Tag Archives: CTV

Max Harrold to become CTV Quebec bureau chief

Max Harrold (Gazette photo)

Max Harrold, a news reporter for The Gazette since 2006, has been hired as the new Quebec City Bureau Chief for CTV News. The move was announced this morning with mixed feelings by Gazette city editor Michelle Richardson. He leaves the paper on Nov. 20.

Harrold, who tells me he’s 47 but has always seemed so much younger at heart, has been a general assignment reporter, specializing in breaking news. He’s also the guy behind the weekly Squeaky Wheels column, answering readers’ questions about issues involving transportation in Montreal. Before joining The Gazette he wrote for it as a freelancer, wrote for the Discovery Channel program How It’s Made, and worked in off-air roles at Global Television and CBC. He also worked for the short-lived Montreal Daily News, and was there when the paper shut down in 1989.

He’s a native Montrealer, but lived and worked in Los Angeles and New York for 13 years, and studied at Columbia Journalism School.

Harrold told me he had informal discussions with CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane before the latest round of buyouts at The Gazette, with the possibility of having to look for a new job at the back of his mind. In the end that would become unnecessary, since there were no layoffs of reporters, but discussions continued.

“I thought it would be for an off-camera job or a research job,” Harrold said when he called me from the office, where he’s getting congratulations from his colleagues. But Kahane needed someone with excellent reporting skills for the Quebec City job, and Harrold fit the bill.

“It’s an interesting time in Quebec City, and it’s a bureau where I want someone who overall has an understanding of quebec politics,” Kahane said. “Max is a veteran, he’s an experienced editorial guy (and) he was the kind of person I was looking for.”

Harrold doesn’t have any on-air experience in television, though he went through a screen test that was enough to convince Kahane the jump to television could work. Kahane points out that other print journalists have moved to television with great success. He mentioned people like David Akin at Sun Media. Nancy Wood, an anchor at CBC Montreal, is another former Gazette reporter and print specialist who made a very successful transition into broadcasting.

Kahane said that with strong editorial judgment, learning the technical part isn’t a big problem. The former is valued far more than the latter in a television reporter.

Nevertheless, Harrold admitted it will be a transition, and he’s already been practicing proper standups in front of a mirror.

Harrold begins at CTV in December, and will spend his first few weeks training, learning the ins and outs of TV reporting in general and CTV’s systems in particular. Kahane said he expects Harrold will do some on-air work in Montreal (he couldn’t say when we should expect to start seeing Harrold on air) and be ready to report from Quebec City by the time the National Assembly reconvenes for the new year in February.

CTV’s last Quebec City bureau chief, you might recall, had a fairly public resignation in July 2011. Kahane said he didn’t make any special requests of Harrold, though he did ask if Harrold had a television at home (Kai Nagata famously did not even though he was a TV reporter). Harrold said he has two. The embarrassment for CTV meant a lot of hesitation at choosing someone new for the position, particularly for going with someone young and inexperienced, so the position remained unfilled for more than a year.

Maya Johnson has been filling in, covering Quebec City and the National Assembly for the past few months. She’ll return to Montreal, where Kahane said she will continue her reporting, which he qualified as excellent, from here.

Harrold’s new job means moving to Quebec City (and finding a fluently bilingual anglophone willing to move to the provincial capital is also a big challenge in filling this position). Harrold will look for a place in Quebec City and expects to live there for a little while before his husband Greg joins him.

There’s no word yet on whether The Gazette will be looking to hire someone to replace Harrold, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Richardson is already getting unsolicited offers.

On a personal note, since Max is a friend, I’ll wish him well. But a warning: no mercy on the hilariously embarrassing gaffes that make live TV so much fun to watch.

UPDATE: Max’s first report aired on Dec. 12.

CTV Montreal to reduce (but continue) local news during Olympics

CFCF’s anchor desk will sit empty until 6pm during the Olympics

Television changes during the Olympic Games. It’s like the usual rules get thrown right out the window. Canadian television stations relying mainly on rebroadcasting American shows in primetime? Not during the Olympics. NBC provides Olympic coverage, but CTV is doing its own thing entirely, focusing on Canadian athletes. TSN and Rogers Sportsnet in fierce competition? Not during the Olympics. They’re coordinating their coverage to give Canadians more choice, and some events (like the opening and closing ceremonies) will be carried on both simultaneously. Spending the bare minimum on Canadian content? Not during the Olympics. CTV and the other broadcasters are spending millions creating their own live, remote, high-definition programming that will dominate the airwaves throughout the Games.

It’s this domination of the schedule that has led to one change that requires approval by the broadcast regulator.

CTV asked the CRTC to temporarily relieve it from some local programming requirements during the Olympics. Currently, CTV’s stations in large markets (Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) are each required to air 14 hours of local programming during each week. Other stations are required to air seven hours of local programming a week. CTV asked the commission to, in light of how much time it needs to devote to the Olympics on its schedule, reduce that to seven hours a week for the entire network.

The CRTC agreed to this in a ruling issued June 27. That ruling lowers the minimum of local programming to seven hours for all stations, solely during the period of the Olympics (July 27 to August 12), and says it expects CTV to make up for the shortfall later in the year. (CTV said it would do so.)

CTV also asked for relief from a license condition requiring four hours a week of described video programming. Since described video is usually applied to things like dramas, sitcoms and documentaries, which won’t air much during the Olympics, the CRTC also relieved the CTV network from this obligation, again with the expectation that CTV would compensate for the reduction with an excess during the rest of the year.

No noon newscasts during Games

CTV Montreal (CFCF) normally airs 16 hours of local programming every week, including commercials (all of which is its newscasts – noon, 6pm and 11:30pm weekdays, 6pm and 11:30pm weekends).

The Olympic broadcasting schedule released Wednesday shows Games coverage throughout the day between the opening and closing ceremonies. Because the Olympics are in London, which is five hours ahead, live coverage begins as early as 4am and ends around 5-6pm Eastern time. This is the opposite of the Vancouver games, which were three hours behind and meant a lot of live broadcasting in the evening.

With the exception of the opening and closing ceremonies, the 6-7pm Eastern hour is left clear on CTV’s network, which leaves room for local news. This is followed by a four-hour Olympic Primetime recap of the day’s events from 7 to 11pm, which can then be followed by CTV National News and late local newscasts.

Mary Anne Gyba, programming manager at CTV Montreal, confirms to me that local newscasts will air daily from 6pm to 7pm and at 11:30pm throughout the Olympics, with the exception of the opening ceremony (Friday, July 27) and the closing ceremony (Sunday, August 12), which both run through the 6pm hour.

This means it will air 11 hours of local news the first full week and 10 hours the second week, far exceeding the reduced minimum requirement. (An alternative way of meeting the quota would have been to repeat local newscasts at 6am the next day, which CTV and Global both use regularly in underperforming markets, but with Olympic coverage starting at 4am, even this option doesn’t work for them.)

V stations get similar relief

In a similar decision issued the day after the CTV one, the CRTC also offered relief to two television stations – CFGS in Gatineau and CFVS in Val d’Or/Rouyn Noranda – from local programming during the Olympics. Both stations are affiliates of the V network, which is the French-language conventional television broadcaster in the consortium, and both are owned by RNC Media.

In its brief application, RNC said it was “highly likely” that V would not offer enough free time in its schedule during the Games for local programming, even though each station must broadcast only one hour and 15 minutes a week of local programming, which averages to about 10 minutes a day.

V’s Olympic schedule is much like CTV’s, with nothing scheduled during the 6-7pm hour (except during opening and closing ceremonies), and nothing after 11pm. V normally offers entertainment programming at 6-7pm instead of local news, to set itself apart from Radio-Canada and TVA. Still, it seems a bit incredible that such stations can’t find 75 minutes a week for local news.

The CRTC’s decision relieves them completely of the requirement to air local programming during the Olympics.

UPDATE (July 16): The CRTC has issued a similar decision relieving Télévision MBS Inc., which owns the V affiliate in Rivière du Loup (CFTF-TV), of its local programming obligations during the Olympics.

UPDATE (July 24): And finally, a decision relieving the owned-and-operated stations of the V network (CFJP Montreal, CFAP Quebec, CFKM Trois-Rivières, CFKS Sherbrooke and CFRS Saguenay) from their obligations. That application prompted a letter in opposition by SCFP union executive Denis Bolduc, saying that there was plenty of time in the schedule for V to air local news, that it should have asked for this exemption during its license renewal hearing last fall, and that the CRTC should maintain some minimum of local programming during the Olympics.

Bell Let’s Talk Day: “This is why we do it”

Bell Let's Talk national spokesperson Clara Hughes in an interview with TSN Radio in Toronto (Bell Canada photo)

Today is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, a day in which Canada’s biggest telecom company raises money to help treat mental illness, and helps bring the issue out into the spotlight at the same time.

Until midnight Pacific time, Bell is donating five cents for every long-distance call and text message sent using its network, as well as every (non-robot) retweet of its Twitter account, to this charitable cause.

I was reminded of this campaign when I watched CFCF’s noon newscast today. It was hard to miss it. Half of the first 15-minute block was devoted to it, with a story by a local reporter profiling someone with mental illness, and an interview with the campaign’s spokesperson, Olympian (and national sweetheart) Clara Hughes.

It didn’t stop there. Later, a health news story about the potential causes of suicide (probably a coincidence because the study just came out), a sit-down interview with an expert on mental illness, and a chat with reporter Tarah Schwartz about a special report on depression airing on Thursday. That’s not including the commercials devoted to the subject and all the other programming that’s airing on CTV, including a special at 7pm.

A year ago, I asked similar questions about this campaign, and whether the perfectly laudable cause justified the apparent intrusion of Bell Canada into the editorial decisions of CTV’s newsrooms. (One could argue that many have simply decided to join this cause without being ordered to, which is possible, but there’s a reason we’re not seeing as much coverage of this on CBC and Global, and do we really think it would get so much airtime on CTV if this was, say, a Telus campaign?)

There are also questions to be asked about Bell’s motives in this. Every large company puts profit ahead of anything else, and it makes sense for a company whose reputation is as poor as Bell’s to spend millions of dollars making it seem more human. And it sends the message that if you really want CTV News to pay attention to your cause, no matter how positive it is, you need to get Bell onside.

But rather than rehash all that, I’ll share an email that was forwarded to me by someone from Bell Media, who I’m guessing saw my tweets critical of the campaign today or was directed to last year’s blog post. It was sent from a viewer of CTV’s Marilyn Denis show, which also devoted segments to mental health today, including one on postpartum depression.

He added only: “This is why we do it.”

I’ve redacted the person’s name since it’s not important.

Subject: Thank you thank you thank you

Hello Marilyn

My name is ***, mother of 4 girls 8,6,4 and 5 months.

I started my last pregnancy with depression and it is becoming a giant battle!

I feel darker and darker and the show today made feel good and thank to CTV, let’s talk day. It is good to know that I will talk and search for help.

What a show thank you again.

There are a lot of thing behind my depression, I have in Canada for 17years no status, with 4 children provide a good life. Being a great mother and wife. Keeping on packing weigh. Being there sometimes became a burden etc….but I do it because I love my family.

Well I just wanted to say thank to you and CTV for this day Let’s talk.

I never wrote to a show but the one today saved my life.

By the grace of God!

There are worse reasons to abuse one’s power.

A time to remember – unless The View is on

People who follow me on Twitter know that one of my pet peeves is when the broadcast networks don’t air major live news events, preferring to relegate them to their all-news networks (if they have them) and/or websites.

Various arguments have been brought forth to justify this. Very few people don’t have access to all-news channels anymore. There’s less interest in live coverage of boring things. People who want it can get it online.

In the end, the biggest factor is money, with a little help from the CRTC. Simultaneous substitution rules encourage Canadian broadcast networks not only to run American programming, but to run it at the same time as the American stations do. They also, therefore, discourage Canadian networks from running Canadian programming during peak hours. As a bonus, relegating important programming to cable channels makes it more likely that people will subscribe to those channels, meaning increased subscription revenue.

In short, this is why we see regular-season NFL games Sunday afternoons on CTV, but all CFL games – even the Grey Cup – air on TSN instead. It’s not a question of ratings, because the Grey Cup gets huge ratings in Canada. It’s because the NFL games are on CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, while the CFL games aren’t.

It’s win-win for the networks, while the only people who lose are Canadian viewers.

In the past few years, there has been a trend where live national and regional events don’t get carried on the broadcast stations. Elections are a prime example. Often election nights (particularly provincial elections where a local station would likely have to go it alone or in a small group) get little if any live coverage. Other major events not involving attractive British royalty getting married are also less likely to be seen on local over-the-air television stations.

During CTV Montreal’s noon newscast on Thursday, it was mentioned that there would be live coverage of Remembrance Day ceremonies at 11pm 11am Friday … on CTV News Channel.

Sure enough, looking at the schedule, I don’t see a Remembrance Day special on CTV’s main network.

As it turns out, there was a noting of the occasion on the network, and it was done in the most half-assed way I can think of. It was a video that looked like it had been created in the 90s (it wasn’t in HD, though some footage was in letterboxed 16:9) of the national anthem being played over stock footage of old veterans marching, followed by a trumped playing, and then two minutes of silence while old black and white war photos appeared on screen.

The video lasted a grand total of six minutes, from 10:56 to 11:02. Then it was back to regularly-scheduled programming already in progress.

What was so important that it couldn’t be pre-empted more than two minutes for Remembrance Day?

The View.

Yeah, that Barbara Walters female-panel talk show. And it’s not like it’s a special episode or something. No, when CTV cut to it, it was in the middle of a conversation on interracial dating.

The cut was half-assed at the beginning, too. The video cut into the Marilyn Denis show (an original CTV production) in mid-sentence, while they were discussing some fashion makeover. This bothered me a bit more because there’s no simultaneous substitution argument. Rather than simply cancel the show for a day, or make it four minutes shorter, or have four fewer minutes of advertising, they let it run as normal and just cut into it.

It’s not like this is breaking news they didn’t know was going to happen. Remembrance Day is not a surprise.

It’s a stunning lack of respect for the viewers of both programs, but that seems pale in comparison to how it treats veterans.

Every year, we get news stories about malls refusing access to veterans to sell their poppies, followed a day or two later by a follow-up story saying the mall’s management had changed its mind or that there was a misunderstanding. This year we had stories about people stealing poppy boxes. Each time the news is met with outrage.

Every year, news anchors and reporters wear the poppy religiously, knowing a failure to do so could result in the wrath of viewers.

And here we have CTV, which couldn’t be bothered to carry more than six minutes of Remembrance Day coverage because of two entirely forgettable daytime talk shows. It’s not like it would have cost them anything, since they were already producing special coverage for CTV News Channel.

Where’s the outrage?

How the networks covered Remembrance Day

  • CBC: A two-hour special on the main network and CBC News Network
  • Radio-Canada: A two-hour special on the main network and RDI
  • CTV: Six minutes on the main network, live coverage on CTV News Channel
  • Global: A one-hour live special, plus a half-hour documentary on Canada’s last WWI veteran
  • TVA: No live special on main network (outside of regular news coverage). LCN checked in with ceremonies occasionally as it would car crashes or other stories
  • V: An infomercial
  • Télé-Québec: Nothing
  • Sun News: Full live coverage
  • CPAC: Full live coverage
  • Assemblée nationale: Business as usual, minus a moment of silence at 11am
(Not being able to watch a dozen channels at once, it’s possible I missed brief acknowledgments of Remembrance Day from some of these stations. If you saw one, let me know.)

The radio stations weren’t much better. While CBC and Radio-Canada had moments of silence (which is eerie and confusing on radio), commercial music stations treated the matter briefly. CKBE 92.5 marked the passing of 11am with a call to remembrance, and CJFM 95.9 had a moment of silence (which lasted no more than 30 seconds).

CTV Two: The second-rate brand

BBC Two. ESPN2. CBC Radio 2. TSN2. And now Bell Media has added another broadcaster to the list of brands whose names literally scream out “second-rate stuff goes here”: A Channel/ATV will become CTV Two, they announced on Monday.

Of course, A Channel is a second-rate channel, carrying mostly American programming that CTV has the rights to but can’t fit into the main network’s schedule. And I wasn’t exactly crazy about the /A\ branding either, particularly because of how ungoogleable it was.

A poll apparently told Bell that CTV’s brand is the most trusted media brand in Canada, and so it has decided to use that brand to maximum effect. It can’t turn A Channel stations into CTV stations directly (most are too close to existing CTV stations), so it’ll impose its brand and add a number to it because they can’t think of anything better to name it.

Another change will be rebranding the newscasts as “CTV News” – so they’ll be indistinguishable from CTV newscasts in all the other markets. Whether viewers of the local stations want this is, of course, irrelevant. The decision comes from the top, using the same logic that killed the Pulse News brand in Montreal.

CTV seems to be implying that it will put more effort into the network than it has in the past, giving it higher-profile shows instead of third-rate crap. It promises “one monster acquisition to anchor the schedule” – which I guess means that they’re going to give the network a single hit show and otherwise keep the relationship between the two networks unchanged.

Using A as the sloppy-seconds network is the main reason it has never been profitable. And it will probably remain that way. But part of Bell’s deal with the CRTC when it purchased CTV’s assets was a commitment to keep the unprofitable A Channel stations running for another three years. So we’ll see this experiment continue whether or not it’s successful.

There may not be a lot of money for newscasts or original programming for the A stations, but apparently there’s plenty of money to keep rebranding this network every few years. Hopefully whoever came up with the stupid name and cheap logo didn’t get paid too much.

UPDATE (June 2): The announcement of CTV Two programming for this fall contains little of interest. Certainly no “monster acquisition” I can see.

The convergence utopia

An updated chart can be found here.

It probably doesn’t matter to most people that Bell Canada’s parent company BCE announced on Friday that it was buying 100% of CTV. Bell already owned 15% of it, and had previously acquired CTV back in 2000 as part of a similar convergence play.

Ah, convergence. It’s been the buzzword in the big media companies for the past decade or so, with all the acquisitions that have taken place. Bell, a phone company, started up a satellite TV service, a DSL Internet service, and got into the broadcasting game in one giant swoop by acquiring CTV the first time, along with a growing number of TV specialty channels.

Rogers, which had a head start on the convergence business being a broadcaster, cable provider and wireless company, added a baseball team, other cable and wireless providers, and broadcasting assets including the sloppy seconds of the CTV/CHUM acquisition.

Quebecor, once a commercial printer and newspaper owner, bought a TV network, a cable and Internet service provider, and an entire newspaper chain.

Canwest, once a small television broadcaster, built up a national television network, bought a high-profile newspaper chain and a media company with a truckload of specialty channels. Now it in turn (minus the newspapers) has been bought up by Shaw, a cable provider that acquired a satellite TV provider.

With Shaw’s acquisition of Canwest and Bell’s acquisition of CTV, a pattern is emerging where each of the corporate empires has a TV provider, a wireless service, an Internet service, a national broadcast network, TV specialty channels, and maybe some radio and print assets on the side.

Shaw Quebecor Bell* Rogers
TV network Global TVA, Sun TV CTV, A Channel CityTV/OMNI
TV provider Shaw Cable/Shaw Direct Videotron cable/Illico Bell TV, Bell Fibe TV Rogers Cable
Internet Shaw Internet Videotron Bell Internet Rogers Internet
Wireless (Coming in 2011) Videotron wireless Bell Mobility, Virgin Mobile Canada Rogers Wireless, Fido, Chatr
Home phone Shaw cable VOIP Videotron cable VOIP Bell Canada Rogers home phone
Newspapers None Sun Media, Osprey Media Globe and Mail (15%) None
Other print None TVA Publications Report on Business Magazine Rogers Publishing (including l’Actualité, Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Canadian Business)
Specialty TV DejaView, Fox Sports World Canada, Global Reality, MovieTime, Mystery TV, TVtropolis, BBC Canada, BBC Kids, Discovery Health Canada, DIY Network, Food Network Canada, History Television, HGTV Canada, IFC Canada, National Geographic Channel Canada, Showcase/Action/Diva, Slice** LCN, Argent, addiktv, Yoopa, Les idées de ma maison, Prise 2, The Cave (51%) Business News Network, Comedy Network, CTV News Channel, TSN/TSN2, RDS, RIS, ESPN Classic, Discovery Channel (and related networks), BookTelevision, Bravo!, CP24, Comedy Gold (80.1%), FashionTelevision, MuchMusic (and related networks), Space, Star! Biography Channel, G4 Canada (66.67%), OLN, Rogers Sportsnet, Setanta Sports Canada (53.33%), The Shopping Channel
Radio None** None CHUM radio network (about 35 stations including CKGM Team 990 in Montreal) About 50 stations
Online publications None Canoe.ca Sympatico.ca 12 assets, including sweetspot.ca
Other TVA Films, Archambault, Super Club Videotron The Source Toronto Blue Jays, Rogers Centre

*For the purpose of this chart, we’ll assume that the Bell purchase of CTVglobemedia goes through as advertised.

**Many people point to the Shaw family’s control of Corus Entertainment to suggest that Corus is unofficially a subsidiary of Shaw Communications. But if you think that way, you can add a bunch of specialty channels and radio stations to the Shaw column.

Filling the holes

Rather than worry too much about a telecommunications company wanting to spend billions on media assets when just about all media assets are falling in value, the business world is wondering: What’s next? Where is the next big acquisition or merger that puts a fifth column on that table?

Telus is the big name on everyone’s lips, because they have the audacity to just be a telecom company at the moment and therefore have a “content gap”. But Telus says they won’t get in this game.

Besides, there are other options. Just connect the dots as you like:

Telecom

  • Telus (wireless, home phone, TV, Internet)
  • EastLink (cable, Internet)

Publishing

Broadcasting

Telecom and broadcasting

There’s also plenty of regional telecom companies, small newspaper publishers, book publishers and specialty TV channel owners that can be scooped up and disappear into the large conglomerates.

How this screws us over

“Today our three largest cable competitors are fully integrated and clearly we are not prepared to buy our content from our competitors”

That quote comes from a conference call that Bell had shortly after announcing the deal to buy CTV. The basic premise behind this deal isn’t that CTV is going to make Bell a lot of money by being a profitable business unit, but rather that CTV’s content will be a bargaining chip to get people to use Bell’s services.

Recently, Rogers launched a new TV channel called Sportsnet One. Even though it’s only available on Rogers cable (it hasn’t negotiated carriage on the other providers yet), Rogers decided to move Toronto Blue Jays games to Sportsnet One in order to get people to subscribe to the new channel. Since Rogers owns the baseball team, the television channel and the cable provider that carries it, it’s the ultimate convergence play.

And it’s royally screwing over Blue Jays fans.

Analysts don’t think Bell will be using blackmail to get people to switch over to its services. But they could. Want to watch NHL games on your mobile phone? You can’t unless you’re with Bell. Want TVA shows on demand? You can’t unless you have Videotron illico. Anything these companies can buy exclusive rights for, they will do it. The only things keeping them from forcing you to subscribe to a particular telecom in order to get some content are the CRTC (which doesn’t regulate mobile or online content) and business models that see more profits in maximum exposure than short-sighted consumer blackmail.

It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for one of these companies to pull some move that, like Sportsnet One, requires using a particular service to get something that used to be widely available. And if one company does that (and it’s successful), the others would probably follow. We could be a couple of years away from a country where you need to buy redundant services in order to get the content you want.

Save our local TV from … us?

Remember that “Save Local TV” campaign by the broadcasters who wanted us to convince the CRTC to force the cable and satellite companies to give money to TV broadcasters? And the corresponding “Stop the TV Tax” campaign from the cable and satellite companies to pressure the CRTC the other way? Well, since that campaign, Shaw took control of Global TV and BCE is about to take control of CTV. Quebecor, which owns both TVA and Videotron, didn’t participate in either campaign.

Bill Brioux remembers those campaigns, and is particularly pissed that a TV network with a “broken business model” just sold for billions.

They’re still arguing against each other at the moment, but how long can we expect that to last?

And there’s other concerns too. John Bowman points out that there’s little incentive to invest in quality broadcast equipment. And Iain Marlow suggests this may make it easier for the government to relax foreign ownership restrictions.

This kind of stuff will come up at the CRTC hearings into the takeover, though I’m doubtful that the commission will put up a major roadblock to it, despite opposition from opponents to media concentration.

It won’t work … or maybe it will

The biggest negative opinion about this deal is the simple argument that CTV won’t be a profitable venture for Bell any more than it was a decade ago. That’s what David Olive says, it’s what Howard Bernstein says, and Torstar (which sells its stake in CTV) is playing this up as a win for them, as is the Globe and Mail, which is breaking off (mostly) from the empire.

To be fair, some like the Globe’s Derek DeCloet believe this might make sense, pointing out that the price isn’t as ridiculously high as it was 10 years ago. Other analysts agree.

One of those sides will be proven right in a few years. Let’s hope, for the sake of consumer choice and healthy corporate competition, that bigger isn’t better.

Polish woman wants to save local Canadian TV

Continuing my research into the origin of stock photos, I should point out that CTV’s Local TV Matters site makes generous use of microstock.

This woman with a bullhorn, which used to adorn its splash page, is from a stock photographer based in Poland.

And that giant “on air” sign is from a 3D animator. It even comes with an off-air version, or one that says “vacancy”. There’s no French version, though, which forced CTV to kind of awkwardly photoshop their own.

Save local TV!

A dose of reality in the TV debate

Half-page ads from Global Montreal appearing in The Gazette

Half-page ads from Global Montreal appearing in The Gazette

CKMI, Global Montreal (formerly Global Quebec) has been heavily advertising the fact that it’s now finally on the Bell TV (formerly Bell ExpressVu) network, on channel 234.

Station manager Karen Macdonald says that after 12 years on the air, CKMI finally got added to the dial in late August. CFCF and CBMT have enjoyed places on the dial for years now, and this absence has always been a sticking point for the station. So, she says, “we are very happy.”

The reason is obvious: Quebec has a large number of satellite TV subscribers, and this move will give the station a much broader reach, which would translate into higher advertising revenues.

Bell TV isn’t paying them a dime to “sell” their signal. They’re stealing it. And Global couldn’t be happier.

Continue reading

CTV owes its viewers an apology

Dave Carroll, the guy who did the United Breaks Guitars video, produces a song about the evil cable companies paid for by CTV. It has aired in full (without explanation) at the end of local newscasts across the CTV network for two days in a row, as if reinforcing the idea that local stations have little say in local programming. You can download the video here.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, CTV held a 45-minute news conference in Toronto to make its case for “saving” local television by getting Canadians to support them and support their request (now with CBC and Global) before the CRTC. The complete video is on CTV’s website. It started off by using CKX-TV Brandon as an example, making me wonder if proving a point in this campaign wasn’t a big reason that CTV decided to pull the plug on the station so quickly. It also included the presentation of two new commercial spots (both of which are comically bad), and ended with the Dave Carroll video above.

Scanning through the TV channels, I found it covered live on only one. It wasn’t CPAC, of course, it was CTV News Channel, which cut away from Dan Matheson’s show for almost 25 minutes to air these talking heads live. Matheson cut it off just before noon only so he could finally throw to commercials. Before he did, there were three questions from the audience – all from television broadcasters with clear interests here (one was from CityTV, which isn’t part of the coalition only because its owner Rogers is more interested in protecting cable revenue than television revenue – the videographer asked if this is a political campaign by broadcasters, and got them to admit that yes, it was).

When CTV News Channel returned, there was no discussion of the topic, no response from cable and satellite companies, and no attempt was made to provide the other side of the debate (even though it’s being clearly stated). This despite the fact that the 25-minute presentation included facts that are clearly in dispute, included two commercials (which were not shot by a CTV cameraman pointing at a screen, but fed directly to air), and an admission from CTV itself that this was a political campaign.

It was only at 1 p.m., an hour and a half after the press conference began, that Dan Matheson brought in Phil Lind of Rogers and grilled him for five minutes on the cable company’s response. A 25-minute news conference with embedded advertising presented without question versus a five-minute interview with a skeptical news anchor is apparently considered balanced to CTV.

Just after noon on CFCF’s local newscast, a brief about the news conference was presented by anchor Todd van der Heyden. Again, CTV’s statements were presented without question, no attempt was made to present the other side of the debate, and viewers were encouraged to visit CTV’s Local TV Matters website as if it was some reliable source for more information instead of a propaganda campaign by the corporate office.

CTV started by airing one-sided ads on its networks, then holding “open houses” and leveraging local TV personalities to amass large crowds to pretend there’s some huge support for their political cause. They aired one-sided reports from local journalists scaring people into supporting them. Now, it seems, they’re presenting a news conference (at which nothing new was said) as if it’s breaking news.

CTV is continuing to abuse the public trust, and using its power over journalists it employs to get them to ignore journalistic ethics and bias themselves in favour of their employer.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with CTV’s campaign, or with fee for carriage, or that local TV is in trouble, or that cable and satellite companies are making too much money. CTV News has a duty to present a fair picture to its viewers, and it is intentionally failing to do so.

This is what you want us to save?

UPDATE: Bell and Rogers respond with a press release saying they give plenty of money to Canadian television.

Battle of the fee-for-carriage misinformation campaigns

The battle for “fee for carriage” – forcing cable and satellite TV providers to hand over money to over-the-air broadcasters – is getting ugly.

A few weeks after CTV got Global and the CBC to join its “Save Local TV” campaign (now rebranded “Local TV Matters“), Bell (which owns the largest satellite TV provider) and Rogers (which owns Rogers Cable) have launched the counter-campaign Stop the TV Tax. Both websites feature “facts” pages with incredibly misleading arguments and statistics about the business model of television, and both are racing against the clock to get people to support their side in upcoming CRTC hearings on the fee for carriage issue.

Notably absent from either side is Quebecor, which owns the TVA television network (and Sun TV station in Toronto) but also the Videotron cable service. CityTV, the other notable absence on the broadcaster side, is owned by Rogers, which has clearly picked the other side in this debate.

The “TV tax” website has prompted CTVGlobeMedia to respond by calling it “misinformation”, while in the same release saying that cable companies are charging Canadians for conventional television, which is demonstrably false.

While CTV et al’s claims are suspect, the Rogers and Bell throw up some doozies of their own, including fantom quotes saying incorrectly that this is a “one time” fee. Except nobody said fee for carriage would be a one-time fee, and the website provides no source for this supposed quote. They also claim that conventional broadcasters had profits of $400 million last year, but the CRTC put that number at only $8 million (down from over $100 million) when it released statistical data in February. (UPDATE Oct. 6: I asked the Stop the TV Tax people about this, and they pointed to a Canwest quarterly report and an opinion piece about CTV, neither of which break down profit by conventional vs. specialty channels, and on Global’s side the operating profit for its non-Alliance-Atlantis TV network – which still includes a half-dozen cable channels like MovieTime and TVtropolis – was about $40 million)

When it comes to choosing between greedy broadcasters and greedy cable and satellite companies, most informed Canadians would prefer to choose neither. These slick (and expensive) lobbying campaigns – just think of how much they’re spending to lobby the CRTC directly if they’re spending this much on us – only reinforces the fact that both sides have plenty of money to spare.

CKX, the TV station nobody wanted

The final moments of CKX-TV (the complete newscast starts here).

The news came suddenly: Bluepoint Investment Corporation said on Thursday that it would back out of a deal to buy CKX-TV in Brandon, Man., from CTV. CTV, which had threatened the station with closure if it couldn’t find a buyer, didn’t waste any time, announcing that Friday’s newscast would be its last and the station would go off the air at 7 p.m. All 39 employees are now unemployed, and the community of Brandon is left without a local commercial television station (only the cable community channel, and a community station in nearby Neepawa). While the Brandon Sun still provides reporting for the community, television news for the entire province of Manitoba now originates from Winnipeg.

The news is devastating and humiliating for CKX, which had been a pawn in a bad-faith sarcastic deal negotiated by way of newspaper advertisement between CTV and Shaw. The latter said it would buy the station and two others from CTV for $1 to convince the CRTC that local television did indeed have a profitable future. Then, when Shaw took a look at the stations, it decided it wasn’t such a good investment after all.

In July, the station’s hopes were raised again when Bluepoint came on the scene, with what seemed like a more serious offer (though for the same nominal amount of $1). But Bluepoint has come to the same realization as Shaw: small-market TV stations aren’t worth it.

Bluepoint’s official excuse is that they couldn’t get carriage guarantees from satellite companies, and since most people in the area get their TV that way, they desperately needed that. I’ll leave it as an exercise for readers to determine how much of the decision was satellite coverage and how much was Bluepoint realizing the true economics of conventional TV.

So CKX is off the air, its website replaced with a thank you message and a link to CTV’s “Local TV Matters” site (as if a message to everyone that more stations will fall unless local TV is saved). CTV had two stories on the closure, both of which mention the larger issue of conventional television and fee-for-carriage.

For those keeping score, here’s how the CTV and Canwest stations threatened with closure this year stand:

That’s three stations sold, two kept running and three shut down.

You may not agree with fee for carriage, or that the conventional television model is even broken, but small-market stations are closing down, and nobody is moving in to even rescue them from the trash heap.

CKX logo

Global, CBC join CTV’s “Save Local TV” campaign

A few months into its campaign to “Save Local Television”, CTV has managed to get its competitors CBC and Global to join its rebranded campaign “Local TV Matters” (there’s even a Twitter account!), trying to get public support for CRTC regulatory changes that would allow conventional television stations to charge cable and satellite companies for distribution of their signals.

The website’s FAQ lists PR-generated counter-arguments to some common complaints, but seems to ignore the history of conventional television and why it’s free in the first place.

Decades ago, before there was cable, conventional television was all there is. Most stations were locally-owned and had powerful transmitters to reach as many homes as possible. Revenue came from advertising, which was fine because everyone watched TV in primetime, and everyone watched the local news.

In the early days of cable, the specialty channels were low-budget affairs and highly specialized. Music videos on MuchMusic, live sports on TSN, non-stop weather updates on the Weather Network. Quality primetime programming came from the conventional networks like CTV, which was back then a cooperative of local stations. Local programming gave way to network (Canadian and U.S.) shows in primetime, but mornings and early evenings were still largely local affairs.

Canadian television network breakdown

The proliferation of specialty channels is a large part of why conventional television isn’t what it used to be. The audience is fragmented, and the conventional networks’ piece of the pie has diminished, along with advertising.

Specialty networks don’t have to provide local programming, though on the other hand they cannot accept local advertising and they cannot transmit over the air.

Now that more than 90% of Canadians have cable or satellite service, the advantage of over-the-air transmitters is outweighed by their cost. And because most advertising is national in scope, and targetted to specific demographics that specialty channels are better at reaching, that advantage too has disappeared.

What’s left to give conventional television stations an advantage is the programming itself. But while many people still watch the news, it’s not enough to pay for it. In very few markets does local news attract enough advertising revenue to pay for itself. So those newscasts (especially in smaller markets) have been drastically cut. Local news has been replaced by more pre-packaged news packages from the networks. Programming outside of the local newscasts has been all but eliminated.

So what can we do about this? Should we just shut down the conventional networks? Obviously the networks don’t agree with that idea, because conventional television is still making them money.

How about a government bailout? Consumers would be opposed to that, and it creates all sorts of problems (should broadcasters be paid equally, or based on the ratings of their newscasts?). Besides, there already is one in the form of the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a 1.5% tax on cable and satellite companies’ revenues that goes to help programming in small-market stations.

What CTV et al are proposing is that broadcasters and distributors negotiate a fair market value for carrying their stations. It’s not entirely clear what the details are, such as whether consumers would be able to choose which conventional television stations they would pay for (they could pay for none of them and just hook up the rabbit ears to get them free), or whether they would be forced to pay for them like we’re forced to pay for CBC Newsworld and CPAC whether we want to or not (such mandatory carriage would leave cable and satellite companies without a bargaining chip, making negotiation difficult).

It’s the economics, stupid

The networks’ prime argument in launching this campaign is this:

One of the campaign’s concerns is that cable and satellite providers continue to charge viewers for our services, yet they pay nothing to local television stations. However, Canadian cable companies pay U.S. cable channels in excess of $300 million a year for their services, and these cable channels are not required to produce any Canadian content. The campaign members are standing up to change this system because they believe local stations deserve fairness so viewers can continue to enjoy local television programming now and in the years to come.

The argument about channels like Spike and CNN not producing Canadian content is valid. Of course, the CRTC takes this into consideration when approving a U.S. channel for distribution here. U.S. networks aren’t allowed to compete with Canadian ones on (basic) cable, which is why we didn’t have MTV to compete with MuchMusic or HBO to compete with the Movie Network until Canadian versions of those channels launched recently.

But the comparison to conventional television is based on a faulty assumption. People don’t pay for conventional television stations as part of their cable bills. People get cable because they want CNN and Spike, not the local news. The bills for basic service cover the physical cable service as well as CRTC-mandated specialty channels like Newsworld and CPAC. Cable and satellite companies don’t charge consumers to give them local television stations, because you can’t charge people for something they already get for free.

The big irony of the argument is that the CRTC mandates that cable and satellite companies distribute local television stations as part of their basic service at the request of those television stations. In cable’s infancy, local TV wanted to be on cable to reach larger markets and get more advertising revenue. They even got the CRTC to guarantee they’d get the lowest spots on the dial, which back then were considered prime electronic real estate.

But I understand times change. Things are different now, the model is broken.

At least, they say the model is broken. CTV and Global haven’t released detailed financial reports showing how much money they’re losing on conventional television (or if they’re losing any at all). We have only their self-serving word to go on here.

The CRTC will be debating the future of local television in November.

Comments enabled

A side note about the “Local TV Matters” campaign: the website (which is WordPress-based) has open comments on its posts, and there’s already a lot of them from incredulous consumers asking why they’re being asked to pay more when their local programming is being cut to the bone. I’m a bit surprised the comments are still up there, and wonder what it will take for them to shut down dissenting consumer opinion.

CRTC Roundup: They saved local TV!

Well, not quite.

The CRTC on Monday decided to hike the fee (temporarily, at least) for its Local Programming Improvement Fund from 1% to 1.5% of cable and satellite provider revenues (revenues, not profits), which would give broadcasters an additional $32 million a year ($100 million total in the new fund) to devote to local programming.

You can see all its arguments in the official decision. It’s less than the 2.5% that a parliamentary committee suggested in June.

It’s a victory for broadcasters and a defeat for cable and satellite companies (and probably consumers). CBC is happy. Canwest is happy. CTV is happy. Bell is sad. Cogeco is sad (PDF). Rogers is sad. Videotron is sad. Bill Brioux is annoyed.

Especially when you consider how much the television industry is already subsidized through mandatory fees from cable and satellite companies (now 6.5% of their revenues) and funding from the government, all without us having a say in programming, you have to wonder whether it’s all worth it.

Best of all, the broadcasters say they need more.

The CRTC also released its conditions of license for one-year renewals for the major networks:

Many of the decisions below come from these renewals.

Finally, the CRTC has kicked the fee-for-carriage can (which was in turn kicked to them by a parliamentary committee) and other issues down the road to a hearing in September, where it will discuss that and other issues affecting broadcast television. The indication, however, is that the CRTC supports a fee-for-carriage idea, provided the fees are negotiated with broadcasters and cable/satellilte companies.

Harmonized local programming minimums

And how much more local programming will we be getting for all this extra money? We won’t! In fact, we’re getting less! Thanks to new “harmonized” minimum requirements, most stations in the country will now have to produce less local programming.

For English-language stations, the minimums will be 14 hours a week for large markets (Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver), and seven hours a week for smaller markets (including Halifax, Hamilton and Victoria), with some exceptions. This will mean reductions for CKMI (18 hours a week) and CFCF (15.5 hours a week). Stations with really high requirements might see massive cuts and layoffs. CHCH Hamilton, for example, has dropped from 36.5 hours to only seven, though they’re going to make a go at more local programming, at least in the short term.

For French-language stations (effectively just TVA since TQS has a special exception), it’s on a case-by-case basis:

  • CFCM (Quebec City): 18 hours a week, down from 21
  • CFER (Rimouski): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10
  • CJPM (Chicoutimi): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10
  • CHLT (Sherbrooke): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10

Independent stations owned by Radio-Nord (TVA Gatineau) and Télé Inter-Rives (SRC/TVA/TQS in Rivière du Loup, TVA in Carleton) maintain their current requirements.

Note that for French markets, only Montreal is larger than a million and is ineligible for LPIF funding.

In the same decision, the CRTC also rejected requests from broadcasters to eliminate requirements for priority programming (expensive dramas) and independent production (as opposed to in-house).

Global Quebec is now Global Montreal

After again rejecting union complaints that Global’s produced-out-of-Vancouver plan violates local programming requirements for Global Quebec (not saying it wasn’t in violation, only that there is “insufficient evidence” and it will “continue to monitor the situation”), the CRTC has approved a request to change CKMI from a Quebec City-based regional station to a local Montreal-based station.

CKMI-TV was once based in our provincial capital, but since it was purchased by Canwest and turned into a Global station it has effectively been headquartered in Montreal, with retransmitters in Quebec City and Sherbrooke (technically, the transmitter was in Quebec with a retransmitter, CKMI-TV-1, in Montreal). Global Quebec was licensed as a regional station, which meant it couldn’t take any local Montreal advertising. The license change makes it a local station which opens up that door (as small as it is) and allows the station to compete directly with CFCF and CBMT for local advertising.

A similar move was made for CIII, which is de facto Global’s Toronto station but was technically licensed to Paris, Ontario, which is west of Hamilton.

CJNT keeps ethnic minimum

A request from Canwest to relieve money-losing ethnic station CJNT Montreal of its ethnic programming requirement was denied. Canwest wanted 5 hours a week, but will be stuck at the original 13.5. Since the station is being sold, it won’t sadden Canwest too much to lose this battle.

Mandatory digital transition (or not?)

The CRTC recognized that some broadcasters are lagging behind in transitioning to digital. U.S. broadcasters were forced to make the switch last month (in a deadline that was delayed from February), but Canadians have until August 2011. The CRTC’s decision doesn’t suggest that this deadline will change for smaller markets (though it suggests perhaps a “hybrid model” may emerge), but it does say it “expects” that major markets will make the transition. It released a list of markets larger than 300,000 it “expects” will do so without complaint, and says it will discuss the issue further in September. The list includes Montréal, Quebec, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, Rivière-du-Loup, Saguenay, Ottawa-Gatineau, territorial and provincial capitals and large cities across Canada. Essentially any market with more than one station.

The issue (which also includes whether there should be U.S.-style subsidies for converter boxes) will be dealt with again in September.

CTV-Shaw rejects get renewed

Even though Shaw’s offer to buy them has fallen through, the CRTC has renewed licenses for CKX-TV in Brandon, Man., CHWI-TV in Wheatley/Windsor, Ont., and CKNX-TV in Wingham, Ont., for another year, despite CTV’s request that they be terminated. They’re still expected to shut down in August, although CTV says it is “reviewing” CHWI in light of the new funding. UPDATE: CTV says it will continue operating CHWI until Aug. 31, 2010. CKNX will be converted into a retransmitter, and CKX is still being shut down.

Other CTV stations which had the bare minimum of local programming have been relicensed as strictly retransmitters only:

  • CKCO-TV-3 Oil Springs (Sarnia), Ont.
  • CFRN-TV-3 Whitecourt, Alta.
  • CFRN-TV-4 Ashmont, Alta.
  • CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer, Alta.

No copy-copy

Separate requests from Canwest and Rogers to allow them to duplicate content on E!/Global and City/OMNI respectively were denied by the CRTC. The stations (CHAN-TV Vancouver/CHEK-TV Victoria, CIII-TV Toronto/CHCH-TV Hamilton, and City/OMNI pairings in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) are currently limited to 10% overlap since they are stations with the same owner in the same markets. Requests to be relieved of that restriction were denied.

City stays special

In addition to allowing more overlap between City and OMNI, Rogers asked to be allowed to redirect “priority programming” money (money for expensive Canadian dramas) into local programming, and remove an unusual requirement at City to air Canadian feature films. Both were denied. The Globe has a story.

CHOI News Talk?

RNC Media has applied to the CRTC for a license amendment for CHOI-FM in Quebec City, which would change it from an alternative rock format to 50% spoken word. CHOI has a rather rocky past with the CRTC.

Radio was doing OK last year

The CRTC has released financial statistics of Canadian radio stations (taken as a whole). Looking at all of Canada and Quebec in particular, the numbers are fairly stable on both sides of the balance sheet. Of particular note is AM radio in Quebec, which shows significant losses year after year while the rest of the country just about breaks even.

Asians Asians Asians!

Asian Television Network has gotten approval for a slew of new specialty channels:

Another two networks – ATN Multicultural Channel and Commonwealth Broadcasting Network – were denied, as their nature was judged to be too broad for a specialty service.

ATN announced on Tuesday that nine channels, including some of the ones above, will premiere on Rogers Cable in the fall. The channels are being renamed to more interesting names.

CHEAR!

Ultimate Indie Productions has received authorization to start a specialty channel devoted to emerging Canadian Artists called CHEAR! (and CHEAR! HD)

Ashes to ashes, SCREAM to DUSK

Corus is rebranding its SCREAM! horror channel to DUSK, and expanding its niche to include “paranormal” and “supernatural” stuff that might not be so scary. I guess this means more X-Files? The change takes effect on Sept. 9 (09/09/09, as if that’s scary or paranormal or something).

In other news

  • TVA got a slap on the wrist (hell, not even that) for failing to meet expectations regarding airing of Canadian films and closed-captioning. The CRTC “expects” they’ll meet those requirements in the future, or else they’re going to get a sternly-worded letter, I guess.
  • The Globe and Mail is reporting that Al-Jazeera English may be close to approval as a specialty channel.
  • CPAC has gotten approval for a license amendment that would allow it to broadcast non-CPAC-sounding stuff like music on Canada Day every year. Now it can let loose in an explosion of patriotism on July 1.
  • Vision TV has given up and is now asking viewers to figure out its programming.
  • Cogeco has asked to move its transmitter for CFGE-FM (Rhythme FM) in Sherbrooke and increase its transmitter power to improve reception.
  • MusiquePlus has gotten authorization to hand over its 3.4% of revenues required for the production of Canadian music videos to MaxFACT instead of VideoFACT. The difference is mainly that MaxFACT is what MusiMax gives its money to and this would simplify things for them. The request got an intervention from ADISQ which was concerned that there would be less money for youth-oriented music videos as well as those from Quebec anglophones. MusiquePlus responded that it has no control over the procedures used by MaxFACT to allocate it money.
  • The CRTC is mad at CHRC in St. Catharines for violating a number of conditions of its license. There is, of course, no actual penalty associated with such violations as long as you promise not to do it again.
  • The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has dismissed a complaint against CJMF-FM in Quebec City regarding a promotion related to driving while on a cellphone. The CBSC concluded that the station was not, in fact, advocating that people drive while illegally talking on a cellphone without a hands-free device.

MJTV

CTV is planning two hours of coverage of the Michael Jackson memorial service Tuesday afternoon, cutting out regular daytime programming. That’s nothing compared to the hours upon hours of coverage planned for CTV News Channel, MuchMusic, CP24 and other CTV-owned networks.

Could you imagine such a thing being done for a Canadian celebrity? It certainly wasn’t done for Romeo Leblanc, a former governor general. Or this kind of special-event programming on any kind of local level? Except for elections, local stations haven’t cut into programming since the Dawson shootings in 2006.