Category Archives: My articles

Radio-Canada drops its last private affiliate TV station, forcing it to close

An era is going to end on Aug. 31. One that might not matter much as the nature of television changes.

CKRT-DT, a television station based in Rivière-du-Loup, ends its affiliation with ICI Radio-Canada Télé on that date. The public broadcaster has decided it will not renew the agreement, much like it did for CKRN-DT in Abitibi-Témiscamingue in 2018. And like with CKRN, the owner of CKRT has decided it has no other choice than to shut the station down.

I learned of this through a CRTC application filed by CKRT’s owner Télé Inter-Rives, which also owns a Noovo affiliate and two TVA affiliates serving eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick. The group wants to redirect the funding CKRT receives from the Independent Local News Fund to the Noovo station, which would see its local news obligations increase as a result.

I talk about that application in this article for Cartt.ca subscribers.

If the CRTC approves the application (it approved a similar one for CKRN), it would mean not that much changes. There would still be local TV news in Rivière-du-Loup, and most people would still be served by Radio-Canada’s station in Rimouski, whose Téléjournal Est-du-Québec covers the region.

There would be a loss of service over the air, though. CKRT has two transmitters in Rivière-du-Loup (the second covers some holes in the downtown signal), and five others in Baie-St-Paul, Dégelis, Cabano, St-Urbain and Trois-Pistoles. All were upgraded to digital by Télé Inter-Rives, though they had no obligation to do so outside of Rivière-du-Loup.

CBC/Radio-Canada decided in 2012 it was no longer interested in operating over-the-air transmitters except for originating local stations. And that policy move is part of the reason for dropping this affiliation. Spokesperson Marc Pichette told me that the industry has shifted to a place where “over-the-air television is no longer considered an adequate and efficient means to offer our content to Canadians.”

A long list of former affiliates

A lot of TV stations have previously been affiliates of CBC or Radio-Canada. One by one those affiliations dropped. Some were by the request of the station, which decided to switch to a private network (especially after they became owned by the same company as that network), while others were dropped by the public broadcaster because it no longer made sense to them.

Here are those who lost their affiliations since 2005:

CBC

  • CKX-TV Brandon, Man.Shut down in 2009 after CTV decided it no longer wanted to pay to keep it open, and CBC refused to buy it for $1, then two other companies — Shaw and Bluepoint Investment Corp. — both decided to buy it and then reneged on the deal.
  • CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C., and CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. — Were bought by Bell Media in 2013 as part of the Astral acquisition and dropped their CBC affiliations in 2016 to switch to CTV Two.
  • CFJC-TV Kamloops, B.C., CHAT-TV Medicine Hat, Alta., and CKPG-TV Prince George, B.C. — Owned by Pattison Media, they dropped their CBC affiliations and switched to Canwest’s E! network. When that network went bust in 2009, they switched again to Citytv.
  • CHBC-DT Kelowna and CHCA-TV Red Deer — Dropped CBC affiliation in 2005 to switch to Canwest’s CH network, later E!. When that went down in 2009, CHBC was the only station to be switched to Global — it’s now known as Global Okanagan. CHCA was shut down.
  • CKWS-TV Kingston, CHEX-TV Peterborough and CHEX-TV-2 Oshawa, Ont. — Owned by Corus before it bought Global from Shaw, they switched to CTV affiliation in 2015 then became Global stations in 2018.*
  • CKSA-DT Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. — Owned by Newcap and since bought by Stingray, it lost its CBC affiliation in 2016. It switched to become a Global affiliate, as its sister station in the same city is already a CTV affiliate.
  • CKPR-DT Thunder Bay, Ont. — This Dougall Media station ended its CBC affiliation in 2014 and became a CTV affiliate. Its sister station CHFD-DT was a former CTV affiliate that switched to Global in 2010 after it couldn’t reach a renewal deal with CTV.

Radio-Canada

  • CKTV-TV Saguenay, CKSH-TV Sherbrooke and CKTM-TV Trois-Rivières — Owned by Cogeco, they were sold to CBC/Radio-Canada in 2008 and became Radio-Canada stations. These were the last TV stations ever purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada.
  • CKRN-DT Rouyn-Noranda — Owned by RNC Media, shut down when Radio-Canada ended its affiliation deal in 2018.
  • CKRT-DT Rivière-du-Loup — Owned by Télé Inter-Rives, set to shut down Aug. 31, 2021.

To recap:

  • 3 stations purchased by CBC/Radio-Canada
  • 2 stations becoming CTV Two stations (owned by Bell Media)
  • 4 stations becoming Global stations (owned by Corus)
  • 3 stations becoming Citytv affiliates (owned by Pattison Media)
  • 2 stations becoming CTV affiliates (owned by Stingray and Dougall Media)
  • 3 stations shut down

*Corrected, thanks Tim!

What radio executives say about the future of their industry

Late last year, I was asked by my editor at Cartt.ca to write a feature story about branding in commercial radio, to be tied to the CRTC’s review of its commercial radio policy. That story ended up turning into a 10-part series for the website called The Future of Radio, in which I talk to some radio industry executives about how and where things are going.

Here are links to the individual stories (for Cartt.ca subscribers), and below are some point-form comments about the things I learned through this project:

The series

The sources

I spoke to several radio executives for about an hour each for this series, and each conversation was quite insightful. Thanks to them for agreeing to take part:

  • Troy Reeb, Executive Vice President Broadcast Networks, Corus Entertainment
  • Steve Jones, Senior Vice-President Radio, Stingray
  • Rod Schween, President, Jim Pattison Broadcast Group (since renamed Pattison Media)
  • Jon Pole, President, My Broadcasting Corp.
  • Julie Adam, Senior Vice-President of TV & Broadcast, Rogers Sports & Media
  • Kevin Desjardins, President, Canadian Association of Broadcasters

(I tried to get an executive at Bell Media to participate, but things have been a bit chaotic there lately.)

By design, I’ve spoken to people high up at larger national and regional broadcasters, and these stories reflect their views, but those are far from the only voices that deserve to be heard about radio. As the CRTC process continues (replies are due this week), we’ll hear more from groups that are critical of the big players.

The lessons

Some of the things I heard from several radio executives during our talks:

  • Radio brands are boring for a reason. They often include the frequency and the format, or some generic branding like Kiss or Move or The Beat. You need listeners to be able to remember your brand when they fill out radio surveys by Numeris (which is how it’s done in all but the five largest markets).
  • Creating common brands allows for synergy. But it’s not always about common programming. It’s also about saving money on things like imaging — those station ID jingles and promos. When you only have to design a logo or website once for multiple markets, you can save money but also invest more to get better quality and share those costs across multiple stations.
  • Expect more blending of syndication and local. For small-market stations, it just doesn’t make financial sense to have local announcers 24/7. In some, it doesn’t even make much sense to have a local morning show. So big broadcasters are taking a well-produced syndicated or national show and blending it with local news, traffic and weather. We’re also seeing popular morning shows from some markets being edited and repackaged to be used in other markets in the evenings.
  • Moving toward a Canadian radio star system. Both Bell and Corus have created national overnight talk shows for their talk stations, replacing syndicated U.S. programming like Coast to Coast, and other broadcasters are looking at doing their own thing instead of bringing in foreign shows. If they’re going to spend money anyway, they reason, why not spend it on some of their own talent, and give them a larger national audience?
  • The peak hour is getting later. It’s hard to say how much of this will be reversed when we fully emerge from the pandemic, but the peak hour for radio has shifted from about 7am to 8am as people who aren’t commuting don’t have to get up as early. We’re also seeing more listening throughout the day, instead of people abruptly dropping off once their car is in the office parking lot.
  • Radio will follow the platforms. Most broadcasters have kind of given up on trying to create their own digital ecosystems. Instead, they’ll adapt their content to whatever platform people are using. They’ve started up podcast networks, combined forces on the RadioPlayer app (with Bell as the notable exception), and signed up to work on smart speakers. They’re posting to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and whatever else will come next.
  • AM is not the future. It’s not dead yet, and AM stations still rate well in some markets, but the broadcasters aren’t betting on its future. There are no more AM stations in Quebec outside Montreal. Where bandwidth and regulations permit, stations have switched from AM to FM across the country. CBC is replacing low-power AM transmitters with FM ones. And the big players want to be able to move their AM stations to FM as well without having to give up their FM music stations. As a transition measure, HD Radio transmitters in large markets have allowed the big guys to simulcast AM on FM HD, but that’s not a long-term solution, because…
  • Neither is HD Radio. After the disaster that was Digital Audio Broadcasting in the 1990s and early 2000s, broadcasters are hesitant to adopt HD Radio, the technology principally used in the U.S. After a few years of experimentation, there isn’t much hope for its future, for the same reason as DAB failed: A lack of receivers. HD Radio still isn’t as common in cars as it should be, and receivers outside of cars are just about nonexistent. There’s potential for the technology for niche ethnic stations (and some ethnic broadcasters are using digital-only channels for single-language programming) but it’s nowhere close to mainstream. The fact that it’s confusing as well — to tune to CJAD 800 you have to go to 107.3 FM HD Channel 2? — doesn’t help. By the time this might get fixed up, or a new digital technology emerges, it will be easier to deliver audio programming over the internet. (Shout-out to radio broadcast manufacturer Nautel, though, which proposed a very unworkable national network of HD-only stations that would have channels in multiple languages.)
  • But maybe smart speakers. There was a noticeable uptick in smart speaker listening as people stayed home during the pandemic (and realized they don’t have other radio receivers at home). There was a big worry that as people went toward internet-based devices for their audio needs, they might choose things like Spotify over local radio. So there’s a big effort to ensure smart speakers tune to radio first.
  • Don’t expect a Canadian Spotify. I asked several of the executives, if they’re getting all this unfair competition from Spotify and Apple Music and the rest, why don’t they just launch competing platforms? The answer is they lack the scale to make it profitable. The technology wouldn’t be difficult to implement, but even with tariffs that the music industry has mocked as laughably low, Spotify and its peers struggle to make money, and there isn’t much hope a Bell or Rogers version would be more successful. Quebecor is trying with its QUB Musique app, and Stingray has several streaming music channels, but otherwise everyone is sticking with radio, even digital-only radio channels (which, because the user does not control the playlist, has a different tariff scheme).
  • The industry wants more consolidation. One issue brought up in filings to the commission is its limits on local ownership — currently 3-4 stations depending on market size, and no more than two on any one band in any language. The CAB has proposed a new formula that would allow some broadcasters to own up to half the stations in a market. Bell wants to eliminate ownership limits completely. Allowing AM stations to move to FM is an excuse given, but others say radio needs to have fewer owners to be more competitive. (The change isn’t just supported by the big guys, but several smaller owners also agree with consolidation because it means more potential buyers for their stations, which increases their value.)
  • Paperwork is a big problem. Both large and small broadcasters spend a lot of human resources just meeting the CRTC’s reporting requirements. In some cases, they’re necessary, like providing annual financial statements or lists of songs they have broadcast. In other cases, they’re redundant or of limited use. Some broadcasters proposed ways of cutting the paperwork burden, but many told me they just wish the CRTC was itself more efficient, processed applications more quickly, and wasn’t such a bottleneck in plans to launch, acquire or change stations.

There were also plenty of things that weren’t surprising. Broadcasters want lower quotas (dropping CanCon to 25% of songs from 35%), interest groups want quotas maintained. Big broadcasters want fewer regulations for themselves and more for their foreign digital-only competitors.

And, despite everything, everyone believes that radio has a future. Because otherwise they wouldn’t be in the game.

Bell Media shuts down TSN Radio in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton

Just when we thought the worst was over, Bell Media on Tuesday abruptly pulled the plug on three of its seven TSN Radio stations — CKST 1040 in Vancouver, CFRW 1290 in Winnipeg and CKOC 1150 in Hamilton — to replace them with new, cheaper formats.

Ya Bloomberg’d it

The Hamilton station has already adopted its new brand, BNN Bloomberg 1150, copying a format at CFTE 1410 i Vancouver — itself a former TSN Radio station — that relies on a mix of audio from BNN’s television channel, content from Bloomberg and some random repurposed Bell Media content like CTV News, the Evan Solomon Show and Amanda Lang’s podcast. There was nothing said about local programming and a Bell Media spokesperson didn’t answer when I asked if there would be any.

Funny story

The two other stations said they would announce their new format simultaneously on Friday (at 9am CT and 7am PT), but thanks to a memo from Bell Media President Wade Oosterman, we already know they will adopt the “Funny” standup comedy format that he described as successful even though the existing Funny stations — CKMX 1060 in Calgary and CHAM 820 in Hamilton — have poor ratings, and the third station to run with that brand shut down in 2016.

CKMX is in last place in Calgary with a 0.8% share, and CHAM is second-last in Hamilton with a 0.6% share. The only station rated lower than CHAM? TSN Radio, now BNN.

So don’t expect the ratings to go up with this move. Instead, expect the expenses to go down as they no longer need local programming of any kind.

690 survives

The other four TSN Radio stations — CFRN 1260 in Edmonton, CHUM 1050 in Toronto, CFGO 1200 in Ottawa and CKGM 690 in Montreal — survived the axe. Those stations have varying ratings — 0.9%, 0.4%, 3.1% and 3.5% market shares according to their latest books — but they have other reasons for staying. Montreal and Ottawa have the rights to their local NHL teams and are the only English-language sports radio stations in their markets. Toronto is Toronto, and has plenty of local sports content to go around, including half the Leafs schedule.

Why Edmonton still exists while Vancouver and Winnipeg got yanked is a bit beyond me. Edmonton doesn’t have the rights to either the Oilers or whatever the CFL team will be renaming itself (both of those air on Corus’s 630 CHED), and its ratings aren’t stellar.

(Edmonton was nevertheless hit by layoffs, including Corey Graham)

It’s also worth noting that Bell Media gave up the rights to the Winnipeg Jets to CJOB in December, even though it had a year left on its deal, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

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All-Canadian division makes Hockey Night in Canada scheduling easier for Sportsnet

Hockey is back. And this time, it’s all-Canadian.

Because of the pandemic complicating cross-border travel, the National Hockey League has put its seven Canadian teams into its own division for the 2020-… err, 2021 season. That means more Habs-Leafs games, more Habs-Jets games, more Habs-Canucks games, and no Habs-Bruins or Habs-Sabres or Habs-Capitals games at all before the playoffs.

Not only is this good news ratings-wise for Sportsnet, which likes the all-Canadian matchups and Habs-Leafs in particular, but it’s also good news production-wise, because it means there’s a maximum of three games on Saturday nights featuring Canadian teams, and (unless two of them go long into overtime) no more than two at a time.

So for Hockey Night in Canada this year, Sportsnet can show everything using just CBC and Citytv, and we won’t see any games shuffled to Sportsnet One or Sportsnet 360 when there’s too many scheduling conflicts. This also means Sportsnet has released its entire season schedule with channel assignments, rather than leaving the decision of what channel to put a particular game on up to a few weeks before when it can gauge how excited fans are about the team and what other events it has to show that night.

For Canadiens fans, I’ve put together my annual full-season broadcast schedule, which appears in Saturday’s Montreal Gazette. The story online also includes printable schedules if you want a more portable guide. And I’ve updated my out-of-region viewing guide, for those who face blackouts when trying to watch the Canadiens on TV from western Canada and most of Ontario.

Most of the information is the same (the on-air talent hasn’t changed either), but here’s what’s different this season:

  • It’s a 56-game schedule instead of an 82-game schedule. The splits of national vs. regional games is pro-rated, so Sportsnet gets 22 national Habs games (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday evenings) and TSN gets 34 regional games, while TVA Sports gets 15 national Habs games (Saturday nights, plus Wednesday’s season opener) and RDS gets 41 regional ones.
  • The Winnipeg Jets have a new radio broadcaster: CJOB has won the rights from TSN Radio. All other broadcasters remain the same for the other six teams.
  • UPDATE: Rogers has announced that subscribers to Sportsnet NOW+, the premium tier of its streaming service, will have access to NHL Live and get out-of-market games as well. SN NOW costs $35 a month or $20.83 if you pay for the whole year. Since it also includes all Sportsnet channels, it means you’ll get all NHL games except those available locally on TSN.

Radio ratings: The Beat, Virgin, TSN 690 all falter during pandemic

Numeris released its summer 2020 ratings this week, and combined with the ratings from the spring, we see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as fewer people tune in.

The Beat 92.5 saw the most noticeable drop in terms of raw audience numbers, going from an average of 10,000 anglophone listeners a minute down to 6,800 and 6,600. But it maintained its second-place rank among English-language stations. Virgin also saw a drop, continuing a long decline that has seen it lose more than half its audience in three years.

Conversely, CHOM managed to grow its audience slightly, which gave it its best audience share in years as its competitors declined. And Énergie 94,3, which has refocused itself on rock music and away from talk, saw a jump in audience that put it ahead of sister station Rouge FM 107,3 for the first time since at least 2011, and claiming the adults 25-54 demographic over Rythme FM (though Rythme has much higher ratings overall).

In Toronto, Corus’s Q107 also had a big jump in ratings, making it the #1 station among adults 25-54, a status it didn’t hesitate to crow about.

So does this mean rock music stations did well during the pandemic?

Well, no. I crunched the numbers for this story for Cartt.ca and it turns out these three stations are the exception. Across Canada, rock and alternative stations were flat, and most lost audience.

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CBC suspends local TV newscasts amid COVID-19 outbreak

Updated April 15 with some 11pm newscasts returning.

Local news is vital. It provides an essential service, especially in times of emergency. People rely on local broadcasters to provide them up-to-the-minute information told by local journalists.

So what does the CBC do during an unprecedented public health crisis? It shuts it all down.

The public broadcaster announced Wednesday that effective immediately it is “consolidating” its TV news coverage, and replacing the 6pm and 11pm local newscasts at all of its stations (except CBC North, which provides news in Inuktitut) with CBC News Network.

According to a memo sent to staff this morning, the decision was made because of a lack of staff at CBC’s Toronto Broadcast Centre, which handles master control (why it has a lack of staff is not explained), as well as “much stricter newsgathering protocols.”

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Quebecor’s shifting arguments against Tou.tv

It will come as no surprise to you that Quebecor and Canada’s public broadcaster are not the best of friends. Quebecor’s controlling shareholder and CEO, Pierre Karl Péladeau, has complained about it many times in the past. (He also complains about La Presse, Bell, the Quebec Liberal Party, the Quebec government and others.)

This week, Quebec’s largest telecom and media company filed a complaint with the CRTC demanding that it order CBC/Radio-Canada to shut down its Tou.tv Extra streaming service. Not all of Tou.tv, just the $7/month premium version that charges for premium content.

I examine the application in this article for Cartt.ca subscribers. In short, Quebecor is arguing that:

  • As a public broadcaster, it’s improper for CBC/Radio-Canada to charge for access to content paid for by taxpayers, and goes against its mandate.
  • Since it licenses some content from other broadcasters (Télé-Québec, V, Canal Vie, TV5 and others), it is a de facto TV provider and should be licensed as such, including obligations to spend 5% of its revenue on Canadian programming funds.
  • Its deal with Telus giving Telus’s customers free access to Tou.tv Extra is an illegal undue preference and against the rules for digital media broadcasters.
  • CBC’s last licence renewal in 2013 included a note from the CRTC that said it does not charge for access to its streaming service (Tou.tv Extra launched in 2014), which Quebecor argues is a de facto condition of acceptance.

Quebecor lays it on pretty thick in the application, saying CBC/Radio-Canada is “short-circuiting the Canadian broadcasting system with taxpayer money” and “creating two-tier public television: enriched content, exclusives and offers first to the better off, and regular content and reruns to the masses.”

In a procedural letter, the CRTC says that issues related to CBC’s mandate should be dealt with in the CBC licence renewal proceeding, which is currently under way. Other issues of fairness can be dealt with in the context of an “undue preference” proceeding, which it will examine.

I could point out some of the obvious counter-arguments to Quebecor’s argument (Tou.tv Extra does not offer live streaming of cable channels, only some of their content on demand; there is no condition of licence requiring it to be free; it’s basically the same model as Quebecor’s own Club Illico; the deal offered to Telus was offered to others as well including Videotron, who choose not to take it; even if there is undue preference, it does not mean Tou.tv Extra needs to cease its operations), but what struck me today as I was doing some Google searching is a post I wrote 10 years ago just after Tou.tv first launched, when Péladeau complained about it then. Here’s a paragraph I excerpted from an open letter he wrote:

Furthermore, the CBC has launched the Tou.tv website without consulting the industry, a move that jeopardizes Canada’s broadcasting system by providing free, heavily subsidized television content on the Internet without concern for the revenue losses that may result, not only for the CBC but also for other stakeholders, including writers and directors.

So, in 2010 Péladeau argued that Tou.tv threatened the broadcasting system by not charging a fee.

And in 2020 Péladeau argues that Tou.tv Extra threatens the broadcasting system by charging a fee.

You have to give this to Péladeau: He’s got quite the ability to argue. It must be fun working in his regulatory affairs department.

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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Virgin Radio 95.9 fires Freeway Frank, Natasha Gargiulo, brings in Cousin Vinny and Shannon King

Updated with announcement of new hosts.

“Freeway” Frank Depalo and Natasha Gargiulo in 2011.

Until Wednesday, these were the two big faces of Montreal’s Virgin Radio station. On Thursday the station was pretending they never existed. Standard operating procedure in the industry, unfortunately.

“Freeway Frank” Depalo and Natasha Gargiulo, who have been together on the morning show since shortly after The Beat launched in 2011, disappeared from the station’s website, Mike Cohen noticed yesterday. They confirmed the news in a video posted on Thursday.

Thursday morning, in their place on air were Lee Haberkorn and Kelly Alexander, hosting the nameless “Virgin Radio Mornings” with no mention of the previous hosts, talking about various lifestyle topics like nothing changed.

Cousin Vinny and Shannon King in their new publicity photo.

On Monday morning, Virgin announced its new lineup, finally confirming the rumour that it had hired Cousin Vinny Barrucco back from The Beat. He’s being paired with Shannon King, who comes from Kiss radio in Sudbury.

Barrucco left The Beat six months ago and promised recently he would soon announce where he’s going. So apparently his non-compete clause is six months.

Bell Media did not respond to my request for comment about the firing, and made no mention of Freeway and Natasha in its announcement of its new lineup. None of the remaining Virgin personalities have commented publicly on social media about their departed colleagues, likely because they were told to by management, which makes them seem heartless to some listeners.

Also in the new Virgin lineup:

  • Lee Haberkorn, who was the third person on the morning team, gets promoted to afternoon drive host, where he’ll do a shift from 3-8pm.
  • Charli Paige gets the entire daytime to herself, going from 10am to 3pm weekdays. This puts an end to the experiment where a syndicated Ryan Seacrest show aired during the weekday. It started in 2012 after Virgin filled the hole that Barrucco left by hiring Andrea Collins.
  • Adam Greenberg, who was hosting afternoons, switches with Haberkorn and becomes the third guy on the morning team as content producer for the show and its social media.

Going with a three-show lineup between 5:30am and 8pm, each one about five hours long, shows Bell Media will still be stretching the shifts of its announcers — The Beat has four shifts in that time and starts its evening show at 7pm.

The new lineup announcement doesn’t mention Kelly Alexander, who has been with the station since 2007 and seems to have been passed over for a promotion to a more prominent (and stable) job once again. She’s currently hosting weekends.

Virgin also recently parted ways with program director Mark Bergman, who surprisingly resurfaced at The Beat. He has been replaced by Blair Bartrem.

Virgin Radio’s loyal audience, like any other, isn’t pleased with two personalities they have spent a decade getting to know suddenly disappearing without a word. A video posted to Facebook teasing the new show generated more than 200 comments, mostly negative. A video announcing the new hosts generated 180 comments in three hours, and 89 “angry” reaction emotes.

Firing on-air talent is never easy, but perhaps it’s time for radio stations in particular to re-examine how they go about it. You never want to put someone you’ve just fired in front of a live microphone, but in the age of social media, they kind of have one anyways. A little heart can go a long way. And the fact that Virgin has had this in the works for six months just makes it worse.

Listeners will be wondering why this change was made. The most logical answer is ratings. Virgin slipped behind CHOM and even CBC Radio One in the last ratings book, and the morning show, though not always the highest rated, tends still to be the anchor of the schedule. With the trend against The Beat continuing its slide, a change had to be made. At first, when The Beat climbed above Virgin in the overall ratings, Virgin could content itself to owning the 25-54 demographic, but even that slipped away as the two continued to diverge.

I’m not sure how much this will change things. The music tends to come first, especially when daytime announcers are limited to breaks of only a few seconds between songs. But we’ll see.

UPDATE: I wrote about the change for the Montreal Gazette. Bell Media isn’t making anyone at the station available for an interview.

TVA Sports defies CRTC, cuts off Bell TV customers as part of carriage dispute

Updated April 12 with court ruling and TVA Sports returning to Bell TV

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.”

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.

History

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.

TVA airs a message attacking Bell during La Voix on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

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.)

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My contribution to solving the two solitudes: Get bilingual anglos to watch more French TV

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.

How The Beat beat Virgin (and other trends of Montreal radio ratings)

Numeris released its quarterly metered radio ratings today. There aren’t a lot of surprises, because it’s mostly the same numbers as the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that.

So instead of just excitedly reposting the top-line numbers or fetching the various spins by the broadcasters that make everyone look like they had the best quarter, I thought I’d take a look at some historical data and see how the stations are trending over time.

I did this exercise for Canada’s five metered markets for Cartt.ca after the last ratings book. If you’re a subscriber you can read them there: VancouverEdmonton and Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

In this post, I’ll go into some more detail about the Montreal numbers, with charts!

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Why doesn’t TSN have Canadiens pregame and postgame shows? I asked them

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.

What to expect from CityNews Montreal, which launches Monday

Gazette photographer Dave Sidaway composes a photo of CityNews Montreal journalists Andrew Brennan, Akil Alleyne, Emily Campbell, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed and Giordano Cescutti at the Citytv Montreal studio on Friday.

A handful of young journalists have been spending a couple of weeks rehearsing for the launch of Montreal’s fourth English-language daily evening local newscast. On Labour Day, ready or not, it goes live.

CityNews Montreal is part of the second half of five local City stations that have decided to join Toronto in having local news at 6 and 11pm. Rogers has determined that these evening newscasts are worth investing in as part of meeting their new requirements for “locally reflective news” established by the CRTC as of last year.

To get an idea what we can expect from this newscast, I watched the existing ones in Edmonton and Winnipeg, and talked with Dave Budge, VP of news and information at Rogers, plus briefly with Melanie Porco, supervising producer in Montreal.

The result is this Montreal Gazette story, published in Saturday’s paper. It explains how the anchorless newscast works. But for the TV and policy nerds, a few extra tidbits here.

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How the CRTC screwed over community television to save local news

It’s a new dawn in local television. CTV Montreal has a new 5pm weekday newscast, City Montreal is preparing to launch evening news at 6pm and 11pm, and ICI is getting an infusion of cash thanks to OMNI’s successful bid for mandatory distribution at 12 cents per month per subscriber.

It’s a big enough change that I was asked to write about it for the Montreal Gazette. That story leads Saturday’s Culture section.

But while the new investments are great news for people who like local television (and, indirectly, people like me who like writing about it), there’s a big loser in this that isn’t getting discussed much: community television. The additional money going into local news is coming straight out of their pockets.

Let’s not talk TV

When the CRTC announced it was undertaking a long consultation process it called Let’s Talk TV, proponents of non-profit community television were excited about the prospect of finally bringing their issues to the forefront. A complaint from the independent group ICTV against Videotron’s community channel was in progress (the commission would later find that MAtv had failed to respect its licence conditions in terms of giving enough access to people from the community). And there was a growing opinion that community channels were not fulfilling their mandate.

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations and other groups filed complaints about other television providers that they felt were doing the same things to their community channels, ignoring their commitments to community access and using their funds to produce professional broadcasts and give side jobs to people affiliated with the company.

But the Let’s Talk TV process didn’t talk much about community television, and when it led to its first decisions in January 2015, the commission decided to kick the can down the road on community television, announcing it would begin a separate process to consider that. And that process would also include discussions of local news.

As expected, a review of the community television process was hijacked by discussions of local commercial television. People were more concerned about whether their local station would stay on the air or how long their local newscast would be than how their local Rogers TV or Shaw TV would be funded.

And the complaints about community channels still haven’t been properly evaluated, years later. That will happen at a hearing on the renewals of their licences, scheduled for October.

Provider TV

Let’s step back a bit and look at what community television is and has become in Canada.

Since 1971, the CRTC has required cable television providers to support community channels. Back then, television equipment was very expensive, very large and hard to obtain and operate. Community access was the only way many people could see themselves on television and communicate with the public through video. Cable companies would set up studios at their head ends and let people from the community broadcast on a special channel they set up.

Since the turn of the millennium, the situation has changed. Getting access to equipment isn’t the biggest problem — as the CRTC says, “many Canadians now carry an HD camera in their pocket in the form of their smartphone” — editing can be done on a home computer, and distribution is much easier thanks to YouTube and other free online services.

Instead, over the past decade, the issue has been more about money.

All cable television providers are required to spend 5% of their gross revenues on Canadian programming, but most are allowed to redirect some of that money to a community channel rather than simply hand it over to a fund like the Canada Media Fund. Most large terrestrial television providers do this because it allows them to keep control of that money, create a service that’s seen to do a public good, and provide added value for subscribers.

Critics might point out some other benefits, such as billing yourself for Internet access and providing side jobs for your employees. (The CRTC limits such overhead costs, but there isn’t a bright line that says you can’t be a supplier to your own community channel.)

Since 1991, the amount of money allowed to be redirected to community channels has been capped at 2% of gross revenues. Though there were many exceptions (small cable companies could devote the full 5% to a community channel, and companies that offered community channels in each official language could devote 2% to each one).

It might not seem like much, but when you have more than a million subscribers paying more than $50 a month, that’s a million dollars a month right there going to community TV.

As budgets for community TV grew, and technology advanced, they started to get more ambitious in terms of programming. Some even started broadcasting professional sports until the CRTC put a stop to that. (The ban doesn’t affect junior sports, and many junior hockey league matches are still broadcast on community channels.)

Community television is in an odd place because on the one hand it’s supposed to be volunteer-driven but on the other hand it’s required to spend money on programming. The pressure has always been there to keep the cable-access stuff to a minimum so more popular professional-looking programming can entice people to buy or keep their cable subscriptions.

And there was the added benefit of using community channel money to benefit related productions and personalities. Bell’s TV1 had shows linked to The Amazing Race Canada, the Much Music Video Awards, the Montreal Canadiens, The Social and eTalk. Videotron’s MAtv had side projects for such Quebecor personalities as Sophie Durocher, Louise Deschâtelets and Dominic Arpin.

This is a big part of the reason why CACTUS and others wanted community television taken out of the hands of big cable providers and put into the hands of non-profit community groups. But the CRTC has repeatedly resisted that effort, believing that the cable companies have the best resources available to provide high-quality community programming on a sustainable basis.

“Flexibility”

In 2010, the commission decided to freeze contributions to community channels. It found that the amount of money going to community television had almost doubled in a decade, and “although the Commission acknowledges that various metrics can be used to evaluate the success of community channels, it nonetheless considers that overall viewing to community channels remains modest relative to the growth in contributions to this sector.” Rather than cut the funding down, though, it decided to freeze it. Existing television providers would be capped at their 2010 levels until those dropped to 1.5% of revenues, and then they would stay at 1.5%.

In June 2016, the CRTC released its new policy on local and community television. There, it cut the contribution from 2% to 1.5%.

But the bigger blow was their decision to allow distributors the “flexibility” to redirect funds from community channels to their affiliated local stations to spend on local programming. For Canada’s five largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton), that redirection could be 100%, since the CRTC believed that people in those areas “have access to many media sources on television and radio, as well as online and in print, that provide community reflection.” For smaller areas, at least 50% of that money would still need to be spent on community television.

By the CRTC’s estimate, $65 million a year could be redirected from community channels to local stations owned by the major vertically integrated companies.

But what about independent stations? Where do they get additional money?

To help out most of them, there was already a fund called the Small Market Local Production Fund, funded by Canada’s satellite TV providers. The CRTC transformed that into the Independent Local News Fund, adjusted its admission criteria to include larger-market stations like CHCH in Hamilton and the V stations in Quebec and Montreal (while excluding small-market stations owned by the media giants), and required cable companies to contribute into the fund. Everyone kicks in 0.3% of revenues to support independent stations.

So in the end, all independent stations get extra money from this fund, and non-independent stations get funded through TV providers who share the same owner.

News pro quo

In exchange for the extra money, there were new requirements for local stations:

  • In addition to the amount of local programming they have to air each week (still set at 14 hours for major-market stations and 7 hours for smaller ones, with some exceptions), they must air a certain amount of locally reflective news programming as well — six hours in large markets, three in smaller ones.
  • There’s also a financial requirement for investment in local news: 11% of gross revenues for local television stations must be devoted to locally reflective news. (This number, proposed by the three English networks, is based on previous spending on local news.)

For community stations, even though they got less money, there were stricter regulations imposed to ensure that the money they did get was spent correctly:

  • Starting this year, cable companies must spend 60% of their community channel allocations on direct programming expenses. That rises in increments and reaches 75% after 2020.
  • Diverse citizen advisory committees are required in Canada’s five largest markets.
  • Rules on what qualifies as access programming have been tightened to stress that the community member that initiates a project must have creative control, and “is neither employed by a (TV provider) nor a media professional who is known to the public or who already has access to the broadcasting system.” They also can’t profit from the show (by turning it into a de facto infomercial for their business, for example).

The changes took effect on Sept. 1 after being formally approved as amendments to the regulations and enshrined in TV stations’ conditions of licence.

But most companies didn’t wait that long to make major changes:

  • Rogers closed some Rogers TV community stations and cut back at others in the greater Toronto area.
  • Shaw closed Shaw TV in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, eliminating 70 positions and sending $10 million to Global TV stations.
  • Videotron cut the budget of MAtv by 25%, reflecting the drop of the maximum deduction from 2% to 1.5%. (There hasn’t been an announcement of any redirection of funds to TVA stations.) The cuts meant the cancellation of Montreal Billboard, a weekly series featuring interviews with local community groups. MAtv director Steve Desgagné told me the decision to cut that program was strictly budgetary.
  • Bell made serious cuts at its TV1 community channels, which operate in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. It declined to provide specifics when I asked.

The result

It’s hard to evaluate the impact on community television by looking at programming, because much of that programming is short-term projects. But you can expect less programming, and especially less of the non-access local programming produced directly by the cable companies, particularly in the larger markets, as a result of these changes.

On the TV side, Bell’s CTV and Rogers’s City have both announced new expansions of local news, both to make use of these new funds and to meet the new locally reflective news requirements. Global has been non-specific about how it’s using the additional money.

What definitely won’t change is the strongly held belief among supporters of community television that cable access needs to be less cable and more access.