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.


As Curtis writes in the Gazette story, and I wrote in this story for Cartt.ca in August, Géracitano got the idea for Avis de recherche in 1999 when he caught would-be robbers on video and had no way to get that video out to the public. Local news wasn’t interested in airing it unless the crime was major. And the police didn’t have a direct outlet to the public at the time.

In 2002, the CRTC granted Géracitano a licence for the service, which would broadcast information to help law enforcement. And unlike the local news, which might put a photo of a suspect in a major crime up on the screen during one news cycle, Avis de recherche would keep running it for days, weeks, even years if necessary.

The channel finally launched on Oct. 21, 2004, so it’ll be celebrating its ninth birthday next week. Unlike most specialty services, which collect a per-subscriber fee from the cable provider, Géracitano paid Videotron so it would distribute the channel to all its subscribers.

A Videotron bill for ADR in 2008 - ADR had to pay $0.05 per subscriber per month, a bill that reached almost $40,000 a month

A Videotron bill for ADR in 2008 – ADR had to pay $0.05 per subscriber per month, a bill that reached almost $40,000 a month

Géracitano’s business plan was that revenue would come from businesses sponsoring public service programming.

As it turns out, they didn’t want to do that. Not only were ADR’s ratings so small that they wouldn’t register on BBM’s ratings measurement system (and as a result, it does not subscribe to BBM and we don’t know how many people watch it), but companies didn’t want to see their logos next to pictures of wanted criminals.

In 2007, the CRTC handed ADR a lifeline. It ruled that ADR should be among the services granted mandatory distributionbecause the programming broadcast on Avis de Recherche serves the public interest by safeguarding Canada’s social fabric through the promotion of crime prevention and public safety” and was therefore “of exceptional importance” to fulfilling the needs of the Broadcasting Act. A similar application for an unlaunched English-language channel All Points Bulletin was denied, with the CRTC arguing that a national English feed from coast to coast would be less useful since crimes and searches tend to be local or regional in nature.

The government asked the CRTC to reconsider its decision, and it reaffirmed it. As of Jan. 24, 2008, instead of paying Videotron $0.05 per subscriber per month, ADR was receiving $0.06 per subscriber per month, from Videotron and all other digital cable providers in Quebec. The guaranteed revenue has given ADR revenue going from $1 million a year to $1.7 million a year since mandatory distribution was imposed. This permitted the service to add more programming, including a daily live show from a studio, and edited featurettes on public safety.

ADR control room

ADR’s control room as journalists Josie Simard and Andrée-Anne Lavigne present the flagship show À l’affiche

Measures of success

So if the CRTC thought the channel was worth forcing people to pay for it in 2007, what changed in 2013?

In its decision, the commission says this:

The Commission notes that Canadians now have access to a whole new set of broadband-based technologies that did not exist when Avis de Recherche obtained mandatory distribution in 2007. These new technologies allow Canadians to assist law enforcement agencies in solving various crimes, including murder and missing people cases, in a more effective and efficient manner than a linear television channel. The Commission considers that little evidence was provided that the programming provided by Avis de Recherche is unique and complementary to existing programming in the Canadian broadcasting system. In addition, the Commission notes that Avis de recherche failed to demonstrate that mandatory distribution of its channel resulted in concrete success indicators such as increased security of Canadian communities. The Commission therefore can no longer conclude that Avis de Recherche is of exceptional importance in fulfilling section 3(1)(d)(i) of the Act by safeguarding Canada’s social fabric through the promotion of crime prevention and public safety.

In essence, the decision points out two reasons for the reversal: technological change has meant a channel like ADR is no longer as necessary as it was in 2007, and ADR hasn’t shown it’s been successful at its goal of improving public safety.

There’s an argument to be made on the first point. YouTube launched in 2005, and though by 2007 it was a huge success (and had already been acquired by Google), it wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. Many business owners with security camera footage of minor crimes have posted video to YouTube and other video sharing sites as a way to do what Géracitano couldn’t do himself in 1999: provide his video directly to the public.

But Géracitano says ADR is needed because it provides information to the public instead of hoping that the public goes out to seek it. And he points out that the same argument could be used against the Weather Network (which got mandatory distribution in exchange for setting up a public emergency alert system) or just about any other public service channel.

The second point, about the service’s success over the past five years, is also arguable. CRTC vice-chair Tom Pentefountas argued during a hearing in April that ADR isn’t useful if people aren’t watching it, and everything seems to point to nobody watching this service.

Géracitano disagrees. He says ADR isn’t a channel he expects people to watch for hours on end. He just wants a few minutes of people’s time every day to look at some pictures and hear some descriptions of wanted suspects or missing kids and call if they can help. He likens his service to CPAC, the channel that provides broadcasts of the House of Commons and other activities of the federal government, and has very low ratings to show for it. Or to a community channel that provides a public service but isn’t expected to get high ratings.

But how does one measure the success of ADR?

An easy way would be to look at how many cases have been solved as a result of its activities. But that’s hard to do. ADR doesn’t collect tips from the public. Instead, it puts the numbers of the police departments and other organizations directly on the screen. It has no way of knowing that a tip has come from someone watching unless that person or the police force tells them. And the police forces haven’t been that forthcoming with statistics.

When I asked Géracitano about cases that ADR is aware it had a hand in, he gave me a few examples:

  • There was Diego Königsthal, a one-year-old boy who went missing in 2007. The broadcast of this case on ADR prompted the child’s mother to come forward (she had gone with the boy to Mexico), and the father was able to see him again and bring the custody battle to court
  • There was Yohanna Cyr, whose disappearance in 1978 was reopened by the police after ADR publicized it. The case got another media boost on its 35th anniversary, but remains unsolved.
  • There was a 70-year-old man whose dead body was discovered in 2011 in Cowansville, that the police could not identify. The police created a sketch of his face and it was broadcast on ADR. A viewer recognized him and was able to tell the police his name.
  • There was a series of vehicle robberies in L’Assomption in 2012. The suspect, a man in his 20s, was identified by an ADR viewer.
  • And there was Lee Gordon Lessard, a 28-year-old wanted in a series of bank robberies in Montreal, Laval and Longueuil in 2011. A viewer on the south shore called police after seeing the suspect’s photo on the air.

That’s not a lot of cases. But it’s not zero either. While it’s hard to extrapolate based on such a small sample how useful ADR actually is in stopping crimes or bringing criminals to justice, we still have to ask ourselves whether this is worth the price being paid for it.

The biggest piece of evidence Géracitano used in his defence at the CRTC hearing was an email from the RCMP in February. He told the commission that 34 per cent of RCMP cases that aired on ADR were solved.

Pentefountas was skeptical about that statistic. And it may have come out as a result of a misunderstanding. Géracitano forwarded me the email, from Sgt. Yvan Lapierre. It said the following:

Depuis 2009, on dénombrent 168 dossiers d’informations provenant de canal Avis de recherche (via Info- Crime). Sur les 168 dossiers 57 d’entre-eux ont généré des renseignements pertinent qui nous ont soit donner des pistes d’enquêtes ou qui nous ont permis de procéder à l’arrestation de sujets en liberté illégale. Donc cela nous fait un taux de succès d’environ 34%. Malheureusement cela ne tient pas compte des appels du public qui sont effectué de façon confidentiel et qui ne sont pas comptabilisés. On peut cependant conclure qu’il est évident que les émissions, les fiches ainsi que le site internet d’avis de recherche est un apport considérable dans nos enquêtes.

As I understand this, Lapierre says 168 tips came in from Avis de recherche viewers, and 57 of those (34%) provided enough information to either investigate new leads or make arrests. I asked Lapierre to confirm my interpretation, but he never responded to my email.

Nevertheless, 57 cases is still not zero.

Géracitano compares ADR to a smoke detector: it’s completely useless until you really need it. Most people don’t care about this channel, but when it’s their loved one who’s gone missing, suddenly it becomes very important to them. And there are more than 5,000 children a year that go missing in Quebec (64% are runaways, most others disappear for unknown reasons).

What now?

Géracitano hasn’t given up hope. He told The Gazette he plans to appeal the CRTC’s decision, though that’s unlikely to be successful. The commission suggested alternative sources of funding, like government grants or asking the police departments themselves to contribute. But Géracitano said that wouldn’t work. Police departments (particularly Montreal’s) are solidly behind ADR, but they don’t have money to spare.

So the response has been to lay off more than half the staff. On Aug. 31, 2015, the channel will probably go dark, unless some white knight with lots of money steps in.

I don’t hold out much hope for that either.


Avis de recherche president Vincent Géracitano in the server room at ADR’s office

It’s hard not to want to root for Géracitano and hope he finds a solution. ADR is a lean operation, with 10 of its 16 employees being journalists. It has a modest office in a building at Langelier Blvd. and Highway 40. Géracitano himself did everything from string ethernet cables through the ceiling to take out the garbage. And whether it’s successful or not, there’s no arguing that ADR is trying its best to improve public safety.

The question is whether a 24/7 cable channel with what can charitably be called modest viewership is the best way to go about this.

Géracitano has just under two years to figure that out.

Further reading

Francophone media haven’t talked about Avis de recherche, except for a few one-sentence mentions when the decision came out. I’ll add links here if they start.

UPDATE: A group called Cold Cases Media has started a petition asking the federal government to force the CRTC to renew the mandatory distribution order. The Regroupement des communicateurs d’urgence, an association of media relations people of Quebec emergency services, has also condemned the CRTC’s decision.

UPDATE (Feb. 17, 2014): Guy Fournier has a column in the Journal de Montréal on ADR. It doesn’t present any new information, but makes the argument that the channel is necessary.

23 thoughts on “Avis de recherche needs a miracle

  1. GeoffreG.

    ADR is a fantastic school for young talented journalists. And these young (mostly females) reporters are nice and polite with all the families who lost their love ones. They are completely different from the reporters of the major outlets who want their scoops quickly and without much respect (most of the time) for the long-term story and the real struggles of the families. So there is nothing surprising in seeing the families supporting the channel.

    Unfortunately, a station that has no listeners can’t be helpful.

    For me, one big problem of ADR is that it seems like a PR marketing campaign for police services. Sometimes, we can hear family members saying critical things about the police, but most of the time, the journalists are promoting everything the police do. And it is easy to understand. ADR gets most of its informations and content from the police services of the province. And the channel seems to put on air an excessive amounts of show just promoting the police job and telling us how extraodinary it is.

    I think the channel should have taken a broader approach. To have a broader audience. I can’t imagine someone watching the channel to look at criminal pictures for 10 minutes with a Voice-over reading the text on the screen. I know they have limited resources, but they should adopt a more dynamic approach. American Most Wanted, anyone? Freak show for some, but a real hit in terms of ratings.

    Disapearance, blood, crime, criminals. If there’s one thing that should attract listeners, it’s the combination of all these things. So please ADR, be more creative and find a way to be relevant and interesting. And people will be happy to PAY to subscribe to you.

    1. jo ann

      Not to worry GeoffreG., Cold Cases Media is a new Organization and we, as families/victim of unsolved crimes want to collaborate with ADR-tv. Working on many projects at the moment and we absolutely need ADR-tv to help us solve our cases.

  2. Dilbert

    It’s a wonderful story, but the point was made long before you wrote the whole story:

    “Its negligible audience means it has virtually no advertising revenue. And its unpopularity means people aren’t likely to choose to subscribe to it”

    The answer is there, plain and simple.

    They may have laudable goals, they may be diligent, hard workers, and have the public’s safety in mind, but in the end if nobody is watching, it’s not going to work out.

    Mandatory carriage was a crutch to hold up a service that the people aren’t interested in, and gave the channel little encouragement to adapt to what the people wanted. They have now a little less than 2 years to change their format, upgrade their programming, or change the concept (within license) to become more desirable for the potential viewers. If they don’t do it, they should be off the air, in the same manner that a store that doesn’t sell anything should close. If the people aren’t buying the product, change products or close the doors.

    1. jo ann

      Hey my friend, I’m just wondering… How do you manage to survive if you don’t get enough funds? That’s the problem. Adr-tv is willing to upgrade their programming.. they can plan whatever they want as to change this or that, add this or that to their programming, but if the funds are insufficient until 2015, then your business will die within those two years. It’s unfortunate because they will need those funds to make some changes!

      1. Dilbert

        Jo Ann, is there any reason why the public should be forced to pay for a service that nobody seems to want to watch?

        Think about it for a moment. If i have a business that does not work because people don’t buy my product, should the government force people to buy it until one day I maybe figure out how to do it right? If the public doesn’t want the product, why force it on them?

        10 years of mandatory carriage wasn’t enough time for them to figure out how to get people to watch. I cannot imagine a reason why they should keep being rewarded for failing.

        1. jo ann

          Hi Dilbert, Funny you mention that, since we all pay for the 911 ”package deal” on our cell phones… do you call 911 every month? I don’t think that you do, but you do pay for it anyway, weather you want to or not, just in case you might need it.. Why? cuz it’s public safety ”services” … like adr-tv.

          1. Fagstein Post author

            we all pay for the 911 ”package deal” on our cell phones… do you call 911 every month?

            ADR has used this argument too. But 911 is not a broadcaster, so the comparison really doesn’t work. For one thing, when you call 911, you get a response.

  3. John

    “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.”

    Sorry but I think the fact that NO ONE watches the channel is the reason its dead in the water. I asked around at work and not a single person has watched it for more time than to skip thru it with the remote.

    Maybe he should have tried a little market research.

    And while it’s only 6 cents a month to me , why should I have to pay even that for a channel I don’t want and never asked for?

    1. jo ann

      Hey John! Obviously you haven’t lost a loved one in such a brutal way like most of us have. If you had, you would be glad to pay 6 cents a month to find who killed your child.. sister.. brother.. etc. Think before you speak, everybody is watching, victims and families!!! – ColdCasesMedia

      1. Fagstein Post author

        Obviously you haven’t lost a loved one in such a brutal way like most of us have. If you had, you would be glad to pay 6 cents a month to find who killed your child.. sister.. brother.. etc.

        You’re assuming that the six cents a month will lead to finding murder suspects. We don’t know that a single murder suspect has been brought to justice because of ADR.

        1. jo ann

          hey I’m saying that 6 cents a month will probably give more results in solving these murders rather than paying for Canadian Idol… Wouldn’t you agree on this?

          1. Fagstein Post author

            I’m saying that 6 cents a month will probably give more results in solving these murders rather than paying for Canadian Idol… Wouldn’t you agree on this?

            I don’t pay for Canadian Idol, both because it no longer exists and because it was produced by CTV, which didn’t charge a per-subscriber fee to watch it. In any case, nobody’s suggesting that the responsibility for solving murders be passed on to a singing competition show.

            1. jo ann

              I never watched Canadian Idol, but if their concept is similar to American Idol, they don’t have to charge a a pre-subscriber fee to watch it, since you have to vote for your favorite singer by phone or text, that’s one of the ways they are making their money. And I wasn’t suggesting anything as to passing on murder cases on to a singing competition show! What I meant was, when you report unsolved crimes on a local news channel such as like ADR-tv, you’re not getting paid by the amount of viewers or clicks like on the net … You need to get some money somewhere so I was simply saying, I’d rather pay 6 cents for something useful like solving crimes than to pay for something as silly as Canadian idol or any other stupid shows. And, as a journalist, did you even care to call up the SPVM, the Sureté du Québec, Enfant-retour etc. to ask if any of their cases got solved with the help of ADR-tv? Have you read any of the support letters that were given to ADR-tv by the many Quebec and Canadian organizations and police stations to see if any of this was mentioned in those letters? It says that the RCMP were able to solve 34% of unsolved crimes, thanks to adr-tv.. And now you are telling me that I’m assuming everything?? You even wrote it in your blog. Anyway, I’m speaking for the families and victims, we need all the help we can get and we greatly support ADR-tv and we need their collaboration. If they die, our cases will die also, no one will hear about our cases, no other channel will talk about us.

              1. Fagstein Post author

                I’d rather pay 6 cents for something useful like solving crimes

                Right, but is ADR useful in solving crimes? The evidence for that is, at best, inconclusive.

                did you even care to call up the SPVM, the Sureté du Québec, Enfant-retour etc. to ask if any of their cases got solved with the help of ADR-tv?

                Representatives of those organizations were at the CRTC hearing and did not provide any substantial evidence. I don’t see why their answers to me would be different.

                Have you read any of the support letters that were given to ADR-tv by the many Quebec and Canadian organizations and police stations to see if any of this was mentioned in those letters?

                I have read those letters. They express support, but do not provide hard evidence of its usefulness.

                It says that the RCMP were able to solve 34% of unsolved crimes, thanks to adr-tv

                I’m not sure what “it” refers to here, but I address the RCMP comment above, and that’s not what it said. That said, the RCMP letter does provide actual evidence that ADR has helped in the search for wanted suspects.

        2. jo ann

          BTW, ColdCasesMedia has launched a petition along with a video. We are asking both provincial and federal public safety ministers to review the CRTC’s decision. You can find the petition here: http://t.co/Ssd4uN4xVZ

          Adr-tv has got to come up with new ideas but they do need funds to do so. So we are asking the CRTC to renew their mandatory distribution license and it will be up to ADR-tv to make some changes in their programming in order to get more viewers. We are hoping and counting on your support. So please watch the video and sign the petition. Thank you
          Cold Cases Media Team

        1. jo ann

          Most of the families here at Cold Cases Media!!! if you check out our website, you will see who are the founders of this organization and you will also get to see a very small amount of unsolved murders that we could get a hold of. Did you know that only 6 investigators at the SPVM are working on close to 650 cold cases in the major crime section? We absolutely need the public’s help. http://www.coldcasesmedia.com

          1. Dilbert

            Jo Ann, a suggestion for you:

            If you really want to make an impact for the families, make there stories available in ways that the public will actually see them. You best partnership generally isnt’ with a cable channel nobody watches. You are perhaps many times more likely to get programming seen if you work to package it in a way that is desirable for the larger channels to pick up.

            Work on producing a higher quality product, something that could actually run on a station like V or TVA or whatever, and work to get true exposure. You could probably BUY time on these channels at least to start with, and that would get you the exposure your concept needs.

            ADR-TV has few viewers, so all the effort in the world to keep it on cable won’t change that situation.

  4. It's Me

    I just wonder that there must be some way to make this channel more exciting that would attract viewers but would still allow them to stay true to its mandate, which is to help law enforcement and protect the public. I’ve personally never seen the channel as I’m not in Quebec, and the only exposure I have is the few videos on their website. As one would expect, it’s not must-see TV, but neither is MétéoMédia/The Weather Network and they seem to be able to find a way to keep the lights on, and not only that, turn a hefty profit.

    In my humble opinion, they need more “Nancy Grace-style” primetime shows rather than corporate training PSA-style shows/interestials/segments. My minds a little foggy, but from what I remember, a little while ago I seem to remember seeing a video relating to first-aid or fire safety, and that’s what it looked like, a video your employer would show you for awareness.

    They need some way to spice things up, and it sure seems like you can, but I think they have a lot of road blocks ahead of them as a small, independent, French cable channel that because of its nature, would have to produce a lot of original local programs if they wanted to stay true to their mandate.

    I’m certainly rooting for them. I think it’s a disgrace that this channel was given the boot. It really shows the CRTC for what they really are. How they can deny this channel yet allow mandatory carriage for others which have the same cons that were spoken about ADR, such as low viewership, technology rendering it irrelvent, no proof that it is fulfilling its mandate/original intention. TWN, CPAC, AMI channels, and the list could go on. It makes no sense, but how can it when the CRTC makes no sense. Bafoons taking part in bafoonery. What can you expect.

  5. Gilles

    They idea of the service is a good one…for the 80’s maybe. Before the internet that would qualify for a mandatory carriage. If nobody watches, the service is useless and is costing too much, even at 5-6 cents.

    These days if people go missing, everything is on the net. You can read all the information, much quicker and much more to the points than a slide show or anything this channel is showing. If 1 million people watched it everyday, yes it would work and be very useful, but again, nobody watches.

    But these days people are getting their news and more and more content on the internet and it is the way it is going to go for the foreseeable future. The owner and his team have very good intentions and it is great that people like him does what he does. They are just doing it at the wrong place. They simply need to do what they do on the internet. First of all it would be accessible to a lot more people and around the globe.

    I am sorry but why fight to keep the channel on the air when they know nobody watches or will start watching. It is simply not fulfilling the goal they have anyway. To insist on having this kind of service on TV is simply a useless fight.

    Move all of it to the internet, your services and effort on a website dedicated to the same goal as the channel and if done right and make people aware of it, will have a lot more success stories.

  6. Un Weirdo

    There’s only one solution left for Géracitano : Shut down the channel and offer a daily 30-minute programming block to community channels. Re-read the CRTC’s reason to refuse All-Points Bulletin licence and it makes sense : Cable community channels are already broken down by region, public safety is something done in a community.

    Since Géracitano’s company is the most experienced in the crimes domain, he can also offer his services to local SRC/TVA/V/CBC/CTV/Global/City stations. But there’s no way his specialty channel can continue: You tune Weather Network to know if you need an umbrella, you tune to CPAC to watch a specific event, one with specific needs will tune to AMI-TV, but I don’t see a “need” to tune to Avis de Recherche to watch mugshots unless you’ve been a victim of an unsolved crime.

  7. Pingback: Avis de recherche seeks three-year extension of mandatory distribution | Fagstein

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