Category Archives: TV

TVA to buy Évasion and Zeste, eliminating another independent TV broadcaster

The number of independent commercial television broadcasters in French Canada can be counted on one hand, and soon that number will decline even further as Bell and Quebecor gobble up whatever they don’t already own.

As Bell’s proposed purchase of Corus’s Historia and Séries+ awaits CRTC approval, TVA announced Tuesday it has agreed to purchase Serdy Media’s specialty channels Évasion and Zeste for $24 million.

The transaction requires CRTC approval, and we’ll learn more when that application is posted. Generally the purchase of TV assets requires a tangible benefits package of 10% of the value of the transaction, which means at least $2.4 million going to production funds or other independent initiatives that benefit the broadcasting system.

Évasion is profitable, with almost $10 million in subscription revenue, $2.6 million in ad revenue and $10 million in expenses in the year ending Aug. 31, 2016. But in 2015 and 2016 it lost bout 5% of subscribers a year. Zeste does not have full financial information published by the CRTC, but had $6.6 million in revenue and $3.8 million in Canadian programming expenses in 2016, which suggests a similar level of profitability.

This is yet another step in the consolidation of French-language television in Canada in two hands: Bell and Quebecor. Each is bulking up to compete with the other, convincing the CRTC that their purchases are necessary because the other has gotten bigger. If the Corus and Serdy sales go through, it would leave only V, children’s channels, non-profit services, some local stations and a handful of others (MétéoMédia and Frissons TV) not controlled by the two giants.

Here’s what Canada’s French-language television landscape looks like:

Quebecor (Groupe TVA):

  • TVA
  • addikTV
  • Casa
  • LCN
  • Moi & Cie
  • Prise 2
  • TVA Sports
  • Yoopa

Bell Media (*former Astral channels):

  • Canal D*
  • Canal Vie*
  • Cinépop*
  • Investigation
  • RDS
  • RDS Info
  • Super Écran*
  • Vrak*
  • Z*

Corus:

  • Historia (pending sale to Bell)
  • Séries+ (pending sale to Bell)
  • Chaîne Disney
  • Télétoon

Groupe Serdy:

  • Évasion (pending sale to TVA)
  • Zeste (pending sale to TVA)

V Média:

  • V
  • MusiquePlus
  • MAX

Independent for-profits:

  • DHX Media: Télémagino
  • Frissons TV
  • Pelmorex: MétéoMédia
  • RNC Media (regional affiliates)
  • Télé Inter-Rives (regional affiliates)
  • TéléMag (Quebec City)

Radio-Canada:

  • ICI Radio-Canada télé
  • ICI ARTV
  • ICI Explora
  • ICI RDI

Other public and non-profit broadcasters:

  • AMI Télé
  • Canal Savoir
  • CPAC
  • Télé-Québec
  • TFO
  • TV5/Unis
  • Community channels

Global Montreal splits evening news in two

Global Montreal this week made a small change to its weekday schedule, swapping the second half-hour of its evening newscast with Global National. So as of this week, the evening news works like this:

  • 5:30: Local news
  • 6:00: Global National
  • 6:30: Local news
  • 7:00: ET Canada

As far as I can tell, this is the only Global station to do this so far. Okay, there are some counterexamples in the comments.

I watched three of the five newscasts this week to see how the new format works. The two newscasts are virtually identical, with the same stories (sometimes repackaged differently), same weather segments (literally the same prerecorded segments played again for the second newscast), and same stories taken from other Global stations to fill the schedule.

A typical 5:30 or 6:30 newscast comes down to roughly this:

  • A minute-long intro
  • 10-12 minutes of local news (four packaged or live reports, plus 2-5 briefs)
  • A minute-long weather segment (pretaped with the weather presenter in Toronto)
  • Commercial break
  • One or two stories from another Global station or a U.S. news source
  • Commercial break
  • A three-minute weather segment
  • Closing market numbers
  • Teaser to a local story being discussed on Facebook
  • Commercial break
  • More briefs, a promo for Morning News, and either a promo for Global National (during the 5:30 newscast) or a two-minute ET Canada promo that doubles as entertainment news (during the 6:30)

On average:

  • 12m15s local news
  • 3 min non-local news
  • 4m15s weather
  • 15 sec business
  • 2m30s promos, bumpers and other filler

There’s no duplication with Global National, so this new schedule means you can sit down for an hour starting at 5:30, or an hour starting at 6. It also means that people who get home after 6pm can still catch a local newscast (though CTV’s newscast does a top stories recap at the top of the half-hour).

The Global Montreal news team has also expanded by two, hiring away Kalina Laframboise from CBC as a web producer and Cora MacDonald from City as a photojournalist. MacDonald had been hired at City Montreal for their new newscast, but that hasn’t even launched yet. No news about it has been announced.

Eight proposals to replace OMNI

Updated April 20 with a clarification from Rogers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has released eight applications for national ethnic television services, and set a hearing for Oct. 15 to discuss which of them would be the best candidate to replace OMNI.

Last year, the commission caved to OMNI’s demand that it be given mandatory subscription fees from all television subscribers, under the threat of surrendering the licence and leaving the country without a multilingual TV service offering newscasts. But in giving in, the CRTC also set a limit of three years (until Aug. 31, 2020) and said that it would ask other broadcasters if they had better proposals for such a mandatory ethnic service, and consider them at a future hearing.

On Tuesday, the CRTC released eight applications, seven for TV services (including OMNI’s proposal for renewing its status) and one for an ethnic described video guide. Each makes proposals for multilingual programming including national newscasts and proposes a mandatory monthly fee.

I analyzed the nearly 200 documents submitted for the eight applications and below present an analysis of the applicants, proposals and programming:

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Sportsnet keeps Jets playoff games off CBC

The Toronto Maple Leafs are Canada’s team. Or at least the CBC’s.

That much has been made abundantly clear this season. Every Saturday night, if the Leafs are playing, they’re on CBC (except when CBC was broadcasting the Olympics). With a market that encompasses a third of Canada’s population, it makes sense that this team would get more attention, but the one-sidedness has been particularly striking.

Habs fans too cheap to pay for Sportsnet have been complaining the past couple of seasons that Canadiens games on Hockey Night in Canada have been punted to Sportsnet rather than broadcast on free TV channels CBC or City. Sportsnet has admitted this was done mainly to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet.

And as the NHL playoffs begin tonight, and CBC devoting its entire primetime schedule to hockey, it seems they’re doing it again, this time to the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets and Leafs are the only two Canadian teams to make the playoffs, and even though their games both start at 7pm ET (6pm in Winnipeg, but in the playoffs you need to be either an early game or a late game), not a single one of the up to 14 games involving the two teams overlap — they’re all scheduled on different nights.

But there won’t be any Jets games on CBC, at least not until Game 5 and likely not until next round at the earliest. Instead, all Leafs games will be broadcast on CBC but all Jets games are on Sportsnet. And while the Jets are on Sportsnet, CBC viewers will get to watch the all-American Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series instead. Even those in Winnipeg.

I asked Sportsnet about the decision, and this was the response I got:

As you can imagine, there are numerous factors taken into consideration when coordinating the broadcast schedule for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In this case, with two series featuring Canadian teams in the first round, the decision was made that Sportsnet and CBC would each have the opportunity to broadcast one of those two series. Winnipeg is a key priority for Sportsnet and Sportsnet is thrilled to be broadcasting the entire Jets series to Canadians from coast-to-coast.

In other words, the Jets are on Sportsnet because Sportsnet wanted a Canadian series. Which sounds reasonable (similar to how CBC and TSN split playoff series before the Sportsnet/NHL deal) until you remember that Sportsnet controls the CBC broadcast as well.

So why keep the Jets off CBC during a time when lots of casual fans might tune in, and Sportsnet is looking to maximize ratings?

Because of money. Of the 82 regular-season Jets games, 60 are on TSN3. Casual Jets fans in Manitoba don’t have much incentive to subscribe to Sportsnet if they’re not otherwise interested in sports. So Sportsnet is hoping to drive subscriptions from those potential fans, even if it means many fans just won’t watch the games and they’ll lose potential ad revenue.

But, of course, that logic doesn’t apply to the Leafs. The Leafs are so popular that ad revenue is more important than subscription revenue. So the Leafs get CBC.

On one hand, Manitoba Jets fans should just subscribe to Sportsnet (it’s available over-the-top for $25 a month). On the other hand, this definitely does feel like a middle finger to a market that has had to suffer for a long time, and hasn’t seen a playoff game win in more than 20 years.

TVA Sports, by the way, is also not giving priority to the Jets. Of the first four matches, three will be broadcast on TVA Sports 2 because of conflicts with Flyers-Penguins or Capitals-Blue Jackets.

The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday with the Jets and Wild playing at 7pm on Sportsnet. The Leafs and Bruins play Game 1 on Thursday at 7pm on CBC. For channel assignments for these and other series, see sportsnet.ca/schedule.

Yet another “Ways to fix the Canadian Screen Awards” post

I watched Sunday’s Canadian Screen Awards. Not because I was really excited by it, but because I felt some sort of civic (and professional) duty to do so.

I’ve seen several of these, so I know what to expect. Hosts trying their best with not very good comedic material. Nominees and winners that most of the audience is unfamiliar with. Quebec movie stars feeling like fish out of water in this very English Canada environment. And overall a gala and broadcast that tries to be like the Oscars or the Emmys or even the Screen Actors Guild Awards but with much fewer resources.

The budget issue won’t change unless the CSAs become as big a spectacle as the American awards shows, and we’re pretty far from that.

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My top 2018 Olympic moments

Well, it’s over. After 16 days of competition, 29 medals for Canada and dozens of stories of triumph, heartbreak and fun (and only one DUI that we know of), the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games are over.

It was a good year for Canada. The number of total medals was a record, though when you take event inflation into account we did about as well as Sochi and Turin and a bit behind Vancouver.

There were great stories about medallists like Kim Boutin, Ted-Jan Bloemen, Alex Gough and of course Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. There were equally great stories about athletes who didn’t make the podium. And, thanks to the hard-working team at CBC Sports, we got to see as many of those stories as they could cram into their coverage.

I was glued to the Olympics, sacrificing sleep to wake up at 6am to watch competitions live. It was fun to be so caught up in it, cheering every victory and feeling for every defeat. The Olympics are big money, and for the athletes involved it’s their entire lives, but for the rest of us, it’s two weeks of entertainment before we go back to our regular day-to-day.

It might come as cold comfort to those who were expected to win and didn’t, but the Olympics are a crapshot. For most sports, the level of competition is so high that the margin for error is virtually nonexistent. And, frankly, if the results could be so well known in advance, there wouldn’t be much fun doing it in the first place.

So while not every Canadian could finish on the podium, or in the top 10, the more that achieve that level of greatness, the more chances the country has of finding success in unexpected places.

Anyway, based on my experience watching these games, here are some top (mostly Canadian) moments, in chronological order, that got me right in the feels.

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Barry Wilson returns with his Postscripts on YouTube

Barry Wilson said he wasn’t ready to retire when he was laid off in November. And on Friday he showed it by launching a YouTube version of his Postscript political opinion series.

The first video, which tackles the same subjects he did weekly on CTV Montreal, albeit shot at home and illustrated with still photos instead of video, is well produced, thanks mainly to Dave Maynard, former chief director and operations manager at CFCF.

Wilson has also launched a website and Facebook page for his new venture.

“I think the English speaking community of Quebec needs as many voices as it can get and I’m so happy to be part of the dialogue,” he explains on the website. “Quebec politics never ceases to surprise me. It is never boring. And the challenges it presents to our community are sometimes formidable. I hope my voice can continue to be part of the conversation because as I have said so many times, ‘This is our home’.”

What happens now is a good question. Can this gain a large enough audience to be viable economically? Will someone take notice and offer him a paying gig out of it? Or will it just be a side project that keeps his name in the conversation, perhaps supplemented by some freelance work that can keep the money flowing?

“This is more of a sideline than anything,” Wilson tells me. “I realized after I had been laid off that Postscript was more popular than I had even believed. It really struck a nerve with a lot of people. Bringing back an online version was Dave’s idea and we will see how it goes. Not expecting to make money with this. But it’s nice to know that (there) can be life after corporate media. It’s nice to have another voice out there for English-speaking Quebecer, especially in an election year.”

Wilson’s new Postscript, like its TV incarnation, is planned to be published every Friday, and he says he’ll try to keep to that schedule. In the meantime, he says he’s “still open to other opportunities.”

CTV Montreal adds local news updates to Your Morning (UPDATED)

Caroline Van Vlaardingen anchors her first morning news break on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.

Of Montreal’s three English-language local TV stations, CTV is the only one without any local programming. Starting Monday, they fix that with the addition of local news updates to the Toronto-based Your Morning show.

Caroline Van Vlaardingen will anchor the segments, which will be inserted into the show just before each half-hour except the last.

Your Morning, the Canada AM replacement hosted by Ben Mulroney and Anne-Marie Mediwake out of Toronto, has a segment each half hour that, in Toronto, is filled with a brief local newscast anchored by Lindsey Deluce. In other markets that don’t have local cut-ins, and on CTV News Channel, it has a local news story taken from a CTV newscast somewhere in the country. (Originally it was an additional national weather update — if you wondered why there seemed to be so much weather on Your Morning, this was why). These segments last two and a half minutes, including pre-recorded intro.

Starting Monday, Montreal adds its own local cut-ins during this segment.

It’s a far cry from a local morning show like you see on City’s Breakfast Television, and not even the two-thirds-local morning show on Global, but it’s better than nothing, or the local ticker updates that Canada AM had after CTV Montreal last had a local morning newscast or local cut-ins.

CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane didn’t want to comment beyond the press release, but I’m told that the newscast’s staff was hired internally, giving a bit more work to existing part-timers, and that the newscast will run for a three-month trial period. There is no dedicated morning reporter (though there is an overnight cameraman chasing fires and car accidents), so any overnight updates will be the anchor’s job.

This move comes just under six months after CTV Montreal and other local stations added 5pm weekday newscasts, which similarly tried to produce more local news without making significant additions to staff.

UPDATE (Feb. 20): I watched the first two episodes of Your Morning with the new local inserts, and here’s how it breaks down:

Each insert is a firm two and a half minutes:

  • The Newsbreak intro graphic that you’ve seen during afternoon commercial breaks on CTV
  • A live shot from the roof camera as the anchor begins talking about weather
  • Current weather conditions graphic (temperature, humidity, pressure, wind)
  • Between four and six local news briefs, usually about 15-20 seconds each. Almost all consist of an anchor voice-over with B-roll
  • A live shot from a remote camera showing a traffic location (it changes each day but stays the same throughout the morning), with anchor voice-over about traffic conditions
  • A five-day forecast, and if there’s time, a daily planner forecast and/or current temperatures map
  • A quick goodbye

Generally, one new brief will be inserted in each half-hour break. Often the briefs are quick recaps of news from the previous day, and sometimes new briefs that come from overnight emergencies. In one case there was a short sound clip, but otherwise it’s all voice-over and there are no packaged reports.

Videotron reaches last-minute deal to keep AMC

A month after telling subscribers it is being forced to drop AMC because it couldn’t reach a deal on renewing its contract, Videotron announced on Friday that it has reached a new deal with the popular American channel on the last business day before the channel was to be dropped.

Videotron tells me that “thanks to much effort and perseverance” it has managed to “make the voices of our clients heard.”

Details are confidential, and Videotron declined to tell me even how long their new deal is, but it says the deal “responds to the reality of our regional market” and is satisfactory to both parties. Videotron had previously suggested that AMC’s previous offer was unreasonable because it’s in a francophone market where a smaller fraction of its subscribers would be interested in such a channel.

Videotron tells me that there will be no change to AMC’s packaging. The channel is in some grandfathered theme packages, the Movie Network package, build-your-own packages (with a $2/month surcharge), or completely à la carte for $10 a month.

Thanks to the new deal, there will be a free preview for all digital cable subscribers, from Feb. 12 to 28.

AMC isn’t quite as popular as during the days of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but it still has The Walking Dead, whose new season begins Feb. 25, as well as series like Better Call Saul and Halt and Catch Fire.

UPDATE (Feb. 10): Videotron’s press release is here.

Global Montreal’s Morning News turns 5, and Corus will keep it going

Laura Casella and Kim Sullivan on a recent episode of Global News Morning

As recently as 2012, Montreal did not have a local English-language morning show on television. Now we have two — three if you include the radio-on-the-TV Daybreak broadcast on CBC. Global Montreal was first out of the gate on Jan. 28, 2013, and so today celebrates its fifth anniversary.

Or it would if today wasn’t Sunday.

Nevertheless, there’s cause for celebration, because Global’s parent company Corus Entertainment is keeping the show on the air past its original mandate, even though it’s under no obligation to.

Creating local morning news shows in markets that didn’t already have them was a promise made by Shaw Communications in 2010 when it acquired Global and the other Canwest television assets from the bankrupt company (that also used to be my employer). As part of its $180 million “tangible benefits” commitment to get the deal approved by the CRTC, Shaw promised $45 million toward adding local programming in the mornings — above the requirements in its standard licence conditions — in six markets: Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon. Toronto would get the largest slice of that pie, but Montreal was promised $5 million — or about a million dollars a year.

It took a while to get the Montreal show off the ground — the premiere two years and three months after the acquisition was approved. And even then it had some glitches, with a minimal technical staff, two anchors and a weather presenter.

The original Global Montreal morning show cast, from left: Richard Dagenais, Jessica Laventure, Camille Ross. All three have since moved on to other jobs (Dagenais is at MAtv, Laventure works at Club Med and Ross is an instructor and consultant in London, Ont.)

Tangible benefits are spread out over seven years, which means they should have been all paid out by Aug. 31, 2017. We don’t have Global’s financial report for that year yet, but the 2016 report showed $1,234,800 in spending remaining from that $5 million fund for the 2016-17 year, the largest pool of money remaining for a market.

With the expiry of the tangible benefits, the obligation of Shaw (now Corus) to continue Morning News in Montreal and the other markets ceased. If they could meet their local programming and local news requirements with remaining programming, they could shut the morning shows down.

But they haven’t.

“We’re proud of our morning show in Montreal, which continues to do well and is providing improved results in the market,” Corus told me in a statement. “We also produce more local news content (above our condition of license) above our English language competitors.”

Shaw had told the CRTC in 2010 that it expected the morning shows to keep going past the end of the commitment. Troy Reeb, VP of news for Shaw Media and now head of local news for TV and radio for Corus, told me the same at the time, saying they were striving for a sustainable model.

But it’s nice to see that they’re actually following through with the commitment, at least for now.

Global Montreal’s Morning News doesn’t have a huge audience. According to the 2016-17 season average that Corus is using to tell advertisers what to expect, the show has an average minute audience of 5,500. That’s higher than the 3,500 that City’s Breakfast Television is reporting, or the 1,000 that CBC is reporting for Daybreak on TV.

And then there’s the fact that it’s not all that local. The middle segment of every half hour comes out of Toronto, which continues to give viewers the idea that they’re watching two programs switching back and forth.

The nationalization of local news was also applied to late-night and weekend newscasts, which are anchored out of Toronto. But Global Montreal also added a local noon-hour news, becoming the first station to try challenging CTV Montreal’s noon newscast.

It’s a mixed bag. We can be furious that Global is cutting so many corners and passing off nationally-produced programming as local news, or we can be happy that making such broadcasts as lean as possible has kept them on the air.

As much as I think Morning News isn’t as good as it could be with more resources, I’d rather that than nothing.

So happy birthday.

UPDATE: Morning News marked its anniversary on the air on Monday.

Rogers pulls the plug on Viceland

The news was a long time coming, but was finally made official today: Rogers is ending its $100-million content deal with Vice Media and shutting down the Viceland television channel on March 31.

Vice, though it will regain control of its content, will face layoffs as a result. The recently formed union isn’t sure how many.

Vice still has other deals, notably with Rogers competitor Bell Media for Vice News Tonight on HBO and Much and a documentary deal with CTV’s W5. And of course it still has its online content.

Viceland Canada, formerly the Biography Channel, required significant startup investment after it launched on Feb. 29, 2016, which led to a $2.5-million loss in the 2015-16 broadcast year. In financial projections filed with the CRTC, Rogers expected a further $8-9 million loss each year for the next three years.

Presumably this means the licence for the channel would be turned in (that’s what Rogers is telling Cartt.ca), though Vice is suggesting that Viceland could continue. Another possibility might be that Bell decides to take over the rights to Viceland and rebrand one of its zombie channels like Book Television or incorporate it into a related channel like Much or MTV/MTV2. Or someone could ask the CRTC for permission to allow the American Viceland to be distributed in Canada.

More coverage from the Globe and Mail and CBC News.

UPDATE (Jan. 27): The end of the Rogers-Vice deal means job losses. The Canadian Media Guild says 23 people were given layoff notices. The fact that they’re now in a union means they have some protections.

Nirvanna the Band the Show, one of the Canadian Viceland originals, will still be produced because its deal with Vice is still valid.

Meanwhile, InfoPresse asked V about its plans for a French Viceland. V has abandoned the idea of a full-time channel, but will still produce content with Vice.

UPDATE (Feb. 15): Rogers has indeed requested the CRTC revoke the licence for Viceland.

Review: CTV’s The Launch is an interesting concept with some implementation issues

Contestant Logan Staats with mentor Shania Twain (photo: Bell Media)

If you haven’t heard about this new music competition series on CTV called The Launch, then there are some heartbroken people at Bell Media, because they’ve been pulling out all the stops promoting it.

The six-episode series (with a special seventh episode added to revisit the artists) tries something new with the singing competition format that has been tried and toyed with a dozen times. Rather than just having singers compete against each other for a record contract at the end of the series, each episode ends with a contestant’s career being launched with a new single (that’s available for download or streaming, and gets generous airtime on Bell-owned radio stations).

Based on the first episode, which aired on Wednesday, the show is divided into three roughly equal parts: the auditions, in which five artists compete to be among the two selected to record a song; the recording, in which the two finalists record a sure-to-be-a-hit pop song provided to them by a guest writer/producer; and the performance, in which both finalists perform the song live in front of an audience, and one is selected to launch with that song.

Julia Tomlinson’s audition was cut from the first episode of The Launch. (photo: Bell Media)

Those who paid attention during the first episode might be asking themselves why I said “five” above, since they only saw three auditions. Two artists, Julia Tomlinson and Alex Zaichkowski (aka Havelin), had their entire auditions cut from the episode (presumably for time), which really really sucks for them. They’re on the website, listed among the artists, and the post-episode press release even says they were in the episode, but all you saw of them was a 10-second voiceover during which it’s explained that they didn’t make it through. Their auditions are posted online at the links above if you want to see them.

In these kinds of shows, at least you can say the artists that don’t make it got some national television exposure. These two didn’t even get that.

UPDATE: I asked Bell Media about the cuts, and whether we should expect the same for future episodes. The answer, unfortunately, is yes:

THE LAUNCH is an entirely new format that has been evolving since it was greenlit. During the editing process which began after the show was shot in August, September, and October, it became obvious to our original production team that there was so much amazing footage we knew it would not fit into a conventional hour-long TV show. But we still wanted to showcase and promote all of the talent who were chosen for the series. So we made the decision to make the show a full 360 experience with audition footage of each episode’s five artists featured on ctv.ca and on YouTube and in the extended cut on CraveTV.

Alex Zaichkowski, who performs under the name Havelin (Photo: Bell Media)

Laura Heath Potter, Director of Communications for CTV, said the affected artists were advised prior to broadcast. She also noted that all the artists got to promote themselves as they promoted the series:

Bell Media has supported all 30 artists that participated in the series through interviews on national, local and radio outlets, as well as in our on air promotion campaign and digital extras on ctv.ca and paid digital promo over the past few months. We are building a new format and are grateful to have 30 Canadian artists act as ambassadors to the series and what it is attempting to accomplish — creating new original singles by Canadian artists that resonate with music fans and viewers.

Episodes are still being edited and finalized, but for all the upcoming episodes that have been through a final cut, each of the artists that have auditions being offered exclusively as part of the extended directors’ cut and separately on ctv.ca and YouTube have been informed already.

The song

One of the strengths of this series is that you see how the sausage is made. Not all pop stars write and compose their own songs. Many of them have the music and lyrics handed to them and just add their voice for a producer to mix together. That’s the case here — the song is written and ready before the panel even meets the contestant at the audition. The discussion afterward is about whether the producer can make the song work with that artist. And they have 48 hours to do so.

The song for the first episode is called The Lucky Ones, and you hear it throughout the episode so it gets stuck in your head by the end. It’s a pop song, with uninspiring lyrics like “close your eyes and hold me close tonight” (to say nothing about the misogynistic objectifying parts like “I never want to see your heart happy with another”), and a melody that doesn’t really set it apart from anything else you’ll hear on Virgin Radio. It has six writers and four producers listed for it, and … well, it sounds like a song created by committee.

As much as I’m critical of the song, it might have been good if the episode spent some more time actually introducing us to it. All we got was 15 seconds of producer busbee saying it’s about how much he loves his wife as we listened to a production demo performed by an unnamed artist.

The experts

The series has lined up a long list of music industry professionals to help the artists through the process, and each episode has its own mentor (Fergie, Alessia Cara and Boy George are among the others) and producer (most of which are Grammy … nominated). The constant presence is Scott Borchetta, one of the executive producers of the show, whose claim to fame is having discovered Taylor Swift. Having real experts gives the series some authenticity. Unfortunately Borchetta is a bit stiff on camera.

Though there’s no Simon-Cowell-type bad guy, the feedback from the panel is interesting and productive. Particularly in the middle segment in the studio, you get to see a real producer working with real artists, making sure they have the tempo right, that they’re on the right note, that they make sure to pronounce the lyrics well. It’s played up a bit for drama, but it’s interesting to watch.

The narration

Hopefully it’s just a first-episode-introduction thing, but the hour was overly narrated by a voice we’re not introduced to. (If she sounds familiar, that’s because it’s former Virgin Radio 96 announcer Andrea Collins.) There’s a lot of stating-the-obvious and repetition here that could be considerably cut down, and the narration is done in an announcer’s tone that works for a 10-second TV promo but less so for a full hour.

The format

The Launch doesn’t have gimmicks. There are no swivelling chairs, no coloured lights to indicate success or failure, there isn’t even an audience vote component. The experts choose who gets to record the song, and they choose which artist to launch at the end of the episode. (The live performance is in front of an audience, which looks odd because not one of them is holding a cellphone.) This is good for people who want to see a show about music and artists, and works to The Launch’s advantage. It’s not as glitzy and expensive as The Voice, America’s Got Talent or American Idol, but it owns that.

The editing (less oh-gosh-who-do-we-pick and more studio time and performance) and narration could use a bit of work, and the songs could be a bit more original, though these things don’t prevent us from enjoying the show.

But for goodness sake, if you’re a show about respecting artists, don’t cut entire artists out of it and make them feel stupid for promoting the episode that has so unceremoniously cut them out of it.

The Launch is an original format, and one of the big ways Bell Media head Randy Lennox has made his musical mark on CTV. I think it has some potential as a format that could be exportable elsewhere, despite its flaws. And I’ll be tuning in for the rest of the season.

The Launch airs Wednesdays at 9pm on CTV and can be watched on demand at ctv.ca.

Videotron decides AMC isn’t worth the cost

UPDATE (Feb. 9): Videotron has reached a last-minute deal to keep the channel.

It didn’t take long after Videotron started informing clients that it was dropping AMC as of Feb. 12 for those clients to start complaining.

I contacted Videotron and asked them why they’re dropping the channel, and their response was about what I expected: They just can’t meet AMC’s carriage demands.

I wrote a short story about the decision for Cartt.ca. For non-subscribers, the previous sentence summarizes Videotron’s reasoning.

It’s too expensive, AMC’s carriage demands (which aren’t just about the per-subscriber fee) are too onerous, and all this for a channel that most of its clients aren’t interested in and whose viewership has been trending downward.

We don’t know exactly what AMC’s demands are, because negotiations and carriage contracts are secret, but it’s likely there was something along the lines of a minimum penetration guarantee or penetration-based rate card, which effectively force a provider to make sure a large number of its clients subscribe to the channel.

For national providers like Bell (Videotron’s main competitor), Rogers and Shaw, AMC’s demands may be more acceptable (though I doubt any of them are happy with the conditions). But for Videotron, which operates in Quebec and has mainly a francophone audience, it looks like it just became too much.

We’ve been here before. Before Videotron finally added AMC in 2013, it was among the most requested channels by subscribers. This was back in the day when AMC’s original series were very hot: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead. Because of AMC’s contract requirements, Videotron had to add it to its most popular large packages — Anglo, Telemax and Mega — despite its high cost.

Five years later, AMC’s biggest shows are The Walking Dead, a Breaking Bad spinoff and Mad Men reruns. Not terribly impressive.

Does it make sense for Videotron to jump through so many hoops to keep this channel in their lineup?

For some customers, this will no doubt be a deal-breaker. Combined with the usual price hikes, they’ll jump ship to Bell, which still carries AMC. Videotron has taken that into account with its decision, and it still makes more sense to let AMC go.

And don’t think this is some negotiation tactic, either. AMC has all the power in this relationship, with a billion dollars in annual revenue and more than 90 million subscribers to its flagship channel in the U.S. It won’t care that much about losing a few thousand subscribers in Quebec. And besides, subscribers will blame Videotron for this, not AMC, unless Videotron says exactly what AMC was demanding, which it can’t because of confidentiality agreements.

Ideally, it wouldn’t have to be this way. In 2015, with its Wholesale Code, the CRTC made it illegal for broadcasters to impose abusive penetration-based rates or minimum revenue guarantees. But AMC is an American channel, and doesn’t have to answer to the CRTC. Though the commission said it “expects” foreign channels to abide by the same rules, and said it could use its powers to, for example, make authorization for distribution in Canada conditional upon accepting the same rules, it has yet to step in when it comes to a foreign channel’s distribution agreement.

(AMC Networks also owns IFC and the Sundance channel, but the versions of those distributed in Canada are actually Canadian channels owned by Corus, which must follow the CRTC’s rules.)

It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this. We’ll see if other Canadian providers decide they too are fed up with AMC. The same year Videotron finally added AMC, Telus was so annoyed by their negotiation tactics that it sued in a U.S. court, and negotiations with Rogers got so bad that AMC started a campaign aimed at Rogers customers. If enough of them reject it, and AMC risks being shut out of Canada, it might change its demands. But what are the chances of enough Canadian providers being willing to alienate their own customers?

CTV Montreal lays off executive producer Barry Wilson, CHOM drops Picard

Updated Nov. 16 with comment from Wilson, and news of other cuts.

Barry Wilson (CTV photo)

Barry Wilson is no longer an employee of Bell Media.

The executive producer of CTV Montreal, who viewers saw once a week during his Postscript opinion segments, has been with the station for decades, but his position has been eliminated, Bell Media confirmed to me today. Staff were told about the dismissal during the day.

“The position was eliminated as a cost-saving measure,” explains Matthew Garrow, director of communications for news and local stations at Bell Media. “Barry’s executive producer responsibilities will be assumed by (news director) Jed Kahane.”

“I worked with some of the best people in the business and am thankful for that,” Wilson told me Thursday after what he described as a “strange week.”

“It’s been a good run. Who knows what the next step is but I am not retired.”

He similarly updated his Twitter bio to say “Thanks to everyone who supported my efforts over the years. Not done yet.”

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Review: Municipal election night on English-language TV

I was busy last Sunday night, helping the Montreal Gazette put together its coverage of the Montreal municipal election. But my PVR recorded the broadcasts of three English-language television stations in the city to see how they covered the evening. Below, I offer some thoughts on how well they did, based primarily on the actual information they provided.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching an election results show, I’m looking for election results. Analysts are great for filling time, but the more data you can show me, the more races you can announce, the better.

So below, you’ll see me focus less on the in-studio analysts, who were all fine, and more on what someone would have actually learned watching the broadcast.

CBC Montreal

11:00-11:30pm (9:45-11:30pm on Facebook)

Anchor: Debra Arbec

In-studio analysts:

  • Reporter Jonathan Montpetit
  • Social media editor Molly Kohli
  • Reporter Sean Henry with results

Reporters:

  • Simon Nakonechny at Plante HQ
  • Ainslie MacLellan at Coderre HQ
  • Sabrina Marandola in Westmount
  • Kate McKenna in Pointe-Claire (Facebook broadcast only)
  • Marika Wheeler in Quebec City (Facebook broadcast only)

Reported results — ticker (top three candidates, party, vote count, polls reporting):

  • Montreal mayor
  • All Montreal borough mayors
  • All Montreal city councillors

Reported results — graphic (top 2-4 candidates, party, vote count, lead):

  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor
  • Ahuntsic-Cartierville mayor
  • Lachine mayor
  • Sud-Ouest mayor
  • Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension mayor
  • Plateau-Mont-Royal mayor
  • Montreal city council standings (leading, elected, total)
  • Dorval mayor
  • Côte-Saint-Luc mayor
  • Pointe-Claire mayor
  • Westmount mayor

The public broadcaster clearly won in the graphics department, and was the only English-language network with a lower-third ticker with live results. The ticker showed only results from the city of Montreal, but it did not only the city mayor but also borough mayors and all borough councillor races. It took about nine minutes for the top of the ticker to do the rounds of all 64 elected city council seats, so viewers got to see each race about three times.

While CBC was the only station to include Montreal city council results, it failed to include anything off the island of Montreal — no mention of Quebec City, Saguenay, or even Longueuil or Laval.

CBC was also the only one to include a live speech in their broadcast, carrying 10 uninterrupted (and untranslated) minutes of Valérie Plante’s acceptance speech to lead off the half-hour show (which had no commercial interruption).

The broadcast actually started on Facebook, where it went for an hour and 45 minutes, but still didn’t start early enough to get the Plante victory call on live. It did mention the Laval, Longueuil, Quebec City and Sherbrooke races, which didn’t get into the TV broadcast, and had live hits from Kate McKenna in Pointe-Claire and Marika Wheeler in Quebec City. And it carried Denis Coderre’s speech in full. My review here is based mainly on the television broadcast, but I’m adding this for the record.

For an election night broadcast with so many races to deal with, there was a lot of time devoted to analysis. And as much as I like listening to the soothing voice of Jonathan Montpetit, I didn’t learn much from him and Arbec repeating stuff that happened during the campaign, promises that were made and stuff that the candidates said in their speeches. Fortunately, they still managed to get a bunch of results into the broadcast, both on Facebook and TV.

Overall score: B+

CTV Montreal

11:30pm-12:04am

Anchor: Tarah Schwartz

In-studio analyst:

  • Former Westmount mayor Peter Trent

Reporters:

  • Cindy Sherwin at Plante HQ
  • Rob Lurie at Coderre HQ
  • Kelly Greig in Westmount (also reporting on Côte-St-Luc race)

Reported results (winner only unless otherwise noted):

  • Montreal mayor (with popular vote of top two)
  • Laval mayor
  • Westmount mayor
  • Côte-St-Luc mayor
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor
  • Pointe-Claire mayor
  • Montreal city council makeup by party
  • Beaconsfield mayor
  • Brossard mayor
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor
  • Quebec City mayor
  • Dorval mayor
  • Longueuil mayor

CTV Montreal is the market leader. It has the most journalists, the largest audience, the most history. So it should be expected that they would slay election night coverage.

Which makes it all the more disappointing how little actual data was provided to viewers. Not only was there no ticker, but the individual race graphics didn’t even provide vote totals or party names. Instead, they just had names and photos and a checkmark next to the winner.

Only for the Montreal mayor’s race was any vote total given in an on-screen graphic. For the rest, well you’ll just have to guess.

This is the reason people tune in to election night broadcasts, and CTV’s viewers were left horribly underserved when it came to actual data.

It was the shortest of the three broadcasts, since it had four commercial breaks, and the last to start at 11:30pm. And CTV didn’t even think it was worth bringing in one of the two main anchors on a weekend shift, leaving the duties to regular weekend anchor Tarah Schwartz.

It had the fewest live reporters, which is surprising, and just about everything about this seemed like it was phoned in.

Still, CTV’s prestige meant it got the first live interview with the mayor-elect, right at the beginning at 11:30. And its reporters were more experienced and seemed to provide more useful information.

But overall, it should be embarrassing for CTV how poorly it did compared to its competitors.

Overall score: C-

Global Montreal

11:00pm-11:57pm

Anchor: Jamie Orchard

In-studio analysts:

  • Montreal Gazette columnist Celine Cooper
  • Former city councillor Karim Boulos

Reporters:

  • Amanda Jelowicki at Plante HQ
  • Tim Sargeant at Coderre HQ (also reporting on Pointe-Claire and Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue mayor’s races)
  • Elysia Bryan-Baynes in Westmount
  • Felicia Parillo in Côte-St-Luc

Reported results (vote totals for top 2-4 candidates, percentage of vote for each, percentage of polls reporting, and indication of incumbent):

  • Montreal mayor (x4)
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor (x2)
  • Pierrefonds-Roxboro mayor (x2)
  • Westmount mayor (x5)
  • Beaconsfield mayor (x2)
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor (x2)
  • Côte-St-Luc mayor (x4)
  • Dorval mayor (x2)
  • Pointe-Claire mayor (x2)
  • Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue mayor
  • Senneville mayor (x2)
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor (x2)
  • Montreal-West mayor (x2)
  • Brossard mayor (x2)
  • Longueuil mayor (x2)
  • Saint-Lambert mayor (x2)
  • Saint-Lazare mayor
  • Laval mayor
  • Anjou mayor

There are always two ways to judge Global Montreal when compared to its competitors: judge the quality alone, as a viewer probably would, or judge how well Global did with its limited resources.

By either measure, the station did well on this night. It extended its TV broadcast to a full hour, had informative graphics, and updated results through the night, though like its competitors it focused a lot on the island of Montreal and areas immediately adjacent.

The graphics weren’t as flashy as CBC, and there was no ticker, but you got vote totals, percentages, and an indication of who the incumbent was and the amount of polls reporting. Just missing the party affiliations.

Global also conducted an interview with Plante (just after CTV’s), and made good use of analysts and reporters.

They get extra points for being the longest broadcast, having a special “Decision 2017” opening theme, and putting in the extra effort. But it would have been nice for the only station that still has transmitters in Quebec City and Sherbrooke to actually mention the mayor’s races in those cities. I know it’s not Global Quebec anymore, but I’m sure viewers there would have appreciated it.

Overall score: B+

City Montreal

No election night special. We’ll see if that changes when they start having local newscast next year. They have four years to prepare for the next municipal election (and one year to prepare for the next provincial one).

Overall score: F