Tag Archives: CRTC

Posted in TV

15 topics for debate in the CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” policy review

It’s hard to overstate how much is at stake in the CRTC’s wide-ranging review of television policy that’s currently going on. The commission has put everything on the table, from the very nature of specialty channels to simultaneous substitution. Anything within its mandate is up for discussion and possible amendment.

With a day to go until the deadline for comments (it was originally Wednesday, but the commission gave a two-day extension), almost 2,000 comments have been put on the public file. This number will increase as the big media and telecom companies file their submissions, which usually happens at the last minute. (The CRTC has taken the unusual step of asking these companies to file comments in both French and English, and in an accessible format — Microsoft Word, text files or HTML files.)

The process began last year with a sort of informal consultation with regular Canadians, highlights of which are posted here, followed by a phase of asking those people who commented to make decisions based on a limited number of choices. The results of that survey are posted here.

The third phase of the process is the formal one, where the serious policy discussion happens. The commission launched that phase in April, and it will lead to a public hearing in Gatineau in September. Anyone wanting to be part of this discussion officially can join in until the deadline for comments, Friday June 27 at 8pm ET.

The announcement sets a framework for the policy discussion, which in turn gives us an idea what types of changes we could see as a result of the hearing. They are:

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Posted in Radio

CRTC approves new licence for CKHQ-FM Kanesatake

CKHQ-FM, the Kanesatake Native radio station that became defunct and lost its CRTC licence 10 years ago, has gotten that licence back. The CRTC approved a new seven-year licence for the station on Tuesday, to be given to a yet-to-be-incorporated non-profit corporation set up by James Nelson.

The station’s technical parameters are identical to what it had previously: 101.7 MHz with 27 watts of power (11 watts average) from an antenna on the reserve 30 metres above the average terrain. That setup gives the station a signal that reaches into Oka and across the river into Hudson, but not much further.

The application, published in December, received only one comment, from someone in favour of bringing the station back.

The situation for CKHQ is very similar to that of CKKI-FM, KIC Country 89.9 in Kahnawake, in that it was a station that went on the air without a licence, and people from the CRTC and Industry Canada walked the station through the application process rather than trying to force it off the air.

At the moment, the station is running with a live DJ during business hours, and raises money through fundraisers and radio bingo. Its programming is mainly country music, with some community announcements and other spoken word in English.

If you can’t hear it on the air, the station streams online here. It also has a Facebook page.

Posted in Radio

CKRS-FM Saguenay wants to become a Rythme FM station

CKRS logoA week after the Journal de Montréal reported that CKRS-FM in Saguenay wants to become a Rythme FM, the CRTC has published an application from the station that confirms the news.

CKRS is owned by Richard Speer’s Attraction Radio, a growing new player in the Quebec radio scene. It officially owns five radio stations, including CJIT-FM in Lac-Mégantic. It currently has an application in front fo the CRTC to purchase CJLM-FM (M 103.5) in Joliette from a cooperative for $750,000, a deal announced in January 2013. (The deadline for comments on that was last week, and there were no comments filed on that application. A hearing is scheduled June 26, but that’s a formality. The parties aren’t being asked to attend.) And it recently announced a deal to buy the Réseau des Appalaches, owner of Passion Rock and O97,3 stations in the region of Victoriaville/Thetford-Mines.

La Presse’s Nathalie Collard profiles the group in a recent story.

History of losing money

CKRS, whose AM predecessor dates back to 1947, was once part of the Corus Quebec radio network. It was left off the list of radio stations sold to Cogeco in 2011, and was slated for closure. It was picked up by Radio Saguenay Inc., a group whose owners included Guy Carbonneau. But losing about $400,000 a year (less than the $1 million a year that it lost under Corus), Radio Saguenay gave it away to Attraction for $300,000, a purchase approved by the CRTC in 2012. CKRS and became Attraction’s third station, all of them acquired mere months apart.

Though CKRS’s licence was renewed just a few months ago, Attraction says it feels it can’t continue operating the station in its current format.

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Posted in Montreal, My articles, Radio

Q&A: CJLO vs. VPR

Since the announcement last month that Concordia’s CJLO radio station has applied for an FM retransmitter downtown to allow listeners at the downtown campus to hear it, but would block out Vermont Public Radio for many more, there’s been a lot of questions, debate and differences of opinion about this proposal.

The CRTC has already received 645 interventions, almost all of whom are radio listeners who support one side or the other. The majority are VPR listeners responding to the organization’s public call-out on its website. Others are CJLO fans who want to be able to hear the station on the downtown campus and say this is the only practical way to do so.

In most (but not all) cases, the interveners don’t have bad things to say about the other side. The VPR fans hope for an alternative solution to the reception problem. Both CJLO and VPR say they support the other and don’t want to prevent anyone from being able to listen to the other.

I look a bit deeper into this application in this story for The Gazette, which appears in Friday’s paper. Below, I’ll tackle some of the questions and perceptions that people have and try to come up with some unbiased answers to them.

A map of potential interference between VPR and CJLO on 107.9 FM, based on terrain data, created by Yves R. Hamel and Associates (click for larger)

A map of potential interference between VPR and CJLO on 107.9 FM, based on terrain data, created by Yves R. Hamel and Associates (click for larger)

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Posted in My articles, Radio

CRTC approves two new ethnic radio stations in Montreal serving south Asian community

UPDATE (May 22): See also a story about this in The Gazette.

Last year, the CRTC received two apparently competing applications for new radio stations serving Montreal’s south Asian community. Today, it approved both of them.

ITR, 102.9 FM

Broadcast contours and interference zones for proposed new FM station (click for larger)

Broadcast contours and interference zones for proposed new FM station at 102.9 FM (click for larger)

The first, by AGNI Communications, would broadcast at 102.9 FM with a weak 50-watt transmitter on Chabanel St. near Highway 15, which would allow it to reach Ahuntsic and surrounding boroughs, but no farther than that because of interference from stations in Sherbrooke, St-Jérôme, Valleyfield and St-Jacques-le-Mineur on the same or adjacent frequencies.

The service already exists as on a subcarrier of CISM-FM on 89.3. It specifically targets the Tamil community, and the location of its transmitter will, it believes, cover the majority of Montreal’s Tamil-speaking community.

Radio Humsafar, 1610 AM

Projected broadcast pattern of Radio Humsafar on 1610AM

Projected broadcast pattern of Radio Humsafar on 1610AM

The second station is Radio Humsafar, which exists as an online, subcarrier and phone-in audio service. Its programming would be in English, Tamil, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati and Pashto.

The station would operate with a 1kW transmitter sharing the transmission site of CJLO 1690 AM on Norman St. in St-Pierre. Because the two would have the same antenna and operate at the same power, their patterns should be similar, so if you can hear CJLO you should be able to hear this station.

Humsafar has been trying for years to get a radio station on the air in Montreal, where it’s based. It had originally applied for 1400 AM, but the long-delayed move of CJWI (CPAM Radio Union) from 1610 to 1410 delayed that application and changed its frequency to 1610. Humsafar also owns CJLV 1570 in Laval and had tried to convert that into an ethnic station, an application the CRTC denied in 2012.

Radio Humsafar’s president, Jasvir Singh Sandhu, tells me he’ll begin discussions with engineers about quickly getting the station on the air, which should happen in the coming months. He projects hiring a handful of people as Humsafar expands the number of languages it broadcasts in. The phone-in and online streaming services will continue after the station is on the air, but the SCMO subcarrier it rents on CKUT will be discontinued after a few months of simulcasting. Sandhu also issued a press release which is republished below.

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Posted in Montreal, Radio

CJLO applies for FM retransmitter at downtown campus

A rough guide to the range of the proposed CJLO FM transmitter. Red areas would experience interference from WVPS in Vermont.

A rough guide to the range of the proposed CJLO FM transmitter. Red areas would experience interference from WVPS in Vermont.

After much study, Concordia student radio station CJLO 1690 AM believes it has found a solution to reception problems it is experiencing at the university’s downtown campus. A long-rumoured application for a low-power FM retransmitter was published Friday by the CRTC.

If approved, the transmitter would operate on 107.9 FM, from an antenna on the Henry F. Hall Building, at 100 watts.

VPR interference

The frequency is one that has been previously identified as potentially usable in Montreal, but it comes with one big downside: It’s the same frequency as WVPS, the Vermont Public Radio transmitter in Burlington, and the only U.S. public radio station that reaches into Montreal.

Because of co-channel interference from the 48kW VPR transmitter, the CJLO FM retransmitter would have a very limited range, basically covering the core of downtown and not much else. On the other hand, areas around downtown will experience a great deal of interference, likely hearing both stations at the same time, and neither very well. (I can’t get too specific about this because the maps submitted with the application are blurry and black-and-white because they were sent by fax).

Though VPR’s 107.9FM signal reaches Montreal remarkably well, it is not protected in this city. We learned this two years ago when a proposed station in Hudson offered 107.9 FM as an alternate frequency if its first choice of 106.7 was rejected. The CRTC received some comments from VPR listeners upset at the potential of no longer being able to hear that station.

CJLO's AM antenna on Norman St. Increasing its power, or putting a transmitter like this downtown, are impractical solutions to downtown reception problems,

CJLO’s AM antenna on Norman St. Increasing its power, or putting a transmitter like this downtown, are impractical solutions to downtown reception problems.

Bad signal

CJLO’s report, prepared by broadcasting consultant Michel Mathieu, notes that signal strength readings were taken along Sherbrooke St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd. downtown, and they showed that the signal is particularly bad in the heart of downtown where Concordia’s downtown campus is. The signal starts dropping around Atwater St., and returns around Berri. The reason? Downtown skyscrapers absorbing the AM signal.

Even Laval, more than twice the distance away, shows a signal 10 times better than in some downtown blocks.

In case the quantitative data isn’t enough, the application also includes a dozen letters from CJLO listeners complaining of the signal quality downtown.

There’s clearly a problem here, and a low-power FM retransmitter makes the most sense as a way to solve it, even though the choice of frequency might not be to everyone’s liking. (Mathieu notes that even VPR’s signal is hard to receive downtown because of the same interference problems that CJLO experiences.)

Alternatives studied

CJLO’s application noted that it studied other options:

  • Increasing the power of its 1,000W transmitter in Lachine’s St-Pierre district was rejected because it wouldn’t solve the problem. Even TSN 690, operating with giant towers at 50,000 watts on a clear channel, has signal reception problems in downtown buildings.
  • An AM repeater (it’s unclear if this would have been on the same frequency or another one) “became out of the question” because of practical and cost limitations, being unable to put a 75-foot antenna on top of the Hall Building.

The report doesn’t mention looking at other FM frequencies, but with the FM band effectively at capacity in the city, it would be difficult to locate one to put even a low-power transmitter without causing interference

CJLO’s application can be downloaded here (2.8MB .zip file). The CRTC is accepting comments on CJLO’s application until 8pm on May 26. They can be submitted using this form. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

UPDATE (May 4): CKUT’s International Radio Report devoted its show on Sunday to this application, with comments from supporters of CJLO and VPR. You can listen to the show here in MP3 format.

Meanwhile, VPR is warning its listeners about the CRTC application and its consequences.

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.

UPDATE (Sept. 3): The CRTC has granted Videotron’s request, despite ICI’s objections.

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.

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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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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.