Category Archives: Media

Bell Media shuts down TSN Radio in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton

Just when we thought the worst was over, Bell Media on Tuesday abruptly pulled the plug on three of its seven TSN Radio stations — CKST 1040 in Vancouver, CFRW 1290 in Winnipeg and CKOC 1150 in Hamilton — to replace them with new, cheaper formats.

Ya Bloomberg’d it

The Hamilton station has already adopted its new brand, BNN Bloomberg 1150, copying a format at CFTE 1410 i Vancouver — itself a former TSN Radio station — that relies on a mix of audio from BNN’s television channel, content from Bloomberg and some random repurposed Bell Media content like CTV News, the Evan Solomon Show and Amanda Lang’s podcast. There was nothing said about local programming and a Bell Media spokesperson didn’t answer when I asked if there would be any.

Funny story

The two other stations said they would announce their new format simultaneously on Friday (at 9am CT and 7am PT), but thanks to a memo from Bell Media President Wade Oosterman, we already know they will adopt the “Funny” standup comedy format that he described as successful even though the existing Funny stations — CKMX 1060 in Calgary and CHAM 820 in Hamilton — have poor ratings, and the third station to run with that brand shut down in 2016.

CKMX is in last place in Calgary with a 0.8% share, and CHAM is second-last in Hamilton with a 0.6% share. The only station rated lower than CHAM? TSN Radio, now BNN.

So don’t expect the ratings to go up with this move. Instead, expect the expenses to go down as they no longer need local programming of any kind.

690 survives

The other four TSN Radio stations — CFRN 1260 in Edmonton, CHUM 1050 in Toronto, CFGO 1200 in Ottawa and CKGM 690 in Montreal — survived the axe. Those stations have varying ratings — 0.9%, 0.4%, 3.1% and 3.5% market shares according to their latest books — but they have other reasons for staying. Montreal and Ottawa have the rights to their local NHL teams and are the only English-language sports radio stations in their markets. Toronto is Toronto, and has plenty of local sports content to go around, including half the Leafs schedule.

Why Edmonton still exists while Vancouver and Winnipeg got yanked is a bit beyond me. Edmonton doesn’t have the rights to either the Oilers or whatever the CFL team will be renaming itself (both of those air on Corus’s 630 CHED), and its ratings aren’t stellar.

(Edmonton was nevertheless hit by layoffs, including Corey Graham)

It’s also worth noting that Bell Media gave up the rights to the Winnipeg Jets to CJOB in December, even though it had a year left on its deal, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

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Canadian-only Super Bowl commercials disappoint again in 2021

In case you were part of the half of the country that didn’t tune in to the Super Bowl on CTV, TSN or RDS, you may have missed the cool Super Bowl ads.

And if you’re part of the half who did, you probably missed them too, since most of the best ads didn’t air on Canadian television. Instead, you were treated to a bunch of forgettable car commercials, repetitive teasers for CTV programming, unoriginal promos for Crave, and lots of ads for Skip the Dishes somehow.

(I counted five airings of the Jon Hamm spots between kickoff and the end of the CTV broadcast, including three in the first hour, which led to it being the butt of a lot of jokes on Twitter.)

It is unfortunately the reality that we still have to live with (at least those of us not close enough to pick up a U.S. station with an antenna or determined enough to find a bootlegged stream). The CRTC tried to answer consumer demand and allow Canadians access to American ads, but that was overturned by the Supreme Court and its repeal also written into the new North American trade agreement.

If you want to watch the U.S. ads, they’re online. On YouTube’s AdBlitz playlist or on Programming Insider’s more comprehensive list. Some of them are great, some are silly, few are truly memorable, but a lot of them took a lot of effort.

Many of them also aired in Canada. But a lot of them didn’t, either because the advertisers didn’t want to spend the extra money or because their services or products aren’t offered here.

Meanwhile, north of the border, we got some Super Bowl commercials of our own. And they were … not that great. Some tried — Michael Bublé selling Bubly again, and some ads for investing companies — but nothing compared to the U.S. offer.

It’s up to advertisers, not Bell alone, to create a uniquely Canadian Super Bowl ad break experience. Frankly, advertisers have to do more in general to make their ads more interesting. They might think they don’t have to, since Bell has the exclusive broadcasting rights to the Super Bowl in Canada, and people are going to watch it live regardless, but that kind of complacency isn’t going to serve the industry well in the long term.

And Bell could set an example by upping its own game. I get that you’ll have CTV promos (the American broadcast was filled with CBS promos) and ads for Bell Mobility, but maybe you could throw some extra cash at the creative people you haven’t laid off yet and get them to do something a bit more interesting next time.

Anyway, for the sake of keeping a record, here are the ads that most closely resemble “Super Bowl” style that aired only in Canada:

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CJAD guts newsroom, CTV Montreal cuts Quebec City job as Bell Media cuts hit front lines

CJAD has laid off virtually all its reporting staff as recent cuts at Bell Media, starting at the very top with the departure of president Randy Lennox, filtered down to the local station level on Monday.

Bell Media doesn’t like to give specifics about these kinds of things, nor does it like to allow its local managers to face the music when they’re forced to make cuts like these, so most of the information below is pieced together from sources within the CTV Montreal and CJAD offices, plus some information from Bell Media and the union.

(As always, a big thanks to all the people who quietly feed me information during times like this.)

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Kanesatake radio station applies to increase power, protect frequency

CKHQ-FM, Kanesatake’s community radio station, has struggled to keep itself going since it was founded in 1988. But with the help of some broadcasting experts, it has presented a relaunch plan to the CRTC, through two applications published on Monday.

The first is a transfer of ownership, from CKHQ United Voices Radio, owned by resident James Nelson, to Mohawk Multi Media, a non-profit corporation whose membership is open to all community members.

The second is a technical change: The new station would maintain its frequency of 101.7 MHz, but with an effective radiated power of 51 watts, and a height above average terrain of 57 metres. The station’s transmitter would be located at the Riverside Elders Home at 518 Rang Ste-Philomène, along the river about two kilometres southwest of the old location. The studio would also be located at a new building to be constructed on land next to the elders home.

The station has budgeted $500,000 in capital costs for studio and transmitter.

Comparison map of CKHQ-FM’s approved signal (red and brown) and its proposed signal (blue and green)

The increased power would mean a better signal within the community, and more people being able to listen in adjacent ones like Oka, Hudson, and maybe parts of Vaudreuil.

But the most significant change would be on the regulatory level. Stations at 50 watts or below are considered low-power unprotected stations, which means another station can apply for a licence for that frequency or an adjacent one and bump it off that frequency. In most areas that wouldn’t be an issue, but being so close to Montreal (and not that far from Ottawa), there are no other frequencies available it can realistically move to, so such a situation would force it off the air.

That almost happened in 2018 when a group proposed a Christian music station in Lachute on 101.7 FM. The application was denied, because the commission found the quality of the application lacking. But nothing prevented anyone else from trying again.

By going to 51 watts, CKHQ-FM would move from low-power unprotected status to Class A1, which means any proposed new stations would have to protect it from interference.

Projected interference zones for CKHQ-FM.

Though in theory the new signal would extend to much of Vaudreuil and St-Placide, practically it still won’t go too far beyond Oka and the community of Hudson across the river, because of interference from other stations, most significantly CIBL-FM, the Montreal community station on the same frequency at 101.5 MHz.

History

After years of inactivity, CKHQ-FM showed promise when it applied for and received a new licence from the CRTC in 2014. When I visited the station shortly thereafter, its eager staff had cleaned up the rat droppings of the old studio building and gotten it back on the air.

But a flood in July 2017 destroyed most of the transmitting equipment, knocking the station off the air again.

Sylvain Gaspé, an engineer who grew up in Kanesatake and got his start at that radio station, began leading the efforts to bring it back, under the branding of Reviving Kanesatake Radio. In the spring of 2019, a temporary station was set up to offer flood information to the community, and on April 2, 2020, Gaspé brought the station back on the air.

The new entity is separate from the old one, but has the full support of both the current owner and the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake. Because transfers of ownership require CRTC approval first, the station is technically still owned and managed by Nelson’s United Voices corporation, but Gaspé’s Mohawk Multi Media has been mandated to actually do the work. Officially, a transfer of assets has taken place, but because the equipment was destroyed the actual value of those assets is $0.

The new non-profit’s voting membership is open to Kanesatake members with certificate of Indian status, residents of Kanesatake, and “honorary members accepted by the majority of members.” It has five members of the board, including Gaspé and three residents of Kanesatake. All five are Mohawk.

Programming

Don’t expect this station to have much in the way of full-time staff or professional-sounding programming. This will remain a small community station largely run by volunteers. But the application to the CRTC includes some programming commitments, including:

  • 5 hours a week of news
  • 58 hours a week of pop, rock and dance music
  • 38 hours a week of country music
  • 17 hours a week of Indigenous music
  • 15% of songs broadcast performed or composed by Indigenous artists
  • 7 hours a week coming from Kahnawake’s K103
  • 30.5 hours a week in Mohawk, including “incorporating the Mohawk language within the simplest tasks of radio broadcasts, such as the time, weather and station identifications.”
  • 1 hour a week in French

Note that these are projected averages and not necessarily minimums. What actual requirements are to be set will be up to the CRTC, consistent with the Native Broadcasting Policy, for which a review is currently underway.

The CRTC has scheduled a hearing for March 30 to hear these applications. Because no oral presentations are expected, the hearing will be in name only and only to satisfy a legal requirement to hold one. Comments on either application (which are not dependent on each other — the commission could approve one but not the other) are being accepted until Feb. 25, 2020 at 8pm ET/5pm PT, and can be filed here (Application 2020-0751-7 is for the transfer of ownership, Application 2020-0420-9 is for the power increase and transmitter change).

Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Bell Media to shut down Fashion Television and Book Television on Feb. 22

The cull of zombie specialty channels, many of which trace their origins to a boom around 20 years ago, finally reached Bell Media, which has advised the CRTC it will shut down Fashion Television and Book Television as of Feb. 22.

The CRTC on Thursday responded by revoking the licences of Book Television and Fashion Television Channel as of that date.

Bell’s letters to the commission don’t provide any reasoning for the shutdowns, other than saying they will “cease operations.” But the business model for such channels has collapsed in recent years, as people adopt more custom TV packages and drop channels with no original content, like Cosmo, BBC Canada, G4 and many other similar channels.

According to financial statistics submitted to the CRTC, Book Television had lost more than half its revenue between 2015 and 2019 as the number of subscribers dropped and subscription fees dropped even more. It still had a healthy 40% profit margin, but with less than a million dollars in profit.

Similarly, Fashion had less than a quarter the total revenue in 2019 it had in 2015, and fewer than half the subscribers.

Neither channel has had any original programming in years and Bell has spent virtually no effort at all trying to promote them. Both reported spending $0 in Canadian programming in 2018-19. Book’s current programming is reruns of legal dramas JAG and Matlock, plus CTV shows The Amazing Race Canada, Cardinal, 19-2, Transplant and Saving Hope. Fashion’s is even more pointless, with reruns of Cash Cab, Comedy Now and Amazing Race Canada, none of which are known for having anything to do with fashion.

Both channels were originally licensed to CHUM in 2000, as part of a big wave of licences for new digital specialty channels, and were acquired by Bell when CTV acquired CHUM and Bell bought CTV.

Who’s next?

Rogers killed G4 in 2017 and Viceland in 2018, while Corus killed Cosmo and IFC in 2019 and Bell got rid of Comedy Gold in 2017, so the big guys have cut off the low-hanging fruit already. But there remain a bunch of channels that don’t have much original programming that could be on the chopping block in the coming years, including Rogers’ OLN, Bell’s Discovery Science or MTV2, Corus’s Slice or DIY and Quebecor’s AddikTV or Moi&Cie, plus a bunch of channels owned by smaller companies.

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

UPDATE (Feb. 12, 2021): The CRTC has rejected the request.

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.