Tag Archives: CRTC

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.

Posted in Radio

CJMS blames non-compliance on father’s dementia, says station has been sold

When the CRTC called the licensee of St-Constant country station CJMS 1040 to appear at a hearing, it was clear that the station was in trouble. For months the commission had been trying to get program logs and recordings, and every attempt was unsuccessful. Finally, frustrated, the CRTC threatened to revoke the station’s licence if it didn’t travel to Gatineau and explain itself.

So we knew this was going to be serious, and the explanations given for non-compliance with its licence were going to have to be big. But still, the commissioners were taken aback by two bombshells that owner Alexandre Azoulay presented to them on Wednesday.

First, Azoulay blamed non-compliance on his father, who was diagnosed with dementia this summer. He said responses and filings with the CRTC were given to him, and then “disappeared,” with the station’s staff assuming that they had been mailed to the commission. Compliance issues began a year ago, but it was only a few months ago, after the dementia was diagnosed, that the younger Azoulay realized what was going on and took active control over the station’s operation.

Second, Azoulay announced that he has come to an agreement to sell the station. He wouldn’t say who has agreed to buy it, but did say that the other party is the licensee of one other station in the area (he used the singular, implying it owns only one station) and that synergies between the two would make it easier for the station to be viable financially. He said the new owner would be able to ensure the station continues, though he did not say (and was not asked) whether it would be in its current country music format.

The hearing was tense, as you can tell from the audio below, taken from the CRTC livestream. Azoulay did not come with a written statement, and presented a slow-paced, monotonous statement about the status of the station.

On the commission’s side, the mood was equally tense, with commissioners stressing how serious these issues of non-compliance are.

“I want to stress upon you the difficult position you’ve placed the commission in,” Commissioner Raj Shoan told Azoulay, saying that the sale of a station that has been in non-compliance with its licence obligations “calls into question the integrity of our licensing process.”

Normally, the CRTC doesn’t accept requests to transfer or amend licences that are in non-compliance. Or it would like to, at least. But if a station’s owner no longer wants to have a licence, they can’t force them to keep one. The decision then becomes whether to accept the transfer or to force the outgoing owner to turn in the licence and the incoming one to apply for a new one.

CJMS 1040 is a medium-powered radio station, licensed to operate at 10,000 watts daytime and 5,000 watts nighttime (Azoulay said during the hearing that upgrades necessary to improve to that power, approved in 2002, had started in the past two years but not yet been completed). Even as an AM station, that frequency would probably be in demand should the licence be revoked or surrendered.

Azoulay said he would supply documentation confirming the sale within 24 hours. It’s unclear whether the agreement would be on the public record. He also said an application for transfer of ownership would be filed by the end of the month. At the CRTC’s request, Azoulay also committed to filing, confidentially, documentation proving his father’s medical diagnosis.

As Shoan said, the CRTC is in a difficult position here. This hearing is about CJMS’s compliance issues, and a sale of the station would have to be dealt with in its own process. The commissioners also didn’t seem absolutely convinced that this licence non-compliance was an isolated incident. The station’s three previous licence renewals were all for short terms because of issues of compliance. CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais expressed frustration that this is recurring every time.

Azoulay assured the commission that the sale of the station would not benefit him financially, presumably because the sale price would be less than the amount of money he invested in the station during his ownership. He was also very apologetic for the compliance issues, and assured them that he has taken direct control of the station and would remain in charge personally until the sale is approved.

The commissioners also asked Azoulay about the station’s programming, and its recent transmission outages. Azoulay said the station has two full-time staff, both on-air hosts, and that it broadcasts 18 hours a day of live programming during weekdays, though after 6pm that programming is done remotely. And he assured them that the station is broadcasting regular newscasts during the mornings and middays on weekdays.

CRTC decisions usually come within a month or two of a hearing, so expect one by Christmas on whether CJMS can keep its licence.

 

Posted in TV

Avis de recherche needs a miracle

Avis de recherche staff, from left: journalists  Josie Simard, Kariane Bourassa, Jessica Leblanc, Nancy Bourgon and Valérie Beaudoin, president Vincent Géracitano, journalists Andrée-Anne Lavigne and Jessyka Dumulong, and cameraman/director Michel Ciacciarelli

Avis de recherche staff in August, from left: journalists Josie Simard, Kariane Bourassa, Jessica Leblanc, Nancy Bourgon and Valérie Beaudoin, president Vincent Géracitano, journalists Andrée-Anne Lavigne and Jessyka Dumulong, and cameraman/director Michel Ciacciarelli. The staff also included editor-in-chief Hélène Fouquet, journalist Benoit Tranchemontagne, camera operators/directors Maxence Matteau, Gabrielle Laroche and Christian Pichette, archivist Jonathan Veilleux and analyst François Doré.

It’s one of those channels you’ve probably skipped over dozens of times. On Videotron digital cable, it’s channel 49, just between a French pay-per-view barker channel and one of the PBS stations. On Bell Fibe, it’s channel 142, between the French rerun channel Prise 2 and the National Assembly channel. If you’ve ever tuned to it, accidentally or on purpose, you’ve noticed that much of its schedule is slides showing people who are missing or wanted by police.

Avis de recherche seems like a simple channel with a tiny budget and no viewers, and it is. But for president Vincent Géracitano, it’s been his life for the past decade, and he sees it as a mission of public service to keep it going.

Which makes the CRTC’s recent decision to cut the service’s mandatory distribution in Quebec even more perplexing for him.

On Aug. 8, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission came to decisions on requests from existing and proposed TV services for mandatory distribution, a rare and powerful status that requires all television providers to both distribute the service and pay a regulated per-subscriber rate for it. For the most part, it maintained the status quo: most services that had the status already kept it, and most that didn’t were denied. There were a few exceptions: TV5 got its mandatory distribution in exchange for a second channel that targets francophone Canadians outside Quebec; AMI TV got mandatory distribution for a French version of the video description channel; the territories get their legislative channel on satellite (with no subscriber fee) and ARTV gets mandatory carriage (but not on basic).

And there was ADR, the only service that had mandatory distribution whose status wasn’t renewed. A proposed English version of the channel, All Points Bulletin, was denied a request for mandatory distribution.

Even Géracitano admits that without an obligatory per-subscriber fee, Avis de recherche has little hope of survival. Its negligible audience means it has virtually no advertising revenue. And its unpopularity means people aren’t likely to choose to subscribe to it, and cable providers are unlikely to want to continue carrying the channel.

Géracitano has two years to figure out what to do. “In light of the laudable objectives advanced by the service,” the CRTC wrote in its decision, “the Commission will phase out the mandatory distribution requirement over the next two broadcast years (i.e. by 31 August 2015) to allow the licensee time to adapt its business plan in light of this change.”

Despite that cushion, Géracitano told me unless the CRTC changes its mind, the channel will probably just have to shut down by that date. In fact, he’s had to make some tough decisions already. As Christopher Curtis reports in The Gazette, Avis de recherche has already had to lay off 10 of its 16 employees so that it can break even by the time it shuts down.

And Géracitano is mad at the CRTC, convinced that there are nefarious reasons why the project he has worked on for more than a decade is being forced to walk the plank.

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Posted in Opinion, Radio

What happened to TTP Media?

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

Over the past few months, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is what is going on with the group known as TTP Media. The group, composed of businessmen Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, has licences for three AM radio stations in Montreal, none of which has launched yet. And none of them has said anything publicly for months.

Some of those inquiries have come from people looking for jobs at these new stations, which have promised to invest heavily in local programming and local news. Others have come from radio watchers excited about having something else to listen to. And some are from people who have a beef with CJAD and want to see competition as soon as possible.

Since May, I have been trying to get answers from all three of them. And it has been proving strangely difficult. Tietolman, who had previously been very talkative about the new station, without giving away any secrets, clammed up, asking me to speak with Pancholy, who is the managing partner.

Pancholy told me he didn’t have anything to say at the moment, but that I could expect an announcement in the next four to six weeks that would answer most of my questions.

That was May 23. Despite repeated phone calls, I haven’t spoken to Pancholy since. (That’s 20 weeks ago, in case you’re counting.)

Tétrault, for his part, has at least been getting back to me. “Our group is very much alive and hard at work,” he wrote me in an email on Aug. 20. “However, we do not want to announce anything till we are fully ready. I hope you understand. We will contact you when the time comes.”

On Oct. 3, in response to another request for information as the deadline to launch the first of those three stations approaches, Tétrault said “we do not like to talk about our plans” but that he’d make an exception to tell me this:

In the current business environment, it makes business sense to launch multiple radio stations as close to each other as possible. Consequently, we had requested that our implementation deadline be extended. The CRTC has recently responded favorably to our request.

We do not have any other comments at the moment.

Tietolman had told me something similar the last time I saw him in person, during the Bell/Astral CRTC merger hearings in May. The group wants to launch its English and French news-talk stations at the same time. (The three have gone back and forth on this plan a bit, first saying they would launch simultaneously, then saying they wouldn’t have to do that, and now saying they want to do that again.)

News of this extension will no doubt fuel more rumours out there about why this group has disappeared from the public radar.

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Posted in Radio

CJMS 1040 off air: Is this the end?

During the summer, when CJMS’s website went down and it experienced transmission problems, I was informed by its owner Alexandre Azoulay that it we should not be worried about its future and it would continue as normal.

Then last month the station was ordered by the CRTC to appear at a public hearing to respond to a series of serious licence compliance issues. And the station has been off the air for almost two weeks now. And nobody knows when it’s coming back.

(CJMS 1040 AM, no relation to the former AM station of the same call letters, is a 10kW/5kW country music and talk station based in St-Constant. It launched in 1999.)

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Posted in Radio

Radio Moyen-Orient applies for FM retransmitter in St-Michel

Radio station CHOU 1450 AM, which airs programming in Arabic, French and other languages from the Middle East, has applied to the CRTC for permission to setup a low-power rebroadcasting transmitter on FM to help alleviate reception problems in the city’s northeast.

The transmitter would operate at 104.5 FM with a power of 50 watts, from an antenna on top of the Sami Fruits building on 19e Ave., near Pie-IX and Jarry.

The station’s primary transmitter is 2,000 watts from the St-Laurent industrial park. In its submission to the CRTC, the station says it has looked at other ways to improve its signal, including increasing power with a directional antenna, but that adding another antenna to its main transmitter site isn’t a practical solution.

Realistic pattern of the new CHOU retransmitter

Realistic pattern of the new CHOU retransmitter

Montreal doesn’t have much empty space on the FM dial, so trying to squeeze in another station, even a low-power one, is bound to cause some problems.

The biggest source of problems here would be CBME-FM-1, the retransmitter of CBC Radio One at 104.7 FM in the west end. Because they’re so close together, there would be interference between the two. Because the CBC transmitter is more powerful, that interference would be closer to where the CHOU retransmitter will be located. CHOU’s broadcasting engineer mapped out the interference pattern like this:

Red splotches mark places where CHOU may cause adjacent-channel interference with CBME-FM-1 at 104.7.

Red splotches mark places where CHOU may cause adjacent-channel interference with CBME-FM-1 at 104.7.

Normally, this kind of interference would kill an application in its tracks, unless the other station agreed to accept the interference. But CHOU argues that, because CBME-FM-1 is a retransmitter designed to cover Westmount, NDG, Côte-des-Neiges and Hampstead, where the main CBC transmitter at 88.5 was apparently experiencing reception problems, people in affected areas will be listening to the station at 88.5 anyway and won’t mind not hearing the retransmitter.

We’ll see if the CBC agrees with that logic.

The CRTC is accepting comments on the proposal until Oct. 31. Comments can be submitted through the CRTC’s website here. Note that all information submitted to the CRTC, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Posted in Radio

CRTC threatens to pull licence of CJMS 1040

CJMS 1040, the country music AM station in Saint-Constant, is in trouble.

After repeated attempts to acquire logs and tapes from the station to evaluate it ahead of its licence renewal next year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ordered it to appear at a hearing in Gatineau on Nov. 5 to explain itself, and has threatened to impose sanctions, up to and including non-renewal or revocation of its licence.

A radio station broadcasting licence involves several requirements, among them that the station has to provide, on request, logger tapes (i.e. recordings of what was aired) and program logs (written lists of what was aired, including all musical selections) for a given date.

In a letter sent July 4, the CRTC says it has been trying since December to get the logs and tapes for a week in November. The CRTC planned to evaluate that week as a sample as it reviews the station’s licence, which expires on Aug. 31, 2014. It followed up its initial letter with a phone call two days later, then another phone call in January, then another in February and then an email in June. Even after the July 4 letter, CJMS has not handed over the tapes and logs.

This is a very serious problem. The logs and tapes are the only way the CRTC can evaluate what goes on the air. It can’t tell whether the station is meeting its Canadian content requirements, or its requirements for local programming, unless it can tell what was actually broadcast.

The CRTC judged the station in non-compliance with its licence, and has now requested the logs and tapes of the last week of May instead.

This isn’t the first time CJMS has been in trouble with the CRTC. In fact, the commission says this is the fourth consecutive licence term that CJMS has failed to comply with all aspects of its licence:

Non-compliance with a licence is bad enough, but repeated non-compliance, particularly over the same matters, causes the CRTC to take much more drastic action. It’s calling CJMS to the hearing to give any reasons why it shouldn’t issue a mandatory court order forcing it to comply with its licence.

But it could go even farther, it says: ”Given the licensee’s history of non-compliance, the Commission may also consider recourse to the suspension or revocation of the licence, pursuant to sections 9 and 24 of the Broadcasting Act.”

The CRTC has gone this far before. The most famous case was in 2011, when it revoked the licence of CKLN-FM, the Toronto-based radio station at Ryerson University, whose administration and programming went right off the rails during a long management dispute. The frequency vacancy led to 22 applications to fill it, a race that was won by what is now Indie 88.

Four straight non-compliant licence terms is very bad, and revocation is definitely a possibility here. The key will be if the logs and tapes are submitted and what they show. If the station is otherwise compliant, and demonstrates serious measures to ensure compliance in the future, it might get away with a mandatory order or just another short-term renewal.

But everything in this station’s history (including problems I wrote about this summer) points to a radio station that is at best disorganized and at worst incapable of managing the basic regulatory requirements asked of all licensed broadcasters.

The CRTC is accepting comment about CJMS’s licence issues, but requests that those comments relate only to the specific non-compliance that is being investigated here. Comments can be filed through the online form here until Sept. 27. Choose option 1 then check the box next to “2013-1228-0: 3553230 Canada Inc.”

Posted in Radio

Radio X Montreal tries again to rid itself of jazz

CHOI 91.9Only a few months after the CRTC denied a request from RNC Media to change the licence of CKLX-FM 91.9 so it could go from Planète Jazz to Radio X, the company is trying again.

On Wednesday, the commission published the station’s renewal application, and set a hearing for Nov. 5 in Gatineau to discuss it.

CKLX-FM, which launched in 2004, is licensed as a specialty music station, and one of the requirements is that 70% of the music it airs must be in the jazz/blues category. When it launched, it was thought that because Montreal has a successful jazz festival every year, there would be a market for a jazz radio station. As it turned out, the ratings were very poor, and the station continuously lost money. (It wasn’t the only one. Other commercial jazz stations in Canada also changed formats after deciding it wasn’t working.)

It changed formats a year ago, going from all-jazz to a talk format during the day on weekdays, rock music on weekend afternoons, and jazz otherwise. The new format met the letter of the licence, if not its spirit. But RNC wanted to rid the station of jazz completely, and for that they need a change of the licence.

As it did last time, the application is to modify the licence so that instead of a specialty music station focused on jazz/blues, it becomes a specialty talk station, with a minimum of 50% talk during the broadcast week.

The CRTC doesn’t deny that the station is struggling financially enough to warrant a licence change. But it cited other reasons why the request should not be granted. The new application (which was first filed before the decision denying the licence change was issued) attempts to address those concerns:

Potential harm to new competitor: The CRTC took note that TTP Media has a licence to launch a news-talk radio station in French at 940 AM, and said that having a new competitor right off the bat might cause them harm. TTP Media opposed RNC’s request to change the station’s licence the first time around. RNC counters this time by saying that the AM and FM audiences are different (it suggests 940 AM would target an older audience because its programming would include call-in shows), but also that the licence change would affect hours after 7pm weekdays when Radio X currently airs jazz music, and that those hours represent a small portion of listening hours to talk radio stations.

The possibility of a new specialty musical format: RNC shot down the idea that CKLX-FM try a different musical specialty format, in part because it felt its experience was in the talk format that makes CHOI-FM a top station in Quebec city, and in part because it feels the other music stations in Montreal have a huge competitive advantage because they are owned by the same two companies (Astral, now Bell, and Cogeco).

Non-compliance with licence obligations: The CRTC doesn’t like to reward broadcasters who aren’t in compliance with their licences by approving changes to those licences. It prefers that broadcasters come into compliance, and then present a case for a licence amendment. In this case, the CRTC found that RNC was classifying hit songs as jazz/blues songs, and that with proper classification, the station wasn’t in compliance with the minimum level of jazz/blues songs, and with another standard condition that 65% of popular music that airs on French stations be French songs.

RNC responds to this mainly by disagreeing with the way the commission proceeded. It said the CRTC rejected songs that aired on the station as being in that category because they were hit songs, but there’s no rule that says songs that reach positions on sales charts are ineligible for inclusion in that category. One document attached to the application even goes so far as to define “jazz” and “blues” by copying the introduction to their Wikipedia articles, then justify why it believes the songs are actually jazz/blues. They include these:

  • 1,2,3,4 by Feist
  • Waiting on the World to Change and Gravity by John Mayer
  • Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
  • Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner
  • Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell
  • Purple Rain by Prince
  • Oye como va by Carlos Santana
  • Rehab by Amy Winehouse
  • Roxanne by The Police
  • You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon
  • These Eyes by The Guess Who

Justifications include their artists’ profiles on allmusic.com, and participation in the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Nevertheless, it said it has removed these songs from its playlist.

And $350,000 to sweeten the pot

As part of its request, RNC has said it would commit to adding $350,000 over seven years (but only starting in the fourth) to its Canadian content development contributions, with $200,000 going to journalism/broadcasting scholarships, and $150,000 to Fondation NewRock.

According to financial projections it filed, if the application is approved its advertising revenue would go up from $1.4 million in the first year to $7.9 million in Year 7, its expenses would go up from $3.5 million to $5 million a year (including the proposed additional contributions), and it would make money starting in Year 4. Without the licence change, it would lose between $1.1 million and $1.5 million every year of its licence and the company would have to consider shutting it down.

While normally that would be a bad thing, here the CRTC has to consider that Montreal does not have available FM frequencies, and opening up one that allows for a 4.6kW transmitter on Mount Royal might mean a lot of great ideas for new radio stations.

But as much as some people don’t like the Radio X format, RNC is an independent in this market, and talk radio is an expensive format that the commission usually encourages. I suspect that here, finally, RNC will get its wish, and we’ll be rid of jazz music for good.

The CRTC is accepting public comment on the proposed licence change, and on the overall renewal of the licence of CKLX-FM in Montreal, until Sept. 27. You can file comments here, by selecting Option 1 and then Application 2013-0237-2: RNC MEDIA Inc. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, goes on the public record.

Posted in TV

CBC expands Sunday local newscasts starting Sept. 1

You'll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

You’ll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

Few people really paid attention to it when the CBC’s broadcasting licences were renewed this spring, but the public broadcaster committed to expanding local programming in large markets like Montreal, going up to 14 hours a week and ensuring at least one of those hours was non-news local programming.

Currently, large-market CBC television stations produce 10 hours and 40 minutes a week of local news: Three back-to-back half-hour newscasts starting at 5pm weekdays, a half-hour late newscast at 11pm weekdays, a half-hour newscast at 6pm Saturdays, and a 10-minute newscast at 11pm Sundays. (Vancouver is an exception, its Sunday newscast is already half an hour.)

The new CBC licences take effect Sept. 1, so with less than two weeks to go I was wondering why we hadn’t heard any announcements about new shows yet. Had they forgotten? Would they not make the deadline?

Chris Ball, senior manager of media relations for CBC English Services, said they will be meeting the 14-hour-a-week requirement as of Sept. 1 as promised. The Sunday newscast will be expanded to 30 minutes from 10, giving us 11 hours a week of local news. The rest will be made through “the addition of one hour of local non-news programming that will run Saturday, Sunday and Monday in those markets.”

He was deliberately vague about that part. “Planning is still under-way and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks,” he said.

The electronic schedule for CBC Montreal, shows that, for Sept. 1 and 2, the station will be re-airing the first episode of the Absolutely Quebec series at 11am. (The same thing is being done at the other affected stations: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa.) The condition of licence doesn’t specify that the local programming be original, so repeats are still within the rules, and gives the corporation a cushion until it puts something else on the air.

What form this non-news programming will take, whether it will be one program repeated twice or three separate ones, is unclear at this point. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Until then, enjoy the Absolutely Quebec reruns.

Posted in TV

CRTC dismisses complaints against Explora, Illico Club Unlimited over genre exclusivity violations

Genre exclusivity, one of those dinosaurs of the Canadian broadcasting system, was put to the test recently thanks to two complaints from companies that profit from this protection, and on Tuesday the CRTC rejected both complaints.

Background

Basically, any specialty TV channel is prevented from competing directly with any channel that has genre protection as part of its licence. This is to ensure diversity in the specialty channel system by protecting services that have been broadcasting for decades and have high requirements for Canadian content and original programming.

The list of services with such genre exclusivity is relatively small compared to the number of channels available today. All were licensed in 2000 or before, because the CRTC has said it will no longer grant these types of licences (for now anyway, it plans to revisit this in 2015-16). They include the oldest and most popular specialty services: Discovery Channel, Bravo, Food Network, HGTV, Showcase, Space, Comedy Network, Teletoon, Weather Network, Vision TV and YTV, but many others too in English, French and other languages.

Most TV channels licensed since 2000 are called Category B (formerly Category 2) licences, which do not have genre protection, which means they can compete freely with each other (but not directly with the genre-exclusive Category A services).

Genre exclusivity doesn’t mean that two channels can’t air the same programs. If a program falls under two channels’ nature of service (say, it’s a sci-fi show for kids), then it can air on both. But it does mean that two channels can’t be about the same thing.

In many cases, genre exclusivity is enforced by licence limitations. The Comedy Network, for example, is limited in how much animated programming it can air to prevent it from competing with Teletoon. Most new channels are limited in how much of their schedule can be spent airing theatrical films, live sporting events or music videos.

Specialty channels are not considered to be directly competing if they serve a niche. For example, CMT doesn’t compete with MuchMusic because it (theoretically) airs country music videos and country-themed programming. Retro programming channels like Comedy Gold or MovieTime are allowed because their licences state that they can only air programming that’s at least a certain number of years old.

But the system has a bunch of flaws. For one thing, many channels that have genre exclusivity have been moving away from the formats they were licensed for. MuchMusic has been pushing to reduce the number of hours it devotes to music videos. Discovery Channel’s commitment to science, nature and technology can certainly be questioned these days as reality shows start filling up its schedule. What is now called Twist TV was licensed as a health channel, and now airs Bridezillas and Supernanny. And don’t get me started on OWN (which, as far as I can tell, has completely ignored a court order from the CRTC requiring it to air educational programming).

The CRTC is slowly starting to deal with this issue. First was the moratorium on new channels of this protected type. Then came the removal of exclusivity for mainstream news and sports channels, which created a new category (Category C) of channels that have common licence conditions and are designed to be directly competitive. The commission recently proposed putting mainstream music channels (like MuchMusic and MusiquePlus) into this category as well, though a decision has not been reached yet.

The commission’s three-year plan has it reviewing genre protection in 2014-15, and then reviewing the Category A system the following year to see if it should remove the moratorium and licence new services of that type.

In the meantime, the CRTC has to enforce this, particularly when there are complaints, which brings us to the news of the day.

The news

The CRTC released two decisions on Tuesday:

The first dismissed a complaint by Serdy Media, which owns Canal Évasion. Serdy had complained that Radio-Canada’s new service Explora violated Évasion’s genre protection by broadcasting “adventure”-themed programming, while Explora’s licence requires it to broadcast programs related to “scientific discoveries, the environment, nature and human health.” Serdy took specific issue with the fact that Explora marketed its programming in part as adventure. The CRTC found that because the programs in question could also be categorized as environment or nature programming, Explora was still within its licence. The commission dismissed the complaint, but warned Radio-Canada not to use “adventure” in marketing the channel.

The second decision dismissed a complaint by what was then still Astral Media, which owned pay TV movie service Super Écran, against Videotron’s Illico Club Unlimited. Videotron launched the Netflix-like service earlier this year, and though online streaming services are not regulated by the CRTC, because Illico’s programming could be accessed through Videotron’s video on demand system, which is regulated by the CRTC, Astral complained that it was essentially a VOD service and had to respect genre protection. The CRTC essentially ruled that because Illico Club Unlimited contains films that are past the pay TV window, and doesn’t include movies currently airing on Super Écran, it’s not directly competitive.

Both decisions limit the reach of genre protection, and you have to wonder if this isn’t a way of relaxing the rules a bit to allow for more competition.

Unfortunately we’re still going to have to wait another year before this system gets the full airing out it deserves, and these entertainment-focused channels with profit margins in excess of 30% are forced to justify their protection from direct competition.

Posted in Radio

Hudson FM station ready to start “within weeks”

Existing (orange line) and proposed (red line) pattern of CHSV-FM 106.7 Hudson

Existing (orange lines) and proposed (red lines) patterns of CHSV-FM 106.7 Hudson, with interference zones from 106.9 The Bear (blue) and 106.7 The Wizard (red).

The western off-island communities of Hudson, Saint-Lazare and Vaudreuil could see their first English-language local station later this fall if the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approves a technical amendment so the station can change its transmission site.

Transmission Plan B

Dufferin Communications, which has a licence to operate a 500-watt English-language music station at 106.7 FM serving the region, was originally supposed to transmit from a Bell-owned tower on Route Harwood near Rue Thomas, which would have put it right in the Hudson community. But on April 29, Bell informed Dufferin that “the tower is now at its capacity and any additions will cause overload and reinforcement will be inevitable.” It also says that the location on the tower that Dufferin had been looking at originally has now been taken by an antenna being used “for public safety purposes.”

Rather than spend as much as $100,000 to reinforce the Bell tower, $50,000 to install a tower extension, and $40,000 to install a new transmitter shelter, Dufferin decided it would seek another tower nearby. Its search led it to a Rogers-owned tower on Chemin Sainte-Angélique near Rue des Liserons, about 5.3 kilometres southwest of the Bell tower.

Because it’s much farther from Hudson than the Bell tower, Dufferin is also seeking changes to the station’s pattern to compensate. Rather than an omnidirectional antenna at 500 watts, they would operate a (slightly) directional antenna with an average of 1420W and a maximum of 2650W. (Both the approved and proposed antennas would be at a height of 95 metres.)

“In order to maintain the 70 dBu contour in the same position over the target area of Hudson/St-Lazare, and in order to compensate for some minor terrain grazing, it is necessary to increase power to 2650 watts,” its brief to the CRTC says.

The new signal keeps about the same coverage in Hudson, but significantly improves the quality of the signal toward the west (Rigaud) and a bit toward the south (Saint-Clet). The larger 54dBu contour improves in all directions (more so toward the west), but the signal’s actual reach will mainly be limited by interference from other stations. Toward the east and south, people in the West Island, Mirabel, Beauharnois and Valleyfield will likely experience interference from WIZN (The Wizard) in Burlington, Vt., which operates on the same frequency. Toward the west, people in Lachute and on the other side of the Ontario border will hear interference from CKQB-FM (106.9 The Bear) in Ottawa.

Though the new signal greatly increases the population served, Dufferin warns that it doesn’t greatly increase the number of anglophones served in that population, since anglos in the area are concentrated around Hudson and Saint-Lazare.

Ready to go

Dufferin tells the CRTC that the Rogers site ”is ready made and will allow us to implement the service within weeks of approval as all our other infrastructure and equipment are in place.”

Vice-President Carmela Laurignano confirmed to me that, indeed, the station could be on the air very quickly once this technical plan is approved. She said the tower is ready, the antenna is on stand-by, and programming is ready to go.

Because it was approved only last October, it has until Oct. 19, 2014 to launch, unless it asks for an extension.

Names of on-air talent are “confidential at this point,” Laurignano said, but some of the station’s 25 or so full-time and part-time employees have already been hired.

The station, which will carry the brand “106.7 The Jewel”, part of a network of such stations in southern and eastern Ontario, will air mainly music with an easy listening format (Céline Dion, Rod Stewart, Michael Bublé). Its original application said it would have live programming during peak hours, including local newscasts, but voice-tracked programming outside of those hours. Its budget would be about $750,000 a year, based off mainly local ads that would cost between $22 and $34 a minute on average.

The application can be downloaded as a .zip file here. Comments are being accepted until Sept. 16, and can be submitted online here. Remember that all information submitted, including contact information, appears on the public record. There is no timeline for a decision, but if the CRTC does not find it controversial, expect it within weeks of the deadline for comments.