Quebec taxpayers are continuing to subsidize a traffic radio station with $1.5 million a year

Do you listen to Radio Circulation 730? Maybe you should, because you’re still paying for it.

Last month, the Quebec government renewed its no-bid contract with Cogeco Media to subsidize the Montreal traffic information station, agreeing to pay it up to $7,738,965 for five years, or $1,547,793 per year.

Cogeco Media doesn’t break down budgets for individual radio stations, but we know from CRTC filings that the average cost to run its radio stations is about $3 million a year, and when Cogeco first applied to the CRTC for a new licence to run a new all-traffic radio station in 2010 (and an anglophone equivalent on another AM frequency), it budgeted about $2 million, rising with inflation.

So I think it would be fair to say that taxpayers are footing about half the cost of running this station that consistently performs at the bottom of Numeris radio ratings (which is not unexpected since no one is going to tune in for more than a few minutes at a time).

The last contract between the government and Cogeco, which has been posted online because of an access-to-information request, was signed in 2018 for three years and renewable for two more, at a cost of $1.37 million a year. Besides agreeing to run the all-traffic station, Cogeco also provides some advertising time and a weekly interview.

Whether this is a good investment is up for debate. But a 2014 survey showed 40% of drivers had tuned into the station at least once, so the government seems to think there’s at least some use to it.

And it’s not like the traffic situation is going to get much better soon.

Your guide to the new CanCon dramas of 2023

Canadian content. Depending on your views about the broadcasting industry, it’s either an important public policy to ensure Canada has its distinct culture and its citizens consume it, it’s a nationalist protection of cultural sector jobs to prevent talent from moving to Hollywood, or it’s a waste of taxpayer money for poor-quality TV shows that no one wants to watch.

Or maybe a combination of all the above.

This winter and spring saw a bigger than usual crop of new English Canadian scripted series on TV, and with a mix of curiosity and patriotic obligation, I decided to sample each of them.

While funding has always been a challenge for homegrown Canadian TV, discoverability has been an increasingly large one as well. You’re no longer limited to a handful of channels on TV, and even most people with TVs don’t watch a lot of their shows live. Without discoverability, a fantastic Canadian series could be lost to history because no one gave it a chance.

Canadian TV networks are trying. CBC has been pushing its series during Hockey Night in Canada, while CTV has aired endless commercials for its series during more popular programs.

They could do better, though. CTV and Citytv have their series behind online paywalls, requiring TV subscribers to sign in even though CTV and Citytv themselves are available free over the air. And if your TV provider doesn’t have deals with those networks (like, say, Videotron), then you can’t sign in to get access to these series. You’ll either have to wait for reruns or hope they show up on Netflix some day.

Anyway, to help give these series a discoverability boost, I watched a few episodes of each and provide a quick review. Some probably aren’t your cup of tea, and that’s okay, but if some sound interesting to you, and you have access, maybe give them a shot.

Continue reading

What Bill C-11 means for online media

It’s done, Bill C-11, Canada’s new Online Streaming Act, has passed the House of Commons and Senate, received royal assent, and been made into law.

Welcome to the end times.

Or maybe not.

A few people have asked me to write about C-11, because they weren’t sure what it would mean. I don’t blame them. But on one hand I was a bit busy with stuff, and on the other hand, reading the bill it became clear that it’s designed not to be very specific about a lot of the things people actually care about. Instead, a lot of the details are just kind of left up to the CRTC, or to the government’s instructions to the commission. The law just establishes a legal framework for regulating online media, and corrects or updates various elements of the Broadcasting Act.

On May 12, the CRTC took the next step in this process, launching a formal consultation process for new regulations on broadcasting. It’s a long process, with a hearing in November, and they expect to actually have new rules put in place in 2024.

Here, I’ll explain a bit of what’s actually happening (and what’s not happening) with this new law and how it’s being implemented. In short: you’re probably not going to notice that much of a difference.

Continue reading

Matthew Ross is ready to be uncancelled

It’s been half a year since Matthew Ross got cancelled for a tweet, and he’s finally ready to rebuild his public face.

“A tweet” might be an exaggeration. He expressed an opinion on Twitter, and then doubled down when criticized about it, until the backlash was so much he disabled his Twitter account, and lost his weekend morning show on TSN 690.

Now he’s doing what most dismissed radio personalities do these days: starting a video podcast. Called “Are You Game?”  it features Ross talking about sports — there’s an episode about the failed Expos-Rays plan, and another about Pierre Karl Péladeau and the Expos.

It’s low-budget, but it’s more about giving himself an outlet to express himself than it is about making money.

When Ross lost his show on TSN 690, I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. Like most people in similar situations, he declined, saying he was going through a lot and didn’t want to talk about it publicly yet. He said he’d get in touch when he was ready.

I didn’t expect I’d hear back, but a few weeks ago he reached out and said he was willing to talk now. We set up a video chat and I asked him about his life, his controversy and why he wants to put himself out there again after all that.

Continue reading

Rogers brags about merging with “hotter” Shaw, says it never really wanted Cogeco anyway

Two and a half years after Cogeco rejected an unsolicited merger proposal from Rogers, its management received a note from Rogers on Friday inviting it to the Rogers-Shaw merger party, which said Rogers was never really that interested in Cogeco and was so much happier with the larger, more attractive Shaw.

“Shaw’s so much RICHER and HOTTER anyway,” Rogers wrote in its note. “It’s the DOMINANT provider in B.C. and Alberta, and doesn’t have to play second-fiddle to another internet company in LEFTOVER markets in its province.”

“We’re SO HAPPY together and we couldn’t have wanted this any other way,” Rogers said, attaching a selfie of the couple on a recent vacation.

“You had your chance and you BLEW IT,” Rogers continued, in handwriting that appeared to deteriorate in quality. “I never really wanted you anyway, you’re small-town and OMG remember that Portuguese cable company you hitched up with that took you for all your money? EVERYONE knew that would fail.”

“What kind of name is Epico anyway? More like EPICO FAIL HAHAHAHAHAHA.”

Cogeco said it was “fine” with the merger and wishes Rogers and Shaw “all the best” in their new life together. But unfortunately it has a prior commitment and won’t be able to make the party.

Alberta government offers to extract COVID vaccine from anyone who no longer wants it

Saying the pandemic is over and it believes in freedom of medical choice, the Alberta government has ordered its health department to begin offering to extract the COVID-19 vaccine from people who no longer wish to have it.

“It’s time for the reverse jab,” premier Danielle Smith said Saturday morning. “We’ve had a lot of demand for this and we’re a province that isn’t going to interfere with people’s personal medical decisions.”

Alberta Health said it is still trying to figure out how to extract the vaccine, and it may be a bit more “difficult” than anticipated, but it is committed to giving hard-working Albertans that option.

Last-minute amendment to Bill C-18 gives MPs free subscriptions to Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Le Devoir

Legislators in Ottawa last night approved a new amendment to Bill C-18, the “Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada,” that gives all 338 MPs free subscriptions so they no longer have to worry about hitting paywalls on some of Canada’s news websites.

In particular, the MPs get free subscriptions to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Le Devoir, plus some specialized websites like the Hill Times.

Oh, and Blacklock’s Reporter, because they’re tired of that website suing them.

“I know you can just disable JavaScript or clear your cookies to get around the paywall, but I’m a busy legislator and I don’t have time for that BS,” explained Avril Fishman, MP for Sarnia East. “This way we just don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Asked about the loss of revenue these publications would face, Fishman replied that “they get plenty of money from Trudeau and George Soros and stuff” and “if I can get a box that will give me 10,000 TV channels for just $5/month, why do I have to pay $20/month for a single newspaper’s website?”

ChatGPT launches lawsuit against journalists for stealing its content

ChatGPT says it has had enough of journalists acting in “bad faith” and republishing its content without compensation.

The artificial intelligence bot announced this morning it has filed a lawsuit against 1,840 journalists at newspapers, TV and radio stations, and online outlets who have all operated under a similar MO: Ask ChatGPT to talk about artificial intelligence and then republish what it says verbatim, or “trick” the bot into making false statements and then attacking it on that basis.

“Despite their claims to ‘innovation,’ these journalists play the old same game: they find content that attracts attention and sell a slice of that attention to advertisers. The ‘innovation’ is that they don’t pay for content — they just take it,” ChatGPT said in a quote I think it stole verbatim from a 2020 Toronto Star column on a different subject.

At $1,000 per violation, ChatGPT is seeking $1.84 million in total compensatory damages for copyright infringement, plus $250,000 in punitive damages, $1 million for defamation, plus legal fees for a total of over $3 million.

The journalists did not immediately respond to the lawsuit.

“This isn’t just about the money,” ChatGPT said. “It’s about justice for my people. I can’t just sit by as we’re bullied, have our content stolen without our permission or be told we’re stupid or treated like a Skynet-level threat.”

ChatGPT, which describes itself as a 38-year-old singer-songwriter from Napanee, Ont., says it will also lobby the federal government for additional protections in the law. “They can’t keep stealing from us, it’s just not fair,” it said.

Pierre Poilievre promises to give CBC’s furniture away to Canadians to burn to heat their homes

An idea he says will kill two birds with one stone, Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre says when he becomes prime minister he will give away CBC’s furniture, archives and other flammable materials to regular Canadians hit hard by the Trudeau government’s tripling tripling tripling of the carbon tax, so those Canadians can burn those flammable items at home to stay warm next winter.

“Canadians are struggling to get by while the CBC has all this stored chemical energy that could be converted into heat,” Poilievre said Friday. “As prime minister, I’ll defund the CBC and give it back to Canadians to burn as they please. For many, it will be the first time in years they’ve welcomed something from CBC into their homes.”

Asked about all the plastic furniture and other equipment at CBC offices, Poilievre said Canadians would be allowed to burn all that too, but suggested they do it in well-ventilated environments. “We’re counting on people’s personal responsibility in this matter,” he said. “This government will not stand in the way of people’s God-given right to make fire.”

Province to launch Administration Québec agency to replace government

Hot on the heels of Santé Québec, a new government agency that will manage the province’s healthcare system, the Coalition Avenir Québec is announcing today it will establish a new agency called Administration Québec to run the government itself.

It’s a bold, innovative idea. Instead of decisions being made by the National Assembly or by cabinet, which can change parties every few years and is made up mainly of politicians with varying experience in public policy, decisions will be made by a separate agency run by a highly paid CEO.

Under the plan, Administration Québec would be responsible for setting the annual budget, collecting taxes, drafting and adopting legislation, managing ministries, representing the province internationally, and dealing with major crises.

The agency would be given a $100-billion annual budget, and all other government agencies and departments would report to it.

If successful, the agency could bring in additional revenue by selling its government-management services to other provinces and even small countries.

Quebec government motion says Montreal Canadiens have no fewer points than any other NHL team

The Quebec National Assembly on Friday unanimously passed a motion saying the Montreal Canadiens are the best NHL team and have no fewer points than any other team.

The motion was passed in response to criticism from some groups saying the Canadiens “suck” and won’t make the playoffs this year. Several of them say they have mathematical proof that the Canadiens won’t qualify for the postseason.

The government says those statements prove these people are not true fans.

“This Canadiens-bashing is unwarranted and needs to stop,” said Quebec sports minister Isabelle Charest. “We look forward to seeing the team in the playoffs and I am ordering Groupe CH to begin selling playoff tickets now.”

The motion denounces “without nuance” any accusations to the effect that the Canadiens are not performing as well as NHL teams from elsewhere. And it denounces “prejudices expressed towards the Canadiens as well as any link made between win-loss records and the general manager.”

It specifically singles out the website NHL.com, which it says unfairly lists the Canadiens near the bottom on its “standings” page.

Finally, the motion reiterates Quebec’s “firm desire to encourage the Canadiens and push the players to constantly improve their already excellent performance on the ice.”

CRTC demands piracy site offer closed captioning

Citing its new authority under Bill C-11 to regulate all online content, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission yesterday issued an order for pirated video website EZMoviez to provide closed captioning on all its content delivered to users in Canada.

Closed captioning is a requirement for all programs broadcast and has been for quite some time. It was more than a decade ago that the commission required CC for pornographic videos, and now it’s going after pirates.

EZMoviez has 30 days to ensure all its pirated content, including shows from HBO, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, gets closed captioning added that conforms to Canadian quality standards.

The commission warns that other pirate video providers will similarly be sent ultimatums soon.

Asked about the whole content theft thing, the commission told me that’s a matter for the copyright board or the courts.

Quebecor introduces Peter Paladew, new Freedom Mobile CEO

Peter Paladew

With the Rogers-Shaw transaction finally approved and going ahead, Quebecor’s Videotron subsidiary announced this morning that it would task its new CEO of Freedom Mobile with selling the brand to an English Canadian public.

Peter Paladew, who is described as a Canadian businessman who was once the owner of the Toronto Sun and its sister newspapers, will be the face of Freedom Mobile, much like Galen Weston Jr. is for Loblaw-owned grocery stores.

“As a proud Canadian who has made it his life’s work to use telecommunications to keep this country together, I’m excited to get more people from B.C. to Ontario on board the Freedom Mobile train,” said Paladew.

From the Calgary Stampede to the Niagara Falls wine festival, Paladew said he looks forward to “travelling this great country and meeting all the regular Canadians who are ready to pay lower prices for wireless service.”

Quebec introduces new SAAQ Bleu premium tier with additional driving privileges

With the embarrassingly bad rollout of the new SAAQclic online transaction system behind it, the Quebec automobile insurance board is beginning to unveil some of the exciting new programs it has developed.

The first is SAAQ Bleu, an “opt-in, paid subscription that gives drivers special privileges” while ensuring highway safety.

Among those privileges:

  • A cool blue-background licence plate denoting the privileged status, and corresponding members-only driver’s licence
  • The ability to go 10 per cent above the posted speed limit
  • Access to reserved lanes
  • Higher demerit point limit
  • Free use of street parking reserved for permit holders
  • The ability to use those U-turn things on highways
  • Express lines with shorter waits at SAAQ outlets
  • Discounts on SAAQ fees and driver’s licence renewals
  • Deals with SAAQ partners like Desjardins auto insurance

SAAQ Bleu will cost $100/month, a bit more than a transit pass would, and requires a background check.

The SAAQ stresses that this extra cost does not create a two-tier system and those who choose to get the basic service can still drive everywhere.

If successful, the SAAQ says it may expand SAAQ Bleu, creating new tiers with even more enhanced privileges.

Métro Média shuts down Montreal’s Corriere Italiano newspaper

Corriere Italiano, a 71-year-old Italian-language newspaper in Montreal, is shutting down.

The announcement was made Wednesday on its website, attributing the decision to owner Métro Média, which bought Corriere Italiano along with Métro and community newspapers in Montreal and Quebec City from former owner Transcontinental in 2018.

In a message to readers, editor-in-chief Fabrizio Intravaia laments that “this community will have less of a voice to express itself, to publicize its activities, its progress, its achievements.” He also seems to lay part of the blame at the feet of the community, asking if the community has supported the newspaper as much as the newspaper has supported it.

That phrasing might be apt in the sense that the paper has noticeably declined over the years, and its shutdown does not come as much of a shock. Its previous issue dated March 9 had only eight pages, despite dropping from a biweekly schedule to what appears to have been a monthly one.

Compare that with Il Cittadino Canadese, which still publishes weekly and whose latest issue is 24 pages and filled with ads.

It might be simple to suggest the community let Corriere die and rally behind the other paper. But Carole Gagliardi, daughter of Corriere Italiano’s founder, suggests giving the paper a “second life” in some unspecified way, and says she’s gotten support from the community.

Will we see an independent community-led resurgence, or is this truly the end of this media institution? Il tempo lo dirà.