Tag Archives: local television

How the CRTC screwed over community television to save local news

It’s a new dawn in local television. CTV Montreal has a new 5pm weekday newscast, City Montreal is preparing to launch evening news at 6pm and 11pm, and ICI is getting an infusion of cash thanks to OMNI’s successful bid for mandatory distribution at 12 cents per month per subscriber.

It’s a big enough change that I was asked to write about it for the Montreal Gazette. That story leads Saturday’s Culture section.

But while the new investments are great news for people who like local television (and, indirectly, people like me who like writing about it), there’s a big loser in this that isn’t getting discussed much: community television. The additional money going into local news is coming straight out of their pockets.

Let’s not talk TV

When the CRTC announced it was undertaking a long consultation process it called Let’s Talk TV, proponents of non-profit community television were excited about the prospect of finally bringing their issues to the forefront. A complaint from the independent group ICTV against Videotron’s community channel was in progress (the commission would later find that MAtv had failed to respect its licence conditions in terms of giving enough access to people from the community). And there was a growing opinion that community channels were not fulfilling their mandate.

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations and other groups filed complaints about other television providers that they felt were doing the same things to their community channels, ignoring their commitments to community access and using their funds to produce professional broadcasts and give side jobs to people affiliated with the company.

But the Let’s Talk TV process didn’t talk much about community television, and when it led to its first decisions in January 2015, the commission decided to kick the can down the road on community television, announcing it would begin a separate process to consider that. And that process would also include discussions of local news.

As expected, a review of the community television process was hijacked by discussions of local commercial television. People were more concerned about whether their local station would stay on the air or how long their local newscast would be than how their local Rogers TV or Shaw TV would be funded.

And the complaints about community channels still haven’t been properly evaluated, years later. That will happen at a hearing on the renewals of their licences, scheduled for October.

Provider TV

Let’s step back a bit and look at what community television is and has become in Canada.

Since 1971, the CRTC has required cable television providers to support community channels. Back then, television equipment was very expensive, very large and hard to obtain and operate. Community access was the only way many people could see themselves on television and communicate with the public through video. Cable companies would set up studios at their head ends and let people from the community broadcast on a special channel they set up.

Since the turn of the millennium, the situation has changed. Getting access to equipment isn’t the biggest problem — as the CRTC says, “many Canadians now carry an HD camera in their pocket in the form of their smartphone” — editing can be done on a home computer, and distribution is much easier thanks to YouTube and other free online services.

Instead, over the past decade, the issue has been more about money.

All cable television providers are required to spend 5% of their gross revenues on Canadian programming, but most are allowed to redirect some of that money to a community channel rather than simply hand it over to a fund like the Canada Media Fund. Most large terrestrial television providers do this because it allows them to keep control of that money, create a service that’s seen to do a public good, and provide added value for subscribers.

Critics might point out some other benefits, such as billing yourself for Internet access and providing side jobs for your employees. (The CRTC limits such overhead costs, but there isn’t a bright line that says you can’t be a supplier to your own community channel.)

Since 1991, the amount of money allowed to be redirected to community channels has been capped at 2% of gross revenues. Though there were many exceptions (small cable companies could devote the full 5% to a community channel, and companies that offered community channels in each official language could devote 2% to each one).

It might not seem like much, but when you have more than a million subscribers paying more than $50 a month, that’s a million dollars a month right there going to community TV.

As budgets for community TV grew, and technology advanced, they started to get more ambitious in terms of programming. Some even started broadcasting professional sports until the CRTC put a stop to that. (The ban doesn’t affect junior sports, and many junior hockey league matches are still broadcast on community channels.)

Community television is in an odd place because on the one hand it’s supposed to be volunteer-driven but on the other hand it’s required to spend money on programming. The pressure has always been there to keep the cable-access stuff to a minimum so more popular professional-looking programming can entice people to buy or keep their cable subscriptions.

And there was the added benefit of using community channel money to benefit related productions and personalities. Bell’s TV1 had shows linked to The Amazing Race Canada, the Much Music Video Awards, the Montreal Canadiens, The Social and eTalk. Videotron’s MAtv had side projects for such Quebecor personalities as Sophie Durocher, Louise Deschâtelets and Dominic Arpin.

This is a big part of the reason why CACTUS and others wanted community television taken out of the hands of big cable providers and put into the hands of non-profit community groups. But the CRTC has repeatedly resisted that effort, believing that the cable companies have the best resources available to provide high-quality community programming on a sustainable basis.

“Flexibility”

In 2010, the commission decided to freeze contributions to community channels. It found that the amount of money going to community television had almost doubled in a decade, and “although the Commission acknowledges that various metrics can be used to evaluate the success of community channels, it nonetheless considers that overall viewing to community channels remains modest relative to the growth in contributions to this sector.” Rather than cut the funding down, though, it decided to freeze it. Existing television providers would be capped at their 2010 levels until those dropped to 1.5% of revenues, and then they would stay at 1.5%.

In June 2016, the CRTC released its new policy on local and community television. There, it cut the contribution from 2% to 1.5%.

But the bigger blow was their decision to allow distributors the “flexibility” to redirect funds from community channels to their affiliated local stations to spend on local programming. For Canada’s five largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton), that redirection could be 100%, since the CRTC believed that people in those areas “have access to many media sources on television and radio, as well as online and in print, that provide community reflection.” For smaller areas, at least 50% of that money would still need to be spent on community television.

By the CRTC’s estimate, $65 million a year could be redirected from community channels to local stations owned by the major vertically integrated companies.

But what about independent stations? Where do they get additional money?

To help out most of them, there was already a fund called the Small Market Local Production Fund, funded by Canada’s satellite TV providers. The CRTC transformed that into the Independent Local News Fund, adjusted its admission criteria to include larger-market stations like CHCH in Hamilton and the V stations in Quebec and Montreal (while excluding small-market stations owned by the media giants), and required cable companies to contribute into the fund. Everyone kicks in 0.3% of revenues to support independent stations.

So in the end, all independent stations get extra money from this fund, and non-independent stations get funded through TV providers who share the same owner.

News pro quo

In exchange for the extra money, there were new requirements for local stations:

  • In addition to the amount of local programming they have to air each week (still set at 14 hours for major-market stations and 7 hours for smaller ones, with some exceptions), they must air a certain amount of locally reflective news programming as well — six hours in large markets, three in smaller ones.
  • There’s also a financial requirement for investment in local news: 11% of gross revenues for local television stations must be devoted to locally reflective news. (This number, proposed by the three English networks, is based on previous spending on local news.)

For community stations, even though they got less money, there were stricter regulations imposed to ensure that the money they did get was spent correctly:

  • Starting this year, cable companies must spend 60% of their community channel allocations on direct programming expenses. That rises in increments and reaches 75% after 2020.
  • Diverse citizen advisory committees are required in Canada’s five largest markets.
  • Rules on what qualifies as access programming have been tightened to stress that the community member that initiates a project must have creative control, and “is neither employed by a (TV provider) nor a media professional who is known to the public or who already has access to the broadcasting system.” They also can’t profit from the show (by turning it into a de facto infomercial for their business, for example).

The changes took effect on Sept. 1 after being formally approved as amendments to the regulations and enshrined in TV stations’ conditions of licence.

But most companies didn’t wait that long to make major changes:

  • Rogers closed some Rogers TV community stations and cut back at others in the greater Toronto area.
  • Shaw closed Shaw TV in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, eliminating 70 positions and sending $10 million to Global TV stations.
  • Videotron cut the budget of MAtv by 25%, reflecting the drop of the maximum deduction from 2% to 1.5%. (There hasn’t been an announcement of any redirection of funds to TVA stations.) The cuts meant the cancellation of Montreal Billboard, a weekly series featuring interviews with local community groups. MAtv director Steve Desgagné told me the decision to cut that program was strictly budgetary.
  • Bell made serious cuts at its TV1 community channels, which operate in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. It declined to provide specifics when I asked.

The result

It’s hard to evaluate the impact on community television by looking at programming, because much of that programming is short-term projects. But you can expect less programming, and especially less of the non-access local programming produced directly by the cable companies, particularly in the larger markets, as a result of these changes.

On the TV side, Bell’s CTV and Rogers’s City have both announced new expansions of local news, both to make use of these new funds and to meet the new locally reflective news requirements. Global has been non-specific about how it’s using the additional money.

What definitely won’t change is the strongly held belief among supporters of community television that cable access needs to be less cable and more access.

Global, City TV withdraw demands to reduce local programming minimums in Montreal

Corus Entertainment, which owns Global TV, and Rogers Media, which owns City TV, have each decided that in light of recent changes in local television policy, they are willing to accept the requirement that their stations in Montreal produce the standard 14 hours per week of local programming, and have withdrawn requests that their quota be reduced to 10 or seven hours a week.

The requests came as part of a proceeding to renew licences for Canada’s major television broadcasters. The large groups all have their licences expiring in 2017, and the CRTC is holding a public hearing in November to discuss what conditions should be in their renewed licences for over-the-air television and specialty channels.

Bell Media proposed no such changes for CFCF-DT, which is the market leader in the city and whose local newscasts often have a market share above 50%. But even the #1 broadcaster warned about the failing business model of local television, and said that for its network “at this time, we can only commit to the current local programming requirements and even these regulatory minima may need to be revisited once the Commission’s decision on local programming is released.”

Normally, television stations in “metropolitan” markets of more than 1 million people are required to broadcast 14 hours of local programming every week, while stations in smaller markets are required to broadcast seven.

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Shaw wants to reduce Global Montreal’s local programming requirement

Later this month, the CRTC will hold a hearing looking into the future of local and community television. Included in that review will be a look at how much local programming local television stations should produce, and what that should be.

The proceeding has attracted thousands of pages of comments, including from Canada’s major broadcasters.

Shaw Media, which owns Global TV, filed comments in which it unsurprisingly defended its model for local news, which involves local newscasts not only being produced and directed outside of local markets, but anchored there as well.

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Another step in Global’s faking of local news

When Global TV decided to have late-night and weekend newscasts for its less popular markets anchored out of Toronto, it described it as an innovation, a way to increase local news instead of reducing it.

The day before it began in Montreal, it was described as something that will “allow for more local news gathering in the field.”

While it’s still early to judge something so new, after watching a few episodes of the newscast, I think I can at least evaluate Global’s promise of “more local news gathering”, at least as far as it concerns those newscasts:

It’s total bullshit.

The amount of local news gathering is about the same on weekends. What’s different is that it’s now presented by an anchor who has at best a vague understanding of the local market. Not that one is necessary for most of the show because after the first 10 minutes or so it stops reporting on local news.

Let’s break down the newscasts to explain this.

glb-intro

The show starts with the usual teasers and an announcer saying “From the Global News Centre, the Evening News with Kris Reyes.”

Global’s use of green-screen virtual sets means Global can make Reyes appear to be anywhere just by inserting the word “Montreal” behind her in a computer.

glb-skyline

The same goes for the Montreal skyline inserted behind her at the desk when she presents more local news. It almost looks like she’s in the Global Montreal studio.

glb-backdrop

Coming back from the first commercial break, the background changes. Suddenly she’s in front of a control room that has lots of screens but no people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this corresponds to the part of the local newscast devoid of local news. Putting Reyes in a generic could-be-anywhere set allows Global to produce part of a newscast filled with national and international news and copy-paste it into local newscasts across the country.

This is similar to what they’ve done with the Morning News, which goes back and forth between local and national segments.

glb-weather

Another commercial break and we’re back to the Montreal cityscape, and an usual sight for Global, the weather presenter sitting at the anchor desk. This wasn’t possible before because the weather presenter has been in Toronto for years. Moving the anchor there too means they can be seen on camera together instead of in a double box.

Judging by the radar maps used, the weather segments appear to be recorded 1-2 hours before the newscast. That’s not much worse than before — because the weatherman was shared with Global Toronto, they were prerecorded before this change too. And weather forecasts don’t change that much in an hour (says the guy whose newspaper includes weather forecasts which, by the time anyone reads them, are at least 12 hours old).

glb-sports

Back to Generic Set, and Reyes introduces Megan Robinson doing the sports roundup. Previously, Global Montreal’s local newscasts didn’t have sports segments because they didn’t have sportscasters. (They’d do quick highlights of local games, but that’s about it.)

Of course, the Blue Jays are the top story. Even though Michael Sam had made history the previous night in an Alouettes game, neither Sam nor the game made the Aug. 8 sports roundup. But you’ll be happy to know that they got in a roundup of the Shaw Charity Classic golf tournament in Calgary.

glb-outro

After more time-filling news stories from elsewhere, Reyes does a goodbye that seems to be carefully generic so it can be copy-pasted anywhere. Heck, they could just rerun the same clip at the end of every newscast every day. She might not be wearing the same dress next time, but if viewers haven’t spotted all the other trickery going on, they probably won’t notice that.

glb-jackets

Finally, a 30-second collection of cityscape videos that appear to have been taken in the spring because people are wearing sweaters and winter jackets, we’re off to Global National.

The first newscast had two packaged reports from local reporters. I found this suspicious because normally there aren’t that many local resources available on weekends. Sure enough, the next weekend it was down to one local reporter.

Even with those two local reporters, the total amount of local news represented only six minutes of the local newscast. If you add the weather segments, which are also done out of Toronto, it goes up to 10.5 minutes. Add the 30-second cityscape montage to close the newscast (looks like the timing was off for the first show), and it’s 11 minutes, out of a 22-minute newscast.

Production-wise, the newscast went smoothly (aside from being a bit short). There were no technical errors or awkward silences or glitches that I could see. Having the newscast anchored out of Toronto didn’t seem to be that noticeable, except for the changing backdrops and the awkward pronunciations of French names and the use of terms like “Honoré Mercier” (for the Mercier Bridge) that are dead giveaways that someone isn’t from around here.

Day 2, 3…

For the first late newscast, it was much of the same, except that the sports segment began with a roundup of that night’s Montreal Impact game. A 22-second roundup. Followed by a minute and 20 seconds on the day’s Toronto Blue Jays game.

Day 2, the evening news started four minutes late because of golf, but still finished on time. The evening news sports segment consisted entirely of highlights of the Blue Jays game. At 11pm, it also included PGA golf and the Shaw tournament, and ran through a list of Quebec athletes who won medals at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

The second weekend is, I’m assuming, more representative of what we should expect from this newscast. I watched the Aug. 15 6pm newscast with a stopwatch and broke it down. Those elements in bold are local stories:

  • 0:00-0:43 Intro
  • 0:43-3:00 Billy Shields on missing man
  • 3:00-3:24 Accident brief
  • 3:24-3:42 Lane closures brief
  • 3:42-4:34 Horses brief (SOT)
  • 4:34-4:58 PKP wedding brief
  • 4:58-5:36 Roosh V Toronto brief
  • 5:36-6:47 Weather short-term forecast
  • 6:47-7:40 Slide the City brief (SOT)
  • 7:40-8:06 Promos
  • 8:06-10:25 Commercials
  • 10:25-11:08 Trudeau on the campaign trail
  • 11:08-11:38 Fires in western Canada
  • 11:38-13:29 California drought/fires
  • 13:29-15:05 Beijing explosion
  • 15:05-15:35 Promos
  • 15:35-18:21 Commercials
  • 18:21-21:27 Weather forecast
  • 21:27-24:26 Sports with Anthony Bruno
  • 24:26-24:43 Promos
  • 24:43-27:53 Commercials
  • 27:53-29:30 Straight Outta Compton story from Florida
  • 29:30-30:00 Outro

Added up, this amounts to five minutes and eight seconds of local news. Add in the four minutes and 17 seconds of local weather, and you have 9:25 total in that half hour. Another 8:15 were commercials, 2:36 consisted of promos and the goodbye, 2:59 on sports, and the other 6:45 were national and international news stories. Broken down percentage-wise:

  • 17% local news
  • 14% local weather
  • 10% sports
  • 9% promos and filler
  • 22.5% national and international news
  • 27.5% commercials

When there’s more national and international news than local news, you wonder if it can really be called a local newscast.

Saturday’s late newscast was about the same, though it included a story about Michael Sam leaving football again. The story, whose original reporting consisted of a Skype interview, was reported by Jennifer Tryon out of Toronto.

If only all local news could be reported that way.

“Innovation”

This outsourcing of local news is just the latest step in a long process of saving money by centralizing work for small local stations. Even before the change, evening and late-night newscasts were produced in another city, with a weather presenter in Toronto and only local journalists and the local anchor in Montreal. And even before the change, much of these half-hour local newscasts, especially on weekends, were filled with reports from other Global markets or foreign news services.

And though the union has protested the whole way, the last time the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission looked at it, it passed on the opportunity to conclude that Global was no longer producing local programming.

Does the location of the anchor make much of a difference here? We might see the commission be forced to re-evaluate the situation. But it’s hard not to think the boat has already sailed here.

On one hand, Shaw Media is a private company, so it can do what it wants. If it wants to treat local news this way, it can. If it believes that copy-pasting prerecorded segments in Toronto results in a better product than a live local newscast made in Montreal, it can do that.

But on the other hand, it’s trying to sell us on the idea that it’s adding local newsgathering resources when it’s not, and more importantly it’s pretending to the CRTC that this constitutes 30 minutes of local programming when less than a third of it is in any way local.

I understand Shaw’s motivation. The late-night and weekend newscasts have poor ratings. (There wasn’t exactly any protest online when this change happened, because so few people were watching anyway.) And it is adding some resources, including a soon-to-launch noon local newscast.

But I don’t like being deceived, especially by journalists. And so much of this new system seems designed to deceive us into thinking that this is a local newscast when at best it’s half that. If you’re going to anchor a Montreal newscast out of Toronto, just be straight with us instead of using TV magic to try to hide it.

I get that local news doesn’t pay. But local programming is what broadcasters are expected to provide in exchange for the privileges that come with having a television station. If Global doesn’t want to do local news here, maybe it should consider some other form of local programming, or just offer the airtime to community groups that can offer something that truly reflects Montreal.

Because having a Toronto anchor introduce a story from Calgary and calling it local Montreal news is an insult to our intelligence.

The Toronto-produced Evening News and News Final air at 6pm and 11pm, respectively, on Saturdays and Sundays. The weeknight News Final will be similarly moved to Toronto starting in September. Global News at Noon starts Aug. 27.

News at Noon begins

Today was the first episode of News at Noon, a new half-hour local newscast that is produced out of Montreal. Jamie Orchard is the permanent host, but Camille Ross took over those duties today while staff is shuffled because of vacations.

glb-camille

The show had about what you’d expect from a noon newscast: two live hits from reporters in the field (morning reporter Kelly Greig and evening reporter Tim Sargeant), a packaged report from the previous night, and some briefs.

I won’t do a detailed breakdown because I suspect the first show might not be representative of what we should expect on a regular basis. I’ll wait until a future date to give this a more thorough evaluation. But it followed a formula similar to the weekend newscasts, with the first half of it local news and weather and the second half mainly national news and packages and video from other Global stations, particularly in western Canada.

Two of the briefs dated to Saturday, which is a bit of a stretch for a Monday noon newscast. Worse, Global failed to send a camera to the Péladeau-Snyder wedding in Quebec City, so it relied on TVA footage, photos posted to social media and file video of the couple attending Jacques Parizeau’s funeral instead.

Despite all this, it went better than I expected. The production was smooth and it felt more live and local than the stuff I’d been watching on the weekend. We’ll see if they can keep that up.

glb-jessica

I don’t know what hope this newscast can have against CTV News at Noon, which has far more reporting resources and viewer loyalty. But it’s better to have this than not to have it.

City won’t renew Only in Montreal (and won’t say why)

On Saturday at 7pm, City TV’s local lifestyle show will present three capsules, one each from its hosts Matt Silver, Tamy Emma Pepin and Dimitrios Koussioulas, as it airs its 30th episode. Which will also be its last.

Last month, Rogers Media confirmed to me that Only in Montreal is not being renewed past its first 30-episode run.

The news is disappointing because Only in Montreal, produced by Whalley-Abbey Media, was actually a really good show. It was well edited, well produced, fun and interesting, and introduced the city to three personalities they had known little of before. And it showcased the city in a way that has been missing on local television for far too long.

But what’s more disappointing is that the decision to cancel the show was made before the latest local TV ratings numbers came out. Since this was the first report since Only in Montreal came on the air last July, we can only conclude that the decision had nothing to do with ratings. And it’s tempting to further conclude that it therefore had nothing to do with the quality of the show.

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ICI launches, giving Montreal its 10th local television station

Afromonde host Henry Ngaka on his virtual set, as seen through a monitor in ICI's studio.

Afromonde host Henry Ngaka on his virtual set, as seen through a monitor in ICI’s studio.

As radio stations that were supposed to launch in 2013 seek delays in whole or in part because of technical problems, an independent startup television station has managed to get on the air just under a year after getting a licence from the CRTC.

ICI began airing regular programming on Wednesday morning, launching on Videotron at the same time. (Apparently on Bell Fibe it’s still “coming soon”.) And so I’ve written about it in this story, which appears in Wednesday’s Gazette, and this story, from a more technical and business angle, for Cartt.ca.

As I’ve been watching the channel on and off on Wednesday, I notice it’s been lacking a bit of regularity right out of the gate. There were long awkward seconds of dead air, at one point a single ad or video aired three times in a row, leading to eight minutes between actual programming.

The station has very little advertising to start with, limited to some ads that look more like sponsorship messages, including one from Mike FM, whose parent company CHCR produces the Greek program. As a result, commercial breaks are only a few seconds long, enough for a station ID, and the hour is backfilled with music videos or other short-form programming.

For the quality of the actual programming, I’ll wait until they’ve had a chance to air more of it (and even then I can’t comment much on content because I can’t understand the language most of the time), but my first impression is that it’s uneven. Some of it looks like the kind of long-form talking-head shows that fit the stereotype of low-budget ethnic TV. The only thing that’s different is that it’s in a green-screen set and in high-definition, and has flashier computerized graphics (though not quite as well produced as the stuff you’ll find on the big national broadcasters). The shows are better when they take their cameras out in the field, which they do and want to do more (at least when the weather is nice).

It’s considered a soft launch, without a major marketing push behind it, and it’s being run by a group of people who, while they have experience in television production, don’t have much experience running television stations.

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CBC’s new local TV shows debut Saturday; Sonali Karnick to host Our Montreal

Sonali Karnick will host Our Montreal, airing weekends on CBC television.

Sonali Karnick will host Our Montreal, airing weekends on CBC television.

During its last CRTC licence renewal hearing, the CBC committed to increasing the amount of local programming it airs on its stations in large markets, including Montreal, bumping it up to 14 hours a week, consistent with private stations in large markets.

But rather than just adding more newscasts, CBC also committed that for these markets, at least one hour a week would be non-news local programming. Even after their licence renewal was approved, the CBC couldn’t say what form that programming would take. And even after the new licence came into effect on Sept. 1, there was no announcement, just confirmation that the new program would be an hour a week repeated twice over the weekend.

So without a new show ready, CBC Montreal has met its requirements for non-news local programming since Sept. 1 by re-airing the Absolutely Quebec series produced this summer.

Finally, today, even though the new show has been on the electronic schedule for a week and a half, we’re just now getting information from the public broadcaster about what these new shows are.

Our Montreal

Here’s what we know so far. The new show is called “Our Montreal” (There’s also “Our Toronto”, “Our Ottawa”, “Our Calgary”, “Our Edmonton” and “Our Vancouver”, because local programming is still very much decided in Toronto). It’s an hour-long current affairs show, hosted by Sonali Karnick.

What will be on the show? According to the press release, it’s “the stories that made headlines and had everyone talking … weekly highlights plus a look behind the headlines on the issues everyone’s been buzzing about … the week’s top news stories plus timely features on books, health, one-on-one interviews and an interactive web column.”

The shows debut Saturday at 6am in every market — what kind of audience they can expect to get with this horrible time slot I have no idea* — and repeats at 11am on Sundays and 11am on Mondays.

Karnick will continue to host All in a Weekend on CBC Radio One in Quebec. Which means that her radio show and her television show will be on the air at the same time. Which also doesn’t make much sense.

I’ll be speaking with Karnick tomorrow for a story for The Gazette. I’ll ask her and others at the CBC about what they want the show to be, and which show she wants fans to listen to on Saturday mornings. If you have any other questions, let me know.

*Okay, I have some idea. Ratings for that timeslot show 1,700 viewers on average in Montreal last fall and spring. But will early risers for kids shows translate well into early risers (or insomniacs) among local current affairs watchers? We’ll see.

UPDATE: The story is here and in Friday’s paper. It goes into a bit of Karnick’s background, including her 2011 departure for Toronto and her quick return to Montreal. It also goes a bit into the timeslot. I never did get a very good answer, either from the local office or CBC nationally, about why 6am Saturday was chosen. Everyone reminded me that the show airs three times and is available online, and that some people are up that early on Saturday.

But while airing local shows at 6am is not unusual, it’s odd for that airing to be the premiere (unless it’s a three-hour morning show). Global Montreal used to repeat its evening newscasts at 6am the next day to meet CRTC local programming requirements. Some other stations elsewhere in Canada still do this, and even CTV Montreal has done it on occasion when pre-empted or cancelled newscasts have pushed it below its weekly minimum.

Maybe it’s just semantics here, and having a show air at 6am Saturday and repeat at 11am Sunday is no different from premiering at 11am and repeating at 6am.

But that 6am Saturday time slot still seems odd, especially because the Absolutely Quebec reruns were done at a much more reasonable hour of 11am or noon on Saturdays.

The press release

CBC Montreal launches “Our Montreal”: A weekly review program

Starting Saturday, October 12th on CBC Television

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 — Join CBC Television this Saturday, October 12 for Our Montreal an hour-long current affairs review program that looks at the best of Montreal.

“Each week, Our Montreal will bring you the stories that made headlines and had everyone talking,” says Shelagh Kinch, Managing Director, CBC Quebec “At CBC Montreal, we’re dedicated to sharing local stories and issues that matter to Montrealers. This program gives weekly highlights plus a look behind the headlines on the issues everyone’s been buzzing about.”

Hosted by Sonali Karnick, Our Montreal includes the week’s top news stories plus timely features on books, health, one-on-one interviews and an interactive web column.

“Montrealers love to boast about their city and what secret gems they’ve uncovered. And I’m no exception,” says Karnick. “It’s really a privilege to host this new program and talk about the people and places that make our city one of the best places to live.”

In addition to Our Montreal, Sonali Karnick will continue as host of All in a Weekend, Saturday and Sunday mornings, 6-9am (88.5/104.7FM). Our Montreal airs on Saturdays at 6 am on CBC Television with encore presentations on Sundays and Mondays at 11am.

The other shows

The CBC’s commitment applies to its stations in large “metropolitan” markets, which are defined as those in which the population “with knowledge of the official language of the station” is one million or more. The six largest metro areas in Canada each have a CBC station meeting this criteria. (The next largest is Quebec City, whose population is mainly French, and then Winnipeg, with a population of 730,018.)

  • Our Toronto, hosted by Marivel Taruc
  • Our Ottawa, hosted by Lucy van Oldenbarneveld
  • Our Calgary, hosted by Holly Preston
  • Our Edmonton, hosted by Adrienne Lamb
  • Our Vancouver, hosted by Gloria Macarenko

Jeanette Kelly looks at Quebec textiles in half-hour documentary airing tonight

CBC’s Absolutely Quebec series apparently isn’t just a summer thing. As the documentaries that premiered this summer get a second airing on weekends while the broadcaster prepares a new local current affairs show set to begin next month, a new half-hour documentary has been added, and it’s airing tonight.

Looming Large is described by the CBC as “a look at innovations in Quebec textiles at the crossroads of business, art and technology” and a “unique documentary about the future of textile in Quebec.” You can see a 30-second promo for the show here.

It’s hosted by Jeanette Kelly, who hosts CBC Radio’s 5 à 6 on Saturdays and was also host of An Evening with Janina Fialkowska, the first of this year’s Absolutely Quebec specials. It’s directed by Carrie Haber, who produces the Absolutely Quebec series and told me this week she’s starting work on discovering next year’s batch.

The Looming Large documentary airs Thursday at 6:30pm, right after the evening news, on CBC Montreal. It repeats Sunday at 11:30pm

Review: Only in Montreal is an entertaining window into the city’s life (but it needs a better timeslot)

Only in Montreal's cast: Matt Silver, Dimitrios Koussioulas and Tamy Emma Pepin

Only in Montreal’s cast: Matt Silver, Dimitrios Koussioulas and Tamy Emma Pepin

We’re seven episodes into the 30-episode first season of Only in Montreal, the weekly local lifestyle series that airs on City TV. That’s about a quarter of the way through, so it’s time for a review.

When it was first announced in April, I was surprised. This show wasn’t part of Rogers’s promise to the CRTC when it purchased CJNT from Channel Zero. Unlike its daily morning show and weekly sports show, this wasn’t part of the licence obligations, and it wasn’t necessary to meet a local programming quota.

As it turns out, the CRTC is a big part of the reason why this series was ordered, because of two recent decisions that set quotas on Rogers Media.

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CBC expands Sunday local newscasts starting Sept. 1

You'll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

You’ll be seeing more of Thomas Daigle soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, enjoy the Absolutely Quebec reruns.

Legends of Magdalen caps Absolutely Quebec’s 2013 season

When I chatted with Absolutely Quebec series producer Carrie Haber about her job, it was in the context of a story about the airing of the Parc Avenue Tonight special. But in discussing the series, it was clear there was another episode she seemed more excited about: Legends of Magdalen, a documentary about the hundreds of unexplored 19th-century shipwrecks near the Magdalen Islands.

That episode, the season finale for Absolutely Quebec, airs at 7pm on Saturday (and again at 3am Sunday) on CBC Montreal.

“It’s just spellbinding. It’s just a beautiful work about shipwrecks in the Magdalen Islands,” Haber told me.

She said the documentary came to her about a year ago. The film crew has been up to the islands three separate times to shoot, including going scuba diving. “They found a wreck that hadn’t been found before, dove down and discovered what was there. It’s a lovely reflection of what the Magdalen Islands is.”

This is the second year that Haber has been producing the Absolutely Quebec series for CBC Montreal. The Saturday evening one-hour specials, which run during the summer when there’s no hockey, are usually regional documentaries, but can include other types of programming as well, like Parc Avenue Tonight or the Short Stop series of short films. Haber’s involvement varies by the project, but usually involves dealing with the film’s producer to help them improve the story and then cut the resulting film down to 40 minutes for broadcast.

“My heart is in documentary after spending eight years at the NFB,” Haber said, while adding that she would like to see more drama and comedy on television that reflects the region. “Quebec has this opportunity of this multi-lingual multicultural place that it is, I think that’s great fodder for stories, and I don’t see that reflected.”

(You can read more about Haber’s views in the story I wrote for The Gazette.)

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Only in Montreal debuts Saturday

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media's office. This is where the three hosts set up their pieces with a discussion.

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media’s office. This is where the three hosts set up their pieces with a discussion.

Only in Montreal, the new weekly magazine show about Montreal city life, debuted Saturday night at 7pm on City Montreal. You can watch the first episode online.

Each half-hour episode of the series, which is produced by Montreal-based Whalley-Abbey Media (the folks behind those Debbie Travis and Chuck Hughes shows) features one piece each by hosts Matt Silver, Tamy Emma Pepin and Dimitrios Koussioulas, exploring some interesting facet of life in Montreal. Because the segments are shot months in advance (early segments were shot in April while it was still snowing), there’s nothing very topical on the show. The first episode has Silver exploring Montreal’s food trucks during a First Friday event at the Olympic Stadium, Pepin talking to Corey Shapiro of vintage sunglasses fame, and Koussioulas hanging out with the roller derby crowd.

I talk about the show and its hosts in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette.

Koussioulas vs. Koussioulas

You might have noticed that the debut of this show coincides with the airing of the Parc Avenue Tonight live show, also starring Dimitrios Koussioulas. In fact, they’re both on at the same time, as I point out in this short story, which features both CBC and Rogers downplaying the significance of introducing a new face and having him competing against himself.

The conflict has been known for months, and it’s hard to imagine with all the weeks and all the time slots they could have chosen, that this conflict isn’t somehow intentional. The official explanation from both sides is that the two shows have been in the works for months, and the schedules were set before they were aware of each other. And in any case it’s not a big deal.

But really, with months of advance notice, neither of these shows could have been moved by half an hour, or moved by a week?

I’m having a hard time buying that.

UPDATE: Because the Calgary Stampede ran way long, the local CBC newscast was pushed back by almost an hour, an episode of Marketplace was killed entirely, and still Parc Avenue Tonight was delayed by about 15 minutes. Maybe CBC should run it again some time.

CBC’s CRTC licence renewal: What’s changing in point form

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has just renewed the broadcasting licence for most radio and TV services run by CBC/Radio-Canada, for five years starting Sept. 1 (which means these provisions take effect then). It’s a long decision, and even the press release explaining it is kind of long. So here’s what the CRTC has decided and how it’ll affect what you watch and hear:

(For a Montreal-specific look, see this story I wrote for The Gazette)

Radio

  • Ads on Radio Two/Espace Musique: The most controversial proposal has been accepted. The CRTC will allow advertising on the music radio network, but with some restrictions: They can broadcast no more than four minutes of advertising an hour, in no more than two ad blocks, and no local advertising is allowed. This allowance is also limited to three years. If the CBC wants to continue after that, it must re-apply to the CRTC for permission.
  • Minimum playlist size: As part of a way to ensure Radio Two and Espace Musique are different from commercial radio, the CRTC is requiring that they air a large number of different musical selections, 2,800 a month for Radio Two and 3,000 for Espace Musique. That means about 100 songs a day that haven’t been played yet that month.
  • More specific radio CanCon minimums: Currently, half of popular music and 20% of special interest music must be Canadian for all four radio networks. The CRTC has added, with CBC’s blessing, conditions that require that 25% of concert music and 20% of jazz/blues music also be Canadian.
  • More flexibility in French music: On Radio-Canada radio networks, 85% of music played must be French. That requirement remains. But the rest is no longer restricted. Before only 5% could be in English and all of it had to be Canadian. Now that 15% can be in any language, including English, and half of non-French music has to be Canadian.
  • More French local programming in Windsor: CBC’s cuts to local programming at CBEF Windsor caused controversy, leading to complaints that included the official languages commissioner. The CRTC has decided to impose a minimum of 15 hours per week of local programming at the radio station, above what the CBC had proposed and consistent with other stations in minority communities.
  • No more Long Range Radio Plan: The CBC says, due to its budget, it has no plans to increase its radio coverage area (including plans to make Espace Musique available to more people) and wants to discontinue the Long Range Radio Plan. This plan includes hundreds of allocations for radio transmitters that don’t exist yet. Shutting this down would save a lot of headaches for private broadcasters, whose proposals for new or improved radio stations would have to take these imaginary stations into account.
  • Public alerting system: The CBC is required to install a public emergency alerting system on all radio stations by Dec. 31, 2014. The CBC said it would issue alerts at the station level, not at the transmitter level. The CRTC said it was concerned this might lead to alerts being issued too widely instead of just to the communities affected. Similar alerting is being encouraged, but not required, on television.

Television

  • More local TV programming: Following CBC’s recommendation, the CRTC has harmonized requirements for local programming between CBC/Radio-Canada and private television stations.
    • English stations in metropolitan markets (which includes Montreal) will have to produce 14 hours a week of local programming, and stations in smaller markets seven hours a week. In most cases, this is an increase over current levels (Montreal produces just under 11 hours a week of local programming), so we’ll need to see longer or more frequent local newscasts.
    • All French stations must produce five hours of local programming a week, including those in English markets, who must have some local programming seven days a week (except holidays).
    • CBC North (CFYK-TV Yellowknife) will have five hours minimum as a condition of licence, though the CBC says it will be more than this.
  • Non-news local TV programming: Following a suggestion from the CRTC at the hearing, the CBC agreed to require at least one of the 14 hours of local TV programming in major markets be devoted to non-news programming. The CBC hasn’t said what this would be, exactly. They said they’re starting to look at this now that they have a decision.
  • No blanket exemptions for local programming: The CBC had requested that it be allowed to calculate local programming on a yearly basis instead of a weekly one, because events like the NHL playoffs or Olympics pre-empt local programming. The CRTC decided against this (except for French stations in English markets), mainly for practical reasons (it would have to review a whole year’s worth of tapes to determine if it was meeting its licence requirements). The CBC then suggested that it be allowed an exemption of up to 16 weeks a year. The CRTC decided against that too, preferring a case-by-case approach and referring to a decision that allowed CTV and V to be relieved of their local programming minimums during the 2012 Olympics, saying that should be the model for future events.
  • Higher Canadian TV programming requirement: CBC and Radio-Canada television is now required to devote 75% of their broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 80% of primetime (7pm-11pm) to Canadian programs. They already do this now (they boast of having a 100% Canadian primetime), but it’s higher than their previous official requirements.
  • Regional television in French: Radio-Canada television is now required to devote at least five hours per week to programming produced outside Montreal. In addition, 6% of its budget for Canadian programs must go to independent producers outside Montreal.
  • More English-language television from Quebec: The CRTC is requiring CBC television to devote 6% of its budget for English-language Canadian programs to independent producers in Quebec, averaged over the licence term (until 2018). In addition, it must spend 10% of its development budget on Quebec, to give a boost to English-language producers here by having them produce more new programming.
  • No interference in The National/Le Téléjournal: The corporation’s national newscasts have been accused of being too focused on the regions they originate from (Toronto and Montreal, respectively). But the CRTC won’t interfere, saying it would threaten journalistic integrity. It will, however, ask for regular reporting on how official language minority communities feel about how well CBC and Radio-Canada’s programming reflects them, and has imposed this purposefully vague condition of licence: “national news and information programming shall reflect the country’s regions and official language minority communities, and promote respect and understanding between them.”
  • Canadian films on CBC: Following CBC’s proposal, the CRTC has imposed a requirement that CBC television air one Canadian theatrical film every month. The CBC is being given the flexibility to schedule it, which means it could air on a weekend afternoon, but it will air. The CBC is being held to its commitment to air Canadian movies on Saturday nights during 10 weeks in the summer.
  • Children’s programming: Judging that a commitment to children’s programming is more important as other conventional television networks move those shows to specialty channels, the CRTC continues to require a commitment to programming for children under 12. CBC and Radio-Canada must broadcast 15 hours per week of under-12 programming. Of that, one hour a week (CBC) or 100 hours a year (Radio-Canada) of original children’s programming (programs that air on other channels can be counted for this if CBC contributed to its financing). And three-quarters of these hours must be independently produced.
  • No requirements for new over-the-air transmitters: Despite demands for the CBC to reverse its decision to shut down hundreds of analog television transmitters across the country, and to limit digital transmitters to markets with local programming, the CRTC says it will not impose requirements on the CBC due to its financial situation. Instead, it suggests people who can’t get CBC or Radio-Canada over the air to look to Shaw’s free basic satellite offer, which expires in November. It also suggests broadcasters look to solutions like multiplexing (multiple channels on one transmitter) to offset the expense of digital transmitters.

Specialty TV

  • Renewal of mandatory distribution: The CRTC will maintain orders requiring digital cable and satellite providers to distribute CBC News Network in French-language markets and RDI in English-language markets, for $0.15 and $0.10 per month respectively. This is to ensure access to news programming for official language minority communities.
  • ARTV will be required to make 50% of its programming schedule devoted to programs from independent producers, replacing a condition that it spend all its profits on independent production. (Since ARTV’s profits are modest at best, this will be a net benefit, the CRTC argues.) ARTV will also have to devote 20% of its programming budget to programs produced outside Quebec, half of that to independent producers.

Other

  • Ombudsmen: The corporation’s two ombudsmen (one for CBC, one for Radio-Canada) are now required by a condition of licence, which establishes how they are hired, and says they must report directly to the CBC president twice a year.
  • Digital media: The CRTC hasn’t set specific conditions as far as digital media, though it has encouraged the CBC to be more accessible (more closed captioning online, for example).
  • Terms of trade: The CBC is being ordered to come to agreements with the Canadian Media Production Association and Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec within a year.
  • Consultations with minority language communities: The CBC must hold formal consultations at least once every two years with minority language communities, including the English community in Quebec. It must also report annually on such consultations.

UPDATE: The Quebec Community Groups Network praises the CRTC’s decision and the increased English-language Quebec production that will come out of it.

CBC TV to air special episode of Parc Avenue Tonight

When Dimitrios Koussioulas, whose name I will one day learn how to write without having to copy and paste it, started his Mile End online talk show Parc Avenue Tonight, I thought to myself: This looks dirt cheap, but promising. This should be on actual TV.

Well, despite what can be said about our Toronto-controlled television networks that seem to have all but abandoned local programming, Koussioulas is being given his chance to be on Montreal television. In fact, he’s getting two, on two different stations.

A week after City announced that Koussioulas would be one of three hosts of a new weekly magazine show on local culture and lifestyle, CBC announced on Friday that it will be taping a special episode of his Parc Avenue Tonight show in front of a live audience and airing it this summer as part of its Absolutely Quebec regional series.

Absolutely Quebec is a summer series of (usually) one-hour specials that air Saturdays at 7pm during the summer (during hockey’s off-season). It is, for now at least, the only regional programming that airs on CBC television outside of the local newscasts. You can get an idea of what it’s like from last year’s shows.

Parc Avenue Tonight is an interview show in which Koussioulas speaks with fellow Mile Enders. Aside from its glorification of smoking, its canned audience applause and its strange love of bananas, it’s worth watching when it has a good guest. The episode above is an interview with Marianne Ackerman, an author, freelance writer and the person behind the Rover arts website. It showcases the solid (though modest) production values and Koussioulas’s warm and inviting personality.

The show’s live taping will happen May 15 at the Cabaret du Mile End (naturally), and will air on CBMT TV two months later, on July 13th. Ticket information and a copy of the press release are below:

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