Monthly Archives: February 2013

Global Montreal Morning News: Getting better, but still plenty of kinks

“I think people should give the show a chance.”

That’s what Leah Lipkowitz, a columnist with Global Montreal’s Morning News, commented on the review I gave the show earlier this month. I’d heard the same thing from people involved with the show before its launch and even on the air.

It’s a common refrain from people behind new projects, particularly when budgets are tight. I’m never quite sure how to handle it.

It’s not that I want to be mean, or that I don’t understand that new shows improve over time. Rather, it’s that my reviews of these things are about the viewer, and viewers aren’t going to stick around for weeks to see if a new TV series is good or not. They’ll tune in the first day, maybe stick around an hour or two if they really want to evaluate it, and then they’ll make their decision whether it’s worth their time.

Broadcasters know this, which is why they do rehearsals before they go to air. Why even bother with the rehearsals if you’re going to build a show on the fly?

So as much as I would have been happy to wait a week, a month or six months before evaluating Global Montreal Morning News, I know that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and I have to evaluate it based on that.

Camille and Richard

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Andrew Carter: He’s cool now

Andrew Carter

Andrew Carter doesn’t remember what day he started as the morning man at CJAD in 2003, but he remembers when he was told he got the job. It was the Thursday before the Super Bowl, he remembered, which would have made it Jan. 23. At the time, he was the afternoon guy at CJAD, which would normally be a pretty decent gig, but was more of a consolation prize after he lost his job doing mornings at CHOM.

“2002 was a near-death career experience,” Carter told me as we sat down for an interview in an unused production studio after his anniversary show on Feb. 13. In early February of that year, Rob Braide, who was the general manager of CJAD, CHOM and what was then Mix 96, made the decision to make big changes at Montreal’s rock station, ending its experiment with “contemporary rock” and replacing its morning team (Carter and Pete Marier) with fan favourites Terry and Ted.

The switch in formats and on-air staff worked for CHOM, which saw big ratings gains very quickly. Everyone was happy. But it didn’t exactly look good for Carter. Nevertheless, he wasn’t about to get thrown under the bus.

“Braide called me into an office,” Carter recalled. “He said ‘Andrew, I have a job for you. I don’t know what it is.'”

That isn’t exactly a good sign.

Later, Carter got a visit from Rick Moffat, who was the program director at CJAD at the time. Moffat offered Carter the afternoon show on CJAD. With DiMonte vacating the seat once held by George Balcan, CJAD afternoon man Ric Peterson moved to mornings, which opened up afternoons for Carter. (Marier went off to Winnipeg, only to come back to CHOM later and eventually get replaced by Terry DiMonte again.)

“Before he finished his sentence I said yes,” Carter told me.

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Videotron’s Netflix isn’t for anglos

Videotron CEO Robert Depatie introduces the new Illico Club Unlimited

Videotron CEO Robert Depatie introduces the new Illico Club Unlimited

They sent us an invitation, even had English versions of their press release printed out, but they might as well not have. Videotron’s “Illico Club Unlimited” is about as interesting to an anglophone audience as a free dinner with Guy A. Lepage.

The Netflix-like service, which was shown off to the media on Thursday at Quebecor headquarters, will have almost a thousand movies (I couldn’t get an exact number, but around 800-900), about 20 television series, plus children’s programming and concerts. But it’s all in French. Any English titles are actually bilingual ones, and even then represent only about 10% of the initial offering.

The plan to focus on the French market makes sense. According to a recent monitoring report, about 21% of anglophones in Canada had a Netflix subscription, versus only 5% of francophones. With Netflix Canada’s French offering very poor, now’s the time to launch such a service, before Netflix has a chance to catch up.

But for anglophone Videotron users, it probably won’t be worth it. Instead, an $8 Netflix subscription makes more sense than a $10 subscription to Videotron’s service on top of everything you’re already paying them.

You can sign up for a free trial month of Illico Club Unlimited here.

Videotron finally adding AMC

Videotron President of Consumer Market Manon Brouillette announced the deal with AMC as an aside during the launch of a new video on-demand service on Thursday.

Videotron President of Consumer Market Manon Brouillette announced the deal with AMC as an aside during the launch of a new video on-demand service on Thursday.

In the first draft of my story, I’d written “more than two years.” In fact, it’s been more than three. More than three years since Bell TV and Shaw Direct added the U.S. pay TV channel AMC to their lineups in the fall of 2009.

It was back in the fall of 2010 that Bill Brownstein wrote a column in The Gazette about the anger Videotron’s customers have had over the lack of access to the channel.

Now, finally, the long wait for the channel that brings us Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead is almost over. Videotron announced on Thursday, during a press conference to launch its new Netflix-like service, that it is adding AMC to its TV lineup within the next few days.

It was almost a passing reference, a by-the-way mention by Videotron President of Consumer Market Manon Brouillette while she did a demo of the video-on-demand service. Compared to the written press releases I was given announcing upgrades to Internet speeds and the fact that its next-generation Illico boxes had reached 500,000 subscribers, the AMC announcement was remarkably low-key.

AMC has been, by a long shot, the most requested new channel among Videotron’s clients (a quick check of their Facebook page or Twitter mentions can confirm this), and it’s been clear for months now that they have been trying to negotiate a deal to carry the network.

Brouillette was vague with me when I asked why it took so long, saying that Videotron is a regional player and there were financial issues. Whether it’s that AMC demanded too high a per-subscriber wholesale rate or something else like a high minimum penetration rate, we might never know. But now they have it, and Brouillette made it clear through both her words and her body language that this was a long, difficult process that has finally come to a happy end.

There’s no exact launch date yet, but it should be some time within the next two weeks, Brouillette said. AMC will launch in SD, HD as well as on demand. Packaging and pricing details are also not known (she said she wanted to wait until launch to announce them), but as a pay TV service I would not expect it to be cheap.

With the sixth season of Mad Men starting on April 7, fans of the show on Videotron will be able to watch it as it airs. For fans of The Walking Dead, whose third season is airing now, the launch date can’t come fast enough.

It’s here, and it’s everywhere

UPDATE (March 1): AMC is now live, on channel 209 in SD and 809 in HD.

It’s being added to the following packages:

  • Anglo
  • Telemax
  • Telemax+
  • Mega
  • Superstations (KTLA, WGN etc.)
  • The Movie Network (which also includes HBO Canada and FX Canada)

It’s not being added à la carte.

The fact that it’s in so many preassembled packages but not à la carte suggests that AMC demanded a high penetration rate as well as a high wholesale cost. This would explain why Videotron took so long to come to a deal. Unlike its competitors, Videotron offers à la carte selection of channels, and it’s not a fan of forcing channels (particularly expensive English-language ones) on all its customers.

The channel is on a free preview until May 31. It’s also available on demand on Channel 900. Right now that channel has just the three latest episodes of The Walking Dead (in SD), for fans to catch up before this week’s episode. The VOD channel is free for anyone with AMC, including those just benefitting from the free preview.

Just call me Maestro

Now I feel so important

Now I feel so important

The STM gave us a bit of a surprise last month, announcing a new loyalty program (in addition to the 12th month free offered by the government and discounts on Bixi and Communauto) that had a small number of very interesting perks. For people who have subscribed to Opus à l’année or Opus & Cie. for more than a year, the STM offers the Maestro card, which allows users to bring a friend for free (outside of business hours) and ride for free when visiting Quebec City.

As a subscriber to the program myself, I got an email within a few days announcing my eligibility. Even though it’s rare that I go to Quebec City, and I don’t have any friends, I was curious about the process, and it was free, so I decided to get one.

How to get it

The email, which explains the program, includes your Opus card number and a reference number. Print the email out and bring it, a photo ID and your existing Opus card to one of the STM’s service centres, at Côte-Vertu, Honoré-Beaugrand, Jean-Talon or Lionel-Groulx metro stations, or the Fairview bus terminus. Or, like me, you can go to the main service centre at Berri-UQAM, which is open on weekends:


It might seem like a long wait, but I learned quickly that not all the people sitting in the waiting room are waiting to be served. My wait was maybe 10 minutes.

After showing your documents and filling out some paperwork, you’re asked to step back to get your photo taken:


Not exactly a top-of-the-line camera, but it gets the job done. Which makes me wonder why all photo ID Opus cards can’t be done from this location.

The new card, which includes a name and photo, replaces your existing one, which they keep.

How it works

Normally, the card functions the same as any other Opus card, with a few exceptions. The most noticeable, besides the photo printed on it, is that it sets off a different beep on the readers. Instead of the single-beep green light, it sets off the double-beep orange light, just like reduced-fare passes do. The message on the reader is the same, and so far nobody has asked to see the photo on it. Nevertheless, the pass is tied to its owner, and you can’t pass it to a friend to use for a day.

The documentation tells me that the card cannot be loaded with other fares valid on the STM network (passes, tickets, or AMT TRAM passes). Tickets not valid on the STM network, like STL and RTL passes, are accepted. I’m not sure about AMT train tickets. The FAQ suggests they wouldn’t be valid, which makes me wonder what a Maestro card user is supposed to do if they want to take the train one day.

The take-a-friend privilege is from 6pm to 4:59am weekdays, as well as all day Saturday and Sunday. It’s valid only on the STM network, with the exception of the 747 airport shuttle bus.

Another important point is that the two must travel together to the same destination. Since anyone in the network can be checked at any time, you have to be with your friend throughout his or her entire journey. This includes, for those taking the metro, walking between the platform and the turnstiles of a metro station, which is also part of the fare-controlled area. Presumably if you’re both taking a bus, you could stay on while your friend gets off.

For adapted transit users, the privilege applies when travelling on regular buses, but not on adapted transit service (unless the friend is a guide).

For the Quebec City privilege (which might expand to other systems), nothing special is required. The Quebec City Opus card readers are programmed to accept STM Maestro cards. The agreement between the two transit agencies is reciprocal, so Quebec City transit users will be able to travel on the STM network as well.

The Maestro card expires after two years, after which you have to go to the service centre and get a new one. There are no fees associated with getting the card or using the program.

See also: Cult MTL

Global Montreal’s Morning News: Work-in-progress, or technical train wreck?

Update: See my review of the show after a month here.

“If we do a good job, people will watch, and the show will last forever.”

That’s what Karen Macdonald, Global Montreal’s station manager, said during an interview on the first episode of Global Montreal Morning News, that aired on Jan. 28. She commented on the growing pains the show was experiencing, and its technical challenges. She mentioned “a few occasions when we’ve been a little bit slow to come back from commercial, but that’s the only problem we’ve had this morning.”

It gives the impression of a show that is largely successful but has the usual small wrinkles to iron out.

Unfortunately, the technical problems with Global Montreal Morning News are far bigger than mere wrinkles. In the eight episodes that have aired so far as I write this, there have been multiple instances of nothing happening for more than 30 seconds, one case where the show ended a full two minutes early and just showed contact information and a cityscape for that time, and countless examples of awkward pauses, mistimed cues, wrong audio, over/underexposure, drifting cameras, wrong graphics, incomplete graphics, and just about every other technical problem you can imagine.

And the frequency and severity of these technical problems isn’t going down.

There are two possible causes of this problem: too few people in the control room, or the people who are there aren’t sufficiently trained. There’s a strong argument for the second, since the people hired are all new to the software being used (and have limited control-room experience). But my suspicion is that the former is the real cause, and if so no amount of experience will fix it.

Global has sung the praises of Mosart, the automated control room technology that is allowing them to put this show on the air with only three people at the controls (a producer and two directors). But the lack of specialized functions like an audio technician or a graphics director or a robotic camera operator is immensely apparent. The technical staff are overloaded with work and it’s clear they’re desperately trying to catch up to live TV.

The technical problems are making the show look bad, and in particular the on-air staff, who have to deal with visuals that don’t appear or are incorrect, cues that never come through or awkward delays between the time they stop talking and the beginning of a commercial break, story package or cut to another camera.

I’d compile a best-of package, but (a) 30 seconds of black screen isn’t very interesting visually, (b) It’s too depressing, and (c) I’m holding out hope that they’ll eventually improve to the point where the show is watchable.

Instead, I’ll leave you with this example, taken from an episode of the second week of the show, to give you an idea what goes on the air on a regular basis:

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City Montreal gets a boss: Bob Babinski

Bob Babinski, teaching a student in my intro to broadcasting class in 2004.

Bob Babinski, teaching a student in my intro to broadcasting class in 2004.

As Rogers officially takes over control of CJNT from Channel Zero, and the station adopts the full City primetime schedule as of Monday, Feb. 4, it has announced its first hire: Bob Babinski, a freelance television producer specializing in sports, and a part-time professor in Concordia University’s journalism department, has been named “Executive Producer and Local Content Manager” for what will on Monday officially become City Montreal.

Though only announced on Monday, Babinski has been on the mind of Rogers Media Broadcast President Scott Moore for quite some time. He’s told me in previous interviews that he had someone in mind for this job, but couldn’t name him because he couldn’t actually hire him until the acquisition of the station was approved by the CRTC.

Babinski and Moore know each other from their time at CBC Sports. As his biography shows, Babinski worked for CBC Sports covering the Olympics, the 2010 World Cup, and producing feature stories for Hockey Day in Canada. Moore became the head of CBC Sports in 2007 before leaving in 2010 to go back to Rogers.

Babinski has also been teaching part-time at Concordia University since 2000, with students including yours truly. He’s currently teaching a feature writing class on Tuesday mornings.

In his new position at City Montreal, Babinski will be responsible for its local programs, Breakfast Television (the weekday morning show) and Connected Montreal (the weekly sports show), and the hiring of its 20 to 30 staff in front of and behind the camera. He tells me he’s starting by going to Vancouver, Calgary and maybe Toronto next week to visit their programs to learn how they work.

He has until August to do put these shows on the air, so we’re not quite at the hiring stage yet. But Babinski said he’s already been contacted by many people, including many former students, who heard about the appointment and congratulated him, some with CVs included. “My hope is that the staffing process will happen in the spring,” he said. But he wants to hear from as many people as possible who might be interested in positions. (His email is

I asked Babinski what his vision of the morning show was. He used words like “urban”, “young” and “authentic”, which might give us an early idea of how it will distinguish itself from Global Montreal’s morning show, which has already started pandering appealing to West Island anglos.

“I want it to be a celebration of what’s good and great about Montreal,” Babinski said, particularly focusing on its various cultures and reflecting “the international flavour” of the city.

As a freelancer for such a long time, I also asked Babinski if he’s ready for a return to a 9-to-5 job. He laughed, saying I wasn’t the first person to mention that to him. But he said this job fits in with the way he sees work.

“I’ve never seen work as something that starts at a certain time of day and ends at a certain time of day,” he said. “I don’t think the idea of a 9-to-5 job is what drew me to this opportunity.” Instead, it was the chance to “be part of something that’s starting from scratch, and make my mark on it,” to have “one big project that I’m totally into.”

Babinski will be totally into work for the next few months. Starting a television station from scratch isn’t a simple thing to do.

Moore confirms that “assuming some bits of paperwork get done,” CJNT officially switches hands at 5am Monday. The electronic schedule goes blank as of that time. It had been previously established that the station would adopt the full City primetime schedule that day, because it’s the day of the premiere of the City original sitcom Seed, at 8:30pm. A schedule on City’s website shows Metro Debut still there from 7am to 10am, and OMNI News newscasts at 5pm (Mandarin) and 8pm (Italian). has been updated since this was posted. Metro Debut is no longer listed, and neither is any other ethnic programming on weekdays, except for a small block at 7am.

Ethnic programming will eventually come back to Montreal with ICI, a new cooperative station set to launch in late spring or early summer.