Quebecor’s decision to pull TVA Sports from Bell TV sparked a war of words, with both sides making claims (TVA’s more publicly), some of them contradictory. Who’s right and who’s wrong in this battle? I’ll do my best to break down some of those arguments below, and update this as more come to light:
Updated April 12 with court ruling and TVA Sports returning to Bell TV
Ce n'était pas du bluff. Tva Sports non disponible sur Bell. pic.twitter.com/ivPJbid5R8
— Antoine Deshaies (@antoinedeshaies) April 10, 2019
Four days after it threatened Bell subscribers with on-air messages, TVA pulled TVA Sports from Bell TV on Wednesday at 7pm, as scheduled, the start time for the NHL playoffs.
Bell immediately announced that it would make Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360, which with CBC and City comprise all the channels carrying NHL playoff games, free for subscribers “temporarily.”
Québecor refuse l’accès à sa chaîne TVA Sports aux clients Bell Télé. C’est une mesure illégale. Bell veut s’assurer que les fans de hockey puissent regarder les séries et offre temporairement les chaînes Sportsnet, Sportsnet One et Sportsnet 360 sans frais supplémentaires.
— Bell (@Bell_FR) April 10, 2019
Quebecor, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it was disappointed it couldn’t reach a deal.
On Thursday, the CRTC announced that it was calling Groupe TVA to a hearing in Gatineau on April 17 to explain itself, and threatened to either issue a mandatory order (which would be enforceable in federal court) or even suspend TVA Sports’s broadcasting licence in light of the decision to ignore its warnings about pulling service during a dispute.
In court, as Bell tried to get a court injunction for TVA to stop what it’s doing, Quebecor lawyers offered a truce, to bring back the channel at 6pm and maintain it until April 23 as the two sides negotiate with the help of the CRTC. Bell accepted on condition that TVA Sports accept a court order requiring the re-establishing of the signal, but Quebecor refused that condition.
On Friday, the court granted Bell’s request for an injunction, ordering TVA Sports re-established on Bell TV by 6pm, but did not order Quebecor to cease its “Fair Value” campaign, which Bell says is false and defamatory. TVA complied with the request, and TVA Sports returned to Bell TV by 6pm.
In addition to ensuring Bell TV subscribers could get access to NHL playoff games, Bell Media acquired the rights to two additional Montreal Impact MLS games, another TVA Sports exclusivity, so they can be broadcast on TSN. That pushed the date of the next Impact game only broadcast on TVA Sports to April 28. Bell TV had said it would make TSN also available for free for Montreal Impact fans.
Bell customers got a pretty scary-looking message during the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game Saturday night on TVA Sports: The sports channel, which has the French-language rights to all NHL playoff games, will be removed from Bell TV as a way for Bell to “punish” those subscribers.
TVA also aired the graphic during La Voix, Quebec’s most popular TV show, on Sunday.
Bell said not only is this message not true, it would be against CRTC regulations. The CRTC wrote to both parties twice to say that during their dispute, TVA is required to keep offering its channels to Bell and Bell is required to keep distributing them.
TVA said it doesn’t care, it’s pulling its signal anyway. Which means this dispute will quickly escalate in the legal and regulatory sphere.
Except it’s already escalated there, because this is a battle being fought on multiple fronts:
- An existing CRTC process in which TVA complains of unfair treatment (currently in the reply phase)
- A TVA lawsuit against Bell demanding compensation for its unfair packaging
- A Bell request for injunction against TVA demanding the signal be returned
- An emergency CRTC hearing called for next week in which TVA has been ordered to explain itself
- Direct negotiations between Bell and TVA to reach a deal on carriage
- TVA’s media campaign and Bell’s press releases in response, fighting in the public arena
- Pierre Karl Péladeau’s lobbying of federal politicians to make changes to the CRTC’s dispute resolution process
- Programming changes at Bell Media and packaging changes at Bell TV to mitigate the loss of TVA Sports for Bell customers
How long Bell customers will actually be without TVA Sports is anyone’s guess. But TVA says it’s prepared to do whatever it takes.
(You can read more about my interview with TVA chief operating officer Martin Picard in this story at Cartt.ca, but I have lots of details below about the conflict.)
Two years after requesting to shut down more than 40 over-the-air retransmitters of CTV and CTV2 stations as part of its licence renewal, Bell Media has applied to the CRTC to shut down more than 28 more of them, saying they have little viewership, provide no original programming and are expensive to maintain.
The application published on Monday includes six transmitters Bell Media said it wanted to shut down in places like Swift Current and Flin Flon during the process to reconsider its licence renewal.
If this application is approved, Bell Media will have dropped from 126 transmitters for its CTV and CTV2 stations before 2016 to under 50.
“With the increased focus on the financing, production and distribution of programming content, signal distribution through a repeater network is becoming an increasingly lower priority and an outmoded business model as Canadians have other ways to access television programming,” Bell Media says in its application.
The shutdowns are being prompted by the federal government’s new DTV transition plan, which will require stations to change channels to free up spectrum that is being auctioned to wireless providers. Consistent with that plan, Bell plans for the shutdowns to occur mostly in 2021.
These are the transmitters Bell is proposing shutting down, along with their dates, their transmitter power (maximum ERP) and the population in their coverage area, according to Bell Media’s estimates.
Rebroadcasters of CJCH-DT Halifax and CJCB-TV Sydney (CTV Atlantic):
- CJCB-TV-3 Dingwall, 3 December 2021 (64W, 785 people)
- CJCH-TV-3 Valley Colchester County, 3 December 2021 (150W, 32,957 people)
- CJCH-TV-4 Bridgetown, 3 December 2021 (58W, 3,823 people)
Rebroadcasters of CKCW-DT Moncton and CKLT-DT Saint John (CTV Atlantic)
- CKAM-TV-3 Blackville, 3 December 2021 (88W, 2,884 people)
- CKAM-TV-4 Doaktown, 3 December 2021 (22W, 1,409 people)
- CKLT-TV-2 Boiestown, 3 December 2021 (24W, 904 people)
Rebroadcasters of CJOH-DT Ottawa (CTV):
- CJOH-TV-47 Pembroke, 2 May 2020 (492,000W, 75,388 people)
- CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto, 9 October 2020 (100,000W, 436,141 people)
Rebroadcaster of CKCO-DT Kitchener (CTV):
- CKCO-TV-3 Oil Springs, 2 May 2020 (846W, 293,703 people)
Rebroadcaster of CKNY-TV North Bay (CTV Northern Ontario):
- CKNY-TV-11 Huntsville, 9 October 2020 (325,000W, 174,627 people)
Rebroadcaster of CITO-TV Timmins (CTV Northern Ontario):
- CITO-TV-2 Kearns, 3 December 2021 (325,000W, 88,472 people)
Rebroadcasters of CKY-DT Winnipeg (CTV):
- CKYA-TV Fisher Branch, 16 July 2021 (62,000W, 15,759 people)
- CKYD-TV Dauphin, 16 July 2021 (140,000W, 30,897 people)
- CKYF-TV Flin Flon, 16 July 2021 (2,060W, 7,762 people)
- CKYP-TV The Pas, 16 July 2021 (2,130W, 9,996 people)
Rebroadcasters of CKCK-DT Regina (CTV):
- CKMC-TV Swift Current, 26 February 2021 (100,000W, 29,035 people)
- CKMJ-TV Marquis (Moose Jaw), 26 February 2021 (98,000W, 87,838 people)
Rebroadcasters of CFQC-DT Saskatoon (CTV):
- CFQC-TV-1 Stranraer, 26 February 2021 (100,000W, 36,546 people)
- CFQC-TV-2 North Battleford, 26 February 2021 (30,300W, 39,686 people)
Rebroadcasters of CFRN-DT Edmonton (CTV):
- CFRN-TV-3 WhiteCourt, 26 February 2021 (17,900W, 32,832 people)
- CFRN-TV-4 Ashmont, 26 February 2021 (26,650W, 23,673 people)
- CFRN-TV-5 Lac La Biche, 26 February 2021 (8,656W, 9,149 people)
- CFRN-TV-7 Lougheed, 26 February 2021 (21,000W, 9,752 people)
- CFRN-TV-12 Athabasca, 26 February 2021 (3,300W, 9,621 people)
- CFRN-TV-9 Slave Lake, 16 July 2021 (840W, 9,683 people)
Rebroadcasters of CFCN-DT Calgary, Alta. (CTV):
- CFCN-TV-15 Invermere, 26 February 2021 (10W, 4,843 people)
- CFCN-TV-9 Cranbrook, 26 February 2021 (446W, 43,765 people)
- CFCN-TV-10 Fernie, 26 February 2021 (23W, 6,568 people)
The application requires CRTC approval because it amends licences for stations these transmitters rebroadcast from. But the CRTC hasn’t been pushing the networks to keep retransmitters running. Instead, it’s more focused on preserving local stations with original programming.
UPDATE: The application drew six interventions from individuals during the open comment period. Bell’s reply was a single page, reiterating why it has taken the decision and adding this:
While we appreciate the concerns expressed by the intervenors, we would like to reiterate that the majority of these shutdowns will not occur before February 2021. Further, our Application is fully compliant with existing Commission policy.
UPDATE (July 30): The commission has approved the request, saying it can’t force Bell Media to keep operating the transmitters:
… licences such as those held by Bell Media are authorizations to broadcast, not obligations to do so. This mean that, while the Commission has the discretion to refuse to revoke broadcasting licences, even on application from a licensee, it cannot generally direct a licensee to continue to operate its transmitters.
There are quite a few eulogies to MusiquePlus this week in various media, after news came out that owner V will be replacing it this summer with a women’s movie channel. (Many news stories talked about it going “off the air” or being “shut down forever”, when neither is true. The only thing really changing that has any connection to its former life is the name.)
The eulogies tend to fall along the same lines, remembering the personalities the channel built up, the live music performances, the interviews with big stars, the excitement of debuting a new song or video. Then they go on to acknowledge that most people can get their music videos on YouTube these days and have no need for a channel that runs them on an endless loop.
There’s a few problems with this logic, though. For one thing, there is demand for such a channel. As I’m writing this my TV is on Stingray’s PalmarèsADISQ music video channel, which is an automated channel that runs nothing but francophone music videos. It doesn’t have live music or video jockeys, though.
And that’s what we really miss about MusiquePlus. It’s not the music videos, it’s everything else related to music.
But live music is expensive to produce. So while it may have worked as a weekly special occasion on a cable channel 20 years ago, it doesn’t make sense any more on Quebec television.
Which would make sense if you didn’t watch Quebec television, and conveniently ignored that the most popular francophone program on Quebec TV right now, with more than 2 million viewers a week, is a singing competition show.
I looked through the TV schedule for next week, and here are shows I found that are directly music-related:
- La Voix (TVA, Sunday 7pm)
- Virtuose (ARTV, Monday 10:30pm)
- The Launch (VRAK, Wednesday 8pm)
- En direct de l’univers (Radio-Canada, Saturday 7pm)
- Pour l’amour du country (ARTV, Saturday 7pm)
- La vie secrète des chansons (TV5, Saturday 8:15pm)
- Belle et Bum (Télé-Québec, Saturday 9pm)
That doesn’t include general talent competition shows, cultural current affairs shows, dance shows, community television, talk shows featuring musicians as guests or one-off documentaries.
Music is still very present on television. What’s changed is more subtle than that, and has various factors. Music videos aren’t the money-maker they once were. TV channels have to work harder to gain audiences. Automation in TV production, and the job cuts that followed, have made it easier to just run content produced elsewhere than create original live studio programming. Corporate consolidation has led to more caution and a focus more on big-money highly-promoted “event” programming and less on the daily grind that will be mostly forgettable and not reusable, even if it can occasionally create unexpected gems.
I honestly don’t know if someone really committed to bringing back the essence of MusiquePlus (or MuchMusic on the English side, for that matter) could make it financially viable. MP didn’t make money when it was sold in the Bell-Astral merger, and V paid very little for it. If anyone felt they could step in and make it work, they had ample opportunity. And nothing it stopping anyone from creating a TV or online channel that does all of what MP used to do. They might even convince V to sell them the brand, since they won’t be using it anymore.
It’s sad that we’re losing MP’s history (they’re apparently in talks to preserve archives), but from music videos to live performances to interviews and critiques, the programming we found on it still exists.
It just no longer exists all in one place. And we don’t have Véronique Cloutier, Rebecca Makonnen and Geneviève Borne tying it all together.
It was the third year in a row that Bell Media was stuck in its impossible position: One of the biggest television events of the year and half its audience is watching it on a channel it doesn’t control because those people want desperately to avoid Bell Media’s advertisements.
Though the USMCA specifically requires the abolishment of the CRTC’s special rule forbidding simultaneous substitution during the Super Bowl (the Trump administration added it at the request of the NFL, which would see the value of the Canadian rights to the NFL drop significantly if the rule were kept in place), the new trade deal hasn’t been ratified, and the commission isn’t going to act until it is.
If the USMCA is ratified this year (which is a big if), this could be the last time Canadians watching on cable will get to see big-budget ads from T-Mobile and other advertisers that have no interest in Canada.
I followed both the Canadian (TSN5) and U.S. (WCAX-TV Burlington) versions of the Super Bowl broadcast live to compare the two. Bell had no plans for a watch-to-win contest or other gimmick to get Canadians to tune in to its broadcast, and there weren’t many big announcements about big-budget Canadian ads (Bell pointed to one featuring Michael Bublé, but that ad also aired in the U.S.), so I was curious about the quality of the ads that would be broadcast.
Here is a playlist of all the ads I could find on YouTube that aired on CFCF-DT Montreal during the Super Bowl game (between kickoff and the end of the game, when the simsub exception applies).
Some of the ads were Super Bowl ads that appeared on both sides of the border, including one for Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, an Olay commercial featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar, a Colgate ad with Luke Wilson, an ad for Persil ProClean, a teaser for the Amazon Prime series Hanna (which aired simultaneously in both countries) and a 30-second version of a Budweiser ad touting renewable energy.
For just the Super Bowl-style new ads that appeared only on the Canadian broadcast, you can follow this playlist.
Among the Canadian-only ads that tried something new for the Super Bowl:
I never used to watch French TV. Even in the days of analog cable, we’d skip past Radio-Canada, TVA and TQS to get to CTV, CBC and Global. Wouldn’t even bother seeing what’s on. It was in French, and we didn’t want to watch it.
There were a few reasons for this. One, my French comprehension wasn’t quite good enough at a young age to be able to properly understand the fast-talking faces on screen. The fact that many of these series were primarily dialogue-driven (faute de moyens, as they say) made it worse. But perhaps just as important, I was disconnected from the culture. I didn’t get the popular references, I didn’t know the actors, and I wasn’t familiar with the series.
It changed about 10 years ago. I can’t point to a specific moment, or even say why it happened exactly or what the first show I watched was. But it started not long after I moved into a building where all my neighbours were francophones. Combined with writing this blog and covering media including francophone media, I got exposed to a lot more French than before — reading it, speaking it, understanding it.
Nowadays, French-language TV is a large part of my (rather gluttonous) TV-watching diet. A lot of it is low-budget and has horrible writing. But as American TV has reached its so-called golden age, Canadian TV in both languages has also dramatically improved in writing and production quality, at least at the high end.
Watching French TV has given me a lot more insight into Quebec culture, in addition to providing conversation material for the extended (francophone) family get-togethers on New Year’s Day. It’s something I wanted more people to be exposed to, especially as the idea of “two solitudes” in Quebec seems to persist despite how much of both sides of it understand the other language.
So with that in mind I proposed an idea to the Gazette, which was quickly accepted, to compile a list of suggestions of French TV series for bilingual anglophones to check out. A Top 15 list of French TV series is published in Saturday’s Culture section.
Initially, my plan was to look at series that could serve as gateways for anglos. Series without too much complex, fast-talking dialogue or cultural references. And I didn’t restrict it to fictional series either. But in the end the suggestions were all works of fiction, almost all of them dramas, and heavily weighted to more recent series. And some of these series might not be easiest for people who struggle in French (pro tip: turn on closed captioning. I still have to rely on it sometimes when I can’t make out a key word that was spoken).
As part of the effort to unite the languages, I reached out to some experts for suggestions. Three were kind enough to offer them: Marc-André Lemieux from the Journal de Montréal, Amélie Gaudreau from Le Devoir, and Thérèse Parisien from 98.5 FM and C’est juste de la TV. All three watch TV for a living, so they know what they’re talking about.
I also got plenty of suggestions from Twitter in response to this tweet. As well as several responses from anglos who wanted to take note of those suggestions, which is encouraging.
I intentionally left off Tout le monde en parle, the Sunday night talk show on Radio-Canada, which I think is a special case because it’s big enough to be newsworthy in itself. But I included a bonus mention of C’est juste de la TV, which offers TV suggestions and reviews on a weekly basis.
If I were to suggest other non-fiction series, I would suggest hospital documentary series De Garde 24/7, Radio-Canada’s Enquête, En direct de l’univers, and whatever Véronique Cloutier’s latest variety show is.
Feel free to suggest more series, fiction, non-fiction or other, in the comments. And like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, at least try some before you decide you don’t like it.
Quebec’s television industry is about to lose a voice.
On Monday, the CRTC approved the proposed acquisition of Groupe Serdy, owner of French-language specialty channels Évasion (travel) and Zeste (food) by Quebecor’s Groupe TVA for $21 million.
The acquisition was challenged by V, on the grounds that TVA already has too much power in the market, but the CRTC said the increased market share would be minimal, and in any case still lower than the 45% limit above which it would normally deny such applications.
The application to transfer the licences was supported by dozens of interveners, including many producers.
In addition to $1.8 million in tangible benefits, split between the Canada Media Fund, the Quebecor Fund and Telefilm Canada’s Talent Fund, the transaction will also result in an increase in Canadian spending quotas for both channels, as they’re integrated into the TVA group licence. Évasion must spend 40% of its revenues on Canadian content, while Zeste has no quota. As a condition of approval, both must now come up to the TVA group quota of 45%. And 15% of their revenues must be spent on “programs of national interest” (scripted drama and comedy, documentary and award shows) for the TVA group.
A similar transaction, involving Bell attempting to buy Historia and Séries+ from Corus, was blocked by the Competition Bureau.
It was a nice try from the English Language Arts Network, but the CRTC didn’t bite. In renewing Télé-Québec’s broadcasting licence for a five-year term on Tuesday, the commission turned down ELAN’s request that Quebec’s public broadcaster devote 10% of its programming budget to English-language programming (proportional to the number of anglophones in the province).
ELAN pointed to Ontario’s creation of TFO, a francophone equivalent of TVO, as precedent for having bilingual public broadcasters. But the commission was unconvinced.
“The creation and operation of TFO in Ontario is a decision of the Government of Ontario,” the commission wrote. “Provinces have the opportunity to put in place educational television stations in both official languages for their citizens if they wish.”
Télé-Québec argued its programming was reflective of all Quebecers, including anglophone Quebecers, in the topics discussed if not the language it is discussed in.
ELAN also asked for “a policy and an action plan relating to Quebec’s diversity”, a 20% quota on programming reflecting minorities, and an advisory committee. The CRTC said the demands were “beyond the scope of this licence renewal process” and should be dealt with at a policy hearing.
Other interest groups also sought quotas or commitments from Télé-Québec. Producers wanted more spending on scripted programming, children’s programming and original French-language programming, a Quebec City group wanted a 10% quota on programming from Quebec City, and ADISQ wanted an expectation related to music.
The commission turned those down, but did add a purposely vague expectation related to regional programming: “The Commission expects the licensee to make use of independent producers from all of Quebec’s regions in such a way that producers from the regions outside the Montréal Census Metropolitan Area, as well as producers from the Montréal CMA, are proportionally contributing to the production of programs broadcast on CIVM-DT Montréal.”
It also allowed Télé-Québec to extend its target audience for youth programming to include teenagers ages 12-17.
Télé-Québec has 17 over-the-air transmitters across the province, but even though they mostly carry different callsigns, they are all formally licensed as retransmitters of the Montreal station, and the programming carried on all of them is identical.
Its new licence expires Aug. 31, 2024.
I don’t have that much original to say about Randy Tieman, who died unexpectedly at the age of 64. For that matter, neither do most of his colleagues.
It’s not because he was unliked, or kept to himself, or hid his private life. The exact opposite, in fact. It’s because with Tieman, what you saw was what you got. He was a fun guy who loved to have fun, was passionate about sports (particularly baseball and football), and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.
Last year, when he was fired from his job as sports anchor at CTV Montreal, he took the news in stride. He didn’t get angry at his former employer. Instead, he worried about his former colleagues who were also let go, and weren’t as ready as he was to start retirement.
That’s just the kind of guy he was. So when you see tweets and Facebook posts and it seems like they’re all saying the same thing, that’s why. He wasn’t an act for the camera, he was really like that in person.
It’s very sad that he didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy his retirement. It’s also unfortunate that we’ll never get to see what he looked like without that moustache. A few years ago I thought it might make a good charity fundraiser to auction off the rights to shave it.
Mostly, I guess, because his upper lip was the only thing he kept hidden.
A service was held Friday, Nov. 23 at 4pm at Munro & Morris Funeral Homes Ltd., 46 Oak St., Lancaster, Ont.
UPDATE (Nov. 20): Stu Cowan writes about Tieman in a Gazette column. And the Canadiens paid tribute during a commercial break during the first period of Monday’s game at the Bell Centre.
— Joey Alfieri (@joeyalfieri) November 20, 2018
Eight years after Shaw promised the CRTC it would upgrade Global TV’s network of over-the-air television transmitters to digital, Corus says it wants to abandon that plan before its completion and shut down 44 of Global’s 93 transmitters across the country, including 24 that have already been converted to digital.
In an application filed last week with the commission, Corus explains that the affected rebroadcasting transmitters “generate no incremental revenue, and attract little to no added viewership for Corus. They are also costly to maintain, and we expect expenses to increase as a result of the Government of Canada’s re-allotment plan for the 600 MHz band.”
In 2010, when Shaw purchased the television assets of Canwest Global, part of the tangible benefits proposal to get the CRTC approve the sale was to allocate $23 million to convert 67 analog TV transmitters to digital, in markets small enough to not be included in the mandatory analog-to-digital conversion. Those transmitters were mostly inherited from stations under previous ownership, and are unequally distributed. The two B.C. stations have 37 transmitters between them, and there are 17 for the two stations in Atlantic Canada.
Global is composed of 16 licensed stations with a total of 93 transmitters.
UPDATE (Dec. 14): A deal has been reached. See below.
I regret to inform you that Bell and Quebecor are at it again.
On Nov. 1, Bell announced that Crave TV and The Movie Network have effectively merged, and Crave is now accessible to anyone subscribed to TMN. Anyone, that is, who isn’t subscribed through Videotron.
In what Videotron has been telling consumers is a “disagreement” (and is implying is entirely Bell’s fault), Videotron and its tens or hundreds of thousands of TMN subscribers have been deprived of this access through crave.ca and the Crave app.
I asked both sides why for a story published at Cartt.ca. Videotron declined to comment, while Bell did the same but not before telling me that it has filed copyright and trademark infringement claims against Videotron for continuing to use video-on-demand content it has no rights for. Bell says Videotron has no VOD rights to Crave/TMN/HBO Canada content, which makes their continued offering of it through Videotron’s Illico On Demand and Illico Web platforms an act of piracy.
According to the statement of claim filed at federal court (which I had to have a courthouse clerk print out from his computer because our legal system is still ridiculous), Bell is claiming damages of at least $20,000 per work for about 2,700 works (individual episodes and movies) or “not less than $100 million.”
Bell’s claim — which Videotron hasn’t responded to yet; it has until Dec. 5 — states that Bell’s distribution agreement with Videotron for The Movie Network was terminated by Videotron in 2016, and the two have been in discussions since. This August, Bell presented an offer to Videotron to keep distributing the new Crave, which Videotron neither accepted nor rejected. On Oct. 16, Bell gave Videotron a 10-day deadline, saying if it didn’t accept a new offer it would no longer be permitted to offer video-on-demand content from Crave after Oct. 31.
Videotron said it was considering its options, but again neither accepted nor rejected the offer.
The deadline passed, and Oct. 31 passed, so on Nov. 2 Bell filed its lawsuit. The lawsuit specifically targets Videotron’s video-on-demand programming for TMN/HBO Canada through Videotron’s Channel 900 VOD system, the Illico app and Videotron’s website. Distribution of the linear channels of TMN (now Crave) and HBO Canada are covered by the CRTC’s standstill rule and so Videotron can keep distributing them legally.
It’s frustrating for Videotron customers, who have been continually inconvenienced by the failure of these two groups to reach a deal. The VOD deal for TMN and HBO Canada was a first step forward, followed by the deal for TSN and RDS. Other Bell Media services, like CTV, Discovery and Space, still don’t have deals with Videotron, so their subscribers still can’t access CTV GO and related services. Rather than taking steps forward, they’re taking steps back.
The offers and contracts are confidential, so we have no idea which side is being unreasonable here. Two previous distribution deals between the two went to CRTC arbitration (TVA Sports on Bell and RDS on Videotron), and the commission sided once with either side.
On one hand, Videotron is trying to get the best deal for its subscribers, who are mostly francophone and have less interest in anglophone TV content (that’s important because many distribution deals factor in total subscribers regardless of whether they’re subscribed to a particular service). And they’re negotiating against a company that is also their direct competitor as a TV service provider. On the other hand, Bell only seems to have this problem with Videotron. Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Cogeco and others have successfully reached deals with them.
Hopefully a settlement is reached quickly in this dispute, and hopefully changes follow so that distribution agreements are less complicated and don’t require such extensive negotiations. In the meantime, Videotron subscribers continue to deal with an incomplete offer of services.
UPDATE (Dec. 14): Bell and Videotron have reached an agreement over the distribution of Crave, and Videotron is now a participating service provider listed on crave.ca. I don’t have further details, but Videotron has raised the price of Crave and Super Écran, from $15 each to $20 and $17 a month, respectively. They’ve also been removed from the “premium” category of packages, which means you can’t include them in a build-your-own package that includes premium channels, without paying $15 extra.
The lawsuit will be withdrawn.
CityNews didn’t hide the fact that its local newscasts would be repetitive. In fact, they spun it as a design feature: few people will watch a full one-hour newscast, so it makes sense to make sure the top local stories are repeated so people get them whether they tune in at 6pm or 6:30pm.
But it also means the news can be done on the cheap. With only two full-time reporters to start, plus a part-time reporter, BT’s news reporter and a guest contributor, they just don’t have enough staff to fill 14 one-hour newscasts a week.
To get an idea of what that means quantitatively, I recorded the first 14 episodes of CityNews Montreal’s newscast, the week of Sept. 3-9, at 6pm and 11pm, and timed its segments (705 segments total, with 13 attributes of each marked down). Here’s what stuck out to me:
Sportsnet Now, the over-the-top service that Rogers is making available to people without a cable TV subscription, is expanding with a new premium tier called Sportsnet Now+.
At the same time, the price of the basic tier is dropping, from $25 a month to $20. It remains free for people who subscribe to Sportsnet channels through a TV provider that has a deal with Sportsnet (most of them do now). The higher tier is $28 a month.
Here’s the difference between the two.
Sportsnet Now (basic tier), $19.99/month
As before, this tier offers live programming you would normally get on Sportsnet regional channels, Sportsnet One (including the Canucks, Flames and Oilers overflow channels) and Sportsnet 360. It also includes Hockey Night in Canada games that air on CBC and Citytv on Saturday nights.
All nationally-broadcast NHL games are included, as well as regional NHL games where Sportsnet is the regional broadcaster (Canucks, Flames, Oilers and 16 Leafs games) for people in that region.
This service is free if you have a Sportsnet subscription to all the channels through a participating provider.
Sportsnet Now+, $27.99/month
The premium tier includes everything in the basic tier, plus additional European league soccer games and 64-125 more NHL games, depending on region.
Specifically, the tier removes blackouts on games broadcast by Sportsnet in another region, except where that game is also broadcast by another broadcaster (i.e. TSN) in that region.
It does not remove blackouts on TSN games, which means it won’t expand access to Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens games.
- Tonight’s home opener where the Canadiens play the L.A. Kings isn’t available on either tier anywhere in the country
- Tonight’s Oilers-Bruins game on Sportsnet West is available in Alberta on Sportsnet Now and in the rest of the country on Sportsnet Now+
- The Oct. 23 game where the Canadiens (TSN2) play the Calgary Flames (Sportsnet Flames) is available in Alberta and Saskatchewan on Sportsnet Now and in B.C., Manitoba and most of Ontario on Sportsnet Now+. The latter will see only the Flames broadcast. People in the Canadiens’ region won’t be able to see the game at all on Sportsnet.
For U.S.-only matchups, only games broadcast on Sportsnet will be available on either tier.
In short, this new tier would be useful for, say, a Canucks, Flames or Oilers fan in Toronto, who would get access to all their games (except one Flames game against the Leafs, which TSN has rights to in Toronto).
For everyone else wanting out-of-market games online, Rogers NHL Live ($30 a month or $200 for the season) is still the only option. That includes national games and out-of-market games but not in-market games.
Sportsnet Now launched two years ago, becoming the first to offer a major sports subscription for people without cable. TSN followed with its of $25/month offer, and the basic tier price reduction may put pressure on TSN to lower its over-the-top price.
There does not appear to be any option for people with regular TV subscriptions to Sportsnet to get a discounted upgrade to Sportsnet Now+.
Election nights are always fun. All hands on deck, at night on the tightest of deadlines, working together to report on the story of the year.
Each medium has its own challenges, but TV has the highest stakes. Everyone’s watching — including the politicians — and seconds count. Make an early call that turns out to be right, and you get supreme bragging rights. Get it wrong, and you’re a laughingstock. And you have to fill hours of programming, usually without even the benefit of a commercial break.
Four TV networks broadcast live election specials during primetime on Monday night on their local TV stations and all-news networks — Radio-Canada, TVA, CBC and CTV. Two others had live wrap-ups at 11pm: Citytv and Global.
— Steve Faguy (@fagsteinlive) October 2, 2018
I checked in with all of them on election night (though I was busy with helping put out a newspaper), and reviewed recordings of the four English networks after the fact. (I’ll leave it to my francophone colleagues to review how RadCan and TVA did.) Here’s how they did:
The NHL season begins tonight, and that means yet another year of WTF-why-is-my-Canadiens-game-blacked-out pleas on social media and email.
So once again the Gazette asked me to put together a full 82-game schedule listing what channels each game is on (we’re also making printable letter-sized versions available). It was printed in Tuesday’s paper, which had a lot of other news content as well. The story next to it is mainly an interview with Bryan Mudryk, TSN’s new play-by-play man for (most of) their Canadiens games this season.
I also spoke with Paul Graham, TSN’s executive producer of live events. He was on the phone in Helsinki at the time, signing new agreements for international hockey. (He took the time to remind me that TSN airs far more hockey than ever before, even though it doesn’t have the Wednesday night national games and first-round playoff series that it did before the Rogers deal.)
Just before I hung up with him, I asked Graham about why we don’t see more pregame and postgame Canadiens programming during the TSN regional games, like we see on RDS and TVA Sports.
“In our minds for the most part we already have a pregame show, and it’s That’s Hockey,” he said. “It’s just not specific to one team.”
The exception is in Winnipeg, “mostly based on time zone.” Because it’s an hour behind and its home games generally start an hour later, it will have its own version of the program on TSN3.
But producing separate Leafs, Senators and Canadiens pregame and postgame shows wouldn’t be worth the cost because people don’t really care about that stuff, he said.
“What we found, quite honestly, from a research perspective, is that when you talk about post-game shows, they’re really there for the die-hard fans, that most people just watch the game and they’re done. And so what we try to do is we try to get to SportsCentre as quickly as possible. And still include key elements of what you would hear in a post-game show anyways, which would be comments from our broadcasters that did the game, dressing room post-game comments from, in this case, John Lu, and then our hosts on SportsCentre, if the story dictates it for that night, going a little bit longer on one particular item. So there’s no real plan to have a specific Montreal Canadiens pregame show or specific Canadiens postgame show. We think that we service that already with That’s Hockey before and with SportsCentre afterwards.”
RDS and TVA Sports go pretty hard with local pregame and postgame with the Canadiens (and almost nothing with their Senators broadcasts). But their ratings data shows it’s hard to keep fans tuned in. They’re lucky if even half of those who tuned in during the game stay for the postgame show. And with TSN’s Canadiens regional broadcasts getting less than 200,000 viewers (the average was 123,000 last season, but the Canadiens sucked really bad that year), there’s just not enough of a critical mass to warrant it.
Not much new, but a bit more Lu
I asked Graham if we should expect any other big changes for the Canadiens broadcasts this season. For the most part, it’ll be the same as last year. The supporting cast of analysts (Dave Poulin, Mike Johnson, Craig Button) and studio hosts (Tessa Bonhomme, Glenn Schiiler, Pierre LeBrun) will be the same. But “we’re looking to incorporate more TSN-specific programming in intermission” such as the Insider Trading segment with experts like Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger.
“(Reporter) John Lu will be front and centre at a lot of games that originate in Montreal,” Graham added.
I also asked him what he sees happening when TSN’s rights deal expires in 2022. While regional rights deals for Canadian NHL teams were quickly gobbled up following the national Sportsnet deal, the Canadiens’ English-language rights seemed to be of less interest. First Sportsnet grabbed it for three years (the first time all 82 Canadiens games were televised in English), then TSN for five.
|Team||English TV||French TV||English radio||French radio|
|(National)||Sportsnet (2026)||TVA Sports (2026)||N/A||N/A|
|Vancouver Canucks||Sportsnet Pacific (2023)||None||Sportsnet 650 (2022)||None|
|Edmonton Oilers||Sportsnet West (2020)||None||Corus/CHED (2020)||None|
|Calgary Flames||Sportsnet West (2020)||None||Sportsnet 960 (2020)||None|
|Winnipeg Jets||TSN3 (2021)||None||TSN 1290 (2021)||None|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||TSN4||None||TSN 1050||None|
|Sportsnet Ontario||Sportsnet 590|
|Ottawa Senators||TSN5 (2026)||RDS (2026)||TSN 1200 (2026)||Unique FM (via Bell)|
|Montreal Canadiens||TSN2 (2022)||RDS (2026)||TSN 690 (2022)||Cogeco (2019)|
|Laval Rocket (AHL)||None||RDS||TSN 690||91.9 Sports (2022)|
Graham pointed out that TSN shares resources with RDS, which allows them to make the broadcasts more efficient. And with Bell having a share in ownership of the Canadiens, they have an interest in keeping the relationship going.
“At the end of the day, along with our Bell ownership, we’re confident that Montreal will get better, and we’re confident that we’re going to be part of this for a long time,” he said. “I can’t see any situation in the immediate future, even when we get past the five years, where we wouldn’t be involved.”
Mudryk gives back
I didn’t have space to get into this in the story, but Mudryk is known for his charity work in addition to his on-air talents. The Bryan Mudryk Golf Classic has gone on for 15 years now, inspired by his own battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (i.e. the non-Koivu version). While he’s going to have a busy year with a lot of travelling (his life so far has been mainly going back and forth between his hotel, the Bell Centre and the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard), he’s ready for requests from charitable organizations to host their events, and he wants to help.
“I’m not just saying that to get a good quote in your paper,” he said, which is good because I didn’t get the quote in the paper. “I’m saying it because I mean it. If I have the time and it works out in my schedule I’m always there to help worthwhile causes.”
I could probably insert a joke here about the Canadiens being the biggest cause needing help right now.
Status quo on Sportsnet
As far as Sportsnet is concerned, not much has changed in their plans. Hockey Night in Canada (with the Leafs generally on CBC and the Canadiens generally on Citytv, it seems), Wednesday Night Hockey and Hometown Hockey on Sundays. It’ll be Bob Cole’s 50th and last season as a play-by-play announcer, and he’s starting it with the Habs’ game on Saturday.
Sportsnet is also bringing in the weekly Twitter broadcast Ice Surfing, after a pilot episode last season. The show will follow games playing that night with some live action but also commentary and conversation.