It’s no secret that Canadian radio stations don’t like the content requirements imposed on them by the CRTC. For stations that broadcast popular music, 35% of the songs they play must be Canadian (that term being defined by meeting certain criteria). That’s why we hear a lot of Nickelback or Kim Mitchell.
For French-language radio stations playing popular music, there’s an additional and more serious limit the CRTC imposes: 65% of their songs must be in French (55% during the day, to prevent them from getting around this by playing all their French songs at 3am).
A few years ago, some genius found a way to get around this requirement: montages.
Because the CRTC counts “musical selections” by number, and not by length, a two-minute song and a 20-minute song have the same weight. And because the CRTC specifically counts music montages as one selection, you can have large (but not complete) parts of 20 songs in there and have it counted as one selection for the purpose of French-language minimums.
ADISQ, Quebec’s musical industry group, objected to the abuse of this by radio stations, and complained to the CRTC, which held hearings into the issue, specifically focusing on CKOI-FM Montreal, owned by Cogeco, CKTF-FM (NRJ) Gatineau, owned by Astral, and CFTX-FM (Capitale Rock) Gatineau, owned by RNC Media.
The statistics are pretty telling. The CKOI and NRJ stations were found to be using montages to a significant part of their broadcast week. CKOI was the worst, using 101 montages in the studied week, representing 17.9% of its total broadcasting time (this works out to an average of about 20 minutes per montage, though one case was found that was 55 minutes long). The NRJ Gatineau case was only slightly less, with 75 montages representing 14.5% of their 126 hours of broadcasting.
The study found these montages were almost all English-language American songs.
Astral and Cogeco argued they were not breaking the rules as they were written, which is true. They also presented public opinion polls showing that francophone audiences want to hear more English music, and in many cases francophones are tuning in to English stations.
There’s some irony in all this: 13 years ago, the CRTC set definitions of montages as they are to prevent the reverse from happening: radio stations using short clips from French-language songs in a montage and counting each one individually.
On Thursday, the CRTC addressed this, and imposed limits on the use of music montages. CKOI and CKTF can use montages for only 10% of their broadcast week. (CFTX was already well below this limit, so the CRTC did not impose one.) It also said it would study this matter further, and possibly impose new regulation generally.
The most obvious solution, to me, is to count musical selections based on length, not number. Under such a system, a four-minute song would count for twice as much as a two-minute song, and musical montages would be split up for the purposes of counting French-language or Canadian content requirements.
This is obviously more complicated for the station, but it would eliminate the problem.
The CRTC says it will begin looking into this issue in 2012.
UPDATE: Cogeco Diffusion has issued a statement saying it will comply with the ruling, and suggesting the whole montage thing was Corus’s idea, that it’s using less of them, and its other radio stations don’t do it. Astral and RNC Media issued a joint statement also saying they would comply with the decision. Both said they would participate in hearings about French-language requirements, undoubtedly in an effort to get the CRTC to lower them.
ADISQ also issued a statement, praising the decision as a victory for francophone artists.