Bell Media introduces new self-serve layoff system

Canada’s largest media company showed its innovative spirit once again today by launching a new system whereby its employees can lay themselves off from the comfort of their homes.

Avril Barbeau, a former employee at Bell’s 103.1 The Bass in Nanaimo, B.C., was one of the first to use the system to self-terminate her employment after 23 years at a company acquired by another company acquired by Bell. “Rather than burst into tears and embarrass myself at the office, I could cry about my life being ruined from the comfort of my own home,” Barbeau said. “It’s a much less painful experience.”

The self-layoff system is controlled through a website, where surplus employees can do everything from schedule a listen-only 90-second conference call where they’re insincerely thanked for their service to hiring a bailiff to come to their homes and confiscate any company-owned equipment. They can also digitally sign non-disclosure agreements and set up automated reminders threatening them if they talk about their layoff on social media.

“We expect self-layoff will do for the firing process in our industry what self-checkout did for the grocery store industry,” said Bell Media CEO Wayne Schusterman, shortly before he was informed he would be retiring at the end of the month to spend more time with his family. “We expect significant synergies with this system that will help us strengthen for the future.”

Bell expects to save several thousand dollars a year in human resources costs, and dozens of HR employees have been invited to use the system as they become redundant over the coming weeks.

CFQR-Anon believers say CJAD competitor will launch any day now

Undeterred by almost ten years of inaction, Montreal conspiracy theorists who have branded themselves followers of “CFQR-Anon” say the secret clues they have received send a crystal clear message that a direct competitor to news-talk station CJAD 800 will launch within days, with a large newsroom of dedicated professional reporters and an on-air lineup filled with personalities that have lost their jobs at other Montreal radio and TV stations.

Elver Kawasik, who has been part of the growing movement for most of the past decade, said he looks forward to hearing the voices of Peter Anthony Holder, Barry Morgan, Sarah Bartok, Elliott Price, Heather Backman, Frank Cavallaro, Richard Deschamps, Chantal Desjardins, Suzanne Desautels, Tasso Patsikakis, Patrick Charles, Brian Wilde, Sean Coleman, Jamie Orchard, Barry Wilson, Joanne Vrakas, Wilder Weir and others on the air again, and to experience a radio station that will spend unlimited amounts of money on journalists.

The CFQR-Anon group had gotten excited just after CFQR 600 AM went on the air in 2017 and promised a full launch with regular talk programming within weeks. But Kawasik said the station has just been in an extensive testing period waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Though there have been no announcements about studio space, staff hired or anything else giving signs of life, Kawasik said his fellow patriots should trust the system and be ready to switch their radios once the CFQR saviour has arisen.

“The shutdown of CJAD’s newsroom was the moment CFQR has been waiting for,” he said. “Our salvation is finally at hand.”

Projet Montréal, Ensemble Montréal announce merger to better compete against large foreign municipal parties

Days after former mayor Denis Coderre returned to municipal political life, he demonstrated how much of a changed man he is today by announcing Montreal’s two largest political parties — Projet Montréal, led by Mayor Valérie Plante, and Ensemble Montréal, led by Coderre — would merge ahead of this November’s election and present a unified slate of candidates.

“In order to better compete with unregulated foreign municipal political parties, we must consolidate our forces and find synergies,” Coderre said. “Montreal is a small market, and against forces like the Democratic and Republican parties in the States, we can’t compete unless we develop that critical mass.”

The rise of foreign political giants has worried Canadian municipal parties for years now. While the 2020 U.S. presidential election cost an estimated $14 billion, Projet Montréal had a budget of only $1.5 million in its last annual report.

“The Montreal political system must be strong or we risk foreign alternatives taking over,” Plante said at the announcement. “Key to this is maintaining the balance between rights and obligations and ensuring the health, quality and sustainability of local political parties within the global political reality, while continuing to fulfil public policy objectives.”

The merger requires the approval of the chief electoral officer of Quebec and of the party memberships.

Rogers to buy Shaw for $26 billion — but will regulators agree?

There are days you think Canada’s media and telecom industries are about as converged as they can be. And then another megatransaction gets announced that you think couldn’t possibly be approved by the government. And then it is.

Transactions like Bell buying Astral Media, Bell buying MTS, Rogers buying Mobilicity, Postmedia buying Sun Media, and all the other transactions that brought us to this point.

So the news that Shaw has agreed to a $26-billion sale to Rogers maybe shouldn’t come as quite a shock. But as the government professes to be pro-consumer, particularly when it comes to wireless services, can we really expect this deal to be approved?

Here are the stumbling blocks the companies will have to get over:

  1. Freedom Mobile. In Ontario, Alberta and B.C., Freedom is the fourth large wireless carrier, the last surviving one from that era of increased competition after Mobilicity and Public Mobile were scooped up by the big three. Rogers, which is already Canada’s largest mobile provider, apparently believes it can just keep Freedom as part of the deal, with nothing more than a promise that it won’t raise prices for three years. If the federal government is to be taken seriously on wireless competition, it can’t possibly let that stand. It could force Rogers to sell Freedom to some other party (Quebecor? Xplornet? Cogeco? Some random rich guy?), or it could come to some agreement where Rogers sheds just enough Freedom customers to another party, like Bell did when it bought MTS.
  2. Corus. Shaw and Corus are separate companies, with separate boards of directors and different shareholders, but both are controlled by the Shaw family. The CRTC treats them as if they’re the same for competition reasons. The issue here is that, as part of the transaction, the Shaw family gets two seats on the Rogers board. That doesn’t give them control of Rogers, but does it present enough of a competition concern to warrant increased scrutiny?
  3. Cable and satellite. Because Shaw and Rogers have essentially split the country geographically, with Shaw serving western Canada and Rogers serving eastern Canada, there’s not much overlap in terms of wired coverage to deal with. But these are still big companies. Shaw has 1.4 million cable TV subscribers and more than 600,000 satellite TV subscribers, making almost $4 billion in annual revenue on TV services alone. Add that to Rogers’s 1.5 million TV subscribers and $3.5 billion revenue, and you get a company 30% larger than Bell on that front. That’s a change in dynamic in bargaining position when, say, negotiating carriage contracts with TV services. There’s also the fact that if Rogers buys Shaw’s satellite service, that’s one less TV service option for subscribers in Rogers territory. They go from having to choose between Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Shaw Direct to having to choose between Rogers and Bell alone.
  4. Sheer size. Rogers has $15 billion in annual revenue. Shaw has $5 billion. Combined, they still fall short of Bell’s $24 billion, but not by much. No doubt Rogers will use the need to compete against Bell as an argument for approving the transaction, because the only way to fight ownership consolidation is more ownership consolidation.
  5. Jobs. Rogers has promised to create 3,000 “net new jobs” in western Canada as part of the deal. But it also says “synergies are expected to exceed $1 billion annually within two years of closing.” I’m curious what synergies can be achieved without cutting any jobs.

Mobile service seems like the only potential dealbreaker here, unless there are some minor assets that compete directly that would also need to be divested. Rogers would probably be fine ditching Freedom if that was a condition of approval.

Will political and regulatory forces accept such a deal? We’ll have to see. Recent experience suggests they probably will, and companies don’t go through this kind of trouble if they don’t think a deal can succeed. (At least that’s what I’d like to say, but Rogers’ proposed purchase of Cogeco fell flat, so…)

24 Heures transforms into weekly as free newspapers adapt to pandemic

24 Heures’s first edition as a weekly, from Feb. 11, 2021.

24 Heures, Quebecor’s free daily newspaper distributed in Montreal, has undergone a metamorphosis, one that makes it look a bit more like the next reincarnation of Ici than it does the 24 Heures of old.

This month, it launched a “new platform” at 24heures.ca (no more being just a subsection of the Journal de Montréal website), where it promises to “get to the roots of issues you care about, in addition to covering daily news, and inspired by solutions journalism,” according to a message posted on that website.

The website is now broken down into categories:

  • En bref, which has news
  • Panorama, which has content about “social movements, innovation, digital culture, sexuality” … so lifestyle content
  • Urgence climat, which is devoted to climate change, and is its own section so you know they take it seriously like the youth of today
  • Porte-monnaie, which has content on money, personal finance and entrepreneurship
  • Lifestyle … so more lifestyle content
  • Pop, which will have “viral content”

The website has some wire content, from Agence France-Presse, Agence QMI and Quebecor’s other websites like Silo 57, but most of it so far is from 24 Heures’s own writers. And while some of it is viral-content-churnalism, there are some real stories in there as well.

Weekly

The print edition has the more major transformation. It now runs weekly, on Thursdays, and it has a new design and new logo. It’s also thicker — the first two editions are 32 pages each.

But it’s the content that’s most different. The issues are themed — Black History Month for Feb. 11, sex and social media for Feb. 18. You’ll see less hard news and more feature stories and columns, and those columns are new, younger and more diverse faces.

It’ll be interesting to see how long they keep this up. A newspaper is going to put its best foot forward for a launch like this, but a year or two down the line will we see more repurposed Journal de Montréal content?

You can read the digital versions of the paper editions of 24 Heures here.

This isn’t Quebecor’s first youth-focused free weekly newspaper. In 2009, it shut down Ici, its answer to free alt-weekly Voir. That was followed by the shutdowns of Montreal’s other alt-weeklies: Hour, Mirror, and finally last June, the remnants of Voir.

The new reality of the commuter freesheet

24 Heures’s move comes after competitor Métro changed its schedule last fall. After taking almost the full month of August off, it returned on a twice-weekly schedule, publishing Wednesdays and Fridays.

Both newspapers were hit hard by the pandemic, not just because of the dramatic reduction in advertising, which is their only source of revenue, but because fewer people are taking public transit and sanitary rules prevent them from having their human distributors at rush hours handing out the paper to passersby.

Métro and 24 Heures are the last remaining free dai… uhh, right they’re not daily anymore. But anyway, they’re the last of its kind in Canada. The 24 Hours chain was a victim of the 2017 Postmedia-Torstar paper swap, while the last Metro newspapers were shut down by Torstar in 2019.

CRTC rejects request to reduce local programming quota for TSN Radio 690

A request from Bell Media to reduce the amount of local programming it is required to broadcast on TSN Radio 690 AM in Montreal has been rejected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In a decision published on Wednesday renewing the station’s licence until 2027, the CRTC found it already had enough flexibility in its current quota and allowing this change in its licence — going from 96 hours a week to 63 hours of local programming — would undermine the reason the quota was established in the first place.

Commercial AM radio stations in Canada generally don’t have requirements for local programming. As we saw with the (coincidental) format changes for TSN stations in other markets this week, you can run whatever you want on AM. Requirements for FM stations are a bit more strict — you have to have at least 42 hours a week of local programming (a third of regulated hours) to be able to solicit local advertising on a station.

But TSN 690 (CKGM) had special conditions of licence imposed in 2013 as part of a deal that allowed Bell to own four English-language stations in Montreal after it purchased Astral Media (which at the time owned CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio). Bell had originally proposed to turn TSN into a French-language station to get around that problem, but after seeing the public outrage that caused, they asked for an exemption to the policy during their second try. Bell promised to keep TSN as a sports radio station, and agreed to a CRTC request for a local programming quota roughly equal to what they were broadcasting at the time.

“The station’s condition of licence relating to local programming was an important factor in the approval of an exception to the common ownership policy,” the decision reads. “By authorizing at this time the requested amendment to this condition of licence, which was imposed in 2013 to mitigate the impact of the exception to the common ownership policy, the Commission would substantially reduce the mitigation measure put in place to justify such an exception. Therefore, the Commission is of the view that reducing CKGM’s local programming requirement is not appropriate.”

In its application, Bell had argued the quota caused problems during weeks when the Canadiens weren’t playing. They said this came to a head during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, when it couldn’t broadcast every game because it would have violated the quota. Instead, the station ran some rerun programming in the evening.

That argument didn’t sway the commission. While it acknowledged that the quota would “bring challenges to CKGM” during certain times of the year, “the station can broadcast 30 hours of non-local programming per broadcast week out of a possible total of 126 hours. The Commission considers that this level allows for a significant amount of non-local content and provides sufficient flexibility for the station’s programming offering.”

The 30 hours a week comes out to about four and a half hours a day, more than enough to have a non-local game every night, a couple of NFL games on the weekend and a Blue Jays game or two.

The decision is not directly related to the cuts at other TSN stations this week — this application was originally filed in 2019 and published in November.

The CRTC did agree to another licence amendment proposed by TSN — eliminating the need for additional $245,000 in Canadian content contributions from 2013 to 2020. The commission determined that the money had been paid and the licence condition was no longer necessary.

CJAD merges Natasha Hall, Aaron Rand shows, to rebroadcast CTV News at 6

On the heels of recent cuts to its programming, CJAD is reducing its local schedule by an hour a day and merging the shows of afternoon hosts Natasha Hall and Aaron Rand as of next Monday.

The announcement was made at the beginning of Hall’s show on Wednesday. The two, who have known each other for years going back to when Hall did traffic for Rand’s morning show on Q92, will co-host a show from 2 to 6pm weekdays. The new show, whose name hasn’t been announced but will be something like “Montreal Now with Aaron Rand and Natasha Hall”, replaces Hall’s 2-4pm show and Rand’s 4-7pm show.

Hall said Robyn Flynn, currently the producer of Rand’s show, will produce the new show, while Brian Kowlessar, currently with Hall’s show, will stay as technical producer.

The final hour, from 6-7pm, will be a rebroadcast of CTV News Montreal at 6. That follows similar moves from Toronto’s CFRB and Ottawa’s CFRA, which already rebroadcast local CTV newscasts at 6pm. CJAD already rebroadcasts CTV’s national newscast at 11pm and the local 11:30pm CTV newscast.

Meanwhile, morning host Andrew Carter announced Wednesday he would be joining the Live at Five show, from 5am to 5:30am, with Trudie Mason and James Foster.

The end result of these changes will be reducing CJAD’s local original programming down to 11 hours on weekdays, from 5am to 6pm and excluding the Evan Solomon Show from noon to 2pm. That’s much less than it used to be, when CJAD had local programming until 11pm or midnight.

There’s no word of staff cuts as a result of this change, though it may save some money down the road by, for example, not needing to bring in replacements during vacations. A memo from Bell Media on Tuesday said its organizational changes were complete, so there shouldn’t be other major staff cuts in the near future.

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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Canadian-only Super Bowl commercials disappoint again in 2021

In case you were part of the half of the country that didn’t tune in to the Super Bowl on CTV, TSN or RDS, you may have missed the cool Super Bowl ads.

And if you’re part of the half who did, you probably missed them too, since most of the best ads didn’t air on Canadian television. Instead, you were treated to a bunch of forgettable car commercials, repetitive teasers for CTV programming, unoriginal promos for Crave, and lots of ads for Skip the Dishes somehow.

(I counted five airings of the Jon Hamm spots between kickoff and the end of the CTV broadcast, including three in the first hour, which led to it being the butt of a lot of jokes on Twitter.)

It is unfortunately the reality that we still have to live with (at least those of us not close enough to pick up a U.S. station with an antenna or determined enough to find a bootlegged stream). The CRTC tried to answer consumer demand and allow Canadians access to American ads, but that was overturned by the Supreme Court and its repeal also written into the new North American trade agreement.

If you want to watch the U.S. ads, they’re online. On YouTube’s AdBlitz playlist or on Programming Insider’s more comprehensive list. Some of them are great, some are silly, few are truly memorable, but a lot of them took a lot of effort.

Many of them also aired in Canada. But a lot of them didn’t, either because the advertisers didn’t want to spend the extra money or because their services or products aren’t offered here.

Meanwhile, north of the border, we got some Super Bowl commercials of our own. And they were … not that great. Some tried — Michael Bublé selling Bubly again, and some ads for investing companies — but nothing compared to the U.S. offer.

It’s up to advertisers, not Bell alone, to create a uniquely Canadian Super Bowl ad break experience. Frankly, advertisers have to do more in general to make their ads more interesting. They might think they don’t have to, since Bell has the exclusive broadcasting rights to the Super Bowl in Canada, and people are going to watch it live regardless, but that kind of complacency isn’t going to serve the industry well in the long term.

And Bell could set an example by upping its own game. I get that you’ll have CTV promos (the American broadcast was filled with CBS promos) and ads for Bell Mobility, but maybe you could throw some extra cash at the creative people you haven’t laid off yet and get them to do something a bit more interesting next time.

Anyway, for the sake of keeping a record, here are the ads that most closely resemble “Super Bowl” style that aired only in Canada:

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CJAD guts newsroom, CTV Montreal cuts Quebec City job as Bell Media cuts hit front lines

CJAD has laid off virtually all its reporting staff as recent cuts at Bell Media, starting at the very top with the departure of president Randy Lennox, filtered down to the local station level on Monday.

Bell Media doesn’t like to give specifics about these kinds of things, nor does it like to allow its local managers to face the music when they’re forced to make cuts like these, so most of the information below is pieced together from sources within the CTV Montreal and CJAD offices, plus some information from Bell Media and the union.

(As always, a big thanks to all the people who quietly feed me information during times like this.)

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Kanesatake radio station applies to increase power, protect frequency

CKHQ-FM, Kanesatake’s community radio station, has struggled to keep itself going since it was founded in 1988. But with the help of some broadcasting experts, it has presented a relaunch plan to the CRTC, through two applications published on Monday.

The first is a transfer of ownership, from CKHQ United Voices Radio, owned by resident James Nelson, to Mohawk Multi Media, a non-profit corporation whose membership is open to all community members.

The second is a technical change: The new station would maintain its frequency of 101.7 MHz, but with an effective radiated power of 51 watts, and a height above average terrain of 57 metres. The station’s transmitter would be located at the Riverside Elders Home at 518 Rang Ste-Philomène, along the river about two kilometres southwest of the old location. The studio would also be located at a new building to be constructed on land next to the elders home.

The station has budgeted $500,000 in capital costs for studio and transmitter.

Comparison map of CKHQ-FM’s approved signal (red and brown) and its proposed signal (blue and green)

The increased power would mean a better signal within the community, and more people being able to listen in adjacent ones like Oka, Hudson, and maybe parts of Vaudreuil.

But the most significant change would be on the regulatory level. Stations at 50 watts or below are considered low-power unprotected stations, which means another station can apply for a licence for that frequency or an adjacent one and bump it off that frequency. In most areas that wouldn’t be an issue, but being so close to Montreal (and not that far from Ottawa), there are no other frequencies available it can realistically move to, so such a situation would force it off the air.

That almost happened in 2018 when a group proposed a Christian music station in Lachute on 101.7 FM. The application was denied, because the commission found the quality of the application lacking. But nothing prevented anyone else from trying again.

By going to 51 watts, CKHQ-FM would move from low-power unprotected status to Class A1, which means any proposed new stations would have to protect it from interference.

Projected interference zones for CKHQ-FM.

Though in theory the new signal would extend to much of Vaudreuil and St-Placide, practically it still won’t go too far beyond Oka and the community of Hudson across the river, because of interference from other stations, most significantly CIBL-FM, the Montreal community station on the same frequency at 101.5 MHz.

History

After years of inactivity, CKHQ-FM showed promise when it applied for and received a new licence from the CRTC in 2014. When I visited the station shortly thereafter, its eager staff had cleaned up the rat droppings of the old studio building and gotten it back on the air.

But a flood in July 2017 destroyed most of the transmitting equipment, knocking the station off the air again.

Sylvain Gaspé, an engineer who grew up in Kanesatake and got his start at that radio station, began leading the efforts to bring it back, under the branding of Reviving Kanesatake Radio. In the spring of 2019, a temporary station was set up to offer flood information to the community, and on April 2, 2020, Gaspé brought the station back on the air.

The new entity is separate from the old one, but has the full support of both the current owner and the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake. Because transfers of ownership require CRTC approval first, the station is technically still owned and managed by Nelson’s United Voices corporation, but Gaspé’s Mohawk Multi Media has been mandated to actually do the work. Officially, a transfer of assets has taken place, but because the equipment was destroyed the actual value of those assets is $0.

The new non-profit’s voting membership is open to Kanesatake members with certificate of Indian status, residents of Kanesatake, and “honorary members accepted by the majority of members.” It has five members of the board, including Gaspé and three residents of Kanesatake. All five are Mohawk.

Programming

Don’t expect this station to have much in the way of full-time staff or professional-sounding programming. This will remain a small community station largely run by volunteers. But the application to the CRTC includes some programming commitments, including:

  • 5 hours a week of news
  • 58 hours a week of pop, rock and dance music
  • 38 hours a week of country music
  • 17 hours a week of Indigenous music
  • 15% of songs broadcast performed or composed by Indigenous artists
  • 7 hours a week coming from Kahnawake’s K103
  • 30.5 hours a week in Mohawk, including “incorporating the Mohawk language within the simplest tasks of radio broadcasts, such as the time, weather and station identifications.”
  • 1 hour a week in French

Note that these are projected averages and not necessarily minimums. What actual requirements are to be set will be up to the CRTC, consistent with the Native Broadcasting Policy, for which a review is currently underway.

The CRTC has scheduled a hearing for March 30 to hear these applications. Because no oral presentations are expected, the hearing will be in name only and only to satisfy a legal requirement to hold one. Comments on either application (which are not dependent on each other — the commission could approve one but not the other) are being accepted until Feb. 25, 2020 at 8pm ET/5pm PT, and can be filed here (Application 2020-0751-7 is for the transfer of ownership, Application 2020-0420-9 is for the power increase and transmitter change).

Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Bell Media to shut down Fashion Television and Book Television on Feb. 22

The cull of zombie specialty channels, many of which trace their origins to a boom around 20 years ago, finally reached Bell Media, which has advised the CRTC it will shut down Fashion Television and Book Television as of Feb. 22.

The CRTC on Thursday responded by revoking the licences of Book Television and Fashion Television Channel as of that date.

Bell’s letters to the commission don’t provide any reasoning for the shutdowns, other than saying they will “cease operations.” But the business model for such channels has collapsed in recent years, as people adopt more custom TV packages and drop channels with no original content, like Cosmo, BBC Canada, G4 and many other similar channels.

According to financial statistics submitted to the CRTC, Book Television had lost more than half its revenue between 2015 and 2019 as the number of subscribers dropped and subscription fees dropped even more. It still had a healthy 40% profit margin, but with less than a million dollars in profit.

Similarly, Fashion had less than a quarter the total revenue in 2019 it had in 2015, and fewer than half the subscribers.

Neither channel has had any original programming in years and Bell has spent virtually no effort at all trying to promote them. Both reported spending $0 in Canadian programming in 2018-19. Book’s current programming is reruns of legal dramas JAG and Matlock, plus CTV shows The Amazing Race Canada, Cardinal, 19-2, Transplant and Saving Hope. Fashion’s is even more pointless, with reruns of Cash Cab, Comedy Now and Amazing Race Canada, none of which are known for having anything to do with fashion.

Both channels were originally licensed to CHUM in 2000, as part of a big wave of licences for new digital specialty channels, and were acquired by Bell when CTV acquired CHUM and Bell bought CTV.

Who’s next?

Rogers killed G4 in 2017 and Viceland in 2018, while Corus killed Cosmo and IFC in 2019 and Bell got rid of Comedy Gold in 2017, so the big guys have cut off the low-hanging fruit already. But there remain a bunch of channels that don’t have much original programming that could be on the chopping block in the coming years, including Rogers’ OLN, Bell’s Discovery Science or MTV2, Corus’s Slice or DIY and Quebecor’s AddikTV or Moi&Cie, plus a bunch of channels owned by smaller companies.

91,9 Sports acquires broadcasting rights to CF Montréal (formerly Impact) games

The best-case (and most likely) scenario after Cogeco announced it no longer had the rights to Montreal’s Major League Soccer team has come to pass. RNC Media’s 91,9 Sports announced on Tuesday it has signed a deal for radio rights to the team’s games for two years, with an option for a third.

Financial terms were not discussed.

The agreement is a boost for 91,9 Sports, becoming the first of the big three franchise rights it could wrestle away from 98,5fm. Until now, its biggest live broadcasting rights were for the Laval Rocket, the Canadiens’ American Hockey League farm team. (That deal ends at the end of this season.)

It’s also a win for the franchise, formerly known as the Montreal Impact and now called Club de Foot Montréal, which could get only some of its games on the radio with the Cogeco deal — when it didn’t interfere with news programming, or Canadiens or Alouettes games.

With 91,9 Sports, all regular-season and playoff games will be on the radio, along with 30-minute pregame shows and 30-minute postgame shows (an hour for games in Montreal)

The station announced it will also be adding more CF Montréal content to its schedule to go with this new partnership, including making its soccer show FC919 daily.

The on-air team will be announced “in the coming weeks” with a team that promises to be “young, dynamic, unifying and different.”

Other announcements are also being promised. With 91,9 Sports not knowing its future as recently as two years ago, it seems plans are finally being made for the future.

CF Montréal’s English radio rights are with TSN Radio 690, but the latest announcement of a rights deal ended in 2020 along with 98,5fm’s. Since there aren’t really other options, expect the team to remain with that station.

List of CBC/Radio-Canada reporting bureaus

The CRTC is currently reviewing the licence renewal applications of CBC/Radio-Canada. As part of that process, CBC included a chart of its on-the-ground reporting personnel. It’s abridged, so we don’t know the actual number of employees per location, but I thought the list itself was good to note, so I’ll reproduce that here, along with some additional ones I’m aware of (the list is from 2019, so may be out of date in some places).

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Is there a point to Radio Canada International anymore?

In yet another of those bad-news-wrapped-in-good-news announcements, CBC last month said it was going to be “modernizing” its international service through a “major transformation” that would see it add two languages and giving its stories more visibility.

But also cutting its staff in half and shutting down its website.

It didn’t get a lot of media attention at the time, mostly I think because most Canadians don’t know what Radio Canada International is. So I wrote about it in a story for Cartt.ca subscribers, in which I interviewed Crystelle Crépeau, head of digital news for Radio-Canada, Luce Julien, executive director of Radio-Canada News and Current Affairs (RCI, based in Montreal, is managed under French services in the organizational chart) and Wojtek Gwiazda, a former RCI employee who manages the RCI Action Committee.

For Gwiazda, who has been fighting this battle for quite some time, this is just another cut that will eventually see RCI disappear completely. Instead of 20 employees, it will be down to nine — five journalists doing translations of news articles in five foreign languages, three field reporters (Chinese, Arabic and Punjabi) and one chief editor. There will be no original reporting (except for those field reporters) and stories will just be taken from CBC.ca and Radio-Canada.ca instead of being written specifically for an international audience.

For Julien and Crépeau, it’s a necessary transformation because much of RCI’s work is redundant, and their metrics show foreign audiences get more content from CBC and Radio-Canada’s news sites than from RCI. There’s a reduction of staff, Julien admitted, but she’s had to make a lot of difficult decisions in her job. And integrating RCI with CBC and Radio-Canada just makes sense and is more efficient.

I’m sympathetic to the argument from both sides. This is definitely yet another in a long series of cuts to RCI and I would not be surprised if it simply fades away over time. But RCI is not a success right now and a transformation is warranted.

Or maybe they should just pull the plug entirely. And maybe they would do that, except they can’t.

Radio Canada International is part of CBC’s mandate, expressly referenced in the Broadcasting Act. CBC has to keep it running.

Unti 2012, RCI was a shortwave radio service, with an impressive transmitter array in Sackville, N.B., carrying the signal to the world. But CBC shut down that service, moving RCI entirely online and dismantling the transmitters, a move Gwiazda and others fought a hard battle against and ultimately lost.

Without a shortwave signal, RCI can simply be blocked by any government that doesn’t want its citizens to get an outside perspective. And without a broadcast schedule to fill, CBC gutted RCI’s staff and output, so it just doesn’t do that much anymore.

I learned through this reporting that apparently there’s some … let’s be generous and say disagreement … about what RCI’s mandate is.

The government’s 2012 Order in Council resetting RCI’s mandate (and removing the obligation to broadcast on shortwave) says RCI is to “produce and distribute programming targeted at international audiences to increase awareness of Canada, its values and its social, economic and cultural activities.”

But the CBC’s own mandate for RCI says “RCI targets audiences who know little to nothing about Canada, whether they live in Canada or abroad.”

Julien said serving new Canadians has always been RCI’s mandate. Gwiazda said its mandate is solely to serve people outside the country.

I think it’s time the federal government stepped in and decided what it wants to do with RCI. Gwiazda thinks it should be separated from the CBC and run as its own separately-funded service.

CBC seems to want to turn RCI into an add-on third-language service providing some news to ethnic Canadians. (Julien said content produced in third languages would be made available free of charge to ethnic media, to avoid competing with them.)

It’s up to the politicians to decide which is the best course. Or to pull the obligation from CBC and let RCI die an honourable death.