Monthly Archives: October 2013

Can La Presse save the newspaper industry by doing everything wrong?

La Presse+ ipads

La Presse has made a $40-million bet on a new tablet platform that it hopes will replace its newspaper.

The newspaper industry is dying. The data is conclusive. As baby boomers die off, so will the business model of the daily newspaper, and there’s no way to stop it.

As someone who works for a daily newspaper, it’s tough to hear this. People in this industry want to pretend that there’s some magic solution waiting, but everyone has that fear that maybe the death spiral will continue until the business model collapses in on itself and there’s nothing left but some novelty papers kept for the sake of posterity.

But what really got me wasn’t what I was hearing, but who I was hearing it from: Guy Crevier, the publisher of La Presse, one of Canada’s largest and most prestigious newspapers.

And he wasn’t just repeating some attention-grabbing phrases he heard at the latest industry conference. Crevier’s conclusions are based on numbers and analysis that his company has spent millions to produce.

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Avis de recherche needs a miracle

Avis de recherche staff, from left: journalists  Josie Simard, Kariane Bourassa, Jessica Leblanc, Nancy Bourgon and Valérie Beaudoin, president Vincent Géracitano, journalists Andrée-Anne Lavigne and Jessyka Dumulong, and cameraman/director Michel Ciacciarelli

Avis de recherche staff in August, from left: journalists Josie Simard, Kariane Bourassa, Jessica Leblanc, Nancy Bourgon and Valérie Beaudoin, president Vincent Géracitano, journalists Andrée-Anne Lavigne and Jessyka Dumulong, and cameraman/director Michel Ciacciarelli. The staff also included editor-in-chief Hélène Fouquet, journalist Benoit Tranchemontagne, camera operators/directors Maxence Matteau, Gabrielle Laroche and Christian Pichette, archivist Jonathan Veilleux and analyst François Doré.

It’s one of those channels you’ve probably skipped over dozens of times. On Videotron digital cable, it’s channel 49, just between a French pay-per-view barker channel and one of the PBS stations. On Bell Fibe, it’s channel 142, between the French rerun channel Prise 2 and the National Assembly channel. If you’ve ever tuned to it, accidentally or on purpose, you’ve noticed that much of its schedule is slides showing people who are missing or wanted by police.

Avis de recherche seems like a simple channel with a tiny budget and no viewers, and it is. But for president Vincent Géracitano, it’s been his life for the past decade, and he sees it as a mission of public service to keep it going.

Which makes the CRTC’s recent decision to cut the service’s mandatory distribution in Quebec even more perplexing for him.

On Aug. 8, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission came to decisions on requests from existing and proposed TV services for mandatory distribution, a rare and powerful status that requires all television providers to both distribute the service and pay a regulated per-subscriber rate for it. For the most part, it maintained the status quo: most services that had the status already kept it, and most that didn’t were denied. There were a few exceptions: TV5 got its mandatory distribution in exchange for a second channel that targets francophone Canadians outside Quebec; AMI TV got mandatory distribution for a French version of the video description channel; the territories get their legislative channel on satellite (with no subscriber fee) and ARTV gets mandatory carriage (but not on basic).

And there was ADR, the only service that had mandatory distribution whose status wasn’t renewed. A proposed English version of the channel, All Points Bulletin, was denied a request for mandatory distribution.

Even Géracitano admits that without an obligatory per-subscriber fee, Avis de recherche has little hope of survival. Its negligible audience means it has virtually no advertising revenue. And its unpopularity means people aren’t likely to choose to subscribe to it, and cable providers are unlikely to want to continue carrying the channel.

Géracitano has two years to figure out what to do. “In light of the laudable objectives advanced by the service,” the CRTC wrote in its decision, “the Commission will phase out the mandatory distribution requirement over the next two broadcast years (i.e. by 31 August 2015) to allow the licensee time to adapt its business plan in light of this change.”

Despite that cushion, Géracitano told me unless the CRTC changes its mind, the channel will probably just have to shut down by that date. In fact, he’s had to make some tough decisions already. As Christopher Curtis reports in The Gazette, Avis de recherche has already had to lay off 10 of its 16 employees so that it can break even by the time it shuts down.

And Géracitano is mad at the CRTC, convinced that there are nefarious reasons why the project he has worked on for more than a decade is being forced to walk the plank.

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What happened to TTP Media?

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

From left: Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, partners in 7954689 Canada Inc., aka Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media

Over the past few months, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is what is going on with the group known as TTP Media. The group, composed of businessmen Paul Tietolman, Nicolas Tétrault and Rajiv Pancholy, has licences for three AM radio stations in Montreal, none of which has launched yet. And none of them has said anything publicly for months.

Some of those inquiries have come from people looking for jobs at these new stations, which have promised to invest heavily in local programming and local news. Others have come from radio watchers excited about having something else to listen to. And some are from people who have a beef with CJAD and want to see competition as soon as possible.

Since May, I have been trying to get answers from all three of them. And it has been proving strangely difficult. Tietolman, who had previously been very talkative about the new station, without giving away any secrets, clammed up, asking me to speak with Pancholy, who is the managing partner.

Pancholy told me he didn’t have anything to say at the moment, but that I could expect an announcement in the next four to six weeks that would answer most of my questions.

That was May 23. Despite repeated phone calls, I haven’t spoken to Pancholy since. (That’s 20 weeks ago, in case you’re counting.)

Tétrault, for his part, has at least been getting back to me. “Our group is very much alive and hard at work,” he wrote me in an email on Aug. 20. “However, we do not want to announce anything till we are fully ready. I hope you understand. We will contact you when the time comes.”

On Oct. 3, in response to another request for information as the deadline to launch the first of those three stations approaches, Tétrault said “we do not like to talk about our plans” but that he’d make an exception to tell me this:

In the current business environment, it makes business sense to launch multiple radio stations as close to each other as possible. Consequently, we had requested that our implementation deadline be extended. The CRTC has recently responded favorably to our request.

We do not have any other comments at the moment.

Tietolman had told me something similar the last time I saw him in person, during the Bell/Astral CRTC merger hearings in May. The group wants to launch its English and French news-talk stations at the same time. (The three have gone back and forth on this plan a bit, first saying they would launch simultaneously, then saying they wouldn’t have to do that, and now saying they want to do that again.)

News of this extension will no doubt fuel more rumours out there about why this group has disappeared from the public radar.

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Tasso leaves Mike FM

Paul (Tasso) Zakaib in the Mike FM studio

Paul (Tasso) Zakaib in the Mike FM studio

Two years after joining Mike FM (CKDG) as a big-name personality on its afternoon drive show, Paul Zakaib and his on-air alter-ego Tasso Patsikakis are once again looking for work.

“It was a good two-year run,” Zakaib told me on the phone. He described his departure as the end of an experiment that failed to meet the station’s hopes. Mike FM owner Marie Griffiths offered him a different job that he wasn’t crazy about, so he left. His last day was Sept. 30.

Griffiths didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. I’ll update this post if I hear from her.

James Foster, who was Zakaib’s producer and news anchor, has taken over the job of afternoon drive host.

Failed experiment

Zakaib isn’t bitter about the departure, but seemed resigned to the fact that things just wouldn’t work at the low-budget station. Its equipment is basic and outdated, and didn’t afford him the flexibility needed to produce a complex show filled with humorous skits. This was particularly true after co-host Patrick Charles left the station a year ago.

CKDG-FM and its sister station CKIN-FM are commercial ethnic stations operating out of a tiny studio space on Parc Ave. in Mile End. CKDG tries to make money for the station with English-language morning and afternoon drive shows. The hiring of Tasso and Patrick was supposed to spark a boost in audience and advertising. It now seems evident that that didn’t happen.

(CKDG-FM doesn’t subscribe to BBM’s ratings measurement system, so it’s impossible to know beyond anecdotal evidence whether the show did indeed have more listeners and if so how long that increased listenership lasted.)

What now?

So now Zakaib joins people like Ted Bird and Ric Peterson and Patrick Charles and Chantal Desjardins who are without jobs in radio despite being veteran broadcasters. And that’s not counting all of those who are underemployed or not being used to their full potential.

Zakaib told me he wants to go back to something he did a while ago: freelance, doing voice work for animation and commercials. As a man with many voices, it’s what he does best.

“I’m trying to get back into that field,” he said, lamenting how much has changed with technology since the good ol’ days.

What about an Aaron and Tasso reunion? Well, Zakaib called up Aaron Rand’s show on CJAD recently, just for fun. He said he might do so again, out of nostalgia.

If there’s any justice in the world, CJAD will free up a few dollars to get him to contribute to Rand’s show on a regular basis.

But nobody’s holding their breath waiting for that to happen.

CBC’s new local TV shows debut Saturday; Sonali Karnick to host Our Montreal

Sonali Karnick will host Our Montreal, airing weekends on CBC television.

Sonali Karnick will host Our Montreal, airing weekends on CBC television.

During its last CRTC licence renewal hearing, the CBC committed to increasing the amount of local programming it airs on its stations in large markets, including Montreal, bumping it up to 14 hours a week, consistent with private stations in large markets.

But rather than just adding more newscasts, CBC also committed that for these markets, at least one hour a week would be non-news local programming. Even after their licence renewal was approved, the CBC couldn’t say what form that programming would take. And even after the new licence came into effect on Sept. 1, there was no announcement, just confirmation that the new program would be an hour a week repeated twice over the weekend.

So without a new show ready, CBC Montreal has met its requirements for non-news local programming since Sept. 1 by re-airing the Absolutely Quebec series produced this summer.

Finally, today, even though the new show has been on the electronic schedule for a week and a half, we’re just now getting information from the public broadcaster about what these new shows are.

Our Montreal

Here’s what we know so far. The new show is called “Our Montreal” (There’s also “Our Toronto”, “Our Ottawa”, “Our Calgary”, “Our Edmonton” and “Our Vancouver”, because local programming is still very much decided in Toronto). It’s an hour-long current affairs show, hosted by Sonali Karnick.

What will be on the show? According to the press release, it’s “the stories that made headlines and had everyone talking … weekly highlights plus a look behind the headlines on the issues everyone’s been buzzing about … the week’s top news stories plus timely features on books, health, one-on-one interviews and an interactive web column.”

The shows debut Saturday at 6am in every market — what kind of audience they can expect to get with this horrible time slot I have no idea* — and repeats at 11am on Sundays and 11am on Mondays.

Karnick will continue to host All in a Weekend on CBC Radio One in Quebec. Which means that her radio show and her television show will be on the air at the same time. Which also doesn’t make much sense.

I’ll be speaking with Karnick tomorrow for a story for The Gazette. I’ll ask her and others at the CBC about what they want the show to be, and which show she wants fans to listen to on Saturday mornings. If you have any other questions, let me know.

*Okay, I have some idea. Ratings for that timeslot show 1,700 viewers on average in Montreal last fall and spring. But will early risers for kids shows translate well into early risers (or insomniacs) among local current affairs watchers? We’ll see.

UPDATE: The story is here and in Friday’s paper. It goes into a bit of Karnick’s background, including her 2011 departure for Toronto and her quick return to Montreal. It also goes a bit into the timeslot. I never did get a very good answer, either from the local office or CBC nationally, about why 6am Saturday was chosen. Everyone reminded me that the show airs three times and is available online, and that some people are up that early on Saturday.

But while airing local shows at 6am is not unusual, it’s odd for that airing to be the premiere (unless it’s a three-hour morning show). Global Montreal used to repeat its evening newscasts at 6am the next day to meet CRTC local programming requirements. Some other stations elsewhere in Canada still do this, and even CTV Montreal has done it on occasion when pre-empted or cancelled newscasts have pushed it below its weekly minimum.

Maybe it’s just semantics here, and having a show air at 6am Saturday and repeat at 11am Sunday is no different from premiering at 11am and repeating at 6am.

But that 6am Saturday time slot still seems odd, especially because the Absolutely Quebec reruns were done at a much more reasonable hour of 11am or noon on Saturdays.

The press release

CBC Montreal launches “Our Montreal”: A weekly review program

Starting Saturday, October 12th on CBC Television

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 — Join CBC Television this Saturday, October 12 for Our Montreal an hour-long current affairs review program that looks at the best of Montreal.

“Each week, Our Montreal will bring you the stories that made headlines and had everyone talking,” says Shelagh Kinch, Managing Director, CBC Quebec “At CBC Montreal, we’re dedicated to sharing local stories and issues that matter to Montrealers. This program gives weekly highlights plus a look behind the headlines on the issues everyone’s been buzzing about.”

Hosted by Sonali Karnick, Our Montreal includes the week’s top news stories plus timely features on books, health, one-on-one interviews and an interactive web column.

“Montrealers love to boast about their city and what secret gems they’ve uncovered. And I’m no exception,” says Karnick. “It’s really a privilege to host this new program and talk about the people and places that make our city one of the best places to live.”

In addition to Our Montreal, Sonali Karnick will continue as host of All in a Weekend, Saturday and Sunday mornings, 6-9am (88.5/104.7FM). Our Montreal airs on Saturdays at 6 am on CBC Television with encore presentations on Sundays and Mondays at 11am.

The other shows

The CBC’s commitment applies to its stations in large “metropolitan” markets, which are defined as those in which the population “with knowledge of the official language of the station” is one million or more. The six largest metro areas in Canada each have a CBC station meeting this criteria. (The next largest is Quebec City, whose population is mainly French, and then Winnipeg, with a population of 730,018.)

  • Our Toronto, hosted by Marivel Taruc
  • Our Ottawa, hosted by Lucy van Oldenbarneveld
  • Our Calgary, hosted by Holly Preston
  • Our Edmonton, hosted by Adrienne Lamb
  • Our Vancouver, hosted by Gloria Macarenko

CJMS 1040 off air: Is this the end?

During the summer, when CJMS’s website went down and it experienced transmission problems, I was informed by its owner Alexandre Azoulay that it we should not be worried about its future and it would continue as normal.

Then last month the station was ordered by the CRTC to appear at a public hearing to respond to a series of serious licence compliance issues. And the station has been off the air for almost two weeks now. And nobody knows when it’s coming back.

(CJMS 1040 AM, no relation to the former AM station of the same call letters, is a 10kW/5kW country music and talk station based in St-Constant. It launched in 1999.)

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CTV holding Montreal mayor debate on Sunday; CBC to follow

Updated with post-debate comments.

It’s not often that CTV Montreal has special programming anymore, a fact that has left many people who remember the good ol days of CFCF-12 less than impressed.

But Sunday, Oct. 6, saw one of those special programs: A debate between the three leading candidates for mayor of Montreal: Denis Coderre, Marcel Côté and Richard Bergeron.

The debate was one hour, commercial-free from 6pm to 7pm on Sunday, Oct. 6. It will be moderated by anchor Mutsumi Takahashi. It was also livestreamed on its website and simulcast on CJAD, which is now also owned by Bell Media.

The debate did not take the place of the regular CTV Montreal newscast, which instead was moved up by an hour so it ran from 5pm to 6pm.

Where’s Joly?

You might notice that the name of Mélanie Joly is not listed above. She wasn’t invited.

“We made the call, essentially using a similar logic that the consortium applied to Elizabeth May in the last federal debate: The threshold is having elected members,” CTV Montreal news director Jed Kahane explained to me. “She would surely be a dynamic and interesting participant;  but that was not the criteria we used.”

Choosing who will participate in a televised debate is always a controversial issue. Limiting to those parties with elected members is a good way of filtering out the no-chance candidates. But it also rewards incumbency, and this is an election where Montrealers are really looking for change. Only one of the three leaders invited to the debate (Bergeron) currently sits on Montreal city council.

Montreal currently has 12 official candidates for mayor, seven of whom are listed as independents. (Michel Brûlé is the only other one with a party.)

Though the first televised debate included Joly, it looks like the broadcasters are moving toward three-way debates for the rest of the campaign.

Or they did until a poll came out on the morning after the debate showing Joly with 16% support, only one point behind Côté. That prompted Radio-Canada to change its mind and invite Joly to its debate despite previously excluding her.

Even Kahane admits that had this poll come out before the debate, CTV might have acted differently.

“We had decided that if she made a very strong showing in the polls we’d have to reconsider our decision,” he said. “This first major poll came too late for our debate, but I see it’s caused others to take another look, as we surely would have”.

The format

The debate took place at CTV Montreal, and included pre-recorded questions from the public. Beyond that, Kahane wouldn’t give details, such as where exactly the candidates would be. (In the “cozy corner” interview area? Behind the anchor desk? Somewhere else?)

“Tune in to see,” he said.

As it turned out, the candidates stood on the floor near the windows, each with a transparent podium (and a fourth for Takahashi).

CTV Montreal hasn’t hosted that many debates. Federal debates happen in Ottawa, and provincial debates are low-key affairs because the Parti Québécois doesn’t bother trying to appeal to anglophones. During the last provincial election there was a short sit-down debate with members of the three main parties that was done during a noon newscast.

The debate is posted online if you missed it, along with post-debate scrums.

Among those covering the CTV debate:

CBC coming too

CBC Montreal is also working on a debate, set for Oct. 22. McGill will be hosting it, two weeks after their French debate. Joly is being invited to that one.

The debate, which will air live from 5-6pm on television, radio and online, will be moderated by Andrew Chang.

Numbers — not politics — is why the metro should extend toward the east first

When the PQ government made a big-splash announcement that the blue line of Montreal’s metro would be extended toward the east, plenty of anglophones took the opportunity to once again complain that there’s no extension toward the west.

To them, the reason was simple: politics. The PQ is more interested in francophone voters in St-Léonard than anglophones in the West Island, they argue, and so the West Island will never get improved transit service as long as the PQ is in power.

The problem is that the logic doesn’t hold up.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of politics involved in high-cost consumer-oriented projects like this. And there’s plenty of politics involved in this particular announcement. But let’s set a few things straight before we come to incorrect conclusions:

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Radio Moyen-Orient applies for FM retransmitter in St-Michel

Radio station CHOU 1450 AM, which airs programming in Arabic, French and other languages from the Middle East, has applied to the CRTC for permission to setup a low-power rebroadcasting transmitter on FM to help alleviate reception problems in the city’s northeast.

The transmitter would operate at 104.5 FM with a power of 50 watts, from an antenna on top of the Sami Fruits building on 19e Ave., near Pie-IX and Jarry.

The station’s primary transmitter is 2,000 watts from the St-Laurent industrial park. In its submission to the CRTC, the station says it has looked at other ways to improve its signal, including increasing power with a directional antenna, but that adding another antenna to its main transmitter site isn’t a practical solution.

Realistic pattern of the new CHOU retransmitter

Realistic pattern of the new CHOU retransmitter

Montreal doesn’t have much empty space on the FM dial, so trying to squeeze in another station, even a low-power one, is bound to cause some problems.

The biggest source of problems here would be CBME-FM-1, the retransmitter of CBC Radio One at 104.7 FM in the west end. Because they’re so close together, there would be interference between the two. Because the CBC transmitter is more powerful, that interference would be closer to where the CHOU retransmitter will be located. CHOU’s broadcasting engineer mapped out the interference pattern like this:

Red splotches mark places where CHOU may cause adjacent-channel interference with CBME-FM-1 at 104.7.

Red splotches mark places where CHOU may cause adjacent-channel interference with CBME-FM-1 at 104.7.

Normally, this kind of interference would kill an application in its tracks, unless the other station agreed to accept the interference. But CHOU argues that, because CBME-FM-1 is a retransmitter designed to cover Westmount, NDG, Côte-des-Neiges and Hampstead, where the main CBC transmitter at 88.5 was apparently experiencing reception problems, people in affected areas will be listening to the station at 88.5 anyway and won’t mind not hearing the retransmitter.

We’ll see if the CBC agrees with that logic.

The CRTC is accepting comments on the proposal until Oct. 31. Comments can be submitted through the CRTC’s website here. Note that all information submitted to the CRTC, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Journal de Montréal radically redesigns, adds busload of columnists

Front page (well, inside front page) of today's Journal de Montréal

Front page (well, inside front page) of today’s Journal de Montréal

In some ways, it looks a lot different. A new headline font, a new logo, new sections. But in more important ways, it’s still the Journal de Montréal, a tabloid with short articles and big photos and Richard Martineau.

The new paper came out on Tuesday morning, with an eight-page explainer section, plus another two in sports. The content of that is reproduced online here, or you can read Quebecor’s press release.

(The Journal de Québec underwent a similar redesign.)

In short, here’s what’s changed:

  • The logo. The lowercase “journal de montréal”, which has been the paper’s logo since 1964, has been replaced with uppercase text, each word in its own red rectangle. Publisher Lyne Robitaille says these four blocks represent the four platforms the Journal is distributed in.
  • The fonts. The headline font is replaced by Tungsten. The narrow, blocky font allows for more characters in one line, which the Journal’s editors believe will allow them to write longer, more descriptive headlines. Other fonts used are Stag Sans for the labels on top of headlines and other display type below, and World Wide for the body type. The Journal also notes it has increased its line spacing a bit.
  • The colour scheme: Rather than a uniform red, the upper folio will have the colour of whatever section it’s in (news is red, others mainly blue or green).
  • New sections and pages:
    • JM: Pronounced “j’aime”, this pull-out section (it’s like you have two papers in one, they say) contains all the arts and life sections, including the weather, horoscope, cartoons, the photo pages and Louise Deschâtelets.
    • Monde: International news is broken off into its own section instead of just following news
    • Dans vos poches: A page in the Argent business section is devoted to practical information for consumers and investors
    • Photo: Because apparently the photos in the Journal weren’t big enough, they’ve promised to make them bigger. The paper will now include a full-page photo of the day, in addition to its weekly best-of photo pics and its photo blog, and it will also publish photo-taking tips and run contests for the best reader-submitted photo.
    • Techno: Also part of the JM section, with technology news and useful information.
    • Grandes entrevues: The Saturday paper will include a feature interview with a personality in the news, by various columnists.
  • Fewer listings: Arguing that this is information better put online, the paper is reducing its stock listings to half a page, and says it will now publish movie listings only on the most popular days: Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Radio is back: Le journal du midi, which had been off since June, is back, with Sophie Durocher and Gilles Proulx. A new show by Michel Beaudry, about hockey, airs Mondays at 3pm.
  • Contact information for writers now includes Twitter addresses (below their bylines) and email addresses and phone numbers at the end of their stories. The explainer also mentions their Facebook and Google+ addresses. But this isn’t uniform for every writer. Some stories include only an email address, others no contact information at all.
  • Expanded sports: Though the Canadiens will still be the big draw in sports, and more coverage is planned of the bleu-blanc-rouge (including sports-specific Michel Beaudry humour columns and Ygreck cartoons), there will be a larger focus on non-hockey sports, with new weekly columns on tennis, basketball and running.
  • A new tagline: “Le journal qu’on aime lire.”

New columnists

Two pages of the paper are devoted just to listing all the new columnists and contributors. Some of them are big names (though some of the bigger names will contribute whenever they feel like it).

The list of “chroniqueurs invités” includes such big names as Jean Charest, Jacques Parizeau, Line Beauchamp, Gilbert Rozon, Louise Beaudoin, Isabelle Hudon and Dominic Maurais.

But in terms of people we’ll see on a regular basis, they include Josée Legault (who will also have a blog), François Bugingo, on world affairs, and Martine Desjardins. Plus comedians Kim Lizotte and Maxim Martin with lifestyle columns, and Renaud Lavoie (formerly of RDS) in sports.

The Journal has also added some winter sports athletes as columnists focused on the road to the Sochi Olympics: Alex Harvey (cross-country skiing), Dominique Maltais (snowboarding), Alexandre Bilodeau (freestyle skiing), Marianne St-Gelais (short-track speed skating), Erik Guay (alpine skiing), Marie-Michele Gagnon (alpine skiing) and Laurent Dubreuil (long-track speed skating).