UPDATE: More work will shut down transmitters from July 16 to 19, and July 21 to 25, and July 28-Aug. 1. See below.
The CBC’s Mount Royal antenna tower hosts most major FM and TV transmitters in the city.
If you tuned in to FM radio at 4am on Monday and noticed that your favourite Montreal station is either noisy or missing completely, it wasn’t your imagination. CBC is doing work on the Mount Royal antenna tower and that has forced overnight shutdown of transmitting antennas on the city’s busiest transmission tower.
Stations were notified that the tower would be interrupting transmitters from 12am to 5am on July 7 and 8, though as far as I can tell only CKUT at McGill passed that message along to listeners.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission speaks through its decisions, and for the most part those decisions are straightforward. They’re written by a special team who ensure they’re as consistent, dry and clear as possible.
But a decision issued last week by the CRTC, while a victory for Canada’s public broadcaster, also takes a shot across its bow that almost seems snarky.
The CBC didn’t deny this. Instead, it argued that it is justified in having a policy that prevents running “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”
It also argued that Leclerc could easily advertise elsewhere, an argument Leclerc said was “as irrational as it is desperate.” And it invoked the idea of commercial freedom to argue that it shouldn’t be forced to run ads from anyone.
In the decision issued June 27, the CRTC sided with Radio-Canada. It determined that the public broadcaster did indeed put Leclerc’s radio stations at a disadvantage, but that this disadvantage was not “undue” and so did not break the commission’s rules.
“The Commission is of the view that the CBC is not subjecting Leclerc to a material adverse impact by refusing to offer advertising opportunities since Leclerc has access to 72% of the local television advertising inventory by advertising on TVA and V and that it can therefore reach 93% of the television viewers in the market.”
This reasoning baffles me. Leclerc argued that it needed access to Radio-Canada TV because it wanted to reach a demographic of mature, affluent and well-educated listeners, which it felt would fit WKND. The CRTC argues that’s not necessary because there are other ways to get advertising (not including radio, of course, because those are direct competitors).
And if those other advertisers were to also refuse Leclerc’s ads for competitive reasons? The CRTC’s decision doesn’t address that rather obvious hypothetical. (Thankfully it’s not necessary. TVA, which owns no radio stations, was only too happy to take Leclerc’s money.)
Since return on investment is so hard to determine when it comes to traditional advertising, it’s nearly impossible for Leclerc to prove that the CBC’s policy has a material adverse impact on its business. And the commission seems to have given the benefit of the doubt to the CBC.
“The Commission questions the true motives of the CBC”
But the decision includes a paragraph that, while not binding, might force the broadcaster to rethink its policy:
“However, the Commission questions the true motives of the CBC, which continues to turn away a client that does not belong to a vertically integrated group on the grounds that it is in competition with its operations. The Commission takes this opportunity to suggest that the CBC focus less on viewing other players in Canada’s communications ecosystem as competitors and put more effort into fulfilling its public service mandate.”
Considering the drastic cuts facing the broadcaster in the years ahead, even the CRTC is wondering why it’s saying no to money from a small broadcaster in order to protect the market share of a network that doesn’t carry any advertising and should have nothing to fear from commercial radio.
For three weeks after CBC President Hubert Lacroix announced cuts equivalent to 657 full-time positions at the public broadcaster, employees at the CBC Montreal office finally learned how those cuts would trickle down at the local level.
This week, I met with Shelagh Kinch, the Quebec regional director for English services, who laid it out for me: 10 positions are being “affected” by the cuts, and at this point it looks like five people will be leaving the CBC as a result.
Management is being restructured, eliminating the job of news director. Mary-Jo Barr has been let go. Helen Evans will be in charge of both news and current affairs, while Meredith Dellandrea will be in charge of non-daily programs (like Cinq à six, À propos and Our Montreal) and have “a major role” in the CBC Montreal website. “Helen has an extensive background with us,” Kinch said. “She’s probably produced every one of those programs for us. She also has very strong leadership skills. I need somebody that people are behind and people want to work with.”
Two retirements won’t be replaced: journalist Ivan Slobod, who left in September after 30 years at the CBC, and Sally Caudwell, who produces Radio Noon.
The two part-time jobs producing Cinq à six and À propos are being replaced by one full-time producer. Tanya Birkbeck, who produced Cinq à six, will stay at the CBC as a news reporter. Sophie Laurent, who produced À propos, is out of a job. Frank Opolko will take over producing both jobs.
Web development is being centralized in Toronto, and a local developer is being made redundant. The person in that position will be able to apply to the Toronto job, Kinch said.
A communications officer position is being made redundant. Catherine Megelas is the unlucky one. She said in a Facebook post that it was “a super shitty day” the day she was told. Redundancy means that the union will try to find another job for her to fill, a process that could take up to 90 days.
A late-night camera operator is being reassigned.
One arts reporter position is being eliminated. Pierre Landry, the arts reporter for Homerun, is the only one who’s on contract, so his won’t be renewed past the end of June.
It sounded like the kind of story that even Sun News Network couldn’t make up: The CBC saying no to money from private industry for the sole reason that it wants to compete with it.
A complaint has been filed with the CRTC by Leclerc Communication, the company that bought Quebec City stations CKOI (CFEL-FM) and WKND (CJEC-FM) when Cogeco was told it couldn’t keep them after its purchase of Corus Quebec. The complaint alleges that the stations have been trying to book advertisements on Radio-Canada’s television station in Quebec City to promote the stations, and that Radio-Canada has issued a blanket refusal because it has a policy not to accept ads from competitors.
This would seem to go against a very clear CRTC policy that says that media companies can’t give themselves preference over their competitors in things like this.
Convinced there must have been a misunderstanding, I contacted the CBC and asked the public broadcaster about the allegation.
Radio-Canada actually confirmed it. CBC and Radio-Canada don’t accept ads from commercial radio stations because they compete with CBC services. And they don’t see anything wrong with that.
The policy is CBC Programming Policy 1.3.11: Unacceptable advertising. It bans tobacco ads, ads for religious viewpoints, “any advertisement that could place the CBC/Radio-Canada at the centre of a controversy or public debate” and “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”
Now, we can argue whether two Quebec City music stations with personalities like Les Justiciers masqués are competitive with Première and Espace Musique. But even if they were, so what? These are television ads, first of all, not radio ads, and if Leclerc wants to spend money this way, why should the public broadcaster say no?
More importantly, can it even do so legally?
The television broadcasting regulations, which Radio-Canada and all other television broadcasters have to abide by, says a licensee may not “give an undue preference to any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue disadvantage.”
A similar provision exists for TV distribution, which is why Videotron can’t give Quebecor-owned channels advantages over their competitors unless it can find a good reason to back it up.
But the CBC doesn’t quite see it that way. It argues that it’s not giving anyone an undue advantage, because it’s not accepting ads from anyone. Everyone’s being treated equally, so there’s no advantage.
Leclerc points out, though, that Radio-Canada’s radio services get plenty of advertisement on its television network. And giving free ads to its own radio stations and refusing ads from all competitors is pretty well exactly what this rule was meant to prevent.
Radio-Canada confirmed that the programming policy is set by the CBC board of directors, not by legislation or CRTC condition of licence. So logic would suggest that CRTC regulations take precedence over internal rules at the CBC.
The CBC rule becomes all the more absurd when you consider it in context. The CBC is facing a major cash crunch, seeing government funding tightened and now losing the rights to NHL games. CBC’s president is talking about “dark clouds on the horizon” because of lower revenue. So why say no to what is practically free money?
It would be one thing if this was a big corporate player wanting to buy airtime on the CBC to encourage people not to listen to Radio One or something. But this is a small independent broadcaster that just wants to expose his radio stations to Radio-Canada’s audience in Quebec City.
The CBC is going to have to come up with some real good justification for shutting the door to competitors. Bell or Shaw or Rogers would never be allowed to get away with something like this, and I don’t see why the CBC should be able to.
And if the CBC doesn’t come up with a good reason to refuse these ads, they should expect to be told to shut up and take Leclerc’s money.
When CBC/Radio-Canada asked the CRTC for permission to air advertising on radio, one of the things it promised is that it would only solicit national advertisers, not local ones, to limit how much it competes with local commercial radio stations.
Well, less than a month after ads started airing, one of those commercial stations has complained that the public broadcaster is soliciting local advertising.
On Thursday, the CRTC published a two-page complaint (.zip) dated Oct. 29 from Jean-Pierre Coallier, owner of CJPX Radio Classique in Montreal. In it, Coallier complains that one of its local advertisers, the Montreal Chamber Orchestra, took out ads on Espace Musique. Because it’s a local organization that only wants to attract a local or regional audience, Coallier argues, it doesn’t fit the definition of national advertising.
Radio-Canada disagrees with Coallier’s interpretation. Spokesperson Marie Tétreault told me that there was an agency here, Groupe Force Radio (which is owned by Cogeco and represents Espace Musique in Quebec).
Tétreault said the ads for the MCA aired on Espace Musique stations in Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Rimouski, Saguenay and Ottawa. Basically, throughout Quebec and the national capital region but not elsewhere in the country.
“These ads fully respect the conditions of licence of Espace Musique,” Tétreault said.
It’s worth noting that the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, in its filing in the CBC case, pointed out that its definition of national advertising was vague, and worried that it might allow some local advertising. This would seem to be a good example, regardless of how the commission rules.
Comments on the complaint are due by Dec. 16. Tétreault said that Radio-Canada would give details of its position in its submission, which will be filed on that date.
If you want to file your own submission, you can do so by clicking here.
Few people really paid attention to it when the CBC’s broadcasting licences were renewed this spring, but the public broadcaster committed to expanding local programming in large markets like Montreal, going up to 14 hours a week and ensuring at least one of those hours was non-news local programming.
Currently, large-market CBC television stations produce 10 hours and 40 minutes a week of local news: Three back-to-back half-hour newscasts starting at 5pm weekdays, a half-hour late newscast at 11pm weekdays, a half-hour newscast at 6pm Saturdays, and a 10-minute newscast at 11pm Sundays. (Vancouver is an exception, its Sunday newscast is already half an hour.)
The new CBC licences take effect Sept. 1, so with less than two weeks to go I was wondering why we hadn’t heard any announcements about new shows yet. Had they forgotten? Would they not make the deadline?
Chris Ball, senior manager of media relations for CBC English Services, said they will be meeting the 14-hour-a-week requirement as of Sept. 1 as promised. The Sunday newscast will be expanded to 30 minutes from 10, giving us 11 hours a week of local news. The rest will be made through “the addition of one hour of local non-news programming that will run Saturday, Sunday and Monday in those markets.”
He was deliberately vague about that part. “Planning is still under-way and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks,” he said.
The electronic schedule for CBC Montreal, shows that, for Sept. 1 and 2, the station will be re-airing the first episode of the Absolutely Quebec series at 11am. (The same thing is being done at the other affected stations: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa.) The condition of licence doesn’t specify that the local programming be original, so repeats are still within the rules, and gives the corporation a cushion until it puts something else on the air.
What form this non-news programming will take, whether it will be one program repeated twice or three separate ones, is unclear at this point. We’ll just have to wait and see.
But the move has been so universally condemned, from the left, from the right, from its enemies and its friends, that I feel the urge to play contrarian and find some reason to support it. But I can’t.
The reasons to dislike it just pile up:
It’s confusing. Are they changing the name Radio-Canada? No. Except yes. They’re not changing their name, but just adopting a new “brand identity”, or using a “term”, or “denominator”. Just the list of synonyms for the word “name” they used (including the word “name” itself) created needless confusion. Even CBC and Radio-Canada journalists couldn’t figure out what “ICI” was, exactly.
It’s expensive. This rebranding exercise cost $400,000. You can see that as a tiny part of the corporation’s $1-billion annual subsidy from the Canadian government, or you could see that as a handful of well-paid full-time jobs for a year. Rebranding is an expensive endeavour that does little to further the CBC’s mandate.
It’s unnecessary. The closest thing I got to a reason for this whole thing in the first place is a video (now deleted) in which someone put a confused look on their face when explained that “Radio-Canada” means both radio and television. I get that, in a sense. You’ll recall that Télé-Québec used to be called Radio-Québec. But is this really a problem for a brand that’s existed for 75 years? Does anyone who lives in Canada and speaks French actually get confused?
It’s consultantism at its finest. The CBC loves consultants. People who tell them that newscasts have to look a certain way, or that Peter Mansbridge should stand at all times. Some consulting is good. You want to focus-group television shows or expensive concepts before putting them into motion. But consultants are also good at convincing people to buy things they don’t need. I don’t know if that happened in this case, but it certainly gives that impression.
It’s abandoning a strong brand. Rebranding is something you do when your brand isn’t working. Maybe you’re involved in a scandal, or your name doesn’t reflect what you do anymore, or it’s not politically correct. But Radio-Canada is a very strong brand. People know what it is and expect good things from it. Why would you mess with that? Even the federal government got involved to complain.
It’s a generic word with little meaning. The Abbott and Costello routine from Jean Lapierre and Mario Dumont might be a caricature of the problem, but there’s a very serious lack of meaning in the term “ici”. It’s a generic word, an adverb, and they’re trying to use it as a noun. “ICI” has been the name of a bunch of things, including a weekly alternative newspaper in Montreal. “ICI Montréal” was even registered as a trademark by Télé-Métropole, which is now TVA, in 1985.
But the biggest problem with this rebrand is this: It’s screwing the little guy.
Here’s that little guy. His name is Sam Nowrouzzahrai, but he does business as Sam Norouzi because he wants to save people the trouble of always looking up how to spell and pronounce his name. He’s the man behind a new ethnic television station in Montreal. It’s a mom-and-pop shop, owned by his family and run as a producers’ cooperative. He’s not looking to get rich off of this, just find work for some ethnic broadcasters and bring local ethnic television back to one of Canada’s most diverse cities.
He wanted to call the station International Channel/Canal International, or “ICI” for short.
As I explain in this story in The Gazette, Norouzi did his homework, applying for a registered trademark and waiting for it to get approved as the CRTC application process followed its course. Now, weeks before the station is set to go on the air, he has to deal with the CBC’s lawyers who are trying to take his name from him. And while he has a legal team to deal with that, it’s taking up a lot of his time too. “There’s not a day that goes by that there’s not an issue I have to deal with” involving the case, he said.
“We have full rights to go forward with the name and we intend to do so,” Norouzi told me. “We will defend ourselves. For us it’s really a question of principle.”
CBC by a technicality
So what kind of case does the CBC have here? Can they really force Norouzi to give up his name?
Companies don’t have to register their trademarks for them to be legal. They just have to use them. Same thing with government bodies and their “official marks” according to the Trade-marks Act. But it helps. And Norouzi’s application for ICI came a year before CBC’s 31 applications for ICI-branded services. (The only CBC mark that predates Norouzi’s is one from 1969 for “Éditions Ici Radio-Canada”.)
I spoke with Pascal Lauzon, a lawyer and trademark agent with BCF. He said most of the case is “very debatable on both sides.” He pointed out that the registrar of trademarks looks through the database when a trademark is applied for. The process also includes a two-month waiting period so opponents can file oppositions to proposed registrations.
But Lauzon also said that there’s a five-year period during which someone can apply to the federal court to expunge a trademark.
Obviously not in a position to prejudge a case like this, Lauzon said the CBC has a strong case, not so much because it can prove it used the name first, but because of what amounts to a technicality.
Part of the trademark registration process is the filing of what’s called a “declaration of use.” This tells the Canadian Intellectual Property Office that you have actually used the trademark you’ve applied for on a good or in connection with a service. Norouzi filed this on Aug. 20, 2012. But his station wasn’t on the air at that time. We didn’t even know it existed because the application for it wasn’t published until a month later.
The CBC alleges in its lawsuit that, because Norouzi did not appear to be actually using the trademark, his declaration of use was “materially false.”
That, Lauzon said, is enough to have the entire trademark registration thrown out. If that happens, Norouzi would have to file for a new one, but that would put his application behind those 31 marks of CBC-Radio-Canada, and would weaken his case considerably.
“He should have waited” until the station was on the air, Lauzon said. He had three years to file a declaration of use, and waiting would not have made his initial filing date of August 2011 any less valid. “If he had waited, he would be in a much better position,” Lauzon said.
An amicable solution is the best solution
There is another way for this to end: The CBC could see the error of its ways and abandon the whole “ICI” plan entirely. Or it could offer to pay the costs associated with Norouzi’s station taking another name. I don’t know if either of those are likely.
Norouzi tells me he has had no communication with the CBC other than through its lawyers, who first contacted him last November complaining about possible confusion. (Norouzi dismissed those claims since they came long before anyone had any idea that Radio-Canada would be rebranding.) The CBC won’t comment except through written communication that goes through its legal department. Which means I didn’t get a response from them by press time. (I’ll update this post with what I hear back.)
It hurts to throw away a $400,000 project. But sticking with a bad idea isn’t a better option.
UPDATE: I asked for additional comment from CBC about this case. Hours after the request, I was asked to submit written questions. Almost 24 hours later, I finally got this as a response from Radio-Canada’s Marc Pichette:
In response to your questions sent yesterday (and I apologize for the delay), the term “ICI” has been closely tied to Radio-Canada’s identity for over 75 years. That it has risen to increased prominence recently is only a reflection of the close association our audience makes between that word and our brand.
Confusion is in no one’s interest. That’s why the matter to which you refer is part of an ongoing legal process which is before the Federal Court. I hope you will understand that I cannot comment on the specifics.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has just renewed the broadcasting licence for most radio and TV services run by CBC/Radio-Canada, for five years starting Sept. 1 (which means these provisions take effect then). It’s a long decision, and even the press release explaining it is kind of long. So here’s what the CRTC has decided and how it’ll affect what you watch and hear:
Ads on Radio Two/Espace Musique: The most controversial proposal has been accepted. The CRTC will allow advertising on the music radio network, but with some restrictions: They can broadcast no more than four minutes of advertising an hour, in no more than two ad blocks, and no local advertising is allowed. This allowance is also limited to three years. If the CBC wants to continue after that, it must re-apply to the CRTC for permission.
Minimum playlist size: As part of a way to ensure Radio Two and Espace Musique are different from commercial radio, the CRTC is requiring that they air a large number of different musical selections, 2,800 a month for Radio Two and 3,000 for Espace Musique. That means about 100 songs a day that haven’t been played yet that month.
More specific radio CanCon minimums: Currently, half of popular music and 20% of special interest music must be Canadian for all four radio networks. The CRTC has added, with CBC’s blessing, conditions that require that 25% of concert music and 20% of jazz/blues music also be Canadian.
More flexibility in French music: On Radio-Canada radio networks, 85% of music played must be French. That requirement remains. But the rest is no longer restricted. Before only 5% could be in English and all of it had to be Canadian. Now that 15% can be in any language, including English, and half of non-French music has to be Canadian.
More French local programming in Windsor: CBC’s cuts to local programming at CBEF Windsor caused controversy, leading to complaints that included the official languages commissioner. The CRTC has decided to impose a minimum of 15 hours per week of local programming at the radio station, above what the CBC had proposed and consistent with other stations in minority communities.
No more Long Range Radio Plan: The CBC says, due to its budget, it has no plans to increase its radio coverage area (including plans to make Espace Musique available to more people) and wants to discontinue the Long Range Radio Plan. This plan includes hundreds of allocations for radio transmitters that don’t exist yet. Shutting this down would save a lot of headaches for private broadcasters, whose proposals for new or improved radio stations would have to take these imaginary stations into account.
Public alerting system: The CBC is required to install a public emergency alerting system on all radio stations by Dec. 31, 2014. The CBC said it would issue alerts at the station level, not at the transmitter level. The CRTC said it was concerned this might lead to alerts being issued too widely instead of just to the communities affected. Similar alerting is being encouraged, but not required, on television.
More local TV programming: Following CBC’s recommendation, the CRTC has harmonized requirements for local programming between CBC/Radio-Canada and private television stations.
English stations in metropolitan markets (which includes Montreal) will have to produce 14 hours a week of local programming, and stations in smaller markets seven hours a week. In most cases, this is an increase over current levels (Montreal produces just under 11 hours a week of local programming), so we’ll need to see longer or more frequent local newscasts.
All French stations must produce five hours of local programming a week, including those in English markets, who must have some local programming seven days a week (except holidays).
CBC North (CFYK-TV Yellowknife) will have five hours minimum as a condition of licence, though the CBC says it will be more than this.
Non-news local TV programming: Following a suggestion from the CRTC at the hearing, the CBC agreed to require at least one of the 14 hours of local TV programming in major markets be devoted to non-news programming. The CBC hasn’t said what this would be, exactly. They said they’re starting to look at this now that they have a decision.
No blanket exemptions for local programming: The CBC had requested that it be allowed to calculate local programming on a yearly basis instead of a weekly one, because events like the NHL playoffs or Olympics pre-empt local programming. The CRTC decided against this (except for French stations in English markets), mainly for practical reasons (it would have to review a whole year’s worth of tapes to determine if it was meeting its licence requirements). The CBC then suggested that it be allowed an exemption of up to 16 weeks a year. The CRTC decided against that too, preferring a case-by-case approach and referring to a decision that allowed CTV and V to be relieved of their local programming minimums during the 2012 Olympics, saying that should be the model for future events.
Higher Canadian TV programming requirement: CBC and Radio-Canada television is now required to devote 75% of their broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 80% of primetime (7pm-11pm) to Canadian programs. They already do this now (they boast of having a 100% Canadian primetime), but it’s higher than their previous official requirements.
Regional television in French: Radio-Canada television is now required to devote at least five hours per week to programming produced outside Montreal. In addition, 6% of its budget for Canadian programs must go to independent producers outside Montreal.
More English-language television from Quebec: The CRTC is requiring CBC television to devote 6% of its budget for English-language Canadian programs to independent producers in Quebec, averaged over the licence term (until 2018). In addition, it must spend 10% of its development budget on Quebec, to give a boost to English-language producers here by having them produce more new programming.
No interference in The National/Le Téléjournal: The corporation’s national newscasts have been accused of being too focused on the regions they originate from (Toronto and Montreal, respectively). But the CRTC won’t interfere, saying it would threaten journalistic integrity. It will, however, ask for regular reporting on how official language minority communities feel about how well CBC and Radio-Canada’s programming reflects them, and has imposed this purposefully vague condition of licence: “national news and information programming shall reflect the country’s regions and official language minority communities, and promote respect and understanding between them.”
Canadian films on CBC: Following CBC’s proposal, the CRTC has imposed a requirement that CBC television air one Canadian theatrical film every month. The CBC is being given the flexibility to schedule it, which means it could air on a weekend afternoon, but it will air. The CBC is being held to its commitment to air Canadian movies on Saturday nights during 10 weeks in the summer.
Children’s programming: Judging that a commitment to children’s programming is more important as other conventional television networks move those shows to specialty channels, the CRTC continues to require a commitment to programming for children under 12. CBC and Radio-Canada must broadcast 15 hours per week of under-12 programming. Of that, one hour a week (CBC) or 100 hours a year (Radio-Canada) of original children’s programming (programs that air on other channels can be counted for this if CBC contributed to its financing). And three-quarters of these hours must be independently produced.
No requirements for new over-the-air transmitters: Despite demands for the CBC to reverse its decision to shut down hundreds of analog television transmitters across the country, and to limit digital transmitters to markets with local programming, the CRTC says it will not impose requirements on the CBC due to its financial situation. Instead, it suggests people who can’t get CBC or Radio-Canada over the air to look to Shaw’s free basic satellite offer, which expires in November. It also suggests broadcasters look to solutions like multiplexing (multiple channels on one transmitter) to offset the expense of digital transmitters.
Renewal of mandatory distribution: The CRTC will maintain orders requiring digital cable and satellite providers to distribute CBC News Network in French-language markets and RDI in English-language markets, for $0.15 and $0.10 per month respectively. This is to ensure access to news programming for official language minority communities.
ARTV will be required to make 50% of its programming schedule devoted to programs from independent producers, replacing a condition that it spend all its profits on independent production. (Since ARTV’s profits are modest at best, this will be a net benefit, the CRTC argues.) ARTV will also have to devote 20% of its programming budget to programs produced outside Quebec, half of that to independent producers.
Ombudsmen: The corporation’s two ombudsmen (one for CBC, one for Radio-Canada) are now required by a condition of licence, which establishes how they are hired, and says they must report directly to the CBC president twice a year.
Digital media: The CRTC hasn’t set specific conditions as far as digital media, though it has encouraged the CBC to be more accessible (more closed captioning online, for example).
Terms of trade: The CBC is being ordered to come to agreements with the Canadian Media Production Association and Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec within a year.
Consultations with minority language communities: The CBC must hold formal consultations at least once every two years with minority language communities, including the English community in Quebec. It must also report annually on such consultations.
Sam Norouzi is a busy guy these days. He’s starting a television station from scratch. He’s dealing with the technical side, acquiring a transmitter and antenna, as well as the content side, dealing with show producers. The plan is to have the station on the air some time in the summer, with a formal launch in the fall.
Norouzi is the manager of ICI, a new over-the-air ethnic television station in Montreal that was approved by the CRTC when it allowed Rogers to buy CJNT. Operating under the callsign CFHG-DT, it will air on Channel 47, using the same Bell-owned transmission tower on Mount Royal that was used briefly by CFCF as a temporary digital antenna while its analog transmitter was still running in 2011.
ICI, which stands for International Channel/Canal international, wants to bring ethnic television in Montreal back to where it was before CJNT, a producers’ cooperative where people sell advertising for their own shows and the station doesn’t try to make money by pushing the limits of its licence with third-rate primetime American programming.
It’s a big undertaking, with a very large amount of local programming, and it’s being put together on a pretty short time frame.
But now Norouzi has a new headache to deal with: The CBC doesn’t want him to use “ICI” as the station’s name.
The public broadcaster sent a lawyer’s letter to Norouzi’s company this week asking it to cease and desist the use of the name ICI. A statement of claim was filed with the court on Monday noting CBC’s request to have Norouzi’s trademark for ICI expunged. (Hat tip to the Citizen’s Glen McGregor for alerting me to that.) Norouzi (whose real name is Nowrouzzahrai) wasn’t aware of the letter when I called him Wednesday afternoon, because he’s currently in Florida. After checking in with his father, Norouzi confirmed he had received the letter.
Marc Pichette, a spokesperson for Radio-Canada, confirmed that the corporation asked the station to change its name “because « ici » has been a Radio-Canada staple for decades (Ici Radio-Canada) and because it is presently featured in an advertising campaign promoting Radio-Canada’s very personal relation with its audience. In these ads, people evoke how Radio-Canada programs that they have seen “ici” have been a pivotal in finding their vocation or lifelong interests.”
Asked about that, Pichette said “ici has been a Radio-Canada staple for decades” because it’s been used with the Radio-Canada name (à la “Ici Radio-Canada“). He didn’t say why the CBC is only acting on this now while the TV station’s use of the name ICI has been known since at least last fall and its trademark dates back a year and a half.
Norouzi said he was frustrated because he’d done everything he was supposed to, making sure nobody else was using the name for a TV station and then registering it himself and getting it approved. He said he doesn’t have enough money to hire lawyers to fight the CBC’s legal department, which means if the CBC decides to make this a legal case, it will probably win by default.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said the Sunday night newscast will continue from 10:55 to 11:05pm. While it stays 10 minutes long, it will actually be 11 to 11:10pm, starting next Sunday.
Nancy Wood is excited, again
This weekend was the start of CBC television’s fall season, but its biggest effects will be felt starting today, as talk show George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight moves to 7pm and the late local newscasts expand from 10 minutes to half an hour.
I was curious about what kind of changes we could expect with this new newscast. Wood told evening anchor Debra Arbec that they would have two reporters working evening shifts to file reports between the two newscasts.
The biggest change one would expect for the expansion of a late newscast would be in sports coverage. Aviva Herman of CBC Montreal communications tells me there won’t be a specific sportscaster or sports reporter for late night, at least for now, but “Nancy will be reading sports highlights from a local and national perspective.”
Previously, the late local anchor would provide a voice-over recap of games involving Montreal teams, but there wasn’t a larger sports highlight package. This led to strange situations like the “CBCSports.ca update” during the NHL playoffs that spoke about upcoming games without saying what happened that night.
We’ll see what this new format has in store.
The biggest change, though, will be in timing. The previous 10-minute newscast was sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, running from 10:55 to 11:05pm. This meant anyone watching something other than The National at 10pm would miss the first half of the newscast, and anyone wanting to watch something different at 11 would either miss the first five minutes of that show or cut out halfway through their local news.
Now, with the start at 11pm and running a full half-hour, it fits schedules better. It also goes head on against Global Montreal’s low-rated late local newscast and the high-rated CTV National News. Those wanting to be in bed by 11:30 and preferring local to national and international news might decide check out CBC.
The illusion of a set disappeared for a few seconds behind Nancy Wood during her first 30-minute late newscast
How it went
The late newscast is still very focused on local news, since it follows The National. No filling of time with packaged reports from other cities, at least not for now.
Other features taking up all that extra time:
Three weather segments, which have different graphics but seem to present the same information. On the first show, weather segments with Frank Cavallaro lasted 3:51 total.
The CBCSports.ca Update is now done as a national package of a minute and a half, rather than voiced by the local anchor. Local sports news (including Canadiens/Alouettes/Impact highlights) are still presented separately.
There’s a next-day news look-ahead, teasing the stories that will make news the next day. It includes both a local and national component.
People like me who really disliked the awkward anchor throws to George Stroumboulopoulos promos in the middle of the newscast will be relieved that they’re no longer doing it that way. The promos still exist (even though they’re now teasing a rebroadcast of a show from earlier in the night), in the middle of the newscast as a self-contained promo ad, and at the end where the anchor says to stay tuned for Strombo.
Though it’s an improvement, I remain very uncomfortable with newscasts being used like this for advertising, even if it’s self-promotion.
Technical growing pains
Minor and moderate technical problems continue to plague the late newscast. It would be easy to dismiss this as the kind of mistakes that happen when you’re doing something new, but it happens too often, to the point where I’m now starting to expect such errors at 11pm.
The first show saw the virtual set disappear for a few seconds, as you see above, removing any illusion that there’s a futuristic blue set that in no way resembles their evening news set. (On Day 2, they pulled away the green screen and went with the real control-room background you see on weekends or in some reporter debriefs. Wood says a new backdrop should be coming in a week or two.)
The larger mistake happened when the first packaged report was played again in place of the second, forcing reporter Alison Northcott to ad-lib.
The second show went smoother. The worst thing I saw, besides some timing issues, was a graphic with a typo (“Tobacco trial” became “Tobacco trail”)
CBC News: Montreal at 11 airs weeknights from 11 to 11:30pm. The late Sunday newscast retains its 10-minute format from 10:55 to 11:05pm, but starting at 11pm instead of 10:55pm.
Small dots are transmitters being shut down (text appears in grey), large dots are transmitters that will keep running; dots marked “A” are privately-owned affiliates unaffected by this move.
This is a map I created (through a combination of a list from the CBC and Industry Canada’s database) of all 658 CBC and Radio-Canada television transmitters in Canada, plus those of provincial public broadcasters TVO, TFO and Télé-Québec. As of today, more than 600 CBC and Radio-Canada transmitters are no longer licensed by the CRTC and are in the process of being shut down if they aren’t already. Ditto for more than 100 TVO transmitters and four TFO ones.
The CBC littered the country with television retransmitters, most of them low-power, from 1977 to 1984 as part of its Accelerated Coverage Plan. The goal was to make sure that every community of 500 people or more was served by a CBC and/or Radio-Canada television transmitter (depending on their mother tongue).
But the transition to digital television and the need to cut costs has made the case for keeping these transmitters running much weaker. For one, more than 90% of Canadian television viewers have a subscription to a cable or satellite service. And most of the remaining viewers will be served by one of the 27 digital television transmitters running in markets where CBC and Radio-Canada offer local programming.
(This includes CFYK in Yellowknife, the flagship station of CBC North, which until now has been operating as an analog station. The CBC has replaced it with a digital one, CFYK-DT, effective Aug. 1.)
According to the CBC, only 2% of Canadian television viewers will be affected by this shutdown. The rest either have a television subscription or are within range of one of its digital transmitters.
What’s more, the CBC says in its submission to the CRTC, maintenance is becoming more difficult and expensive because of the lack of availability of spare parts for analog transmitters. Since the U.S. has already undergone a complete transition to digital, there’s little demand for analog transmitter servicing, and the companies that once did that have stopped. Price for parts has increased, in some cases as much as 100%, the CBC says.
And so, with the CRTC’s reluctant blessing (the commission explains in its decision that its licenses are authorizations to operate stations, and it cannot force a broadcaster to operate a station it doesn’t want to), the 607 analog retransmitters were remotely shut down Tuesday night by CBC technicians, the satellite feeds to them replaced with color bars. The equipment will be removed, says Martin Marcotte, director of CBC Transmission.
The last broadcasts of the service on shortwave ended Sunday night. (You can listen to some of the final transmissions here and here.) Its budget has been cut by 80%, its Portuguese and Russian services are gone, two thirds of its staff has been let go, and the huge transmission site in Sackville, N.B., sits unused, to be sold or torn down eventually.
The video above is Marc Montgomery, host of the daily program The Link, at the end of its final broadcast on Friday. As you can see, he gets quite emotional at the end, explaining why cutting RCI is a mistake.
While most Canadians have probably never heard of it, RCI isn’t for them. As Montgomery explains, the shortwave service in particular is capable of reaching people who don’t have Internet access or whose Internet access is blocked or filtered. With an online-only service, third-world countries that restrict foreign media online won’t have access to it.
Does that matter? Do people in third-world countries really listen to RCI in the first place? Maybe not. Maybe RCI has outlived its usefulness, and its shortwave service was mostly just a hobby for lonely ham-radio types who like to tune up noisy distant stations broadcasting in single-sideband AM. In that case, it might as well be shut down completely.
I’ve seen enough media outlets go online-only as a result of budget cuts to know that complete shutdown of RCI is, at this point, inevitable. Few people will listen to it because it’s harder to access and has so little original programming, and that will be used as justification down the line to pull the plug completely.
But they’re all in vain. The damage is done. Any groundswell of public support will eventually fade. People will forget. The CBC isn’t going to go back on its decision and the government isn’t going to force them to. The latter will point out that it sets the parliamentary appropriation and leaves the details on how to spend it to the public broadcaster. The former will point out that its budget situation has forced it to make difficult decisions and that things like local news and current affairs programming matter more to average Canadians than an international shortwave service.
So while it’s nice to hear that RCI won’t disappear quietly, the best we can do is honour the service and regret that it’s now gone. CKUT’s International Radio Report, which aired Montgomery’s signoff in its entirety, itself got emotional talking about RCI’s shutdown on Sunday (MP3).
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had its big bash in Toronto on Thursday to announce its lineups for the fall television season. There are some big changes coming, besides the usual turnover of primetime series. The CBC has decided to drop Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune (mainly for cost reasons), opening holes in its afternoon/evening schedule. It will fill one of those holes with George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, which moves from 11pm to 7pm, but with a repeat at 11:30pm.
Not given as much attention is that CBC is expanding evening local newscasts in some areas, including Montreal. Rather than the 10-minute rush that it has been doing since 2009, CBC Montreal will have a full 30-minute newscast starting this fall, from 11 to 11:30pm.
The time slot puts the newscast in more direct competition with Global Montreal’s News Final, which has the same schedule. (Feel free to insert jokes about whether Global’s 2,000 viewers at 11 constitutes competition.)
CBC Montreal communications manager Debbie Hynes tells me the Sunday newscast, which you’ll recall is less than a week old, will remain at 10 minutes, or at least that’s the plan.
Nancy Wood, who just started as the late-night anchor, says she heard the news on Wednesday, and is excited about having a longer newscast and one that has a real time slot instead of being awkwardly sandwiched between two others.
While CBC News Montreal Late Night gets a good lead-in from The National, allowing it to get about 15,000 viewers on average (it has 30,000 at 6pm), the 10:55pm start time means it isn’t going to attract many viewers from people who watch something other than The National at 10pm. An 11pm late newscast could mean picking up people who watch U.S. primetime dramas on CTV, Global or other channels and want some local news before going to bed.
There’s no news yet as far as what specifically a late newscast would include. At the top of that list, I think, would be a local sportscaster. The 10-minute newscast includes a bizarre “CBCSports.ca Update” segment that previews the next night’s hockey games but says nothing of the ones that finished an hour before. This is mainly because there’s no one to put together a sports roundup on deadline, but it sticks out that you have a newscast talking about sports without saying what happened in the sports world that night.
The new local newscast launches in September along with the new CBC television schedule.
News headlines and weather on screen in mornings
Also announced is that some local information will appear in mornings on CBC television. During the 6-7am hour, when CBC airs CBC News Now (duplicating content from CBC News Network), the programming will be surrounded by a local wrap with local headlines, weather and other information. Something similar is done on CJNT, and people familiar with CityNews or CP24 in Toronto will know what this looks like. CTV also inserts local content into national programming (Canada AM) through an on-screen ticker. These are “rolling out across the country now,” Hynes says.
Nobody could seriously have suspected that the 10% cut to the CBC’s budget wouldn’t result in some significant service disruptions. Nevertheless, the Mother Corp has done its best to maintain things like local programming.
Reduce its workforce by 650 full-time equivalent jobs
Apply to the CRTC to allow it to air advertising on Radio Two and Espace musique
Shut down remaining analog television transmitters by July 31
Radio Canada International will cease transmission on shortwave and satellite, cut Russian and Brazilian services, and shut down its news department, ending its newscasts
Cancel nighttime programming on Première chaîne
Produce fewer episodes (and air more repeats) of original television series
Reduce its real estate footprint, including reducing Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal by 400,000 square feet
Increase employee contributions to the employee pension plan
Abandon plans for an English-language children’s specialty channel and French-language sports channel
Produce fewer in-house documentaries, relying more on independent producers
There’s a bunch of other things that are very vague, including reductions in news gathering and in radio programming, whose details will be known soon.
On the plus side, it doesn’t look like local programming will be significantly affected. CBC Montreal will continue, for example, with its plans to launch weekend TV and radio newscasts starting May 5. The network also seems to be doing as much as it can to keep journalism jobs (except at RCI).
On the minus side, some people will complain about ads and sponsorships on the music radio stations (and it seems an odd move particularly because Radio Two and Espace musique are usually at the very bottom of the ratings charts), and there can’t be the loss of so many jobs without affecting front-line services.
But what gets me most is those cuts to actual, physical broadcasting.
The CBC’s CKCX shortwave transmission site near Sackville, New Brunswick, is a sight to behold with its giant transmission towers and seemingly chaotic spider web of long antenna wires. It’s the only station of its kind in Canada, and transmits at different times and on different frequencies toward the rest of the world on shortwave, as well as some CBC North programming toward the territories and some transmissions of foreign services as part of transmitter sharing/swap agreements.
The shortwave transmissions will be coming to an end, as will transmissions using satellite. This leaves Internet streaming as the only way for people to listen to RCI.
I don’t have any numbers on how many people listen to RCI via shortwave. Maybe it’s not many. But I can’t help thinking this loss will be a blow to Canada’s reputation, and wonder why they’d bother keeping it if they’re going to make it online-only. This interview with RCI’s boss, Hélène Parent, makes it clear in its tone if not its content that this is as close to a fatal blow to RCI as one can make without killing it completely. More than 80% of its budget is being cut, going from $12.3 million to $2.3 million.
And as some have pointed out, part of the benefit of shortwave radio is to provide a western perspective to people inside third-world countries or dictatorships where their only other options are state-run television and radio stations. Many of these places restrict or block the Internet, and might do the same to RCI online. Though it is possible to jam shortwave radio transmissions, it’s a lot harder.
The analog era is over
Another big cost savings will come from shutting down more than 600 analog television transmitters across the country. In an effort to serve Canadians in even the most remote of communities, the CBC has retransmitters for its English and French television services all over the country. Many of them are low-power, transmitting just a few watts of power to cover a community of a few hundred people.
After July 31, only existing digital transmitters will remain in operation. There are 27 of them for the two networks, along with those run by privately-owned affiliates.
It’s not just tiny villages that will lose over-the-air television. Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois Rivières and other cities in Quebec will no longer have retransmitters of CBC Montreal, which will mean, for example, that audiences without cable or satellite television in those areas will no longer get to watch Canadiens games on Saturday nights. The CRTC gave a one-year extension on the mandatory digital transition for a bunch of transmitters in mandatory markets. Affected were transmitters for stations that did not produce any original local programming but were in markets large enough to require the transition.
When I spoke to the CBC, it said it would probably just ask for another extension once that one ran out, and that it didn’t see ever converting all or even most of its analog transmitters into digital.
With budget cuts, the hand is forced and these transmitters are going to be shut down. That will mean, for example, that APTN will be the only over-the-air television transmitters in northern Canada. It will mean that Quebec will have no over-the-air English television outside of Montreal, Gatineau and the two Global Montreal retransmitters in Quebec City and Sherbrooke. It will mean no Radio-Canada transmitter in Calgary and many other markets where you’d think they should have one.
One can hope that the CBC will mitigate the damage somewhat by providing second-language service as a subchannel in some markets where it has digital transmitters for one language but not the other. That would mean it could at least provide a standard-definition feed of CBC television in Quebec City to people with digital receivers.
Otherwise, this is really the beginning of the end of over-the-air television.
It seems a week can’t go by without Quebecor or one of its journalistic outlets picking a fight with a competitor. Whether it’s an unwritten company rule to bias its news coverage in this fashion or simply an astonishing coincidence, I can’t say for certain. But either way the result is the same: lots of mudslinging in the direction of Quebecor’s enemies.
And, unfortunately, the response to a lot of this mudslinging is mudslinging in the other direction. Rather than see dispassionate analysis of important issues presented with balance, we’re bombarded with fact-massaging attacks from both sides and left to our own devices to try to pick out truth from truthiness.
Here’s a few examples of the battles it’s been waging recently: