without a licence. Industry Canada told me in September that it would investigate.

Within weeks, CRTC staff were working with James Nelson on an application for a new licence, and last week, that application was published by the commission.

Nelson is the applicant, on behalf of a company to be incorporated, which would have him as the president and three other people on the board of directors (Shawana Etienne, Mike Dubois and Tahkwa Nelson, all from the community).

According to the application, the station would have the exact same technical parameters as it did before: 11 watts, from a transmitter on the reserve, reaching its few thousand residents but not much farther. But the correspondence between James Nelson and the CRTC suggests the plan is to, as part of a separate application down the line, increase that power to 50W.

Programming-wise, the station would broadcast 83 hours of programming a week (or about 12 hours a day), all of it local, of which 68 hours would be music and 15 hours spoken word. The language would be 95% English and 5% Mohawk.

The application documents show that there was a lot of handholding in this process, which is unusual. The last time I remember seeing something like that was with the application process for CKKI-FM in Kahnawake. The two share common elements: They’re both stations that were operating without a licence on a Mohawk reserve, on frequencies that had previously been legitimately licensed for native stations. (CKKI’s pirate frequency of 106.7 was formerly the home of an Aboriginal Voices Radio station serving Montreal.)

The station would be funded through private donations and through a regular radio bingo program, which it has already started running again.

The station has also launched a Facebook page.

The CRTC is accepting comments on CKHQ’s application until Jan. 27. To file a comment, click here, select Option 1 and then select application 2013-1280-1: James Nelson (OBCI). Note that all comments, and contact info submitted with them, are on the public record.

Posted in Radio

Mike FM gets green light for more non-ethnic programming, but CKIN-FM is denied same

Mike FM studios on Parc Ave.

Mike FM studios on Parc Ave.

Mike FM (CKDG-FM 105.1), the station that is trying to make money by pairing popular English music during rush hour with multicultural programming for the rest of the schedule, is getting a break from the broadcast regulator to allow it to have 12 more hours a week of English programming.

On Friday, the CRTC approved licence renewals for CKDG and sister station CKIN-FM (which airs French programs during rush hour). Both are getting short-term three-year renewals, which indicate important non-compliance with their licences.

Licence changes

Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio, which owns both stations, requested changes to the licences for both stations, dropping the amount of ethnic programming a week from 70% to 60%, the amount of third-language programs from 60% to 50%, and to be allowed to broadcast in fewer languages (six instead of eight) but to more cultural groups (eight instead of six). The requested changes would have put both stations on par with standard conditions for ethnic radio stations.

Because the broadcast day is 6am to midnight, there are 126 hours in the broadcast week, which means English non-ethnic programming on CKDG could go up from 50 hours a week to 63 hours a week, or from 10 to 12.6 hours each weekday if there’s no such programming on the weekend. English-language ethnic programming would stay at a maximum of 10% of the schedule if the English non-ethnic hours are used to their maximum.

CHCR said it planned to offer more programming in Spanish and Russian, bring its Mandarin programming to a daily show on CKIN, and introduce monthly shows for other communities not currently represented.

The CRTC approved the licence changes for CKDG to give it more flexibility. But CKIN is finishing its first licence term and has only been on the air for three years, and it got its licence in a competitive process, beating other stations applying for licences in part because of these promises to go beyond the standard conditions of licence. The CRTC denied its licence amendments for that reason.

Non-compliance

The CRTC found issues with both stations complying with their licence obligations. In the case of CKDG, it found the station had not properly shown proof of payment for Canadian content development contributions, that it failed to meet a 2011 deadline to repay CCD contribution shortfalls dating as far back as 2003, and that it failed to provide annual financial returns on time. For CKIN, it also found it failed to meet deadlines for CCD payments.

CHCR blamed administrative errors for its bookkeeping failures, and has promised to rectify that. It has since paid back its financial shortfalls.

Nevertheless, because of the seriousness of the errors, and the fact that CKDG’s last licence renewal in 2010 was also short-term for similar reasons, the CRTC decided to give only a three-year renewal.

The new licence, and the flexibility to air more English non-ethnic programming on CKDG, takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014. We don’t know what will be done as far as the schedule is concerned, but expect the afternoon drive show to be extended from 6pm to 7pm, or maybe more English programming during the work day.

Posted in Radio

CRTC filing gives reasons for TTP Media delay

TTP Media, the company of three Montreal businessmen who have three licences for AM radio stations and hasn’t launched any of them yet, remains quiet. I haven’t heard anything from them since I wrote this story in October trying to explain what happened to them.

In that story, I report that the company, officially 7954689 Canada Inc., asked for a one-year extension on their first radio station (a French-language news-talk station at 940 AM), whose deadline to launch had been Nov. 21, 2013, and that it was granted.

Last week, the CRTC finally published that request, as part of a bimonthly dump of decisions that are not subject to public comment. (The same day, it announced it would publish such decisions as they’re made instead of doing so in bulk months later.)

The application consists of a single document, a form requesting an extension. The document is undated, but the filename carries a timestamp of Sept. 16. The decision approving the request is dated Sept. 30.

Though it’s brief, the document provides reasons for requesting the extension. It specifically cites the Bell-Astral acquisition process, which caused uncertainty in the market and it says stopped the company from going forward with its plans. It also cites the licence granted to it in November 2012 for an English-language news-talk station at 600 AM, and its desire to launch both stations simultaneously. (It makes no mention of its third licence for a French-language sports talk station at 850 AM, approved in June.) And it says changes are needed to the transmitter site to make it work at 600 AM, and that can only be done in the spring.

Citing the Bell-Astral situation as reason for a delay seems a bit odd, until you remember that the group had expressed an interest in buying CKGM if Bell was forced to sell it as a result of the deal. (Buying CJAD was also something they would have been interested in.) Had they bought one of the stations, their plans would have changed dramatically.

But the Bell-Astral deal was approved in June, and it’s not clear what’s keeping them beyond that, other than the technical changes to the transmission site (the former CINF/CINW site in Kahnawake, which is currently run by Cogeco).

With this extension, the deadlines to launch both stations are now November 2014, which all points to both stations launching some time next fall.

Unless they don’t.

Here is the full text of the reasoning TTP Media gave to the CRTC in asking for the extension (I’ve added links for context):

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Posted in Radio

CRTC approves frequency change for Radio Fierté

It hasn’t launched yet, but Radio Fierté has already gotten approval to improve its signal, particularly during the night.

On Wednesday, the CRTC approved a technical amendment to the licence of the French-language LGBT-focused music and talk station owned by Dufferin Communications (Evanov Radio). The licence was first awarded in 2011, on the same day that the CRTC approved a move of CKGM (TSN Radio) from 990 to 690 AM. Dufferin was given CKGM’s old frequency and technical parameters as part of that decision.

But as I reported in July, 990 isn’t that great of a frequency for a radio station (which is why CKGM applied for the change in the first place). So Dufferin asked that it change frequency to 980 AM (ironically itself a former frequency for CKGM), reducing power but replacing a highly directional nighttime signal with a much less directional one.

5 mV/m day signal patterns: existing 990 (green) and proposed 980 (yellow)

5 mV/m day signal patterns: existing 990 (green) and proposed 980 (yellow)

5 mV/m night signal patterns: existing 990 (blue) and proposed 980 (red)

5 mV/m night signal patterns: existing 990 (blue) and proposed 980 (red)

The move made sense because another station at 980 AM, CBV in Quebec City, was no longer on the air. That station has since moved to FM. The 990 frequency, meanwhile, has to protect two distant Canadian stations overnight, which severely restricts the signal’s pattern.

With no one opposing the proposed change, the CRTC gave its okay.

Dufferin also applied for an extension of the deadline to launch the new station, which passed on Nov. 21. Wednesday’s decision notes that it must file a separate application for this. It did on Aug. 15, and that was approved without a public comment period. Dufferin now has until Nov. 21, 2014 to launch Radio Fierté.

Dufferin Communications and parent Evanov Radio own Jewel FM stations in various Ontario cities, plus stations branded The Breeze and Energey. It also owns Proud FM in Toronto, which Radio Fierté is based on.

Dufferin also has a licence for an FM station serving Hudson/St-Lazare, to be branded Jewel 106.7. It has also applied for a technical amendment for that station, to move its antenna location due to lack of space on the originally proposed tower. If approved, it says that station could launch within weeks. The application received some opposition from competing stations who feel it is trying to extend its coverage beyond its licensed area. It is still awaiting a decision from the commission.

Posted in TV

V to buy MusiquePlus and MusiMax, the last of the Bell-Astral castoffs

The announcement Tuesday from both Bell Media and V that the latter has won the bidding to purchase music specialty channels MusiquePlus and MusiMax means that all of the assets that the CRTC forced Bell to get rid of as a condition of the Astral acquisition now have prospective new owners.

Neither company revealed the amount of the sale, but we’ll know it when the matter comes before the CRTC. La Presse reports it’s $15 million total, which is low for a well-known specialty channel (much less two), and well below the price it was evaluated at when Astral acquired CHUM’s 50% share of the channel for $34 million in 2007.

To recap, here’s what is being sold, and the status of those sales:

To Corus Entertainment:

  • 50% interest in Teletoon (includes four Teletoon channels and Cartoon Network Canada), for $249 million total (Corus already owns the other half)
  • 50% interest in Historia and Séries+, for $138.6 million total (Corus is also acquiring Shaw’s 50% interest for the same amount)
  • CKQB-FM Ottawa (106.9 The Bear) for $10 million
  • CJOT-FM Ottawa (Boom 99.7) for $3 million

All of the acquisitions listed above (with a total purchase price of $400.6 million) were dealt with at a CRTC hearing that began Nov. 5. We are now awaiting a decision. The acquisitions were approved in December and January.

To Jim Pattison Broadcast Group:

These acquisitions were announced on May 16. The purchase price is unknown. The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition. UPDATE (Jan. 15): The total purchase price is $25.5 million (but valued by the CRTC at $29.8 million). The transaction was approved without a public process.

To Newcap Radio:

These acquisitions, total price of $112 million, were announced on Aug. 26. The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition.

To DHX Media:

These acquisitions were announced on Nov. 28. The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition.

To V Media:

  • MusiquePlus Inc. (MusiquePlus and MusiMax). Price unknown (La Presse reports $15 million).

The CRTC has not yet set a hearing date for this acquisition.

V, turnaround artist

It’s been a bit over five years since a company effectively owned 50% each by Maxime and Julien Rémillard got CRTC approval to take over the bankrupt TQS network. Thanks in part to a successful reboot that banked on a counter-programming strategy, and in part to getting the CRTC to agree to virtual elimination of its news department, the Rémillards got the network that has never made money to finally make some money.

The road hasn’t been easy, though. As competitors like Bell Media, Quebecor Media, Radio-Canada and others can make liberal use of other sources of funding, V had only advertising revenue to go on. It had no money-making specialty channels or lucrative cable distribution networks.

Remstar does have licences for three unlaunched specialty channels:

Each of these has four years (so until 2015) to launch before their licences are taken away.

It also had a licence for a user-generated-content channel, which has since expired because it never launched.

Launching new specialty channels is difficult for various reasons, but a big one is that you need to get carriage. And unless you own a cable provider, that can be an uphill battle.

Getting control of MusiquePlus and MusiMax means V doesn’t have to go through that process. MusiquePlus already has 2.4 million subscribers. MusiMax has 1.9 million. They’ll already have the audience. It’ll just be a question of turning that into profits.

Unlike most popular specialty channels, MusiquePlus and MusiMax are not highly profitable. MusiMax has been hovering around the break-even mark, and MusiquePlus has lost more than $5 million since 2009. (This is probably why Bell decided to let them go.)

Media critics blame this unprofitability on the channels having lost their way. There’s no music on MusiquePlus, they complain, but rather a series of reality shows about pregnant teenagers, models, carswashed-up celebrities, people who are famous for being famous and whatever Criss Angel is.

Sure, there’s Rajotte, but MusiquePlus has a long way to go to make itself a music channel again. On the bright side, V has already shown that it can revitalize a television channel and keep it young at heart. If it can do the same with these channels, while also keeping them tied to their raison d’être — music — then they should be able to win a lot of fans, and hopefully make a good amount of money too.

Posted in Radio

CRTC approves power increases for 98.5FM, The Beat

Existing (purple lines) and approved (black lines) coverage areas of CKBE-FM 92.5, as prepared by SpectrumExpert. The map for CHMP-FM 98.5 is identical.

More than a year and a half after they were first published, the CRTC has approved applications from Cogeco Diffusion to increase the power of two of its stations on Mount Royal: CHMP 98.5 FM and CKBE 92.5 FM (The Beat). Both will now be allowed to increase power to the maximum 100 kW allowed by their class, and others could follow.

As the CRTC explains in its decision, a moratorium had been placed by Industry Canada on power increases for transmitters on the CBC tower on Mount Royal, concerned about the effects of high-power radiofrequency fields in the area around the site (in Mount Royal Park). When analog television transmitters were replaced by digital ones that required a lot less power, that moratorium was lifted, leading to Cogeco’s applications.

The CRTC said it then asked the CBC to conduct a study to see if other FM stations operating from the tower would also be able to increase to their maximum allowable power. The report said that they could, so the CRTC approved the applications. This means that stations like CHOM, CJFM (Virgin Radio), CFGL (Rythme FM), CKMF (NRJ), CITE (Rouge FM) and CIRA (Radio Ville-Marie) could apply to increase their power to 100 kW (they’re all around 40 kW right now), and it would likely be approved if it didn’t cause interference to other stations’ protected contours. Radio-Canada’s CBF-FM and CBFX-FM are already at 100 kW, and other stations that broadcast from that tower are of a different class.

CKOI-FM is the only station in Montreal that operates at more than 100 kW. One of Montreal’s first FM stations, it was licensed at 307 kW, and grandfathered in at that level. It broadcasts from the top of the CIBC building downtown.

The application for The Beat’s power increase hit a bit of a snag because of an application by Dufferin Communications (Evanov Radio, the same people behind the yet-to-launch Radio Fierté 990AM and Jewel 106.7 in Hudson) for a new station in Clarence-Rockland, Ont., on the same frequency. That station’s parameters would not have caused problems with The Beat’s current protected zone, but both stations would encroach on each other’s protected contours if The Beat increased to 100 kW. At first, the CRTC decided to treat these as competing applications. But the two came to a deal and decided they would accept interference from each other. The Clarence-Rockland station was approved by the CRTC in February. Branded “The Jewel 92.5“, it has yet to launch it launched in September.

The application also caused worry for CKLX-FM (Radio X 91.9), which operates on a nearby frequency. A power increase for The Beat would mean more interference, though because Radio X is three channels away, that interference would be only in an area very close to the transmitter. The CRTC notes that CKLX accepted this potential interference when it first applied for a licence.

For 98.5, there was an intervention by CIAX-FM, the community station in Windsor, Quebec, at 98.3FM, worried about interference. Because Windsor is more than 100 km away from Montreal and its transmitter is less than 500 W, there’s no actual interference problem there.

There’s no word yet on when the transmitter power increase will happen. I’ll update this if I hear back from Cogeco on the matter. Though the radiated power will be more than double what it currently is, the actual effect on reception will be modest. Some listeners on the fringe who pick up the station with some noise will see that noise diminish, but for most people the change will be imperceptible.

Posted in Montreal, TV

CRTC says yes to Bell English community TV in Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Radio

Radio-Canada is stealing our advertiser, CJPX complains to CRTC

When CBC/Radio-Canada asked the CRTC for permission to air advertising on radio, one of the things it promised is that it would only solicit national advertisers, not local ones, to limit how much it competes with local commercial radio stations.

Well, less than a month after ads started airing, one of those commercial stations has complained that the public broadcaster is soliciting local advertising.

On Thursday, the CRTC published a two-page complaint (.zip) dated Oct. 29 from Jean-Pierre Coallier, owner of CJPX Radio Classique in Montreal. In it, Coallier complains that one of its local advertisers, the Montreal Chamber Orchestra, took out ads on Espace Musique. Because it’s a local organization that only wants to attract a local or regional audience, Coallier argues, it doesn’t fit the definition of national advertising.

According to the decision that renewed the CBC’s licence and allowed it to air advertising on Radio Two and Espace Musique, national advertising is defined as “advertising material that is purchased by a company or organization that has a national interest in reaching the Canadian consumer.” It was also expected that in general national advertising would be booked through advertising agencies, which Coallier says was not done here.

Radio-Canada disagrees with Coallier’s interpretation. Spokesperson Marie Tétreault told me that there was an agency here, Groupe Force Radio (which is owned by Cogeco and represents Espace Musique in Quebec).

Tétreault said the ads for the MCA aired on Espace Musique stations in Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Rimouski, Saguenay and Ottawa. Basically, throughout Quebec and the national capital region but not elsewhere in the country.

“These ads fully respect the conditions of licence of Espace Musique,” Tétreault said.

It’s worth noting that the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, in its filing in the CBC case, pointed out that its definition of national advertising was vague, and worried that it might allow some local advertising. This would seem to be a good example, regardless of how the commission rules.

Comments on the complaint are due by Dec. 16. Tétreault said that Radio-Canada would give details of its position in its submission, which will be filed on that date.

If you want to file your own submission, you can do so by clicking here.