Tag Archives: CBC

Should the CBC dump TV?

Recently I’ve been thinking about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and how it spends the billion dollars a year it gets from the Canadian taxpayer. It’s not just because Sun Media is on a mission to have it shut down. There’s also a debate over whether it should be exempt from cuts the federal government is imposing on all its services.

And there are people who think the CBC should be doing more than it does right now. OpenMedia.ca has a project called Reimagine CBC in which people are asked to pitch ideas to transform the public broadcaster and make it more relevant in this new media universe. There are things the CBC does already, like be active on social media. There are ideas that are so vague they sound like they came out of management.

Then there’s Kai Nagata, who is suggesting the CBC get out of producing television entirely and shift all those resources to the Internet so it can become an online news and cultural leader. He even spiced up his submission by posting a video to YouTube parodying the Rick Mercer rants in which he explains his reasoning.

Nagata, you’ll recall, is the former CBC and CTV television reporter who did not own a television.

His reasoning is interesting. He points out that people are moving away from TV and toward online these days, and suggests that abandoning television and focusing on online will give it more bang for their buck.

But I’m not convinced. For one thing, if the CBC succeeds in making killer web videos, wouldn’t it just make sense to put that kind of stuff on television, where it can make more money? The CBC does have a lot of infrastructure, including hundreds of television transmitters, many of them in small communities where the CBC is the only over-the-air television. It also has regional control rooms and studios for newscasts that might be less important if everyone was getting their news from the web.

I think Nagata underestimates the power of television. Canadians still watch it, and many supplement it with online consumption of media. CBC’s ratings may be low compared to CTV and Global, but they’re still high when compared to most cable networks, and more people watch television shows on TV than online.

And that’s assuming we forget all about Radio-Canada. Nagata points to the success of its Tou.tv online video website, but seems to ignore that the thing that makes it so popular is that it has a bunch of television series on it.

What should the CBC get out of?

Still, I like Nagata’s suggestion because it gets us thinking. I don’t want to start sounding like Pierre Karl Péladeau, but it annoys me a bit that the CBC competes directly with private broadcasters in some areas. Particularly areas where the private sector does a better job.

Like local news. In Montreal, the market leader among anglophones is CTV’s CFCF. It kills in the ratings. It has more hours of original local news than its competitors combined. It has more journalists, and more of its news is local.

So why is CBC trying to compete? More importantly, why is the CBC trying to compete by doing the same thing? Why not abandon the supper-hour newscast and do something else, like local cultural programming?

On the French side, it’s a bit more complicated because Radio-Canada is so popular and because the main private broadcaster already produces so much original programming. On one hand, there’s a good argument that the culture is healthy enough that it doesn’t need the CBC’s help, and that removing the public broadcaster would make the private broadcasters healthier and encourage them to invest more in original Canadian programming. On the other hand, shutting down Radio-Canada would lead to having only one major television player in French, and that’s very worrisome. It would also be a net loss for original Canadian television no matter how you slice it.

CBC television can be thought of in two ways: a creator of television programming and a conduit for that programming. For scripted series, “creator” usually means that the CBC hires a production company to produce a TV series and it airs episodes of that series. A scheme could be conceived in which those series are still produced but air on private television, on cable or online.

Or what if the funds that went into the CBC were instead transferred to the Canada Media Fund, which helps fund television series no matter what network they air on? What if we focused our money more on creating better Canadian television series, ones Canadians actually wanted to watch? What if we got rid of the overhead and gave all that money directly to the people who actually produce Canadian television programming?

And what if, instead of a network that carries the CBC network to distant communities, infrastructure was used to bring both private and public Canadian programming to them? What if CBC’s production facilities were made available to ordinary Canadians to make their own television, which could then be uploaded to YouTube or the CBC’s website for people to see?

I don’t think anything like that is going to happen. Even if we establish that it makes sense, there’s still too many unanswered questions. Cutting local stations would seriously affect CBC News Network. And communities will resist efforts to take away their television stations, even if they’re just low-power retransmitters of distant CBC stations.

But this discussion needs to start somewhere. And that means we have to figure out exactly what we need the CBC for, and what we’ll need it for in 10 or 20 years. I don’t have all the answers, but I think technology has changed enough that we don’t need the CBC to be doing the exact same things it was doing 30 years ago.

Yearning for local television

Last month, CBC television aired a half-hour special program called Secrets of Montreal.

The show, hosted by evening news anchor Debra Arbec, talked to some figures in the anglo Montreal cultural community about some of their cultural “secrets”. The guests include some pretty big local names, like comedian Sugar Sammy, filmmakers Jacob and Kevin Tierney, chef Chuck Hughes and musician Melissa Auf der Maur. They talk about restaurants, bars, urban spaces and other things they love about this city.

This, all in high definition (actual HD, not the fake HD we see on the newscasts). I actually can’t think of another program produced for a local audience by any of the three anglo broadcasters in this city that was done entirely in HD.

Secrets of Montreal host Debra Arbec

It’s not the greatest half hour of television ever (that soundtrack gets annoyingly repetitive after a while, for one, and some people have noted the Travel Travel-esque vibe), but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to see more of: local programming that isn’t confined to a newscast.

Even though Montreal has three local English-language television stations (four if you include the multiethnic CJNT/Metro 14), none of them air original local programming that isn’t either confined within the schedule blocks of their newscasts or done from their news sets. Not to take away from the quality of local news being produced by these stations, but there are some things we’d like to see that can’t be converted into a two-minute news package or six-minute sit-down interview.

Seeing this show was a breath of fresh air, a sign that maybe the CBC was starting to rediscover the idea that its programming should reflect not only the national culture but the local one as well. And I was hopeful that this was a sign the local stations were getting more control over their programming schedules and/or budgets, being able to work on special projects like this.

But I was disappointed somewhat when I discovered through Google searches that this idea didn’t come from CBC Montreal. “Cultural secrets” shows were produced across the country: Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and apparently other places as well. All were done to coincide with “Culture Days” and the CBC’s 75th anniversary. All followed roughly the same idea, and all aired Sept. 29th at 7:30pm, in the timeslot normally reserved for Jeopardy. (In fact, for Videotron illico users, the show was listed as an episode of Jeopardy, and remains labelled as such on my PVR. This may have resulted in many potential viewers missing the show.)

What bugged me about this national congruence was that it reminded me how much of what happens locally at the CBC is actually decided nationally, imposed on the regions in a cookie-cutter fashion.

It reminded me of Living [insert location here], the regional lifestyle show duplicated across the country that was cancelled during the big round of budget cuts in 2009. At least that was regular programming instead of a one-off show.

When I start giving more serious thought to proposals of radical changes at the CBC, this is one of the reasons why. The other stations are doing daily local newscasts (and, unlike CBC Montreal, they don’t take the weekends off). If this network is going to be funded mainly through government financing, shouldn’t it offer something different?

I’m aware of – and sympathetic to – the budget constraints faced by CBC and its Montreal television station. But English Montreal (and, for that matter, English Quebec) is a linguistic minority, and one would think the CBC would be a leader in giving this community a voice. Lately, it’s seemed more like an also-ran, which is particularly outrageous considering how little is done outside of news at CTV and Global.

Secrets of Montreal, directed by Vincent Scotti and Filippo Campo, and starring Debra Arbec, can be viewed in its entirety on the CBC website.

The CBC/Quebecor misinformation war

To understand the ongoing war between Quebecor and the CBC, you have to understand a bit how television works in Quebec.

In English Canada, the conventional television networks make money by buying popular American series, running them during prime time and selling commercials. It takes little effort, and brings in a lot of reward. The CBC, meanwhile, does its best to produce original series, but few of them have a chance competing against the big American shows, so CBC falls significantly behind in the ratings. (Actually, overall CBC is No. 2 in prime-time behind CTV, thanks to powerhouses like Hockey Night in Canada.)

In Quebec, things are different. Francophones here like to watch things in their own language, so American shows aren’t as popular as home-grown ones. (Generous government subsidies helps here too.) While the networks do bring in American shows, have them dubbed and aired during prime time, the big shows are original productions. So Radio-Canada television can be commercially competitive and very Canadian at the same time.

In Quebec, the two big players in television are Radio-Canada and Quebecor’s TVA network. Télé-Québec and V, the other conventional networks, fall in with specialty channels like RDS, Canal Vie, Canal D, etc. in a secondary tier.

So when TVA looks at the competition, it looks at Radio-Canada. And there’s this annoying little fact at the back of its mind when it takes that look: Radio-Canada has a competitive advantage given to it directly by the government.

Billion-dollar leg-up

Radio-Canada, along with the CBC, gets $1.1 billion annually from the Canadian government, as the public broadcaster. That money is spent on all sorts of things, but particularly radio and television programming. Because both CBC and Radio-Canada sell advertising for their television stations, the giant subsidy effectively covers the loss they incur by spending much more on production than they get in ad revenue.

Imagine being in any other business where your biggest competitor is handed a truckload of money from the government every week. Imagine that business then lowered its prices to below cost, and had the government cover that loss.

I’m not saying I agree with the organized campaign against CBC and Radio-Canada being put together by Quebecor’s media outlets. For one thing, I’m not crazy about a bunch of journalists working for one company engaging in a campaign against their employer’s competitor.

But I do understand the basics of the argument: The CBC is at an unfair competitive advantage compared to private television networks. It’s an argument that doesn’t really work in the rest of Canada because the CBC doesn’t really compete with CTV and Global. But it does work in Quebec, because Radio-Canada and TVA compete directly with each other.

The “CBC sucks” Network

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, Quebecor has been targetting the CBC. Journalists at Sun Media file tons of access to information requests against the public broadcaster – an average of more than one a day in 2007, so much that the CBC asked the government to step in because so many requests were coming from the same source. Columnists attack the CBC at the slightest whim, while staying silent on anything negative about Quebecor.

Sun News Network has been particularly vicious. “CBC Money Drain” appears in the generic opening of one of its prime-time shows, and segments about media criticism focus mostly on the CBC, which it refers to as the “state broadcaster”, despite how ridiculous that comparison is. Sun News has repeatedly called for privatization or shutdown of the CBC and Radio-Canada.

The public broadcaster has so far reacted in kind of a mixed way. It defends itself, but politely. It calmly explains its role as a public broadcaster to those who ask. It responds to a flood of access-to-information requests from Quebecor media outlets by posting all the documents online. It sends letters to the editor correcting bad facts and incorrect assumptions.

In recent months, there has been a bit more directed directly at Quebecor. Sarcasm, for one. Or taking its case to third parties, like this letter sent to The Gazette, which the CBC accused of falling for Quebecor’s misinformation. (UPDATE: Quebecor’s Serge Sasseville emails me to point out his response to that letter, also published in The Gazette)

The gloves come off

It’s only this week that the CBC has, in the words of some of its defenders, taken the gloves off and fought back hard against the Quebecor machine. It released a statement on Wednesday attacking their anti-CBC talking points. That got attention from such news outlets as the Globe and Mail, and lots of play on social media.

It also prompted an angry response hours later from Quebecor, taking on the anti-talking-points point by point. (UPDATE Oct. 21: A second press release from Quebecor, threatening legal action if the CBC page isn’t taken down)

This was a day before Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau appeared before a committee looking into the CBC’s refusal to disclose information requested by Quebecor journalists. There, Péladeau denies waging a war against the CBC, but says it has to be accountable. (See coverage from Globe and Mail, Canadian Press, Ottawa Citizen)

So who’s right?

While many people who instinctually love the CBC and hate Quebecor cheer at the Mother Corp fighting back, I find myself a bit disappointed. It feels like the CBC is sinking down to Quebecor’s level, and many of the facts they put out have the same problems when it comes to lack of context or oversimplification.

Let’s take a look at the arguments from each side individually:

Quebecor Media is waging a coordinated war against the CBC: Péladeau denies this. But he does so in sort of a self-contradictory way. Péladeau claims that his journalists work independently, without anyone telling them what to do. But then he says his journalists have never sought journalistic sources. How does he know this? How can he pretend to speak for his media empire if he says his journalists act independently?

It’s obvious that Quebecor’s outlets, particularly Sun News, Sun papers and the Journals, have a beef with the CBC. Whether that’s because of corporate edict or just because those outlets hire like-minded people as journalists is up to the public to decide.

Quebecor’s access-to-information requests seek journalistic sources: I’ve yet to see a proper accounting of exactly what requests Quebecor have filed that have been denied, so I can’t answer this question. I suspect it’s more subtle than this, and the problem comes down to a matter of interpretation. The CBC can deny requests for information about its “programming activities”, for example, but how far does that go? Is Rick Mercer’s expense account fair game? Don Cherry’s employment contract? The CBC’s deal with the NHL? Quebecor denies it is asking for the identities of the CBC’s Deep Throats, but compares its requests to asking for lunch receipts of senior executives, information which is already posted online.

The CBC is using taxpayer money to hire lawyers to fight transparency: Well, yes. Specifically, they’re fighting the access-to-information commissioner, arguing that only a judge should be able to determine what information should be released. I don’t agree with this, but the argument that the CBC shouldn’t use lawyers because they’re taxpayer-funded is ridiculous. The alternative would be to cave in to every demand, no matter how damaging.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finkenstein has called for the access-to-information law to be clarified. The CBC also says it is trying to clarify the rules, rather than admit they’re fighting them.

“Quebecor has received more than half a billion dollars in direct and indirect subsidies and benefits from Canadian taxpayers over the past three years, yet it is not accountable to them.” The CBC links this statement to a presentation (PDF) that breaks down that figure. By the CBC’s own numbers, more than half of that “half a billion dollars” is their calculation of how much Quebecor “saved” in the last spectrum auction because it bid on frequencies that were set aside to new entrants into the wireless market. The figure is based on the assumption that if Bell, Telus and Rogers were not prevented form bidding for those frequencies, that they would have gone for as much as the frequencies not set aside for new entrants were sold for. That’s a big assumption. And even if we accept that, calling this a “subsidy”, even an “indirect” one, is a big stretch.

The rest of those subsidies are things like the Canada Media Fund, the Local Programming Improvement Fund, and government tax credits for TV production. All of these are things that CBC programming is also eligible for, and is above the $1.1 billion annual subsidy from the Canadian government.

Plus, the CMF and LPIF are funded primarily by cable and satellite companies like Videotron, not by the federal government. Quebecor points out that Videotron pays slightly more into the media fund than TVA takes out of it, which means Quebecor is subsidizing the CMF, not the other way around.

I get the point that Quebecor receives public money too, but the CBC’s figures are exaggerated.

Quebecor complained to the prime minister that CBC wasn’t taking out ads in its newspapers. Quebecor said it was “false” to say they’ve complained about the lack of advertising, then proceeded to complain about the lack of advertising. Péladeau testifed on Thursday that in fact a letter was sent to the prime minister complaining about the lack of newspaper ads. (UPDATE Oct. 21: A similar strange reasoning appears in the legal letter Quebecor sent CBC: Saying the statement is false and then repeating it in different words. Maybe there’s a difference I don’t understand?)

The truth is that both Quebecor and the CBC are engaged in a boycott of each other. There are no ads for the Journal de Montréal on Radio-Canada either. It’s not absolute, but there’s a big difference in advertising buys when you compare TVA to Radio-Canada, or La Presse to the Journal de Montréal.

Quebecor Media is also owned by the government. This logic is based on the fact that the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the government’s investment arm, has a 45% stake in Quebecor Media, dating back to when Quebecor bought Videotron. This is a big stake, but still a minority one, with Quebecor Inc. having the rest. The big distinction here is that the Caisse is an investment organization that puts money in companies expecting a healthy return. The government isn’t funding Quebecor Media as much as Quebecor Media is funding the government through its profits.

The Quebecor war machine

It’s funny how all the big public media wars in Canada involve Quebecor. It’s at war with the CBC over access to information. It’s at war with Bell over specialty channel carriage (even though Bell has gotten a major competitor to vouch for its fairness). It’s at war with La Presse over the secret deal it imagines Gesca has with the CBC. It’s at war with Transcontinental over community newspapers.

If I was paranoid, I’d think Quebecor just likes picking fights.

Even more details about Montreal’s digital TV transition

Updated Feb. 23, 2012, with the latest information on transmitters (CKMI now on permanent antenna, CFTU transmitting in digital).

Mount Royal tower is about to go digital

I wrote a feature that appeared in Saturday’s Gazette (Page E3, for those clipping) about the transition from analog television to digital, whose deadline is Aug. 31.

The main story focuses mainly on how local broadcasters are coping with the transition. It’s a big endeavour, and with less than 10% of Canadian households still using antennas to get their television service, it’s difficult to justify the cost (in the neighbourhood of $1 million per transmitter, but varying widely) of replacing the analog with digital.

That’s to say nothing about the consumers, many of whom are on the lower end of the income scale, who must now spend money on new equipment.

The sidebar focuses on consumers, and tries to explain how people can prepare. If you haven’t already heard 1,000 times, cable and satellite subscribers are unaffected. If you get your service by antenna, you either need a TV with a digital ATSC tuner (most new HDTVs have one) or a digital converter box.

My editor was very generous with the assigned length (in all it clocks in at a bit under 2,000 words), but even then there’s a lot of information I had to leave out, including a few conversations I had with actual TV viewers. I’ll try to include most of that information here.

The digital transition in Montreal

First, here’s how the digital transition is going for the nine television stations broadcasting in Montreal (updated 9am Sept. 1):

  • Five (CFCF/CTV, CFTM/TVA, CIVM/Télé-Québec, CFJP/V and CJNT/Metro 14) have completed the transition, switching off their analog transmitters and replacing them with digital ones that are now transmitting. They should all be at full power from their permanent antennas.
  • Three (CBMT/CBC, CBFT/Radio-Canada,CKMI-1/Global) have shut down their analog transmitters and have digital ones operating on their permanent assigned channels, but are not yet operating from what will be their permanent antenna on top of the Mount Royal tower. (CBMT and CBFT are also running at reduced power.) Those who don’t get these signals now may see that improve over the coming weeks.
  • One (CFTU/Canal Savoir) has been given a two-month extension to make the transition. It is still broadcasting in analog until the digital transmitter begins running.

CBC gets to keep some analog TV running

José Breton must be happy.*

He’s the guy in Quebec City who protested that CBC was going to shut down its TV transmitter there and not replace it with a digital one. Being a hockey fan, his main issue was that he wouldn’t be able to get Hockey Night in Canada without cable.

In a decision published Tuesday morning, the CRTC decided to give the CBC another year to make the conversion in 22 markets that are large enough that the CRTC designated them for mandatory conversion but small enough that they do not have original programming and the CBC was prepared to pull the plug on them rather than spend millions on new transmitters.

These include transmitters in Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Chicoutimi that rebroadcast CBC Montreal. They also include a large number of Radio-Canada’s transmitters outside Quebec. The Globe and Mail has a map here.

Breton wasn’t the only one trying to stop his city from falling through the cracks. The city of London, Ont., actually passed a resolution demanding the CBC save its transmitter there.

Since Radio-Canada transmitters in Quebec are shutting down, the CBC is going to use the old Radio-Canada analog transmitters in Trois Rivières and Quebec City for CBC programming, taking advantage of the better coverage of those transmitters. On the flip side, its transmitter in Chicoutimi (Saguenay) will see its power drop significantly because it’s on a channel that is supposed to be vacated.

Here’s what’s going on for each transmitter:

  • CBMT Montreal must still terminate analog transmission on Channel 6 by Aug. 31. Its transitional digital transmitter on Channel 20 will move to Channel 21.
  • CBJET Saguenay will drop in power significantly, going from 12,000 watts to just 496. Because it’s running on Channel 58, which is one the government is forcing all television stations to move off of (big cities or small), it drops to low-power unprotected status. This also means that Industry Canada (which regulates frequency allocations) can force it to move frequencies if it wants to give it to someone else.
  • CBMT-1 Trois-Rivières switches from Channel 28 to Radio-Canada’s old spot on Channel 13, and gets a power boost from 33,000 to 47,000 watts, in order to increase its coverage area.
  • CBVE-TV Quebec City switches from Channel 5 to Radio-Canada’s old spot on Channel 11, and gets a power boost from 13,850 to 33,000 watts, increasing its coverage.
  • CBMT-3 Sherbrooke remains operational, unchanged at 14,000 watts on Channel 50.
  • Other retransmitters in Quebec (there are about 40 of them from Kuujuaq to Îles de la Madeleine) are not in mandatory markets and will remain running as they were before.

The CRTC’s decision is understandable. It was backed into a corner by the CBC. Not allowing the extension would have meant forcing the CBC to shut down these transmitters – many of which are in minority-language markets – and would have meant, some have argued, failing in its mandate.

It’s also the latest compromise on the digital transition. Originally the CRTC wanted every TV transmitter in Canada to be converted to digital. Then in 2009 it said only “mandatory markets” – capital cities, those with multiple stations and those with populations above 300,000. Then in March it removed the territorial capitals from the list of mandatory markets. And now CBC and Radio-Canada retransmitters won’t have to make the transition.

In 2009, I argued that the digital TV transition is a counterproductive waste of money. Two years later, with the deadline only two weeks away, this seems even more clear. Broadcasters are waiting in some cases until literally the last minute (midnight from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1) to switch their analog transmitters with digital ones, because they know that the analog transmitters reach a larger audience. The fact that the CBC is pushing for a delay and that so few transmitters are being changed outside of mandatory markets is a clear indication that market forces aren’t pushing hard in the direction of digital TV.

And why should they? Having high definition is nice, but the vast majority of people rich enough to have purchased high-definition TVs also have cable or satellite service. Most of those on analog TV are either too poor to afford a subscription service or are too disinterested in TV to spend the money.

Digital television is being forced on us for reasons that still elude me. The government wants to auction off TV channels 52-69 for wireless services, but analog transmitters in those frequencies can be reassigned lower channels without converting them to digital (there certainly aren’t more than 50 television transmitters operating within range of Quebec City or Moncton).

Analog over-the-air television has existed using roughly the same technology for more than half a century. Forcing broadcasters to spend millions on hundreds of new transmitters and consumers to spend hundreds on millions of new televisions (or digital converters for their existing sets) without a clear need seems ridiculous.

UPDATE (Aug. 17): Actually, Breton isn’t happy. He’s calling the decision a “false compromise”, says the CRTC should have forced the CBC to install a digital transmitter in all mandatory markets, and points out that because most digital converter boxes don’t pick up analog signals, people won’t be able to easily switch between CBC and other channels in these markets.

Radio: The problem child of the Canadian people

This National Film Board documentary about the state of Canadian radio (particularly CBC/Radio-Canada) in 1949 has some funny lines. My favourite is this one:

“Radio reads its fan mail and makes its listeners’ surveys because radio has learned to trust the judgment of the listener.  And in Canada, the listener gets what he asks for.”

There’s also some talk near the end about setting up a national television network and developing this new “frequency modulation” radio. And a clip of Oscar Peterson tickling the ivories.

TV gets shut down for maintenance

CBC antenna atop Mount Royal, and the giant crane working on it

A lot of people who rely on old-fashioned antennas to get their television service have noticed this summer that all the TV stations in Montreal disappear after midnight.

The reason is simple: The transmitters are being shut off for maintenance work.

For the past couple of months, workers have been busy replacing antennas and doing other work on the 50-year-old CBC transmission tower atop Mount Royal (just northwest of the Belvedere, at the mountain summit, in case you’ve never seen it before).

Old antennas laying on the path of Olmstead Rd.

One of the main purposes of the maintenance is to replace antennas as television broadcasters make the switch to digital. An antenna that CFCF-12 has been using since it launched in 1961 has been replaced with a new one that will be used for digital transmission. The station even did a news piece on it (skip to the 8:40 mark). Though the station got approval today to operate a 10,600-Watt digital transmitter, it looks like it won’t be put into service until after the transition deadline of Aug. 31, 2011.

For safety reasons (we’re talking about transmission power in the hundreds of thousands of watts), all the transmitters have to be shut down while the maintenance takes place. To minimize disruption, this work is taking place overnight, when Mount Royal Park is closed and when TV viewing is at its lowest.

Continue reading

Pascal Robidas: Caught in the headlights

UPDATE: After videos were pulled off YouTube twice, I’ve posted a version that censors both the NSFW element and the World Cup B-roll. Hopefully this one sticks.

One of my spies within the CBC sent along this clip of an interview Pascal Robidas conducted live on air with an Italian soccer fan after Italy was humiliatingly bounced from the World Cup this morning.

There’s no audio with it, but as you’ll see that’s not important. Thanks to Clique du Plateau, which managed to locate a version with audio that RDI itself uploaded (WMV). I’ve added blur as appropriate to make it more safe for work.

Nancy Wood moves to investigative reporting

Nancy Wood

From CBC’s Facebook page:

News about Nancy

We know that there is some curiosity about Nancy Wood’s next assignment at CBC and we have some news that we’re happy to share. Nancy will start work representing English services within Radio-Canada’s investigative journalism unit. They are as delighted to be working with one of the CBC’s top journalists as she is to join this prestigious team. She will produce regular reports for CBC radio, CBC television and cbc.ca. Nancy will be working alongside the excellent reporters and producers from Radio-Canada doing the groundbreaking investigative work the unit is famous for. You can expect to see her on television and hear her on radio starting in September.

If you have any brown envelopes full of scandal, you can send them to her at: Local A-18, Société Radio-Canada, 1400, René-Lévesque Est, Montréal Quebec, H2L 2M2

Or if it’s a virtual envelope you’re slipping her, her email remains nancy.wood@cbc.ca

We all wish her the best in her new assignment,

Pia Marquard
Managing Director
CBC Québec

Those of you who watch CBC News Montreal at 5/5:30/6 know that the station routinely piggybacks on Enquête investigations (branding them “CBC-Radio-Canada investigations”). We’ll see how Wood’s presence on this team changes that.

UPDATE: From Wood herself: “I am looking forward to it. The journalism there is fantastic, the people are great. It’s a great opportunity.”

Let’s hope she enjoys and does well at her new job, and her performance there is judged on something more important than ratings.

Tou.tv: Menace to society?

Pierre-Karl Péladeau, the big cheese behind Quebecor, caused a bit of a stink this week when he wrote an op-ed (published in French in Le Devoir and in English in the Financial Post) attacking the CBC over the fee-for-carriage debate, even though the CRTC has already decided that the CBC shouldn’t be able to charge cable and satellite providers for permission to rebroadcast its signals.

The CBC (or, more accurately, Radio-Canada) has been a bug up Péladeau’s butt for quite a while now. He’s angry that the government-funded broadcaster competes with his privately-run TVA network, and similarly how its all-news network RDI competes with TVA’s all-news network LCN.

It’s not that he doesn’t think there should be a public broadcaster. He just doesn’t want there to be one that competes with the private networks, offering popular programming and in particular taking U.S. programs and re-airing them for profit. The Radio-Canada envisioned by Péladeau is more like CPAC, contributing to the public dialogue but not with anything that people actually want to watch. Certainly nothing anyone would want to pay to advertise on.

In a way, I can see where he’s coming from. Imagine if you ran a business, and next door there’s a competing business that gets heavily subsidized by the government. I’m sure the CBC bosses and supporters have a ready-made retort to attack that comparison (CBC boss Hubert Lacroix touched on some of them in the National Post), but even if it’s not perfect, it still makes a strong point.

If only someone who’s not Pierre-Karl Péladeau (or from some government-hating conservative think-tank) would make it, it might carry more weight.

This week, though, Péladeau added another aspect to his anti-CBC rant:

Furthermore, the CBC has launched the Tou.tv website without consulting the industry, a move that jeopardizes Canada’s broadcasting system by providing free, heavily subsidized television content on the Internet without concern for the revenue losses that may result, not only for the CBC but also for other stakeholders, including writers and directors.

By “without consulting the industry”, he means, well, him. Tou.tv has programming from Télé-Québec, TV5, TFO and others. V and RDS aren’t included, but they have their own websites that provide video on demand.

TVA, meanwhile, doesn’t offer shows on demand online, even those shows that you’d think would get a pretty high audience there. Instead, it offers them on Videotron’s Illico on demand (Videotron, by wacky coincidence, is also owned by Quebecor).

Péladeau argues about “heavily subsidized television content”, which is hardly new to Tou.tv. Somehow, I suspect he might be a bit more angry at the fact that Tou.tv has become popular, and might even become a Québécois Hulu, leaving TVA in the dark.

Mind you, Hulu isn’t making money either.

CBC dumps Nancy Wood from Daybreak

Nancy Wood ponders future job as hot dog salesperson (from Fagstein files)

I first got a tip about this a few days ago, but was awaiting confirmation and more details. With a story in The Gazette, the news is out there: CBC is removing Nancy Wood from her position as host of Daybreak, as of June.

The corporation had wanted to keep the news quiet until Wood made the announcement on air, but after staff were informed earlier this week, it was just a matter of time until it came out. (To their credit, some of my usual CBC leaks kept their mouths shut.)

Wood tells The Gazette that it wasn’t her decision to leave, which matches what I’ve been told: the decision came from management, and the reasons aren’t clear.

The news also comes the same week the CBC announces a new regional manager for Quebec: Pia Marquard, who starts on Monday. Though one CBC employee told me they were told Marquard had nothing to do with the decision to axe Wood. Marquard replaces Rob Renaud, who was filling in. One angry employee found it ridiculous that such an important decision would be made while essentially nobody’s in charge.

Needless to say, the mood at CBC Montreal plummeted with the news this week. Another employee described the work environment there as “toxic”. Wood herself stepped back from the host mic after the decision was announced, only returning on Friday (Shawn Apel filled in).

Wood was hired as the permanent host of Daybreak only last August. She replaced Mike Finnerty, who left last summer for London’s Guardian website.

Has CBC gone mad?

Nancy Wood, CBC Daybreak

To call the decision bizarre would be an understatement. Wood has an incredible amount of experience, both in journalism in general and specifically at CBC. Before taking the Daybreak post, she was a reporter for CBC television out of Montreal, and before that she was the host of the province-wide Radio Noon. As I wrote in August, Wood was a shoo-in for the Daybreak job, which makes it even more ridiculous that she would be yanked from that post.

During her brief tenure, she continued Finnerty’s tech-friendly improvements to the show, which included using Twitter and Facebook, accepting emails and text messages during the show, and producing a daily podcast. As a regular listener to that podcast, I can attest to the fact that Wood is professional yet personable, and certainly has no flaws that would warrant such a decision.

It’s not clear what will happen to Wood, though she hasn’t been fired from CBC. She may return to her previous job as a TV reporter.


So why is Nancy Wood being pulled out of the Daybreak chair? CBC isn’t talking, and the person in a position to answer these kinds of questions doesn’t start her new job until Monday.

If this were a commercial station, the first place I would look is ratings. I don’t have access to detailed numbers, so until someone leaks them to me, I won’t be able to tell you much. One former CBC radio host told me ratings are probably a major factor in a case like this.

But even if the answer is ratings, so what? Wood hasn’t had a chance to build an audience in the morning, and this decision is more likely to alienate listeners than attract them. This is CBC, not CHOM. Supposedly the one place outside of community and campus radio where there’s a consideration more important than ratings.

The candidates

CBC hasn’t announced who it plans to replace Wood with (they haven’t announced she’s leaving either, technically), and the staff doesn’t know yet.

I’ll copy and paste some suggestions from my post after Finnerty left, linking to Daybreak podcasts (all MP3) from fill-in hosts last summer. Not to look down on them, but I honestly don’t see any of them improving upon Wood:

To that list I’d add Steve Rukavina, who has filled in for departed hosts, and Sonali Karnick, currently the Daybreak sports reporter and one of the hardest working people in that office. Both are professionals and would make good hosts, but would also suffer from a comparison to Wood.

“Boneheads, boneheads, boneheads!”

A Facebook group has been started to keep Nancy Wood on Daybreak. It has 17 80 369 members right now (including myself, though that’s more to keep tabs on it than to participate in any campaign). There’s also some commentary on the show’s Facebook page.

Radio watcher Sheldon Harvey has some comments as well on the news, which he calls “extremely disappointing.”

UPDATE (Feb. 21): The Gazette quotes Wood’s personal Facebook page saying she and the CBC are “in talks” but “nothing inspiring.” The International Radio Report on CKUT (hosted this week by Harvey) also quotes from Wood’s Facebook (MP3) and the brief, cryptic messages that appear there, including that it was not a “they” but a “she” (Marquard?) that made the decision to remove her, and that no, this is not a joke, she’s been “canned.”

UPDATE (Feb. 22): Rukavina filled in for Wood on this morning’s show and apparently will for the remainder of the week. No mention of this story at all during the first Daybreak show since The Gazette broke it Friday evening.

UPDATE (Feb. 24): Gazette pop culture columnist Basem Boshra on Wood’s dismissal:

Hey, guys, nice work finally getting rid of that Nancy Wood from Daybreak. I’m getting so sick already of hearing her warm, intelligent, engaging voice in the mornings. Can’t wait until she’s gone in June – it feels like she’s been on the air for, like, months! Definitely time for a change. And, hey, I don’t want to tell you how to run your business, but if you’re looking for smarter, more entertaining voices to anchor your flagship show, I hear Ted Bird and the equally hilarious Tasso are still looking for work. Think of all the wacky impressions!

UPDATE (Feb. 25): Mike Boone and Doug Camilli also weigh in, along with a bunch of letters to the editor.

Those who want to complain are being sent to Communications Manager Hugh Brodie, hugh.brodie@cbc.ca or 514-597-5813.

PJ Stock too cool for Montreal

PJ Stock

P.J. Stock, a former journeyman NHL player turned hockey analyst, has come to the realization over the past few months that he was stretching himself a little too thin. His main gig at Hockey Night in Canada involved a lot of travelling between Toronto and Montreal on weekends.

Though he contributed regularly for CBMT’s evening newscast, he cut that weeks ago (CBC says it’s looking for a replacement). Last week, he said goodbye to an afternoon radio show on the Team 990. He’ll be replaced there by Randy Tieman of CFCF.

Stock says he wants to spend more time with his family. And admiring himself in the mirror.

A Mary Christmas

Speaking of people being fired before Christmas, hundreds of CBC employees and friends are rallying around Mary McGuire, a cafeteria employee at the Maison Radio-Canada, who was just told that her services won’t be needed by the catering service the CBC subcontracts to.

They’ve started up a Facebook group, whose members include Michel C. Auger and anglo CBCers Kristy Snell, Kristy Rich, and even some not named Kristy. They say after 36 years of serving them coffee, McGuire deserves to stick around.

UPDATE (Dec. 24):


A Christmas miracle! A day later, Mary has been un-fired.

The CBC-Post monster is getting bigger

Hey, remember when the CBC and National Post signed that content-sharing agreement and everyone was like “dude, WTF?”

Well, it looks like they’re extending it to include coverage of the Vancouver Olympics (press release, press release on NP site), producing a “co-branded” website for coverage.

The CBC used to be king for Olympics coverage, but then it lost the rights to CTV, so it will for the first time since 1994 be covering an Olympics it doesn’t have rights to. And considering how television rights crippled CTV so much it had to show still images instead of video, expect CBC to face similar obstacles in February.

Similarly, the Post’s competitor the Globe and Mail is the official national newspaper of the Games. That won’t mean exclusive rights and it’s not clear if there are any editorial implications of this designation, but it puts the Post one step behind, at least psychologically.

But … the CBC and National Post hate each other.

Or, at least, that’s what they want us to think.

Anyone else think this is like the second season of a bad sitcom where the two main characters’ anger toward each other boils over and they explode in a torrent of rage that’s suddenly interrupted when they spontaneously get aroused and start passionately sucking face, leading to a long night of hot sex?

Are the CBC and National Post … getting it on? Is this Olympics website their illegitimate love child?

If so, when’s the hangover and walk of shame?