Monthly Archives: April 2013

CRTC mandatory carriage applications show existing broadcasters are lacking

In coverage of the CRTC’s mandatory carriage hearings, which is probably the most important thing that will happen this year as far as TV subscribers’ wallets are concerned, various pundits have expressed opinions for and against forcing certain services on all Canadian subscribers. Many have questioned whether we should even have mandatory carriage at all, even for such clearly public service channels as CPAC and AMI TV.

But looking at the applications, and the reasons given by their owners for being treated as an exceptional case, I’m left not so much with a feeling that this service should have mandatory subscriptions and this one should not, but rather: Why is this service even necessary? Almost all of them seem to fill a need that should be filled by other broadcasters, but isn’t because it’s not profitable (hence why the service was started or is being proposed, and why it needs government intervention to stay afloat financially).

Here’s the list of things we’re being asked to be forced to pay for, and the other things we’re already paying for that should be accomplishing those things already:

Crime information

Who’s asking us to pay: All Points Bulletin/Avis de recherche

Who should be doing this: Mainstream news channels, other platforms

I can appreciate why APB/ADR thinks it’s a valuable service. And so can the CRTC, which gave ADR that status and put it on all cable systems in Quebec. But my biggest issue with this channel is that it’s completely useless if nobody watches it. And there seems to be little in its plan to address its ratings problems.

The channel is a mix of bulletins from police departments, usually listing suspects, with blurry surveillance camera photos and descriptions. It’s boring, and very unsurprising that when it tried getting data from BBM on how many people watched it, the number was so low as to be within the margin of error of zero.

There’s good reason to want to get this information out to the public, but a barker channel that nobody watches sounds like the worst way possible. Extending this to English Canada, where the channel will try to present local crime bulletins to a national audience, sounds like even less of a good idea.

User-generated youth programming

Who’s asking us to pay: Fusion, Dolobox

Who should be doing this: YTV, online video sites

I’ve given up trying to understand what exactly the point is behind these two proposed services, or how they would work. They seem to be targeted at youth, involve some sort of user-generated-content angle, and want to empower young Canadians by giving them our money so they can shoot stuff. Which kind of makes me think they’ll turn out to be like a high school TV newscast in the end.

I doubt either will be approved by the CRTC if only because of their unclear nature, but the fact that they exist suggests the existing youth-oriented specialty channels, particularly YTV, aren’t reaching out enough to youth and particularly minority youth and getting them involved in the process of making their own television.

Right-wing opinion

Who’s asking us to pay: Sun News Network

Who should be doing this: Mainstream news channels

Sun News is a favourite whipping boy because it’s so incredibly transparent to constantly nag on the CBC for getting government subsidies and then turn around and demand one for itself.

Having watched Sun News, I understand many of the criticisms against it, that it’s transparently biased, it skews its reporting and over-focuses on examples that help it build a right-wing narrative. But I also understand that, as annoying as it can be, it does present news and views that you don’t hear elsewhere. Whether because they’re politically incorrect or don’t fit the usual media narratives, many of the news and opinions expressed on Sun News are not wrong merely because they’re not shared by most Canadians. My biggest worry about Sun News isn’t that it gives a safe haven for right-wing thought, but that it might suck away the conservatives from the other news networks and polarize Canadian news just like the U.S. news channels. The last thing we need is media constantly reinforcing our distorted world views, left or right.

Described video

Who’s asking us to pay: AMI TV, Described Video Guide

Who should be doing this: All major broadcasters, major TV providers

The CRTC sets minimums on major broadcasters for the amount of programming it airs with described video. For closed captioning, it’s already at 100% or near that for most TV services, but described video is still far behind. So a channel devoted just to described video makes sense. If Canada’s large vertically-integrated companies could work together, they might have pooled their resources by now to present a channel like this for free and offer their programming in exchange for ad revenue. Instead, we’re asked to pay a tax to AMI so it can acquire this programming.

AMI is actually pretty well supported, even by cable companies, so I’m not going to harp on it too much. For the other service, the audio-only Described Video Guide, it’s more silly. Owner Evan Kosiner wants $0.02 per subscriber per month to create audio feeds for each cable provider in Canada that say what channels offer described video programming and when. Even Kosiner says his service wouldn’t be necessary if this information was available by other means. But set-top boxes aren’t good at offering information to the blind, and most TV providers’ websites aren’t the most accessible either.

If only a website had this information at a … oh wait, it does. Kosiner complains that it’s not good enough, but I would think that its technical shortcomings (not having the channel numbers listed for each provider) can be overcome more easily than starting up a new service that all Canadians have to pay for.

Representation of minorities

Who’s asking us to pay: EqualiTV, APTN

Who should be doing this: All broadcasters

Among the standard forms the CRTC makes broadcasters fill out are ones that list how many minorities they have on their staff, on air and off. The existence of services that target minorities makes perfect sense in a specialty channel world, but arguing that Canadians need to pay for them because they’re not represented in mainstream programming should force us to ask what’s wrong with mainstream programming.

Francophone programming from outside Quebec

Who’s asking us to pay: ACCENTS, TV5 (and, arguably, ARTV)

Who should be doing this: Radio-Canada, TVA, TFO

The fact that three services have made representation of francophone minorities in Canada a key part of their demands suggests there’s a real problem here. And there’s ample evidence that there is. Despite being a public broadcaster who, one assumes, would make minority-language communities a big priority because those minorities don’t have many commercial options, Radio-Canada has been very Quebec-centric in both its national news and non-news programming. So much so that a senator wrote a really thick report to complain about it. Things have gotten a bit better since then, but even then there’s this assumption that everyone watching Radio-Canada television is doing so within 300 kilometres of Montreal.

TVA is on this list because it has an agreement with the CRTC that it must be carried on basic cable everywhere in Canada (at no charge), and in exchange it provides some programming that relates to francophones outside of Quebec.

TFO arguably does fulfill this mandate as an Ontario-based public broadcaster in French. But nobody watches TFO.

Canadian movies

Who’s asking us to pay: Starlight

Who should be doing this: The Movie Network, Movie Central, Super Channel, movie video-on-demand services, Telefilm Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, federal and provincial tax credits

Starlight is the other big fish at this CRTC hearing, not only because of its expensive price but because of its big ambitions to give a shot in the arm of the Canadian film industry. It’s not so much a specialty channel as a new fund for Canadian movies. But Canada already has a bunch of different ways to finance the production of films, and there’s little evidence that the quality is getting much better.

There’s an argument to be made that the problems with Canadian filmmaking can’t be solved by just shovelling more taxpayer money into the system. They need better promotion, and to start relying more on actual consumer demand than government funding. Starlight won’t solve this. Rather, it will put Canadian movies into yet another one of those channels nobody will watch. And as an independent service that doesn’t benefit from vertical integration, nobody will be reminded that it exists (unless it uses taxpayer money for ads for itself too).

Pay movie channels like The Movie Network have quotas for Canadian programming. But they’ve also moved more toward recurring television series than theatrical feature films. If there was demand for a Canadian-movie-only channel, couldn’t we add it as a separate channel distributed with TMN and Movie Central?

And the rest

In addition to the above, there are services asking for distribution without any wholesale fee (Legislative assemblies of Nunavut and Northwest Territories, IDNR-TV, Canadian Punjabi Network) because they just can’t get carriage. Those have different issues which I won’t get into here.

There are also channels that you can’t really argue against. There’s CPAC, whose Parliamentary coverage isn’t replicated elsewhere. You can argue about its fee, or that it shouldn’t charge because it’s owned by (some of) the cable companies, but you can’t argue that it doesn’t need to exist. And there’s Canal M and AMI audio, which are audio-only reading services for the blind. Can’t argue against those without seeming heartless, and they don’t cost much anyway.

And there’s Vision TV, which doesn’t seem to provide anything particularly exceptional that I can see, despite how great Touched by an Angel, Murder She Wrote and Downton Abbey are.

The sad reality of metro disruptions

It’s easy to get frustrated when the metro goes down. We’re always rushing to get somewhere, and we don’t have lots of free time, especially during the morning rush hour.

And between the computer system that seems to be constantly failing and the 40-year-old trains that always seem to be breaking down, it’s easy to think that incompetent mismanagement on the part of the STM itself is responsible for these problems.

The statistics show that’s not really the case. According to the STM’s activity report for 2011, about half of all disruptions (defined as stoppages in service for more than five minutes) happened because of the actions of passengers. This includes people being on the tracks, people doing improper things with moving or fixed equipment, medical emergencies by people who happen to be in the metro, and, unfortunately, metro suicides.

Of the remaining half, 43% were because of failures of trains, stationary equipment or the systems that control them, and the rest were for “external causes” or “miscellaneous”.

A partial shutdown of the green line that happened on the morning of April 19 fell into the first category of disruptions caused by passengers. A medical emergency at the Verdun station, someone caught under a train. Considered a case of suicide, the media usually leave the issue there and don’t report more on it, for fear of encouraging similar acts.

But, as it turns out, this wasn’t what happened. An investigation showed that the victim, a young woman who had turned 20 years old only four days earlier, had fallen between two metro cars, apparently not paying attention because she was using her phone.

It’s tragic, and perhaps a lesson in the dangers of walking around when you don’t see where you’re going. But what’s even more so is that nobody noticed, and the train left the station. It wasn’t until two stations later that the train was stopped, and then only after passengers noticed traces of blood (the story doesn’t specify where that blood was found).

There are questions to be asked about the safety of metro cars (it’s been mentioned that the new trains coming in 2014 won’t have these gaps between them), about the safety of using cellphones while walking, and about how someone could fall between metro cars during rush hour without anyone noticing or sounding an alarm.

Sadly, there’s no easy way to prevent all injury when you’re dealing with heavy equipment. Only ways to reduce them.

But we could start by understanding that disruptions to service happen, because comments like these seem a bit heartless in hindsight:

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Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman unveils herself

Lesley Chesterman does her debut column on Radio-Canada's Cap sur l'été on Wednesday.

Lesley Chesterman does her debut column on Radio-Canada’s Cap sur l’été on Wednesday.

Restaurant critics have the best and worst jobs at newspapers. They get paid to eat at fancy restaurants all the time, and have the power to make or break them with a review. On the other hand, they’re not recognized in the street because they can’t have their picture in the paper. They have to toil in obscurity so they can remain anonymous while reviewing.

At least, this is the way it used to be. Lesley Chesterman, the fine dining critic for The Gazette, came out and abandoned her anonymity in last Friday’s paper. She did so because she had accepted to become a contributor to the Radio-Canada television talk show Cap sur l’été, which would necessarily put her face in public.

That was the tipping point. But as she explains in her piece, anonymity had already become difficult to maintain:

No doubt, the anonymous approach to restaurant reviewing is desirable, but as the years wore on, it also became less and less doable. A constant challenge was that I knew some chefs long before I began reviewing, and once a waiter has you pegged, he will blow your cover every time you show up in a new restaurant (waiters move around a lot). Also, as a freelance writer, my articles are not just limited to restaurant reviews. I write many feature stories about chefs for several publications, and though I often interview by phone, I have to meet chefs face to face as well.

However, the greatest challenge to anonymity that is unmasking countless critics at a rapid pace is social media. Unlike in the early years, today I have little control over who takes my picture and posts it on the Internet. Though I have asked people many times to delete pictures of me from websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., eventually you don’t even know who to contact to remove an image. I accepted the fact that anonymity is a pipe dream, but I still strove for it.

Despite this, she’ll still at least try to maintain some sheen of anonymity, reserving places under fake names and paying in cash. But being recognized will be an unavoidable consequence:

Chesterman’s first appearance on Cap sur l’été, doing its “Un monde de saveurs” column, was taped on Friday and aired on Wednesday. You can watch it here and marvel at her impressive command of the French language.

Cult MTL brings back Best of Montreal readers’ poll

Best of Montreal


When Quebecor shut down Mirror last June, we just assumed the annual Best of Montreal readers’ poll was dead. But fear not, folks, because its unofficial successor Cult MTL is bringing it back.

The concept remains the same: Readers fill out an online form listing their favourite restaurants, clothing shops and media personalities, often following campaigns from those restaurants, clothing shops and media personalities eager for free advertising. The results are compiled and published, often leading to complaints from hipsters that too many mainstream things are popular.

You can fill out the survey here until May 17. The results will be published in the June edition of the paper.

Cult is also encouraging Instagram users to get involved, snapping and sharing pics of their favourite things.

Montreal’s community weeklies must make do without journalists

Can you have a newspaper without journalists? Transcontinental certainly seems to think you can. It announced that the 22 community weeklies in the Montreal area, which include the West Island Chronicle, Westmount Examiner and papers that cover various boroughs in Montreal, will be cut down from 23 to 12 journalists. That’s about half a journalist per paper.

The CSN union got angry about this and sent out a press release on Monday, which prompted stories from the FPJQ and Projet J. La Presse’s media columnist used it to lament the decline of newspapers in general. Everyone seemed to agree it was sad news.

And it is, for the people who are losing their jobs, plus those who may have had some connection to these once-respectable papers that have since been left to rot into empty shells for advertising.

The two journalists at the Chronicle (Marc Lalonde and François Lemieux), and Toula Foscolos, who is the news director for the Chronicle and Westmount Examiner, will survive the cuts, Foscolos tells me. Union rules dictate that those with less seniority will get the boot. That means part-timers like Morgan Lowrie, who had been doing most of the reporting for the Examiner and will be looking for a new job in a few weeks.

What the papers will look like after these cuts is unclear.

According to the FPJQ, the remaining journalists won’t even really be journalists. They’ll be community representatives, tasked with desperately filling the space available the cheapest way possible. The papers will lean harder on free content from citizens, people with axes to grind or things to promote, and businesses who want free advertising.

The point of no return is long gone. Does anyone still read the West Island Chronicle, or the Messager LaSalle, or the Courrier Ahuntsic? Now there will be even less of a reason to do so.

It’s a shame. But if Transcontinental had any shame, it would have let these papers shut down with some dignity many years ago.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post said there was just one journalist left at the Chronicle. There are actually two. It also failed to mention Morgan Lowrie, who is among the cuts.

UPDATE (May 7): Projet Montréal plans to present a motion to city council denouncing the cuts. It’s an entirely symbolic move that will change nothing, but I’m sure the laid-off employees appreciate it.

Marie-France Bazzo to replace René Homier-Roy on Radio-Canada radio

Radio-Canada wasted little time. Hours after René Homier-Roy announced on air that he would not be returning in the fall as host of C’est bien meilleur le matin, the local morning show on CBF-FM (Radio-Canada Première Chaîne), the public broadcaster announced that Marie-France Bazzo, host of Télé-Québec’s among other ventures, will succeed him. She had been contributing to the afternoon drive morning show on the station’s main competitor, 98.5FM. That collaboration ended today.

Bazzo is the first woman to take up this particular post at Radio-Canada. There’s already talk that this is some sort of historic appointment, breaking some glass ceiling. But that ceiling is very narrow in scope. She’s not the first female morning host on radio in Quebec, or even in Montreal. Christiane Charette hosted the show that Homier-Roy led into, and Catherine Perrin hosts that show now. Isabelle Maréchal hosts the mid-morning show on 98.5FM. And those shows are Quebec-wide. Nancy Wood hosted the local morning show solo on CBC Radio One in Montreal. And there are plenty of other examples of women hosting radio shows in Quebec and Montreal. Morning shows in Montreal, particularly on music stations, tend to be hosted by teams, which is the main reason I would argue that having a solo female host there hasn’t happened yet.

That said, Bazzo is a solid appointment for this post. She knows her news, has extensive interviewing experience, and commands great respect as a broadcaster.

No worries about The Thursday-night show on Télé-Québec will return in the fall with Bazzo as host.

Bazzo has been added to the list of guests on Tout le monde en parle this Sunday. Homier-Roy will be on Pénélope McQuade next Monday, reports Le Soleil.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled René Homier-Roy’s name.

Following the CRTC’s mandatory carriage hearings

Starting today until May 2, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is conducting public hearings into applications to impose or renew mandatory carriage for various television services. Mandatory carriage means that every cable, satellite and IPTV customer in Canada (or in a region, for those asking for a regional mandate) must have the service as part of their basic package, and television distributors are required to pay a regulated wholesale fee per customer to that service (though some are not asking for a wholesale fee). Many are coming here making big promises because this would mean free money for them.

You can get a general idea of what each is requesting from this blog post I did in January.

CPAC is livestreaming video of the hearings online. You can watch the feed with English translation, French translation or no translation.

The CRTC’s website, which seems to be struggling to deliver pages right now, has audio feeds (English, French, no translationthe hearing’s agenda. It’s reproduced in more readable form below.

Transcripts of hearings are posted on the commission’s website the morning after each day of hearings.

There’s also plenty of reading material from the media:

Stories about the individual appearances are linked to those appearances listed below.

On Twitter, the #CRTC hashtag is the most active one

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Canadian Jewish News to close

From their website:

With great sadness, I have to announce that The Canadian Jewish News will cease publishing its printed newspaper with its June 20 edition.

I never dreamed that I would be writing this. No nightmare of mine envisioned it.

For some time, we have known of the ravages that printed newspapers and magazines have been experiencing across the world. The digital age, in which news and commentary are retrieved instantly on smartphones, on computers and on all kinds of new devices, has overtaken the printed word. For the most part, the attractions of printed paper are welcome experiences only for an older generation and appear to be destined to be things of the past. Added to this that much of the world believes that news and commentary should be free.

Newspapers depend for their existence on advertising. It is their lifeblood. Growing numbers of advertisers are no longer convinced that they will get responses to what they pay for in printed publications. Add to that the economic situation in effect over the past few years has left little monies for advertising.

While we were alert to what was happening around us, we hoped that The CJN, with its “niche” attraction, would not be like others, and that our print edition would survive and flourish. We made substantial operating changes, which we thought would assist. After careful analysis, we have concluded that they do not.

We are pained to have to make this decision. We know the role that The CJN has played in the community for the past 42 years. Notwithstanding our editorial integrity and a cadre of superb writers, we face an evolving society, a different readership and changed demands.

If The CJN is to be a vibrant part of the future, it will only be as an enhanced and expanded digital edition. That is our hope. However, The CJN will disappear from your mailboxes and the newsstands.

We appreciate the loyalty of our subscribers and advertisers. As importantly, we appreciate our committed staff – some 50 people – many of whom have worked for the paper for so long and with the greatest dedication.

Reality dictates to us that “for every thing there is a season….”

Donald Carr, President

The Canadian Jewish News

CJN, which competes with the Jewish Tribune, has editions in Montreal and Toronto.

More coverage from the Globe and Mail, National Post and, plus a blog post from Mike Cohen.

UPDATE: A follow-up from editor Mordechai Ben-Dat and President Donald Carr on the efforts to keep CJN alive, including the Save CJN campaign.

Sun News turns two — will it make it to three?

Today is the second anniversary of the Sun News Network.

Canada’s small-c conservative news channel launched on April 18, 2011, days before the royal wedding of the century, a historic federal election and the surprise death of Osama bin Laden. It promised to break stories that the other media wouldn’t cover, to give a voice to those it felt had been blacklisted by the other media, and to present ideas that were politically incorrect.

Even before it launched, it was attacked by the establishment and by left-wing activists. Combined with some reporting that failed to properly explain the issues at hand, this left many Canadians with an incomplete, biased or simply incorrect picture of what the news channel was about. I was skeptical about the quality of its journalism, but also encouraged that there would be a specialty channel out there that would create all of its own programming instead of relying on rebroadcasting U.S. specialty channels, airing reruns of TV series from decades past, or reshowing the same hit shows that have already aired on the broadcast networks.

I finally gave the network a review after one year. Most of my worries turned out to be justified. Its production values are cheap, it preaches to the converted, its primetime hosts (all white men) are unrelatable mainly because of the size of their egos.

Not much has changed in the year since. Most of the personalities are the same, with the notable exception of Krista Erickson (what she’s up to now is a mystery – her website, blog and Facebook page haven’t been updated since November). The shows still look the same, still sound the same, still have the same strengths and weaknesses.

I find myself watching it less and less these days, except for the sweeps I do of all the news channels when there’s breaking or other live events happening. It doesn’t have a must-see program, and with PVRs there’s no reason to stumble on it when you’re bored during the day.

But still, in an era where specialty channels are doing their best to de-specialize and go after the cheapest and most profitable content, it’s nice that there’s one force out there that believes original programming can make a network work.

Sun Forced

All that original programming is expensive. Thanks to the CRTC we know that it cost $14 million in 2012. Added to overhead expenses, Sun News costs $22 million a year to run. But it made only $5.7 million in subscription fees and advertising. And subscription fees, under 10 cents a month per subscriber, make up the bulk of that. The network draws only $3,750 a day in advertising revenue. Business News Network draws more than six times that.

Sun blames this low revenue on lack of subscriptions, which it in turn blames on the big cable and satellite companies not packaging it attractively. The channel has 4.9 million subscribers, which is less than half of the 11 million subscriptions to CBC News Network, but puts it on par with channels like Lifetime, OLN and Showcase Action, and well ahead of some other more niche channels, not to mention every French-language specialty channel in Quebec that isn’t forced on subscribers.

So it is coming to the CRTC, asking that it issue an order requiring all cable and satellite providers to not only carry the channel (some like Telus and MTS still don’t have it at all), but to add it to all their customers’ basic cable packages, and even force it onto analog cable as well.

Once again, there has been some spin on both sides about this application. Sun argues it wants a fair shot in this hyper-regulated environment, while its enemies say it’s grossly hypocritical for a group that advocates choice and freedom to be asking the government to force people to pay for something they don’t want.

The hearing into Sun News and all the other applications for mandatory carriage begins next week in Gatineau. I’ve written a story for J-Source outlining the case and Sun News’s chances of getting what it wants.

People ask me a lot how I think the CRTC will rule on a controversial application, and the truth is I don’t know. I can point to precedent, but applicants and intervenors find creative ways to argue why precedent shouldn’t apply. The CRTC’s decisions wouldn’t be controversial if they were easy, and the hard ones are hard to predict.

Still, we can look at a few clues that might hint at which way the commission will go. The biggest one is that it has already deregulated mainstream news channels somewhat, opening them up so they can compete directly with each other. This presupposes that the channels are similar in nature, which would seem to go against one of the main criteria for granting this status, that a service be exceptional. Similarly, granting this request would set its own precedent, encouraging every other new news network to do the same. Global and Rogers have new regional news networks, and would probably be next in line for mandatory carriage.

Sun also makes a less than solid case that it needs this status because it can’t reach subscribers. There are channels out there that would love to have 4.5 million subscribers. And the CRTC is unlikely to feel this is the proper solution to a dispute over packaging. Sun makes a good point that it’s not accessible on analog cable, but neither are CityNews, Global BC1 and every other channel that has launched in the past decade. It’s an argument to rethink policy about analog cable, but not to force Sun News on consumers.

So my instinct is that Sun News will be denied mandatory carriage, along with most of the other applicants that come in front of the CRTC in this two-week hearing. But I’ve been surprised before.

And if the CRTC does say no, how long will Quebecor keep financing it before it realizes that market forces are just not on Sun News’s side?

La Presse+: It doesn’t make sense

La Presse+

La Presse+, the iPad app that’s supposed to revolutionize the newspaper industry, launched this morning after a glitzy party last night.

You can read news stories about the new app from Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail and J-Source, or just go to the website and read the press release (also in English), or see the note to readers from André Desmarais or the introduction from publisher Guy Crevier.

I don’t have an iPad, so I can’t really review it (see links to early reviews below). Based on what I’ve seen and heard from others, it seems to be very well designed with plenty of cool features. It might be the best newspaper iPad app ever created. (A version for Android tablets is expected by December.)

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that’s true. Then what?

La Presse is giving this app away for free, arguing that there’s an “irreversible” expectation that content online should be free. This despite the fact that most other large newspapers in Canada have either adopted a paywall or are in the process. And despite the fact that many apps on the iPad actually do manage to get money out of their users.

The paper doesn’t stop there. Seeing this as a transition, from the printed medium to an electronic one, it is essentially encouraging its readers to cancel their print subscriptions and move to this new platform. If enough people do so, they could shut down the print newspaper completely.

In a world where print advertising and print subscription fees remain the largest sources of revenue for newspapers, where the increase in online ad revenue is met by a decrease in print ad revenue that’s an order of magnitude higher, all of this seems absolutely insane.

It’s not that I don’t think newspapers should be investing during this transitional time. Nor is it that I don’t want La Presse to succeed (though professional jealousy might be a small part of it). I just don’t see how the numbers work. They spent $40 million and almost three years producing this app. They’ve hired 100 extra people, who will work alongside the 200 journalists already on the print side. And they expect that all of this extra spending, plus the loss of subscription fees from people who abandon the print edition, will be made up for by iPad advertising alone.

The numbers just don’t make sense to me. Nor, according to the articles above, do they make much sense to analysts and competitors.

We’ve had a situation like this before. The Daily, an iPad newspaper launched by News Corporation, failed after two years because it didn’t get a large enough audience. To his credit, La Presse’s Guy Crevier has an answer to that, telling the Globe that The Daily didn’t have big scoops and its content wasn’t worth paying for.

But The Daily also had a much larger potential audience, while La Presse is limited to the French-speaking Quebec market.

That’s not to say that making this work would be impossible. It just sounds very difficult.

And the thing is, we won’t know whether it is successful, unless they tell us. La Presse is owned by Gesca, which is owned by Square Victoria Communications Group, which is owned by Power Corporation. Power, the only one of these that reports its finances publicly, doesn’t break that information down much, and so we know very little about La Presse’s balance sheet. Many critics of Power Corporation suspect that La Presse in particular is a big money-loser that is kept afloat as a vanity project of the Desmarais family. I don’t know if that’s true (nor am I necessarily against very rich people owning money-losing newspapers for reasons of ego, provided they’re at arm’s length), but the fact is we don’t know whether La Presse pays for itself, and we won’t know if this app will help or hurt its finances in the short, medium or long term unless something changes.

One thing we do know, and that everyone can agree on, is that La Presse is taking a big bet on this project. If it succeeds, it could very well revolutionize the newspaper industry. And if it fails…


  • Patrick Pierra, the former publisher of Branchez-Vous, reviews the app for the Tab Times, calling it “gorgeous”. But he also lays out the first criticisms: It’s landscape-only, the download is 100MB (at least for the first day), and the navigation options could be confusing
  • Michelle Blanc, the local social media/marketing expert, says she was skeptical, but quickly became convinced after trying it that the app with revolutionize the industry
  • Maxime Johnson, tech columnist, provides a detailed analysis and offers a more optimistic, though still realistic, take on its future
  • Radio-Canada talks to experts, including one specializing in digital advertising who points out that the La Presse+ rate card is a lot more expensive than other digital ads, that it charges extra to add interactivity (which means some ads won’t be interactive at all), and that it uses non-standard formats, which means advertisers will have to design ads specifically for this platform instead of designing a few standard web ad formats and using them on multiple sites.
  • Adviso does usability testing on the app by bringing an iPad to a café and asking random people to try it. The results are interesting. For one thing, many people don’t know how to read the articles. They tap and double-tap, unaware that they’re supposed to expand the text with two fingers. It’s a minor issue that people will get over, but the next version should also go to the text of an article on a double tap.
  • The Talking New Media blog calls it the best newspaper app it’s seen, and credit it particularly for the fact that it’s not just replicating the website or the paper in tablet form.
  • Garcia Media on how the app isn’t “newsy” enough
  • Open source advocate Fabian Rodriguez complains that La Presse didn’t just create an API and let people develop their own apps (which, of course, would mean people could circumvent the ads)
  • La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé explains how this new platform will change the way journalists think about storytelling

CBC TV to air special episode of Parc Avenue Tonight

When Dimitrios Koussioulas, whose name I will one day learn how to write without having to copy and paste it, started his Mile End online talk show Parc Avenue Tonight, I thought to myself: This looks dirt cheap, but promising. This should be on actual TV.

Well, despite what can be said about our Toronto-controlled television networks that seem to have all but abandoned local programming, Koussioulas is being given his chance to be on Montreal television. In fact, he’s getting two, on two different stations.

A week after City announced that Koussioulas would be one of three hosts of a new weekly magazine show on local culture and lifestyle, CBC announced on Friday that it will be taping a special episode of his Parc Avenue Tonight show in front of a live audience and airing it this summer as part of its Absolutely Quebec regional series.

Absolutely Quebec is a summer series of (usually) one-hour specials that air Saturdays at 7pm during the summer (during hockey’s off-season). It is, for now at least, the only regional programming that airs on CBC television outside of the local newscasts. You can get an idea of what it’s like from last year’s shows.

Parc Avenue Tonight is an interview show in which Koussioulas speaks with fellow Mile Enders. Aside from its glorification of smoking, its canned audience applause and its strange love of bananas, it’s worth watching when it has a good guest. The episode above is an interview with Marianne Ackerman, an author, freelance writer and the person behind the Rover arts website. It showcases the solid (though modest) production values and Koussioulas’s warm and inviting personality.

The show’s live taping will happen May 15 at the Cabaret du Mile End (naturally), and will air on CBMT TV two months later, on July 13th. Ticket information and a copy of the press release are below:

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