It’s not quite as bad as the massacre of hundreds of analog over-the-air transmitters by public broadcasters in 2012, but Bell Media has proposed a major cull of its transmitters, removing a third of them from their licenses as part of its licence renewal application filed with the CRTC.
The cull affects mainly low-power retransmitters in small towns, some as little as 1 Watt of transmitting power, though some are as high as 260,000 Watts. All of the affected transmitters are analog (and so none broadcast in HD).
Bell Media explains its request thusly:
These analog transmitters generate no incremental revenue, attract little to no viewership given the growth of [cable and satellite TV] subscriptions and are costly to maintain, repair or replace. In addition, none of the highlighted transmitters offer any programming that differs from the main channels. The Commission has determined that broadcasters may elect to shut down transmitters but will lose certain regulatory privileges (distribution on the basic service, the ability to request simultaneous substitution) as noted in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-24, Over-the-air transmission of television signals and local programming. We are fully aware of the loss of these regulatory privileges as a result of any transmitter shutdown.
In short, Bell has determined that these transmitters cost far more to operate than they’re worth in viewership, even when you consider secondary benefits like simultaneous substitution.
As part of promises to the CRTC, including during the Astral acquisition, Bell promised to keep its TV stations on the air through 2016 or 2017. With its licence up for renewal on Aug. 31, 2017, that promise expires. Nevertheless, no local originating stations are pegged for shutdown here, and there’s no direct effect on local programming.
The list of transmitters Bell wants to delete from its licences is below. The CRTC counts 42, while I count 41 (not including the three already approved as part of separate CRTC decisions). In some cases, the transmitters are already off the air for a variety of reasons (“destroyed in a fire” comes up a few times, though the reasons can sometimes be quite strange).
UPDATE: Bell has revised its list, and now has 40 transmitters listed, not including those already approved.
A couple to note:
- CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall, a retransmitter of CTV Ottawa, has a 260,000W signal that can be easily captured in the western part of Montreal and off-island suburbs. It’s the last analog television signal that reaches into the Montreal area, and it’s the reason why CTV Ottawa is carried on Montreal cable systems. Bell estimates this transmitter reaches 73,823 people.
- CKNX-TV Wingham was a CBC affiliate that launched in 1955, then became an A Channel station owned by CHUM, then was sold to CTV. In 2009, at the height of the battle over fee for carriage, CTV said it would have to shut down the station, prompting a ridiculous negotiation for a sale to Shaw via newspaper ads. Despite a $1 purchase price, Shaw reneged on its offer after due diligence. CTV converted the station into a retransmitter of CFPL-TV London, Ont., and it became part of the CTV Two network. (Since then, CTV was bought by Bell and Shaw bought Global TV, which effectively ended the fee for carriage debate.) Of all the transmitters proposed for shutdown, this one reaches the most people (235,984).
CTV stations (40/109 transmitters)
CJCB-TV Sydney, N.S. (1/6 transmitters):
- CJCB-TV-5 Bay St. Laurence (1W)
CJCH-DT Halifax, N.S. (2/9 transmitters):
- CJCH-TV-2 Truro (8W)
- CJCH-TV-8 Marinette (10W)
CKCW-DT Moncton, N.B. (5/9 transmitters):
- CKAM-TV Upsalquitch (already approved) (230,000W)
- CKAM-TV-1 Newcastle (9W)
- CKAM-TV-2 Chatham (9W)
- CKCW-TV-2 St. Edward/St. Louis, P.E.I. (1,100W)
- CKCD-TV Campbelton (1,800W)
CHBX-TV Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):
CJOH-DT Ottawa (1/4 transmitters):
CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto (100,000W) (UPDATE: Bell says this transmitter was listed in error)
- CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall (260,000W)
CICI-TV Sudbury, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):
- CICI-TV-1 Elliot Lake (19,000W)
CITO-TV Timmins, Ont. (2/5 transmitters):
- CITO-TV-3 Hearst (7,110W)
- CITO-TV-4 Chapleau (1,550W)
CKY-DT Winnipeg (2/9 transmitters):
- CKYB-TV-1 McCreary (already approved) (10W)
- CKYS-TV Snow Lake (8W)
CICC-TV Yorkton, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):
- CICC-TV-2 Norquay (69,000W)
- CICC-TV-3 Hudson Bay (680W)
- CIEW-TV Warmley (170,000W)
- CIWH-TV Wynyard (140,000W)
CIPA-TV Prince Albert, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):
- CIPA-TV-1 Spiritwood (46,900W)
- CIPA-TV-2 Big River (205W)
- CKQB-TV Melfort (15,500W)
- CKQB-TV-1 Nipawin (11,600W)
CKCK-DT Regina (4/7 transmitters):
- CKCK-TV-1 Colgate (84,800W)
- CKCK-TV-2 Willow Bunch (52,700W)
- CKCK-TV-7 Fort Qu’Appelle (241W)
- CKMC-TV-1 Golden Prairie (229,000W)
CFCN-DT Calgary (4/9 transmitters):
- CFCN-TV-1 Drumheller (80,000W)
- CFCN-TV-6 Drumheller (9W)
- CFCN-TV-16 Oyen (710W)
- CFWL-TV-1 Invemere, B.C. (10W)
CFCN-DT-5 Lethbridge, Alta. (6/10 transmitters):
- CFCN-TV-3 Brooks (8W)
- CFCN-TV-4 Burmis (382W)
- CFCN-TV-11 Sparwood, B.C. (8W)
- CFCN-TV-12 Moyie, B.C. (5W)
- CFCN-TV-17 Waterton Park (1W)
- CFCN-TV-18 Coleman (9W)
CFRN-DT Edmonton (2/11 transmitters):
- CFRN-TV-2 Peace River (4,300W)
- CFRN-TV-8 Grouard Mission (10,000W)
CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer (1/2 transmitters):
- CFRN-TV-10 Rocky Mountain House (1,600W)
No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:
- CKLD-DT Saint John (3 transmitters total)
- CFCF-DT Montreal (1 transmitter total)
- CFTO-DT Toronto (3 transmitters total)
- CKCO-DT Kitchener, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
- CKNY-TV North Bay, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
- CFQC-DT Saskatoon (3 transmitters total)
- CIVT-DT Vancouver (1 transmitter total)
CTV Two stations (2/12 transmitters)
CFPL-DT London, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):
- CKNX-TV Wingham (260,000W)
CKVR-DT Barrie, Ont. (1/4 transmitters):
- CKVR-TV-1 Parry Sound (7W)
No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:
- CHRO-DT-43 Ottawa (1 transmitter total)
- CHRO-TV Pembroke, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
- CHWI-DT Wheatley, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
- CIVI-DT Victoria (2 transmitters total)
Other stations (1/5 transmitters)
Bell Media acquired two TV stations in northern B.C. from Astral Media. They have since adopted CTV Two programming, but are licensed separately from Bell Media’s other stations.
CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C. (1/3 transmitters):
No change is proposed for CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. (2 transmitters total)
CTV and CTV Two also have (de facto) affiliates in Lloydminster, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Peterborough, Oshawa and St. John’s. These are not owned by Bell Media and are unaffected by this application.
In a letter, the CRTC asks Bell for more information about this request, notably how many of these transmitters are still running and how many people will be affected. A response is requested for Monday, June 27, but the major broadcasters have requested an extension to that deadline because of the amount of information being requested of them.
The CRTC is accepting comments from the public on Bell Media’s licence renewals, which includes the deletion of retransmitters, until 8pm ET on
Aug. 2 Aug. 15. You can submit comments here (choose Application 2016-0012-2). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record. Public hearings will be held in Laval and Gatineau in November to discuss the application.
UPDATE: This post is prompting some discussion on Reddit (here and here), and some of those comments seem to be based on some misconceptions:
- Many point out that CTV/CTV2 is owned by Bell Media, which also owns a TV distributor, as if they’re doing this merely to boost TV subscription rates. The likelihood of a large number of people in these tiny towns switching to a pay TV service owned by Bell is pretty low. And if this was the purpose, wouldn’t they have shut down more transmitters? (Besides, CTV doesn’t get subscription fees from people who subscribe via cable companies.)
- Some say in general CTV would have been better off if it wasn’t owned by a telecom company, or that this wouldn’t have happened if CTV was independent of one. That, of course, ignores several facts: (1) CBC and TVO also shut down hundreds of analog retransmitters years ago, (2) Global TV’s parent company actually did go bankrupt before the network was purchased by Shaw, and it might not have survived had that not happened, and (3) Conventional television as an industry is losing money or barely breaking even, and a lot of that is because the cable companies that own those networks are subsidizing them.
- A couple say the channels or bandwidth should be given or sold to another company so they can put transmitters or TV stations there instead. But (1) Broadcast television allocations are not sold like that; (2) There’s zero demand for new television stations or transmitters; and (3) there is plenty of space on the television broadcast band for more transmitters, especially in these small markets.