Sorry kids, no telethon

The Telethon of Stars last year (left to right): CFCF reporter Tania Krywiak, weather presenter Lori Graham, news director Jed Kahane, foundation chair Michel Lanteigne, TVA's Claudia Marques, CFCF reporter/anchor Paul Karwatsky and CFCF sports anchor Randy Tieman

For the first time since 1977, CFCF-12 won’t be airing a fundraising telethon this year.

The Foundation of Stars (formerly the Foundation for Research into Children’s Diseases) has decided this year to forgo the telethon, particularly because it doesn’t have a francophone broadcaster (TQS had been the francophone broadcaster for many years, but V stopped that tradition last year). Instead, it will hold an eight-hour webcast from 11am to 7pm Sunday (warning: video auto-play), and partner with Astral Radio stations like Rock Détente and CJAD in addition to a diminished role for CTV.

“Although disappointed that the annual telethon will not air this year, we are very pleased to continue to work closely with the Foundation in their various fund raising initiatives,” said Don Bastien, CTV Montreal’s general manager. The station won’t air the “webathon”, but will provide hosts including Lori Graham for the event, and will promote the telethon with “short TV clips”, according to a foundation release (PDF). It’s also featuring ads for the foundation on its website.

Maryse Beaudry, spokesperson for the foundation, didn’t respond to a request for comment about why the foundation has pulled the telethon. An email to the foundation sent almost two weeks ago hasn’t been responded to.

My guess is that the decision is mainly a financial one. A look at the foundation’s latest annual report (PDF) shows that the 4.5-hour telethon cost $562,654 in expenses last year (half what it was a year earlier, when it lasted more than 24 hours). And while that number in the photo above looks much higher, it includes a lot of high-profile, giant-cheque, high-money corporate donations that would have come with or without a telethon. The amount of money that actually came in from television viewers calling in could easily have been below what the telethon cost.

And so it’s understandable that the foundation would have wanted to go with a low-cost option this year.

But at the same time it’s sad that Montreal television viewers can’t even fork over enough money over a weekend to pay for the expenses of a fundraising telethon.

Much as I appreciate the effort of a “webathon” to take its place, it kind of misses the point. You don’t stumble on it when you turn on your TV. You don’t catch it and decide to sit through the scrolling telephone numbers while you watch an 80s action movie until you finally feel guilty enough to phone in a donation. Anyone who is going to experience this webcast already knows about it.

It’s also, I think, sad for CFCF itself. The station used to be a powerhouse of television production, with special productions throughout the year. But while its newscast still reigns the Montreal anglophone ratings, there’s little else produced there now. The telethon was an exception, one it highlights on its “About Us” page online as one of two “long-term community projects.” Aside from things like provincial elections and today’s Alouettes Grey Cup parade (which CTV is airing live in place of its noon newscast), special event programming is an endangered species on Quebec anglophone television.

If only they had telethons for telethons.

The Day of Stars webcast runs from 11am to 7pm on Sunday, Dec. 5, at You can donate to the Foundation of Stars here, because whatever your opinion of CFCF and the telethon, the kids still need help.

Further commentary from Montreal Radio Blog

UPDATE (Dec. 5): The Day of Stars raised $3,540,903 this year, less than the $3,916,620 raised in 2009 and well short of their $4 million goal. More than $2 million of that money came in the form of giant cheques featured in this Flickr gallery (and of that, more than $1 million was from the foundation’s fundraising ball).

12 thoughts on “Sorry kids, no telethon

  1. AlexH

    This is just a bunch of things coming together to no longer make a telethon a very good idea. The costs of putting it on the air are insane, I would rather that CTV just cut a check for half of that to the foundation, and perhaps give the other half as advertising over time to keep the foundation in people’s eyes. Without a french broadcast partner, a significant amount of the Quebec population are not going to get reached by the telethon, which makes it worse.

    You also have donor fatigue. There are endless numbers of charities, groups, and good causes that are looking for money all year long, my phone rings at least once every couple of weeks with some group or another trying to get my attention. There are radiothons, campaigns, events, and endless appeals for donations that honestly have me (and I suspect many people) tuning out. From the street corner beggers and squeegee kids to Centraide or Sun Youth, everybody wants some. At some point, we stop saying yes or no and instead we just get a little deaf and a little blind. There are too many good causes and not enough money to go around, and I find myself tuning out more and more because I no longer want to know.

    Telethons in general are also victims of the 1000 channel universe. When we only had a limited number of channels to watch, a telethon on 2 of the 5 or 6 channels we could see would dominate the time period. Now we have so many other channels (and so many other ways to get even CTV network programming) that there is no lock in factor to a telethon. It is too easy to tune out, to walk away. It is no longer the most effective way to reach people.

    If they want to raise money from a tired group of donors in a modern 1000 channel universe, they will need to find other ways to get it done. As you said, the big check donations are likely not to go away, and if CTV is generous enough to donate a big part of it’s “savings” to the cause, perhaps they will have a good year anyway.

    Who knows, maybe SunTV news can run it next year.

    1. Jimmy Jack

      CTV generous? Now that’s a laugh and a half. CTV couldn’t give a crap about Montreal, nor any of the other markets they are in. They are simply a repeater network for American content.

  2. John

    Half a million in expenses to run a short telethon? A full million for the 24-hour version? Sounds to me like this ‘charity’ is just another scam with artificially inflated expenses to line the pockets of the producers.

  3. Apple IIGS

    Indeed, for at least a decade now, CFCF-12 *has* become “simply a repeater network for American content”. They’ve even been stripped of their unique network branding, long gone is CFCF-12…now they’re just known as CTV-Montreal (just as CJOH is now “Borg TV Station Drone 6 of 20”, um I mean CTV-Ottawa).

    The loss of the telethon after 32 years is really the final nail in the coffin. What’s left, local news? Even that was stripped of any local identity, it went from Pulse News, to CFCF News, to now just CTV News like all the other affiliate stations. Anyone even notice they discontinued the 6 AM news cast with Brian Britt? I’ll bet the 12 PM segment is next to get axed. I’m still waiting for the day when they’re forced to lose their opening theme music and special programming, like On Your Side or Postscript. And who cares really at this point, I find their news coverage a former shadow of what it once was, especially since Bill Haugland retired and far less articulate sounding people seem to have replaced him (like say, Stephane Giroux? Nothing against the fellow, but I have trouble making out half of what he says with his heavy accent).

    Years ago CFCF-12 was truly The 1 to 2 Watch, and had Great Things Going On. I swore by that channel, it had everything…movies, several locally produced shows, all my favorite TV shows, special local events. Now if it went off the air overnight, I’d hardly blink an eye. I’d just switch over to watching local news over at CBC or Global. Yawn.

    1. Jimmy Jack

      Well said, my friend. Although I find Stephane Giroux to be more human and understanding of the story, unlike the bevy of bots they have reporting eg. Todd van der Heyden, Rob Lurie and, can anyone be more objectionable, Christine Long.

      RIP CFCF!

    2. AlexH

      This is what happens when the CRTC allows such levels of corporate ownership in the broadcast industry. There are only a handful of players providing all of your entertainment needs. Bell, Shaw, Rogers, Videotron, and a very few others pretty much own everything you watch, and own the delivery methods for that programming. What we have ended up with is local TV stations that cannot stand alone, without the basic resources to put a news program on the air (most of the are actually run out of Toronto), and with no actual personal identity.

      It’s what made the whole “local programming matters” deal a joke, because the station owners (such as Bell, Shaw, Rogers, Videotron) were arguing with the distributors (Ball, Shaw, Rogers, Videotron) as to how much they should have to pay. In the end, it was an amusing way to get the CRTC to approve a system where the consumer could once again be forced to pay more for programming. These guys (and girls) are the real brains that cannot figure out why the heck people are dropping cable and sat TV and going online for entertainment. Hint: Raising prices over and over again is painful for end users, especially when the product isn’t better, it’s worse.

      Another thing that comes up is that with the programming providers and the distributors being the same, the “substitution” rules (where an American network program is blocked and you see the “local” affiliate in it’s place with Canadian ads) has more and more been turned liberal for the broadcasters, because it is profitable for the parent. There is no logical reason why a football game that is on CBS in the US should be substituted nationwide in Canada by City TV. City is a local broadcaster, not a national network. Substitution should happen only for Toronto, but ends up being done nationally (at least on Bell) because it is technically easier and expedient. It also curries favor with Rogers to do the same on it’s networks for Bell owned properties. The old “back scratch” at work.

      The end result of this bulldozing of the landscape is that we live in a 200 channel universe with only end programming for about 30 channels. We end up with “local TV that matters” only on paper, with less and less community involvement, less personality, and less connection to the local markets than ever. We end up with more and more channels that are just replaying the same tired Canadian content that was killed on the original channels, and adding in tired fare from American specialty channels as well.

      We let it happen. Now we have to live with it. Local TV doesn’t matter – but your payment does.

  4. John

    So the webcast results are in: they made $3,540,903.
    Add in the costs if they had to pay the studio crew for the telethon: 4,003,557.

    Looks like they came out ahead by not going on-air.

  5. Apple IIGS

    “These guys (and girls) are the real brains that cannot figure out why the heck people are dropping cable and sat TV and going online for entertainment.”

    Yes, but they ARE aware people are going online for entertainment. In order to “protect” their cable and satellite TV services, Bell has gotten the approval of the CRTC to enforce usage based billing (UBB) to not just Bell’s own Internet, but third party Internet providers as well in Canada. What this means is you will be LIMITED in how much data you can transfer or live video spooled through Internet. Go over the tiny cap, and they will bill you by the gigabyte. All this to prevent people from switching from cable-TV to the Internet for entertainment.

    Disgusting, anti-competitive and corrupt it is. Big companies like HBell see the Internet as a threat to TV, and attempting to destroy it. This is all supposed to happen in late January 2011.

    Thank the CRTC for not only killing local TV, but now the Internet too. Useless organization!

  6. Heather H

    Hey Apple IIGS,

    I just read your comment about the passing of the old guard at CTV. Hate to say it, but market studies show that viewers respond very well to Todd Van DerHeyden, Rob Lurie, and Giroux. (I’m a little biased in his favor because we dated in the past) And viewers usually praise him because he articulates well and speaks slowly…In fact, the younger faces are apparently a hit with younger viewers.

    But everyone at CFCF agrees that ever since the station was swallowed by CTV, it lost a lot of its soul, not to mention all its local programming.

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