Seven years after the Sun News Network shut down, Canada once again has a fifth national news network in the eyes of the CRTC.
On Tuesday, the commission determined that The News Forum, a conservative low-budget news discussion channel that tries to be a bit more serious than Sun News was, can be classified as a national mainstream news network, and get the same class of licence as CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, RDI and LCN. The big perk of that licence class is that all licensed Canadian TV providers must now add The News Forum to their systems, offer it to their subscribers, and package it with other news services.
Subscribers are not forced to add the channel to their packages, but this will undoubtedly increase the total subscriber base, especially since not all Canadian providers have added TNF to their systems so far. (Bell, Rogers, Telus and SaskTel have, but Cogeco and Videotron haven’t yet.) And more subscribers will mean more revenues, especially as this status gives TNF more power in negotiating wholesale rates with providers.
While the schedule has been adjusted, not much has changed with the channel. Looking at its YouTube channel, it’s still mainly talking heads having long conversations on various public affairs topics. There are no actual journalists or news stories per se, and the bent is still right-wing with former Conservative politicians like Tony Clement and Tanya Granic Allen hosting shows. And it relies very heavily on repeats to fill the schedule, with just a couple of hours of original programming a day, though they have added new shows recently.
There’s a chance that with some new revenue The News Forum could invest in its programming, hire journalists and start looking more like an all-news channel that provides an alternative to CTVNC and CBCNN. But with video views on YouTube in the single and double digits, it has a long way to go before attracting people’s attention.
In case you’ve been in a coma since Monday, you know that CTV News has ended its contract with Lisa LaFlamme, the chief anchor and senior editor of CTV National News.
Since then, every day has brought new revelations, questions and rumours about what happened and why. I have no original reporting on this, nor any insider knowledge or insight, but I do have a good sense of what reporting can be trusted as fact and what sizes of salt grains should be taken with the rest. So here’s my compilation of what’s been reported so far:
The News Forum, a low-budget conservative news-talk TV channel that last year got enough subscribers to require a broadcasting licence from the CRTC, is trying again to get the commission to force Canadian television distributors to offer the channel to their subscribers, less than two months after the commission denied their first attempt at this status.
In its decision in May approving the licence, the CRTC denied that status, saying “the Commission is not satisfied that The News Forum provides updated news reports every 120 minutes,” which is one of the criteria it set in its policy.
It left the door open to applying again for that status, once it shows it meets the criteria.
So now The News Forum is trying again, after providing an “updated schedule” showing “daily updates” every two hours from 6am to 8pm. (The schedule suggests they will start at five minutes and 30 seconds past every two hours, until 30 minutes past the hour, but I think they meant to say the updates would be five minutes long until 5:30 past the hour.)
A glance at its website and YouTube channel suggest little else has changed about The News Forum. It still doesn’t seem to employ any journalists besides the anchors, who read out news briefs to still images and then conduct interviews via video link.
But that wouldn’t necessarily preclude it from getting that status. The CRTC’s criteria related to programming are the following:
Providing news updates every 120 minutes
At least 90% Canadian programming
At least 16 hours a day original programming (first-run or repeated)
At least 95% of all programming from the following categories: News, analysis and interpretation, long-form documentary and reporting and actualities
No more than 12 minutes of advertising per hour
Operate a live broadcast facility and maintain news bureaus in at least three regions other than that of the live broadcast facility
“have the ability to report on international events from a Canadian perspective”
Like Sun News Network before it, TNF is fully original, though it relies heavily on repeat programming and much of that is opinion, which can be classified as “analysis and interpretation.”
The part about news bureaus and broadcast facilities might be a challenge for The News Forum. But it will be up to the commission to decide if it meets the criteria.
And even if it does get the status, no one has to subscribe to it (unless it’s in a package you want).
The CRTC is accepting comments on The News Forum’s application until Aug. 8. You can submit comments here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.
While there are a lot of competition-related concerns about this purchase, and particularly how it will remove a fourth wireless provider in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the CRTC’s concern in all this is somewhat narrow. Its permission isn’t needed for a wireless, internet or telephone provider to buy another. (The Competition Bureau and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada will undertake their own proceedings to evaluate those concerns, and their approval is also needed before the transaction can proceed.)
Instead, the CRTC’s permission is only required for the transfer of broadcasting assets. Shaw sold its television and radio assets to Corus in 2016, leaving the following:
Its licences for television distribution, including Shaw Cable the Shaw Direct satellite TV service
Its licences for community television channels tied to those cable distributors
Its licences for video on demand and pay-per-view services tied to those cable distributors (Rogers is not acquiring these as it has its own licences)
Its licence for a satellite broadcasting distribution relay service, which provides TV signals to other providers
Its stake in CPAC
Competition issues will be brought up in discussion of those points. For example, under this deal Rogers would get two thirds ownership of CPAC, giving it effective control (Videotron, Cogeco and Eastlink are also minority owners).
But an issue that hasn’t gotten much attention (besides from the Globe and Mail and a few others) is what this means for Global News.
You see, back in 2017 when the CRTC decided to screw over community television, it put in place a new subsidy system whereby large TV providers can redirect some of the money they would have spent on community television and instead send it to affiliated local TV stations to use for local news. Rogers could give some money to Citytv, Bell could give some money to CTV, Videotron could give some money to TVA, and Shaw could give some money to Corus. Though Shaw and Corus are separate companies, they are both ultimately controlled by the Shaw family, so for the CRTC’s purposes they’re related.
Once Rogers acquires Shaw, it will take the money that went to Corus for Global News and instead redirect it to Citytv stations.
According to CRTC filings, $8.8 million from Shaw Cable and $4.2 million from Shaw Direct were sent to Global for “locally reflective news programming” in 2019-20, for a total of about $12.9 million. That represents about 12 per cent of the $106 million Corus spent on local news in 2019-20.
That would mean significant cuts to Global News, unless Corus just decides to swallow the loss. Since Global as a whole is unprofitable, that seems unlikely.
It’s worth noting that while Corus has pointed this out in a submission, Corus is not on the agenda to appear at the CRTC hearing. Its owner is more interested in the profits from the sale than Corus’s concerns about local news.
The other fund
Now, because there are some private commercial television stations out there that aren’t owned by large cable companies, the CRTC set up a special fund to help them. The Independent Local News Fund is financed by a 0.3% tax on all licensed TV distributors, and is divided among independent TV stations based on the amount of local news they produce.
Because the Rogers-Shaw deal would orphan Global, it could then apply to the ILNF for funding for local news.
But the ILNF’s total budget is $21 million a year ($3 million of which comes from Shaw), so unless it would be willing to part with half its funding, either Global or the other independent stations (or most likely both) would have to lose a lot of money.
When the CRTC approved the purchase of V by Bell Media, V became ineligible for funding from the ILNF, and so its funding was redistributed among the remaining stations. But V only got about $3.2 million from the fund, so there’s a $10 million gap.
The CRTC set the 0.3% tax based on how television stations were owned at the time. A logical solution would be to increase that tax, but that would require a separate hearing, and either a cut to some other contribution line or an increase in costs to television providers that would then be passed on to customers.
Or Canadians could just accept that independent television gets stuck with a big budget cut because Canada’s second-largest communications company wanted to get bigger.
You may recall a year ago I wrote about The News Forum, a low-budget Canadian TV channel offered to Bell TV subscribers that broadcast news headlines and a lot of political talk with a clear conservative bent, even being hosted by former conservative politicians like Tony Clement, Danielle Smith and Tanya Granic Allen.
Previously, The News Forum operated as a licence-exempt service, which allowed it to be on TV distribution systems without a licence provided it remain below 200,000 subscribers. With the application, it confirms it has passed that threshold, even though it is only distributed through Bell TV, Telus, SaskTel and Access Communications.
I learned of this through a CRTC application filed by CKRT’s owner Télé Inter-Rives, which also owns a Noovo affiliate and two TVA affiliates serving eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick. The group wants to redirect the funding CKRT receives from the Independent Local News Fund to the Noovo station, which would see its local news obligations increase as a result.
If the CRTC approves the application (it approved a similar one for CKRN), it would mean not that much changes. There would still be local TV news in Rivière-du-Loup, and most people would still be served by Radio-Canada’s station in Rimouski, whose Téléjournal Est-du-Québec covers the region.
There would be a loss of service over the air, though. CKRT has two transmitters in Rivière-du-Loup (the second covers some holes in the downtown signal), and five others in Baie-St-Paul, Dégelis, Cabano, St-Urbain and Trois-Pistoles. All were upgraded to digital by Télé Inter-Rives, though they had no obligation to do so outside of Rivière-du-Loup.
CBC/Radio-Canada decided in 2012 it was no longer interested in operating over-the-air transmitters except for originating local stations. And that policy move is part of the reason for dropping this affiliation. Spokesperson Marc Pichette told me that the industry has shifted to a place where “over-the-air television is no longer considered an adequate and efficient means to offer our content to Canadians.”
UPDATE: Télé Inter-Rives has applied to the CRTC to repurpose two of CKRT’s transmitters serving Rivière-du-Loup for its other stations. Under the plan, CFTF-DT (Noovo) would take over Channel 7 on Mont Bleu, the primary signal of CKRT, and shut down CFTF’s main Channel 29 transmitter. CIMT-DT (TVA), meanwhile, would take over CKRT retransmitter on Channel 13 in the city proper and shut down its transmitter on Channel 41. These applications are open for comment until July 28.
A long list of former affiliates
A lot of TV stations have previously been affiliates of CBC or Radio-Canada. One by one those affiliations dropped. Some were by the request of the station, which decided to switch to a private network (especially after they became owned by the same company as that network), while others were dropped by the public broadcaster because it no longer made sense to them.
Here are those who lost their affiliations since 2005:
CKX-TV Brandon, Man. — Shut down in 2009 after CTV decided it no longer wanted to pay to keep it open, and CBC refused to buy it for $1, then two other companies — Shaw and Bluepoint Investment Corp. — both decided to buy it and then reneged on the deal.
CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C., and CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. — Were bought by Bell Media in 2013 as part of the Astral acquisition and dropped their CBC affiliations in 2016 to switch to CTV Two.
CFJC-TV Kamloops, B.C., CHAT-TV Medicine Hat, Alta., and CKPG-TV Prince George, B.C. — Owned by Pattison Media, they dropped their CBC affiliations and switched to Canwest’s E! network. When that network went bust in 2009, they switched again to Citytv.
CHBC-DT Kelowna and CHCA-TV Red Deer — Dropped CBC affiliation in 2005 to switch to Canwest’s CH network, later E!. When that went down in 2009, CHBC was the only station to be switched to Global — it’s now known as Global Okanagan. CHCA was shut down.
CKWS-TV Kingston, CHEX-TV Peterborough and CHEX-TV-2 Oshawa, Ont. — Owned by Corus before it bought Global from Shaw, they switched to CTV affiliation in 2015 then became Global stations in 2018.*
CKSA-DT Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. — Owned by Newcap and since bought by Stingray, it lost its CBC affiliation in 2016. It switched to become a Global affiliate, as its sister station in the same city is already a CTV affiliate.
CKPR-DT Thunder Bay, Ont. — This Dougall Media station ended its CBC affiliation in 2014 and became a CTV affiliate. Its sister station CHFD-DT was a former CTV affiliate that switched to Global in 2010 after it couldn’t reach a renewal deal with CTV.
CKTV-TV Saguenay, CKSH-TV Sherbrooke and CKTM-TV Trois-Rivières — Owned by Cogeco, they were sold to CBC/Radio-Canada in 2008 and became Radio-Canada stations. These were the last TV stations ever purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada.
CKRN-DT Rouyn-Noranda — Owned by RNC Media, shut down when Radio-Canada ended its affiliation deal in 2018.
CKRT-DT Rivière-du-Loup — Owned by Télé Inter-Rives, set to shut down Aug. 31, 2021.
3 stations purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada
2 stations becoming CTV Two stations (owned by Bell Media)
4 stations becoming Global stations (owned by Corus)
3 stations becoming Citytv affiliates (owned by Pattison Media)
2 stations becoming CTV affiliates (owned by Stingray and Dougall Media)
Noémi Mercier hosts the first episode of Le Fil on March 29.
In the lead-up to its launch on March 29, Noovo (formerly V, formerly TQS) hyped that its new daily newscast called Le Fil would be, above all else, different.
Different in how it told stories (longer, more in-depth), different in what stories it would tell (younger, more diverse), and different in how it presented itself (two Black anchors, a more industrial-looking studio).
After two weeks of watching these programs, I can conclude that it’s definitely different. In some ways that are good, but in many ways the difference is a stark reminder of how few resources are being put into news-gathering at the network, even though its new owner Bell Media has extensive English-language resources across the country, francophone journalists at radio stations across Quebec, and lots of money.
Rather than being an alternative newscast to TVA and Radio-Canada, it might be more fair to say Le Fil isn’t even in the same league, and isn’t trying to be.
A recap of what led to this: TQS, founded in 1986, was the first television network to try to compete directly with the duopoly of Radio-Canada and TVA in Quebec. It was owned by the Pouliot family, who also owned CFCF (CTV Montreal) and CF Cable.
Its newscast, Le Grand Journal, promised to be different, but looking back seems very generic — an anchor in a studio, tight two-minute packaged news reports with reporter voiceover, and weather and sports.
TQS would eventually be bought by Quebecor, but then sold because Quebecor bought Videotron, which owned TVA. Cogeco and what was then Bell Globemedia bought TQS in 2002 (with Cogeco as the controlling owner) and injected money into its news operation, but by 2007 Cogeco gave up and pushed the network into bankruptcy.
It was bought by Maxime Rémillard, a film producer and distributor, who disbanded the entire news operation and renamed the network V. Rémillard convinced the CRTC to drastically reduce the network’s local and news programming requirements in order to keep it alive, and tried various cost-effective ways of doing the bare minimum of news programming, with forgettable newscasts like Les Infos and NVL that were outsourced to other companies.
Rémillard’s massacre of the news operation was heavily criticized, but it worked. V stopped bleeding money and managed to survive.
In 2019, Rémillard agreed to sell V’s five stations (Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay) to Bell Media for $20 million, and Bell promised to bring back newscasts to get the CRTC to approve the purchase. The CRTC approved the deal last year and brought in higher local programming requirements, with each station needing to broadcast five hours a week of local programming and two and half hours a week of “locally reflective” programming. Next year, the local programming requirements for Montreal and Quebec City go up to 8.5 hours a week.
Bell must also spend 5% of V’s revenues on local news. In 2019-2020, V brought in $35.7 million, which was about half of its expenses. This would mean about $1.8 million a year minimum on news.
Enter Le Fil.
Le Fil is a series of newscasts:
Le Fil 17h: An hour-long newscast at 5pm weekdays, hosted by Noémi Mercier, a long-time journalist who had been seen mainly on Télé-Québec before joining Noovo.
Le Fil 17h30: Though billed as a separate newscast, it’s more of a regional cutaway for Noovo’s owned-and-operated non-Montreal stations (Quebec City, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke). About 15 minutes total not including a commercial break, each region’s newscast is anchored out of Quebec City by Lisa-Marie Blais, who comes from LCN but was part of TQS in the last days of Le Grand Journal. For Montreal viewers, Mercier continues to anchor with more local segments during this time. After the regional cutaways, the regions come back to Mercier who does a signoff opinion/analysis monologue.
Le Fil 22h: The 10pm half-hour newscast is hosted by Michel Bherer, who spent 13 years at Radio-Canada but also worked at TQS back in the day. It consists mainly of a selection of stories that were presented at 5pm. Regional cutaways, also hosted by Blais, begin at 10:10pm. (They’re not posted online, so I haven’t seen their content.)
Le Fil Week-end: Two hour-long shows that strangely air at 9am on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and mostly repeat stories from the week, sometimes with fresh introductions. The shows include an original feature interview near the end. They’re hosted by Meeker Guerrier, who previously worked at Radio-Canada and since last fall has been a regular columnist on Bell Media radio stations and RDS.
For all of them, the structure is pretty simple: five-minute blocks, either packaged reports, often introduced by the journalist, or perhaps an in-studio chat with a journalist or a columnist.
Contributors include big names like La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert and freelancers like fact-checker Camille Lopez and U.S. politics watcher Valérie Beaudoin.
The biggest difference between this newscast and a mainstream one is how it tells stories. Rather than a standard two-minute heavily narrated package including B-roll of people walking and ending with a reporter standup, these packages are about five minutes long, adopting a slower pace, and let their subjects do a lot of the talking. Almost like a mini documentary. Many packages include music, to further accentuate that feel. The reporters are also present, but more casual and engaging in how they talk to the camera.
There are “live” chats between the anchor and the reporter, either in studio, or via double box, and I notice the reporters tend to be introduced by first name only.
The rough edges can be seen in the reports, which often show technical issues that I have difficulty just dismissing as first-week flubs or COVID-19 compromises. Subjects in interviews often don’t have a microphone on them, leading to poor-quality audio. This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if they hired both reporters and experienced camera operators who would be more concerned with those technical aspects. Many reports are done entirely by the reporters alone.
The other big difference Noovo highlights in its approach to this newscast is diversity — not only of its staff, where two of four anchors are Black, but of the story subjects. They spend more time talking about issues facing young people, racialized communities, Indigenous communities. I don’t know if they’re necessarily covering these issues better than their well-funded competitors, but that’s where they’ve decided to put their focus.
Being a brand new operation, most of their journalists are pretty young, and so much of this focus on different types of stories may come naturally.
Look and feel
Michel Bherer next to the window in the Montreal studio.
Reporter Audrey Ruel-Manseau on the side of the anchor desk in Montreal.
Lisa-Marie Blais at the Quebec City studio.
Lisa-Marie Blais and Alexane Drolet in Quebec City.
I suppose Bell Media was trying to get away from the standard TV studio look with its design for the studios in Montreal and Quebec City. It’s very industrial, like you might expect for a tech startup or something. White-painted brick, exposed metal conduits, a light wood desk, coloured lights, vertical screens. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they were going for something new and cool, but it comes out to me looking a lot like moderate-budget community TV.
The graphics are better. Bold white text on dark blue backgrounds for the most part. Overlays are squarish on the side rather than going along the bottom.
No weather or sports
Despite being built by the same company that runs CTV News, there’s very little of the usual building blocks of a newscast. There’s no weather report, no sports highlights (Bherer briefly gives out the final score at the end of the night when the Canadiens play), no market numbers, no entertainment news, no stories from foreign news services, and no ambulance-chasing fire and car crash briefs.
Bell owns RDS (in fact, the two broadcast out of the same building), so it would not have been difficult to incorporate a sports component, so it seems this was done intentionally. And honestly, it would have been odd to shoe-horn something like sports highlights into this show.
News briefs are often presented on screen with no visuals or only a faded still image to accompany them — literally the text of the brief is presented as a graphic as the anchor reads it. They’ve gotten a bit better at this as the days went on, with some briefs presenting visuals now, but it’s an odd thing to see so much text in a newscast.
One thing I have seen a lot of, though, is vox pops. For a newscast that promises to do things differently, adopting one of the news media’s laziest, most useless forms of journalism — asking random uninformed people on the street what they think of some topic — would be a head-scratcher if we didn’t already know why it’s done. It’s an easy crutch for an uninspired assignment editor.
They’re not in every newscast, but in less than three weeks I’ve seen a handful of them.
Recycling the news
The most glaring way Le Fil saves money is through reusing its content. The 10pm newscast is largely stuff that aired earlier in the day. The weekend newscast is mostly stuff that aired earlier in the week.
Even the regional cutaways involve a lot of reuse. The 15 minutes mean they have three stories. But for most of the regions, the third story is common, regardless of what region it comes from.
So for the Mauricie, Saguenay and Estrie regions, we’re talking about 10 minutes per weekday of actual original local news. Less than an hour a week.
Since Bell has not deemed those three regions worthy enough to even have their own anchors or studios, it’s probably unsurprising that even their local news isn’t that local.
Will anyone watch?
The first broadcasts of Le Fil got just over 100,000 viewers, according to Richard Therrien of Le Soleil. That’s relatively decent, but also a lot of curiosity factor. Later broadcasts got smaller ratings.
Working against Noovo is the schedule — if you want news at 5pm, you can watch TVA. If you want news at 10pm, you can watch either TVA or Radio-Canada. And if you want news at 9am on weekends … well, I guess you have that now, assuming you don’t have LCN or RDI on cable?
I would have liked them to, say, push the late newscast to 11pm and offer some counter-programming in the 10pm hour. Or try to do something more with the weekend news than an hour-long in-case-you-missed-it.
A new Noovo Info website is promised to launch later, which will give a better idea of the digital facet of this operation. By then, Bell will probably have found a way to integrate its journalists at Rouge and Énergie radio stations throughout Quebec into the system, and maybe even found some synergies with CTV and CTV Montreal in particular.
So with some aspects still marked incomplete, and taking into account the usual early-day bugs that will work themselves out as everyone gets more familiar with the daily routine, I would rate Noovo Le Fil as … OK.
Noovo doesn’t have the same news resources as Radio-Canada and TVA, which both have all-news channels and close relationships with other journalists on different platforms (Radio-Canada has digital and radio journalists, while Quebecor has the Journal de Montréal, 24 Heures and other platforms for journalism). But Bell has deep pockets, so if it wanted to, it could create a new competitor on that same level.
As a news operation, it’s definitely better than what it replaced. As a newscast on TV, it’s also better, though probably not better enough to become a real threat to the duopoly of Radio-Canada and TVA. (And we’ll see if, down the line, Noovo’s desire to be different will hold or if it will slowly morph into a similar kind of generic TV newscast that its competitors have settled into over the decades.)
Some of its longer-form documentary-style reports might have some success on digital platforms, I suppose, but it’s really unclear what target audience they’re trying to reach here. Le Fil doesn’t have the flash of TVA nor the reporting depth of Radio-Canada, and despite their promise to be more diverse and reflective, I don’t see that many people who don’t normally watch the news flocking to this show.
Which leaves us with the distinct impression that, despite all the hype, Le Fil exists not because Bell wants to shake up the marketplace when it comes to local news on TV, but simply because the CRTC required Noovo produce local news, and this is what they came up with to fill that minimum requirement.
I hope I’m wrong there.
Noovo Le Fil airs at 5pm and 10pm weekdays and 9am Saturdays and Sundays on Noovo.
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”