Tag Archives: TV-news

How the new TVA Nouvelles saved journalism

Discussion panels!

Discussion panels!

Tonight was the premiere of a new format for TVA Nouvelles’s flagship 10pm newscast (you can watch the whole thing here). Trying to find a new model that was different from the boring single-anchor TV newscast, it brought in four columnists who comment about major news stories, and has become more of a panel discussion show about the news than a newscast.

But that’s not the only change. Here, in screenshots, are other things that TVA Nouvelles has that will save the TV news industry from that pesky Internet threat and make sure the kids keep watching.

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Should CBC and Global move their local newscasts?

When I was working on my story about Global Montreal, my editor suggested I write a companion story about the ratings for local newscasts, since it had been a while since The Gazette looked into that. (The last time was a year ago, when CFCF celebrated its 50th anniversary.)

I asked for basic ratings information from the three broadcasters, wanting to know what their estimated total average audience was for each of their local programs. BBM Canada, which does ratings measurements, doesn’t like too much detail about demographics being released, so I limited myself to asking for the total 2+ audience.

In the case of Shaw Media, that limitation wasn’t enough, and they wouldn’t give me their exact ratings for CKMI’s Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal, saying they couldn’t because of their deal with BBM. Fortunately, I was able to get some ballpark figures by looking at the detailed master planners that Shaw Media provides to advertisers, which breaks down by station, by time slot and by demographics. Shaw warned me that these are just “estimates”, but they’re the best I could get, and the numbers were similar to what was reported last year.

CFCF and CBMT had no trouble providing me with their audience numbers (though in the case of CBC Montreal there was apparently some confusion over whether it was numbers for the Montreal market or total, which led to a correction on the story.)

CFCF > everyone

The numbers for the weekday 6pm newscasts are unsurprising, and haven’t changed much. CFCF dominates with almost 200,000 viewers on average. CBMT is next with its newscast peaking at 34,000 during the 5:30pm block (which is ironically when it presents national and international news), and CKMI has numbers in the four digits, somewhere around 7,000 viewers.

It’s pretty well the same story as last year, and just about the same story as a decade ago, except that in 2000, when Global Montreal was still new and still making significant investments in local programming, the number of people watching its local news was about three times what it is now, and it was in second place ahead of the struggling CBC, which had only two years previously had an audience as high as 60,000, and was above 80,000 in the early 1990s.

We have decades of numbers showing that CBC isn’t going to beat CFCF at 6pm, and 15 years of numbers that show Global trying every trick in the book isn’t going to help it succeed at that goal either. CFCF’s newscasts have more resources, more staff, more experience, and much more loyal viewers.

Assuming that the other stations want to maximize viewership for their local newscasts (and there’s certainly an argument to be made that Global is doing the absolute bare minimum when it comes to CKMI – even their upcoming morning show is being done because of a CRTC commitment), what can they do?

Throwing money at the problem is one solution, though people who remember the best years of CBC’s NewsWatch would note that they still weren’t able to create serious competition for CFCF in the 1990s.

News at 5 … or 7

Another option is to move the newscasts out of the way and hand the 6pm hour over to CTV. In 2009, CBC made a big move expanding its local evening newscasts to 90 minutes and having them start at 5pm. CBMT is seeing strong ratings gains for that hour, and is seeing more viewers from 5-6pm than from 6-6:30pm.

On the French side, the reanimated corpse of TQS known as V based much of its programming schedule on counter-programming, putting entertainment programming in the 6pm and 10pm hours when Radio-Canada and TVA have newscasts. The idea has worked for one of V’s biggest successes, Un Souper presque parfait at 6:30pm.

Of course, this has been tried before. Global Montreal tried starting local news at 5:30 twice, the last time in 2000. That lasted two years until they went to the half-hour news at 6pm that they do now. CBMT also tried starting at 5:30pm in the 90s, but didn’t have much success.

But I think it’s time to try again. V’s successes and CBC’s stronger ratings in its 5pm hour show that counterprogramming is a strategy that can work for an underdog. And the number of people working 9-to-5 jobs that get home just before 6pm isn’t the same as it used to be. Many people are working earlier and later.

I’m not a big fan of CBMT’s repetitive 90-minute newscast, though I can understand the strategy of letting people tune in for one half-hour block of their choice. I think CBC should just get rid of the last half-hour, move to a one-hour newscast with less repetition and more original local news, and use that other half-hour daily to produce some other form of local programming. A current-affairs show or local culture show would be, I think, dearly welcome in this market, and something that would fit well with CBC’s mandate. Putting such a show at 7pm, when CTV and Global air vacuous celebrity gossip shows, would be brilliant counterprogramming and give people like me a reason to watch television at that hour.

Unfortunately for CBMT, decisions like this are made almost entirely at the national level. It was a national decision to have a 90-minute newscast that starts at 5pm, and a 10-minute late newscast after The National. For such a change to happen, it would either need to be made nationally (ignoring the variations in each market) or would require a decentralization of decision-making that we haven’t seen in a long while.

As for Global, when I met with station manager Karen Macdonald, I asked why they hadn’t considered moving the newscast out of CTV’s shadow. She pointed out that they have tried that in the past, but also said they didn’t try it for long. She said they might consider it again, but that if it would move it would probably go to 5:30.

I think 7pm is a better bet. The competition – CTV’s awful eTalk and the second half of Coronation Street on CBC – is weak, they wouldn’t be up against any other local news, and I think more and more Montrealers are working later shifts or having longer commutes and are more likely to miss the 6pm news at CFCF.

But Entertainment Tonight and ET Canada are big ratings draws for Global. And replacing ET Canada with local news at 7pm would be a sign of serious commitment to local programming that I don’t think Global is prepared to sacrifice ratings for.

The other newscasts

While a lot of attention is paid to 6pm weekdays, I was curious what the other newscasts during the week get in terms of audience. Those numbers are rarely reported.

CTV’s ratings show that the late-night newscast at 11:30pm gets 57,000 viewers on weekdays and 55,000 on weekends – so those tuning in to Tarah Schwartz on Saturday nights is about the same as those tuned in to Catherine Sherriffs on Monday nights.

It’s worth noting that these numbers are higher than CBMT’s at 5pm. So when Debra Arbec left her job as late-night anchor to jump to CBC, she saw her average viewership drop. But that’s compensated by being a bigger fish in the smaller pond, being one of the faces of her station, and having more airtime in a day (with SportsNight taking up much of CFCF’s late newscast, anchor screen time is very limited).

At noon, CFCF draws 50,000 viewers, which is pretty impressive for a time when most people are at work or doing important things.

And on the weekends, Tarah Schwartz gets 119,000 viewers on average at 6pm. (She’s supposed to be getting a co-anchor at some point, but one hasn’t been announced yet.)

The other late-night newscasts have pretty poor ratings. About 14,000 viewers for the 10-minute block of CBC sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos. Global’s ratings at 11pm are in the low four-digits, around 2,000 viewers (though that’s a seven-day average, and also includes the 11:30 slot).

Compare that to more than 80,000 Montrealers tuning in to CTV National News, and there really isn’t much competition here either.

I always found CBC’s late local news a bit awkwardly-scheduled, more as a continuation of The National than a standalone program. That’s great if you want a lead-in from Peter Mansbridge, but CBMT isn’t going to attract viewers who tune in to American dramas at 10pm. By the time the credits start rolling on those shows, the CBC late newscast is almost half done.

What do you think?

I’m curious what my loyal readers think of newscast scheduling. Would moving weeknight local news be a good idea for CBC and Global? Would you be more likely to watch if they were on at some other time? What should the other guys do to set themselves apart from CFCF? And what other kinds of local programming would you like to see in English Montreal?

Global Montreal has a new (virtual) set

Global Montreal's new virtual set debuted Monday

There wasn’t much fanfare. In fact, it wasn’t even explicitly mentioned during the first night. But it would have been hard to miss that Global Montreal’s newscast has a new look, thanks to a new set.

Unlike CFCF, which needed to build a new set from scratch, CKMI’s set is entirely virtual, with anchors sitting at a desk in an all-green room. So while it wasn’t quite as easy as flipping a switch (there were complications in planning that pushed back the launch date), all the changes are in a computer’s memory.

Above you see anchor Jamie Orchard in the new set. She’s the only thing real there. The floor, the windows, the pillar, all have been added digitally through chroma key (a bit more advanced than your usual green screen because the camera’s movements are synchronized with the computer changing the perspective of the digital background).

The background cityscape is the work of Gazette photographer Phil Carpenter. He’ll also be doing a daytime version for use during the summer when it’s daylight at 6pm.

The top of the newscast features graphics that fade in behind the anchor

Having a digital set has its advantages, like cool effects. One involves still images fading into place behind the anchor, covering up the city skyline.

There’s also the fact that the set can seem much bigger than it actually is. That has led some to go a bit overboard with perspective. I’ll leave it to you to decide if Global has gone too far here, or if the fantasy-studio-on-the-waterfront look works.

For the sake of comparison with the previous set, here’s a few before-and-after shots:

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CTV’s Express feels like anything but

Monday marked Todd van der Heyden’s debut at Express, the afternoon show on CTV News Channel with Amanda Blitz.

Because he’s from Montreal, because he’s a nice guy and because he’s a geek at heart, I wanted to be encouraging and wish him well in his new job.

Unfortunately, after sitting through the first three-hour program, I was left frustrated, both at what CTV seems to be doing with its all-news network and at how that industry is changing in general.

When it launched in 1997, what was then called CTVNews1 was licensed as a continuous 15-minute news wheel, repeating the headlines four times an hour. This was to distinguish it from CBC Newsworld, at a time when all cable channels had genre protection.

But as the CRTC came to realize that cable news was healthy enough to warrant direct competition, restrictions on the CTV network became relaxed, and now the two are effectively head to head in terms of format. This is a good thing.

What’s not good is that rather than focus on more news to keep people better informed, CTV seems to be relying more on pointless, time-wasting banter that just wastes viewers’ time.

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Breaking news, just wait five hours

It was supposed to be a quiet night Sunday night. I was on the late shift, which ends when the final edition of the paper gets typeset at 1:30am. With no Habs game and little breaking news, everything was done early. The middle edition was done an astonishing 20 minutes early because we just ran out of stuff to do.

Shortly after midnight, alerts started coming on the news wires: an explosion in the Moscow subway, with dozens possibly dead. Doing the calculation that one dead in Montreal is the equivalent of dozens dead in a European city, which is the equivalent of hundreds dead in China or a third-world country, we start preparing space for a brief about it.

Within minutes, reports of a second explosion at another Moscow subway station. This is terrorism, my colleague tells me. While I can’t imagine any other explanation, I’m not comfortable making that call myself. Still, we scrap a piece about New York rescinding its ban on beekeeping to put the story there, and I work on getting it online.

I put the TV on CNN and … nothing. It’s showing a rerun of Larry King Live (with Ryan Seacrest filling in). MSNBC isn’t showing anything new either. CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, RDI, LCN, all showing recorded programming. The only hint of what has just happened comes on the CNN ticker, inviting us to get more information during American Morning … at 6am, five hours later.

Eventually, CNN cut in briefly with breaking news. Others may have as well while I wasn’t watching. But it was clear they were all going to wait until morning before giving any live information that can’t be fit into the news ticker.

Realizing that I’d forgotten a news channel, I turn to BBC World News. It’s morning there by now (albeit very early morning), and they’re reporting live, even getting analysis from experts on what little information they have.

Apparently, things weren’t much better in Russia itself, where TV news also wasn’t reporting live on the attacks. Only the English-language Russia Today (which I didn’t know about before Sunday night) provided live coverage, and I was quickly streaming it on my computer.

In the end, the stories for online and print were pieced together from reports from various wire services. I finally left for home at 2:30, reminded that while all-news networks say they offer news 24/7, it doesn’t mean their news departments are running at full-steam during all those hours.

Auto-Tune the News

Here’s one that’s been making its way around the viral Internet (especially since a mention on Boing-Boing): Auto-Tune the News. It’s pretty much that: taking stuff from TV and applying Auto-Tune to it to make it sing. Add a bit of remixing and editing and you got yourself some music videos.

Other speeches that sound better with Auto-Tune:

Oh Jesus

Via Patrick Lagacé, clips of news reports about apparitions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in various inanimate objects.

Most of these are in the form of oddities, those non-news “before we go” or “finally tonight” segments meant to give people a chuckle. So at least the TV news people don’t take them too seriously.

Still, it’s amazing what people can see human faces in.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I see Jesus in that melting snowbank…

We must do something about the poor reporters

Despite the dire warnings of cold snaps, the depressing weather forecasts that call for highs in the range of -20 and wind chills that drop right off the scale, there are professionals out there ready, willing and able to brave those awful conditions unnecessarily for the sake of their jobs.

I’m speaking, of course, about television reporters.

Every day, dozens of them roam the city, looking for a suitable backdrop for their story about health care or education or politics, and for many the ideal spot for a stand-up report is standing on a street corner. It’s active, it’s bright, in some cases it might even be relevant to the story.

But in most cases, they’re patently unnecessary.

Something must be done.

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Olympics’ assault on fair use

Take a look at this clip from CTV News announcing our medal haul for today. Notice anything odd about it? The athletes look a bit stationary, don’t they?

This isn’t because of technical problems, or because a video editor got lazy, or even NBC’s controversial time-shifting of “live” broadcasts. It’s because of draconian rules about rebroadcasting of video from Olympic events.

Broadcasters pay a truckload of money in order to get rights to live Olympic events. That’s not so unusual. All the major sports leagues work the same way. The difference is that after the event is complete, other networks can rebroadcast clips from them in their news reports. It’s a gentleman’s agreement, but more importantly it’s the law. Fair use rules for copyright (“fair dealing” in Canada) allow broadcasters to show short clips from events as part of news reports about them.

But for the Olympics, that’s not the case. Even CBC, which has the rights to the Olympics, has to strip Olympic video from its National podcast because the latter is distributed out of the country.

The networks, including the U.S. ones like ABC and CBS, have tucked their tails between their legs and accepted these draconian rules. Instead, they awkwardly fudge their reports with still photos, file footage of practices or earlier events, or post-event press conferences.

It’s ridiculous. And someone needs to make it stop.

Global Quebec’s fake local news

In October, you’ll recall Global TV announced a major overhaul of its local news outlets. As part of the plan, sets would be demolished, staff would be laid off and instead of a proper studio, local anchors would deliver the news in front of green screens to cameras controlled remotely out of Vancouver. Story packages would be shipped off electronically to a centralized news processing centre, and virtually all the production would be taken out of the hands of local workers. (The results, of course, left much to be desired)

At the time, Global reassured local viewers that their broadcasts would still be local:

News staff in each market will continue to generate local content. All content will be delivered to a Broadcast Centre and packaged into a program format for air. Local anchors will continue to deliver the news from their local stations.

Well, apparently that’s not quite the case anymore. Because being in front of a green screen means you can pretend to be almost anywhere, Global is exploiting this to make its news anchors pretend to be in places they’re not.

Hannah Thibedeau anchors Global Quebec's evening news from who knows where

Hannah Thibedeau anchors Global Quebec's evening news from who knows where

The three of you still tuning into Global Quebec’s evening local newscast might notice some unfamiliar faces on your screen. Hannah Boudreau Thibedeau is anchoring the 6pm newscast for what I’ll assume is a vacationing Jamie Orchard. Except Thibedeau isn’t part of the Global Quebec team, she’s Global’s Parliament Hill correspondent based out of Ottawa.

But that’s not conclusive proof. She could have driven into town to fill in, the local staff stretched too much as it is with summer vacations and all.

Anthony Farnell doing Global Quebec's local forecast

Anthony Farnell doing Global Quebec's local forecast

More conclusive is weatherman Anthony Farnell, since on the same day he appears on both Global Quebec’s local newscast (above) and Global Ontario’s local newscast (below).

Anthony Farnell does Global Ontario's local forecast

Anthony Farnell does Global Ontario's local forecast

Unless he has a special helicopter to shuttle him back and forth between Montreal and Toronto, he’s clearly doing both weathercasts from the same location, in front of the same green screen.

That in itself isn’t too much of an issue. I mean, any idiot can do the weather.

The problem is that he’s being dishonest about it. In both newscasts he uses the word “we,” as in “we are going to see heavy rain over the next couple of days.” For the Quebec newscast, he cut to clips of Montreal traffic. And yet nowhere is it mentioned that he’s doing this newscast from a green screen in Toronto.

Lying about your location goes well beyond the usual fakery we see on TV news. It’s dishonest an unacceptable from an organization that is supposed to be trustworthy about bringing the truth to its audience.

It’s hard being the No. 3 newscast for a community of only a few hundred thousands anglophones. The fact that nobody watches the newscast does justify cost-cutting (though that only continues the hopeless ratings death spiral). But you have to be honest about it. Level with your viewers, explain the reasons behind your decisions and even if they don’t like it, they’ll at least understand.

Saving money by lying to people is just one step above fraud.

Flying babies are awesome

Patrick Lagacé points to this report about a kid in Georgia who bounced a baby across a room by jumping on an inflatable pillow. He’s now facing charges for child cruelty.

Of course, because there’s video of the incident, TV news was all over this story. Sure, the video is disturbing, but people will watch it. So they play it over and over. That’s an average of one baby launch every 7.5 seconds.

Did they think we’d forget after the first 15 times what it looked like?

Live hits gone mad

Dear Rob Lurie, CTV News,

I see you’re reporting on Habs Ryan O’Byrne and Tom Kostopoulos being arrested. OK, sure.

Why are you standing outside in the cold? This story happened in Tampa, Florida. You’re clearly not in Tampa, considering the fog coming out of your mouth as you talk. How does being outside instead of in studio (as you did this afternoon) help us understand the situation any better?

As for you, CBC News, is a streeter really necessary here? Are you going to find someone on the street who’s going to take the players’ side? Why did you waste a reporter on getting idiots on the street to say they don’t approve of stealing ladies’ purses?

And why is that reporter, Stéphanie Tremblay, reporting on her streeter package live from the middle of a forest somewhere? It hardly needs an introduction anyway.

(CTV took a more nuanced approach, asking viewers if this would have an impact on the team. Their streeter ran as-is with no introduction)

There’s gimmickry for gimmickry’s sake and then there’s wasting resources on stupidity.

Incidentally, tonight is Frank Cavallaro’s debut on CBC News at Six. Though the production quality is much lower than CTV News, the voice is the same and I don’t think his groupies will take issue with the transition.

Car-wreck TV


Car accident on live TV (via Le blogue Canoë)This video is a clip of what would otherwise be a very boring unnecessarily-live stand-up about an intersection that is apparently prone to car accidents, except a collision occurs while they’re live. Talk about great timing.But what interests me isn’t the crazy coincidence, it’s the way the station acted about it.

The reporter, to his credit, quickly stops his reporting and goes to check up on the drivers of the two vehicles, who emerge without major injuries.

The station and its two anchors, meanwhile, instead of switching to another story and coming back to this one later, decide to ad-lib for a full minute telling us everything we could very obviously see for ourselves, in the most patronizingly condescending way imaginable:

Fortunately Ben, it looks like they’re ok. We’ve got the one person in the back pickup truck there, got out, and the person is moving in the van there and getting out.

The door’s opening, yes.

The door’s opening, so they look like they’re ok.

Live TV.

Live TV, yeah.

I don’t know if that’s a condition of the intersection like Ben was talking about, or sometimes people get distracted by the live shot and all the activity going on there. Both the drivers have gotten out of their vehicles. Again, the driver in the left hand black pickup truck there got out immediately. He’s walked out of frame. The driver, there you see in the red T-shirt has gotten out and is flexing his leg, he looks like he’s OK too. Don’t think any other vehicles are involved although there was one up ahead they’re thinking that the black pickup truck just missed.

That shakes you up. People are shook up and they’ll be a little sore tomorrow I’m sure.

It was a car accident. Not a bombing.

UPDATE (Dec. 12): Cartoons say things better than long rant posts sometimes.