The Daily Show disappears from Canada after CTV drops it (UPDATED)

If you’re like me, you missed late-night shows during the U.S. writers and actors strikes. And though you moved on to other things during the summer, you were looking forward to seeing topical comedy again when they came back.

You might have tuned to CTV at 12:05am and seen another Big Bang Theory rerun and wondered how long it would be until The Daily Show resumed production. And then you might have been confused when you learned they had been producing new episodes for weeks.

Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing The Daily Show again on CTV, or CTV Comedy, any time soon. Bell Media has dropped the show.

When I asked about it, this is the entirety of the response I received from Bell:

I can confirm that Bell Media is no longer carrying THE DAILY SHOW.

I didn’t get a reply to follow-up questions, including the obvious “why?”

A convenient hole-filler

The existence of The Daily Show on CTV, and its popularity among Canadians, probably has as much to do with a scheduling quirk as anything else.

For decades, CTV’s schedule in most markets consists of prime-time programming mainly imported from the U.S. between 8 and 11pm, followed by CTV National News until 11:30 and then late local news until 12:05am. Because the CRTC set Canadian content rules defining prime time as 6pm-12am, the schedule made sense from a regulatory perspective. The more Canadian content (including news) you put in 6-8pm and 11pm-12am, the more U.S. imports you can put in 8-11pm.

After midnight, the rules are different and U.S. imports can come back in. But the two big late-night shows, NBC’s The Tonight Show and CBS’s The Late Show, both start at 11:35pm. ABCs Jimmy Kimmel Live started at midnight but now it too has moved to 11:35.

As a half-hour show, The Daily Show could fill a gap between the 12:05am end of the local news and the 12:35am start of the late-late shows. And during the post-9/11 Jon Stewart era, it gained popularity in both countries.

Now, for whatever reason, Bell has decided it no longer makes sense. Not because schedules have changed, but probably because of money.

The Daily Show isn’t what it was under Stewart. Besides Stewart himself, top talent have moved on to other shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Since Trevor Noah’s departure a year ago, it has had a parade of fill-in hosts.

Meanwhile, The Big Bang Theory is cheap and reruns are very popular in Canada. So for now, at least, CTV is going in that direction.

The Daily Show wasn’t part of CTV’s fall schedule announcement in the summer, which means the decision not to keep it probably dates to at least then.

Where can I watch it?

So if CTV no longer has the rights to the Daily Show, where can Canadians watch it?

The short answer is you can’t. At least not yet. It’s not on a competing network, it’s not on Netflix or Amazon. Your only option to watch it legally is to buy individual episodes on Apple TV.

UPDATE: Thanks to Chris for pointing this out — Paramount+ Canada is adding The Daily Show starting Dec. 5. Comedy Central is owned by Paramount.

There wasn’t another obvious home for The Daily Show on regular Canadian TV. Global has The Late Show, Citytv has Jimmy Kimmel, and there isn’t really another non-Bell-owned comedy channel it would be a good fit for.

UPDATE (Jan. 23, 2024): Some people have noticed The Daily Show disappearing from Paramount+. I asked Paramount about it, and they said “The Daily Show does not currently have new episodes which is why none are currently appearing on Paramount+, stay tuned for more information.”

The day after, Jon Stewart announced he was returning as host one day a week, and Paramount confirmed his shows will be exclusive to Paramount+ in Canada, the day after they’re broadcast.

YouTube blackout

Fans of Seth Meyers may have noticed there aren’t as many clips of his late night show on YouTube as there used to be. Unfortunately the clips are there, they just are being blocked in Canada, along with those of the Tonight Show. Both are Bell-licensed NBC shows. It’s unclear if this is at Bell’s request, to protect its rights, or if it’s NBC’s doing, cutting off non-U.S. countries. The Daily Show has the same problem, with just a handful of YouTube clips not being restricted here.

My questions to Bell on this subject did not elicit a response.

Fortunately, Seth Meyers clips are being posted to Facebook and those are still accessible here, and Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is posting clips (mostly vertical, cuz the youths) to social media as well.

Rogers blames CRTC bureaucracy for decision to shut down CityNews Ottawa

This week, the CRTC published a decision officially confirming that Rogers Media Inc. has surrendered the broadcasting licence of CIWW 1310 AM in Ottawa, the city’s oldest radio station.

The letter from Rogers requesting the revocation of its licence is dated Oct. 26, the same day the company announced the shutdown of CityNews Ottawa, which at the time was being simulcast on both CIWW 1310 and CJET-FM 101.1 in nearby Smiths Falls.

While normally these letters are short and to the point, Rogers took the opportunity to lay out the reasonings for its decision, and complaining that the CRTC’s processes played a major role in it.

Saying the radio broadcasting industry is “subject to stringent and outdated regulations that offer little to no flexibility for allowing broadcasters to pivot and adjust accordingly to their new competitive reality,” Rogers explained that the issue was with its decision in 2020 to simulcast programming on both AM and FM stations without prior CRTC approval.

While the CRTC doesn’t regulate content or formats on radio stations generally, the regulations require approval before an FM station can switch to or from a specialty format, and spoken word programming, when it represents more than 50% of programming on a station, is considered a specialty format. (This rule does not apply to AM stations like CIWW.)

Before it became a CityNews station, 101.1 was a country music station (as CKBY-FM), so it would have needed approval to switch to a talk format.

What’s more, the CRTC also requires approval before a transmitter can be converted from a station to a retransmitter of another station.

“Rogers received a request for information from the Commission in February 2023 regarding the simulcast of the news/talk programming originating from CIWW on CJET-FM (101.1). In subsequent correspondence between the Commission and Rogers, Commission staff shared its view that both stations were in apparent non- compliance with the Radio Regulations, 1986 (Regulations),” Rogers writes in its letter.

Rogers says it “did not believe that its stations were in non-compliance” (it doesn’t explain why it felt this way), but it filed an application to change the licence of CJET-FM 101.1 to allow the simulcast, at least until the current licence expires in 2026.

Unfortunately for Rogers, the CRTC announced on Aug. 22 a two-year moratorium on new applications related to radio, “unless exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated that would justify, with supporting evidence when filing the request, the need to process them.”

“After several rounds of correspondence and performance evaluation analyses of both CJET-FM and CIWW,” Rogers writes, it chose to withdraw the application the next day. “The risk of non-compliance and the operational burden of the Commission’s review of the stations’ performance and financial situation coupled with the continued decline in revenues since the launch of the simulcast led us to make this decision much earlier than we were planning and were contemplating in our Application.”

“Unfortunately, the regulatory framework did not provide us with the tools to experiment and innovate without facing an untenable level of scrutiny and evaluation that we can ill afford given the competitive environment in which we are operating,” the letter continues. “For these reasons, we urge the Commission to prioritize the review of the Regulations impacting AM radio including the provisions related to simulcasting and the operation of a specialty format. These rules must be relaxed to ensure a viable path forward for AM news content on the FM band, which represents the only way to maintain audiences to local terrestrial radio and support our ability to deliver local news.”

In urging the CRTC to review its rules on AM radio, Rogers said “we remain concerned that, without a modernized and flexible approach, the future of other AM stations is at risk.”

Rogers owns eight other AM radio stations in Canada:

  • CFTR CityNews 680 in Toronto
  • CKGL CityNews 570 in Kitchener, Ont.
  • CFFR CityNews 660 in Calgary
  • CKWX CityNews 1130 in Vancouver
  • CJCL Sportsnet 590 in Toronto
  • CFAC Sportsnet 960 in Calgary
  • CISL Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver
  • CKAT 600 Country in North Bay, Ont.

I understand Rogers’ frustration with the CRTC’s rules, and in particular the commission’s baffling decision to just not do its job in terms of radio for a couple of years, but Rogers also must have been aware of the rules. And the implication that this is a simple bureaucratic matter holding up progress is not how I would describe it. Rogers took a radio station off the air for this to happen, and decided it should have the same content on two frequencies in a market that doesn’t have a lot of spare radio spectrum. Maybe that’s what’s best for the market, but it should at least have required approval.

Unfortunately, with everything going on, the result is the shutdown of another news radio station in Canada, and one more AM signal in the country going dark.

If you have a good idea for a radio station, a 50kW signal on 1310 AM in Ottawa is now available. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait two years before you can apply for it.

More call letter switching fun

Rogers also confirmed in its letter it is once again switching call letters for its FM stations in Smiths Falls. CKBY-FM, which belonged to Country 101 and was then switched to the Country 92.3 station, will go back to Country 101, while CJET-FM, which was Jack FM on 92.3 and then CityNews 101.1, is going back to 92.3. Rogers told the CRTC it would adopt a country music format separate from 101.1, but on Nov. 1 it switched to “Santa Radio Canada“, which has a very Jack-like branding to it, suggesting a move back to Jack FM might be in the cards in the new year.

TVA to replace Yoopa with TV version of QUB Radio

The fallout of the Bell-Quebecor war has another victim: Yoopa, which Bell pulled from its television service in retaliation for Quebecor’s Videotron pulling Bell channels Vrak and Z, is being shut down in January, replaced by a video version of Quebecor’s QUB Radio online radio service as of Jan. 11.

According to its annual filing with the CRTC, Yoopa had $2.6 million in revenue, all but $30,000 of which came from subscriptions, in 2021-22, and spent about $2 million on programming, a bit less than half of which was Canadian. It had 340,000 subscribers and a staff of three.

The loss leaves a hole for television targeting young children, though public broadcasters Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec devote much of their morning programming to programs for kids.

Meanwhile, Quebecor seems to be doubling down on its QUB Radio digital talk radio project, and will now be putting even more resources into it, even though it already has a 24/7 news channel in LCN. Quebecor doesn’t release ratings or financials for this online-only service so we have no idea if it’s successful. But it’s cheap, at least compared to the news programming we see on LCN.

Whether QUB Radio or its still-to-be-named TV version lasts is an open question. Honestly I’m a bit surprised it survived the latest round of media cuts at Quebecor.

In theory, QUB TV could apply to be a national news service, requiring other providers to carry it, but that would require having news bureaus and regular news updates, and the CRTC might have some questions if it tries to just piggyback on LCN’s resources to achieve that status.

Videotron will obviously embrace QUB Radio on TV. Bell is probably not interested. Whether others who carry Yoopa, like Cogeco, make the switch is an open question.

Could the end of Publisac kill community newspapers throughout Quebec?

As if things aren’t bad enough for small media outlets, TC Transcontinental announced on Friday it is rolling out its Publisac replacement throughout the province and into areas of Ontario and British Columbia that other flyer distributors have pulled out of.

This is leaving many Quebec publications worrying that what happened to Métro Média could happen to them.

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Desperate TVA cuts a third of its staff

In what the union representing TVA employees called “La journée la plus noire de notre histoire” (the darkest day of our history), the company announced on Thursday afternoon (after a leak from La Presse forced an order to halt trading on its stock) that it is eliminating 547 jobs, representing 31% of TVA Group’s current workforce.

Most of those jobs — 300 — will be in in-house productions through its TVA Productions subsidiary. Though most drama, variety and bid-budget primetime shows are already produced by independent companies, there are a few still done in-house, and three of them — game shows Le Tricheur and La Poule aux oeufs d’or plus trending-video magazine show VLOG — are being outsourced.

This leaves news and news-adjacent programming as the only stuff still done in-house. Newscasts, LCN, morning news/talk show Salut Bonjour, and some programs at TVA Sports.

The expectation is that many of the people working on producing these shows will be hired by the independent companies they will be outsourced to, and TVA “will begin discussions with its partners to encourage them to hire employees affected by the announced measures, according to their needs.”

But that doesn’t mean they’ll get the salary or benefits they did at TVA, and it probably means no longer being unionized.

What’s changing

So here’s a quick list of what has been announced:

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CTV adds national newscast at 5:30, taking a page from Global

A very disinterested-looking Sandie Rinaldo will host CTV National News at 5:30, but CTV wants to make sure it doesn’t take any of the spotlight off Omar Sachedina.

After decades of having local news at 6pm and national news at 11pm, CTV is mixing things up a bit, announcing this week that it is launching a new national newscast at 5:30pm weekdays on CTV stations across the country, hosted by Sandie Rinaldo.

On one hand, this could be seen as taking a direct shot at Global, which runs Global National during the supper hour, either before, after or sandwiched between local newscasts depending on the market.

On the other hand, this could be seen as CTV wanting to save some money by eliminating half an hour of local news every day and replacing it with national programming. This interpretation fits with CTV’s statement that National News “now also provides unique segments covering the key stories and events happening across Canada and around the world as part of the early evening CTV News local newscasts on Saturdays and Sundays.”

I asked Bell Media if this means cuts to local news staffing.

“We can confirm there are no impacts to staffing levels as a result of the launch of the 5:30 p.m. edition of CTV National News,” was the statement I got back.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be indirect impacts, but at least there are no layoff notices going out right away.

Starting Nov. 13, CTV stations that have been running 5pm local newscasts for the past six years will see those early programs cut to half an hour and replaced by National News. Then the 6pm local newscasts will be “intensely local-focused,” according to Bell Media, since they won’t have to include as much national and international news content. It might not mean less local news (90 minutes is still plenty) but it will mean having to fill less time, and getting a break during what is right now two straight hours of broadcasting from local stations.

Global already sandwiches national news between two local newscasts in several markets including Montreal, so expect a similar feel at CTV, with the assumption that most people will watch one of the local newscasts but not both.

What early national newscasts will look like is a good question. Will it be like local noon newscasts, where reporters do live hits explaining stories they’re just starting to cover that day? Will national reporters have to file earlier, making the 11pm national newscast mainly rehashing what was reported at 5:30pm, or will the 5:30pm newscast have a lot of stories repeated from 11pm the previous day, or some mix of the two? Or will it be like just watching half an hour of CTV News Channel, but with a somewhat larger budget?

Review

UPDATE (Nov. 16): I watched CTV National News from Nov. 15, its third day on the air. It looked like the same CTV National News we’re used to. There was a bit more of that afternoon live-on-the-scene feel, particularly with some breaking stories. More live throws to reporters, although many of them were probably “look-live” in which the reporter’s part was pre-recorded.

With one exception, the 11pm newscast with Omar Sachedina had the same stories as the 5:30pm one with Sandie Rinaldo, though most of the hard-news ones were updated with the evening’s developments and reporter standups that had less daylight outside.

As for the “intensely local-focused” 6pm newscast, it looked like any other. It stayed local for 20 minutes, but for the rest of the hour I counted a couple of local stories, a couple of local briefs, a live interview and weather segments, and the rest was national news, local news from other CTV stations, and various international stories, including one that mostly duplicated one from the national news. The 5pm local newscast, in its reduced 30-minute version, stayed almost entirely local.

10 ways the government can help the news industry without just giving them money

It’s hard times in the journalism industry, and the government wants to help.

The first part of that sentence isn’t really arguable. News outlets that haven’t shut down completely have significantly downsized, and though there are new sources of news these days, they don’t have anywhere near the kinds of resources that newspapers, magazines and television and radio stations used to have. As a result, many stories go unreported or underreported, and society is poorer for it.

Governments are aware of this and have put forward ways to help. Some make sense and are fairly uncontroversial, like tax credits for news subscriptions or allowing news outlets to receive charitable donations. Others have been spectacular failures, like Bill C-18. Most have been somewhere in between, consisting of direct or indirect funding to those organizations who qualify based on criteria set by bureaucrats at (hopefully) an arm’s length from the political machine.

Deciding who is and isn’t a journalist, and deciding how much money they should get, creates a lot of problems. It could lead to a slippery slope where some CRTC-like body starts micromanaging journalism and infringing (in fact or in practice) on our rights to free expression.

But handing out money isn’t the only thing that could help the news industry these days. Here are 10 suggestions from me on things the government can do that would make things better that don’t include direct handouts.

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CRTC adds Natyf TV to Quebec basic packages with 13 hours notice

If you’re a digital TV subscriber in Quebec, you’re soon going to start seeing a new TV channel in your basic package. Last week, the CRTC announced it was giving Quebec ethnic TV channel Natyf TV a broadcasting licence and ordering all providers to add it to their basic service and pay $0.12 per subscriber per month.

The order took effect Sept. 1, 2023, and lasts five years. The decision was announced at 11am on Aug. 31, 13 hours before the order came into effect. It was one of several decisions the commission put out in the days before the end of the broadcasting year as it rushed to meet its deadlines.

The next day, realizing that this may be a bit short notice, the CRTC wrote a letter saying providers should add the channel “as soon as reasonably possible.”

(For context, Natyf’s application was filed in April 2021 and the hearing to discuss it was held in January.)

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Videotron to shut down MAtv community channel in Montreal

MAtv, Videotron’s community television channel, is shutting down its Montreal service, Quebecor announced on Wednesday.

The reason is the same reason why Rogers shut down Rogers TV, Shaw closed Shaw TV and Bell pulled funding for TV1 in large cities: The CRTC gave them a financial incentive to do so.

In 2017, when the commission reviewed its regulatory framework for community and local television, it decided to allow vertically integrated broadcast/telecom companies to take some of the money their TV providers had to spend on Canadian content (and were incentivized to use on community television channels) and instead redirect that money to their local private television stations for local news. This was the CRTC’s solution to local news being in financial difficulty. (Non-vertically-integrated TV stations are supported through a separate fund, which is also in crisis because now it has to support Global News as well.)

Quebecor resisted this change at first, choosing to keep MAtv open in Montreal. But with TVA’s financial situation worsened, it has finally chosen to pull the plug. The company says the equivalent of five jobs will be affected, plus three others in the rest of the MAtv network.

The CRTC policy allows 100% of community TV funding to be redirected in large cities (which have private TV stations that do local news), but in smaller markets, only half the funding for community TV can be redirected, so those communities are generally keeping their community TV stations. MAtv will continue to operate in markets outside Montreal. (TVRS, an independent community channel on the South Shore whose content appeared on the MAtv channel on Videotron systems there, will also continue, it said.)

The loss of the Montreal channel, however, means the loss of English-language programming on MAtv. Not that there was much left anyway. CityLife, the last regular program in English, was cancelled a year ago.

Quebecor says it will keep MAtv Montreal going until next summer to air programs it has produced. After that, it’s a bit unclear. They could keep the channel and just fill it with programming from other regions, they could replace it with another community channel in Montreal, or remove the channel for Montreal subscribers.

Bell Media gave up on Vrak, now it’s shutting it down (which channel is next?)

The announcement came last week: Bell Media is ending the “activities” of Vrak, a channel that used to be about family and youth but recently has become just another soulless number airing reruns and dubbed American shows.

It was surprising in that Vrak was one of the marquee Astral Media specialty channels, had a larger than usual amount of original programming focused especially on youth (kind of like a Quebec version of YTV), a hefty per-subscriber fee and a good amount of name recognition in Quebec.

But Videotron finally pulled Vrak from its distribution service last week (it wanted to do so more than a year ago, but Bell complained to the CRTC, which finally ruled in February that it could not prevent Videotron from terminating its agreement with the channel and sister channel Z).

And all the stuff that was special about Vrak was in the past tense anyway. It cancelled all that original programming, and even dropped its youth focus. When it announced its fall schedule recently, the “original productions” section was all shows that were original to Bell Media but not to Vrak, and had already aired on Noovo or Crave. Its “interim” schedule, until Sept. 30, allows it to finish off seasons of shows for the few still watching.

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Métro Média shuts down operations, blames Montreal’s Publisac ban

If you see one of these, it’s a keepsake now.

Métro is no more.

Saying it pained him to do so but he had no choice, Andrew Mulé announced late Friday afternoon that the activities of Métro Média, including the free Métro newspaper, community newspapers in Montreal and Quebec City, and the journalmetro.com website, are being suspended.

Unless some magic saviour steps forward to rescue them, this means the end of the last free “daily” newspaper in Montreal (24 Heures still exists but no longer in print format), the last Metro-branded newspaper in Canada, and the jobs of dozens of journalists doing hyperlocal news.

In his note to readers, Mulé says the pandemic was hard but the “devastating” blow came from Montreal’s decision to no longer allow the distribution of the Publisac flyer bag, which Métro used to distribute its community papers. Between paying more for Canada Post to distribute the papers or doing without print advertising that still represented a significant part of their budget, they couldn’t make the numbers work.

It wasn’t for lack of trying to create a new business model. Two years ago Métro redesigned the print product, redesigned its website, redesigned its mobile app, and adopted a 100% local strategy.

Mulé also turned over every stone trying to get funding, but hit a brick wall this week.

The legacy of the former Transcontinental papers

Métro Média was born in 2018 with the purchase of the Métro daily newspaper and community papers in Montreal and Quebec City from Transcontinental, which decided a year earlier it didn’t want to be in the print media business anymore and put all of its papers up for sale.

Of the 93 publications Transcontinental put up for sale that day (92 in Quebec, plus the Cornwall Seaway News, though the number is a bit fuzzy because it includes things like weekend editions and monthly inserts separately), all but four were eventually sold. But I count only 46 of them still publishing. That’s just less than half.

Of them, 20 are owned by Icimédias, 12 by Médialo (formerly Groupe Lexis Média), and five by Gravité Média.

For other former Transcon papers, it’s not much better:

A lot of nuance can be added to this tally. It doesn’t take into account new publications (whether print or online) that spring up to cover communities, for example. But it’s a good indication that the situation is bleak for print news media, whether large or small.

The transition to … whatever will be the new way we get news in this world may require steps like this. But those steps are painful. They mean the loss of institutions and many people doing good work who now have to find some other way to make a living.

It’s not just Bell: Here’s how Canadian TV broadcasters are begging the CRTC for relief

There’s been a lot of uproar since Bell Media applied to the CRTC seeking rather drastic relief on its conditions of licence for conventional television stations. But it would be a mistake to think this is just a Bell thing. Just about every major TV broadcaster, including the CBC, has recently asked the commission to give some relief or flexibility. Some of those requests are reasonable, even logical. Others are exceptional. But all of them have the same underlying purpose: finding ways to save money because of economic forces that are pushing people away from traditional television.

Here’s what they’re asking for.

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What is the basis for forcing big tech to pay for news?

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, aka “An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada,” has been passed by the House of Commons and Senate and signed into law.

Now, finally, after desperate demands from Canada’s news media, big tech companies like Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet (Google) will be required to compensate them for use of their news content.

Except, no.

Instead, Meta has already announced that it will choose to block access to Canadian news content on its platforms (including Facebook and Instagram), as it said it would do when the bill was working its way through the legislature. Google has done the same after failed talks with the government. Both have already begun tests of how they would accomplish this, though it’s not entirely clear how they will implement such blocking when they go ahead with it.

On top of that, both have announced that they will end existing programs that help fund news media, including a Facebook deal with The Canadian Press and the Google News Showcase.

This clearly is not what the government or the news media want. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says the government needs to “stand up for Canadians against tech giants,” while just about every media outlet has issued a statement accusing Meta and Google of censorship.

But while politicians are pointing fingers at each other, perhaps it’s well past time to ask a very simple question:

Why does this law exist, exactly?

In other words, what problem is it trying to solve?

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Bell Media asks CRTC to eliminate all local news requirements for CTV, CTV2 and Noovo stations

Saying it can’t wait until the coming review of television policy and group licence renewals completes its long process, Bell Media has filed applications with the CRTC to eliminate all regulatory requirements for local news at all of its CTV, CTV2 and Noovo stations across the country.

“Over the last decade, the operating environment for traditional, private Canadian broadcasters has changed dramatically,” Bell writes in its application. “Whereas in the past, Canadians looked to domestic services for information and entertainment, they can now access a virtually unlimited array of DMBUs such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple+, most of which are foreign owned and controlled.”

Specifically, Bell is asking to eliminate the following conditions of licence:

  • A requirement for English-language stations in large markets to broadcast 14 hours of local programming per week
  • A requirement for French-language stations to broadcast local programming each week (5 hours in Montreal and Quebec, 2.5 hours at other stations)
  • Requirements for locally reflective news in English each week (6 hours in large markets, 3 hours in small markets, and special lower quotas for smaller or regional stations)
  • A requirement for 5 hours of locally reflective news each week on Noovo’s Montreal station
  • A requirement for Bell (as a group) to spend 11% of CTV/CTV2’s gross revenues on locally reflective news and 5% of Noovo’s gross revenues

If the CRTC grants all these requests, the only condition of licence related to local programming that would remain is a general requirement that stations outside metropolitan markets must broadcast seven hours of local programming per week (other smaller stations have exceptions for either less local programming or allowing them to group that requirement with nearby stations). This content would have to be local, but not necessarily news.

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Bell Media managing the decline of AM radio

Last week, while I was on vacation, Bell Media announced it was shutting down six AM radio stations, selling three others, laying off foreign correspondents and together with the rest of BCE laying off 1,300 people.

The stations shut down or sold were the lowest-hanging fruit — six of the nine were part of the “Funny” brand of all-comedy stations or “BNN Bloomberg Radio” business-news stations, which mostly replaced TSN Radio when Bell decided most of those were not worth continued investment and should switch to something low-budget:

  • CFRW (Funny 1290) Winnipeg, formerly TSN Radio
  • CKMX (Funny 1060) Calgary, formerly country
  • CKST (Funny 1040) Vancouver, formerly TSN Radio
  • CFTE (BNN Bloomberg 1410) Vancouver, formerly TSN Radio
  • CKOC (BNN Bloomberg 1150) Hamilton, formerly TSN Radio (being sold)
  • CHAM (Funny 820) Hamilton, formerly country (being sold)

The other stations getting the boot have their own reasons:

  • CFRN (TSN Radio 1260) Edmonton. Not much of a surprise either (if anything it’s surprising it kept the station when it dropped TSN elsewhere), since it didn’t have a contract with either the Edmonton Oilers or, since 2022, the Edmonton Elks. The shutdown leaves only three TSN Radio stations in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, and you have to wonder how long the first two are going to last. (Shows were cancelled on both Toronto and Ottawa stations as part of these cuts.)
  • London’s CJBK 1290, being shut down, was mostly national programming except for the morning show, and had direct competition from Corus’s 980 CFPL.
  • Windsor’s CKWW 580, being sold, is an oldies station in the Detroit-Windsor market with minimal local programming and had more use as a station for sale than a money-maker in its own right

I don’t know who’s buying the three stations in southern Ontario, except that it’s probably not Corus since they already have an AM station in Hamilton. While the Hamilton market itself is probably not a big prize, Hamilton AM stations also cover the GTA (both stations are 50kW daytime), and so AM frequencies are useful for that reason in the crowded Toronto market.

I’m honestly a bit surprised Bell couldn’t find a buyer for its AM stations in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. But that’s an indication of how much AM has declined in recent years, and how little value it has left.

Radio is letting go of AM

This isn’t the first time a broadcaster has given up on an AM station, and it won’t be the last. With new CRTC rules on common ownership, many AM stations will be able to move to FM in smaller markets. CBC is continuing the process of moving low-power AM stations to FM, and maintains full-power AM stations only in places like Toronto and Windsor where there’s no place left on the FM band.

Here in Montreal, commercial AM is almost dead, with the notable exception of CJAD. Corus shut down 940 Hits and Info 690 in 2010, and while there was a fight for those two clear-channel AM frequencies, here’s how those projects look 12 years later:

  • TSN is continuing to operate at 690 AM. The station must remain in a sports talk format as a condition of licence, though Bell could choose to shut it down at any time.
  • TTP Media has stations operating at 600 and 940 AM, but they have done little beyond play music. The big talk about competition to CJAD and French-language talk radio has so far been just that.
  • TTP Media abandoned its plans for a sports-talk station at 850 AM.
  • Evanov Radio launched an LGBTQ+ station at 980 AM, but abandoned Radio Fierté within a year to switch to a music-talk format and shut the station down in 2020.
  • Cogeco withdrew its application for a French all-traffic stations and decided instead to turn CKAC 730 into one, moving sports programming to 98.5.
  • Cogeco’s application for an English all-traffic station was denied by the CRTC, and the company did not pursue trying again on a different available frequency.

Quebec City’s last AM station shut down in 2012. CJMS 1040 died when the CRTC was finally fed up with its compliance failures. Radio Shalom 1650 went dark and was eventually sold to a Christian broadcaster.

According to the Innovation, Science & Economic Development Canada database, there are only 203 AM broadcasting transmitters still operating in Canada, and if you exclude low-power CBC retransmitters and the stations Bell has shut down here, that number drops to 156.

Many of the ones who remain exist because:

  • They’re in major markets where the FM band is full
  • They’re in markets where the same owner already has two FM stations and so can’t have a third on FM
  • They’re stations in rural spread-out areas like Saskatchewan where distance is more important
  • They’re old stations and either don’t have the budget or haven’t seen the need to move to FM

As I learned when speaking with major radio executives two years ago, AM isn’t the future. It’s expensive to run, the audio quality is bad, and many new receivers (particularly those in electric vehicles and hybrids) don’t support it anymore. The question isn’t whether more AM stations will pull the plug, it’s when and how.

Alternative declines

In Ottawa, Rogers made a bold move to deal with the AM problem, choosing to sacrifice a music station so it could simulcast its AM CityNews radio station on FM. In Calgary, Corus did the same, turning Q107 into a simulcast of CHQR 770AM (a move the CRTC took issue with because you can’t just turn a station into a rebroadcasting transmitter without approval). In those cases, it’s easy to see a day when they’ll pull the plug on the AM side, though neither company has said it will do so.

In many other cases, broadcasters have chosen to establish HD Radio channels on FM stations in the same or nearby markets to simulcast AM station programming. That has had limited success, due in part to the limited availability of HD Radio receivers outside of newer cars and the complexity of explaining how to tune in to these stations on FM HD. Broadcast executives don’t see HD as the future either.

That isn’t to say talk radio is going anywhere. Podcasts are still popular, and Rogers, Corus, Bell, Quebecor et al have their own podcast groups.

But acquiring programming through the amplitude modulation technology developed by Reginald Fessenden in 1900 is a concept that will soon be on its last legs.

Other Bell Media cuts

AM radio wasn’t the only place where employees faced the chopping block at Bell Media. Cuts were made across the country, including several big names at CTV National News (Joyce Napier, Tom Walters, Daniele Hamamdjian, Glen McGregor, Paul Workman and executive producer Rosa Hwang) and cuts to smaller newsrooms like Rimouski, where Bell Media’s two radio stations can now rely on only a single journalist covering the region. In Victoria, CTV2 will now be simulcasting the Vancouver news at 5, sandwiched between Victoria local newscasts that are now half an hour in length. Unifor says it expects 100 union jobs to be cut nationwide.

In Montreal, Jason Rockman has left CHOM. He posted a video to Facebook explaining that he has no hard feelings toward his former employer.

Bell attributed these latest cuts to its workforce to the changing media landscape, and tried to deflect some blame on the CRTC for Bell’s regulatory burden and on the Canadian government for not moving fast enough on making Google and Facebook compensate news companies.

But let’s be honest here, eliminating CRTC obligations or cutting a cheque with Google’s logo in the corner isn’t going to reverse these cuts. The truth is that Bell is losing the war for people’s attention, and the advertising income that goes with that.