Tag Archives: TSN

It’s official: Canadiens regional games move to TSN

Two weeks after rumours began spreading, TSN and the Canadiens have confirmed that the Bell-owned broadcaster has picked up the team’s regional English-language television rights from Sportsnet as of the 2017-18 season.

The team has also renewed its English-language radio deal with TSN 690. According to the station, that deal is for five years.

The press releases about TSN’s deal are intentionally vague on details. They speak of “a slate” of games, so it’s unclear if it will be broadcasting all the games it’s entitled to or if, like in the days of the “TSN Habs” channel, it will only broadcast a selection. On one hand, every other Canadian team has all 82 games a year broadcast in English, and the Sportsnet/NHL deal caused TSN to invest far more in regional broadcast rights. On the other hand, Canadiens games are also broadcast on RDS, so not every game needs to be broadcast in English.

The press releases also don’t specify how long the TV deal is for. I’ve asked TSN for specifics and will update if I hear back.

Also unanswered so far is what channel the games will air on. TSN5 is used by the Ottawa Senators, so some sort of overflow channel will need to be used when both the Senators and Canadiens are playing, at the very least. (By my count, there are 15 regular-season games that the two teams play simultaneously — but not against each other — that aren’t part of the Sportsnet national windows.) That, and on-air hirings, will be answered closer to the start of the season.

The deal will give TSN TV rights to all Canadiens preseason games, and up to 50 of the team’s regular-season games, mostly those that don’t air Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday nights. Saturday night games, special games like outdoor games, and all playoff games stay with Sportsnet.

The deal will also mean far fewer nationally-broadcast Habs games, limited to only Sportsnet’s national broadcast windows. All TSN Habs games will be blacked out outside the Canadiens broadcast region.

UPDATE: Sportsnet has released its national schedule, which includes 32 Canadiens games. That’s 10 more than TVA Sports gets for some reason. Sportsnet’s picks include:

  • 4/4 games vs. Toronto
  • 3/4 games vs. Ottawa, including the “NHL 100 Classic” game on Dec. 16
  • 1/2 games vs. Winnipeg
  • 2/2 games vs. Edmonton
  • 0/2 games vs. Calgary
  • 1/2 games vs. Vancouver
  • 4/4 games vs. Boston
  • 2/2 games vs. Nashville
  • The first ever Canadiens game in Las Vegas
  • All playoff games

That leaves TSN with:

  • All preseason games
  • The Canadiens’ season opener
  • The Canadiens’ home opener
  • A game each against Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver
  • Both games against Calgary
  • The Vegas Golden Knights’ visit to the Bell Centre

Could Canadiens games be moving to TSN?

UPDATE (May 30): Pat Hickey confirms the deal with his sources

UPDATE (June 13): The move has been officially announced.

We still have a ton of hockey games on our network, between … we have regional coverage of the Senators and the Leafs and the Jets and I think there’s another one on the way this year.

James Duthie may be regretting letting that one slip. Duthie, the TSN television host, said this during an appearance on the Sports Illustrated media podcast last week with Richard Deitsch, after being asked how the $5.2-billion Sportsnet-NHL deal has affected his network.

He didn’t elaborate on what “another one” means, but the process of elimination makes it pretty clear: Every Canadian team but one has English-language television rights locked up until at least 2020. The remaining team is the Montreal Canadiens.

In the months after the blockbuster deal for national NHL rights was announced in 2013, TSN and RDS scrambled to lock up whatever regional rights they could from individual Canadian teams. RDS paid a rumoured $1 million a game to buy rights to the Canadiens in French until 2026 (the same year the Sportsnet/TVA Sports/NHL deal expires), and Bell Media secured English and French TV and radio rights to the Ottawa Senators, also until 2026.

Before the 2014-15 season, Sportsnet announced a three-year deal for regional TV rights to Canadiens games. That deal expires this summer.

Sportsnet’s regional coverage of Canadiens games gets an average audience of 168,000, according to figures Sportsnet gave me a few months ago.

Previously signed contracts with the Jets (TSN), Flames (Sportsnet), Oilers (Sportsnet) and Canucks (Sportsnet) continue until at least 2020. Here’s how it breaks down per team:

Team English TV French TV English radio French radio
(National) Sportsnet (2026) TVA Sports (2026) N/A N/A
Vancouver Canucks Sportsnet Pacific (2023) None Sportsnet 650 (2022) None
Edmonton Oilers Sportsnet West (2020) None Corus/CHED (2020) None
Calgary Flames Sportsnet West (2020) None Sportsnet 960 (2020) None
Winnipeg Jets TSN3 (2021) None TSN 1290 (2021) None
Toronto Maple Leafs TSN4 None TSN 1050 None
Sportsnet Ontario Sportsnet 590
Ottawa Senators TSN5 (2026) RDS (2026) TSN 1200 (2026) Unique FM (via Bell)
Montreal Canadiens Sportsnet East (2017) RDS (2026) TSN 690 Cogeco (2019)

I don’t have end dates for the Maple Leafs regional rights contracts, but because team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is controlled in equal parts by Bell and Rogers, it has split its rights to Leafs and Raptors and Toronto FC* games down the middle, and there’s no reason to believe that situation would change any time soon. When the current MLSE was formed, there was also a 10-year extension to Leafs rights that should go until at least 2021.

With all the other teams locked up, the Canadiens would be the obvious choice here. The only other possibilities would be buying out an existing Sportsnet contract (which is extremely unlikely) or getting Canadian regional rights to the Detroit Red Wings or Buffalo Sabres, whose 50-mile zones extend into this country. (Bell TV already has the latter and distributes Sabres games in Niagara Falls, though it doesn’t produce its own broadcasts.)

It’s unclear if this is a done deal or if TSN is just really confident it can secure the rights to Canadiens games (its majority owner Bell is a minority owner of the team).

Asked about Duthie’s comment, TSN’s official response was very brief: “We have no comment (on this) at this time.”

I’ve asked Sportsnet and the Canadiens for comment, but haven’t heard back from either yet.

Logistical issues

If TSN does secure Canadiens rights, it wouldn’t be the first time. Before the 2014 deal with Sportsnet, which ensured that all 82 games would be broadcast in English for the first time, TSN carried a selection of Canadiens regional games on a special channel (that was available to Bell subscribers but not Videotron ones). Since then, TSN scrapped team-specific channels and put its regional games on one of its five TSN feeds.

With TSN already carrying Ottawa Senators regional games, this would present a scheduling problem, since the two teams’ regions are identical. They could share TSN5, but there would need to be an overflow channel for times when both teams are playing (much like Sportsnet uses temporary Sportsnet One channels when Flames and Oilers games conflict). TSN could just create a TSN6, or a temporary channel, or some other deal.

Another thing to consider is that such a deal would drastically reduce the number of nationally broadcast Canadiens games. Because Sportsnet was both the regional and national rights holder, it could upgrade regional games to national ones, and last season broadcast 44 of 82 regular-season games nationally. If the Canadiens sell regional rights to TSN, Sportsnet could be left with as few as 22 games (mostly Saturday nights), and all the ones carried on TSN would be blacked out west of Ottawa.

Then there are other issues like on-air talent (John Bartlett would probably be out of a job if Sportsnet lost Canadiens games, but that’s no guarantee TSN would want him back).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Nothing is confirmed yet with either network and probably won’t be until an announcement is made.

Technically, the Canadiens’ English-language radio rights could also be up for grabs, but since Bell owns the only two English talk stations in the city, it’s highly unlikely they’ll leave TSN 690.

(Hat tip to Derek Climan for spotting Duthie’s remark.)

* CORRECTION: As a commenter points out below, TSN now has full rights to Toronto FC games.

NHL trade deadline coverage: TSN still edges Sportsnet on breaking news

The National Hockey League trade deadline. That magical moment when NHL fans stay glued to their TV screens with the hope that their team’s general manager will pull off the deal of the century that will get their team to the Stanley Cup.

For TSN, it’s an annual event, filled with analysts, insiders constantly on their phones, and gimmicks to fill time. For Sportsnet, which only really started treating this like TSN does after it got the NHL national rights, it’s a chance to compete with the traditional leader at this game. Both networks began their coverage at 8am, going through past the 3pm deadline.

I recorded both networks from 8am to 5pm so I could compare their coverage. It’s one of the few events you can do that, because unlike game broadcasts or events like the NHL draft, there are no exclusive rights here. The two had a lot of similarities — multiple desks of analysts inside a big studio, an insider guru (Bob McKenzie vs. Elliotte Friedman), on-screen graphics listing recent trades and players who could be up for grabs, and reporters in all seven Canadian NHL markets following their teams’ actions and getting comment from their general managers. They also had several differences. TSN tried to be funny, even getting actors Jay Baruchel and Jared Keeso to do sketches for them. Sportsnet had some fun but it was mostly talking heads.

But, really, who cares about that stuff? I wanted to compare them based on the thing that really mattered: Who breaks the news first.

I compared when the two networks announced trades during their broadcasts to see which one came out first. I also compared when they interviewed players who had just been traded. (There were other journalistic scoops, such as confirming that a player wouldn’t be traded, or a team was done trading, but I left those out of this assessment.)

Here’s how it went. All times are Eastern, and are based on my PVR. There’s an inherent imprecision when it comes to digital television, so the times could be off by 30 seconds or so. For the purposes of determining a winner, I’ve considered any announcement within 30 seconds apart on the two networks as a tie. (Only what’s broadcast on TV counts here. I’ve ignored Twitter, app or other non-TV alerts.)

Player trades

Player Teams TSN time Sportsnet time Winner
Thomas Vanek DET to FLA 11:54:30 11:47:54 Sportsnet
Joseph Cramarossa (claimed off waivers) VAN to ANA 12:07:25 12:08:07 TSN
Dwight King LAK to MTL 12:21:16 12:20:38 Sportsnet
Jarome Iginla COL to LAK 13:09:56 13:00:35 Sportsnet
Kyle Quincey NJ to CBJ 14:07:16 14:09:07 TSN
Andreas Martinsen/ Sven Andrighetto COL-MTL 14:07:56 14:07:46 Tie
Mark Streit PHI to TB 14:28:43 14:30:17 TSN
Valtteri Filppula (as part of Streit deal) TB to PHI 14:35:18 14:35:44 Tie
P.A. Parenteau NJ to NSH 14:51:57 14:51:31 Tie
Curtis Lazar OTT to CGY 14:53:16 14:56:10 TSN
Eric Fehr PIT to TOR 15:10:00 15:12:47 TSN
Frank Corrado and Steve Oleksy (as part of Fehr deal) TOR-PIT 15:21:29 15:29:02 TSN
Mark Streit TB to PIT 15:21:40 15:18:52 Sportsnet
Drew Stafford WPG to BOS 15:30:03 15:31:34 TSN
Lauri Korpikoski/ Dillon Heatherington CBJ-DAL 15:32:13 15:31:52 Tie

Most of these were very close to each other, and the difference is often as simple as how fast you can get the panel to stop talking so it can be announced on air. Sportsnet got a clear win on the Vanek trade, and TSN was first by quite a bit to peg that Frank Corrado was being returned as part of the Eric Fehr deal. For Iginla, TSN was first with the rumour of his trade to L.A., but Sportsnet was the first to confirm it (or at least be confident enough to go with it — some of these trades were hard to judge because they were reported with varying degrees of confidence.)

The other announcements were all within a couple of minutes of each other.

But by my judging criteria, TSN wins seven, Sportsnet wins four, and four are ties.

Player interviews

After a trade breaks, there’s a rush to get the players involved on the phone to discuss what happened. Here’s how that broke down.

Player TSN time Sportsnet time Winner
Thomas Vanek 12:08 12:18 TSN
Dwight King 12:24 None TSN
Jarome Iginla 13:20 14:07 TSN
Kyle Quincey 14:21 None TSN
Curtis Lazar 14:56 15:14 TSN

No real contest here. All three players who spoke to Sportsnet did so after talking to TSN. (There were also interviews with players who had been traded before 8am on trade deadline day, but those were not breaking trades so I did not include them here.)

Both networks carried GM press conferences from Canadian teams and did good jobs of analysis. Though TSN still takes the edge here, Sportsnet has made up a lot of ground in terms of what really counts — breaking news.

Maybe by the time their 12-year NHL deal is done, they’ll be the ones blanketing their late-February broadcasts with promo ads about this news-reporting event (which didn’t report a single thing for almost four hours).

Videotron adding TSN1, TSN3 and TSN4 after customer complaints

Two months after TSN expanded from two to five channels, and after a bunch of complaints from subscribers missing programming that didn’t air on TSN2 or TSN5, Videotron is joining all the other major TV providers in the country and offering all five feeds.

I wrote this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette, after a regional Senators game in Florida meant that Videotron customers couldn’t get the Monday Night Football NFL game on TV.

That problem, which generated a flood of complaints to both Videotron and TSN, has apparently pushed the former to move up the launch date of TSN1, which will now be added on Monday, in time for the next MNF game (even though that game will also air on TSN5, the main TSN feed in Quebec).

TSN3 and TSN4, whose main feature will be blacked-out Jets and Leafs games, and occasionally a different Premier League soccer match or college football on weekends, will be added on Oct. 29.

Some information for Videotron customers:

  • All five channels are free with TSN. And selecting TSN1-5 will count for only one channel in custom packages. So you won’t be paying any extra for these other channels.
  • All five channels will be in high definition. And they will be available in all regions.
  • The TSN channels will be moving to keep them together. Starting Oct. 29, they will be at 186-190 in SD and 786-790 in HD.
  • Analog subscribers will continue getting just TSN5, which includes regional Ottawa Senators games.
  • About the same time, TSN and RDS will be pulled from Videotron’s Illico TV mobile service. Videotron blames blackouts for making these channels less desirable. Though it is looking at alternatives.

For details, read the Gazette story or this previous post on TSN’s expansion.

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.

Are TSN’s five channels worth it?

Updated with some clarification below about TSN’s main feed.

It was inevitable. With so much sports programming available, with so many scheduling conflicts, with prices going up (both in terms of subscription fees and in terms of rights fees) and with Rogers having scooped up national NHL games, TSN had to expand beyond the two channels it previously had.

Rogers crowed that it had nine channels available on Saturday nights for hockey: CBC, City, four regional Sportsnet channels, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360, and FX Canada. Rogers also owns Sportsnet World, and three special Sportsnet One regional feeds (for Canucks, Flames and Oilers games).

TSN, meanwhile, had TSN and TSN2, plus special part-time regional feeds for Jets and Canadiens games.

So on Monday, TSN officially expanded to five channels, numbered 1 through 5. The Jets and Canadiens channels disappear, and regional NHL games (Jets, Leafs and Senators) will instead air on the three new channels, which will be blacked out outside their regions when those teams are playing.

Videotron holds out

Bell Media managed to secure deals with most major providers to add the channels. Shaw, Rogers, Telus, Bell, Cogeco, Eastlink, MTS and SaskTel are all on board. The major holdout is Videotron, which says it’s still in talks with Bell Media over adding the channels.

These kind of negotiations are complex, and it’s hard, without getting details on those talks, to tell which side is being unreasonable. Videotron is out on its own here, but it’s also the only provider that allows its subscribers to choose just about everything à la carte. Right now TSN is one of those channels, and it comes with TSN2 thrown in for free.

Various factors come into play when negotiating over new channels: the price, packaging and other special conditions, available space on the distribution network, and of course subscriber demand.

TSN decided to launch the five feeds on the first day of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Early rounds of a tennis major provide a very good example of how useful extra feeds can be, with lots of matches happening simultaneously. Viewers might be interested in following a Canadian, or checking up on their favourite tennis superstar, or checking out some interesting story going on in another match entirely. Having five feeds is very useful here.

But TSN seemed to try to artificially inflate demand on Tuesday by pushing a match by Eugenie Bouchard to TSN5 instead of having it on the main channel or TSN2. (Though strangely on Videotron, TSN’s main feed was replaced with TSN5 all day.) That led to a lot of people bugging their service providers (not just Videotron) about where TSN5 is.

UPDATE: As Josh explains in a comment below, TSN has decided that TSN1 is no longer its main feed nationally. Instead, TSN1 is the main feed for B.C. and Alberta, TSN3 is the main feed in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, TSN4 is the main feed for southern Ontario, and TSN5 is the main feed for eastern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. This allows those who only have one or two TSN channels (such as analog subscribers) to still get their Jets, Leafs and Senators regional games. This explains a lot of what we see below.

As they decide whether to add these channels, Videotron and others have to ask themselves: Just what do the other three TSN channels offer that its two existing ones don’t have?

Schedule grid of TSN's five channels for this Saturday.

Schedule grid of TSN’s five channels for this Saturday.

This schedule for Saturday offers more insight into the added value of these additional feeds. Instead of one Premier League game on Saturday mornings, TSN can air three simultaneously. It can air college football games and more NASCAR races, things that would otherwise be shown on tape-delay or on those rare occasions when there was nothing better to show.

Fans of the Jets, Leafs and Senators (who live in their respective broadcast regions) will definitely appreciate the feeds during the NHL season. But that’s only 138 games, or 414 hours of programming, in a year. And as I mention above, subscribers in those regions don’t need the extra channels to watch their team (except in some areas of Ontario where the broadcast regions overlap).

Identical programming much of the time

If you look at other days, the value of extra TSN channels becomes less apparent. Take Friday, Sept. 5. The U.S. Open is still on, but its field has narrowed so much that only three matches are scheduled for that day: two women’s singles semifinals and the mixed doubles final. There’s also a NASCAR race and a CFL game that night. Two channels are more than enough for all that.

Looking at the schedule for that day, the lineup for TSN1, TSN3, TSN4 and TSN5 are identical from 2am to 11:30pm: 10 repeats of SportsCentre, U.S. Open tennis, and the B.C. vs. Ottawa CFL game.

Only TSN2 looks different, with NASCAR, MLS, Dave Naylor and various ESPN feature and talk shows.

Of course, these channels just launched, and we could see more differentiation in the future, especially as the number of subscribers who have only one or two TSN channels further diminishes. There was a suggestion early on of installing cameras in other TSN Radio studios and broadcasting other radio shows on TV. Repeats, documentaries and talk shows can also fill up the schedules pretty easily.

But because of TSN’s Sportsnet-like regionalization of those channels, it has essentially backed itself into duplicating much of its content across four of them (TSN2 isn’t the main feed anywhere, so its programming can be entirely distinct). So expect CFL games and major sporting events to still be the same across TSN1, TSN3, TSN4 and TSN5 for a while.

That’s not to say that the additional feeds aren’t worth it. But for now, their value depends on how much you want more choice in things like tennis, NASCAR, English soccer and U.S. college football, and whether you feel like, when it comes to sports, you absolutely cannot miss a thing.

UPDATE: Mitch Melnick speaks with TSN president Stewart Johnston about the new channels. Johnston says Videotron sees the value in them and the two parties are working on getting them added.

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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TSN to expand to five channels, install cameras at TSN Radio stations

TSN Radio 690's new studio on René-Lévesque Blvd. You may start seeing it on TV soon as TSN looks for more daytime programming for its additional channels.

TSN Radio 690’s new studio on René-Lévesque Blvd. You may start seeing it on TV soon as TSN looks for more daytime programming for its additional channels.

Even though it won’t have a lot of NHL hockey games to fill them with, TSN is planning to expand from two to five channels this fall to allow it to broadcast more sports programming.

Along with that move comes a desire for more programming, and in addition to more live sports and different time zones for SportsCentre, they’re going to add “local hockey programming generated by production expansion at TSN Radio stations in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton.”

TSN tells me that this will mean installing television cameras at those TSN Radio stations. “We will announce specific programming details later this summer, but we are looking to build on the success of our TSN Radio programming and integrate new content on TSN channels,” said Greg McIsaac of their PR department.

Currently, TSN2 airs televised versions of the Mike Richards morning show and Dave Naylor afternoon show from TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto (at least when it doesn’t have live events that are more important). After the expansion to five channels, we could see similar things done to Montreal’s TSN shows like Mitch Melnick’s afternoon drive show, or the morning show with Shaun Starr, Elliott Price and Rick Moffat. The details won’t be announced until later, so we don’t know if this will be a daily thing, or weekly, or maybe just Habs pregame shows. Lots of possibilities are in the air. But what we do know is that TSN Radio 690 personalities should expect to see their faces on TV more often.

TSN’s need for additional channels became clear during the first round of the NHL playoffs, when it had a Raptors game and two NHL playoff games airing simultaneously. The Raptors were the priority, pushing the Boston-Detroit game to TSN2. The New York Rangers-Philadelphia game, which was originally scheduled to air on TSN2, had no place to go, so TSN cut a quick deal with Rogers to air the game on Sportsnet 360. Once TSN expands to more channels, this won’t be necessary.

Of course, TSN loses NHL playoff games starting next season, but as its president tells the Globe and Mail, there are hundreds of hours of programming in other sports that it can’t air live because it doesn’t have the space. Sports like tennis are particularly hard, because in early rounds you might have one or two feeds showing big stars, then one or two others showing Canadians. Channels quickly fill up.

The big question will be about carriage. Most major distributors have added TSN2, but some still don’t have it. And putting three more channels, all in HD, takes up a lot of bandwidth that is in short supply these days. We can assume that Bell will be quick to add the extra channels, and maybe Shaw as well, but for cable providers like Rogers, Cogeco and Videotron, the decision might be harder to take.

The addition of more channels with more content will also likely coincide with demands from TSN for higher wholesale fees from distributors. According to CRTC data released last week, TSN gets an average of $2.57 a month from its 9.07 million subscribers (this includes TSN and TSN2), which is a very high fee for a specialty channel. In 2009, it was $0.87 per subscriber per month on average. As its deals with distributors come up for renewal, it’s demanding much higher subscription fees. And distributors will pass those costs along, either by raising their rates overall or by pushing TSN into premium packages that will start costing a lot more.

In other words, TSN is getting better, but we’re still the ones who are going to have to pay for it.

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

Welcome to the new TV

This week has a lot of changes for television both local and nationally. Two main reasons for this: it’s September and the fall season is starting, plus CRTC broadcast licenses for conventional television stations end on Aug. 31.

This week’s Bluffer’s Guide (courtesy of yours truly) looks at the changes happening on the local television dial. The Globe and Mail’s Grant Robertson also has a piece this morning, looking particularly at the upheaval at small money-losing stations owned by Canwest and CTVglobemedia.

Here’s a timeline of what’s going on this week in television:

Today, Aug. 31

Tomorrow, Sept. 1

  • 12am: The CRTC begins billing cable and satellite companies 1.5% of their revenues for a Local Programming Improvement Fund, to help small-market television stations. Bell and Shaw, Canada’s satellite providers, have responded by adding a 1.5% fee to consumers’ bills beginning today. Videotron, Quebec’s main cable provider, hasn’t decided to follow suit yet.
  • At the same time, the CRTC lifts the cap on the amount of advertising conventional television stations can air. It had previously been at 15 minutes per hour. The CRTC believes that the market will self-regulate the amount of advertising (after all, a station with too many ads is going to lose viewers).
  • 1am (10pm in Victoria): CHEK-TV in Victoria goes off the air. See below.
  • 6am: As conventional broadcast stations across the country (at least the ones that are part of large networks like Global, CTV, CityTV and TVA) get new one-year licenses, new local programming requirements come into effect. They require 7 hours of original programming for small markets and 14 hours for large markets (the latter includes Montreal on both the anglo and franco side). TVA’s local programming numbers are defined on a case-by-case basis: 18 hours a week for Quebec City and 5 hours a week for Rimouski, Chicoutimi and Sherbrooke. TQS, because it got special consideration from the CRTC after going bankrupt, isn’t affected by these changes.
  • Three stations formerly of the E! network but owned by the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group – CHAT-TV in Medicine Hat, Alta., CKPG-TV in Prince George, B.C., and CFJC-TV in Kamloops, B.C. – begin airing programming secured from Rogers. It includes the Price is Right, the Tyra Banks Show and Judge Judy in daytime, and Hell’s Kitchen and Law & Order: SVU in primetime.
  • 6pm: Global Quebec CKMI becomes Global Montreal with a rebranded evening newscast after a CRTC decision this summer allowed them to relicense and accept local advertising. Global Ontario is similarly changing to Global Toronto.

Wednesday, Sept. 2

  • 1am (10pm in Victoria): CHEK-TV in Victoria goes off the air. See below.

Thursday, Sept. 3

Saturday, Sept. 5

Monday, Sept. 7

  • 5pm: Dumont 360, a talk show hosted by former ADQ leader Mario Dumont, premieres on TQS V.

Tuesday, Sept. 8

Wednesday, Sept. 9

  • 9pm: Télé-Québec premieres Voir, a show by the people behind the newspaper of the same name.

Also of note this week are the 25th anniversaries of MuchMusic (video, CP story) and TSN.

Did I miss anything? Suggest additions below.

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.

Broadcasting regulation nerdgasm

The CRTC got real busy last week making some big announcements/decisions/suggestions about television broadcasting regulations. Many of them are boring, minor or technical, but here are a few that aren’t:

Over-the-air carriage fees

The big one for broadcasting companies like Canwest/Global, CTV, TQS and Quebecor is the decision to reject the suggestion that “broadcast distribution units” (i.e. cable and satellite companies) should be required to pay fees to TV broadcasters who broadcast over the air freely.

This idea came out of the whole TQS saga, when the network’s owners decided that it needed the ability to somehow blackmail cable companies into giving them money. Since cable specialty channels get per-subscriber fees in exchange for their content, shouldn’t broadcast networks – whose budgets are supposedly higher because they need to produce local news – get money too?

The flip side of the coin is that these network broadcasters are broadcasting freely, using public airwaves. Cable and satellite companies are required by law to carry local broadcast channels on their basic packages. Subscribers don’t get any added value from getting over-the-air stations on cable (except, perhaps, not having to deal with rabbit ears), so why should they have to pay for them?

The CRTC’s decision was tough (emphasis mine):

CTVgm and Canwest proposed that any FFC only be made available if broadcasters meet monthly local programming requirements. However, they did not commit that the FFC, or any portion of it, would result in incremental spending on Canadian programming.

While OTA broadcasters have shown a recent decline in profitability, they, as other enterprises, might first look to their own business plans before making a request for increased revenue from the Commission. In the Proceeding, no business plans suggesting new sources of revenue were provided to the Commission. Neither the rationale for strategic initiatives by OTA broadcasters, such as recent major acquisitions, nor the basis for financing those initiatives or the impact of those initiatives on profitability were explained to the Commission at the public hearing.

The CRTC did cave on one point though: It said that so-called “distant signals” (e.g. CTV Vancouver for us Montrealers) should be able to “negotiate” carriage, in order to offset the trouble that this time-shifting business has caused. What that effectively means is that broadcasters can set rates for out-of-market broadcast stations and simply not allow their channels to be carried on other regions’ cable networks unless they pay their fees.

Broadcasters are happy with the parts of the decision that give them money, and unhappy with the ones that don’t. They’re for less regulation in the broadcasting industry, but they want corporate socialism for the “ailing” over-the-air broadcasting sector.

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CTV’s new Hockey Theme

CTV has released its re-recording (with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) of the Hockey Theme (i.e. the ex-Hockey Night in Canada theme), which will be used on RDS and TSN hockey telecasts starting Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, respectively.

Here it is (MP3). TSN also has a story with video about the new theme.

Perhaps I should wait until it actually goes on air, or maybe it’s just my computer, but it sounds like elevator music compared to the rough-and-tumble CBC version.

The press release, which says it “revisits the original 1968 version” also gives plenty of praise for how awesome they think it is:

We’ve taken great pride in blending the heritage of the song with the best digital technology available, creating a stunning rendition sure to resonate with hockey fans across the country.

Colour me unimpressed.

When is a channel not a channel?

Hey, remember back when I said you should expect CTV’s competitors to get mad when it decided to brand a regional split of TSN into a separate channel called TSN2?

Yeah, they got mad.

TSN says it’s respecting the letter of the law, and that only 10% of programming will differ between the channels. But Score Media wants the CRTC to clarify that this should apply to advertising as well.

Either way, TSN is selling this as an entirely separate cable channel, not as a split feed. And that, at least, seems to be going against the spirit of its license.

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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