It happens. There’s a major technical at the most inconvenient time, in the middle of the local news broadcast, causing the local CTV station to cut to dead air. Master Control in Toronto cuts to a commercial, and then pumps in CTV News Channel as a backup.
It seemed that was happening again on Monday, but then something unusual happened: CTV News Channel itself went off the air. And a bunch of other channels, too.
— Pauline Chan CTV Health (@TOYourHealth9) October 5, 2020
A power outage in Bell Media’s Agincourt studios, home to CTV Toronto and TSN, was the culprit. It knocked out CTV and CTV2 stations in the eastern half of the country (from Winnipeg east), as well as CTV News Network, all five TSN channels, Discovery Channel, CTV Comedy and others. Other channels, particularly the former CHUM stations based at 299 Queen St. W. downtown, like Much, CP24, CTV Drama and CTV SciFi, remained on the air throughout, as did Bell’s French-language channels.
Some digital services were also affected by the outage, which began around 5:30pm ET, and lasted until 7:30pm, with some channels not being fully back until 9pm. CTV News Channel rebroadcast CP24 for much of the evening after coming back online.
It’s unclear what exactly caused the outage in the first place, or why backup systems failed to keep CTV on the air. I suspect there will be a lot of discussions at Bell Media management and technical meetings about what went wrong.
2020 really is the year that just keeps on giving! As @LisaLaFlammeCTV explains, our main network and the CTV News channel was hit by a major power outage tonight.
— CTV National News (@CTVNationalNews) October 6, 2020
The outage is a reminder of the dangers of centralization — when all your stations are controlled through the same building, they can all be knocked off the air. But more importantly it shows that Bell Media’s contingency protocols are inadequate. An ideal system would have allowed the master control facilities at Queen West — or even better a master control facility in another city — to quickly take control of the affected channels, even if just to broadcast filler programming.
CTV undoubtedly has backup systems, but they obviously failed, either from technical or procedural fault, which means they were probably not adequately tested.
Expect that to change, at least until Bell Media forgets about this incident and needs to make more cuts to technical staff and redundancies.