Tag Archives: Bell Media

Bell’s radio station sales show declining value of FM outside major cities

It would be an exaggeration to say that radio is dead. There’s definitely a case to be made that AM radio is on the way out, and interest in that century-old technology is pretty low, at least for mainstream commercial enterprises.

But FM is still popular, and the bands are still pretty packed in Canada’s largest markets. In smaller markets, there are fewer stations, but still a lot of value.

At least there used to be.

Two weeks ago, the CRTC published applications for the sale of 35 of the 45 radio stations Bell Media announced in February it was offloading, and for the first time we have their sale prices listed.

It’s $12.9 million. For 35 radio stations. Or about $369,000 each.

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Bell’s MTV2 becomes latest casualty of specialty channel decline

If you’re a subscriber of Bell Media’s MTV2 channel, you may have already received a notice that the channel is being shut down at the end of March.

The shutdown is not too surprising. It was on my list of endangered channels along with ESPN Classic and Yoopa, which have seen dramatic declines in subscribers and advertising in recent years.

According to the latest CRTC data for the 2021-22 broadcast year, MTV2 had about 750,000 subscribers (including zero satellite TV subscribers), about $215,000 in total advertising revenue, and had cut expenses by 84% in four years to try to shrink itself back into profitability.

Billed as “the ultimate destination for Canada’s 12-24s”, the channel currently runs marathons of reality shows like The Real World, Teen Mom, Catfish, Geordie Shore and Canadian filler shows Cash Cab and Comedy Now!

The channel began service in 2001 during the digital specialty channel explosion, originally as Craig Media-owned MTV Canada, then rebranded to Razer and finally to MTV2. MTV still exists as a separate Bell Media channel under a separate licence, though Bell hasn’t done much more to promote that channel than it did MTV2, and it was also bleeding money according to CRTC data.

UPDATE (May 6): The CRTC has revoked the channel’s licence at Bell’s request.

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.

What we know (and don’t) about the Lisa LaFlamme story

In case you’ve been in a coma since Monday, you know that CTV News has ended its contract with Lisa LaFlamme, the chief anchor and senior editor of CTV National News.

Since then, every day has brought new revelations, questions and rumours about what happened and why. I have no original reporting on this, nor any insider knowledge or insight, but I do have a good sense of what reporting can be trusted as fact and what sizes of salt grains should be taken with the rest. So here’s my compilation of what’s been reported so far:

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New Bounce brand continues Bell Media’s consolidation of music radio stations

Bell Media took another step toward putting its 109 radio stations into neat little brand packages this week with the announcement of a new brand: Bounce, which has been applied to 25 of those stations, including all the EZ Rock stations in B.C., the Bob FM stations in Winnipeg and elsewhere, and 102.9 K-Lite in Hamilton. (The full list of stations is below.)

The format bills itself as favourites from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, with an apparent focus on more pop and rock songs, with artists like Aerosmith, The Tragically Hip, Bon Jovi, INXS, Elton John, Michael Jackson and Oasis. It seems to be a way to bring the adult contemporary focus of EZ Rock, the nostalgia of Bob and the harder rock formats of 100.9 Big Dog or 105.3 The Fox into the same family.

This move makes Bounce the largest of the Bell Media brands by number of stations, though most of them are in smaller markets. It also, along with previously announced Move and Pure Country brands, reduces to just a handful the number of Bell stations that haven’t been tied to a national brand.

I’ve written about brand consolidation recently, but this just further underscores how much cleaning up Bell in particular is doing with its brands, with 85 of its music stations now belonging to just 7 brands.

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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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Power failure knocks CTV channels off the air for two hours

It happens. There’s a major technical at the most inconvenient time, in the middle of the local news broadcast, causing the local CTV station to cut to dead air. Master Control in Toronto cuts to a commercial, and then pumps in CTV News Channel as a backup.

It seemed that was happening again on Monday, but then something unusual happened: CTV News Channel itself went off the air. And a bunch of other channels, too.

A power outage in Bell Media’s Agincourt studios, home to CTV Toronto and TSN, was the culprit. It knocked out CTV and CTV2 stations in the eastern half of the country (from Winnipeg east), as well as CTV News Network, all five TSN channels, Discovery Channel, CTV Comedy and others. Other channels, particularly the former CHUM stations based at 299 Queen St. W. downtown, like Much, CP24, CTV Drama and CTV SciFi, remained on the air throughout, as did Bell’s French-language channels.

Some digital services were also affected by the outage, which began around 5:30pm ET, and lasted until 7:30pm, with some channels not being fully back until 9pm. CTV News Channel rebroadcast CP24 for much of the evening after coming back online.

It’s unclear what exactly caused the outage in the first place, or why backup systems failed to keep CTV on the air. I suspect there will be a lot of discussions at Bell Media management and technical meetings about what went wrong.

The outage is a reminder of the dangers of centralization — when all your stations are controlled through the same building, they can all be knocked off the air. But more importantly it shows that Bell Media’s contingency protocols are inadequate. An ideal system would have allowed the master control facilities at Queen West — or even better a master control facility in another city — to quickly take control of the affected channels, even if just to broadcast filler programming.

CTV undoubtedly has backup systems, but they obviously failed, either from technical or procedural fault, which means they were probably not adequately tested.

Expect that to change, at least until Bell Media forgets about this incident and needs to make more cuts to technical staff and redundancies.

CRTC approves Bell’s purchase of V

In a decision released Friday afternoon, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced it has approved the acquisition of the V television network by Bell Media, filling one of the few remaining holes in Bell’s multi-platform empire.

The V network’s five owned-and-operated stations (it also has three affiliate stations that aren’t affected by the transaction) will become part of the Bell group as of Sept. 1, and have new conditions of licence, including an incremental increase to the amount of local programming and local news they are required to broadcast:

2020-21:

  • All stations: 5 hours local programming and 2.5 hours locally reflective programming per week

2021-22:

  • CFJP-DT Montréal and CFAP-DT Québec: 8.5 hours local programming and 4.25 hours locally reflective programming per week
  • Other stations (Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Sherbrooke): Same as 2020-21

Bell has committed to exceeding those requirements.

The CRTC has also increased Bell’s requirements for Canadian programming, which were 35% for its French channels (RDS, Canal Vie, Vrak, Canal D et al) and 10% for V, up to 40% to for the combined group.

For Programs of National Interest (mainly expensive scripted programs), which became a point of contention in this proceeding, the CRTC has sided with critics that said Bell should be forced to keep it at 18% for the entire group instead of averaging the group between the 18% for its existing French-language channels and the 10% that V was previously subject to.

The CRTC calculated tangible benefits at $3.1 million, split between the Canada Media Fund (60%) and the Bell Fund (40%). The latter, a certified independent production fund, will spend the money solely on French-language initiatives.

Bell welcomed the decision, without giving any specifics on its plans. The company told the CRTC it would expect to get newsrooms back running at the V stations by next January, and those newsrooms would be independent from those run by CTV.

The acquisition also includes Noovo.ca, which is V’s online video hub and whose change of ownership does not require CRTC approval.

The specialty channels Elle Fictions (formerly MusiquePlus) and MAX (formerly Musimax) remain under the control of Maxime Rémillard and with the same minority shareholders including the Caisse de dépôt, Investissement Québec and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ. Another CRTC decision regroups them as their own separate group, whose name is to be determined.

UPDATE (May 7): Quebecor has filed notice in court that it may appeal the decision, once the CRTC releases its reasons.

Bell lays out its plans for $20-million purchase of V network

Bell Media is proposing to bring V’s local news broadcasts in-house, but otherwise isn’t putting much substantive on the table to convince the CRTC it should be allowed to acquire the V network of television stations in Quebec for $20 million.

The CRTC published the application on Tuesday, setting a hearing date of Feb. 12 in Montreal to hear the application. Bell is proposing to buy the five V stations (CFAP-DT Quebec City, CFJP-DT Montreal, CFRS-DT Saguenay, CFKS-DT Sherbrooke and CFKM-DT Trois-Rivières), plus digital assets like Noovo.ca, but leave the specialty channels Elle Fictions (formerly MusiquePlus) and MAX (formerly Musimax) to a yet-to-be-named company owned by the current owners of V.

V’s affiliate stations in Gatineau, Abitibi, Rimouski and Rivière-du-Loup, owned by RNC Media and Télé Inter-Rives, are unaffected by the transaction, and Bell says it intends to renew its affiliation agreements with them when they expire in 2020.

In the brief included in the application, Bell and V say the conventional TV network is continuing to lose money, despite the ratings gains it has generated and the synergies from owning two specialty channels (which Bell had to sell off to get its acquisition of Astral Media approved in 2013). Groupe V Média says it has lost almost $7 million in the past two years.

“For a small independent broadcaster in the Quebec market, these losses cannot be supported and have begun to have an impact on its other services,” the application says.

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Dispute over Crave is a frustrating step backwards for relations between Bell and Videotron

UPDATE (Dec. 14): A deal has been reached. See below.

I regret to inform you that Bell and Quebecor are at it again.

On Nov. 1, Bell announced that Crave TV and The Movie Network have effectively merged, and Crave is now accessible to anyone subscribed to TMN. Anyone, that is, who isn’t subscribed through Videotron.

In what Videotron has been telling consumers is a “disagreement” (and is implying is entirely Bell’s fault), Videotron and its tens or hundreds of thousands of TMN subscribers have been deprived of this access through crave.ca and the Crave app.

I asked both sides why for a story published at Cartt.ca. Videotron declined to comment, while Bell did the same but not before telling me that it has filed copyright and trademark infringement claims against Videotron for continuing to use video-on-demand content it has no rights for. Bell says Videotron has no VOD rights to Crave/TMN/HBO Canada content, which makes their continued offering of it through Videotron’s Illico On Demand and Illico Web platforms an act of piracy.

According to the statement of claim filed at federal court (which I had to have a courthouse clerk print out from his computer because our legal system is still ridiculous), Bell is claiming damages of at least $20,000 per work for about 2,700 works (individual episodes and movies) or “not less than $100 million.”

Bell’s claim — which Videotron hasn’t responded to yet; it has until Dec. 5 — states that Bell’s distribution agreement with Videotron for The Movie Network was terminated by Videotron in 2016, and the two have been in discussions since. This August, Bell presented an offer to Videotron to keep distributing the new Crave, which Videotron neither accepted nor rejected. On Oct. 16, Bell gave Videotron a 10-day deadline, saying if it didn’t accept a new offer it would no longer be permitted to offer video-on-demand content from Crave after Oct. 31.

Videotron said it was considering its options, but again neither accepted nor rejected the offer.

The deadline passed, and Oct. 31 passed, so on Nov. 2 Bell filed its lawsuit. The lawsuit specifically targets Videotron’s video-on-demand programming for TMN/HBO Canada through Videotron’s Channel 900 VOD system, the Illico app and Videotron’s website. Distribution of the linear channels of TMN (now Crave) and HBO Canada are covered by the CRTC’s standstill rule and so Videotron can keep distributing them legally.

It’s frustrating for Videotron customers, who have been continually inconvenienced by the failure of these two groups to reach a deal. The VOD deal for TMN and HBO Canada was a first step forward, followed by the deal for TSN and RDS. Other Bell Media services, like CTV, Discovery and Space, still don’t have deals with Videotron, so their subscribers still can’t access CTV GO and related services. Rather than taking steps forward, they’re taking steps back.

The offers and contracts are confidential, so we have no idea which side is being unreasonable here. Two previous distribution deals between the two went to CRTC arbitration (TVA Sports on Bell and RDS on Videotron), and the commission sided once with either side.

On one hand, Videotron is trying to get the best deal for its subscribers, who are mostly francophone and have less interest in anglophone TV content (that’s important because many distribution deals factor in total subscribers regardless of whether they’re subscribed to a particular service). And they’re negotiating against a company that is also their direct competitor as a TV service provider. On the other hand, Bell only seems to have this problem with Videotron. Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Cogeco and others have successfully reached deals with them.

Hopefully a settlement is reached quickly in this dispute, and hopefully changes follow so that distribution agreements are less complicated and don’t require such extensive negotiations. In the meantime, Videotron subscribers continue to deal with an incomplete offer of services.

UPDATE (Dec. 14): Bell and Videotron have reached an agreement over the distribution of Crave, and Videotron is now a participating service provider listed on crave.ca. I don’t have further details, but Videotron has raised the price of Crave and Super Écran, from $15 each to $20 and $17 a month, respectively. They’ve also been removed from the “premium” category of packages, which means you can’t include them in a build-your-own package that includes premium channels, without paying $15 extra.

The lawsuit will be withdrawn.

Corus abandons plan to sell Séries+ and Historia to Bell after Competition Bureau says no

Updated with Corus calling off the deal.

Corus and Bell have dropped their plans for Bell to acquire Corus’s ownership of French-language specialty channels Séries+ and Historia days after Corus announced the Commissioner of Competition has decided not to approve the $200-million purchase.

Reasons weren’t given — the bureau itself has not released a statement, but a spokesperson points out to Cartt.ca that their agreement with Bell is that it wouldn’t try to acquire them within 10 years. Five years ago, when Bell sought to purchase Astral Media (which at the time co-owned Séries+ and Historia with Shaw), the bureau came to an agreement to approve that sale, under various conditions that included the sale of those two channels. To allow Bell to re-buy those channels now would mean that the bureau does not take its own demands seriously.

The fact that Bell would have more than half the subscription revenue of French-language television in Canada might also have something to do with it.

The sale had gone through a CRTC process and was awaiting a decision. Now that process will be abandoned.

Corus agrees to sell Séries+ and Historia to Bell Media for $200 million

Bell Media, Canada’s largest television broadcaster, is getting even bigger by acquiring two French-language services from its closest English-language competitor.

Bell and Corus Entertainment announced Tuesday that they have a deal whereby Bell acquires Séries+ and Historia for a price Corus values at about $200 million, subject to closing costs.

The deal requires approval by the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

That could be difficult, because of the history of the two services. The two were launched in 2000 as a joint venture between Astral Media and Alliance Atlantis. Alliance was then bought by Canwest, then Canwest’s television assets were bought by Shaw. Astral held on to its half of the ownership stake until it was bought by Bell in 2013. As part of its (second) proposal for the acquisition, Bell and Shaw each agreed to sell their half of Séries+ and Historia to Corus.

Now Bell wants to buy it all back. And at a discount, too. When Corus bought them in 2013, each half was valued at about $140 million, for a total price of $280 million. This transaction would be a savings of 29%. PBIT earnings for Historia and Séries+ were $29,881,221 in 2013 and $21,427,553, or a 28% decrease. The change was due mainly to a sudden surge in Séries+’s programming expenses in 2015-16 and a slow decline in ad revenue for both channels.

Corus is selling primarily to cut down its debt, as it says in its statement, but also because the channels are “not core to advancing Corus’s strategic priorities at this time.” The main reason for that is language. Other than these channels, Corus’s only French-language assets are the bilingual channels Teletoon and Disney.

“In the 18 months since Corus acquired Shaw Media, we have demonstrated a resolute commitment to de-lever our balance sheet to 3.5 times net debt to segment profit by the end of fiscal 2017 and 3.0 times by the end of fiscal 2018,” said Doug Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer. “We have successfully accomplished the first step in our journey through the disciplined execution of our integration plan and ongoing advancement of our strategic priorities in fiscal 2017.  As we reviewed our portfolio of assets this year, we determined that while Historia and Séries+ are excellent channels, they are not core to advancing Corus’ strategic priorities at this time. Furthermore, the increased financial flexibility this transaction provides will enable Corus to accelerate our transformation into an industry-leading integrated media and content company.

Corus was embroiled in controversy recently after news came out that Séries+ and Historia would no longer be commissioning original series. It’s unclear if that decision was made in anticipation of this announcement (La Presse first reported on Corus negotiating this deal back in May 2016). Corus remains in control of the channels until the deal is closed, which Bell predicts will happen in mid-2018.

From Bell’s statement:

“The addition of Séries+ and Historia perfectly complements our broad slate of French-language channels, further enhancing our competitiveness in the vibrant Québec media landscape,” said Randy Lennox, President, Bell Media. “We look forward to taking Séries+ and Historia further than ever before, reinforcing our commitment to invest and grow in Québec, and deliver even more opportunities for francophone viewers, producers, and advertisers.”

“Bell Media has had a proven track record of investing in original French-language production, commissioning over 530 original productions from more than 70 francophone producers, and representing nearly 2,700 hours of new programming,” said Gerry Frappier, Bell Media’s President, French-language TV and RDS. “Now with the addition of Séries+ and Historia, we look forward to bolstering our commitment to both francophone viewers and the Québec television production community even more.”

The CRTC’s common ownership policy says generally that deals where a company gets control of more than 35% of the viewing share will be reviewed to determine if it’s in the public interest, and anything higher than 45% would generally be denied. According to the CRTC’s latest Communications Monitoring Report, Bell’s English-language services represent about 37% of viewing hours outside Quebec’s francophone market, and 21% in the Quebec francophone market. Corus’s French-language services (which also include Teletoon) represent only 0.4% of Quebec francophone viewing share. So mathematically, the deal would seem to meet the CRTC’s criteria for approval.

But expect those who came out against the Bell-Astral deal, particularly Quebecor, Cogeco and Telus, to argue that this deal calls into question the integrity of the CRTC’s 2013 decision and that it should be denied as being against the public interest.

Since this is a change in ownership, the deal would also be subject to the CRTC’s tangible benefits policy, which requires 10% of the value of television ownership transactions be spent on funds and projects that benefit the broadcasting system. Under this policy, Bell would be expected to spend $20 million on new projects over the next seven years. No tangible benefits proposal has been released yet, but will become public when the CRTC publishes the application for change in ownership.

The ridiculous assumption underlying iHeartRadio Canada

Today was launch day for iHeartRadio Canada, a new mobile app, platform and brand licensed by Bell Media.

Aside from a weekly top 20 countdown show, and the rebranding of the Much Music Video Awards, most of the effects so far aren’t on the air but rather on digital media, and affect how you access radio stations through the Internet.

Many people were no doubt surprised when they visited their local radio station’s website today to find out it had been replaced by a page on iheartradio.ca.

Like a lot of website redesigns these days, this change favours style over substance. It’s very simplified, with only four or five pages in the navigation menu: News, Shows, Contests, Audio/Video, and Events. (There are also smaller links to contact pages, a list of recently played songs, and social media accounts.)

Other stuff has fallen by the wayside. One person already emailed me to note that full-show podcasts that used to be accessible on the old websites are nowhere to be found now. (The audio/video section has clips.) Blogs also appear to have little place on these websites.

Putting everything on iheartradio.ca no doubt makes administration easier for Bell Media, but it also strips away each station’s individual branding. It harkens back to the “portal” mentality of the late 1990s, when media outlets owned by large corporations were made into sections of larger websites, like canada.com, canoe.ca and sympatico.ca.

TSN Radio stations are an exception to this, thought they didn’t have their own websites to begin with, and they also have pages on iHeartRadio.

For most stations, particularly music stations, the websites are adequate. The listen live function is front and centre, and schedules and other basic information isn’t hard to find. And it seems as though there is some ability to customize the websites for each station’s needs.

But looking at the bottom of the page, you see links whose usefulness can be questionable. Click on “On-Air Hosts”, for example, and you get this list, of all 892 on-air personalities at all Bell Media radio stations throughout the country, in an unclear order. (It appears to be alphabetically by first name, but that breaks down once you hit Page 2.)

It might sound like nitpicking, but there’s an assumption underlying this design, that all of Bell Media’s 100+ radio stations are interchangeable, and Canadians will be just as interested in a small-town station across the country as their local station.

And that flies in the face of what the industry has been telling us for years now is the power of traditional radio: the importance of being local.

iHeartRadio mobile app: Like TuneIn, but with more bugs and limited to stations owned by Bell

This mentality is made crystal clear by the iHeartRadio mobile app, which is available on Android and iOS devices.

The app is very bare-bones considering Bell has been hyping it for so long now. It asks you to pick styles of music you’re interested in, and then suggests stations (either Bell Media traditional radio stations or themed iHeartRadio audio streams). You can set up an account and save your favourites, but registration isn’t required to use the app.

There’s a “Local Radio” tab that uses the phone’s GPS function to find radio stations in your area.

iHeartRadio app listening to CJAD.

iHeartRadio app listening to CJAD.

Once you’ve picked a station to listen to, there are options to play, favourite, and buttons you can press that will let you call, email or text message the station — assuming the app has the station’s phone number, text message line and email address plugged in, and many stations don’t have that.

The other buttons are previous, next and scan. Those buttons assume that you’ll be spending time switching radio stations, and not just between local stations but between Bell Media stations across the country, regardless of region, format or language.

Occasionally, every handful of skips or so, there’s a 15 or 30-second unskippable video ad. There are also small banner ads that appear in the app.

The app looks nice. Many stations provide titles of songs currently playing, and the app loads album art where it has that information. The name of the current show is also displayed.

But there’s a lot missing. There’s no access to podcasts or on-demand content, no list of recently played songs, no schedule, and no links to Twitter and Facebook feeds.

And there are still quite a few bugs. Some stations don’t load. That “local stations” list isn’t perfect — TSN Radio 690 isn’t listed for people in Montreal, even though it’s available in the app. And sometimes the app just quits for no reason.

And all this to use an app that’s based on skipping between stations but doesn’t include any stations not owned by Bell Media.

Just use TuneIn

Most of Canada’s other major radio broadcasters, including Rogers, Corus, Cogeco, Newcap, Pattison and RNC Media, have signed on to the UK-based RadioPlayer app. By working together, these companies will make it easier for Canadians to access radio streams and skip between them. But without Bell Media on board (or CBC, or non-profit broadcasters, or some smaller players like Evanov), it too will be incomplete.

The RadioPlayer app isn’t available yet. The announcement was made just to get ahead of iHeartRadio. They haven’t even set a launch date yet.

Which brings me to TuneIn.

The 15-year-old radio streaming website and app is the gold standard for this sort of thing. The “Local Radio” page lists 43 stations in and around Montreal, including stations from Bell Media, its competitors, campus radio stations, CBC, community stations, and cross-border stations. It also includes some online-only local stations. (The list isn’t perfect, and includes some far-away stations, but it’s much more comprehensive than any other.)

It also classifies stations by genre, lets you favourite stations, and uses schedule information to tell you what show you’re listening to.

Because it’s not run in partnership with the stations, there’s no current song information, nor a list of recently played songs or contact information.

But if your goal is an app that lets you stream your favourite radio stations in one app, then this is what you want.

If you want an app that lets you skip between radio stations from towns you didn’t know existed, and ensures that you never hear a radio station that isn’t owned by Bell Media, then by all means iHeartRadio is the app for you.

Other coverage

Bell Media proposes shutdown of 40 CTV and CTV Two retransmitters

It’s not quite as bad as the massacre of hundreds of analog over-the-air transmitters by public broadcasters in 2012, but Bell Media has proposed a major cull of its transmitters, removing a third of them from their licenses as part of its licence renewal application filed with the CRTC.

The cull affects mainly low-power retransmitters in small towns, some as little as 1 Watt of transmitting power, though some are as high as 260,000 Watts. All of the affected transmitters are analog (and so none broadcast in HD).

Bell Media explains its request thusly:

These analog transmitters generate no incremental revenue, attract little to no viewership given the growth of [cable and satellite TV] subscriptions and are costly to maintain, repair or replace. In addition, none of the highlighted transmitters offer any programming that differs from the main channels. The Commission has determined that broadcasters may elect to shut down transmitters but will lose certain regulatory privileges (distribution on the basic service, the ability to request simultaneous substitution) as noted in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-24, Over-the-air transmission of television signals and local programming. We are fully aware of the loss of these regulatory privileges as a result of any transmitter shutdown.

In short, Bell has determined that these transmitters cost far more to operate than they’re worth in viewership, even when you consider secondary benefits like simultaneous substitution.

As part of promises to the CRTC, including during the Astral acquisition, Bell promised to keep its TV stations on the air through 2016 or 2017. With its licence up for renewal on Aug. 31, 2017, that promise expires. Nevertheless, no local originating stations are pegged for shutdown here, and there’s no direct effect on local programming.

The list of transmitters Bell wants to delete from its licences is below. The CRTC counts 42, while I count 41 (not including the three already approved as part of separate CRTC decisions). In some cases, the transmitters are already off the air for a variety of reasons (“destroyed in a fire” comes up a few times, though the reasons can sometimes be quite strange).

UPDATE: Bell has revised its list, and now has 40 transmitters listed, not including those already approved.

A couple to note:

  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall, a retransmitter of CTV Ottawa, has a 260,000W signal that can be easily captured in the western part of Montreal and off-island suburbs. It’s the last analog television signal that reaches into the Montreal area, and it’s the reason why CTV Ottawa is carried on Montreal cable systems. Bell estimates this transmitter reaches 73,823 people.
  • CKNX-TV Wingham was a CBC affiliate that launched in 1955, then became an A Channel station owned by CHUM, then was sold to CTV. In 2009, at the height of the battle over fee for carriage, CTV said it would have to shut down the station, prompting a ridiculous negotiation for a sale to Shaw via newspaper ads. Despite a $1 purchase price, Shaw reneged on its offer after due diligence. CTV converted the station into a retransmitter of CFPL-TV London, Ont., and it became part of the CTV Two network. (Since then, CTV was bought by Bell and Shaw bought Global TV, which effectively ended the fee for carriage debate.) Of all the transmitters proposed for shutdown, this one reaches the most people (235,984).

Note: This list has been updated with six additional transmitters (in italics) listed at the end of this post, which Bell added in the proceeding to reconsider the licence renewals in 2017/18.

CTV stations (46/109 transmitters)

CJCB-TV Sydney, N.S. (1/6 transmitters):

  • CJCB-TV-5 Bay St. Laurence (1W)

CJCH-DT Halifax, N.S. (3/9 transmitters):

  • CJCH-TV-2 Truro (8W)
  • CJCH-TV-3 Valley Colchester County (8W)
  • CJCH-TV-8 Marinette (10W)

CKCW-DT Moncton, N.B. (5/9 transmitters):

  • CKAM-TV Upsalquitch (already approved) (230,000W)
  • CKAM-TV-1 Newcastle (9W)
  • CKAM-TV-2 Chatham (9W)
  • CKCW-TV-2 St. Edward/St. Louis, P.E.I. (1,100W)
  • CKCD-TV Campbelton (1,800W)

CHBX-TV Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CHBX-TV-1 Wawa (66,400W)

CJOH-DT Ottawa (1/4 transmitters):

  • CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto (100,000W) (UPDATE: Bell says this transmitter was listed in error)
  • CJOH-TV-8 Cornwall (260,000W)

CICI-TV Sudbury, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CICI-TV-1 Elliot Lake (19,000W)

CITO-TV Timmins, Ont. (3/5 transmitters):

  • CITO-TV-2 Kearns (325,000W)
  • CITO-TV-3 Hearst (7,110W)
  • CITO-TV-4 Chapleau (1,550W)

CKY-DT Winnipeg (4/9 transmitters):

  • CKYB-TV-1 McCreary (already approved) (10W)
  • CKYF-TV Flin Flon (2,060W)
  • CKYP-TV The Pas (2,130W)
  • CKYS-TV Snow Lake (8W)

CICC-TV Yorkton, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CICC-TV-2 Norquay (69,000W)
  • CICC-TV-3 Hudson Bay (680W)
  • CIEW-TV Warmley (170,000W)
  • CIWH-TV Wynyard (140,000W)

CIPA-TV Prince Albert, Sask. (4/5 transmitters):

  • CIPA-TV-1 Spiritwood (46,900W)
  • CIPA-TV-2 Big River (205W)
  • CKQB-TV Melfort (15,500W)
  • CKQB-TV-1 Nipawin (11,600W)

CKCK-DT Regina (5/7 transmitters):

  • CKCK-TV-1 Colgate (84,800W)
  • CKCK-TV-2 Willow Bunch (52,700W)
  • CKCK-TV-7 Fort Qu’Appelle (241W)
  • CKMC-TV Swift Current (100,000W)
  • CKMC-TV-1 Golden Prairie (229,000W)

CFQC-DT Saskatoon (1/3 tansmitters):

  • CFQC-TV-1 Stranraer (100,000W)

CFCN-DT Calgary (4/9 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-1 Drumheller (80,000W)
  • CFCN-TV-6 Drumheller (9W)
  • CFCN-TV-16 Oyen (710W)
  • CFWL-TV-1 Invemere, B.C. (10W)

CFCN-DT-5 Lethbridge, Alta. (6/10 transmitters):

  • CFCN-TV-3 Brooks (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-4 Burmis (382W)
  • CFCN-TV-11 Sparwood, B.C. (8W)
  • CFCN-TV-12 Moyie, B.C. (5W)
  • CFCN-TV-17 Waterton Park (1W)
  • CFCN-TV-18 Coleman (9W)

CFRN-DT Edmonton (2/11 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-2 Peace River (4,300W)
  • CFRN-TV-8 Grouard Mission (10,000W)

CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer (1/2 transmitters):

  • CFRN-TV-10 Rocky Mountain House (1,600W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CKLD-DT Saint John (3 transmitters total)
  • CFCF-DT Montreal (1 transmitter total)
  • CFTO-DT Toronto (3 transmitters total)
  • CKCO-DT Kitchener, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CKNY-TV North Bay, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CFQC-DT Saskatoon (3 transmitters total)
  • CIVT-DT Vancouver (1 transmitter total)

CTV Two stations (2/12 transmitters)

CFPL-DT London, Ont. (1/2 transmitters):

  • CKNX-TV Wingham (260,000W)

CKVR-DT Barrie, Ont. (1/4 transmitters):

  • CKVR-TV-1 Parry Sound (7W)

No retransmitter deletions are proposed for the following stations:

  • CHRO-DT-43 Ottawa (1 transmitter total)
  • CHRO-TV Pembroke, Ont. (1 transmitter total)
  • CHWI-DT Wheatley, Ont. (2 transmitters total)
  • CIVI-DT Victoria (2 transmitters total)

Other stations (1/5 transmitters)

Bell Media acquired two TV stations in northern B.C. from Astral Media. They have since adopted CTV Two programming, but are licensed separately from Bell Media’s other stations.

CJDC-TV Dawson Creek, B.C. (1/3 transmitters):

No change is proposed for CFTK-TV Terrace, B.C. (2 transmitters total)

CTV and CTV Two also have (de facto) affiliates in Lloydminster, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Peterborough, Oshawa and St. John’s. These are not owned by Bell Media and are unaffected by this application.

In a letter, the CRTC asks Bell for more information about this request, notably how many of these transmitters are still running and how many people will be affected. A response is requested for Monday, June 27, but the major broadcasters have requested an extension to that deadline because of the amount of information being requested of them.

The CRTC is accepting comments from the public on Bell Media’s licence renewals, which includes the deletion of retransmitters, until 8pm ET on Aug. 2 Aug. 15. You can submit comments here (choose Application 2016-0012-2). Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record. Public hearings will be held in Laval and Gatineau in November to discuss the application.

UPDATE: This post is prompting some discussion on Reddit (here and here), and some of those comments seem to be based on some misconceptions:

  • Many point out that CTV/CTV2 is owned by Bell Media, which also owns a TV distributor, as if they’re doing this merely to boost TV subscription rates. The likelihood of a large number of people in these tiny towns switching to a pay TV service owned by Bell is pretty low. And if this was the purpose, wouldn’t they have shut down more transmitters? (Besides, CTV doesn’t get subscription fees from people who subscribe via cable companies.)
  • Some say in general CTV would have been better off if it wasn’t owned by a telecom company, or that this wouldn’t have happened if CTV was independent of one. That, of course, ignores several facts: (1) CBC and TVO also shut down hundreds of analog retransmitters years ago, (2) Global TV’s parent company actually did go bankrupt before the network was purchased by Shaw, and it might not have survived had that not happened, and (3) Conventional television as an industry is losing money or barely breaking even, and a lot of that is because the cable companies that own those networks are subsidizing them.
  • A couple say the channels or bandwidth should be given or sold to another company so they can put transmitters or TV stations there instead. But (1) Broadcast television allocations are not sold like that; (2) There’s zero demand for new television stations or transmitters; and (3) there is plenty of space on the television broadcast band for more transmitters, especially in these small markets.

UPDATE: In the CRTC’s reconsideration of the English-language groups’ licence renewals, Bell added yet more transmitters to the list:

Retransmitter of CITO-TV Timmins, Ont.:

  • CITO-TV-2 Kearns

Retransmitters of CKY-DT Winnipeg:

  • CKYF-TV Flin Flon
  • CKYP-TV The Pas

Retransmitter of CFQC-DT Saskatoon:

  • CFQC-TV-1 Stranraer

Retransmitter of CKCK-DT Regina:

  • CKMC-TV Swift Current

Retransmitter of CJCH-DT Halifax:

  • CJCH-TV-3 Valley Colchester County