Tag Archives: Télé-Québec

Does BazzoTV deserve a tax credit?

Marie-France Bazzo's BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

Marie-France Bazzo’s BazzoTV is financed in part through a Canadian government tax credit.

The scandale du jour in Quebec media: The government has cut funding to BazzoTV, forcing the Télé-Québec current affairs show to shut down for good after this season.

Bazzo’s production company issued a statement, the show posted a page on its website, Marie-France Bazzo herself tweeted about it and there are plenty of news stories about the change, with Bazzo not being afraid to express her opinion on what this decision means for the future of television.

Reaction has been negative toward the government and supportive of Bazzo. One Journal de Montréal blowhard called it murder.

So what happened, exactly?

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Launch parties-o-rama (UPDATED)

Not having been invited the time to attend all the fall launch parties being put on by the radio and TV people over the last little while, I’m pleased to see that most of them are briefly summarized in video form.

The two big ones were rebranding efforts: NRJ radio, which is what Énergie has turned itself into, and V, which is the new TQS.

But there were also launches for CKOI, Rock Détente, Rythme FM, Musique Plus, Radio-Canada, Télé-Québec, TVA, VRAK.tv and Télétoon, and fortunately the people at WebPresse believe these parties are news.

So here are the launch parties in YouTube format from various sources:

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CRTC Roundup: The American retransmission consent model

Another term to add to the zeitgeist of CRTC talks about conventional television funding is the “American retransmission consent model,” thanks to a comment from Rogers during hearings this week on whether conventional television broadcasters should be allowed to collect fees from cable and satellite companies for retransmission of their channels.

Asked by the commission a House committee whether Rogers would approve of a U.S.-style system in which cable companies have to seek permission (and therefore pay fees) to carry conventional television stations, Rogers said it would, provided carriage was optional.

CTVglobemedia pounced on this, issuing a press release in which it praised Rogers for agreeing to fee-for-carriage in an “industry-to-industry solution” that follows the “American retransmission consent model.”

I personally think this is a better idea and could live with this kind of compromise. If broadcasters choose to demand fees that are too high for carrying their signals, the cable and satellite companies (or better, the consumers themselves) could decide it’s not worth it and use their rabbit ears instead to get the channels for free.

Not that I think the CRTC and all the players involved would support such a system.

Michael Geist also weighs in on this issue.

Conventional television pros and cons

For those who want to keep track, here are the various pros and cons to running a conventional television station instead of a cable specialty channel:

Pros

  • Over-the-air reception: This used to be a no-brainer, but with only 10% of Canadian TV viewers still using antennas (and most of them probably not watching TV all that much), this incentive becomes a lot less powerful than it once was.
  • Simultaneous substitution: Hated by most Canadian TV viewers, it’s the practice of replacing U.S. feeds with Canadian ones when both are running the same programming, in order to ensure that only Canadian commercials are watched (and Canadian networks get all the ad money). The problem is that it’s not done properly a lot of the time (especially during live events) and can end up cutting off programming. Still, it’s a huge cash cow to have a monopoly on the Canadian ad money when you air a new episode of House.
  • Spot on the dial: It’s mentioned often, though I think its effects are trivial. The CRTC requires that conventional television stations have low spots on the cable dial (channels 3, 4, 5 etc.). Perhaps there’s a minor psychological effect, but my TV viewing patterns are the same whether it’s channel 3 or channel 125.
  • Mandated carriage: Simply put, the cable companies must include these channels as part of their basic packages. This means there are no homes in a local area that don’t have access to these channels. (Well, almost. Satellite carriers don’t have to carry all channels, and Bell still doesn’t carry Global Quebec.)

Cons

  • Cost of transmitters: This is serious because of the mandated switch to digital television. It’s not an issue so much in major centres like Toronto and Montreal, but small markets don’t have enough size to justify such huge capital expenditures. A recently-released report puts the cost of converting all stations in the country to digital at between $200 million and $400 million.
  • Cost of local production: The CRTC mandates a minimum amount of local production, usually in the form of local newscasts. Even with huge cuts to newsrooms and increased use of technology to reduce the need for technical jobs, broadcasters say being forced to produce local programming is hurting their bottom line. With some exceptions, local newscasts are money-losing operations.
  • Lack of subscriber income: Ironically, even while being forced to spend more on programming, conventional television doesn’t get access to subscriber fees from cable and satellite companies, having to rely on advertising alone for income. Before the explosion of cable and the Internet, that wasn’t a problem. Now it is.

A plea for local TV

Richard Therrien in Le Soleil asks what purpose the CRTC serves, which is kind of a misleading title because his article advocates stronger regulation of private broadcasters. He argues that TVA is abandoning Quebec City, asking the CRTC to reduce its local programming requirements and producing generic non-regional shows out of its Quebec City studios.

Journalistic Independence is here (kinda)

Global TV, TVA and Sun TV have received final approval from the CRTC to suspend parts of their licenses relating to cross-media ownership (Canwest and Quebecor also own newspaper properties) and replace it with a standard policy called the Journalistic Independence Code. The code provides for an independent body (half controlled by the industry it’s regulating) to adjudicate complaints related to independence of co-owned media outlets. The outlets are to have completely independent news management, but there are no restrictions on news gathering, which means corporate management is free to force as much convergence as it likes, provided editorial boards are separate.

The CRTC mentioned it got complaints from concerned citizens who were up in arms over these firewalls being taken down, but the commission essentially argued (as I have) that these complaints should have been brought up when the Journalistic Independence Code was discussed in the first place.

Minority-language communities are well-served

The Governor-in-Council has issued a report about minority-language broadcasting in Canada (English programming in Quebec and French programming outside Quebec). The report, which is in no way binding, concludes that in general, language minorities have sufficient access to programming, mainly due to the CBC, national specialty channels and the Internet.

It does, however, also bring up a few suggestions for strengthening access to French-language programming in English areas. Among them:

  • Requiring Ontario cable companies to distribute both CBC French-language stations in the province (CBOFT in Ottawa and CBLFT in Toronto)
  • Encouraging cable and satellite companies in English-language areas to provide the option of a single package of all francophone services to subscribers
  • Encouraging negotiations between the CBC and CTV/Rogers/TQS consortium regarding distribution of French-language Olympics programming to minority French communities outside Quebec using CBC transmitters. (The consortium has already said it would air all programming on RDS and allow cable and satellite providers to distribute the station for free during the Games)
  • Requiring that TFO be distributed as part of the basic service on all cable and satellite services.
  • Consider expansion of CBC Radio Two to serve minority linguistic areas
  • Find a way to support funding of minority-language community radio stations
  • Find ways of increasing spectrum available for radio stations, either by reassigning TV channels 5 and 6 (which sit just below the FM broadcast band) or by encouraging the adoption of digital radio

None of these are binding, and most aren’t even formal suggestions. But they might come up in more formal contexts at the CRTC in the coming months and years.

As for the flip side – English programming in Quebec – the report concludes that anglo Quebecers have ample access to English-language programming.

Fox Business coming to Canada

The CRTC has approved a request from Rogers to add Fox Business Network to the list of foreign channels eligible for rebroadcast on Canadian cable and satellite services. This means that Rogers Cable and others can add FBN as an option on digital cable or satellite (assuming they can negotiate a reasonable price for carriage).

Fox Business Network is a competitor to CNBC (and a really bad one at that if you look at the ratings). CTV argued to the CRTC that it would also be a competitor to its Business News Network (formerly Report on Business Television). The CRTC determined that this was not the case because BNN focuses on Canadian business and there is no programming common to both networks.

Besides, they’d already approved CNBC, which is a far more formidable competitor than Fox Business will be.

Specialty channels raking in the dough

The CRTC has released financial figures for specialty, pay and video-on-demand services. It shows increases in both revenues and profits, but no increase in the number of people employed (in fact, it went down by six people). The headliner was that for the first time ever, spending on Canadian programming by these services topped $1 billion.

Community TV station in Laval?

Télévision régionale de Laval has asked for a license for a low-power (50W) television station serving the Laval area, on which it would air programming it is currently producing for Videotron’s Vox TV.

The station, which currently has a budget of about $400,000 a year and is affiliated with local media and the city of Laval, would broadcast on Channel 4, which would cause interference problems with CBOT (CBC) Ottawa and CFCM (TVA) Quebec City, both on the same channel (not to mention analog cable reception of Radio-Canada’s CBFT for homes very close to the transmitter).

The main motivation for this move, according to TRL, is that Vox isn’t giving its programming enough play, especially during prime time viewing hours.

It’s an ambitious move, and one wonders if the small group behind it would be up to the task of keeping such a station running (they’ve already asked for an exemption from a 100% closed-captioning requirement). But it’s nice to see some people still think locally-produced over-the-air television is worth something.

Al-Jazeera trying again

Though the CRTC hasn’t issued a call for public comment yet, news about Al-Jazeera English’s bid for CRTC approval is making its way around. It started in the Globe and Mail back in February, and has since hit the Toronto Star, Sun Media, LCN and Cyberpresse.

Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language network is authorized for distribution in Canada, but with unique special requirements that put the onus on distributors to monitor its content. That made it too difficult (read: expensive) for cable and satelllite operators to abide by, so none have picked up the channel.

Al-Jazeera is trying to clean up its image as a radical jihadist network, launching an online campaign and even lobbying the Canadian Jewish Congress, which says it’s on the fence about supporting the network’s bid. Despite its reputation (many of its critics have never even watched the network), it is based in a relatively pro-U.S. country (Qatar), employs Western journalists for its English network, and reports on a lot outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even PBS affiliates have used some of its reports (though that caused a kerfuffle).

Canadians will have their say when the CRTC opens the application for comments. The issue probably won’t be whether the network is approved, but whether the same onerous restrictions will be placed on its carriage.

General changes to broadcasting laws

The CRTC is asking for comments about a list of minor but general changes to its broadcasting laws, which provide for:

  • Cable and satellite companies inserting targetted ads into programming (with the agreement of the broadcaster)
  • Establishing the Local Programming Improvement Fund, which will be funded by a 1% tax from broadcasters to help small-market stations
  • Prohibiting networks from withholding programming from cable and satellite companies during a dispute
  • Removing the distinction between small cable companie (fewer than 20,000 subscribers) and large ones when it comes to minimum financing rules for community television initiatives (such as Videotron’s Vox network).

In other news

And on the telecom side

The CRTC has approved changes to the National Do-Not-Call List so that numbers added to the list stay for five years instead of three. It also clarified that independent politicians (who are not connected to political parties) are also exempt from the do-not-call rules. Arguments for these decisions are here.

The commission has also launched a public consultation on ISP traffic management, namely asking whether Internet providers should have the right to use traffic shaping during high-usage times to slow down peer-to-peer file sharing so that regular users have a chance to use more bandwidth. This comes at the same time Bell says it will charge independent providers metered rates instead of flat ones, effectively ending the idea of unlimited Internet access.

Voir to do TV show on Télé-Québec

Télé-Québec announced this week that a new show is going to start this fall that has the Voir newsroom talking about culture. This is to replace Ça manque à ma culture which was recently cancelled.

If this idea of an alt-weekly doing a cultural TV show is familiar, I can’t imagine why. ICI does the same thing, but it’s on Vox where nobody watches it. (I watched that show for the first time yesterday, it’s not bad for a Vox production, but hardly compelling either.)

Of course, they deny that they’re copying ICI’s idea.

It’s interesting to see if this becomes a bigger trend, having print journalists do TV shows related to their beats. It certainly saves money (yay convergence!) paying one person to do two jobs (ICI and Vox are both owned by Quebecor), and these roundtable discussions are super-cheap to produce – just put some guys in front of a camera and have them chat for a while.

But it also means we have fewer voices. Eventually we’ll be down to one journalist each from CTVglobemedia, Canwest, CBC/RadCan, Gesca and Quebecor covering a given beat. And maybe not even that.

Appendices: Come back, please

Julien Corriveau and Dominic Montplaisir of Les Appendices

Julien Corriveau and Dominic Montplaisir of Les Appendices

OK, I know this is going to sound like a total asskissing, but I really like these Appendices kids, and I have ever since I first heard of them two years ago. When they got a deal with Télé-Québec to develop a weekly half-hour show, I was excited, and after seeing their premiere I knew they had something good going. (In fact, they’ve exceeded my expectations by keeping the show fresh every week, even while they’re pushing running gags.)

So you can imagine my disappointment that Télé-Québec is sitting on the fence about renewing the show for a second season. They haven’t cancelled it outright like they have Ça manque à ma culture, but they haven’t given it the green light either. They’re in a period of “reflection” about it.

I can’t describe their comedy in a way that gives it justice, so I’ll advise you to just check it out online. They show the latest episode for a week after it airs, and have archives of sketches from past episodes. In a nutshell, their humour is absurd, non-topical, philosophical and family-friendly, focusing mainly on sight gags, word gags, taking the cliché and inserting an element of absurdity, or just explaining something that makes no sense to us as if it does.

(Incidentally, they also have a content-rich website, with not only the usual stuff like desktop backgrounds, a Facebook group and clips from sketches, but fan-made comics, web-only blooper reels/behind-the-scenes footage, video greeting cards and downloadable bumper music used during sketch intros. They even post scripts online, in case you might find that useful.)

Richard Therrien gave the show a 7.5/10 rating, on par with Tout le monde en parle, in his mid-season review. That should tell you something. The fact that it’s one of a handful of French-language TV programs I’m loyal to should tell you something as well.

Tonight at 7 is the season finale (and the series finale if they’re not renewed). The stars themselves will be celebrating it with fans at Bar la Rockette, 4479 St. Denis, unsure of whether or not it’ll be their swan song.

The show will also be announcing the winner of its Fais ça sketch contest, in which viewers submit their versions of Appendices sketches.

Here’s hoping it’s the beginning, and not the end.

Les Appendices, 7pm Tuesday on Télé-Québec

Télé-Québec fires up digital transmitter

Télé-Québec HD

Télé-Québec’s CIVM-DT Montreal transmitter went on the air Monday afternoon, according to some hard-core spotters, making it the latest station to join Montreal’s digital over-the-air broadcasting family.

The list is going to grow pretty quickly over the next couple of years as Canadian broadcasters will be forced to switch to digital in 2011. U.S. broadcasters have already started up digital operations to meet a deadline of next month, even though it looks like that deadline might get extended.

Television stations currently broadcasting in digital here (totally plagiarized from this list at Digital Home) are as follows:

  • Callsign: Station identifier as recognized by Industry Canada/CRTC and FCC. Digital transmitters have a -DT suffix.
  • Network: Programming the channel carries
  • Location: Primary location of station’s offices. Montreal stations transmit from Mount Royal, Burlington stations from the top of Mount Mansfield (just east of the city)
  • Analog #: Current analog channel
  • Digital #: Assigned digital channel. Digital TV supports remapping of channels, so they should appear under the analog number (i.e. even though it’s broadcasting on Channel 19, Radio-Canada should appear as Channel 2)
  • Subchannels: DTV supports having separate subchannels with different programming from the main (the main channel is high-definition, and subchannels standard-definition, unless otherwise noted).
Callsign Network Location Analog # Digital # Subchannels
CBFT Radio-Canada Montreal 2 19.1 None
WCAX CBS Burlington, Vt. 3 53.1* WCAXtra
WPTZ NBC Plattsburgh, N.Y. 5 14.1 Weather+
CBMT CBC Montreal 6 20.1 None
CIVM Télé-Québec Montreal** 17 27.1 None
WVNY ABC Burlington, Vt. 22 13.1 One subchannel
WETK PBS Burlington, Vt. 33 32.1 SD channel
CREATE
WORLD
CJFP TQS Montreal 35 42.1 None
WFFF FOX Burlington, Vt. 44 43.1 CW
WCFE PBS Plattsburgh, N.Y. 57 38.1 SD channel
THINK

*WCAX will switch from channel 53 to channel 22 (currently occupied by WVNY) after the analog shutdown.

**CIVM broadcasts from the top of the Olympic Stadium tower

Stations which haven’t started broadcasting yet:

Callsign Network Location Analog # Digital #
CFCF CTV Montreal 12 21*
CFTM TVA Montreal 10 59*
CFTU Canal Savoir Montreal 29 27
CJNT E! Montreal 62 69
CKMI Global Montreal 46 51

*CFCF-12 and CFTM-10 will move their digital signals to their former analog channels after the analog shutdown.

Les Appendices: A promising start

Les Appendices

Les Appendices: Jean-François Chagnon, Dave Bélisle, Jean-François Provençal, Julien Corriveau, Dominic Montplaisir

Télé-Québec just finished airing the premiere of Les Appendices, a half-hour rapid-fire sketch comedy show by Québécois 20-somethings that focuses on wordplay and what I can only describe as absurdity.

I was first exposed to this troupe a few years ago at screenings of Tivijournal, a mock news show with mock ads that targetted the media. (Sadly, that troupe has been inactive for almost two years now, though I’m hopeful they’ll come back someday.) Before screenings, they’d show some bonus material, which would include a short episode of Les Appendices.

I didn’t go to comedy writers’ school, so it’s hard to describe the type of comedy involved. Just go to the website, which allows you to see the entire episode for a week, and you’ll see what I mean. (You can also see a repeat Wednesday at 12:30pm)

But as an example, from their premiere: Julien asks Dave if he can play with Dave’s guitar. Dave hands over his guitar, and what follows is a minute-long montage of Julien frolicking outdoors with the guitar, pushing it on a swing and playing hockey with it. It’s this kind of silly wordplay that they excel at.

Aired without a laugh track (and for many good reasons), the series has a good habit of doing a sketch, moving on and then revisiting it a few minutes later for an extra laugh. They cut it off just before it reaches annoying-running-gag level.

The first episode (it’s not clear if they’re going to keep doing this) has a DVD menu theme, with fake behind-the-scenes footage and fake audio commentary. It’s a bit odd for a series premiere, but they make it work. I just hope they go beyond it, because there’s just so many audio commentary jokes you can make.

As someone who watched their before-they-made-it-big episodes (which, sadly, are not online), I have some suggestions for their new show:

  1. I liked the old opening. The guys would each be shown running out of class, and they’d all jump in the air outside for the cliché frozen-in-mid-jump celebratory picture, only to have it unfreeze and see them tumble to the ground. The new version has the same gag in CGI form, but I find it loses a lot of the punch.
  2. Tighten it up by just a bit. You can take a single play on words only so far. I know writing dozens of these things every week is hard, but we’re in an ADD world and the more of these you can cram in the better off your show will be.
  3. Add a female. Sorry, you gotta. You can fake being black, but you can’t fake femaleness. That young lady you were performing with tonight, she seems nice. Add her to your cast permanently. I know she doesn’t have glasses and doesn’t play DND, but we’ll get over that.

Les Appendices has also been getting attention from the media (Therrien, Dumas, Arpin, Martel). They all seem to like it.

Here’s hoping that the series will only improve from here.

It’s just the federal government, after all

For the record:

Networks covering the Prime Minister’s address and Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s response:

  • Radio-Canada/RDI
  • TVA/LCN
  • CBC/Newsworld
  • Global
  • City
  • CTV NewsNet
  • CPAC

Networks covering the Prime Minister’s address and bailing on Dion because his party couldn’t get its taped response out in under a half hour:

  • CTV (which showed Hollywood gossip show eTalk instead)

Networks who consider a prime ministerial address and a change in government insufficiently important to suspend crappy regular 7pm programming:

  • TQS
  • Télé-Québec
  • Sun TV

Networks who went the extra mile and covered a news conference by Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe:

  • Radio-Canada/RDI
  • TVA/LCN
  • CBC Newsworld
  • CTV Newsnet
  • CPAC

Networks who even let Jack Layton get his two cents in:

  • TVA/LCN
  • CBC Newsworld
  • CTV Newsnet
  • CPAC

CRTC roundup: Cancon porn, TSN2 and the Rural Channel

Lots more fun out of the CRTC this week:

Insert “beaver” joke here

The biggest news (or at least the most titillating) is the approval of a new Canadian-based pornography channel. Called Northern Peaks (cute), it would feature 50% Canadian content (i.e. Canadian-produced porn) from various categories, including pornographic sitcoms and game shows (that actually sounds like fun, but it’s really just the company covering all bases, so to speak).

The 50% mark is actually quite unusual, and is well above what would normally be required for such a network. But apparently it was the applicant’s request, according to the National Post:

Mr. Donnelly said he was required to offer as little as 15% Canadian content to appease regulators.

But because he wants “to legitimately be Canada’s adult channel,” he started at half Canadian. He said there is a huge unfulfilled market in Canada for local porn. Beginning last year, he began getting calls from cable companies looking to license his Canadian productions.

“I’ve always found there’s a real turn-on to watching and knowing it’s people you could run into in the grocery store,” he said.

But with more than 200 titles (and presumably they can be replayed over and over again, since most viewers wouldn’t mind repeats of classic programming), he thinks he can do it.

Quoth the CRTC: “The Commission did not receive any interventions in connection with this application.” Really? Not even from the pizza guy? Or that nosy peeping-tom neighbour you’re just waiting to have sex in front of so they can masturbate to it?

Needless to say the media had a field day with this one, the National Post turning it into a front-page story (complete with photo) and an opinion piece that’s pretty tongue-in-cheeks (sorry) asking readers to comment and either denounce the channel or come up with some programming ideas for it. (A funny side-effect of the latter is offhand mentions of Sheila Copps and Avi Lewis, which means searches for these two under “related stories” brings up a comment about a porn channel they have nothing to do with.)

One comment posted to the Post:

When do the adults at the Post return from summer holiday?

Of course, it wasn’t just the Post. The Globe and Mail also had a lengthy article on it (about 12 inches), and the news was picked up by Canadian Press and Reuters and Agence France-Presse and reached news outlets all around the world (well, those two anyway). It also got a mention on an anti-abortion (but still pro-women) conservative website.

The channel is being run by Real Productions (apparently not this Real Productions nor that Real Productions, which appear lower in the Google raking and I’m guessing confused or offended at least a few potential customers), which is run by a man named Shaun Donnelly (but not this Shaun Donnelly, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe and the Middle East).

Due to the nature of the channel, it can’t be included in any channel packages and must be specifically requested by the subscriber. The network also promises to spend at least 25% of revenues on developing new programming.

Also of note is the 100% closed-captioning requirement, which may foreshadow a fight with Videotron concerning their demand that they not have to closed-caption on-demand video porn.

UPDATE (Aug. 18): The Globe has more on the channel, including an idea of what a broadcast day would look like. And then even more on the channel here. (They won’t let this story go, will they?)

UPDATE (Aug. 24): Farked. With suggestions on Canadian porn titles. Some of these people should write headlines for a living.

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