Tag Archives: CRTC

Posted in Montreal, Radio

CRTC says Radio X Montreal can remove jazz music programming

Planète Jazz is no more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Montreal, TV

The battle over Videotron’s community TV channel

It was supposed to be simple and non-controversial: An application by Videotron to create a second community television channel in Montreal to serve the anglophone community.

Anglophones had long complained that since Videotron bought CF Cable TV, they have not had a proper voice in community television. The CRTC even asked Videotron to do something about it. Just months before the announcement, the English Language Arts Network publicly called on Videotron to restore English community programming.

So when Videotron made its big splash about starting MYtv, the reaction seemed to be positive, at least at first. ELAN hosted a meeting in September to get input from the community, and though there were few people present, there were some tough questions for Videotron’s representatives.

Now, those questions have been formalized in a complaint to the CRTC.

The complaint, filed by a group calling itself Independent Community Television Montreal (ICTV), includes an 86-page document meticulously arguing that the programming that airs on MAtv does not meet CRTC requirements for a community channel. It argues that the CRTC should declare that MAtv is not complying with its licence conditions, and instead grand a licence to ICTV to operate a multilingual community channel that would replace both MAtv and MYtv.

I summarize the complaint in this story, which appears in Monday’s Gazette.

But as long as the story is, there’s still so much detail I had to leave out.

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Posted in TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in My articles, TV

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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