Monthly Archives: September 2020

Global Montreal replaces Jamie Orchard with Toronto-based anchor, cancels Focus Montreal

Tracy Tong anchors the Global Montreal flagship newscast out of Toronto on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.

You can end the speculation of who will replace Jamie Orchard as lead anchor at Global Montreal: It’s Tracy Tong.

In Toronto.

Tong announced the news shortly before anchoring the 5:30pm newscast on Monday. (Andrea Howick had been filling in on most nights since Orchard announced she had been laid off.) Tong has also been anchoring the 11pm Montreal newscast out of Toronto.

The move completes the conversion of Montreal’s local newscasts into Global’s “Multi-Market Content” model, which replaces locally-anchored live newscasts with a copy-paste edited newscast produced and anchored out of Toronto with a mix of local and national stories. Being recorded and produced in advance means Tong can do separate newscasts on Global Toronto and Global Montreal, even though they air simultaneously.

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Radio ratings: The Beat, Virgin, TSN 690 all falter during pandemic

Numeris released its summer 2020 ratings this week, and combined with the ratings from the spring, we see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as fewer people tune in.

The Beat 92.5 saw the most noticeable drop in terms of raw audience numbers, going from an average of 10,000 anglophone listeners a minute down to 6,800 and 6,600. But it maintained its second-place rank among English-language stations. Virgin also saw a drop, continuing a long decline that has seen it lose more than half its audience in three years.

Conversely, CHOM managed to grow its audience slightly, which gave it its best audience share in years as its competitors declined. And Énergie 94,3, which has refocused itself on rock music and away from talk, saw a jump in audience that put it ahead of sister station Rouge FM 107,3 for the first time since at least 2011, and claiming the adults 25-54 demographic over Rythme FM (though Rythme has much higher ratings overall).

In Toronto, Corus’s Q107 also had a big jump in ratings, making it the #1 station among adults 25-54, a status it didn’t hesitate to crow about.

So does this mean rock music stations did well during the pandemic?

Well, no. I crunched the numbers for this story for Cartt.ca and it turns out these three stations are the exception. Across Canada, rock and alternative stations were flat, and most lost audience.

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OMNI adds Arabic, Filipino national newscasts as new licence term begins

Anchor Reham Al-Azem hosts OMNI News Arabic from the Montreal studio.

As of Sept. 1, the OMNI television channels have entered into a new CRTC licence term, which means a higher wholesale per-subscriber fee ($0.19 per month, up from $0.12) and some new obligations, including more news.

OMNI made good on that last part last week by launching OMNI News in Arabic and Filipino (Tagalog). Like the existing Italian, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese newscasts, which don’t look like they’re changing, the new newscasts have journalists in different cities. I was told they wouldn’t have anchors, but it’s clear they do. OMNI News Arabic was hosted its first week by Reham Al-Azem out of the Montreal studio (built for the former Breakfast Television Montreal), while OMNI News Filipino was hosted by Rhea Santos in Vancouver.

Both newscasts are also produced in part out of Toronto.

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Paul Karwatsky leaves CTV Montreal to devote himself to autism awareness

Paul Karwatsky.

After taking a leave from his job long enough to have people wondering about his status, Paul Karwatsky has decided to leave his job as anchor at CTV Montreal to focus on autism awareness, a subject close to his family.

The news was announced to staff on Friday morning, leading to a story in the Gazette, and an announcement was posted to CTV’s website on Friday afternoon.

It included a statement from Karwatsky explaining his decision:

As many might know, I’ve been heavily involved in raising autism awareness for years. I’ve decided to dedicate myself full-time to this cause which is close to my, and my family’s, heart. It’s a key time in history for all those living with autism and so much needs to be done to ensure our children have all the opportunities they deserve as they grow. All my efforts will be focused on this moving forward. The details on what exactly I’ll be doing are to come.

Though it’s unsaid in the statement, the fact that changing his career would mean a more family-friendly work schedule had to be a consideration. He has been hosting both the 5pm and 11:30pm newscasts since the 5pm news was added in 2018, and the late-night news slot is tough for people with children. Previous anchors like Cathrine Sherriffs*, Debra Arbec, Tarah Schwartz and Annie DeMelt who worked the late-night or weekend newscasts (or both) all left those jobs for more 9-to-5 ones, and only Arbec (the 6pm anchor at CBC) is still in the industry.

On Facebook, Karwatsky said leaving was a “massively difficult decision” and would provide more details about his future in the next few weeks:

This was a massively difficult decision. The outpouring of well-wishes I’ve been getting is overwhelming. I’m going to post a proper goodbye to everyone who sat through my bad jokes at home over the years . I really want to say that there is no better group of people than the hundreds and hundreds of Montrealers I’ve been privileged to meet who’ve supported our station over the years.. people who I truly feel are part of a huge extended family for me… a family I joined nightly all those years ago in watching CFCF when I was a kid. I’ll still be a part of that family watching from home. I can’t express how much I’ll miss being a direct part it all. But I’m excited about the future and some of the great things I’ll be getting behind. Details to come over the next few weeks! Thank you to you all.

Karwatsky’s departure was briefly noted during the 5pm and 6pm newscasts on Friday, the latter by Mutsumi Takahashi.

CTV says it will name a replacement for Karwatsky. As it happens, all of the potential internal candidates are women. Caroline Van Vlaardingen would be the most obvious choice. Others with some anchoring experience include reporters Amanda Kline, Kelly Greig, Cindy Sherwin, Angela MacKenzie and Maya Johnson. If they really wanted to go for a man, the pool is much thinner locally. There’s … Rob Lurie?

Externally, well, there’s one person with decades of Montreal English-language newscast anchoring experience who’s currently available.

When Karwatsky’s replacement is named, she or he will be Takahashi’s fifth co-anchor, after Bill Haugland, Brian Britt, Todd Van der Heyden and Karwatsky. Though because the two split the four daily newscasts, they don’t actually anchor together anymore.

UPDATE (Sept. 15): Karwatsky explains his new job in a video, and opens up a bit to the Gazette’s Bill Brownstein about how autism has affected his life as a parent.

*Correction: I listed Catherine Sherriffs as an example of someone who left a late shift for a 9-to-5 job, but in fact it was because she was being moved from the late shift to a day job that she decided to leave CTV.

Rogers offers to buy Cogeco — what it means

Today, we learned Canada’s already concentrated telecom/media industry could soon become even more concentrated: Rogers has teamed up with American cable company Altice USA to make an unsolicited $10.3-billion offer for all of Cogeco’s assets. As part of the deal, Altice would take over Cogeco’s U.S. assets (Atlantic Broadband) and Rogers would take over the Canadian assets (Cogeco Connexion and Cogeco Media) for a net purchase price of $4.9 billion.

Rogers already owns a significant part of the two companies that make up Cogeco, via subordinate voting shares (41% of Cogeco Inc. and 33% of Cogeco Communications).

But both companies are controlled by the Audet family — Henri Audet founded the company more than 60 years ago — and the family has announced that it will not support the bid. Meanwhile, Quebec premier François Legault says he will do whatever is in his power to prevent Quebec from losing another corporate headquarters. But it’s unclear what powers he would have in this case. (Rogers responded by saying it “reaffirmed its commitment to expand and grow its presence in Quebec,” comparing Cogeco to Fido, which is still “headquartered” in Montreal, something at least one expert called BS on.)

Remember Videotron?

If Quebec does decide to step in somehow, this would make the second time it has intervened in a sale of a major cable company to Rogers. In 2000, Rogers came to an agreement to buy Videotron from the Chagnon family. But for similar reasons, the government stepped in and the Caisse de dépôt partnered with Quebecor to present a competing bid that was eventually accepted.

That deal had significant consequences for the media and telecom sphere in Quebec. Videotron became Quebecor’s main source of income as legacy media outlets faded, and now Videotron and Rogers compete for wireless customers, giving Quebec lower wireless rates than other large provinces.

Without Videotron, it’s clear that Quebecor would not be the same company it is now. Not only would it not own the cable company, but it wouldn’t have owned TVA either, since TVA was owned by Videotron at the time. Quebecor would have kept TQS, and either invested enough to improve it or seen it decline along with its other media assets.

(TQS was sold to a partnership between Cogeco and Bell, with Cogeco having the controlling interest. It eventually went bankrupt, was sold to Remstar, and just recently sold again to Bell.)

The Caisse/Quebecor deal didn’t work out so great for the public pension fund. Various analyses of the deal have shown that while the Caisse made money over the years, it would have done much better just putting it into the market.

Will it happen?

If Quebec doesn’t decide to step in (or does something like accept the deal if Rogers keeps some nominal headquarters for Quebec operations in Montreal), then it’s up to the Audet family.

Their deal was submitted to the boards, but the boards quickly rejected the deal as well. Altice responded that it is still pursuing a deal, but the Audet family said point blank “our shares are not for sale” and “our refusal is not a negotiating position, it is definitive.” Altice and Rogers Rogers say they’re playing the long game.

Competition concerns

If the deal is eventually accepted by shareholders, then the CRTC and Competition Bureau will look at it (or at least the Canadian part of it). The bureau looks at competition concerns from an economic perspective — will this deal in some way reduce competition? — while the CRTC considers other factors like diversity of voices.

From a media concentration standpoint, it’s worrisome that another medium-sized player will get scooped up by a large one. Over the past few years we’ve seen Astral Media, MTS and V get bought by Bell, most RNC Media radio stations bought by Cogeco, Public Mobile bought by Telus, Groupe Serdy bought by Quebecor, and a bunch of other smaller transactions.

But Rogers and Cogeco don’t really compete directly in anything. As cable companies, they each have their own territories, and though they may operate in the same regions (like southern Ontario), they don’t overlap. Rogers doesn’t own any radio stations in Quebec, and the only market where both companies operate is Ottawa/Gatineau, where Cogeco has 104,7fm and Rogers has CHEZ 106, Kiss 105.3 and 1310 News. Because they operate in different languages, they are considered part of different markets.

Cogeco had been looking to enter the wireless services market, to offer a bundle option to its cable subscribers. It was waiting on the CRTC to offer better conditions for virtual mobile network operators, which it hasn’t done yet. If Rogers buys Cogeco, the issue becomes moot, and Cogeco’s spectrum simply gets added to Rogers’s services.

Size

According to CRTC data, as of Aug. 31, 2019, the largest companies had the following Canadian television subscribers:

  • Bell 2,820,284
  • Shaw 2,081,536*
  • Rogers 1,606,213
  • Videotron 1,440,097
  • Telus 1,127,676
  • Cogeco 627,608*

*Updated figure from last quarterly report.

Rogers and Cogeco combined would have about 2.2 million subscribers, making it the #2 television provider in Canada behind Bell.

Rogers owns 54 radio stations and Cogeco owns 23. Combined, they would have 77 radio stations, which is just above Stingray’s 74 (it claims to own more than 100 stations, but that includes a lot of retransmitters), and would be #2 in Canada behind Bell’s 109 in terms of number of stations

Rogers is already the #2 radio broadcaster in Canada in terms of annual revenue (figures from 2018-19 reports to CRTC, percentages based on latest Communications Monitoring Report):

  1. Bell: $347 million (25%)
  2. Rogers: $226 million (15%)
  3. Stingray: $152 million (10%)
  4. Corus: $109 million (8%)
  5. Cogeco: $96 million (7%)

If the deal goes through, 45% of all Canadian commercial radio revenue would be controlled by two companies, and 65% by the top four. As we learned from the Bell/Astral acquisition (which created a larger company than Rogers/Cogeco would), the CRTC doesn’t consider national market power in radio acquisitions, just number of stations in individual markets.

Since it got rid of TQS, Cogeco doesn’t own any television assets beyond the community channels associated with its cable companies. It also doesn’t own any newspapers or magazines (and since Rogers sold its remaining magazines to St. Joseph Communications, neither does it).

CJMS 1040 goes off the air … and then back on the air

Having been denied their licence renewal by the CRTC, CJMS 1040 AM in St-Constant spent the last six hours of its licence term on Monday reminiscing about its past and talking to country music artists and others about what the station has done but also about its plan to become an online-only streaming station.

At 12:00:38, the host was cut off mid-sentence saying goodbye, and there was just dead air.

But by Tuesday morning, there was audio again at 1040 AM, as if nothing had happened.

Owner Jean Ernest Pierre told me in a brief email he received authorization late Monday to continue operating. He didn’t expand on that.

But while CJMS is trying to appeal the CRTC’s decision, neither the commission nor the court has issued any order.

As I explain in this story for Cartt.ca, CJMS’s filings with the Federal Court of Appeal were deficient, so had not yet been accepted as of Thursday. The CRTC said it was aware of the appeal (and lack of decision). “The Commission is monitoring the situation and will take additional steps if necessary,” a spokesperson said.

According to the filings provided by the court, Groupe Médias Pam (which is CJMS’s official licensee) is arguing that the CRTC unfairly took into account licence violations committed by the station’s previous owner and failed to show “procedural fairness” that would have called for progressive discipline before refusing to renew a licence.

The station raised the same argument at the hearing, but the CRTC countered in its decision that “when the licensee acquired the station in 2014, the licensee was informed of CJMS’s previous non-compliance.”

Indeed, in that 2014 decision allowing Pierre to buy CJMS from previous owner Alexandre Azoulay for $15,000, the CRTC said this:

The Commission emphasizes the importance it places on a licensee’s fulfillment of its regulatory obligations. It is the licensee’s responsibility to ensure that it is aware of and respects its regulatory obligations at all times. In this case, Groupe Médias must comply with the terms and conditions of licence set out in Appendix 1 to this decision, with the CJMS code of ethics set out in Appendix 2 and with the orders set out in Appendix 3 and Appendix 4. The Commission reminds Groupe Médias that in addition to complying with the appendices to this decision, it must comply with the Regulations at all times.

The commission does not explicitly state that violations by previous owners are taken into account when evaluating whether a station should lose its licence, but Pierre had to be aware the station was on thin ice, with short-term licence renewals issued in 2014 and again in 2018.

In arguing for a stay of the CRTC’s decision, CJMS notes the precedent of cases involving Toronto’s CKLN-FM 88.1 and the Aboriginal Voices Radio Network. One of the filings even accidentally refers to CKLN where it should refer to CJMS.

In both those cases, the court did halt enforcement of the CRTC’s decision, but in both those cases it eventually sided with the CRTC and those stations were forced off the air.

You can read the CJMS appeal documents here.

UPDATE (Sept. 11): The station went off the air again on Thursday. A Facebook post says it’s a temporary shutdown for maintenance, but that’s some suspicious timing.