Category Archives: Media

91,9 Sports acquires broadcasting rights to CF Montréal (formerly Impact) games

The best-case (and most likely) scenario after Cogeco announced it no longer had the rights to Montreal’s Major League Soccer team has come to pass. RNC Media’s 91,9 Sports announced on Tuesday it has signed a deal for radio rights to the team’s games for two years, with an option for a third.

Financial terms were not discussed.

The agreement is a boost for 91,9 Sports, becoming the first of the big three franchise rights it could wrestle away from 98,5fm. Until now, its biggest live broadcasting rights were for the Laval Rocket, the Canadiens’ American Hockey League farm team. (That deal ends at the end of this season.)

It’s also a win for the franchise, formerly known as the Montreal Impact and now called Club de Foot Montréal, which could get only some of its games on the radio with the Cogeco deal — when it didn’t interfere with news programming, or Canadiens or Alouettes games.

With 91,9 Sports, all regular-season and playoff games will be on the radio, along with 30-minute pregame shows and 30-minute postgame shows (an hour for games in Montreal)

The station announced it will also be adding more CF Montréal content to its schedule to go with this new partnership, including making its soccer show FC919 daily.

The on-air team will be announced “in the coming weeks” with a team that promises to be “young, dynamic, unifying and different.”

Other announcements are also being promised. With 91,9 Sports not knowing its future as recently as two years ago, it seems plans are finally being made for the future.

CF Montréal’s English radio rights are with TSN Radio 690, but the latest announcement of a rights deal ended in 2020 along with 98,5fm’s. Since there aren’t really other options, expect the team to remain with that station.

List of CBC/Radio-Canada reporting bureaus

The CRTC is currently reviewing the licence renewal applications of CBC/Radio-Canada. As part of that process, CBC included a chart of its on-the-ground reporting personnel. It’s abridged, so we don’t know the actual number of employees per location, but I thought the list itself was good to note, so I’ll reproduce that here, along with some additional ones I’m aware of (the list is from 2019, so may be out of date in some places).

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Is there a point to Radio Canada International anymore?

In yet another of those bad-news-wrapped-in-good-news announcements, CBC last month said it was going to be “modernizing” its international service through a “major transformation” that would see it add two languages and giving its stories more visibility.

But also cutting its staff in half and shutting down its website.

It didn’t get a lot of media attention at the time, mostly I think because most Canadians don’t know what Radio Canada International is. So I wrote about it in a story for Cartt.ca subscribers, in which I interviewed Crystelle Crépeau, head of digital news for Radio-Canada, Luce Julien, executive director of Radio-Canada News and Current Affairs (RCI, based in Montreal, is managed under French services in the organizational chart) and Wojtek Gwiazda, a former RCI employee who manages the RCI Action Committee.

For Gwiazda, who has been fighting this battle for quite some time, this is just another cut that will eventually see RCI disappear completely. Instead of 20 employees, it will be down to nine — five journalists doing translations of news articles in five foreign languages, three field reporters (Chinese, Arabic and Punjabi) and one chief editor. There will be no original reporting (except for those field reporters) and stories will just be taken from CBC.ca and Radio-Canada.ca instead of being written specifically for an international audience.

For Julien and Crépeau, it’s a necessary transformation because much of RCI’s work is redundant, and their metrics show foreign audiences get more content from CBC and Radio-Canada’s news sites than from RCI. There’s a reduction of staff, Julien admitted, but she’s had to make a lot of difficult decisions in her job. And integrating RCI with CBC and Radio-Canada just makes sense and is more efficient.

I’m sympathetic to the argument from both sides. This is definitely yet another in a long series of cuts to RCI and I would not be surprised if it simply fades away over time. But RCI is not a success right now and a transformation is warranted.

Or maybe they should just pull the plug entirely. And maybe they would do that, except they can’t.

Radio Canada International is part of CBC’s mandate, expressly referenced in the Broadcasting Act. CBC has to keep it running.

Unti 2012, RCI was a shortwave radio service, with an impressive transmitter array in Sackville, N.B., carrying the signal to the world. But CBC shut down that service, moving RCI entirely online and dismantling the transmitters, a move Gwiazda and others fought a hard battle against and ultimately lost.

Without a shortwave signal, RCI can simply be blocked by any government that doesn’t want its citizens to get an outside perspective. And without a broadcast schedule to fill, CBC gutted RCI’s staff and output, so it just doesn’t do that much anymore.

I learned through this reporting that apparently there’s some … let’s be generous and say disagreement … about what RCI’s mandate is.

The government’s 2012 Order in Council resetting RCI’s mandate (and removing the obligation to broadcast on shortwave) says RCI is to “produce and distribute programming targeted at international audiences to increase awareness of Canada, its values and its social, economic and cultural activities.”

But the CBC’s own mandate for RCI says “RCI targets audiences who know little to nothing about Canada, whether they live in Canada or abroad.”

Julien said serving new Canadians has always been RCI’s mandate. Gwiazda said its mandate is solely to serve people outside the country.

I think it’s time the federal government stepped in and decided what it wants to do with RCI. Gwiazda thinks it should be separated from the CBC and run as its own separately-funded service.

CBC seems to want to turn RCI into an add-on third-language service providing some news to ethnic Canadians. (Julien said content produced in third languages would be made available free of charge to ethnic media, to avoid competing with them.)

It’s up to the politicians to decide which is the best course. Or to pull the obligation from CBC and let RCI die an honourable death.

All-Canadian division makes Hockey Night in Canada scheduling easier for Sportsnet

Hockey is back. And this time, it’s all-Canadian.

Because of the pandemic complicating cross-border travel, the National Hockey League has put its seven Canadian teams into its own division for the 2020-… err, 2021 season. That means more Habs-Leafs games, more Habs-Jets games, more Habs-Canucks games, and no Habs-Bruins or Habs-Sabres or Habs-Capitals games at all before the playoffs.

Not only is this good news ratings-wise for Sportsnet, which likes the all-Canadian matchups and Habs-Leafs in particular, but it’s also good news production-wise, because it means there’s a maximum of three games on Saturday nights featuring Canadian teams, and (unless two of them go long into overtime) no more than two at a time.

So for Hockey Night in Canada this year, Sportsnet can show everything using just CBC and Citytv, and we won’t see any games shuffled to Sportsnet One or Sportsnet 360 when there’s too many scheduling conflicts. This also means Sportsnet has released its entire season schedule with channel assignments, rather than leaving the decision of what channel to put a particular game on up to a few weeks before when it can gauge how excited fans are about the team and what other events it has to show that night.

For Canadiens fans, I’ve put together my annual full-season broadcast schedule, which appears in Saturday’s Montreal Gazette. The story online also includes printable schedules if you want a more portable guide. And I’ve updated my out-of-region viewing guide, for those who face blackouts when trying to watch the Canadiens on TV from western Canada and most of Ontario.

Most of the information is the same (the on-air talent hasn’t changed either), but here’s what’s different this season:

  • It’s a 56-game schedule instead of an 82-game schedule. The splits of national vs. regional games is pro-rated, so Sportsnet gets 22 national Habs games (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday evenings) and TSN gets 34 regional games, while TVA Sports gets 15 national Habs games (Saturday nights, plus Wednesday’s season opener) and RDS gets 41 regional ones.
  • The Winnipeg Jets have a new radio broadcaster: CJOB has won the rights from TSN Radio. All other broadcasters remain the same for the other six teams.
  • UPDATE: Rogers has announced that subscribers to Sportsnet NOW+, the premium tier of its streaming service, will have access to NHL Live and get out-of-market games as well. SN NOW costs $35 a month or $20.83 if you pay for the whole year. Since it also includes all Sportsnet channels, it means you’ll get all NHL games except those available locally on TSN.

Your guide to cultural references in Bye Bye 2020

Even in non-pandemic years, it’s the most popular broadcast of the year in Quebec. In 2020, with everyone confined to their homes and parties banned, it was even more so, setting new records for viewership. Bye Bye 2020 is a sketch comedy special that tries its best to poke fun at all of the stuff that happened (in Quebec, anyway) during the year.

For English Canadians, or just those who don’t consume Quebec culture, a bunch of stuff might have flown over your head. So here’s a guide, sketch by sketch, to the background that will help you better understand the jokes.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch Bye Bye 2020 for free at Tou.tv.

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CJMS 1040 goes off the air after court rejects appeal of CRTC decision

CJMS 1040 AM has gone off the air again, and this time it could be for good.

On Dec. 22, a three-judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed an application by CJMS owner Groupe Média PAM Inc. for leave to appeal a decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that refused to renew the station’s licence.

Judges Marc Nadon, Richard Boivin and Marianne Rivoalen rejected the request by CJMS to overturn the decision and keep the station on the air.

On Sept. 14, two weeks after the licence expired (and after a first attempt was rejected as not following proper procedure), Judge Denis Pelletier granted a temporary injunction allowing the station to keep operating while the application to appeal was heard. With the decision rendered, that injunction becomes moot and CJMS was forced to shut down.

CJMS’s argument was that the CRTC treated it unfairly, and should not have given any weight to licence violations committed by the station’s previous owner (Jean Ernest Pierre, who also owns Haitian station CJWI 1410 AM, bought CJMS in 2014 after the last time the CRTC threatened to pull its licence).

The decision is unsurprising. In two previous cases cited by CJMS in its application, the court also sided with the CRTC and ordered the stations off the air.

Meanwhile, the CJMS brand continues as an online-only station run by former host Jocelyn Benoit. On the same day the court rendered its decision, Benoit announced the appointment of a vice-president, Chantal Normandin.

Radio ratings: Pandemic hits The Beat and Virgin hard

Numeris released its fall metered radio ratings last week, and as usual you can play around with the numbers all you want, but it’s clear there has been am impact on the ratings, particularly for The Beat 92.5 but also for Virgin Radio 95.9, that started around the time we went into lockdown. Both stations lost about a third of their audience since the spring.

Average minute audience, anglophone Montrealers 12+, Aug. 31 to Nov. 29:

  • CJAD 800: 12,200
  • The Beat 92.5: 7,000
  • CHOM 977: 5,500
  • Virgin 95.9: 3,500
  • CBC Radio One: 3,300
  • CBC Music: 1,500
  • TSN 690: 1,400
  • 98,5fm: 1,000
  • Rythme 105,7: 800
  • ICI Radio-Canada Première: 600

CHOM and CJAD have slightly negative trendlines but have managed to hold their own during the pandemic. CHOM remains rated better than Virgin, while CJAD is still the highest-rated English-language station among anglophones, with a stronger share but fewer listeners on average than it had in 2016-18.

Also of note is that CBC Music, formerly Radio Two, has been improving its numbers in Montreal, and had edged out TSN 690 in overall audience. That doesn’t mean TSN is doing horribly, though. The Canadiens’ playoff run this summer prevented it from hitting a summer low as deep as it saw in 2018, and even though the team hasn’t played this fall, it remains on par with ratings in fall 2018 and 2017.

Among francophones, 98,5fm remains unsurprisingly the top-rated station. The average minute audience (12+) ranks as such:

  1. 98,5fm: 32,600
  2. ICI Radio-Canada Première 95,1: 23,000
  3. 105,7 Rythme FM: 20,400
  4. CKOI 96,9: 13,800
  5. 107,3 Rouge: 12,700
  6. Énergie 94,3: 11,700
  7. CHOM 97.7: 8,100
  8. ICI Musique 100,7: 6,700
  9. The Beat 92.5: 5,900
  10. Virgin Radio 95.9: 4,900
  11. WKND 99,5: 2,600
  12. 91,9 Sports: 1,200
  13. CBC Music: 1,000
  14. TSN 690: 600
  15. CJAD 800: 400

Of course, that didn’t stop Bell from declaring victory, saying Énergie was the top-rated station in Montreal, based on counting only those ages 25-54 (the money demo for advertisers). Rythme FM countered that it was the highest-rated music station (using the “big number”), listing all the time periods it is #1 and conveniently ignoring that time period before 8:30am.

The newest kid on the block, WKND 99.5, started slow out of the gate, and still hasn’t built up an audience to match what it saw as Radio Classique. That’s to be expected, as a new radio station takes a while, and the pandemic isn’t helping. It almost doubled its audience from the summer, and we can probably expect those numbers to slowly improve over the coming year.

Numeris cancelled its fall ratings for diary markets (Quebec City, Saguenay, Sherbrooke, Ottawa-Gatineau, etc.), so we’ll have to wait for next spring to find out how those stations are doing.

Videotron threatens to drop AMC again

We don’t know what it is about AMC, exactly, but once again they’re playing hardball with a Canadian TV distributor, and it’s at the point where the distributor has announced it is cutting the channel off.

This time it’s Videotron. Again.

In 2018, five years after it finally added the channel to its lineup, Videotron announced it was cutting AMC, the American channel once famous for shows like Mad Men and The Walking Dead. It said it couldn’t come to a carriage agreement with the channel that was reasonable, and so had no choice but to cut it off, even if it was still popular with some of its subscribers.

But with days to go before the cutoff, Videotron announced it had reached a deal with AMC to keep it on. Details were still not disclosed, but Videotron hinted that AMC had accepted a deal that was more reflective of Videotron’s position as a primarily French-language distributor, whose clients would be less interested in AMC than Rogers’s or Bell’s, for example.

And yet, the story went a similar way with Rogers and Bell last year. In November 2019, Rogers announced it was cutting AMC as of Jan. 1, only to save it with a last-minute deal. Bell followed each step a month later.

So you can understand the raised eyebrow at seeing that Videotron is once again telling subscribers it will drop AMC as of Feb. 11.

Like before, it says it has made the decision because of “unrealistic requests from AMC, which would have resulted in an unreasonable increase for our customers.”

We don’t know exactly what those requests are, but they could be things like minimum penetration guarantees or penetration-based rates, where Videotron’s wholesale fee is only reasonable if a large percentage of its subscribers subscribe to AMC.

Either way, we have just under two months for one of them to blink before Videotron’s customers lose access to their Breaking Bad and Walking Dead spinoff shows.

Sean Henry to replace Mike Finnerty as CBC Daybreak host

Sean Henry (CBC photo)

CBC this week finally revealed that Mike Finnerty is leaving as Daybreak host, a month after the job was posted to replace him. This morning, Finnerty announced on the air that his permanent replacement will be Sean Henry, who currently hosts the late-night local newscasts on CBC Television.

Henry has been with CBC for 15 years now, first at CBC Windsor then in Quebec since 2012. Before that, he worked for Global Quebec and 940 News.

I know of Henry only in passing, but he’s a solid broadcaster, and most people will tell you that he’s one of the nicest people they know with a strong sense of humour. That should serve him well, as it did Finnerty.

Henry takes over in January, after a few more weeks hosting the TV news. Rebecca Ugolini will sit in as interim host until then.

TSN 690 asks CRTC to reduce quota for local programming

In 2013, when Bell Media acquired Astral Media, it made a promise: In exchange for keeping TSN 690 as a fourth English Montreal radio station, one more than what would usually be permitted under the CRTC’s common ownership policy, it would commit to keeping the station running as a sports talk station, a format that has earned CKGM a small but loyal audience over the previous decade.

On the last day of the CRTC hearing on the (second) application to acquire Astral, Bell also agreed to a commitment, proposed by commission chairperson Jean-Pierre Blais, that TSN 690 maintain its 96 hours a week of local programming:

7775   THE CHAIRPERSON (Jean-Pierre Blais): Okay.

7776   So now I’m going to go even further down the road of analysis and we are obviously in the option of an approval and then there are some issues that we need to tidy up.

7777   On CKGM, how many hours of local programming are there? Could somebody give me that?

7778   MR. GORDON (Chris Gordon, head of radio and local stations for Bell Media): I believe it’s 96 hours of local programming.

7779   THE CHAIRPERSON: And would you be able to accept — how would you react if we imposed that as a condition of license on that service?

7780   MR. GORDON: We would accept.

7781   THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay.

When the CRTC approved the sale, in which Bell would acquire CJAD, Virgin Radio 95.9 and CHOM 97.7 from Astral, it required Bell to change TSN 690’s licence to impose requirements including that local programming quota (which is not standard for AM radio stations). As of January 2014, TSN 690 has had the requirement as part of its licence.

With the licence up for renewal (it was supposed to expire in August, but the CRTC has pushed that to Feb. 28), Bell has decided the 96-hour requirement is too onerous and wants it reduced.

That application has been posted separately as a request to amend the station’s licence.

“With respect to local programming, to the best of our knowledge no other commercial AM station has a set number of local programming hours or even a local programming requirement,” Bell Media writes in its application, glossing over the reason why this special requirement was imposed in the first place. “Indeed, the Commercial Radio Policy only provides that for an AM station, local programming requirements will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, as set out in the Commission’s standard conditions of licences that apply to licensees of all commercial AM and FM stations, FM stations are only required to air a minimum of 42 hours of local programming during any broadcast week in order to solicit or accept local advertising.”

Bell instead proposes that CKGM’s local programming quota be reduced from 96 hours a week (averaging 13.7 hours a day) to 63 hours a week (9 hours a day).

TSN 690 says it currently broadcasts local programming generally from 6am to midnight on weekdays, plus 6-10 hours on weekends, particularly weekend mornings. It’s unclear how this would change under a reduced quota.

Bell says the main reason it wants to cut its minimum local programming quota is so it can air more non-local live sports programming, like NFL games, Blue Jays games, IIHF tournaments and NHL games that don’t involve the Montreal Canadiens.

It gives an example of a situation where that quota prevented it from airing an important sporting event:

A recent example of this situation was the NHL’s 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues in June of this year. As a result of airing the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors during the same broadcast week, CKGM did not have the flexibility to also air game seven of the Stanley Cup Final as this would have put that week’s 96 hour local programming requirement in jeopardy. Instead of airing the NHL game — a highly attractive program offering for our audience — CKGM aired repeat local programming, thereby depriving CKGM’S NHL fans of live coverage of one the most important sporting events of the year.

Bell also says lowering the quota would mean airing more Blue Jays games (from less than 50 per season to more than 70).

It sounds reasonable, maybe, but you could imagine the worry that Bell would simply produce less local programming if given this additional flexibility. TSN 690 is not a money maker and I’m sure Bell would be happy to save a few dollars in the evening when it can just run content from elsewhere.

On the other hand, set the conditions of licence too high and Bell could decide it’s not worth the trouble and just shut the station down.

I tried asking Bell for an interview about the programming plans for the station, but the response I got back was this:

We have no comment beyond the application.

The application (#2019-0857-6) is posted here and accepts comments until 8pm ET on Nov. 30. You can file comments here. Note that all comments sent to the CRTC become part of the public record, including contact info.

What’s in the proposed new Broadcasting Act

The federal government has tabled legislation to rewrite the Broadcasting Act. Bill C-10 has a long list of amendments that change wording in the act and it’s a bit confusing to get through. So here’s a list of what’s actually in the bill (based on my Twitter thread from yesterday):

  • Creates a new definition of “online undertaking” meaning “an undertaking for the transmission or retransmission of programs over the Internet for reception by the public by means of broadcasting receiving apparatus” — in other words, an online broadcaster, using the same vague wording as for traditional broadcasters but presumably including services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. Such “undertakings” would not need to be licensed to operate, nor would they pay fees to the CRTC, but the commission can regulate them, impose Canadian content or funding obligations, and demand information including confidential financial information.
  • A specific exemption for content posted to a “social media service” that excludes such content from the definition of broadcaster for the purpose of the act.
  • Gives the CRTC the power to impose fines on broadcasters. Currently, the commission cannot impose “administrative monetary penalties” on broadcasters like they can on things like spammers. They’ve gotten around this by imposing additional financial contributions as conditions of licence when licenses are renewed. With this change it could impose fines directly, up to $25,000 for a first offence or $50,000 for subsequent ones, for a specific set of reasons.
  • Explicitly state that the broadcasting system serves all Canadians, “including Canadians from racialized communities and Canadians of diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and ages.” The CRTC already respects these values, so it probably won’t change anything, but specific reference to things like sexual orientations could be cited in discussions of setting new policies or court challenges to CRTC decisions.
  • Explicitly mention news. Right now the act only mentions obligations to news for the CBC specifically. The new act would say that programming provided by the entire system should as a matter of policy “include programs produced by Canadians that cover news and current events — from the local and regional to the international — and that reflect the viewpoints of Canadians, including the viewpoints of Indigenous persons and of Canadians from racialized communities and diverse ethnocultural backgrounds.”
  • Eliminate the seven-year maximum length of licenses. The CRTC has already started reducing licence terms, generally five years now for TV licenses. Under the new act, they could set unlimited terms but also wouldn’t have to wait five years to make changes to licenses.
  • Codifies how the CRTC deals with confidential information, including explicitly allowing it to share said information with Statistics Canada and the Competition Bureau.
  • Give the government more time to overturn CRTC decisions related to awarding, renewing or amending licences or referring them back to the commission for reconsideration. The 90-day deadline would now be 180 days.

And some minor changes:

  • Change the procedure for orders from the government. Instead of being referred to a House of Commons committee with a 40-day notice, the orders would need to be published and have a 30-day notice.
  • Moves article 9(1)h of the act, which gives the CRTC the power to require distributors carry certain programming, to a new section, requiring several amendments to other laws that reference it.

If that seems like it’s not that much and very unspecific, that’s true. The act only gives general policies and creates legal powers. A lot of the more interesting stuff related to policy will be done through a policy direction to the CRTC, which the minister says will be done once the amendments to the act are passed. There are also other bills to come including amendments to the Copyright Act.

Then, the job of interpreting the new policy and actually setting new regulations will be up to the CRTC.

Among the things we don’t find in this bill:

  • Changes to copyright law, or anything that would change how Google and Facebook deal with content
  • A better definition of broadcasting that would make it clear what is regulated and what is not
  • A definition of social media that would let us answer if, for example, YouTube is a social media platform or if it’s both social media and an online broadcaster depending on content
  • Anything new regulating social media
  • Any policy direction to the CRTC
  • Any substantial changes to how traditional television and radio is regulated
  • Any change to the CBC’s structure or mandate
  • Any consumer protection measures
  • Any measures related to sales taxes for online broadcasters

Compared to what was recommended in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel report in January, it’s not quite as bold, but there are several elements in there, including the most important one giving the CRTC the power to regulate online media (though the commission would have argued that it already had that power).

Now we’ll see what terms the CRTC set for Netflix et al, and if they’ll agree to them.

Mike Finnerty leaves Daybreak again — for good

UPDATE (Nov. 25): Finnerty finally confirmed the news, saying he plans to go back to London. On his last show, Finnerty announed Sean Henry will be his replacement. Audio of Finnerty’s goodbye is below.

Mike Finnerty ad from a previous Daybreak stint

Despite his professed love for Montreal and his work as host of CBC’s radio morning show Daybreak, Mike Finnerty has already left it twice to go to the U.K., first in 2009 to work for The Guardian (he was replaced by Nancy Wood, but within a year she was dropped and he came back), and again last year on a seven-month leave to be a cheesemonger.

So maybe it’s not too surprising that CBC has posted his job again. But this time it’s a 12-month renewable contract, which is what you’d expect from a permanent host. Is he leaving for good (again)?

In a brief response when I asked him if he’s taking another leave of absence, Finnerty said: “Nope, nothing to announce for now, and no other comment.”

CBC Montreal also had no comment on the matter.

UPDATE (Nov. 27): Finnerty’s on-air goodbye was short and sweet. After a show about how the city has changed in the past 10 years (since he first started as host), he interviewed Henry and gave a brief goodbye, less than a minute long, crediting his team, thanking his listeners, and paying tribute to the city.

He concluded that “my wish for Montreal and for Montrealers is that we continue to live, love and laugh together. I’ll see you soon.”

Power failure knocks CTV channels off the air for two hours

It happens. There’s a major technical at the most inconvenient time, in the middle of the local news broadcast, causing the local CTV station to cut to dead air. Master Control in Toronto cuts to a commercial, and then pumps in CTV News Channel as a backup.

It seemed that was happening again on Monday, but then something unusual happened: CTV News Channel itself went off the air. And a bunch of other channels, too.

A power outage in Bell Media’s Agincourt studios, home to CTV Toronto and TSN, was the culprit. It knocked out CTV and CTV2 stations in the eastern half of the country (from Winnipeg east), as well as CTV News Network, all five TSN channels, Discovery Channel, CTV Comedy and others. Other channels, particularly the former CHUM stations based at 299 Queen St. W. downtown, like Much, CP24, CTV Drama and CTV SciFi, remained on the air throughout, as did Bell’s French-language channels.

Some digital services were also affected by the outage, which began around 5:30pm ET, and lasted until 7:30pm, with some channels not being fully back until 9pm. CTV News Channel rebroadcast CP24 for much of the evening after coming back online.

It’s unclear what exactly caused the outage in the first place, or why backup systems failed to keep CTV on the air. I suspect there will be a lot of discussions at Bell Media management and technical meetings about what went wrong.

The outage is a reminder of the dangers of centralization — when all your stations are controlled through the same building, they can all be knocked off the air. But more importantly it shows that Bell Media’s contingency protocols are inadequate. An ideal system would have allowed the master control facilities at Queen West — or even better a master control facility in another city — to quickly take control of the affected channels, even if just to broadcast filler programming.

CTV undoubtedly has backup systems, but they obviously failed, either from technical or procedural fault, which means they were probably not adequately tested.

Expect that to change, at least until Bell Media forgets about this incident and needs to make more cuts to technical staff and redundancies.

New Canadian news channel tries to revive the Sun News Network model

While Canadians were focused on a U.S. presidential debate, a trailer was released for a new conservative news channel called The News Forum that purports to “provide viewers with politically balanced domestic and international perspectives, inclusive of a conservative counterbalance for the current media landscape.”

The channel has a carriage deal with Bell Canada on all Bell’s TV systems. It is now operating as an exempt national news service, according to the CRTC, which allows such operations without a licence until they reach 200,000 subscribers.

Its ownership is a bit unclear, but its CEO is Tore Stautland, who is CEO of Trillennium Media Group Inc., a producer of mainly Christian programming for channels like Daystar Canada, Vision and Joytv.

Its on-air hosts include former Conservative minister Tony Clement, former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen, author Faytene Grasseschi, lawyer K.R. Davidson, former YesTV host Sheldon Neil, and former Global Thunder Bay reporter/anchor Nima Rajan.

From its ownership, description, choice of hosts and choice of topics and guests, it seems clear that The News Forum is designed to be a social/religious conservative outlet, meant more as a source of right-wing opinion than hard news. Which will no doubt draw comparisons to the Sun News Network, Quebecor’s right-wing news-opinion channel that shut down five years ago.

Based on my brief glances at its programming available online, it seems the main differences relate to tone (no Ezra Levant or Brian Lilley gleefully throwing mud, though Lilley has already been a guest), slant (more religious) and budget (more along the lines of a YouTube channel than a major TV network).

Like Sun News, The News Forum doesn’t try for a partisan balance. Almost all of the politicians it interviews are conservative.

The channel has made it clear it won’t shy away from controversial topics (and by that it seems to mean defending unpopular conservative views), conducting a friendly interview with controversial anti-trans researcher Debra Soh, for example.

It’s not clear that The News Forum will have actual journalists beyond that on-air staff, relying instead on a Canadian Press subscription and summarizing newspaper stories to provide that raw news material.

Its schedule consists of the same half-hour shows repeated every three hours. Besides those linked to above, it also includes two shows from Israel.

By not having that daytime news block and expensive journalists covering the country, could it save enough money to make this channel viable? We’ll see.