Category Archives: TV

How Canadians can watch Super Bowl LIV with American ads (the 2020 guide)

Letter from CTV to TV providers, provided to me by a helpful source

The free ride is over. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that the CRTC had overstepped its authority in the way it created an exception to simultaneous substitution rules, CTV will once again be taking over the U.S. feed for the Super Bowl on Sunday for Canadian cable and satellite TV subscribers.

And that means Canadians will be looking for loopholes to get around those rules. So here they are.

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BTLR panel report sides with much more regulation of online media

We can talk about making Netflix charge GST, or phasing out ads from the CBC, or the various proposed changes to telecom policy that will have a huge financial impact for the industry but be largely invisible to end users, but the real headline out of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report released on Wednesday is this: A big expansion of government regulation in media.

I’d say this wasn’t a surprise looking at the backgrounds of the panel members, but that would be unfair. The panel was made up of legal experts with experience all over the industry, including with telecommunication providers who would be largely against these kinds of additional regulatory burdens. And, frankly, it was a surprise that they would push for this much additional regulation.

Certainly, going boldly in the other direction wasn’t an option. The terms of reference that guided the panel made it clear that the government hasn’t changed its objectives in terms of getting the industry to promote Canadian content, ensuring diversity and accessibility, protecting local news and the CBC, and ensuring that additional costs won’t be assumed (directly) by the consumer. If you have issues with those objectives, take it up with the government, not the panel.

And in any case, those 97 recommendations are in the hands of that same federal government, and it will be up to them to decide which of those recommendations to follow and which to ignore. Those recommendations that are less politically popular should get filtered out at that stage, as well as those that would be too disruptive to take the political risk.

The recommendations are summarized in various news stories about the report (CBC, Globe and Mail, Wire Report, iPolitics, Cartt.ca, The Logic, Global News, Postmedia, Toronto Star)

Here are some highlights of what the panel has proposed:

Streaming and online media

  • Make all online media subject to government oversight. Not just Netflix, but Facebook, Google, Apple, even news media websites. While they would not have to be licensed by the CRTC, the larger ones would have to at least register (and have many of the same obligations), and report confidential information. (A suggested order would make this apply only to those with more than $10 million in Canadian revenue a year.)
  • Require “curators” (media providers with editorial control over their media) to devote a portion of their content budgets to Canadian programming. (Or impose a levy where such a quota is inappropriate.)
  • Require “aggregators” and “sharers” (those without editorial control) to give a portion of their Canadian revenues to the Canadian system, including news.
  • Make foreign streaming services subject to sales tax. Quebec and Saskatchewan already do this at the provincial level, and Canadian streaming services are already subject to this, so it was kind of a no-brainer.
  • Allow the CRTC to collect data (including recommendation algorithms) from media producers and publish that data in aggregate form.
  • Require “media content undertakings” to devote portions of their catalogues to Canadian content and ensure a certain prominence to Canadian content, including in things like app stores.
  • Monitor and if necessary intervene in large media companies’ use of “Big Data” that may have privacy implications for Canadians.
  • (Carefully) establish liability for digital providers for harmful content distributed using their systems, while protecting freedom of expression.

CBC/Radio-Canada

  • Phase out all advertising within five years.
  • Set up a five-year funding guarantee for the CBC instead of having it set its budget based on parliamentary appropriations that can change with every federal budget.
  • Add “taking creative risks” to CBC’s mandate.
  • Remove specific references to radio and television from CBC’s mandate.
  • Move away from the CRTC licensing CBC’s individual services

Internet service providers

  • No new ISP tax. The panel recommended against the idea of taxing internet service directly to support Canadian media.
  • Require the CRTC to, if they deem it necessary, implement “measures to improve affordability for marginalized Canadians from diverse social locations.”

Telecommunications

  • A much larger role for the CRTC in establishing rules for how telecoms do business with each other and interconnect.
  • Give the CRTC power over “passive infrastructure” like street furniture to make it easier for telecom companies to install equipment.
  • More power to the CRTC to regulate access to telecommunications infrastructure inside large apartment and condo buildings to ensure competition.
  • Require the CRTC consult municipalities before granting permission to install telecom facilities.
  • Expand the CRTC’s jurisdiction to cover all “electronic communications services” being provided in Canada, regardless of if they’re Canadian-owned or have a presence here.
  • Direct disputes over tower sharing to the CRTC.

News media

  • Expand the federal journalism tax credit to include broadcast media.
  • Require sharing and aggregation websites like Facebook and YouTube to provide “links to the websites of Canadian sources of accurate, trusted, and reliable sources of news with a view to ensuring a diversity of voices” and require “prominence” of such links.
  • Require social media platforms abide by regulated terms of trade that balance “negotiating power” with news producers so news producers are compensated for their content being shared online.

The CRTC

  • Rename the commission the Canadian Communications Commission (which sounds a lot like a “Canadian FCC”).
  • Give the commission more powers to do market research and regulate proactively rather than based solely on industry applications.
  • Allow the commission to issue conditional and interim broadcasting decisions, fine broadcasters, and issue ex parte decisions where warranted.
  • Reduce the maximum number of commissioners to a chair, one vice-chair and seven other members, down from the current 13 total, and have all members based out of the Ottawa region.
  • Create a Public Interest Committee of experts that would “provide advice as part of the decision-making process.” The panel cites the OFCOM Consumer Panel in the U.K. as a model.
  • Create and fund an accessibility advisory committee.
  • Allow sharing of confidential information between the commission and the Competition Bureau as well as the Privacy Commissioner.
  • Synchronize rules related to powers and procedures between the telecom and broadcasting side.
  • Establish a firm 120-day deadline to review a decision when asked through an appeal by a party to it.
  • Strengthen rules that provide funding for public interest interventions in CRTC proceedings.

Production funds

  • Combine the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada, which finance TV and movie production, respectively.
  • Redirect cable and satellite companies’ required contributions to the Canada Media Fund be redirected to certified independent production funds, like the Bell Fund, Fonds Quebecor, Shaw Rocket Fund etc.

Devices

  • Make it illegal to “operate devices, equipment, or components to receive unlawfully decrypted subscription programs” online (borrowing from the anti-satellite-piracy law).
  • Make the minister of industry responsible for ensuring “communications devices and their operating systems respect security requirements, protect users’ privacy, and incorporate accessibility features.”

That’s a lot. Even if there are exemptions for small businesses, this new regulatory regime would cover a large part of the online industry. And if these new laws and the regulations that stem from them aren’t very carefully implemented, there could be a lot of undesired side-effects, including many online businesses blocking out Canada because they don’t think it’s worth going through the regulatory burden.

And even those who will participate because there’s so much money at stake (like Netflix) will certainly balk at some of the regulatory obligations like submitting their algorithms to audits. When the CRTC tried to get some basic information out of Netflix as part of its Let’s Talk TV proceeding five years ago, Netflix flat-out refused, and the commission had no power to force the company to comply, so it just gave up. Stronger laws could change that (especially if other countries have similar laws), but expect a lot of resistance.

There’s also a lot unclear about how this will affect those currently licensed by the CRTC. The proposal would change the objectives of the Broadcasting Act, and (though this isn’t laid out explicitly) remove the requirement that Canadian broadcasting be Canadian-owned. That could have serious implications if, say, it allows Bell and Corus to be bought by American media giants.

The federal government has said it plans to have legislation by the end of the year. I look forward to seeing how much of this radical change it has the stomach for, especially in a minority parliament.

Bell makes Crave bilingual, opening another front in its war with Quebecor

I regret to inform you that Bell and Quebecor are at it again.

The latest skirmish? Bell’s announcement that it is launching a French version of its Crave streaming service, or more accurately making its existing Crave service bilingual. This adds a third player to the (paid) Canadian French-language TV streaming market, joining Radio-Canada’s Tou.tv Extra and Quebecor’s Club Illico.

That sounds pretty simple, and generally good news for the market. Annoying for Quebecor, obviously, to have a new competitor, but hardly something they can complain about.

Except at the same time, Bell is doing with its Super Écran pay TV channel what it did with The Movie Network in 2018: Integrating it into Crave and forcing TV providers into a new deal to get access to Super Écran’s on-demand content for their subscribers. (Super Écran will, thankfully, keep its branding though, and be referred to as a Super Écran add-on to Crave.)

Bell has reached such deals with some providers, but not Videotron, which is calling foul because Bell has shut down Super Écran Go, through which Videotron customers subscribed to Super Écran could access its content online.

The 2018 Crave-Videotron war didn’t last too long, but it needed a $100-million lawsuit to settle. And Bell and Quebecor aren’t exactly great at negotiating these days.

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CRTC rules Bell TV unfairly packaged TVA Sports

So Quebecor was right all along.

Kinda.

In a decision published on Thursday, the CRTC ruled that Bell TV unduly showed preference to its related channel RDS to the detriment of competitor TVA Sports by choosing to put the former in its most popular package in Quebec, but not the latter.

It gives Bell until Feb. 5 to tell the commission how it will rectify the situation. The two obvious options are to either add TVA Sports to the package, or take RDS out of it.

Like most TV providers, Bell offers discretionary channels on an à la carte basis, but most people have them as part of larger packages. With Bell, these larger packages are organized in tiers: Good, Better and Best in English, and Bon, Meilleur and Mieux in French. The data show that the lowest-end package of that group is by far the more popular. In Quebec, about 90% of subscribers with one of these packages has the “Bon” package, which has RDS but not TVA Sports.

Bell had argued that its contract with Quebecor only required TVA Sports to have similar packaging to RDS2, and that even that clause doesn’t apply anymore. Quebecor, meanwhile, argued that TVA Sports has greatly transformed since it launched in 2011, and is now on par with RDS, particularly since it picked up the national rights to NHL games.

The CRTC sided with Quebecor, and said “Bell deprived TVA Sports of a significant number of subscribers and several millions of dollars per year of subscription and advertising revenues, resulting in a significant loss of income.”

Quebecor’s back-of-the-envelope calculations suggested that if Bell TV treated TVA Sports the same as RDS (including paying the same per-subscriber rate), TVA Sports would not be in deficit. The rate isn’t part of this decision, but rather was decided as part of final offer arbitration in a separate case (Quebecor is mad about that one too, since the CRTC sided with Bell).

This apparent unfairness was the major reason Quebecor decided in April to cut the TVA Sports feed from Bell, until ordered by the court to re-establish it.

We’ll see what Bell does to rectify the situation. Quebecor would obviously prefer more subscribers to TVA Sports, but Bell could choose to take RDS out of the “Bon” package instead, especially if it can get away with grandfathering those who already have it.

Bell complaint dismissed

In a separate decision also released Thursday, the CRTC also sided with Quebecor in a case over packaging of Super Écran on Videotron. The decision, in response to a Bell complaint, found that Videotron did treat Super Écran differently from Quebecor’s own Club Illico when it removed Super Écran from the “Premium” group of channels, but that there was insufficient evidence that Super Écran suffered financially because of it.

Videotron’s pick-your-own-package model, which is the main way they’re selling TV services these days, invites customers to choose a certain number of channels. Separate from that are “Premium” services that cost more. Most Videotron packages allow one or two “Premium” selections from a list of services, that used to include Super Écran and The Movie Network (now Crave), plus Super Channel, the over-the-top service Club Illico, and a package that includes FX, AMC and U.S. super stations.

Videotron removed Super Écran and Crave from the “Premium” offer after Bell increased its per-subscriber fee. It argued it was just too expensive to continue to be a throw-in like that. Instead, you have to search under “other specialties” to find them among the ethnic channels and pay an extra $17 (Super Écran) or $20 (Crave/HBO) a month.

The decision seems to suggest the issue could be revisited if Bell can prove there was significant financial impact on Super Écran as a result of this change.

Supreme Court overturns CRTC order banning ad substitution during Super Bowl

After three years of Canadian cable TV subscribers having access to American ads during the Super Bowl, we’ll be going back to the previous system after all.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the CRTC exceeded its authority when it issued an order that required cable and satellite TV companies to not substitute U.S. feeds with Canadian ones during the Super Bowl, in response to demands from Canadians to be able to watch the U.S. Super Bowl ads.

The 7-2 decision explicitly leaves open the possibility that the CRTC could use its authority under other sections of the Broadcasting Act to possibly reach the same result. The most obvious way would be under article 4(3) of the Simultaneous Substitution Regulations, which state that the CRTC can declare a condition whereby simultaneous substitution would not be in the public interest, and prohibit it accordingly.

But that won’t happen before the next Super Bowl less than two months away.

Specifically, the court found that article 9(1)h of the Broadcasting Act, the same article that allows the CRTC to require TV distributors to include certain channels in their basic packages and collect fees from every subscriber for them, “does not empower the CRTC to impose terms and conditions on the distribution of programming services generally,” and since the order the CRTC issued in 2016 does not require these companies to distribute the Super Bowl, its wording is invalid.

The article states that the CRTC may “require any licensee who is authorized to carry on a distribution undertaking to carry, on such terms and conditions as the Commission deems appropriate, programming services specified by the Commission.”

The majority found that this wording can’t be stretched to give the CRTC a bunch of powers it doesn’t say it has. The CRTC can order providers to carry certain channels, but that’s not what the Super Bowl order does.

This is notably the third time that an order issued under article 9(1)h has been rejected for this reason. Previous orders invalidated the CRTC’s “value for signal” regime that would have required providers pay for local TV stations, and a requirement for TV providers to abide by the Wholesale Code.

The court did not make decisions on other arguments, such as whether the CRTC has the power to regulate individual programs, or whether the CRTC’s order conflicts with the Copyright Act.

The two dissenting judges found that Bell and the NFL had not met their burden to prove that the CRTC decision was unreasonable, and generally deferred to the CRTC and its expertise in interpreting the section of the Broadcasting Act it was citing. It also found the CRTC’s decision was not invalidated by the Copyright Act.

The decision probably only accelerates a process that was coming anyway, as the Canadian government had already agreed as part of negotiations on a new trade agreement with the U.S. and Mexico to overturn the CRTC’s order.

And, of course, there are still other ways to watch the U.S. Super Bowl ads.

Bell lays out its plans for $20-million purchase of V network

Bell Media is proposing to bring V’s local news broadcasts in-house, but otherwise isn’t putting much substantive on the table to convince the CRTC it should be allowed to acquire the V network of television stations in Quebec for $20 million.

The CRTC published the application on Tuesday, setting a hearing date of Feb. 12 in Montreal to hear the application. Bell is proposing to buy the five V stations (CFAP-DT Quebec City, CFJP-DT Montreal, CFRS-DT Saguenay, CFKS-DT Sherbrooke and CFKM-DT Trois-Rivières), plus digital assets like Noovo.ca, but leave the specialty channels Elle Fictions (formerly MusiquePlus) and MAX (formerly Musimax) to a yet-to-be-named company owned by the current owners of V.

V’s affiliate stations in Gatineau, Abitibi, Rimouski and Rivière-du-Loup, owned by RNC Media and Télé Inter-Rives, are unaffected by the transaction, and Bell says it intends to renew its affiliation agreements with them when they expire in 2020.

In the brief included in the application, Bell and V say the conventional TV network is continuing to lose money, despite the ratings gains it has generated and the synergies from owning two specialty channels (which Bell had to sell off to get its acquisition of Astral Media approved in 2013). Groupe V Média says it has lost almost $7 million in the past two years.

“For a small independent broadcaster in the Quebec market, these losses cannot be supported and have begun to have an impact on its other services,” the application says.

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CRTC questions Bell TV’s community programming practices

Four years after the CRTC found Videotron failed to comply with its obligations related to community television programming, the commission is taking a very critical look at Bell Canada’s community TV services, with questions suggesting it is concerned Bell is inappropriately redirecting funding that was supposed to go to community TV in small Atlantic Canadian communities toward large productions out of Toronto and Montreal that are essentially spinoff shows of commercial productions that air on Bell Media TV channels.

In a notice of consultation posted last month, the commission published applications for licence renewal for Bell Fibe and Bell Aliant TV services in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec. The applications, which include 42 documents, shows repeated rounds of questions over two years about Bell’s community TV operations, which operate under the Bell TV1 brand (formerly Bell Local).

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Canadian NHL TV broadcast schedules for 2019-20

With days to go before the first preseason games, the regional TV broadcasters for Canada’s seven NHL teams have released their schedules, and we now have an almost full accounting of where every game will be broadcast.

There are few changes from last year. The regional broadcasters for each team are the same (Sportsnet for the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, TSN for the Jets, Senators and Canadiens, and both for the Leafs) and the splits are about the same, with between 36 and 40 national games where Sportsnet also has the regional rights, and between 22 and 32 national games for teams where Sportsnet doesn’t.

Here’s the national/regional split by team:

  • Canucks: 36/46
  • Oilers: 40/42
  • Flames: 39/43
  • Jets: 22/60
  • Leafs: 40/42
  • Senators (English): 27/55
  • Senators (French): 30/52
  • Canadiens (English): 32/50
  • Canadiens (French): 22/60

In French, TVA Sports retains national rights and RDS still has the regional rights for the Canadiens and Senators.

But that could change next season. The Flames and Oilers TV and radio contracts are up in 2020. And though it would be a surprise if Sportsnet didn’t renew its TV rights, there might be a fight for the Oilers’ radio contract, currently held by Corus’s CHED, against Bell Media’s TSN Radio.

Here’s how it all breaks down per team.

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Citytv cancels Breakfast Television Montreal

(Updated with social media posts from on-air talent)

Breakfast Television Montreal is no more. Staff were informed just after Thursday’s show that it was their last one.

Eight jobs will be lost as a result of the cancellation. It leaves 41 Rogers Media employees in Montreal — 21 at CityNews and OMNI, and 20 in sales.

“This decision was very difficult, but at the end of the day, the show was not sustainable,” an emailed statement quoted Colette Watson, SVP of Television & Broadcast Operations, Rogers Media, as saying. “We remain deeply committed to the local market in Montreal and are redirecting resources to our news presence in Montreal at CityNews and OMNI Television with Italian news and the launch of a national third-language newscast next year in support of our OMNI 9(1)(h) licence. We recognize and thank all employees who worked at BT Montreal over the years for their incredible work and commitment and making mornings brighter for our viewers.”

BT Montreal had just celebrated its sixth anniversary.

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Sportsnet, TSN, BeIN, DAZN — Is sports TV getting too expensive?

If you only follow the big North American sports and only care about your local team, you might not be familiar with DAZN. But if you watch the English Premier League, one of the top leagues of international soccer, you’ve had to become very familiar with them this month.

Though the deal was announced in April, it was only when the season started on Aug. 9 that Canadians started really noticing that their EPL games are no longer available on TV. Instead, they have to shell out $20 a month for DAZN, a two-year-old streaming service. And they have to figure out how to get that streaming service to work on their TVs.

For many people, it was complicated and expensive, so they wrote in to their local newspaper and asked it to write about the problem. And that local newspaper turned to me.

In Saturday’s Gazette, I have a story about DAZN’s new deal for the EPL, and talk to a bar owner and a stay-at-home fan about what it’s meant for them. I also talk to DAZN itself about how they’re keeping their fans satisfied after botching the rollout of NFL games in 2017.

You can read the story for all of that fun stuff. But I also asked Norm Lem, SVP of revenue at DAZN Canada, about what he sees as the future of sports broadcasting in general, as consumers have seen prices go up and the number of services they have to subscribe to increase. I also asked him if we should expect DAZN to bid for something bigger, like rights to Canadian NHL matches, Blue Jays, Raptors or CFL.

Here’s what he had to say.

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Deep dive: Exploring the features of Videotron’s new Helix platform

Videotron CEO Jean-François Pruneau and Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau pose for cameras at the launch of Helix at Videotron headquarters in Montreal on Aug. 27, 2019.

After 18 months of development and testing among 3,000 of its employees, Videotron launched its Helix IPTV platform on Tuesday.

Based on Comcast’s X1 platform, Helix joins the Ignite TV platform by Rogers and the Blue Sky TV platform by Shaw, also based on the same technology. Three of Canada’s four largest cable companies (Cogeco uses a TiVo-based system) now have products that can compete with Bell’s Fibe TV, offering features like restart (watch a currently airing or recently aired program that was not recorded) or cloud-based PVR.

I went to Tuesday’s launch event to report on it for Cartt.ca, and asked the people there a bunch of really technical questions. Here, based on their answers and my own opinions, is some analysis of the features in the new Helix system:

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Bell reaches deal to buy V network

Megacorporation BCE has filled one of the holes in its vast media empire, announcing this morning it has reached an agreement to purchase Quebec’s French-language V network of television stations, along with its video platform noovo.ca.

The deal, whose financial terms were not disclosed (but will be when it gets to the CRTC), does not include V’s specialty channels, ELLE Fictions (formerly MusiquePlus) and MAX (formerly Musimax). That’s because those channels were originally sold to V by Bell as a condition of getting regulatory approval for Bell’s purchase of Astral Media in 2013.

Bell buying V has been one of those transactions that’s been rumoured for a long time. Bell doesn’t own a conventional television network in French, but it does own many French-language specialty channels. V, though it has undergone a renaissance since the Rémillard brothers bought it from Cogeco in 2008, is still a struggling network trying to find a way to make money going up against the Quebecor-powered TVA and taxpayer-funded Radio-Canada.

It’s far from certain Bell will convince the CRTC to approve the deal. Though the addition of the V network would not increase subscription revenues, which Quebecor has fiercely complained about, it would add significantly to Bell’s audience share, which is how the CRTC judges market dominance in television.

According to Numeris data, V has about a 7% share overall among Quebec francophones. TVA has a 24% share, and Bell’s CTV a 1% share. Quebecor’s specialty channels, which include TVA Sports, LCN, CASA and Yoopa, have a 13% share, and Bell’s specialty channels a 16% share.

Overall:

  • Quebecor: 37%
  • Bell: 17%
  • V (not including specialty): 7%
  • Bell + V after transaction: 24%

The CRTC is normally inclined to approve transactions when the combined market share is less than 35%, but I suspect they’ll take a closer look at this anyway.

Expect some serious opposition from Quebecor to this deal, and from CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau in particular.

A net good, or a net bad?

For opponents of vertical integration, this deal seems bad, putting yet another independent broadcaster in the hands of one of the big players. After the disappearance of Astral and Serdy as independent players in the Quebec French-language marketplace, consumer choice is getting more and more restricted.

But Bell’s big pockets could also revitalize V and make it a more formidable competitor to Quebecor’s TVA. Under Bell, V would presumably no longer get special treatment from the CRTC, meaning it would probably see an increase in its requirements for local news and would no longer be eligible for its $3 million share of the $22-million Independent Local News Fund, which would be reallocated to other independent stations like CHCH, NTV, CHEK, and affiliates owned by Pattison, Thunder Bay, Télé Inter-Rives and RNC Media. (The fund will be up for re-evaluation in 2021.)

It’s not clear if V would have survived without this transaction (or will if it’s denied). In Bell’s press release, Maxime Rémillard talks about needing to “ensure the continuity of this success”:

“After 10 years of ensuring V’s success as an independent conventional channel, I am proud to have found in Bell Media a partner to ensure the continuity of this success,” said Maxime Rémillard, President and Founder, Groupe V Média. “The industry in which we are evolving is constantly, deeply and rapidly changing. This was true when we took over the reins of TQS and allowed the network to survive; it is all the more true today. As it is increasingly difficult to ensure the sustainability of a conventional channel within a non-integrated group, I have made the best decision for the future of V. Bell Media will certainly allow V to continue to evolve and reach out to the Québec public on a massive scale.”

There’s also the question of what happens to the two specialty channels if this deal goes through. On one hand, being specialty-only might be good for the bottom line, because specialty channels generally make more than conventional ones. On the other hand, V loses its biggest marketing vehicle, and its specialty channels are hovering around the break-even point, according to CRTC data.

V owns the following five stations:

  • CFJP-DT Montreal
  • CFAP-DT Quebec City
  • CFKM-DT Trois-Rivières
  • CFKS-DT Sherbrooke
  • CFRS-DT Saguenay

In addition, there are three affiliates of V owned by other companies that are not part of this transaction, but would benefit from changes in network programming and from re-allocation of the Independent Local News Fund:

RNC Media:

  • CFGS-DT Gatineau
  • CFVS-DT Val-d’Or

Télé Inter-Rives:

  • CFTF-DT Rivière-du-Loup

The transaction requires CRTC approval, and likely that of the Competition Bureau, before it can close. Once the CRTC application is published, it will be open to public comment.

UPDATE: Try to contain your shock at the news that Quebecor doesn’t like this deal.

See also: Some analysis from the Globe and Mail’s Konrad Yakabuski.

Highlights from the Canadian TV 2019-20 upfronts

Last week, Bell Media was the last of the major English-language broadcasters to present their fall schedules to the public and advertisers. The big sells are the new (mostly American) series they’re adding to their primetime schedules. I haven’t seen any of them, so let’s instead focus on everything else that was announced and that I find interesting:

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CRTC renews OMNI for three years, rejects 6½ other proposals to replace it

The CRTC has reached a decision on what will replace OMNI. And it’s OMNI.

In a decision released Thursday, accompanied by a press release, the commission found that “Rogers’ proposed service, along with its associated commitments, best meets the needs and interests of Canada’s diverse population and the criteria established by the Commission, and is the most likely to ensure an exceptional contribution to the fulfillment of the objectives of the (Broadcasting) Act.”

The commission will therefore renew OMNI’s licence, but with “no expectation of renewal” beyond that, and only for three years, until 2023, when the mandatory distribution status of OMNI and other services with that status like CPAC, APTN and AMI, will be reviewed at the same time.

In its application, Rogers proposed that the new OMNI would have half-hour daily national newscasts in six languages: Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese, and local newscasts (for Toronto, Alberta and Vancouver) in Punjabi and Mandarin. Rogers told me it also planned to replace the current national Italian newscast, produced out of Montreal, with regional ones in Montreal and Toronto. The licence doesn’t specify the languages of programming, leaving that decision up to Rogers.

OMNI, which has TV stations in Toronto (two), Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, is broken up into four regions: B.C., Prairies, East (Ontario and Atlantic Canada) and Quebec. The Quebec feed is administered by ICI (CFHD-DT), an independent ethnic TV station in Montreal that was born out of Rogers’ conversion of CJNT into City Montreal. Though Rogers doesn’t directly control ICI, the two are closely connected.

Most of the other applicants didn’t propose regional feeds, over-the-air transmitters or local programming.

The commission has set the mandatory wholesale fee for the new OMNI, which begins Sept. 1, 2020, at $0.19 per month, up from its current $0.12 per month (but still less than some other applicants had proposed.) Rogers had requested a rate that started at $0.19 but ramped up to $0.21, but the CRTC found that $0.19 was sufficient. The decision states that the choice of OMNI was in part because of the proposed wholesale rate and the “balance” of that versus the programming commitments made.

OMNI’s commitments will be higher than they currently are, and higher than originally proposed as well:

  • Canadian programming expenditures: 60% of gross revenues (up from 50% originally proposed and 40% currently)
  • Canadian content on the schedule: 70% of the broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 70% from 6pm to midnight (up from 55% currently)
  • Programs of National Interest (scripted drama/comedy, documentary, award shows): 5% of revenues (up from 2.5% currently), all of which must go to independent production companies
  • Independent productions: 12 hours a week on each of the B.C., Prairies and Eastern feeds (including 2 hours produced from each of Manitoba/Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada), and 14 hours a week of local original independent productions on ICI.
  • 100% ethnic programming (up from 80% proposed and currently) on the Rogers-controlled feeds, and 90% on ICI.
  • 80% third-language programming (up from 50% proposed and currently) on the Rogers feeds, and 60% on ICI.
  • Programming for 20 different ethnic groups and 20 different languages a month (same as currently; 18 and 15 respectively on ICI), with a limit of 16% for any one foreign language.
  • Six hours a week of original local newscasts in Vancouver, Calgary/Edmonton and Toronto (an improvement off local current affairs show obligations).
  • Six daily first-run national half-hour newscasts, seven days a week, in six different languages (up from four languages currently).
  • At least 40% of gross revenues spent on news.
  • Provide for ICI: 3 hours of original, local, ethnic programming in French each week and 1.5 hours of original, local, French-language programming and 30 minutes of local original English-language programming each week.

The licence also requires Rogers to:

  • Limit U.S. programming to 10% of the schedule each month
  • Maintain advisory councils for each regional feed, and require they approve the programming schedules and independent producers
  • Spend $60,000 a year on “scholarship initiatives that support ethnic and third-language post-secondary students majoring in journalism,” as chosen by the advisory councils
  • Maintain operation of the five over-the-air OMNI stations throughout the licence period
  • Solicit local advertising only in markets where OMNI over-the-air stations operate
  • Derive no profit from OMNI, and reinvest any surplus back into OMNI

Rogers will have until Sept. 1, 2020, to put those increased commitments into place. Until then, the existing licence still applies.

Shockingly, the CRTC’s decision includes absolutely zero analysis of the seven other applications to replace OMNI with a different service. It merely states that it had to choose one and OMNI was the best one. Did the commission feel the Ethnic Channels Group’s idea of multiple audio feeds in different languages was feasible? Was it impressed by the ambitious goals set by Amber Broadcasting? Did it think the application from Montreal-based non-profit ICTV was realistic? We have no idea. The other applicants are only mentioned once, in a listing of the applications at the beginning of the decision.

With the increase in the wholesale rate, here’s how much of your monthly TV bill will go to mandatory services, starting in September 2020:

English-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-tv: $0.20
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • RDI: $0.10
  • TV5/Unis: $0.24
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.51

French-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-télé: $0.28
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • CBC News Network: $0.15
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • TV5/Unis: $0.28
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.68

Meanwhile, the CRTC has administratively renewed the licence for ICI until 2020, which will simplify things as far as new conditions of licence related to its agreement with OMNI.

UPDATE: Rogers has issued a statement saying it is happy with the decision and will announce more specific plans “in the coming months.”