Tag Archives: simultaneous substitution

Posted in TV

CRTC gets testy about simultaneous substitution during Super Bowl

It started with a simple to-the-point reply from a Rogers Twitter account to a Rogers cable customer complaining that the San Francisco-Seattle NFL playoff game on FOX had been replaced with the same broadcast from CTV containing CTV commercials.

But for CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, it was a source of “dismay” because it provided “contradictory information.” So he sent a letter to Rogers asking for them to make sure their customer service agents provide more accurate information about the nature of simultaneous substitution, and file a report about its training methods.

Specifically, Blais notes that it’s up to the Canadian broadcaster to request simultaneous substitution, and both the broadcaster and the distributor (the cable, satellite or IPTV company) to ensure it’s done properly.

When I first read the letter last week, I thought maybe Blais had become confused, mistaking Rogers the broadcaster for Rogers the distributor. If CTV had blamed the CRTC for this, it would have been one thing, but Rogers is required by CRTC regulation to follow CTV’s request for substitution. So why is the CRTC getting mad at Rogers?

A call from the commission’s communications department, which actively monitors what people say on Twitter about the commission, reassured me that there was no error here. Blais simply wants a more accurate answer to these complaints and for everyone to stop blaming the CRTC.

Except the CRTC is to blame here. And what Rogers answered may not have been complete, but it wasn’t incorrect.

Continue reading

Posted in TV

Still no special tricks for watching American Super Bowl ads on cable in Montreal

Super Bowl on CTV

It’s the one time during the year that people really care. But there’s no change from last year. People who want to watch U.S. Super Bowl commercials on cable or satellite TV in Montreal are out of luck once again, because of CRTC rules.

For those unfamiliar, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission forces cable and satellite providers to perform simultaneous substitution — replacing U.S. channels’ feeds with Canadian ones when both are running the same programming — in areas served by local television stations. The purpose is to keep advertising dollars for Canadian viewing in Canada, so they can support the Canadian broadcast system. And 364 days a year nobody cares because there isn’t much of demand for local ads for businesses in Vermont or ads for DirecTV.

The Super Bowl is different because of all the hype surrounding its incredibly expensive advertising. But that alone doesn’t create an exception to the rules. So TV providers will have to do substitution during Sunday’s Super Bowl, forcing viewers to watch commercials from CTV instead of the originating American network. And cable and satellite providers will have to continue to calmly explain to irate subscribers that they’re only doing what they’re required to do by the CRTC, who will in turn have to explain what “simultaneous substitution” is and why it’s there.

CTV’s CFCF Montreal is carrying the Super Bowl (as is every other CTV station), so simultaneous substitution is mandatory in the area covered by its signal. That includes Greater Montreal, as well as (for Videotron anyway) areas like Lachute, Sorel and Granby.

And even though CTV is promising its own commercial goodies during the Super Bowl show, like announcing who’s going to host the Junos, and an “exclusively Canadian” ad from PepsiCo about Lay’s potato chips, Canadians from coast to coast will grumble about not having access to those multimillion-dollar ads airing in the U.S.

So how do you get around it? Here’s how:

Over the air

The simplest way of getting a U.S. network signal on Super Bowl Sunday is to pick it up over the air with an antenna. The government can stop a lot of things at the border, but the electromagnetic spectrum isn’t one of them.

This year, the Super Bowl is being carried on CBS, which is good because WCAX-TV in Burlington has a 443-kilowatt transmitter on top of Mount Mansfield, which reaches into the city if you have a good enough antenna. Because it’s a digital signal, your television will need a digital tuner (most HDTVs have this). WCAX is on Channel 22, or virtual channel 3.1.

Videotron (analog and digital)

Videotron has resisted substitution, especially for the Super Bowl, and does so only when absolutely necessary. Still, it is required to substitute both the standard and high-definition feeds in the area covered by CFCF.

This means all customers in the following areas will see their signals substituted:

  • Montreal and on-island suburbs
  • Laval
  • The north shore
  • The south shore
  • Joliette
  • St. Jérôme
  • Montérégie
  • St. Jean sur Richelieu
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion
  • Lachute
  • Granby
  • Sorel

Quebecers outside of Montreal (as defined above) and the Gatineau region (which is part of the footprint of CJOH Ottawa) will not have their signals substituted and will be able to watch the American ads on CBS channels.

Other cable providers (including Bell Fibe)

Same as Videotron, I’m afraid. They don’t have a choice in the matter. Whether they substitute their entire network or only where they have to is up to them.

Bell Satellite TV

Because Bell feeds the same data to all its customers via satellite, it is required (as of 2009) to substitute American feeds with Canadian ones nationwide. So even if you’re in an area not covered by a CTV station, you’re still going to see the CTV ads.

Shaw Direct

Because Shaw Direct includes technology allowing the provider to control what signals individual clients receive, it can implement simultaneous substitution selectively. The result will be similar to cable: substitution in areas covered by CTV stations, no substitution elsewhere.

American satellite providers (DirecTV, Dish Network)

These are technically illegal in Canada, but many people have found ways to get service north of the border, either by pirating them or using fake U.S. addresses. Since these are American providers, the CRTC doesn’t control them.

Online

The only legal way to get the Super Bowl itself online is through CTV.ca (which is streaming NFL playoffs for the first time this year). There will probably be black-market feeds, but their quality probably won’t match the HD signal you’ll get on cable or over the air.

The ads are another story. YouTube has a special site devoted to Super Bowl ads that you can watch whenever you want, in high definition. They have promised to make the ads available as soon as they air on TV, and some are already there.

Bars

Because most of the loopholes have been closed, there aren’t many bars advertising the American version of the game anymore. To provide a high-definition feed in Montreal, they would either have to set up an antenna capable of receiving the American station or subscribe to an American satellite service and hope nobody notices.

At least one bar in Montreal is promising U.S. ads. If you spot others, let me know in the comments.

Other loopholes

There are also methods that have no guarantee of success. You could try watching west-coast feeds. Some cable companies offer Seattle stations as a way to time-shift, and then forget to do substitution for live events like this. But broadcasters have become wise to people using this loophole. Videotron is certainly aware of it and will be substituting this channel.

You could also, I suppose, just go to Vermont or New York for the weekend and watch the Super Bowl there.

Posted in Montreal, TV

Montrealers still screwed for Super Bowl XLVI ads

For information about the latest Super Bowl, click here.

Not much has changed since last year, so I’m sorry to report that Montreal TV viewers will, once again, be largely forced to endure simultaneous substitution during Sunday’s Super Bowl and watch commercials from CTV instead of the originating American network. And cable and satellite providers will have to continue to calmly explain to irate subscribers that they’re only doing what they’re required to do by the CRTC, who will have to explain what “simultaneous substitution” is and why it’s there.

CFCF’s digital transmitter closed the loophole where the high-definition feed wasn’t substituted in Montreal, and now Videotron and other cable providers must replace the WPTZ feed with CFCF in standard and high definition.

Here’s how it works for the various options of getting television:

Over the air

This method gets a significant boost this year, because the Super Bowl is being carried by NBC instead of Fox. Montreal antennas can pick up WPTZ Plattsburgh (650kW) much better than WFFF Burlington (47kW), so more people will be able to watch the Super Bowl this way. But it’s still difficult to capture American stations if you have cheap indoor antennas.

This is the best method (and the only legal one) for Montrealers to get American ads in high definition live, along with the Super Bowl itself.

CFCF will be carrying the Super Bowl, but obviously it has the Canadian ads.

Videotron (analog and digital)

Videotron has resisted substitution, especially for the Super Bowl, and does so only when absolutely necessary. Still, it is required to substitute both the standard and high-definition feeds in the area covered by CFCF.

This means all customers in the following areas will see their signals substituted:

  • Montreal and on-island suburbs
  • Laval
  • The north shore
  • The south shore
  • Joliette
  • St. Jérôme
  • Montérégie
  • St. Jean sur Richelieu
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion

Quebecers outside of Montreal (as defined above) and the Gatineau region (which is part of the footprint of CJOH Ottawa) will not have their signals subtituted and will be able to watch the American ads on NBC channels.

Other cable providers (including Bell Fibe)

Same as Videotron, I’m afraid. They don’t have a choice in the matter.

Bell Satellite TV

Because Bell feeds the same data to all its customers via satellite, it is required (as of 2009) to substitute American feeds with Canadian ones nationwide. So even if you’re in an area not covered by a CTV station, you’re still going to see the CTV ads.

Shaw Direct

Because Shaw Direct includes technology allowing the provider to control what signals individual clients receive, it can implement simultaneous substitution selectively. The result will be similar to cable: substitution in areas covered by CTV stations, no substitution elsewhere.

American satellite providers (DirecTV, Dish Network)

These are technically illegal in Canada, but many people have found ways to get service north of the border, either by pirating them or using fake U.S. addresses. Since these are American providers, they are not subject to simultaneous substitution rules.

Online

There’s no legal way to get the Super Bowl itself online except through ways sanctioned by CTV (they’re not streaming it, but it is available on mobile). There will probably be black-market feeds, but why bother when you can get it in HD on cable or over the air?

The ads are another story. Expect all the good ones to be online shortly after broadcast. In fact, many are already online and creating buzz. YouTube has a special site devoted to Super Bowl ads that you can watch whenever you want, in high definition.

Bars

Because most of the loopholes have been closed, there aren’t many bars advertising the American version of the game anymore. To provide a high-definition feed in Montreal, they would either have to set up an antenna capable of receiving the American station or subscribe to an American satellite service and hope nobody notices.

If you spot one that promises to show American ads, let me know in the comments.

Other loopholes

There are also methods that have no guarantee of success. You could try watching west-coast feeds. Some cable companies offer Seattle stations as a way to time-shift, and then forget to do substitution for live events like this. But broadcasters have become wise to people using this loophole and I suspect the chances of it working is low.

You could also, I suppose, just go to Vermont for the weekend and watch the Super Bowl there.

UPDATE (Feb. 3): The Globe and Mail’s Susan Krashinsky explains the reasons why U.S. ads don’t air on Canadian networks. I’d also add that some are for products that simply aren’t available in Canada.

Posted in Montreal, TV

CFCF sets up HD transmitter to close Super Bowl ad loophole

For the latest on Super Bowl ads on Canadian cable and satellite, click here.

For the past few years, a loophole in the CRTC’s simultaneous substitution rules has allowed Videotron HD subscribers to watch the Super Bowl and other programming with the U.S. commercials.

This year, CTV is determined to close that loophole, and has setup a digital HD transmitter on Mount Royal to do so.

Though he called the timing “coincidental” (it only just got approval from Industry Canada to start transmitting), CFCF station manager Don Bastien confirmed Friday the rumours that have been spreading online. He says the transmitter has been setup and is expected to begin testing within hours (UPDATE: The transmitter is running, with signal reports coming in from all over). He also says the station informed Videotron and other television distributors weeks ago that it intends to enforce the rule on simultaneous substitution and replace the Super Bowl feed on WFFF (Fox 44) with its own on Feb. 6.

The loophole explained

Simultaneous substitution is a CRTC policy that requires cable companies to replace a U.S. channel with a feed from a local Canadian TV station when the two are running identical programming. The idea is that advertising revenue would remain in Canada, because the advertising is sold by the local station.

Most of the year, this isn’t an issue (assuming it’s done correctly – often there are glitches, particularly when live shows run past their scheduled time). But Super Bowl Sunday has a reputation as much for its million-dollar commercials as its championship football and rocking half-time show. And those while those commercials air nationally in the United States, not all of them will air on Canadian television as well.

Canadian viewers have been seeking out the U.S. broadcast to get the full Super Bowl experience, so much so that in the past Videotron has even advertised the fact that it has an unsubstituted Super Bowl feed, and bars and restaurants have advertised the “American broadcast” of the game. (The CRTC even has a frequently-asked-questions page about it)

Under the rules of simultaneous substitution, the Canadian signal must be a local, broadcasting television signal, which is of equal or greater quality than the American one. Since CFCF was not broadcasting in high definition, Videotron was not obligated to substitute the U.S. HD feed with the special HD feed that CFCF provided the cable company off-air. Nor could they replace the U.S. HD feed with a standard-definition feed from CFCF.

Now, with a digital transmitter running and expected to remain that way during the Super Bowl, the only way to get the game with U.S. commercials (legally) is to setup an antenna and pick up WFFF over the air from across the border. (We’ll see how many bars want to go through that much trouble.)

Temporary transmitter

Because the analog transmitters are still running on Mount Royal, broadcasters have setup temporary digital transmitters across the city in less prime locations. CFCF’s is just next to the Mount Royal transmitter, on Channel 51 (the PSIP system has it show on TVs as “12.1″), with an effective radiated power of about 6,000 Watts. Though it’s nowhere near the 325 kilowatts being put out by its analog transmitter, it’s probably good enough that people who can see the mountain can pick it up over the air.

In August, when analog transmission is required to cease in major markets like Montreal, CFCF and others should have a stronger signal. CFCF is licensed for 10,600km ERP transmitter on Mount Royal that will operate on Channel 12.

“Getting what we paid for”

When asked about preventing Montreal cable viewers from getting U.S. commercials, Bastien wasn’t sympathetic. “We have paid the Canadian rights to the Super Bowl,” he said. “The broadcast should be a Canadian broadcast. It’s not a matter of taking away something from Canadian viewers, but rather us getting what we paid for.”

I suspect that will be cold comfort to some of those viewers.

Just watch them online

Many of my suggestions from last year on how to watch the U.S. commercials no longer apply, except for two:

  1. Watch WFFF over the air with an antenna, assuming you get good enough reception. (Your TV must have an ATSC digital tuner)
  2. Watch the commercials online after the fact, on sites like YouTube. It’s not like the advertisers want to put roadblocks between their works of art and your eyeballs.

UPDATE (Jan. 31): CTV has issued a press release announcing the station being on the air, which I guess means it’s out of testing now. Like most press releases by media companies, it’s intentionally misleading for the sake of pretending to be better than the competition. It says “CTV becomes Canada’s only broadcaster to have HD transmitters in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Montréal,” but it obviously chooses those cities selectively, leaving out that even with CFCF, it trails Citytv and Global in the number of cities with digital transmitters (and it matches CBC at four). It also talks quite a bit about CFCF’s newscast, which might give people the impression that the newscast will be in high definition, but that’s months, probably years away.

UPDATE (Feb. 4): Brendan Kelly writes about this issue in The Gazette. It includes the statement from Bastien that an HD upgrade of the newscast would cost between $8 million and $10 million.

UPDATE (Feb. 6): For the record, Videotron subscribers outside of the following areas get the Super Bowl feed (and other U.S. programming) unsubstituted:

  • Montreal and on-island suburbs
  • Laval
  • The north shore
  • The south shore
  • Joliette
  • St. Jérôme
  • Montérégie
  • St. Jean sur Richelieu
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion
Posted in Sports, TV, Video

The horrors of simultaneous substitution

An anonymous commenter pointed me to this video posted on YouTube last fall showing all the problems that happen when an NFL football game is substituted by cable companies:

  • Bad audio quality in HD
  • Bad video quality in HD
  • Canadian network bugs pasted over U.S. network bugs
  • Coming back from Canadian commercials in the middle of a sportscaster’s sentence
  • Coming back from Canadian commercials in the middle of a play
  • Accidentally running a Canadian network promo in the middle of game coverage
  • Covering game information graphics with Canadian network’s pop-up promos
  • Canadian ads pasted on the screen over a flying football
  • Cutting off the end of a game on a U.S. channel to simsub a scheduled program on another Canadian network (usually 60 Minutes, which is constantly delayed by NFL games going long).

Theoretically, CRTC rules don’t allow for any of these (well, the popup ads are debatable). Canadian networks can’t substitute U.S. signals with Canadian ones that are of lesser quality. Cable and satellite providers (they’re the ones who actually “throw the switch” based on schedules provided to them by the Canadian networks) would be in their rights to refuse to substitute the broadcast.

But what happens in reality is that they don’t really care (at least, outside of Super Bowl Sunday), and so errors like these are common. Usually they’re not so bad, either repeating the first few seconds of a program or cutting off the last few seconds of the credits because the stations aren’t in perfect sync. The problems are worse during NFL games because they’re live and their commercial schedules and end times aren’t predictable in advance.

If this kind of thing annoys you, you could try petitioning CTV and Global to get them to stop, but there’s no way they’re just going to give up on free ad money. Instead, you have to focus your efforts on the CRTC and your Member of Parliament to get them to eliminate simultaneous substitution.

Posted in TV

CTV ruins Super Bowl ad fun

This blog post is from 2009. For the latest details, click here.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and for those of you who have no idea which NFL teams are playing in the big game, you’ll probably want to avoid CTV.

The national television network is carrying over 10 hours of Super Bowl coverage on the main network, plus a bunch of stuff on TSN and even MuchMusic and Space (convergence marketing yay!)

We’ll remind you at this point that the Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League, wasn’t carried on CTV but rather CTV-owned TSN.

In case you’re more interested in the commercials than the show (CTV News says it’s one of the big reasons to watch, without a hint of irony), well there’s bad news for you. CTV has ensured that as many loopholes are closed as possible to prevent Canadian viewers from seeing any non-CTV commercials. Bell TV is being forced to simultaneously substitute CTV for NBC nationwide, and Videotron has apparentl agreed to do the same across the province, according to the CTV press release I’ve pasted below.

CTV is planning on giving Canadians access to the commercials online (assuming I’m reading this correctly) at the Just for Laughs website. But I don’t think that’ll satisfy viewers.

So during the broadcast, we’ll be stuck with whatever CTV has to offer (assuming they even fill all their spots). We don’t even get the privilege of a spousal cheating ad.

Those of you who want to (legally) watch NBC’s Super Bowl commercials live have one remaining option: Hook up an antenna to your TV and tune in to WPTZ.

CTV blocks commercials yay!

CTV Delivers SUPER BOWL XLIII in Stunning High Definition and 5.1 Surround Sound to Quebec Viewers

– Bruce Springsteen highlights half-time show on CTV –

Toronto, ON (January 30, 2009) – CTV confirmed today that viewers in Quebec will be able to see complete coverage of SUPER BOWL XLIII in stunning High Definition and 5.1 Surround Sound on CTV HD. Despite suggestions otherwise, CTV’s presentation of SUPER BOWL XLII will feature “spectacular image and sound quality” on CTV HD, available to Videotron, Bell TV, Star Choice and Cogeco subscribers.

CTV’s exclusive Canadian coverage of SUPER BOWL XLIII, featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the Arizona Cardinals, begins at 12 noon ET from Tampa, FL, with six hours of pre-game programming (visit CTV.ca to confirm local broadcast times). The CTV HD broadcast will include the greatly-anticipated half-time show featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band.

CTV encourages viewers interested in SUPER BOWL commercials to visit www.justforlaughs.com/superbowl, where many of this year’s advertisements have already been posted.

Calling the SUPER BOWL on CTV is the NFL broadcast team of Emmy Award-winners Al Michaels (play-by-play) and John Madden (colour analyst), while reporters Andrea Kremer and Alex Flanagan patrol the sidelines. Emmy Award-winner Bob Costas hosts the pre-game, post-game and halftime shows alongside co-hosts Cris Collinsworth, Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, studio analysts Tiki Barber and Jerome Bettis, reporter Peter King, and special guests – and SUPER BOWL champions – Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren and Matt Millen. The SUPER BOWL halftime show, sponsored in Canada by Diet Pepsi, features Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, while Faith Hill sings ‘America the Beautiful’ and Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson sings the national anthem prior to kickoff.

For more information on CTV’s extensive multi-platform coverage of SUPER BOWL XLIII, click here.

Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC Roundup: No Super Bowl loopholes this year

For the latest on Super Bowl ads on Canadian cable and satellite, click here.

Note: This post has been corrected. I originally confused the two rulings for satellite companies as being the same. In fact, the Commission ruled in different ways for the two. Thanks to Patrick for pointing out the error.

Catching up on some CRTC broadcasting news over the holidays:

A complaint filed by CTV against Bell and Shaw, which run our two national satellite TV providers, has resulted in an order from the broadcast regulator forcing the two providers to close loopholes allowing Canadian viewers to see U.S. commercials during the Super Bowl.

Last year, both Bell TV (formerly Bell ExpressVu) and Shaw’s StarChoice concocted a scheme whose logic was something like this:

  1. The CRTC requires broadcast distributors (i.e. cable and satellite companies) to use “simultaneous substitution” to replace U.S. channels with Canadian ones when both are airing the same show. This is so that Canadian networks get all the advertising money. Normally nobody cares that they’re seeing Canadian commercials instead of American ones, but the Super Bowl is the one time of the year when people want to watch the commercials. Canadian Super Bowl commercials just don’t measure up.
  2. The CRTC rules have some loopholes. The substitution is only done when requested by the Canadian network, it’s only done when the Canadian signal is of equal or better quality than the U.S. one (which caused some issues in the early days of HD), and it’s only done in markets that have a Canadian over-the-air broadcaster.
  3. CTV had high-definition broadcasters only in Toronto and Vancouver, so simultaneous substitution of the Fox HD signal is only necessary in those two markets
  4. Bell and StarChoice developed a way to substitute the signal only for Toronto and Vancouver markets, and kept the Fox HD signals unsubstituted outside those markets for the benefit of Canadians wanting to watch the U.S. Super Bowl commercials. Viewers outside those markets would be given a choice of watching a substituted signal or an unsubstituted one.

CTV complained, and the CRTC agreed, that Bell TV is required to substitute those channels nationally, even for customers in markets where there is no Canadian broadcaster carrying the HD signal, because that is the method of substitution they currently use. The company, it said, can’t decide to use one method or the other depending on which is more convenient.

It dismissed Bell’s suggestion that the Super Bowl is an exception because it’s a “pop culture phenomenon”. CTV’s response to that:

CTV added that those viewers who really want to see the U.S. commercials can download them from the Internet within minutes after their being broadcast during the game.

The result is that Bell has to assure CTV in advance that simultaneous substitution will in fact take place for SD and HD signals nationally, and that Canadian subscribers not be given access to the U.S. commercials. Period.

In the case of StarChoice, the CRTC took a different tact. Unlike Bell TV, StarChoice substitutes channels locally through the receiver. They receive the U.S. signals, but are programmed to substitute them based on local requirements. This is the CRTC’s preferred method of substitution, as it protects local broadcasters. Since StarChoice didn’t deviate from their normal practice when they allowed subscribers outside of Toronto to view the U.S. Super Bowl feed, the CRTC ruled they are in compliance.

The CRTC did slap Shaw on the wrist about its cable TV service, which it said did not properly substitute the HD signal in 2008, but accepted the explanation that there were “technical difficulties” because Shaw had only started substitution for HD signals a month before the broadcast. They’re on a form of probation for the 2009 Super Bowl, with orders to take special steps to ensure substitution takes place as required.

The Super Bowl, which I think is a game of rugby or something, airs on Feb. 1 on NBC and CTV.

More commercial substitution

An unrelated issue, which the CRTC will debate next month, concerns “local availabilities of non-Canadian services

If you’ve ever watched CNN and noticed commercials for Viewer’s Choice Pay-per-view or some other Canadian channel, this is what they’re talking about. Canadian broadcast distributors are allowed to override commercials on U.S. networks, but only to put in programming ads. They can’t put in their own commercial advertisements. At least, not yet. They’re arguing to get that privilege.

Personally, so long as the advertising substitution is negotiated with the U.S. network, and it doesn’t disrupt service, I don’t see a problem letting this happen.

Franchement

LCN has received approval to increase the amount of opinion and analysis programming during its broadcast day from 12% to 19%. CBC argued against the change, saying it would reduce the amount of news programming, which would hurt francophones outside of Quebec.

(As an aside, has anyone watched RDI and LCN and noticed how much local Montreal news and how little local news from outside Quebec are on those channels? It makes sense – that’s where their audience is – but neither is really a national news channel)

LCN argued it needs to adapt to a quickly changing media environment, which I’m sure you know favours opinionated blowhards shouting their mouths off in prime time over any sort of actual news gathering.

SitcomPix

Astral Media has received approval to add sitcom and drama programming to its MPix service, which used to be about movies. It’s limited to 15% of its content coming from those categories, and they have to be at least five years old, but I still find it kind of silly that they want to add sitcoms to a movie channel.

They’ve also gotten a reduction in the lead time between a movie’s release and the time they can start airing it, from five years to three years.

Super

SuperChannel, a pay TV network which wants to compete with The Movie Network and Movie Central, is still trying to get carried on some cable providers, including Videotron, despite an order from the CRTC that gives it “must carry” status.

Videotron has refused, citing some minority language rule that I don’t quite understand and probably doesn’t make any sense.

SuperChannel notes that Quebecor applied for a similar service and was turned down in favour of SuperChannel, and this might be payback for that rejection.

De-CanConing The Movie Network

The Movie Network has gotten approval to reduce its Canadian content requirements by getting extra credit for priority programming. This extra credit system came after the CRTC and media watchdogs noticed that Canadian broadcasters preferred certain cheap kinds of programming (like reality shows) over more expensive dramas. So the CRTC decided it would let broadcasters claim 150% credit for dramas and other expensive programming, to encourage them to create more of it.

Digital Home calls this a “weakening of Canadian content regulations“, though it’s entirely consistent with CRTC policy, as flawed as that may be.

Posted in Opinion, TV

CTV, Global want to be like TQS

Hey, remember back when the CRTC let TQS get away with having virtually no local programming because it was strapped for cash?

Well now that a recession is on the horizon, the big guns – CTV and Global – are suddenly losing money by the barrel too. They want their local programming restrictions eased.

Considering local news and information programming from all the networks, including CBC, is a joke, they’ve got some nerve demanding more favours so they can cut even more.

Broadcast TV stations are given access to the airwaves (and preferential spots on the dial, assuming such a thing exists) in exchange for making a commitment to local programming. If we forgo that commitment, what’s the point in giving these people broadcast licenses?

Then again, with 90 per cent of Canadians using cable or satellite services, perhaps a broadcast transmitter isn’t as important as it used to be. They might be perfectly content moving to cable.

Here’s another suggestion: In exchange for lowering your requirements on local programming, we end the CRTC’s simultaneous substitution rule, which forces cable and satellite providers to replace U.S. channels (and commercials) with Canadian ones when they run the same programming.

Of course, simsub is a cash cow for the networks, and they’ll scream at the top of their lungs if there’s even a suggestion of removing it. But if the networks aren’t doing anything for us, why should we do anything for them?

The CRTC’s goal is the protection of Canadian culture and the regulation of its broadcasting industry, not ensuring the profitability of the big media empires. Let’s hope they remember that.

Posted in Sports, TV

“It’s like the State of the Union”

Looking for something to watch on TV tonight? Here’s some suggestions:

  • CTV: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • RDS: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • TSN: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • CBS: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • NBC: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
  • NFL Network: NFL Football. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

The back story for those who are curious. Note that not only will these six networks be covering the same non-playoff game, but all but RDS will be carrying the same feed from the NFL Network, including the same people doing analysis.

Astonishingly, the CBS and NBC feeds are being shown (at least on Videotron’s network) unsubstituted, which means you’ll get the original U.S. commercials. I spoke too soon. Simsub began at 8:15 on the dot, just before kickoff. You’re stuck with CTV’s commercials on all the above channels except RDS, but still the NFL Network’s analysis with Bryant Gumbel.

Posted in TV

CRTC specialty channel digest: Everyone wants a break from CanCon

Some CRTC hearings currently open for public comment:

Videotron wants France 24

France 24Videotron has made a request to add France 24, the European country’s answer to CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera, to its digital cable network in both French and English.

Videotron wants to add the networks as Category 2 specialty digital channels, whose only real condition is that they don’t compete with protected-format Category 1 channels.

Considering we already have CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, EuroNews, BBC World and even Al-Jazeera (though with an unusual monitoring requirement) in this category, it’s unlikely the CRTC will reject the request.

Deadline for comments: Jan. 22, 2008

OUTtv is out of money

OUTtvLGBT specialty channel OUTtv, which as you can tell from its Wikipedia page has had an interesting history, wants to reduce both its Canadian content requirements (from 65% to 50%) and its requirement to spend money producing Canadian programming (from 49% to 25% of its revenues). The reason: Its “precarious financial circumstances” are forcing it to run more profitable (and cheaper) American programming.

OUTtv is a Category 1 specialty digital channel, which means that all digital operators must carry it (though not necessarily make it part of their basic package) and no other digital channel can compete directly with it with similar format. In return, the category demands a minimum of 50% Canadian content.

Not knowing the nature of OUTtv’s “precarious financial circumstances” (and for that matter, never having watched the network’s programming) I can’t really comment on whether or not this is a good idea.

Deadline for comments: Dec. 19, 2007

Avis de recherche won’t get off that easy

Avis de recherche TVThe CRTC is reconsidering an earlier decision to offer a license to Avis de recherche/All Points Bulletin TV, a pair of wanted-by-police channels that were licensed as Category 2 channels, but with must-carry status, which requires not only that digital* cable companies provide the channel on their basic digital service, but that they pay a fee per subscriber to the network.

The reconsideration was mandated by the Governor-General, who under advice from the Minister of Canadian Heritage ordered a re-examination of the unusually low requirement (see Appendix 5) for spending on Canadian programming.

Despite agreeing to a 95% Canadian content requirement (the channel is, after all, nothing but public bulletins from Canadian police departments), it is required to spend only 20% of its revenues on Canadian programming. That was considered too low by the government.

It’s hard to disagree. With a few pennies from every cable subscriber in the country, and a requirement to spend only 20% of that on programming, the channel’s owner stands to profit greatly.

In response to the decision to reconsider, the channel proposed upping the spending requirement to 43% of revenues, but with an odd rollover clause (and reverse rollover clause) that would allow them to shift up to 5% of that from one year to the next. So they could spend 38% of revenues on Canadian programming one year, and 48% the next, and still be in accordance with their license.

I fail to see how requiring this supposedly essential channel to spend a large percentage of its revenues on producing its programming is out of line.

Judge for yourself: Avis de recherche is available on Videotron Illico digital TV on channel 46.

Deadline for comments: Dec. 17, 2007

*UPDATE (Dec. 18): This post originally didn’t make clear that the channel is must-carry only on digital cable. It has been updated to clarify. See comment below. 

Shaw/StarChoice don’t want to simsub HD channels

The CRTC is conducting a hearing Jan. 15 over the apparent refusal of Shaw Cable and StarChoice satellite to follow simultaneous substitution rules for certain HD channels.

Simultaneous substitution requires Canadian cable and satellite providers to substitute American channels with local (Canadian) ones when the two are carrying identical programming (and the local network requests it, which they always do), so that Canadian consumers get all-Canadian commercials. We only notice the change during the Super Bowl, when those all-important multi-zillion-dollar American Super Bowl commercials are blocked out and replaced by a much-lower-budget Canadian equivalent.

The arrival of HD caused the scheme a hiccup for two reasons:

  1. Not all local broadcast networks have HD equivalents. Instead, most have just two HD channels, one for the East coast and one for the West. Since the East feeds come out of Toronto, cable providers in Montreal don’t have to substitute American channels for out-of-market Canadian ones.
  2. Substitution rules require that the signal being replaced is as good as or better than the signal it’s replacing. So they can’t replace a Fox HD version of House with a Global standard-definition version.
  3. The CRTC allows exemptions for small cable providers where the technical costs of substituting signals outweigh the benefits. (Neither Shaw nor StarChoice fit this definition of “small.”)

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters complained to the CRTC that Shaw and StarChoice were not performing their substitution duties for three stations:

  1. CTV HD Vancouver (Shaw and StarChoice)
  2. CTV HD Toronto (StarChoice)
  3. CITY-TV HD Toronto (StarChoice)

Shaw and StarChoice’s argument seems to be that HD presents unique technical challenges that makes it too difficult for them to substitute signals.

The word “bullshit” comes to mind, but I’ll wait until they present their argument at the hearing before I make any rash judgments.

If you’re interested in filing a written submission, the deadline is Dec. 13, 2007. The hearing is Jan. 15, 2008 in Gatineau.