It’s a long technical document released as part of a series of measures billed as supporting competition in Canada’s wireless industry, but the Canadian government is laying the groundwork for decisions that could radically alter the future of over-the-air television broadcasting … again.
It’s called “Consultation on Repurposing the 600 MHz Band“, and is a document seeking public comments on joining a U.S. plan to repurpose more television channels for use as commercial wireless frequencies, forcing remaining television stations to be packed into fewer available channels.
Depending on how the U.S. moves, it could mean as many as half of the remaining channels used for over-the-air television could disappear by 2017.
The U.S. is undergoing a two-step auction process to recapture frequency in the 600 MHz band, which is used by the higher-end television channels (up to channel 51). The first step is an “incentive auction”, in which TV stations using those channels name the price they have to be paid to move off of them and give up the spectrum — a figure that could be millions or even hundreds of millions, depending on the value of that spectrum. Then, based on how many stations participate, the government re-allocates the frequencies and auctions them off to wireless companies.
Industry Canada is basically proposing that Canada join that process, though the details are unclear.
What we do know is that if the maximum re-allocation plan is used, all TV channels above 26 would disappear, and stations on those channels, whether they’re full-power stations or low-power ones, would have to move off of them as new licensees begin deploying their networks. (Channel 37 is reserved for radio astronomy, and would remain so under the new plan.)
Canada and the U.S. went through a similar process a few years ago, reallocating channels 52-69 for mobile use (the 700 MHz spectrum) during the digital television transition. The subsequent auction gave Canada more than $5 billion in revenue.
Industry Canada points out that the number of television transmitters in Canada has been stable over the past few years. With over-the-air stations relying on advertising alone for revenue, there has been little growth there. Instead, anyone with a new idea has been pushing subscription cable channels instead.
But squeezing existing stations into a smaller space will still present significant coordination problems. Stations on channels 27 and above would need to be moved over, and that would mean packing stations in tighter than was proposed in the DTV transition plan. Industry Canada has proposed basing coordination on existing transmission parameters instead of maximum parameters to help that a bit, which would mean stations that aren’t taking full advantage of the coverage of their class might lose the chance to expand later.
The ministry predicts most stations — even those not currently using those higher channels — would need to change frequency as a result of this new plan, though it predicts most stations would at least be able to stay in the same range of frequencies, and use the same antennas they do now.
In Montreal, for example, Canal Savoir (CFTU-DT 29), V (CFJP-DT 35), ICI (CFHD-DT 47) and City (CJNT-DT 49) might need to change channels under a new plan. And while there are channels available (Montreal has 10 over-the-air stations), it might mean being on the same channel as a station in a nearby market like Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke or Burlington. Over-the-air TV viewers who count on receiving U.S. stations would probably find it very difficult as they too would have to move to lower channels and either be on the same channel or immediately adjacent to a Montreal station.
Industry Canada says it would coordinate with the U.S. to make avoiding interference problems easier.
Low-power stations, and stations in remote communities, who were largely exempt from the DTV transition rules, could also be forced to change channels and/or replace their analog transmitters with digital ones. Industry Canada says there are 551 low-power stations in Canada. Most of them wouldn’t need to change channel.
In light of this, Industry Canada has imposed a moratorium on all new television transmitter applications and applications to modify existing stations so that they increase their coverage or change their channel.
An appendix lists only 11 applications for full-power stations and six for low-power stations that were in progress in October. Most of those are related to a promise Shaw made when it purchased Global TV to convert all its transmitters to digital by 2015 (and Global BC has a lot of transmitters to convert).
The fact that such a moratorium could be imposed without causing much disruption should say a lot about the future of over-the-air television. This policy change would make it much more difficult to start new stations, particularly in large markets. But as we’ve seen, there’s very little demand for that.
Industry Canada is accepting comments on the proposal until Jan. 26. People interested in making them can follow the procedure outlined on this page. All comments form part of the public record.
UPDATE (Jan. 15): If you have complaints, comments or other information you want to offer to Industry Canada on this subject, the department has asked that you email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve got CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Al Jazeera and BBC World News, but could we see Huffington Post added to our cable channels in the near future?
Evan Kosiner, who’s described as a “serial entrepreneur” in his Wikipedia biography and has been behind many applications to the CRTC that ultimately went nowhere, has applied to add HuffPost Live to the list of foreign TV channels authorized for distribution in Canada.
The application comes with the blessing of HuffPost owner AOL, and Kosiner says there is interest from Canadian distributors to add HuffPost Live to their lineups.
HuffPost Live broadcasts eight hours live a day, mainly featuring interviews conducted by Skype about current events. Kosiner breaks down the broadcast as about 60% news and information and about 40% lifestyle. It doesn’t have shows per se, but rather a series of segments back to back. On the electronic program guide, it would be listed simply as “HuffPost Live” 24 hours a day.
Presumably the other 16 hours a day would be repeat programming.
What’s unclear is whether getting paid distribution in Canada would mean cutting off HuffPost Live’s free livestream to this country. Though it would be uncharacteristic for HuffPost to start geoblocking its content, and if that’s the case, I wouldn’t expect cable companies to pay high wholesale fees to carry an otherwise free channel.
UPDATE (June 12, 2015): The CRTC has approved the application. Canadian distributors can now distribute HuffPost Live once they reach an agreement with AOL.
The network of Véro, Mitsou and Sébastien Benoit is continuing to grow.
Owner Cogeco Diffusion announced on Tuesday that it has added an affiliate in the Abitibi region to the Rythme FM brand, expanding it to seven stations throughout Quebec.
CHOA-FM, which operates at 96.5 FM in Rouyn-Noranda, 103.5 FM in Val-d’Or and 103.9 FM in La Sarre, is owned by RNC Média and operates under the Planète brand. The changeover is expected to happen on March 9.
Like other Rythme FM affiliates, the Abitibi station will carry the noon-hour show hosted by Mitsou Gélinas and Sébastien Benoit, and the afternoon drive show hosted by Véronique Cloutier. Its morning show and daytime programming before and after lunch, will be local. The station promises no reduction in local programming, and that announcers Isabelle Harvey, Amélie Pomerleau and Véronique Aubin will remain with the station.
CHOA is the third station in six months to add itself to the Rythme FM family. CHLX-FM 97.1 in Gatineau, another Planète station, became Rythme FM Outaouais in August. CKRS-FM 98.3 in Saguenay and CKGS-FM 105.5 in La Baie, owned by Attraction Radio, are also adding themselves to the Rythme FM network on Feb. 9.
CKRS, a station formerly owned by Corus but which wasn’t sold to Cogeco, had until recently been a talk station, but last month got approval for a licence amendment allowing it to switch to music.
The expansion gives the Rythme FM network a presence in most major regions of Quebec: Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Gatineau, Abitibi and Saguenay, plus CIME-FM in the Laurentians, which is part of the Rythme FM brand but doesn’t carry its network programming.
The big missing link here is Quebec City. CJEC-FM 91.9 used to be a Rythme station, but when Cogeco bought Corus it was forced to sell the station. New owner Leclerc Communication eventually rebranded it WKND. Convincing it to return to the Rythme FM brand would be the most obvious choice, since it’s the only adult-contemporary music station there not owned by Bell Media. Cogeco could also rebrand M 102.9, its classic hits station in Lévis. But since that station just adopted that brand, it’s probably not in their plans.
It might also look to expand in the Bas-Saint-Laurent (Rivière-du-Loup, Rimouski), Centre-du-Québec (Drummondville, Victoriaville) and Gaspésie regions. Attraction has other stations that might fit the bill, but others are owned by smaller companies that might be less interested in replacing local shows with Véro.
As the CBC continues finding ways to save money, the corporation announced today that it is making changes to local programming.
The biggest one is that evening TV newscasts are being cut from 90 minutes to 60 or 30, depending on the market. Montreal is one of the unlucky ones, being cut to 30 minutes, starting at 6pm. This happens to be CBC Montreal’s weakest half-hour, because it competes directly with CTV News at 6 and Global News.
Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Windsor and Fredericton are also getting cut to 30 minutes. Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s will stay at 60 minutes because there’s still a “business case” for longer newscasts there, and CBC North will have 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Inuktitut.
Evening and weekend news are unchanged, as are local programs on CBC Radio One.
On the French side, the weeknight local Téléjournal broadcasts will be cut to 30 minutes everywhere but Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa/Gatineau and the Acadian region.
There are also smaller changes. CBC Daybreak will be broadcast on television from 6-7am. Currently CBC Television airs a national CBC News broadcast at this time, surrounded by local news, weather and traffic graphics.
There’s also going to be new one-minute hourly news breaks throughout the afternoon and evening on CBC Television.
How this will affect jobs at CBC is unclear at this point. Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services says there are “no new cuts beyond those announced in June.” The CBC tells Canadian Press that it’s too early to talk about job cuts resulting from this, but not counting staff these changes will save $15 million a year.
Good news, too, kinda
If you want to ignore all that and pretend this is good news, as the CBC does in its press release, these “changes” are part of a transformation process that will focus more on digital. The corporation is vague on what changes are happening to the digital side, but apparently they will be improvements.
On the local side, the CBC will also be adding a videojournalist position in the Eastern Townships to expand coverage there. Right now there’s no private English-language TV or radio journalist permanently assigned to the townships. The CBC has a “researcher columnist” in the region covering it for radio, and occasionally supplements that with the travelling journalist who contributes to CBC Radio’s Quebec Community Network based out of Quebec City. This new position would be in addition to that, covering the townships for TV, radio and the web.
Fort McMurray, Alta., will also get a new news bureau.
CJMS 1040 AM St-Constant, Montreal’s French-language country music station, has been given the go-ahead for a new life.
On Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved a change in ownership of the station, from 3553230 Canada inc., a company owned by Alexandre Azoulay, to Groupe Médias Pam inc., owned by Jean Ernest Pierre. The latter also owns Montreal Haitian station CJWI 1410 AM, CPAM Radio Union.
The sals is for $15,000 plus an hour’s worth of advertising airtime a week for a year (52 hours total). Because it’s a purchase of a station that was losing money, and will require investments to bring it into compliance with its obligations, the CRTC did not impose additional tangible benefits on the transaction.
Much of what the station will look like under the new owners has already become evident. It launched new branding and a new website, and is simulcasting a news show from CJWI during rush hours (6-9am and 4-6pm weekdays). The new owners promise that the rest of the schedule will be unique to CJMS, that it will not air ethnic programming, and that it will continue to serve the community of St-Constant.
The new owner also told the commission that the plan is to modernize the music at CJMS and bring in more contemporary country.
The sale follows a bizarre hearing last year in which Azoulay blamed serious and repeated failures to comply with CRTC licence obligations on his father’s dementia, a statement that left commissioners dumbfounded.
The commission responded by imposing mandatory orders on CJMS requiring it to come into compliance with its licence, with the threat of contempt-of-court charges if they don’t. Those orders have been maintained under the new owner.
The change in ownership comes with a new licence and de facto renewal until Aug. 31, 2017. The three-year licence term reflects the fact that CJMS has repeatedly failed to meet its regulatory obligations.
André Corbeil, a sports reporter/anchor at CTV Montreal, surprised a few people late last week announcing via Twitter that it was his last week at the station.
Corbeil’s job was eliminated as part of a series of cuts designed to reduce the station’s staff by about a dozen. We learned about those cuts over the summer, but the actual cuts are only happening now. Most of those leaving are in technical or behind-the-scenes positions, and most are leaving voluntarily.
Corbeil, who usually anchors on the weekends and reports three days a week, was offered a part-time position that would have kept him as the weekend anchor, but “he opted to leave,” general manager Louis Douville told me.
“He was an absolute gentleman, understood that it was a business decision,” he added later. “He was an important part of our family and we’re sad to see him go.”
Corbeil is originally from Timmins, Ont., and joined CTV Montreal in 2007 after four years at CTV in Sudbury.
“[I’m] not sure exactly where I will land in the coming months, but it most likely will not be on TV,” Corbeil told me. “Not suitable for a young family.” His wife works full-time and they have a two-year-old daughter. “So, nights and weekends make life pretty difficult.”
He said he’s going to try to “use this situation to my advantage and find an opportunity that will provide a better work/family balance.”
The loss of Corbeil will likely mean a drop in the amount of sports coverage on CTV Montreal, particularly of amateur sports. While Brian Wilde is the go-to guy for Canadiens coverage, and Randy Tieman covers the Alouettes, Corbeil was usually the reporter assigned to Impact games, and would often file reports about university sports. Douville said news reporters could cover events that straddle the barrier between news and sports, but it seems clear that there will be less than there used to be of stories in this category.
This is my final week with CTV. It's been an honour. Thank you for watching and thx for the follow. Merci.
— Andre Corbeil (@ACorbeilCTV) December 4, 2014
Net loss of 12 jobs
The positions being cut also include the late-night anchor position that was filled by Catherine Sherriffs before she left on maternity leave. But Corbeil is the only other on-air personality who’s leaving the station.
The exact fallout is still not known because it looks like a few positions may change as some laid off exercise a right to bump less senior people out of jobs in other classifications. That has some people (particularly those that would be bumped) concerned about unqualified or less qualified people occupying posts of young talented staffers.
Among the jobs that have been eliminated are the late weeknight lineup editor (the late anchor will instead line up his own show), one researcher position, the news archivist, an editor position and several other technical jobs.
In all, it’s a net loss of 12 jobs, with 12 people leaving voluntarily. Other cuts are being offset by the creation of new positions, usually with combined responsibilities. Susan Lea, the head of the union local, says a total of 15 positions have been eliminated.
“How this will impact (the station) remains to be seen,” she said. “Our product is news, that’s our one and only product. Every job is related to that. It definitely impacts the quality and our ability to cover news.”
“We don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none.”
The good news is that, besides Corbeil and the voluntary layoffs, Lea doesn’t expect anyone else to lose their job. “It will be more of an internal shuffling.”
Asked about concerns these cuts would affect the quality of the newscasts, Douville seemed confident viewers wouldn’t notice anything.
“We’re convinced we’re still going to be able to do exactly the same,” he said. “Our commitment to covering local sports remains unchanged. It’s just a reality that we have to do more with less. There are many people who are going to have more responsibilities. That’s a reality that all broadcasters are living with right now.”
“We have a 60 per cent share in the market and we intend to keep that.”
The unionized workforce at CTV Montreal has been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2013. Negotiations began this spring, but were put on hold either because of the layoffs or because everyone became busy, depending on which side you talk to. Douville said the employer is committed to resuming talks for a new contract.
Weekend sports anchor job available
Corbeil’s decision to leave ironically means a job has opened up at the station for a two-day-a-week sports anchor. Though someone with a young family is probably not crazy about working weekends, there’s no doubt and endless supply of eager young broadcasters who would jump at the chance for a job like this.
The most obvious choice would be Paul Graif, who has filled in as sports anchor many times over the years. But Graif works weekdays at K103 in Kahnawake, and might not be crazy about working seven days a week.
Chantal Desjardins would have been next on the list if she hadn’t taken a job at Sportsnet.
TSN 690’s Eric Thomas would be a good choice in light of his excellent debut in October. And there are plenty of people at the sports station who would probably make fine TV sports anchors.
Douville said the job would probably be filled early in the new year.
Radio Classique, which operates classical music stations in Montreal (CJPX-FM 99.5) and Quebec City (CJSQ-FM 92.7), is being sold to Groupe Musique Greg, the company owned by Quebec personality Gregory Charles.
The acquisition price is unknown (the Journal de Montréal says it’s more than $10 million), but should be made public when the CRTC publishes the application to change the ownership of the stations. (The sale can’t be final until the commission approves it.) Legally, the two stations are owned by separate companies, Radio Classique Montréal Inc. and Radio Classique Québec Inc., both of whom are controlled 90% by Jean-Pierre Coallier and 10% by Pierre Barbeau.
Radio Classique launched in Montreal in 1998, and the Quebec station in 2007. I’d been hearing rumours for a few years now that Coallier, who turned 77 last month, was looking to find a new owner for the stations. Charles heard those rumours too, and told Les Affaires that’s why he initiated talks for a purchase. This transaction would keep one of Montreal’s few independent commercial radio stations in independent (and artistic) hands.
It’s unclear what Charles and his company plan to do with the stations (he wouldn’t tell the Journal if he plans to become an on-air personality at the station), but they are unlikely to change formats, at least in the near term. Charles says he acquired the stations because of their niche format, which the major broadcasters won’t touch. Getting rid of classical music and replacing it with Katy Perry would be disastrous for its reputation, and it would likely lose more listeners than it gained.
The stations operate as specialty-format stations, and CRTC approval would be needed before they could convert to pop, rock, dance or country music formats. CJSQ has a specific condition of licence limiting 90% of its content to “concert” music, defined as classical music, opera, operetta and musical theatre.
The latest ratings information from Numeris shows CJPX-FM in Montreal had a 2.7% share among francophones and a 1.8% share among anglophones, while CJSQ-FM in Quebec City had a 4.6% share total.