Tag Archives: RDS

CRTC settles Videotron/RDS dispute, opening door to subscribers getting RDS GO

It’s not official yet, but a decision released by the CRTC this week will likely lead to Videotron subscribers soon finally getting access to RDS GO and being able to stream Canadiens games on smartphones, tablets and online.

The decision, released Tuesday, is what’s called a final offer arbitration between Videotron and Bell Media over the distribution of RDS and RDS2. The companies couldn’t come to an agreement over renewing the distribution contract, which expired last August, and so Videotron asked the commission to intervene.

In final offer arbitration, both parties present complete contracts to the commission, and it chooses one in its entirety (or, exceptionally, can refuse both).  This method of conflict resolution has the advantage of rewarding whichever side presents the most reasonable-seeming offer, and so encouraging both sides to be more reasonable in those offers.

In this case, the CRTC sided with Videotron, judging that its offer was better. The supporting documents in the case are heavily redacted to protect commercially sensitive information, so we don’t know any of the details of the contract, including what wholesale per-subscriber price Videotron will pay for RDS, what kind of volume discount it will get on that price, how long the term is or even how many RDS subscribers Videotron has.

But the documents do give plenty of insight into the relationship between Bell and Quebecor, and the tone of the many letters to the CRTC suggests there’s no love lost between these two organizations.

Videotron wants streaming

According to the documents submitted, Bell and Videotron managed to work out most of their differences on the new contract, including multiplatform rights, which Videotron has been trying to get a deal on since at least 2014. And it made it clear it sees these rights as essential:

Il est très important de souligner l’urgence de la situation puisque tant et aussi longtemps que le tarif multiplateforme n’est pas réglé, les abonnés de Vidéotron n’ont pas accès à ce contenu et sont désavantagés vis-à-vis les abonnés de Bell Télé. De plus, en retardant l’accès à ce contenu, Bell Télé continue de jouir d’un avantage concurrentiel important tout en désavantageant Vidéotron.

Though Videotron initially wanted to put multiplatform rights to arbitration as well, after failing to get the issue resolved in mediation in 2014, the companies solved that issue on their own, leaving only the wholesale price for the channels up to the commission.

With the CRTC’s decision, there’s now a new contract with RDS, one that includes multiplatform rights and will allow Videotron to meet new packaging requirements set by the CRTC to come into effect by Dec. 1.

So when do we get RDS GO?

Not quite yet, it seems. While the company told me in a statement that it’s happy with the decision and that there’s “agreement in principle” on multiplatform distribution, some aspects of the deal are still in discussion. “It’s impossible for us to make an announcement on this subject today,” the company said.

Hopefully this will be resolved by the time the Canadiens season begins again this fall.

Multiplatform distribution, and in particular “TV anywhere” apps, still have plenty of holes, particularly where they involve large vertically integrated companies. Few Bell services are available to Videotron customers this way, and few TVA services are available to Bell customers.

 

These issues will eventually be resolved as new distribution contracts are signed (in many cases probably involving a quid pro quo to avoid giving one distributor a competitive advantage), but they’re taking forever.

Because this deal concerns only RDS, it doesn’t affect distribution of other Bell Media services on Videotron (not even TSN). But hopefully this will help speed up discussions about getting those services on board as well.

The arguments

Since the CRTC arbitration in the end concerned mainly just the wholesale fee for RDS, the arguments presented by Bell and Videotron mainly concerned trying to set a higher or lower value on the channels. Though both offers increased the wholesale fee for RDS, Bell’s increased it more than Videotron’s did.

Much of those arguments centred on comparing RDS to TVA Sports, which of course is owned by Videotron’s parent company Quebecor.

Bell’s arguments for a higher fee included:

  • RDS maintains higher overall ratings than TVA Sports, even after losing national NHL rights.
  • RDS is more respected by viewers than TVA Sports.
  • RDS’s production and acquisition costs have increased dramatically.
  • Outside of hockey, RDS is by far more popular than TVA Sports, with many more marquee events.
  • Though Saturday night Canadiens games are popular, many more Quebec francophones are choosing to watch the games in English on CBC or Sportsnet than watch TVA Sports (they don’t say why, but this probably has to do as much with the fact that some people just don’t feel the need to subscribe to the channel as it may with people not liking its broadcasts).
  • Videotron is changing its packaging rules to come into compliance with the CRTC’s new rules. A higher per-subscriber wholesale fee should be expected when there are fewer subscribers.
  • RDS needs to compete not only with TVA Sports but with online sources of sports programming.
  • Bell’s offer is more in line with what other distributors in Quebec pay for RDS.
  • Videotron has done nothing in its packaging of RDS to warrant a “special discount”.
  • Videotron is treating RDS more harshly than TSN, because its goal is not fair market value but to punish RDS in order to support TVA Sports
  • Quebecor started TVA Sports and is aggressively bidding for sports rights, which is why RDS’s acquisition costs have increased so much in the first place

Videotron’s arguments for a lower fee (one closer to that for TVA Sports) included:

  • TVA Sports has higher peaks in ratings thanks to NHL playoffs and Canadiens Saturday night games
  • RDS has lost other important sporting events to TVA Sports, including some MLB, NFL, QMJHL and tennis rights
  • Bell offers RDS and TVA Sports at the same retail price, suggesting equivalent value to consumers
  • RDS lost a third of its ratings due to the loss of Saturday night NHL games, NHL playoffs, NHL special events and non-local NHL games
  • RDS’s subscriber revenues have already gone up considerably faster than its expenses, particularly jumping from 2011 to 2012, when it went from 44% of revenue to 62%. (This is mainly because until 2011, RDS’s wholesale rate was regulated by the CRTC.)
  • RDS’s profits continue to increase (though they were cut in half in 2014-15 after losing NHL rights).
  • There’s also RDS Info, which isn’t part of this contract but also collects subscriber fees while adding little original content
  • Television subscribers are already beginning to unsubscribe from some services or eliminate pay TV all together, citing cost as a major factor.
  • Comparing Videotron to other distributors in Quebec isn’t appropriate both because of Videotron’s high market power as a distributor and Bell’s high market power as a broadcaster. (Plus, of course, Bell TV is one of Videotron’s main competitors in Quebec.)

Comparing ratings is tricky, especially for this past season, since no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs. TVA Sports’s overall numbers would have been much higher had that happened. There were a lot of other issues with arguments on both sides, and of course plenty of other arguments were presented that were redacted in the public documents.

The decision

The CRTC found Bell’s offer reasonable on several points, like packaging, volume discounts, and how it compares to other rates. But it found RDS could not justify the rate increase it wanted when you look at historical rates, which it found more relevant to this case.

The other factor that swayed the commission was the variability of the rate. Instead of a fixed per-subscriber rate, both offers proposed a scale where the larger the number of subscribers overall, the lower the per-subscriber rate. But the CRTC found that Bell’s offer was too flat, and “would have the effect of insulating the programming service from the impact of subscriber choice at an unreasonable level.” In other words, if people dropped RDS from their packages, Bell would see only a small drop in their subscriber revenue and Videotron would be forced to pick up an unreasonable amount of that loss.

As a result, the CRTC picked Videotron’s offer. This may be good news for Videotron subscribers wanting to get RDS, particularly as a standalone service, but more importantly good news for Videotron’s bottom line.

Impact 2016 broadcast schedule announced

We now know where the 2016 Impact games — at least those played in the MLS regular season — will be broadcast, on TV and radio, in French and English.

Like with the NHL’s national/regional split, the Impact’s MLS games are split between those whose broadcast rights are sold by the league (which partners with TSN and RDS) and those whose rights are sold by the club (which partners with TVA Sports).

RDS: 13 games plus playoffs

RDS announced it will broadcast 13 Impact games, including all MLS games against Canadian opponents (Toronto or Vancouver), plus all playoff games. Its schedule also includes 10 Toronto FC games (three of which are against Montreal) and 10 Vancouver Whitecaps games (one of which is against Toronto and one of which is against Montreal), for a total of 28 games. Games not involving Montreal will generally be put on RDS2.

The RDS broadcast team is Claudine Douville on play-by-play, with Jean Gounelle doing analysis, plus Olivier Brett and Patrick Leduc during pregame and halftime.

TVA Sports: 21 games

TVA Sports, meanwhile, has the remaining 21 Impact MLS games, including the two games at Olympic Stadium, and the season finale on Oct. 23. Most games will be on the main channel, with Saturday night games moved to TVA Sports 2.

The TVA broadcast team is Frédéric Lord on play-by-play, with Vincent Destouches doing analysis.

TSN: 10 games plus playoffs

Ten games will be carried in English on TSN channels, including the season opener in Vancouver, the Saputo Stadium home opener April 23 against Toronto, and the last home game of the season, also against Toronto.

The TSN TV broadcast teams are Like Wileman/Jason deVos and Vic Rauter/Greg Sutton.

TSN Radio 690/CJAD: all regular-season and playoff games

On radio, all games are set for broadcast on TSN Radio 690, though that will likely change when scheduling conflicts arise with Alouettes games, Canadiens playoff games (don’t laugh) and next season’s Canadiens games in October. (That goes for RDS as well.)

98.5FM: minimum 21 games

Only 21 games are set for radio in French, on 98.5 FM, though that’s more than last year, and the press release describes it as a “minimum”. That station doesn’t have a backup in case of conflict, so can’t really broadcast games when the Canadiens or Alouettes are playing.

Jeremy Filosa is the voice of the Impact for 98.5. Each match will have a 30-minute pregame show and a postgame show.

You’d think this would open up an opportunity for Montreal’s all-sports-talk station 91.9 Sport to pick up those games. But it hasn’t chosen to do so. Even if the rights are dirt cheap, it’s expensive to produce such matches. That said, the thing 91.9 needs most right now is marketing and recognition, and broadcasting games would be a big step in that direction.

The full schedule, with broadcast partners for each game, is posted on the Impact’s website.

Why is RDS/TSN/Sportsnet blacked out? NHL regional TV rights explained

TSN blackout

Even though I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the subject of NHL regional rights and in particular how Canadiens fans have to deal with them for the first time, there’s still a flood of questions, usually the same ones, from people who suddenly find themselves staring at a screen saying a hockey game is not available in their region.

The situation hasn’t changed dramatically, except for broadcasts on RDS. Until this season, the network had a special deal with the Canadiens and the National Hockey League that allowed all 82 regular-season games to be broadcast nationally without restriction. This is the exception rather than the rule. Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators games in English have been subject to regional blackouts for years now.

It’s caused so much rage that RDS has posted a page — in both French and English — explaining how the blackouts aren’t its fault.

Am I affected?

The Canadiens broadcast region. Map via Shaw Direct

The Canadiens broadcast region. Regions in green can will not experience blackouts on RDS, TSN5 or Sportsnet East. (Map via Shaw Direct)

If you’re used to watching Canadiens games on RDS, you’ll no longer be able to do so if you live west of eastern Ontario (officially, a line connecting Pembroke and Belleville). This is the Canadiens/Senators broadcast region. It includes that corner of eastern Ontario, plus all of Quebec and all four Atlantic provinces. In Toronto, the Prairies, B.C. and territories, you’re out of luck. Because RDS carries only the regional games, you won’t see a single Canadiens game — or any NHL game at all for that matter — on RDS this year.

During the first preseason game on Tuesday night, some people reported being able to get RDS un-blacked-out outside the Canadiens region. Some had the HD feed blacked out but the SD feed not. This should not be relied upon as a stable loophole.

If you’re not sure what region you’re in, you can put your postal code into this website, which will show which teams’ region you’re in. Any team not on that list will (or at least should) be blacked out in your region.

For fans of other teams, this post explains their broadcast regions and how many games will be broadcast regionally and nationally.

Who is to blame?

The big change isn’t so much that Rogers has spent $5.2 billion on a wide-ranging deal for NHL rights in Canada. It’s the emergence of a competitor to RDS, TVA Sports, which has sublicensed the rights to national games from Rogers. RDS picked up the regional rights, but that doesn’t give them the rights to broadcast these games nationally. They’d love nothing better than to do so, but they can’t.

So who is to blame? Rogers? Quebecor? Bell? The Canadiens? Your cable company?

No, it’s the National Hockey League.

The NHL, like other sports leagues, sets the framework for television rights deals. And part of that framework forces most of the regular-season games of any team to be broadcast only within that team’s designated region. Or, looking at it the other way, it prevents other team’s broadcasts from entering that team’s region.

The purpose is simply to protect that team’s territorial rights and market. Basically, if you live in southern Ontario, the Leafs own you, and they want you to be a Leafs fan, not a Canadiens fan. You might think that’s ridiculous, but that’s nevertheless the logic.

(Be glad that the NHL doesn’t also follow the NFL’s rule that blacks out local games when a team has not sold out a home game. Though since the Canadiens always sell out, that wouldn’t affect them.)

What can I do about it?

So, you’re a Canadiens fan in southern Ontario, Calgary or Vancouver who wants to watch all 82 Canadiens games, and you don’t mind what language it’s in. Well, here are your options:

  • Learn to live with watching only half the season. Rogers is broadcasting 40 of the 82 Canadiens games nationally in English, plus all playoff games, including all Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday night games, and all games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins. (The 22 games broadcast nationally in French on TVA Sports are included in those 40.) You’ll also see when the Canadiens play the team that owns your broadcast region. I break down which games are which here. If you live in the Jets, Oilers or Flames regions, you’ll see the games against those teams too. People in Saskatchewan will get a total of 44 Habs games all told.
  • Buy NHL Centre Ice. This is the official way to get around the regional blackouts, and it’s what distant fans of other Canadian teams have had to do for years. Details of this service haven’t been announced yet, but it will be offered by your cable or satellite provider for about $200 for the season or $35 a month. They might also offer a special deal for just the French Canadiens and Senators games from RDS for $60. NHL Centre Ice blacks out any game that is otherwise broadcast in your region, so you’ll need to get Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 to watch national games on those channels. Contact your TV provider for details.
  • Buy NHL GameCentre Live. Similar to NHL Centre Ice, GameCentre offers a way for people to watch out-of-market games. GameCentre is a streaming service, to watch the games online or on mobile or tablet apps. Because it’s delivered on the Internet, it’s offered directly by Rogers, not by your TV provider. You can subscribe to it here. It’s $200 for the season (with a $180 early bird special). Rogers has also promised a special deal for $60 with just the RDS Senators and Canadiens regional games. GameCentre Live used to have the same rules as Centre Ice, blacking out any game available to you on TV. But Rogers is making all of its nationally broadcast games available on this service. It’s also making in-region regional games available, but only if they’re on Sportsnet and you’re a Sportsnet subscriber. This requires authentication with your TV provider, which means they need to be on board as well. This means that Senators games, French Canadiens games, Jets games and some Maple Leafs games that air on TSN and RDS are not available in-region on GameCentre Live.
  • Listen to blacked out games on the radio. Blackout rules don’t apply to the radio, so you can listen to the livestream of TSN Radio 690 from anywhere in the country.
  • Get an illegal bootleg stream online. There are various ways to get access to Canadiens games through third parties that illegally rebroadcast the games online. I won’t provide instructions here, but you can find them.
  • Move to Montreal. I’m just saying, that’s an option.

One thing that won’t help is to start a petition, yell at your TV provider or insult Rogers, Bell or anyone else on Twitter. Believe me, the broadcasters would love nothing better than to do away with blackouts that annoy viewers, deprive them of advertising revenue and complicate scheduling. But they can’t, because despite those billions of dollars, the NHL is still the boss.

But if it helps you emotionally, go ahead.

NHL broadcast schedule 2014-15: Who owns rights to what games

Are you pissed because you just saw RDS, TSN or Sportsnet blacked out during an NHL game? This post explains what’s going on and what you can do about it.

Updated Sept. 5 with Rogers-Canadiens regional deal, as well as additional national games for Oilers, Flames and Canucks. Also includes information about out-of-region coverage where two Canadian teams face each other, and information about where some games are national in one language but regional in the other.

The final piece of the puzzle as far as the NHL schedule is concerned has finally been revealed with the publishing of regional broadcast schedules. This allows us to break down who will broadcast what where, and I’ve done so below for the seven Canadian NHL teams.

As previously announced, Rogers has all the national rights to NHL games, which includes all Saturday night games and all playoff games. Beyond that, it gets a bit complicated (some games are national in one language but not the other, for example). Regional games will be viewable in the team’s region (here’s a map of the teams’ regions), but those outside will need to fork out cash for NHL Centre Ice or NHL GameCentre to see all their team’s games. (Or maybe not? Rogers still gives me a coy “details will be announced in the coming weeks” when I ask about that.)

TSN has decided to assign its three regional rights packages to specific channels: Jets on TSN3, Leafs on TSN4 and Senators on TSN5. The five-channel TSN system launches on Monday on every major TV provider in Canada except Videotron (which tells me it’s in discussions to add the other three channels).

Below are how the TV and radio rights break down for each team. They include regular-season games only. Preseason games are regional, and subject to separate deals. All playoff games are national, so their rights are owned by Rogers in English and TVA in French.

Radio rights are not subject to regional blackouts. Listed is their local station only and does not include affiliates.

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RDS to keep 60 Habs games a season until 2026

They won’t say how much it cost, but RDS has bought the regional rights to all 60 Canadiens games not guaranteed to TVA Sports, and this until the 2025-26 season.

The deal, announced at 6pm on the Friday before Christmas, also includes an unspecified number of all preseason games each season. But Saturday night games, and all playoff games, remain with TVA.

The deal also applies only to “the team’s designated broadcast region”, the same region that the TSN Habs channel is limited to — Atlantic Canada, Quebec and eastern Ontario (going as far west as Belleville and Pembroke, so basically identical to the territory of Rogers Sportsnet East). So if RDS puts these matches on its main channel, that channel would have to be blacked out in the rest of the country. That’s almost certainly going to be the case, because the Canadiens is what RDS is all about. Bell Media spokesperson Renee Rouse confirmed that the network will be blacked out outside its regional market.

It’s unclear at this point how or if people in southern Ontario and west of there will get their Canadiens hockey in French. Rogers owns the rights to out-of-market games, but any French airing of those games on either Rogers or TVA channels would need to be blacked out in eastern Canada. Right now, out-of-market games are only available on the expensive NHL Centre Ice package, and it’s very possible that will continue.

Asked about out-of-market games, Rogers spokesperson Andrea Goldstein tells me that Rogers does indeed own the rights in both languages. But “it’s still early days and we’ll be announcing our programming plans in the coming months.” That sounds promising for the possibility of some non-Centre-Ice option for expat francophone Habs fans or those in places like northeastern Ontario.

When the Rogers deal was announced, we were promised no regionalization or blackouts, but since this is a regional deal, and there will indeed be blackouts, I’m not sure how that’s supposed to make sense, unless Rogers plans to offer out-of-market games on a different channel.

Either way, for the first time in a decade, all Canadiens games won’t be on the same channel in French, and RDS’s Canadiens games won’t be available nationally.

The RDS/Canadiens statement also makes no mention of mobile rights, online streaming, video-on-demand or any other type of rights to those games. Bell Media’s Rouse confirmed that they have not acquired any of these rights. So if you want to get that Tuesday night Canadiens game on your smartphone, you’ll still have to deal with Rogers and Quebecor.

Bell also announced that it has retained the naming rights to the Bell Centre until 2028. Bell owns 18% of the Canadiens, which may or may not have been a significant factor in all of this.

UPDATE (Dec. 27): Martin Leclerc of Radio-Canada says the broadcasting deal is worth $68 million a season, or about $1.1 million a game. He makes the case that neither TVA nor RDS should expect to make their money back.

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.

Ethics don’t matter on TV

A couple of disturbing stories have come to light recently about Quebec television broadcasters’ attempts to censor things that might affect their bottom line.

The first was the revelation from La Presse’s Hugo Dumas that producers of dramatic programming for TVA were being asked to not show characters using iPhones. This, apparently, because Quebecor owns both TVA and Videotron and Videotron doesn’t offer the iPhone to wireless customers.

That prompted a reply from Quebecor VP Serge Sasseville that actually admitted Dumas’s story was true, but said that this was simply a case of a sponsor (Videotron) wanting its products depicted in the programming it sponsors. He offers the example of Ford sponsoring Radio-Canada’s series 19-2, and seeing Ford vehicles being driven in the show.

Dumas in turn replied to the reply, saying the argument seemed to suggest that Videotron sponsors all of TVA’s programming, and calling that reasoning preposterous.

Interference from a broadcaster into dramatic programming for business reasons is bad enough. But as Sasseville’s comparison points out, we’re well past that point already.

The second story is the decision of RDS to refuse to show a commercial from comedian Mike Ward that makes fun of the Canadiens. To be precise, they refused to show the ad during Canadiens games.

Their argument, and it’s a really stupid one, is that RDS is the official broadcaster of the Canadiens, and it’s unacceptable that an ad that runs during Canadiens games makes fun of them.

Some have noted that RDS is now owned by Bell, which is a stakeholder in the Canadiens and owns the naming rights to the Bell Centre, among many commercial deals between the telecom giant and the hockey team.

Both of these moves are ridiculous, and both reek of giant media empires abusing their ownership powers to mold programming in one area so it matches the business interests of another.

It’s not that many steps from this to each media giant having its own imaginary universe, each with its own set of maybe-true facts.

The Alouettes parade and the two solitudes

A TV camera setup for live coverage of the Grey Cup parade and party in 2009.

Last year, when the Alouettes won the Grey Cup with a spectacular last-second field goal against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (though TSN’s placement of it as the #1 wacky CFL moment of all-time was a bit over-the-top), I went down to Ste. Catherine St. and the new Place des Festivals and joined in the party, taking a few photos of the assembled media. It was fun being in such a large crowd celebrating a pro sports championship.

This year, the Grey Cup wasn’t as exciting. (I barely noticed it was over, looking up from my copy editing station.) And with the same parade-and-party planned, and the weather not looking too hot, I reluctantly stayed home to watch the coverage on TV.

Thankfully, there wasn’t a lack of live parade coverage on television, but where it was covered and where it wasn’t made it clear to me how geographically biased Canada’s English and French-language networks are.

On the English side, both CFCF (CTV) and CKMI (Global) aired live parade specials, as they had last year. Some kudos are due to Global here, which has awfully few resources and doesn’t even produce its own newscast. I’ve criticized the station for barely meeting CRTC minimums on local programming (and even then by airing repeats of their newscasts at 6am and 6:30am), for outsourcing their production and using a fake, misleading green-screen set, and even having a weatherman who’s based in Toronto (but pretends he’s in Montreal). So to be able to put together a two-hour live special, with Mike Le Couteur in studio, Richard Dagenais at the Place des Festivals and Domenic Fazioli along the parade route, must have been quite the feat for this tiny group. CFCF’s special may have been technically better, but was half an hour shorter and replaced their noon newscast.

CBMT (CBC Montreal) didn’t air a parade special. I can’t remember the last time this once-great station aired a live local special event. A CBC camera was on site with local sports reporter Sonali Karnick, but it was only used to give some live hits for CBC News Network. Online, they had a webcast of the parade and party without any commentary or interviews.

I went over to the all-news and all-sports networks: CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. I figured they all had good reason to cover this parade. It’s not like anything else breaking was going on at noon on a Wednesday.

You know what I found? Nothing.

CBC and CTV’s news channels were going through the motions, recapping the latest headlines. TSN was recapping the previous night’s Maple Leafs game, followed by a broadcast of competitive darts.

Darts!

TSN, which two days earlier had been crowing about how it had 4.94 million viewers for the Grey Cup game (a further 1.1 million was watching on RDS), just short of the previous year’s record, apparently thought that showing SportsCentre and darts was more interesting than a Grey Cup victory parade.

What annoys me most was how little effort would have been required to give this a national audience. Nothing important would have to have been pre-empted. And because CTV owns CFCF, CTVNC and TSN, they could have simply had the national news and sports channels take the CFCF feed for an hour and a half and shown the parade nationally as Montreal viewers were watching it. There are anglophone Montreal expats across the country, not to mention simple fans of the Canadian Football League (surely that 4.94 million wasn’t all Roughriders fans, considering Saskatchewan’s total population is just over 1 million).

CBC would have needed more effort, but even then it already had plenty of resources in place. RDI was covering the parade live, and Sonali Karnick was in place with a CBC camera and live feed. Would it have really been that much more difficult to just air the common parade feed and provide some colour commentary?

Montréal = français, Toronto = English

On the French side, it was the opposite problem: The cable channels had parade specials, but the local channels didn’t air them. LCN, RDI and RDS all had specials lasting more than two hours. Radio-Canada and TVA stuck with regular programming, which at noon means newscasts. Brief stories about the parade, but no live special. V and Télé-Québec, well, they don’t have news departments so I didn’t exactly expect much from them.

Part of me wants to see the Toronto Argonauts win the next Grey Cup so I can contrast the coverage plans. Does anyone seriously believe that CTVNC, CBCNN, TSN, CP24, Sportsnet and the rest wouldn’t give this wall-to-wall coverage if it was in Toronto? And, conversely, that LCN, RDI and RDS would all ignore it completely if it was anywhere other than Montreal (or maybe Quebec City)?

LCN, RDS and CTV are privately-owned networks, so they can do whatever they want. If they want to be homers for the cities their broadcast studios are located in, if they have little interest in covering any event that’s not happening within 50 kilometres of their offices, if they want to be de facto regional news networks, that’s up to them.

But CBC is publicly-financed, and their geographical bias really annoys me, particularly with RDI, which can often be mistaken for an all-Montreal-news channel. I realize that a large part of its market lives within the greater Montreal area, but as a national French-language news channel it has a mandate to cover the entire country, not just wherever they can get to on a tank of gas from the Maison Radio-Canada.

CBC should have been there. And if the Roughriders had won, RDI should have been in Regina.

You might think this is a silly discussion to have over something as trivial as a Grey Cup victory parade, but it’s a symptom of a larger problem. We see the same decisions being made during municipal and provincial elections, or provincial budgets, or just about any other prescheduled major local news events. During the last municipal election in 2009, the local anglo stations couldn’t be bothered to cut into their American programming, so updates were limited to their websites, the 11pm newscasts and the occasional news break during commercials. The last provincial election was better, but there was more national interest in that vote. That press conference of Alouettes president Larry Smith announcing his resignation? Live on RDI and LCN, but all but ignored by CTV News Channel and CBC News Network.

As local stations get gutted of their resources and national networks continue to figure out ways of centralizing the basic functions of broadcasting, the ability to do special event programming is severely reduced. And as those same network bigwigs continue to put competitive interests above their duties to serve national populations, these geographical biases from our national news and sports networks will only get worse.

You can re-watch the parade specials (or parts thereof) online from CFCF, CKMI, RDS (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10) and RDI

CFCF, RDS to get studio upgrades

CFCF's studio, from left: sports, news, interviews and weather

Studios for CFCF-12 and RDS at 1205 Papineau Ave. are going to change over the next year.

Staff of both networks in the building were informed Monday of a capital spending plan approved by CTVglobemedia. That plan will see CFCF’s news studio move to what is now office space in the southwest corner of the building, after which RDS will setup two new studios where CFCF’s newscast and RDS’s Antichambre is shot now.

The move will be a welcome change for both networks. Outside of Canadiens games and Antichambre, RDS’s studios look dull and cramped (even in my tiny TV set). CFCF, meanwhile, consists of an anchor desk, a smaller sports anchor desk, a table and two chairs for interviews, and a green screen wall for weather. It’s also beginning to show its age.

Aside from a new look, CFCF’s new studio will have “storefront” exposure, which means people walking by on the street should get a chance to peek inside and see it in action. It will also be “HD-ready.”

But those looking forward to a high-definition newscast shouldn’t hold your breath. The station’s equipment will still need to be upgraded, and that’s not in the cards yet.

“Our new facilities will be ‘HD-ready’, so when the time comes to convert the rest of the shop (cameras, editing, etc), the studio will already be wired and ready,” said news director Jed Kahane. “But we don’t have a date yet for the HD conversion of our news.”

When I visited CFCF in September and asked him about a move to HD, Kahane said there wasn’t anything in the near future, since frankly there isn’t any serious competitive pressure from either CBC or Global to force the station to make such an expensive superficial change. (Kahane has since clarified that the station does want to move to HD as soon as it can, but that “other markets in the country, who don’t enjoy our success, may come first because they need it even more than we do.”)

The full memo to staff is below:

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Alouettes parade to get live coverage on TV

Championships in Montreal are more rare than we’d like them to be, yet this year we’ve had two – the Impact and the Alouettes. (And with the Habs being shut out at home to the Leafs, a trifecta seems unlikely.)

Wednesday sees the players and fans meet to celebrate for the victory parade down Ste. Catherine St., from Crescent to Jeanne-Mance starting at 11:40am.

Surprisingly, despite it being a local event (and one coming with little advance notice), there’s going to be actual live coverage of it by local television.

Here’s what’s been announced:

  • Global (CKMI) will have live coverage from 11:30am to 1:30pm (Mike LeCouteur with The Gazette’s Herb Zurkowsky and the Q’s Ken Connors). It will also be streaming the parade live at globalmontreal.com
  • CTV (CFCF) will have live coverage from noon to 1:30pm, preempting its entire noon newscast. Sports reporters will be in the crowd, Mutsumi Takahashi and Randy Tieman at the end of the route. Lori Graham and Todd van der Heyden will be in the parade itself. It will livestream the entire parade at montreal.ctv.ca
  • CBC (CBMT) has no announced live coverage
  • Radio-Canada will not have live TV coverage on the main network, but will be livestreaming the parade at radio-canada.ca/sports
  • TVA and V have nothing announced as far as live coverage
  • RDI will have a live special from 11:30am to 1:30pm. Simon Durivage hosts with Marc André Masson, Jean St-Onge, Jacinthe Taillon, Antoine Deshaies and former Als player Bruno Heppell
  • LCN has not announced anything, but expect it to give good coverage to the parade
  • RDS will have live parade coverage from 11:30am to 2pm (it’s the only network to actually change its electronic and online schedule to reflect the coverage) with David Arsenault, Marc Labrecque, Pierre Vercheval and Denis Casavant.
  • TSN has not announced anything, but considering their current plan for noon is World Championship Darts…

So that’s four channels carrying live TV specials (CFCF, CKMI, RDI and RDS), and three sources for live online streaming, at least.

Maybe what’s surprising is that, in this local TV death spiral, I find this surprising.

(Of course, you won’t be watching the parade on TV because you’ll be on Ste. Catherine St. celebrating, right?)

UPDATE: CTV Montreal and RDS have archived footage of the parade and party afterward. The Gazette and Rue Frontenac have put together artisty videos.

Inside CFCF 12

Except, they don’t call it CFCF-12 anymore. They call it “CTV Montreal”, in order to comply with the “CTV [Name of city]” naming convention imposed by national office. Neither do they call their newscast “Pulse”, because CTV wants it called “CTV News” (or, if you must, “CTV News Montreal”). And other than the newscast, which runs 19 times a week, there is no other programming produced at 1205 Papineau Avenue.

It's not exactly a velvet rope, but it contains the crowd.

It's not exactly a velvet rope, but it contains the crowd.

But when CTVglobemedia told its local stations that they were opening their doors on Saturday, I joined a few young aspiring journalists for a tour of the station, my first time setting foot in the building.

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Guy! Guy! Guy! Bye! Bye! Bye!

For those wondering, RDS had the scoop (and more importantly, the Twitter scoop) on Bob Gainey firing Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau. They’ve cut scheduled programming of extreme winter sports on RDS and replaced it with a feed from its RIS all-sports-news network. A press conference is scheduled for 7pm.

Both RDS.ca and The Gazette’s Habs Inside/Out website are experiencing unusually high loads and are noticeably slow.

CTV/Rogers announce Olympic lineup

The consortium of private broadcasters headed by CTV has announced a huge lineup of play-by-play announcers, news anchors, former Olympians and other analysts who will travel to Vanvouver and Whistler for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It also tells us what networks coverage will appear on.

In English, the team is headed by Olympic veteran Brian Williams, who left CBC in 2006 after CTV won the rights to the 2010 Games. English Games coverage will be carried on CTV’s main network, CTV-owned TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, Rogers-owned OMNI, Rogers-owned OLN (Outdoor Life Network), and ATN, along with Rogers radio stations, CTVOlympics.ca and the Globe and Mail.

There’s also, I’m sorry to say, entertainment (eTalk/Ben Mulroney) and music (MuchMusic) reporting to go along with it. (I’m not quite sure how much music-related coverage there can be of the Olympics, but whatever…)

In French, the team will be headed by Canadiens play-by-play man Pierre Houde and Olympic broadcasting veteran Richard Garneau. French Games coverage will be carried on RDS, RIS Info-Sports, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network and … TQS.

There’s a certain irony in TQS being part of the deal. Its participation predates its bankruptcy and change in ownership, going back to when it was part-owned by CTVglobemedia. At the time (2005), TQS was supposed to be the primary broadcaster of French Olympic coverage. Now it seems clear that, even if TQS is going to have original Olympic programming and priority for the big-ticket events like hockey, the main network behind coverage in French is RDS.

TQS also has another problem: Unlike Radio-Canada (and to a lesser extent TVA), it doesn’t broadcast outside Quebec. So francophones outside Quebec who don’t get TQS or RDS on cable or satellite (let’s for the moment assume this is a nontrivial figure) are out of luck. On the plus side though, apparently a deal has been worked out to give cable users outside Quebec free access to RDS and TQS during the Games.

Meanwhile, advertisers are noting the highly inflated rate card CTV is using to make up for the $150 million it spent to secure rights to the 2010 and 2012 Games.