Monthly Archives: August 2009

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.

How local is your local TV newscast?

A quantitative study of Montreal's local newscasts

A quantitative study of Montreal's local newscasts

Next week is a pretty big one for local television. TQS becomes V, CJNT gets its new owner, Global Quebec becomes Global Montreal and CBMT expands its newscast to 90 minutes.

As Global’s CKMI starts embracing the city (they’ve launched a campaign with anchor Jamie Orchard for us to tell them what we like about Montreal) and CBC touts how much it’s expanding local news (though without any additional money or staff), CTV continues its campaign to “Save Local TV.”

It’s clear that all three anglo stations in Montreal are proud of their connection with the city.

But how deep does that connection go?

It doesn’t go deep enough to allow for local branding. There’s no “Pulse News” or “Newswatch” anymore. It’s “CTV News Montreal” and “CBC News: Montreal” and “Global Quebec Evening News”. Everything about the stations seems to indicate they’re just duplicates of a national template with a note saying “insert local flavour here.”

Nor do any of these stations provide local programming other than their newscasts. CTV cancelled its remaining non-news programs Entertainment Spotlight and SportsNight 360 last fall. Global Quebec cancelled This Morning Live in early 2008, and CBC cancelled Living Montreal earlier this year. All that’s left are the newscasts (and Global’s “Focus Montreal” – an interview show in which the anchor talks to a newsworthy interview subject from her anchor desk, indistinguishable from the regular newscast unless you’re paying attention).

But at least the newscasts themselves are pure local programming, right?

It depends on your interpretation. I noticed a trend recently, particularly at Global, where local newscasts would take packaged TV reports from affiliated stations and national reporters and use them to fill the back end of their one-hour shows. Did this serve to give a taste of a national perspective and bring this country together, or was it a way to save on staff by replacing local news with canned filler from other stations?

To answer that, I decided to quantitatively study these newscasts the only way I knew how: I’d watch them.

Over the summer, I watched three one-hour newscasts (picked pseudo-randomly) from each of the networks, timing the length of each segment with my laptop and marking down what they were talking about. I wanted to figure out how much of the newscasts were devoted to local versus non-local news.

Here’s what I found out:

Continue reading

Playing politics with the metro

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines - one for each city

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines - one for each city

La Presse had the EXCLUSIF last week that the mayors of Laval, Montreal and Longueuil are about to reach a deal that would see each city get a metro extension. If this idea sounds familiar it’s because it was raised in May (another La Presse EXCLUSIF), at which point I argued that one of those extensions made sense (the blue line) and the other two were much less worth the cost.

I’m not arguing that they’re not worth it necessarily. I like the metro and think it should be expanded where needed, even into areas that are less heavily populated. And I’d certainly rather see the government waste some money on public transit than on an unnecessary highway extension.

But it just seems so convenient that the three most-needed metro extensions work out to one for each of the major cities.

Vaillancourt needs MORE METRO!

Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, apparently not happy enough that he leveraged his city’s value as a swing-riding-rich area to get a nearly billion dollars out of the Quebec government for an extension of debatable value, is also demanding that his city get a discount on its use. He says people who take the metro in Laval should pay the STM’s Montreal rate of $68.50 a month, just like the people who use the Longueuil metro station do.

The solution to that dispute, of course, is to just do away with this exception to transit zoning and make people in Longueuil pay more.

(I don’t blame Vaillancourt for wanting more for his city or by making use of his strong negotiating position. There’s a reason he’s been mayor for 20 years now, and I would expect nothing less of him if I was a Laval resident. But there needs to be another tough negotiator on the government site, instead of politicians more than willing to throw away our money in order to win some swing voters and stay in power.)

Playing with numbers

I like the Laval metro. It’s pretty, it’s clean, it’s got elevators. It’s a fixed link between the two islands, which alleviates some of the congestion on the bridges (or, in a greener light, it will get more people to use public transit because it avoids the bottlenecks on those bridges).

But there’s an argument that’s used by Vaillancourt and others about it that bugs me. You can find it in this Gazette piece:

When the Orange Line was extended from the Henri Bourassa station north into Laval in April of 2007, with Laval getting three stations, projections called for 32,000 daily riders three years later, Vaillancourt said. But it took only nine months to reach 60,000, a level that has remined stable, said the mayor.

I’ve seen that a few places, but I have no idea where that 32,000 figure came from.

I looked back at some AMT literature and newspaper archives from when the extension was being built, and the figure I saw repeatedly wasn’t 32,000, it was 50,000. A letter from the STM’s Isabelle Tremblay on July 26, 2006 has this figure, as do AMT bulletins in 2001 and 2004. I also saw the number in three separate articles (from three separate journalists) in 2001-2002.

I find zero references to the 32,000 figure in news articles before or during metro construction. I also find no reference to the figure in a quick Google search of the AMT and Quebec government websites.

You know, if I was really cynical, I might ask myself if the figure was intentionally (and inconspicuously) lowered from 50,000 to 32,000 to make it look later on like the number of riders had greatly outnumbered expectations, when in fact it was only slightly higher than expected.

What’s important is what figure the government (and the people) had in mind when they approved the extension plan, and everything leads me to believe it was 50,000.

They also, of course, expected it would cost less than $200 million. When you consider that the costs quadrupled ($800 million, still $13,000 for each of those riders), you have to wonder if an underestimate of ridership is really proof that this experiment in suburban underground transit is something we should start up all over again.

I’m not against the metro extensions proposed here, though I would give priority to the blue line extension to Pie IX and the orange line extension to the Bois Franc train station. But if this deal suggests anything, it’s that decisions on these things shouldn’t be left to three big-city mayors hanging out secretly in a back room.

CRTC okays CJNT, CHCH purchase


The CRTC today approved the application from Channel Zero to purchase CJNT Montreal and CHCH Hamilton from Canwest.

You’ll recall Channel Zero and Canwest announced in June that they’d reached a deal to purchase the money-losing stations. It was a win-win for both Canwest (which is in debt trouble – it announced today it has gotten another extension from its lenders) and the stations, who would have otherwise faced the fate of other stations in the E! network: shutdown.

CRTC approval of the deal was the only question mark – Channel Zero wanted some license changes as part of the deal. There was an expedited approval process, including a hearing on Monday – a week before existing licenses expire and Canwest runs out of programming to air.

The CJNT decision accepted the reasonable requests of Channel Zero, namely to relieve it of its requirement to air a minimum amount of French-language non-ethnic programming, and eliminate a requirement to make sure 25% of its films are Canadian. It will also be relieved of closed-captioning requirements until the fourth year of its license (and there is no requirement to closed-caption programming that is neither English nor French). CJNT is planning to keep all its ethnic programming (even slightly increasing its local ethnic programming requirement) and focusing its remaining schedule on ethnic music videos and other programming geared toward a younger audience.

For the CHCH decision, the CRTC got a promise (after a CTV intervention) that “local programming” would be that directed to the Hamilton/Niagara/Halton area, and that the station would not try to compete with local Toronto news stations. It accepted a request to relieve CHCH’s mandate to acquire “priority” programming (Canadian dramas and other expensive-to-produce shows) since it would now be a stand-alone station and not part of a national network (this is consistent with CRTC policy). The plan for CHCH is to become all news all day, with popular revenue-generating movies in prime time.

Both stations officially become part of Channel Zero on Sept. 1, with licenses that expire on Aug. 31, 2016 (it’s not clear how the handoff will happen – it won’t be smooth if they want to try it literally over the weekend). Both will be required to switch to digital broadcasting on Aug. 31, 2011. And Channel Zero will be asked to re-appear before the commission in 2012 to discuss programming for both stations.

Quickie analysis: Today is a good day for the two stations, and for Montreal and Hamilton. Whether these business models are sustainable, though, is a whole other question.

In Victoria, the news isn’t quite so happy. Despite a campaign from the 40 employees to buy CHEK Victoria from Canwest and run it themselves, Canwest said it wouldn’t work and the station will shut down as scheduled on Aug. 31.

Astral strikes again

The same month that it made major cuts at CJAD, Astral Media has done the same at its sister station CFRB in Toronto, including a husband-and-wife hosting team (sound familiar?)

Those who threatened to switch to a Corus station after the CJAD cuts, and then threatened to switch to an Astral station after the CFQR cuts, can now threaten to switch back to a Corus station, I guess.

Or you could switch to the CBC. Until they make cuts again.

UPDATE (Aug. 29): CFRB Program Director Steve Kowch has also been relieved of his duties. He will be replaced by Mike Bendixen, who leaves the program director job at CJAD.

Angie Coss is also leaving CJAD, it was announced. It’s unclear why.

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, 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:

Continue reading

So Metro goes to the STM, 24 Heures goes to the AMT

First edition of La Page AMT, August 26, 2009

First edition of La Page AMT, August 26, 2009

The Agence métropolitaine de transport has announced that, starting Wednesday, it will be communicating with customers via a page in the free daily 24 Heures once a week. The first such page, announcing their new train cars, is available as a PDF. It appears on Page 12 of Wednesday’s edition.

If this idea sounds eerily similar to the Info STM page in Metro, it’s no coincidence. It all goes back to how these two newspapers got started.

A tale of two free commuter dailies

Metro began publication on March 1, 2001, a partnership between Swedish-based Metro and Montreal-based Transcontinental. A key part of the business plan for this newspaper was a deal it struck with the Société de transport de Montréal (then the Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal or STCUM). In exchange for exclusive distribution inside the metro system, the newspaper would give 2% of its advertising revenues (guaranteed at $900,000 for the first three years) to the transit agency. It would also give a free page in every issue to the STM so it could more easily offer information to metro users.

Before Metro’s first issue went out the door, Quebecor Media launched a campaign against the deal. Cease-and-desist letters went out to both the STM and Metro, followed by a lawsuit. Even a letter from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a member of Quebecor’s board of directors. Quebecor’s argument was that a restriction against other newspapers distributing freely in the metro was a violation of its right to free expression.

The lawsuit was rejected in 2003, and in 2005 the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal. (A similar lawsuit happened in Philadelphia against Metro, and it too ended up losing in court.) Quebecor was clearly not going to win this battle in court.

24 Heures from four years ago (Aug. 26, 2005)

24 Heures from four years ago (Aug. 26, 2005)

24 Heures, Quebecor’s answer to Metro, was launched as Montréal Métropolitain less than two weeks after Metro began distribution. Because of the agreement between Metro and the STM, the paper is distributed outside metro stations. And because of Montreal’s ban on newspaper distribution boxes, the company has to hire people to actually hand copies out to commuters. Without a distribution system in the metro, 24 Heures suffered, and constantly lags behind Metro in circulation figures.

At some point since its launch, 24 Heures decided to focus more on places Metro doesn’t distribute (which is basically everywhere outside the metro). One of those places is commuter train stations, where you’ll find yellow 24 Heures boxes but no Metro.

So it makes sense that the AMT and 24 Heures team up with this page.

What’s unclear is whether the AMT is paying 24 Heures for this page, or whether it’s being offered as part of an agreement with the AMT. I’ve asked the AMT about it, and will update this post with what they say.

La Page AMT will be published every Wednesday in 24 Heures starting August 26. 24 Heures is available in virtual format free online.

Inside Global’s CKMI-46

The CKMI studio features an anchor's desk, a chair and a lot of green wall

The CKMI studio features an anchor's desk, a chair and a lot of green wall

Earlier this month, staff at The Gazette got an invitation from our new neighbours: Global TV. In order to save money (and face the reality of a declining staff), The Gazette reduced its footprint at 1010 Ste. Catherine St. W. and moved its marketing and reader service departments. Canwest in turn moved Global Quebec from its previous home at the TVA building at 1600 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E. into the vacated space.

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to attend an open house for a TV station (I went to CFCF’s open house in May and I saw CBC’s Montreal studios when I was an intern there in 2004), so I went downtown on my day off and brought my camera with me.

Continue reading

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 50

As we all know, because street address numbers on east-west streets begin at St. Laurent Blvd., any street that’s on both sides needs to be differentiated with “Est” or “Ouest”.

There are three four streets (by my count) on the island of Montreal that have “Ouest” versions, but no “Est”. At least, not anymore. Which are they, and what happened to the “Est” versions?

UPDATE: I’ve expanded the parameters to the island so as to include Boul. Dorchester Ouest, whiwch wasn’t on my original list. That expands the list to four, all of which have been correctly guessed below:

Continue reading

Fall STM schedules: New buses to Nuns’ Island, airport

Route of the 21 Place du Commerce (in blue)

Route of the 21 Place du Commerce (in blue)

The STM has released fall schedules for its bus network, which take effect on Aug. 31. Two significant changes are worth noting:

  • The creation of the new 21 Place du Commerce, which provides one-way morning-only service from the LaSalle métro station to the Place du Commerce and Bell campus on Nuns’ Island. The idea is apparently to provide quicker access from Verdun to the Bell campus in the busy morning rush hour. Workers presumably have more time in the afternoon rush and can take the 12 bus like everyone else.
  • The 209 Des Sources bus, which you’ll recall is now an all-day bus (Monday-Friday only) has been extended to the terminal at Dorval Airport. This helps with a big complaint from users who before would have to wait up to half an hour at the Dorval train station because the only bus to the airport was the infrequent 204. (This extension was on the summer schedule for the 209, but for some reason is only being announced now.)

A minor change (I’m sure there are others): the 350 Verdun/LaSalle night bus now ends at Newman and Airlie instead of the Monette-Lafleur terminus.

Proof-of-payment system

According to the schedule set in May, the STM is supposed to move to a proof-of-payment system starting Sept. 1. This means that you must carry your Opus card or ticket with you at all times in the metro system or on buses, otherwise you can be fined. (I assume there will be a grace/warning period before any actual fines are given in this way.)

New map

If you haven’t seen it yet, the new 2009 system map (WARNING: 10MB PDF file) currently being installed in metro stations is more colourful than previous versions. Among the changes, dated June 22: “rapid transit” routes (express and reserved-lane buses) are shown in green, and Monday-to-Friday-all-day buses are given their own category in the legend, separate from seven-day routes and rush-hour-only routes.

Open house

And while I have your attention, the STM is having an open house at its Legendre garage in Ahuntsic on Sunday, Sept. 13. Registration and the tour are free, and there are shuttle buses from the Crémazie metro station that will bring you there, since there’s no parking on site.

AMT unveils new cars; kids under 12 ride free

Lots of news out of the Agence métropolitaine de transport this week.

Among them:

Nancy Wood gets Daybreak host gig

Nancy Wood gestures with a hot dog at a CBC union protest in May

Nancy Wood gestures with a hot dog at a CBC union protest in May

Two months after former host Mike Finnerty left Montreal and CBC Daybreak for London, the Corp. will announce (UPDATE: announced) this morning that Nancy Wood will be his successor. The Gazette got the scoop in Friday’s edition. CBC Montreal also has a story up, packaged with the news about the new evening TV newscast.

Long-time radio listeners (actually, anyone over the age of five) will remember Wood as the host for 11 years of Radio Noon (disclosure: I worked as a researcher on that show while she hosted – for a total of one shift). Before that she worked at various reporting jobs, including Maclean’s, the Toronto Star and the Gazette. More recently (at least, before sitting in the Daybreak host chair as a fill-in and job candidate), she has been a national television news reporter out of Montreal.

Nancy Wood, new CBC Daybreak host

Nancy Wood, new CBC Daybreak host

Wood is a no-brainer for the Daybreak job, even with a large field of good candidates. She has extensive experience hosting a CBC radio program in Montreal, and knows the city well. She was also the favourite of The Gazette’s Mike Boone, who lobbied for her to get the job years ago. The only real question was whether she was interested in getting up at 4am every weekday.

Now we know.

Welcome back to radio, Nancy.

UPDATE: Wood let her listeners know of the decision kind of off-hand in her morning chat with Quebec AM’s Tim Belford at about 5:45am.

The 7:20am segment was devoted to an interview of her by Gazette columnist Mike Boone (now we know how the Gazette got the scoop), in which she said she didn’t mind the hours, she preferred the radio medium where she can deal with many issues instead of spending an entire day putting a TV package together, and discussed what a typical Daybreak host day is like.

For the record, it’s like this:

  • Wake up at 4am
  • Leave at 4:15am
  • Arrive at the CBC at 4:30-4:45am
  • Show begins at 5:30am
  • Show ends at 8:37am
  • Record podcast (usually about half an hour)
  • Record promos
  • Meetings to plan the next day’s show
  • Leave about 11am
  • Nap
  • Go over scripts for the next day’s show, decide where to add in awkward silences
  • Go to bed at about 8:30pm, and “just lie there”
  • Actually fall asleep at 10pm

Wood and the Daybreak team are also asking listeners to tell them what issues they want the show to talk about this fall. I’d like to suggest an exposé on local media issues bloggers.

The Daybreak website has already been updated with pictures of Wood.