Breakfast Television cast, from left: Joanne Vrakas, Alexandre Despatie, Catherine Verdon-Diamond, Elias Makos, Wilder Weir and Laura Casella
Tuesday, Jan. 28, marks the first anniversary of Global Montreal’s Morning News, the first of two local English-language TV morning shows that launched in Montreal in 2013. The second, City Montreal’s Breakfast Television, launched on Aug. 26. And though we could just be happy that there are two morning shows serving this community now instead of zero, it’s hard not to think of a battle between the two, even if they both have a long hill to climb to reach the level of Canada AM.
Comparing Morning News and BT comes with two main caveats: Morning News launched seven months before BT, and benefits from being on an established station in this market, while Breakfast Television has a much larger staff and far more resources. Neither of these factors are beyond the control of those stations’ owners (Shaw Media and Rogers Media), so neither I nor viewers should mitigate our reviews based on those facts, but they should be kept in mind if you’re evaluating anyone’s individual performance.
That said, here’s how the shows stack up on key elements:
Executive Producer Bob Babinski speaks to staff, Rogers employees and journalists gathered at a pre-launch event this week. Behind him are, from left: weather presenter Catherine Verdon-Diamond, new media commentator Elias Makos, Live Eye host Wilder Weir, host Alexandre Despatie (sitting), Rogers VP Jordan Schwartz, reporter Laura Casella and supervising producer Jeffrey Feldman. (Joanne Vrakas is also there, but carefully hidden)
In case you haven’t been following the hype machine being run by Elias Makos and the Rogers Media PR team, you should know that Montreal is getting its newest television show on Monday. Breakfast Television will be the flagship show of City Montreal. And with its staff of about 30, it plans to make a big splash.
The obvious thing to do would be to compare it to the only other local morning show: Global’s Morning News. And while Global has had a seven-month head start, and it has managed to work out most of the technical problems that plagued it during its first few weeks, its severely limited resources means that it’s pretty well already lost this war.
As I explain in this feature story that appears in Saturday’s Gazette, City will have twice as much staff in just about every position, on and off air, technical and editorial. It has a much better set, and Rogers seems more willing to put marketing dollars behind this than Shaw was with Morning News.
On the bright side, we know Global Montreal Morning News has some viewers, because they complained the show wasn’t on the air on Thursday morning.
Apparently a major computer failure, whose nature we don’t know, caused Morning News to be delayed well past its start time. it wasn’t until after 8am that the show finally got on the air in an abbreviated version.
It's tough to turn away guests who take the trouble to come to our station for interviews this morning. We here in Montreal, feel terrible.
Asked about the problem, Global News spokesperson Samantha Simic said it was a computer problem.
As you know, working with computers has made life infinitely simpler but they can occasionally make things complicated and difficult to resolve. That’s what happened this morning. Our technical problem was made all the more challenging by the fact that it was a computer problem.
Global Montreal station manager Karen Macdonald didn’t respond to a request for comment, but staff in Montreal made it clear via social media that the problem was not local to Montreal.
The technical difficulties came on the same day that Global launched Global News BC 1, its new regional all-news specialty channel based in Vancouver. The channel is available so far only to Shaw digital cable subscribers in B.C.
That’s what Leah Lipkowitz, a columnist with Global Montreal’s Morning News, commented on the review I gave the show earlier this month. I’d heard the same thing from people involved with the show before its launch and even on the air.
It’s a common refrain from people behind new projects, particularly when budgets are tight. I’m never quite sure how to handle it.
It’s not that I want to be mean, or that I don’t understand that new shows improve over time. Rather, it’s that my reviews of these things are about the viewer, and viewers aren’t going to stick around for weeks to see if a new TV series is good or not. They’ll tune in the first day, maybe stick around an hour or two if they really want to evaluate it, and then they’ll make their decision whether it’s worth their time.
Broadcasters know this, which is why they do rehearsals before they go to air. Why even bother with the rehearsals if you’re going to build a show on the fly?
So as much as I would have been happy to wait a week, a month or six months before evaluating Global Montreal Morning News, I know that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and I have to evaluate it based on that.
“If we do a good job, people will watch, and the show will last forever.”
That’s what Karen Macdonald, Global Montreal’s station manager, said during an interview on the first episode of Global Montreal Morning News, that aired on Jan. 28. She commented on the growing pains the show was experiencing, and its technical challenges. She mentioned “a few occasions when we’ve been a little bit slow to come back from commercial, but that’s the only problem we’ve had this morning.”
It gives the impression of a show that is largely successful but has the usual small wrinkles to iron out.
Unfortunately, the technical problems with Global Montreal Morning News are far bigger than mere wrinkles. In the eight episodes that have aired so far as I write this, there have been multiple instances of nothing happening for more than 30 seconds, one case where the show ended a full two minutes early and just showed contact information and a cityscape for that time, and countless examples of awkward pauses, mistimed cues, wrong audio, over/underexposure, drifting cameras, wrong graphics, incomplete graphics, and just about every other technical problem you can imagine.
And the frequency and severity of these technical problems isn’t going down.
There are two possible causes of this problem: too few people in the control room, or the people who are there aren’t sufficiently trained. There’s a strong argument for the second, since the people hired are all new to the software being used (and have limited control-room experience). But my suspicion is that the former is the real cause, and if so no amount of experience will fix it.
Global has sung the praises of Mosart, the automated control room technology that is allowing them to put this show on the air with only three people at the controls (a producer and two directors). But the lack of specialized functions like an audio technician or a graphics director or a robotic camera operator is immensely apparent. The technical staff are overloaded with work and it’s clear they’re desperately trying to catch up to live TV.
The technical problems are making the show look bad, and in particular the on-air staff, who have to deal with visuals that don’t appear or are incorrect, cues that never come through or awkward delays between the time they stop talking and the beginning of a commercial break, story package or cut to another camera.
I’d compile a best-of package, but (a) 30 seconds of black screen isn’t very interesting visually, (b) It’s too depressing, and (c) I’m holding out hope that they’ll eventually improve to the point where the show is watchable.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this example, taken from an episode of the second week of the show, to give you an idea what goes on the air on a regular basis:
Global Montreal morning show cast, from left: Richard Dagenais, Jessica Laventure, Camille Ross
How do you compete with someone who outperforms you on budget, staff, technical resources, consumer loyalty and reputation? The short answer is you don’t.
As another ratings report comes out confirming CTV Montreal’s incredible dominance of the local TV news ratings, Global Montreal was doing its final rehearsals for a new morning show that launches on Monday. As Montreal doesn’t have a local morning show in English, it will have that market all to itself, at least until August when City starts up its morning show here.
But even with the million dollars a year that Shaw has promised this show to get it off the ground over the next five years, its resources are limited. Global Montreal has added only eight jobs for this show, on-air staff and technical people combined. It won’t have its own news team scouring the city for scoops (unless it steals reporters from the evening newscasts, which are already understaffed). It won’t look like Canada AM, which is still popular in Montreal.
Part of the station’s strategy for building an audience has been a focus on the anglophone community. In essence, it’s treating anglo Montreal as if it’s its own small town, going after the smaller stories that don’t make the same kinds of headlines.
That’s easier said than done, though. CTV’s news operation is still far larger, and Global can’t ignore the top stories of the day to indulge in community reporting. Global Montreal doesn’t have a sports department so it can’t really cover varsity sports. It doesn’t have the kinds of coverage of arts, entertainment and lifestyle stories that you’ll find on CTV News or even CBC News, so it has to be very picky about where it uses its resources, and its goal of making this the home of anglo Montrealers (rather than just an English-language newscast) is far from complete.
With a morning show, this community focus will become more apparent. The biggest aspect of this we know already is that the weather presenter, Jessica Laventure, will be doing her weather segments from a location on the West Island. This will plant the station’s flag there, allowing people to come by and interact with it, as well as show West Island residents watching from home that they’re close, at least geographically.
The three-hour show, from 6am to 9am weekdays, was a promise that Shaw made to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission when it purchased the former Canwest television assets, including Global Television, in 2010. (The promise was for a minimum of 10 hours a week, or two hours a day, so it’s nice that they’re adding the extra hour.) This is in addition to the evening newscasts at 6pm and 11pm which will continue to run (though the latter needs to find a new anchor).
The new face here is Jessica Laventure, who will be doing weather. She was a morning host at MétéoMédia, and before that worked at Global Quebec as a production assistant, reporter and host of the weekly QC Magazine. She also does a weekend show at Boom FM. But I know her best as a former teachers’ assistant at Concordia University’s journalism program, where she taught kids not much younger than herself how to use fun electronic equipment (myself included).
Global bills this as “the city’s only locally-produced English-language morning show”, which is true, but also conveniently leaves out the fact that competition is right around the corner. City Montreal, as CJNT will be known when its acquisition by Rogers is complete, is also launching a local morning show by September, which will go head-to-head with Global’s. Will the six-month head start make the difference for Global? We’ll see.
Shaw has promised a total of at least $5 million for the Global Montreal morning show through 2016-17, or about $1 million a year, second only to Toronto, which was promised $3 million a year. (This is the total of special funding and does not necessarily represent their entire budgets.) Shaw said the goal is to make the shows sustainable so they will keep running even after the special funds run out in 2017.