Tag Archives: Quebecor

Posted in Opinion, Technology

Cooperation, not acquisition, might be better option for Quebecor

Put simply: Under the right conditions we are ready, willing and able to become
Canada’s fourth wireless competitor.

With that statement two months ago, new Quebecor CEO Pierre Dion launched a campaign to create fertile ground for his company to expand its wireless operation nationally, and become the fourth national wireless player that the Conservative government has been so desperate to see arrive.

Quebecor’s main issue is roaming — the fees it has to pay other carriers when its subscribers use their networks. Until it can build a national network that rivals those of the Big Three in coverage (something that would take several billion dollars to do), it would have to offer its subscribers access to someone else’s network, and at fees that would still allow it to undercut those networks’ operators on prices.

The CRTC is holding a public hearing in September on wholesale wireless services that should address this issue. The commission will try to determine if the market is sufficiently competitive and if not, what it can do to fix that. Quebecor would like low, regulated wireless wholesale rates, particularly for data. Bell, Telus and Rogers, needless to say, aren’t in favour.

And just two weeks ago the commission slapped Rogers on the wrist for exclusive roaming deals that it determined were anti-competitive.

Quebecor’s hand

At the moment, Quebecor’s network covers populated areas of Quebec and the National Capital Region. It also has a deal with Rogers that allows Videotron customers to use Rogers’s network where necessary. A year ago, the companies signed a 20-year agreement to build a shared wireless LTE network in Videotron’s existing territory.

The thought of Videotron becoming a national player took off in February after it purchased licenses in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia for $233 million. Because the big three were limited in the amount of spectrum they could buy, and new players like Wind and Mobilicity didn’t have the financial means to spend that kind of money, Videotron got a deal it simply couldn’t pass up. The licences could be worth a lot more than that, even with the limitation that they can’t be sold to Bell, Rogers or Telus.

The rest of Canada is split up between other regional players: MTS in Manitoba, SaskTel in Saskatchewan, and Eastlink in Atlantic Canada and Northern Ontario. They also got good deals on spectrum because those frequencies were reserved for smaller players.

So even if Videotron wanted to become a national player, it would need to team up either with one of the big three or all of these smaller providers. Plus building out networks in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta.

It has been suggested very openly that Videotron would be interested in buying either Wind Mobile or Mobilicity (or both) to instantly get a foothold in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. This is important because next March will see another spectrum auction from Industry Canada, and its rules reserve licences for operators other than the Big Three that are already operating in those territories. Unless Videotron sets up its network in the next six months, it’s bidding potential is limited. But acquire Wind and/or Mobilicity, neither of which have the capacity to participate in the auction, and Videotron can make another government-assisted investment.

Except Videotron doesn’t have enough cash for such an acquisition. So it would need some source of money to step up to help it. And the clock is ticking.

Politics

But spectrum licenses and cash aren’t the only impediments to Videotron’s wireless expansion. Even if it develops a decent network, Videotron has no other infrastructure in the rest of Canada. It can’t bundle wireless with cable TV and Internet like it does in Quebec. It can’t leverage its brand, or set up Videotron corners in Archambault shops in the rest of Canada.

And then there’s the politics. Pierre Karl Péladeau is still the controlling shareholder of Quebecor and Videotron. And he’s not willing to put his stake in a blind trust until he becomes a minister (and even then it would come with an order not to sell the company). So the federal government’s best hope for a company that would give a shot in the arm to competition in wireless is one owned by a devoted separatist. It’s not exactly the kind of company the government would want to bend backwards to help. And that’s saying nothing about consumers who might see switching to Videotron as tantamount to funding Quebec separation.

Cooperation

But maybe there’s another way. What if, instead of buying Wind and Mobilicity outright, it partnered with one or both, giving them enough cash to participate in the March auction and allowing their subscribers to use each other’s networks seamlessly? For that matter, why not do the same with MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink? Imagine a national wireless player made up of regional players, all with the same problem of national roaming. It would take less cash than one company gobbling up the others, and avoids the problem of having to deal with Quebecor’s not-so-great brand outside of Quebec.

There are other possibilities, too. Shaw, which is active in B.C. and Alberta and has a lot of money but doesn’t have a wireless network, could become involved, and partner with Wind or Mobilicity or Videotron to offer a wireless service they could bundle.

Perhaps it’s just pie-in-the-sky dreaming, and I’m sure people will point out a bunch of practical problems with these ideas that would make them unrealistic. But if Ottawa really wants a fourth wireless player (even though experience in other countries suggest the market might not be able to support more than three), this sounds to me like a way to get there.

Of course, it would require Quebecor playing nice with others and swallowing a lot of humble pie.

Posted in Media

Competition Bureau: Transcontinental can buy 74 Quebecor papers, but must (try to) sell 34

The Competition Bureau has ruled that Transcontinental can acquire Quebecor Media’s 74 regional newspapers in Quebec, but in order to preserve competition, it must then sell 22 of those papers and 12 of its own.

In its decision, the bureau said it looked closely at the financial situation of the Transcontinental and Quebecor papers, noting that rivalry between the two intensified in 2009:

Since 2009, Transcontinental and Quebecor Media have engaged in aggressive competition for advertisers, entering markets where the other Party was the historical incumbent and cutting advertising prices. While a few independents remain in certain markets, Transcontinental and Quebecor Media own the only community newspapers in many of Quebec’s local communities and, as such, the Proposed Transaction may allow Transcontinental to have the only community newspaper(s) in numerous local markets.

The Bureau determined that at least one of the Parties’ newspapers was in financial distress in the vast majority of markets where the Parties compete. These were typically the newspapers that had been launched in recent years.

The competition rules by which the bureau operates allows for mergers that would reduce competition if the alternative is that one of the parties goes bankrupt and nobody picks up its assets, which would reduce competition anyway. The bureau’s assessment shows the community newspaper sector isn’t doing that well, but that Transcontinental should nevertheless put the newspapers on the block, and for no minimum price, for a period of 60 days, and managed by a third party.

“Following the completion of the sale period defined in the Consent Agreement, if no potential purchaser is identified for a particular paper, Transcontinental will be entitled to retain ownership of the newspaper,” the bureau writes. So Transcontinental could end up keeping many of these papers (or being allowed to shut them down and merge them with their competitors in each market) if no one else is interested in buying them for even $1 (with printing and distribution provided by Transcontinental for a limited time).

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Posted in In the news, Media

Pierre Dion becomes Quebecor’s third boss in a year

Robert Dépatie was head of Videotron before taking over from Pierre Karl Péladeau.

Robert Dépatie was head of Videotron before taking over from Pierre Karl Péladeau.

If you’ve been following the news about Quebecor’s change in management, you won’t learn anything new here. I don’t know if the unspecified “health reasons” that Quebecor mentioned as the reason for CEO Robert Dépatie’s sudden retirement are the whole story, or if La Presse is correct and this is more about a difference of strategy.

But there are some things we do know. Dépatie was CEO of Videotron before he took over from Pierre Karl Péladeau as head of Quebecor and Quebecor Media last year. He comes from the telecom side, and he knew it very well.

His legacy includes some big spending: a deal the Globe and Mail puts at more than $1 billion over 12 years to acquire NHL broadcasting rights from Rogers, and a purchase of wireless spectrum for $233 million. It also includes big moves away from print media: The decision to shut down three free 24 Hours newspapers and either weeklies, then a deal to sell all 74 of its remaining weekly newspapers in Quebec to competitor Transcontinental for $75 million, and to shut down the flyer delivery service Le Sac Plus.

The effect of these moves will likely last more than a decade.

Both La Presse and Le Devoir suggest Dépatie wanted to go further, selling English-language Sun Media papers as well (it’s unclear if these would be the Sun chain or the smaller weekly papers, including the Osprey Media chain that Quebecor spent more than $500 million to buy in 2007).

Analysts quoted in various media have had very positive views of Dépatie, and their main concern about his successor, TVA president Pierre Dion, is that he comes from the broadcasting side and not the money-generating telecom side. There was a slight drop in the company’s stock as a result of the news.

On one hand, having a third CEO in under a year is destabilizing. On the other hand, Pierre Dion isn’t a stranger to Quebecor’s upper management. He, along with Péladeau, Dépatie, corporate affairs VP Serge Sasseville and more recently new Videotron president Manon Brouillette have been present during major events involving the company as a whole, whether it’s major announcements or big CRTC hearings. Dion has been on Quebecor Media’s board since 2004 and has been part of its major decisions.

La Presse asks whether this shakeup might prompt Pierre Karl Péladeau to abandon his political ambitions and take back control of the company he still owns. That presupposes, of course, that with his friends and former colleagues still in control of the company, that he doesn’t already exercise some sort of control, unofficially if not legally.

Pierre Dion may shift Quebecor’s emphasis and make different decisions, but I doubt there will be any big sea change. The company’s personality, whether you love it or hate it, remains the same.

Posted in In the news, Media

Pierre Karl Péladeau analysis in point form

Pierre Karl Péladeau

To say that Pierre Karl Péladeau’s announcement that he’s running for the Parti Québécois was a bombshell would be an understatement. The announcement monopolized the news cycle on Sunday and again on Monday. We’re still talking about it because of its implications. Canada’s largest newspaper chain is owned by a separatist. A media mogul is running for office, and everyone expects the media he owns to stay objective on the matter. And his selection is a huge risk for the PQ, which can ride his economic bona fides to power or see itself torn apart by ideological differences (whether or not it wins a majority).

His media outlets insist in French and in English that he has no control over them. Sun News handled the news straight, declaring that they too are not under Péladeau’s control. Here’s Brian Lilley and here’s Lorrie Goldstein. (Ezra Levant is fighting a libel lawsuit and hasn’t been on the air.)

There are news stories and analyses of Péladeau all over the place, but here are a few that are worth reading: 

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Posted in Media

Quebecor ends community newspaper war with Transcontinental by selling them all their papers

It was 2010 when it really started to heat up. Quebecor Media started up new community weekly newspapers in Laval and the north shore, encroaching onto territory served by Transcontinental Media. A few months later, new papers in Joliette and Repentigny. It was clear at this point that Quebecor was starting a war.

Transcontinental responded with papers on Montreal’s south shore, in Sainte-Agathe, Mont-Tremblant and Abitibi.

Before then, both companies had dozens of community newspapers across Quebec. There was sort of a gentlemen’s agreement, or maybe just a fear of competition, so they didn’t encroach on each other’s territory. Until Quebecor decided it would expand into fast-growing areas and take on Transcon directly.

But on Thursday, that ended, with this matter-of-fact announcement from Quebecor that it is selling all 74 of its community weeklies to Transcontinental for $75 million. The announcement comes a day after it said it would cut 200 more jobs at Sun Media, including 50 in editorial positions.

Quebecor has 600 employees at these papers.

“The digital revolution has brought profound changes in local print media markets,” Quebecor CEO Robert Dépatie said in the press release. “Advertisers now have a multitude of platforms available to them that did not even exist little more than 10 years ago. We believe in the future of print media but we cannot ignore the new market realities”.

Quebecor talks about how the papers are in good hands, but the reality is that with many papers in overlapping markets (and many of those in fierce, unfriendly competition with each other), some mergers and shutdowns are inevitable.

The fact that this leaves Quebec with only one major community weekly publisher will mean it should get attention from the Competition Bureau. Sun Media will keep running the papers until it gets approval.

UPDATE (Dec. 19): Quebecor has also killed Le Sac Plus, its Publisac competitor. The shutdown will result in the loss of about 30 jobs, not including all the people who actually deliver it. Selling the regional weeklies prompted it to re-evaluate Le Sac Plus’s viability as a business, Quebecor said.

The list of papers TC Media is acquiring is below.

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Posted in Canadiens, My articles, TV

The Rogers/TVA/NHL deal: What we know, and what we don’t

Updated May 6, 2014, with the latest info.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

It’s the biggest media announcement of the year: A $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast rights deal between Rogers Communications and the National Hockey league. Included in it are side deals with the CBC (which will air games but won’t get revenue from them or handle their staffing) and TVA, which becomes the official French-language broadcaster.

We’ve suspected for a while that the CBC wouldn’t be able to afford to keep its rights to Saturday night hockey and the Stanley Cup playoffs. But what’s most surprising about this deal is that Bell Media, which owns TSN and RDS, is also a loser here.

A lot of details are still to be decided. We’ll start knowing that in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s a story I wrote for The Gazette about the French side of this deal and how it will affect Canadiens broadcasts. Pat Hickey also has his thoughts on the deal.

In short, here’s what we know and what we don’t know about this deal so far:

  • CBC will continue to air Saturday night and playoff hockey for at least four years. And the Hockey Night in Canada brand will continue. But that’s about it. Those programs will be run by Rogers, not CBC. Rogers will pay all the expenses, but also get all the revenue. (Which makes me wonder why CBC is bothering.) This puts the future of personalities like Ron MacLean and Don Cherry up in the air. It will also mean a huge loss of income to the CBC, which means cuts will have to be made elsewhere.
  • TVA gets 22 Canadiens regular-season games a year: TVA will get all national games, which includes all games that air on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights. (Afternoon games on those days are not considered national.) Whether these air on the TVA network or TVA Sports is still up in the air.
  • RDS gets 60 Canadiens regular-season games a year, plus all preseason games: But these will be available only regionally. So people west of Pembroke and Belleville, Ontario will see RDS blacked out during Canadiens games it airs. It’s unclear if Rogers, which has out-of-market rights, will provide another way for fans to access the games, and if TVA will be involved.
  • There will still be some NHL hockey on TSN. The channel has the rights to all regional Winnipeg Jets games through 2021, 52 Ottawa Senators regional games for the next 12 years, as well as some Maple Leafs games in the coming season and beyond. It currently airs some Canadiens regional games, but the future of that deal is unclear. Rogers retains both national and regional rights to all teams west of Saskatchewan.
  • TVA gets all playoff games and all special-event NHL programming. The NHL draft, NHL awards, Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Game will now air on TVA Sports. TSN can keep its TradeCentre and Free Agent Frenzy specials, because those are news broadcasts and aren’t subject to exclusivity deals.
  • TVA will launch TVA Sports 2. This will be a multiplex of the TVA Sports channel, which means it will share a licence with TVA Sports. It’s a relationship similar to TSN/TSN2, RDS/RDS2, Teletoon and The Movie Network, where channels come in groups instead of individually. But TVA Sports 2′s availability will depend on deals Quebecor signs with distributors. (Having it on Videotron is a given, of course.)
  • The conventional TVA network won’t air hockey games. New Quebecor CEO Pierre Dion made it official on May 6. The company plans to use Canadiens games to push subscriptions to TVA Sports, trying to put it above 2 million (even though the games will be on free TV in English). Putting Canadiens games on TVA would eliminate the biggest incentive to subscribe to TVA Sports, since weeknight games will still be on RDS. It’s unclear if this is absolute, or if some games (and/or playoff or Stanley Cup final games) could still air on TVA.
  • City TV will air Saturday night hockey. It will be called “Hockey Night in Canada on City.” But the details, and how they will decide which games air on City and which ones air on CBC, are unknown. There are also musings about Sunday night hockey on the City TV network.
  • Rogers and TVA retain mobile and other video streaming rights to all games. Streaming will probably be available, but likely through distributors and only to those who subscribe to the linear TVA Sports channel. On the English side, Rogers gets all the online and mobile rights, including the Saturday night games that air on CBC. This means an end to online streaming on CBC.ca for people wanting to catch out-of-market games. RDS’s deal with the Canadiens for rights to regional games does not include any mobile or streaming rights.
  • Rogers takes control of NHL Centre Ice, NHL GameCenter Live and will sell Canadian ads for NHL.com.
  • No changes to radio. Radio rights are unaffected. Cogeco announced last week a five-year extension to 2018-19 that will see Canadiens games continue to air on 98.5 FM in Montreal, 93.3 FM in Quebec City, 106.9 FM in Trois-Rivières and 107.7 FM in Sherbrooke. The deal for English radio rights for the Canadiens remains with Bell Media until 2018-19, which means they will continue to air on TSN 690.
  • Bell keeps The Hockey Theme.
  • Ron MacLean and Don Cherry are returning, with George Stroumboulopoulos as host of the new Rogers-run Hockey Night, and Sportsnet’s Daren Millard and Jeff Marek joining the core broadcast team.
  • The National Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the deal. Though the Toronto Star reports that the Maple Leafs abstained from the vote, apparently because of internal conflicts between its two main owners, Rogers and Bell.

What has been reported but not confirmed:

  • Details of the negotiations. Though this Maclean’s story has some general idea (Maclean’s is owned by Rogers) and the Toronto Star put together a timeline of the talks between Rogers and CBC. There’s also this story talking to Rogers executives.
  • How much TVA is paying Rogers. No comments, despite repeated questions. We know that the Rogers deal is for more than $300 million a year, and that it includes the sublicensed deals. The Globe and Mail reports it was $120 million a year, though because they lost regional Canadiens games to RDS, that number has dropped to $52 million a year, reports Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc. To give some perspective, TVA Sports’s entire budget for 2012 was $30 million.
  • How much Bell (TSN) and CBC were willing to pay. The CBC said it couldn’t meet the high bidding of its competitors in a fiscally responsible way, and they’re probably right about that. Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc reports that Bell’s final offer was $5 billion, very close to the Rogers bid, and that Bell wasn’t given a chance to match what Rogers offered.
  • How much RDS is paying the Canadiens for its regional deal. Martin Leclerc of Radio-Canada says RDS’s deal for 60 regional games a year is worth $68 million a season, or about $1.1 million a game.

What either hasn’t been decided yet or hasn’t been told to us:

  • How English regional Canadiens games will be split up. In English, TSN carries some Canadiens games regionally on a special channel. It’s unclear what will happen with them next season.
  • How out-of-market games will be distributed. The NHL’s deal with Rogers says there won’t be regional blackouts for the games Rogers owns rights for. But there are still regional rights deals. So I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Rogers owns NHL Centre Ice and out-of-market games, so we could see a different situation than we’re used to. It seems clear that games carried on Rogers won’t be regionally restricted, but for those carried by its competitors, it’s unclear. Rogers has said it’s too early to tell what they will do with these rights.
  • What happens to hockey on CBC after four years. This deal includes a strange agreement with CBC that sees the games continue to air on the public broadcaster and carry the Hockey Night in Canada branding, but under the control of Rogers, not the CBC. This means the CBC doesn’t have to worry for now about filling Saturday nights on their schedule. But otherwise there’s no real advantage here. And because Rogers has its own over-the-air television network, it doesn’t really need CBC, except to reach areas of the country where City doesn’t have local stations. But Rogers says the plan is not to phase out the CBC, and the deal will probably be renewed unless there’s a dramatic shift in the way people watch television.
  • What on-air talent will look like at TVA Sports. TVA Sports still has time to poach more personalities from RDS. But after losing Michel Bergeron and Félix Séguin to TVA, RDS says it has multi-year deals with its remaining on-air personalities.
  • What happens to Hockey Night In Canada personalities like Elliotte Friedman, Andi Petrillo, Bob Cole, Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Kelly Hrudey, Scott Oake, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, David Amber, PJ Stock, Kevin Weekes and Glenn Healey. Some have other jobs within CBC or other sports media, but others could end up as free agents to be picked up by TSN or Sportsnet.
  • The future of shows like 24CH: These aren’t broadcast rights deals, but they are deals between broadcasters and hockey teams, so you can imagine that there will be more such deals with TVA and fewer with RDS. The next season of a 24CH-like show could be airing on Quebecor-owned channels.
  • How plans for the Nordiques are affected. Quebecor has made no secret of its desire to bring the National Hockey League back to Quebec City. TVA’s Pierre Dion wouldn’t make any comments about the Nordiques today. But while this deal is great news for TVA, and national rights to a theoretical Quebec City franchise would likely be included in the TVA deal, this is probably bad news for the Nordiques for two reasons. First, it means that TVA no longer needs another NHL team to drive subscriptions to its sports channel. And second, revenue sharing on this national deal means that every NHL team becomes several million dollars a year richer. Even with an inevitable salary cap hike, this will mean less pressure for struggling teams to sell to new owners who would relocate them.
  • What happens to rights for other sports. This deal will mean a huge shift in programming, which will undoubtedly have consequences. TVA and Sportsnet will have less money for other sports like UFC, MLS, NBA and baseball. And TSN/RDS will be desperate to add high-value content to replace lost hockey games. We could see some of these rights go back to Bell. A first step has already been taken with Bell winning rights to 4pm NFL games from Rogers.
  • How many jobs are lost or gained. CBC has said there will be job losses as a result of this deal. (This story explores the consequences for the CBC in more depth) and the loss of hockey was a major reason for 657 full-time-equivalent job cuts announced in April 2014. For the rest, we don’t know yet, and a full accounting might never be possible with 100% accuracy.
  • How much more consumers will have to pay for Sportsnet and TVA Sports. Neither Rogers nor Quebecor can simply absorb the extra costs in this deal. Ad revenue will surely go up, and they’ll be creative about platforms, but expect both companies to take a harder line during negotiations with distributors. TVA Sports gets about $5 a year on average from each of its 1.6 million subscribers, compared to RDS, which gets $30 a year on average from 3.5 million subscribers (for both RDS and RDS2). Sportsnet gets $17 a year per subscriber (for the regional channels, which doesn’t include Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World or Sportsnet 360), plus about $10 a year from its 6 million Sportsnet One subscribers. TSN (which includes TSN2) gets $26 a year from its 9.2 million subscribers. Expect the gap to narrow significantly as deals come up for renewal.
  • Who will be carrying TVA Sports by next fall. The big players in Quebec all have the channel: Bell Fibe, Shaw Direct, Videotron and Cogeco, plus Telus and Rogers. But major players like Shaw cable, MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink still don’t have it. Francophone Canadiens fans outside Quebec will have more trouble, as will anyone with analog cable.
  • How much money (if any) Rogers and TVA Sports will make on this deal. That, of course, is the biggest question, and the one nobody can answer. Analysts take a lukewarm look at this deal, neither loving it so much (because of its high cost) nor hating it so much (because of all the benefits it brings). All we can say for sure is that this is a big gamble, and both broadcasters will need to be very creative to make it work financially.

A petition has already started to ask — well, it doesn’t say who it’s asking, but presumably the NHL — to reverse its decision and put Canadiens games back on RDS. This obviously won’t go anywhere. The NHL isn’t going to walk away from a $5.2-billion deal.

What’s funny about this is that the reaction to RDS losing the Canadiens is similar to the reaction when it won Canadiens rights in the first place. Before the 2002-03 season, Saturday night games aired on Radio-Canada. When RDS picked up the rights to the entire Canadiens package, there was nationwide outrage. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps even went to the point of demanding Radio-Canada explain itself in front of a hearing. The summer 2002 controversy led to a deal between Radio-Canada and RDS to air Saturday games on RadCan, but eventually all 82 regular-season Canadiens games became exclusive to RDS.

Posted in Media, Opinion

Sophie Durocher and the “entente secrète” obsession

Sophie Durocher's 2011 column found to have libelled Gesca, was online until after the decision last week.

Sophie Durocher’s 2011 column found to have libelled Gesca, was online until after the decision last week.

When it pulled out of the Quebec Press Council, Quebecor’s Journal de Montréal made it clear that it would let only two forces judge it on its content: the free market power of its readership, and the legal power of the courts.

The latter struck against the paper last week when it issued a decision ordering owner Sun Media, its Canoe Inc. division and columnist Sophie Durocher to pay $10,000 to Gesca over a column she wrote that was defamatory toward the rival newspaper publisher.

The dispute was over a column, published in the Journal de Montréal on June 17, 2011, that alleged that during the previous federal election campaign, Radio-Canada had tried to negotiate for Gesca’s Cyberpresse.ca to have free online streaming rights to the leaders’ debate.

Actually, Quebecor disputes that interpretation, so I’ll just have you read her in her own words (bolding is mine):

Lors des dernières élections fédérales, avant le débat des chefs, le consortium des radiodiffuseurs (CBC et Radio-Canada, CTV, Global, TVA) s’est réuni à plusieurs reprises. En effet, de nombreux médias veulent avoir accès à la diffusion en direct du débat et il fallait établir une grille tarifaire pour leur vendre ces images.

Des représentants de chaque diffuseur discutaient des demandes des radios, des journaux ou des sites Internet qui voulaient avoir accès à la transmission en direct du débat.

Or, j’ai appris qu’un des représentants de Radio-Canada a demandé si la transmission du débat pouvait être DONNÉE à Cyberpresse, le site Internet des journaux de Gesca!

Autrement dit, le représentant de Radio-Canada négociait au profit de Gesca, comme on le ferait pour aider un ami. Comme s’il était leur porte-parole auprès des autres diffuseurs.

As it turns out, this wasn’t true, the judge ruled. La Presse vice-president of news Eric Trottier denied it, the leader of the consortium, Troy Reeb of Global News, denied it, and former general manager of news for Radio-Canada, Alain Saulnier, denied it. Pierre Tourangeau, who was Radio-Canada’s other representative on the consortium board, also denied it. All four testified as such in front of the judge: Nothing like this happened. Had she spoken with all of them, at least one probably would have told her that. (She tried to contact both Saulnier and Tourangeau, but couldn’t get comments before publication.) Instead she went with information she got from one or more anonymous sources and rushed it to publication.

There was an actual source who testified to corroborate Durocher’s story. Marc Gilbert, who was a member on the consortium board representing … oh, I’ll let you guess which TV network he was representing. He said he heard during a conference call, possibly during an informal discussion, someone from Radio-Canada (he couldn’t say who) asking about giving broadcast rights to Gesca. Though he said it wasn’t a negotiation, it wasn’t shot down by CTV, TVA or Global but rather someone from CBC, and he said he wasn’t Durocher’s source.

Getting burned by sources happens. It’s happened to me a few times, usually because the source is misinformed and presents information as being more reliable than it is. It’s hard to keep a really juicy piece of information under your hat until you verify it, especially if it’s one of those things people don’t want to talk about publicly, or if you can’t reach the person who can confirm it. It’s embarrassing to be caught on it, but you apologize profusely, correct the misinformation and try to reassure people you won’t do it again.

But that’s not what Sophie Durocher did. Instead, she stood her ground, refused to retract or correct the article (it remained online for two years without correction), and when the case finally got to court she and Quebecor presented some ridiculous defences. Among them:

  • She never said anything about giving broadcast rights away for free (apparently redefining what the verb “donner” means).
  • Gesca has no standing to sue because the article isn’t about it (even though the word “Gesca” appears in the column eight times).
  • The court is unfamiliar with rules of journalistic practice and so can’t determine if she followed them
  • Sophie Durocher is not a journalist, but a columnist, and so has the right to express her views, even if they’re false

The judge saw through all of these arguments, and ordered damages of $10,000. Gesca had asked for $75,000, but without any evidence of actual harm done to Gesca’s reputation, it’s getting a fraction of that. The judge also ordered a public apology be issued.

It’s unsurprising to learn that Quebecor plans to appeal. It said as much in a series of tweets, and in a letter from the editor published in the Journal de Montréal on Tuesday.

Malice

In cases such as these, motive plays a big part. The court heard that Durocher was essentially responding to an article that had appeared in La Presse the previous day from Marc Cassivi, criticizing Durocher specifically for harping on a “secret agreement” between Gesca and Radio-Canada. She worked on her column until the wee hours of the morning, rushing to get it done using information she had been given weeks before but had only that day tried to confirm. The judge found that she had no real reason to rush this to publication and could have waited to confirm the information before publishing.

In the end, the judge found that there was malice, but not bad faith, in Durocher’s actions. She believed what she was reporting (sorry, opining, because she’s not a journalist) was true, but she was negligent in her duties due to an emotional reaction to Cassivi’s column that robbed her of her objectivity.

Her loss of objectivity didn’t start with Cassivi’s column. It has unfortunately been present for a long time, as it has with many of her colleagues at Sun Media.

The “entente secrète” is a perfect demonstration of this. For one thing, it wasn’t a secret. It was announced in a press release in 2001 (in both languages). And the agreement is no longer valid, having ended without renewal in 2003. And the agreement primarily concerns non-journalistic resources.

Durocher and others have a point about the informal relationship between these two organizations, but choose to attribute it to some conspiracy instead of investigating the real causes.

I spoke to people at La Presse and Radio-Canada after Durocher’s 2010 “Ici Radio-Gesca” column, in which she complains that Radio-Canada too often has La Presse journalists and columnists as guests and freelancers on its shows. The people I talked to explained the situation with these points:

  • Durocher is exaggerating. The shows she cites regularly invite journalists from Le Devoir and other media
  • La Presse has more journalists than other media, particularly those who specialize in specific beats
  • Quebecor prevents many of its personalities from appearing as guests on Radio-Canada shows, or those personalities simply refuse to appear because they work for TVA or Quebecor
  • There is a tendency, mostly out of laziness, to use La Presse journalists (and journalists from other media) as guests, and Radio-Canada should be doing more to find people with first-hand stories

But Durocher continues to insist on the “entente secrète”, to the point where Quebecor tried to enter agreements between Gesca and Radio-Canada into evidence, only to have the judge rule that they were irrelevant to the case.

I hope that Durocher, the Journal de Montréal’s media columnist, steps back and takes this as a sign that she needs to take a more dispassionate approach to her paper’s primary competitors. We need people to keep Gesca and Radio-Canada on their toes, and to criticize them when they do wrong. But as it is what she writes can’t be trusted because it so transparently comes from a place of bitter resentment.

Whether she’s a journalist or columnist, this isn’t helpful for anyone.

More coverage:

Posted in Media

Quebecor cuts 360 jobs, shuts down 24 Hours in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton

Triple-digit job cuts in major media companies seem to have become so commonplace these days. It’s not even the first time it’s happened at Quebecor Media (500 job cuts last fall, 90 cuts at TVA last month, 600 jobs in 2008).

On Tuesday, the company announced it is reducing its workforce by 360 jobs through “restructuring initiatives”, and killing half its 24 Hours free daily network of papers. Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary, where Quebecor’s Sun Media also produces paid dailies, will no longer have 24 Hours newspapers. The last editions of those papers will be Aug. 2.

That leaves three: Montreal and Toronto, where Quebecor says the large mass transit systems warrant the continued publication of a free daily, and Vancouver, where there isn’t a Sun Media paid daily.

Quebecor is also pulling the plug on eight community newspapers:

  • L’Action Régionale Montérégie (Québec)
  • The Lindsay Daily Post (Ontario)
  • The Midland Free Press (Ontario)
  • The Meadow Lake Progress (Saskatchewan)
  • The Lac du Bonnet Leader (Manitoba)
  • The Beausejour Review (Manitoba)
  • Le Magazine Saint-Lambert (Québec)
  • Le Progrès de Bellechasse (Québec)

There’s some blah-blah-blah about investing in new technologies where the young people are at these days, but the job cuts make it clear that those investments won’t involve many people.

The news comes just after the editor of the Toronto Sun was left jobless.

Posted in Media, Radio, TV

The new convergence utopia: Who owns what in Canadian media

A little under three years ago, I published a post with a chart of Canada’s media giants and what they own. Now that the CRTC has given a green light to a major acquisition by one of them, I thought it was a good time to revisit and update that chart.

The following represents who will own what once all the various deals go through, including related deals for asset acquisitions involving Corus, Shaw and Pattison Group.

UPDATE: I’ve moved the chart to this page, where I will be keeping it updated.

Posted in Montreal, Public transit

Quebecor’s new STM bus shelter: cool, slick, but is it useful?

Quebecor out-of-home VP Claude Foisy demonstrates the new interactive screen

Quebecor out-of-home VP Claude Foisy demonstrates the new interactive screen

When Claude Foisy walked up to the big ad screen and it changed, I have to admit I thought that was pretty cool.

It didn’t transform into a helicopter or anything, it just displayed a menu.

This is the new Abribus, introduced by Quebecor and the STM on Tuesday morning at a rather fancy press conference.

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Posted in Opinion, Radio, TV

“Say No To Bell”: The hypocritical campaign against Bell/Astral

After staying silent for months following the announcement in March, a small group of cable companies has started a very public campaign to get people to oppose the proposed purchase of Astral Media by BCE (Bell).

Full-page ads from Say No to Bell (Quebecor, Cogeco and Eastlink) appeared in major newspapers on Tuesday.

It’s called Say No To Bell (Dites non à Bell), and it launched Tuesday with a press conference in Ottawa with the CEOs of Quebecor (which owns Videotron), Eastlink and Cogeco. They gave the usual arguments against concentration of media ownership, saying Bell could abuse its dominant position to unfairly harm competitors, consumers and even advertisers. Specifically, it said:

  • “When too much power is concentrated in one company it often means higher prices and poorer choices for consumers”
  • “If Bell Canada controls all the most popular content, they could charge you whatever they want to watch it.”
  • “A Bell/Astral merger could lead to an organization so dominant that no other company could compete with it to buy sports broadcast rights”
  • “To get popular channels, you could face pressure to pay for other Bell Canada channels that you are not interested in watching.”
  • “This merger could mean escalating costs for commercial advertising on television and radio and forced buys on multiple Bell Canada advertising platforms for Canadian advertisers.”
  • “Bell Canada could use its power to pressure consumers to buy their services exclusively in order to get the content they love, and buy more services than they need.”
  • “If the deal goes through, it poses a serious threat to the future health of the broadcast industry in Canada. Jobs will be lost in the TV production and arts sectors. Young people hoping to build a career in these fields will see fewer opportunities as production is centralized.”
(They also point to a list of quotes from various media writing about the deal, including three from me.)

All that stuff sounds pretty scary. But it’s also a lot of “could” and very little “will”. And the statements seem to ignore that the CRTC has specific rules that are designed to prevent most of the things they worry about. Distributors are not allowed to show undue preference to affiliated channels, and they are required to carry channels owned by competitors (and include those channels in packages where their own channels are included). Specialty channels, meanwhile, are not allowed to charge excess fees, nor refuse to offer their channels individually.

That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate worries here. Media concentration wouldn’t be happening if it didn’t result in a significant advantage. Larger companies are more efficient (centralizing paperwork and technology, for example), and even though there can’t be any formal advantage given to affiliated services, it happens in practice. (Cogeco gave the example of Bell’s RDS2, which it said was withheld from it for months until an arbitrator imposed a deal.) There are also advantages to be had in areas the CRTC doesn’t regulate, like online video.

Chart of Canadian market share by the Say No To Bell campaign.

Hypocrites

But arguments against media concentration are a bit rich coming from Quebecor and Cogeco. (I’ll leave Eastlink out of this since I don’t know them very well and they’re not a vertically integrated company.)

Quebecor’s name is practically synonymous with convergence and media concentration. It owns the largest private television network in Quebec, the largest newspaper (in terms of circulation), the largest cable company and the largest magazine publisher. It has been scooping up independent weekly newspapers in Quebec as it fights a war with Transcontinental in that industry. And it has absolutely no qualms about using its convergence power across different media.

Though Quebecor seems concerned with how big a combined Bell/Astral would become, Quebecor’s French-language television market share would still be higher, at 29.6% to 26.8%. (Say No To Bell prefers to speak of revenues, which skews heavily in favour of Astral in both languages because Astral owns the expensive premium movie services The Movie Network and Super Écran.)

Cogeco, meanwhile, is ill-placed to talk about the negative effects of market share. It was just last year that it purchased Corus Quebec, combining two of the three major players in radio in this province. As if that wasn’t enough, it asked for – and received – an exemption from the CRTC to allow it to own three French-language FM radio stations in Montreal, in addition to an English FM station and a French AM station. Combined, Cogeco-owned stations have a 51.4% market share among francophone Montrealers according to ratings data from BBM Canada. Counting only commercial stations, that market share jumps to 65%. In Quebec City, Cogeco has a 40% commercial market share, nine points more than its strongest competitor.

And even then, it applied to the CRTC to launch two more AM radio stations in Montreal, both heavily subsidized by the Quebec government. (One application was withdrawn when it turned CKAC into an all-traffic station, the other was denied because of a lack of acceptable alternative frequencies.)

These are the people warning about concentration of media ownership.

Perhaps the biggest example of hypocrisy is when Quebecor and Cogeco were asked during the press conference whether they tried to buy Astral. Cogeco’s Audet refused to answer the question, saying it was irrelevant. I take that to mean they probably did try, but lost to the big pockets of Bell.

Bell/Astral rounding up support

It’s interesting that none of these three companies has yet submitted a formal intervention to the CRTC in this case (or if they have, those comments haven’t been published yet). But supporters of the deal have been flooding the commission with comments. Of the more than 450 comments about Bell’s purchase of Astral, most are from organizations that have dealings with one or both companies, and support the purchase either because of the tangible benefits package they would receive in it or just out of some apparent sense of corporate loyalty. (The number of them and their similarity suggests that Bell is pushing its business contacts to submit them, and it’s not clear what incentives they’re using.)

Among those to send their support are charities like the Saskatoon SPCA and Canadian Cancer Society, TV producers like Novem, Groupe Fair-Play and Zone 3, territorial legislators (because of the proposed upgrades to Northwestel) and major advertisers like Loblaws.

The CRTC accepted comments on this application until 8pm ET on Aug. 9, with hearings to take place in Montreal on Sept. 10. The Competition Bureau, which also has to approve the deal, issued a statement Tuesday saying it is “aware that a number of serious concerns have been expressed” and that “we are actively reviewing these concerns.”

Let’s hope both regulatory bodies can sort the truth from the BS being thrown at them from both sides.

Coverage

Other reactions

Bell responded to the campaign with a press release focusing on how the acquisition would increase, not decrease, competition in Quebec.

Even though the purchase was announced in March, and the CRTC application published a month ago, other groups are only now making their voices heard in the Bell/Astral acquisition debate. (Though this is also because many of them filed interventions at the last minute.) Among them:

Telus joins in

Even though it was days after the deadline for comments to the CRTC, Telus also issued a public statement encouraging a stop to the deal. Telus filed an intervention with the CRTC making a similar call.

Looks like it’s working

A poll by Forum Research shows 60% of Canadians oppose the Bell/Astral merger. Is that just a matter of their distaste for large corporate mergers, or evidence that the Say No To Bell campaign is working? Either way, I predict lots more full-page newspaper ads.

Posted in Media, Opinion

Quebecor’s media wars: It takes two to tango

It seems a week can’t go by without Quebecor or one of its journalistic outlets picking a fight with a competitor. Whether it’s an unwritten company rule to bias its news coverage in this fashion or simply an astonishing coincidence, I can’t say for certain. But either way the result is the same: lots of mudslinging in the direction of Quebecor’s enemies.

And, unfortunately, the response to a lot of this mudslinging is mudslinging in the other direction. Rather than see dispassionate analysis of important issues presented with balance, we’re bombarded with fact-massaging attacks from both sides and left to our own devices to try to pick out truth from truthiness.

Here’s a few examples of the battles it’s been waging recently:

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Posted in Media, Opinion

Quebecor doesn’t inform when it doesn’t feel like it

Last week I told you about Quebecor’s new webpage where the media and telecom giant responds to criticism and perceived misinformation via open letter (instead of, say, responding to journalists’ queries).

Though I have issues with Quebecor’s way of dealing with news about itself (particularly its apparently systematic refusal to speak to journalists from Gesca and Radio-Canada, and to a lesser extent all other media as well), I thought this was a good step forward, that maybe the company would start interacting more with people and present its side of disputes more often.

Then, a few days later came the news that Quebecor was laying off 400 people across the country. This is a cull on the level of triple-digit job cuts two to three years ago by the CBC, CTV, Canwest and Rogers. And it’s about three years since an even larger cut at Sun Media decimated its workforce.

It’s hard to think of a way Quebecor could spin this positively, but they could probably talk about how this will affect their business, where the cuts will be concentrated, and what will happen to the workers.

Instead, the official response from Quebecor spokesperson Serge Sasseville was “no comment”. The “Quebecor vous informe” website is silent on the issue.

Canadian Press finally got he union to confirm the job cuts, half of which is through voluntary buyouts and another 100 through other forms of attrition, leaving only 100 people laid off. It’s still a significant cut, but at least some will be leaving on their own terms.

Had Sasseville decided he did want to comment and answer journalists’ questions, we might get an answer to why a company that just started up a 24-hour all-news network that depends heavily on the work produced by Quebecor’s existing print journalists is now making significant cuts to them. We might know why a company that seems to have no trouble making money feels the need to make such significant cuts in its workforce. We might know why the previous cut of 600 jobs only three years ago wasn’t good enough to bring efficiency to its operations.

But instead, we’ll just have to guess what those answers are, and it’s entirely possible those guesses will be wrong.

24 Heures cuts photo department

It’s unclear if these cuts are part of the 400, but news came out earlier this month that Quebecor’s free Montreal daily 24 Heures had fired its three photographers, eliminating its photo department, as well as a number of copy editors.

Quebecor wouldn’t confirm the news initially, but news came via social media, resulting in a blog post by former 24 Heures photographer Rogerio Barbosa, who quit his job there because the paper refused to pay his expenses. He then went to the Journal de Montréal, where he was locked out along with 252 others in January 2009. The newspaper he left, meanwhile, hired three people to replace them, apparently at a higher pay.

Barbosa’s blog post got picked up by Le Devoir’s Stéphane Baillargeon, who put this into context: Three photographers hired to replace one months before a lockout at the Journal de Montréal. During the lockout, many photos originally taken for 24 Heures got republished in the Journal. And then months after the lockout ends, suddenly all three photographers are fired.

It makes for a pretty strong circumstantial case that the three photographers were hired for the sole purpose of replacing locked-out Journal de Montréal photographers.

Nowadays, much of the photography appearing in Quebecor papers is done by Agence QMI, wire services, provided publicity photos or writers taking photos for their own stories.

(Baillargeon’s piece resulted in a reply from Quebecor’s Serge Sasseville, pointing out that 24 Heures still has eight journalists, two “journalistes-pupitreurs”, two editors and a designer. Sasseville said six people lost their jobs – three photographers and three editors (of whom four were permanent employees and two freelance).

Posted in Media

Quebecor starts PR counterattack

This post has also been published at OpenFile.ca.

Apparently frustrated by the misinformation being spread about Quebec’s largest media company by its competitors, Quebecor Media is starting to defend itself directly to the public.

It recently started making use of its Twitter account, and has setup a new website called Quebecor vous informe, where it posts letters by the company responding to competitors and critics (all of them, somewhat annoyingly, as PDFs).

As an example, there’s this letter, dated Tuesday, that responds to the recent episode of Radio-Canada’s Enquête that reported on the Quebecor empire (well, actually, it’s a letter in response to a lawyer’s letter to the Journal de Montréal’s editor-in-chief that criticized the report, but most of it deals with the Enquête episode itself).

The letter from Quebecor VP Marc Tremblay doesn’t challenge any of the facts presented in the Enquête report, but takes exception to the way they are presented, by either accusing it of bias against Quebecor or explaining how the company’s practices are perfectly justifiable.

It doesn’t, for example, challenge the part about how the Journal de Montréal altered the results of a ranking of the most influential cultural figures in Quebec, but calls it an “isolated incident” and presents lots of documentation on why Julie Snyder is actually very influential (mostly clippings from Gesca papers that also rank her high). It also criticized Enquête for relying so much on people critical of Quebecor and bringing no one in who supports the company’s positions.

Another example is this letter to Le Devoir criticizing a column by its media columnist Stéphane Baillargeon about the recent firings at 24 Heures. Le Devoir published it with a response from Baillargeon saying the writer, Serge Sasseville, refused to respond to his questions about 24 Heures when he wrote the piece.

This is the thing that annoys me most about this way of functioning: Quebecor systematically refuses interviews with journalists, particularly from Gesca or Radio-Canada, then complains that everyone’s biased against them because news articles only present the other side.

It’s like gagging yourself and then complaining that you never get a chance to speak.

That said, and though it might cause some Quebecor critics to pull their hair out, this is a step forward. Quebecor isn’t being silent about criticisms and is taking them head-on. Or at least trying to deflect them instead of ignoring them.

Quebecor needs to go on a charm offensive to get the public back on its side. Opening the lines of communication is a start. But toning down the arrogance that seeps through every sentence of those letters would be a giant next step in making Quebecor Media sound more human.

Then maybe I might start having hope that the conflict between Quebecor and Gesca/Radio-Canada might be resolved before the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is.